B/R's Latest Top 50 MLB Prospect Rankings
As I mentioned when I originally published my preseason top 50 prospects on March 26, I will be updating the rankings on a monthly basis over the course of the 2012 season.
Considering that most minor leaguers have only received about 100 at-bats (some more, some less), it makes little sense to shuffle the rankings based on such a small sample.
While there are a few players whose performances have been so outstanding that it warranted a more favorable ranking, this is not a ranking of the top prospects this season—it is the same top 50 overall ranking with some minor adjustments.
There have also been several players that have officially gained rookie status after amassing 130 at-bats dating back to last season: Mike Trout (No. 3), Jesus Montero (No. 12) and Yonder Alonso (No. 48).
Also, there are a few prospects that fell out of the top 50 not because they aren’t playing well, per se, but rather as a result of others' strong performances.
Therefore, there are a few new faces appearing in the rankings, and as the season unfolds there will surely be many more.
Before plunging into the top 50, here are the criteria for how these prospects were evaluated and subsequently ranked.
* Age vs. level: How well a player fared at a certain level relative to his age. For example, a 19-year-old outfielder who raked at either High-A or Double-A would garner a higher ranking than a 24-year-old who posted similar numbers at Triple-A.
* Injury history.
* Tools: The number of impact tools a player possesses in relation to his position.
* Hit tool: In the evolution of the prospect landscape, the hit tool has emerged as both the most valuable and hardest to project.
* On-base skills: How frequently the player gets on base and, in turn, how advanced his pitch recognition ability is.
* Whether he has a clear path to the major leagues.
* Whether he currently plays a premium position and remains there.
* If not, what skills separate him from other prospects at the same position?
* Age vs. level.
* Injury history (durability).
* K/9: Has the pitcher posted similar K/9 rates throughout the minor leagues? Essentially, does he have the stuff to generate swing-and-misses in the major leagues?
* Command: Whether he can command his pure stuff.
* Pitchability: The number of above-average offerings in a pitcher's arsenal.
* Does he project as a starter, or will he ultimately work out of the bullpen?
* Unlike other lists, Prospect Pipeline’s Top 50 will be unique in the sense that it will be updated at the beginning of each month, possibly even bi-monthly.
* Once a player has either met or exceeded the rookie qualifications—130 career at-bats or 50 career innings pitched—he will be removed from this list.
50. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Drafted/Signed: 2008, first-round supplemental (HS: Highland, Ill.)
Previous Rank: N/R
Double-A: 31 IP, 3.48 ERA, 40 K/9 BB, .184 BAA (6 GS)
Overview: The key chip in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to the Brewers prior to the 2011 season, Odorizzi excelled in the Carolina League and earned himself a promotion to Double-A.
His numbers took a hit in his 12 starts for Northwest Arkansas—as one expects for a 21-year-old in an advanced league—but he still finished the year with an sub-4.00 ERA and 157 strikeouts against 44 walks in nearly 150 innings.
His fastball reaches 96 mph and sits at 93-94, and his breaking ball is a sledge when in the zone. His command of it needs to improve, but he has a couple of years still before it absolutely must be reliable.
He throws a slider and a change as well, but they're behind the fastball and curveball and will be no better than 50s. Still, Odorizzi is a strike-throwing machine with a projectable, athletic frame, and results that suggest he will be a consistent No. 2 at worst.
49. Mason Williams, OF, New York Yankees
Height/Weight: 6'0", 150
Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (HS: Winter Garden, Fla.)
Previous Rank: N/R
Low-A: .327/.357/.500, 10 XBH, 11 SB, 4 K/5 BB (25 G)
Overview: In his first professional season, Williams was ranked as the New York-Penn League’s top prospect after leading the league with 28 steals and posting a .349 batting average. He's a toolsy player who is both extremely athletic and projectable.
At the plate, Williams has quick wrists and solid hand-eye coordination and a swing that projects for some power. Right now, he’s mainly an arms/upper body hitter, so the incorporation of his lower half could yield significant results.
He possesses nearly 80-grade speed that plays better in the outfield than it does on the basepaths. He has excellent range in center field and a strong enough arm to be considered for right field. In the running game, Williams has the speed but lacks the intuition of a polished base stealer.
Williams' current performance at Low-A could earn him a promotion to High-A at some point during the season.
48. Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Height/Weight: 6'4", 190
Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (HS: McKinney, Texas)
Previous Rank: N/R
High-A: 31.1 IP, 5.17 ERA, 7 HR, 32 K/6 BB (6 GS)
Overview: After selecting Lee with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Dodgers signed him for $5.25 million just before the deadline. Slated to play both football and baseball at Louisiana State, the signing bonus—the largest in franchise history—lured Lee away from his previous commitment.
The right-hander's fastball typically sits in the 90-93 mph range to both sides of the plate, and he will give hitters a different look by mixing in a cutter. For the first time in his young career, Lee threw both a curveball and slider in 2011, with the latter frequently showing the potential to be a plus pitch. His changeup is pretty mediocre, but it could still be an effective pitch down the road.
For someone his size, Lee repeats his mechanics well despite throwing across his body. He exudes confidence on the mound while controlling the pace of the game—traits rarely found in high school pitchers.
Lee will likely begin the season at High-A, and considering both his polish and maturity on the mound, he should log significant time at Double-A as early as July.
47. Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
Height/Weight: 6'0", 215
Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (UT-Arlington)
Previous Rank: 50
High-A: .250/.344/.321, 6 XBH, 32 K/17 BB (29 G)
Overview: There's some swing-and-miss with Choice, but no part of any park can hold him, and his defense is far better than one would expect from this kind of power bat. He still chases too many breaking balls, but that should improve in 2012.
There's a realistic chance that Choice can stay in center field, and if he can, then he has All-Star potential. While his speed is a 60, he doesn’t necessarily use it very well on the bases.
The down tool with Choice is his arm, so his value drops considerably if he's forced to move away of center, but by no means is that move imminent or even likely. Choice can take a huge step forward with a big 2012 in the high minors.
46. Trevor May, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Height/Weight: 6'5", 215
Drafted/Signed: 2008, fourth round (HS: Kelso, Wash.)
Previous Rank: N/R
Double-A: 35 IP, 3.09 ERA, 40 K/12 BB, .208 BAA (6 GS)
Overview: The Phillies' minor league pitcher of the year in 2011, May led the Florida State League with 208 strikeouts. At 6'5", he's an imposing presence on the mound with two plus pitches.
While he can reach back for 98 mph, the right-hander's heavy fastball sits in the mid-90s with late, arm-side run. He's not afraid to challenge hitters up in the zone with it and often uses it as an out pitch.
May is one of a select few minor league pitchers who possess the ability to sustain their velocity late into games.
His premier off-speed pitch is a plus curveball with serious bite. When May struggles with establishing his arm speed, he has a tendency to spike the pitch. He also features a solid, average changeup that flashes potential at times.
The key to his success at more advanced levels will be the development of his changeup as well as the utilization of a slider he picked up toward the end of the 2011 season. To be efficient with his pitches, he will have to continue refining his command and making his mechanics more repeatable.
Since drafting him in 2008, the Phillies have been extremely cautious in their handling of May. After spending the last three seasons playing for the Phillies' Class-A affiliates, May is clearly ready for a promotion to Double-A. Like so many other prospects, a successful 2012 season will be crucial for his development.
45. A.J. Cole, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Height/Weight: 6'4", 180
Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (HS: Oviedo, Fla.)
Previous Rank: 42
High-A: 24.1 IP, 5.55 ERA, 21 K/8 BB (5 GS)
Overview: A key piece of the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, Cole emerged as one of the minors' top power pitchers in 2011. A bulldog on the mound, he relentlessly attacks hitters with a mid-90s fastball that peaks at 98 mph.
While he has shown above-average command of his fastball, he doesn’t locate his secondary stuff as well—though his curveball is a hammer that generates swing-and-misses. He does have a changeup, but it’s a work in progress.
At 6'4", Cole throws everything on a downward plane and has worked hard to make his mechanics more repeatable. He has tremendous natural ability and could develop into a No. 1 starter. In High-A to begin the season, he is a pitcher to follow closely in 2012.
44. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
Height/Weight: 6'2", 220
Drafted/Signed: 2009, Dominican Republic
Previous Rank: 46
Low-A: .337/.394/.442, 10 XBH, 6 SB, 27 K/9 BB (24 G)
Overview: Gary Sanchez distinguished himself as one of the game’s top catching prospects in 2010 by slashing .353/.419/.597 to begin his professional career. Although the power still showed in 2011, he lacked consistency.
Sanchez has easy, raw power to all fields thanks to pure bat speed, and he should hit for a decent average. He knows how to work the count, often to his own detriment, and struggles with quality off-speed offerings.
His receiving skills can be poor at times, and he can even come across as careless. Scouts think he will improve behind the plate enough to keep his bat there—a la Jesus Montero. He does have a plus arm that helped him gun down 31 percent of base stealers last season.
Sanchez could use some more time at Low-A to begin the season. But if he shows the same type of power that he did in 2011, he could finish the season at High-A.
43. Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres
Height/Weight: 6'0", 210
Drafted/Signed: 2007, Dominican Republic
Previous Rank: 43
High-A: .226/.315/.344, 7 XBH, 7 SB, 30 K/7 BB (27 G)
Overview: Rymer Liriano is a young outfielder with tons of upside. He struggled at High-A to begin the 2011 season and was subsequently demoted to Single-A, where he garnered Midwest League MVP honors by slashing .319/.383/.499.
He possesses both plus power and speed as well as an above-average knowledge of the strike zone. His ability to hit for a high average is still suspect but shouldn’t detract from his overall game.
Liriano’s ability to cover ground in center field and his above-average arm should allow him to stay in center field for the time being, but his thick build suggests he might get bulky over time and require a move to right field.
Already on the Padres’ 40-man roster, he’s currently taking another crack at High-A. If it goes well, Liriano could rise quickly through the Padres’ system.
42. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Height/Weight: 6'4", 210
Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (HS: Archbishop McCarthy, Fla.)
Previous Rank: 47
High-A: .414/.460/.577, 13 XBH, 21 RBI, 20 K/10 BB (28 G)
Overview: A first-round selection in 2010, Castellanos is hands down the Tigers’ top hitting prospect. After an anemic start to the 2011 season at Low-A, he went on to slash .312/.367/.436 while playing in 135 games.
Even though he swatted only seven home runs, the right-handed hitter did tally 36 doubles. Considering his ability to barrel up the baseball, adding a little loft to his swing should yield more home runs. He struck out 130 times compared to 45 walks, so he’ll need to improve that differential this season.
Castellanos is still learning how to play third base, but his range, instincts and above-average arm work well there. He’s tall (6'4") with wiry strength and lots of room to fill out, and the fact he's off to such a hot start this season speaks volumes about this ability to make adjustments.
41. James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Height/Weight: 6'4", 220
Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (University of Kentucky/Grand Prairie)
Previous Rank: 44
Double-A: 28.2 IP, 2.51 ERA, 36 K/18 BB, .202 BAA (6 GS)
Overview: Drafted 37th overall in the 2009 draft, Paxton and the Blue Jays were unable to agree on a deal before the signing deadline. After the Mariners finally signed him in the spring of 2010, the 6'4" left-hander reached Double-A in his first professional season.
Paxton’s fastball usually sits in the low 90s, but he has been known to dial it up as needed. He features a plus breaking ball and has the confidence to throw it in any count. His changeup lags behind his other pitches and will need to be developed to neutralize big-league hitters.
40. Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres
Height/Weight: 6'2'', 210
Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (University of Miami)
Previous Rank: 45
Triple-A: .317/.453/.512, 4 XBH, 11 K/10 BB (13 G)
Overview: Grandal, a switch-hitter, was selected 12th overall in 2010 and has already appeared at every level. He’s a bat-first catcher with the ability to hit for both power and average from both sides of the plate. He has also shown a sound approach at the plate with knowledge of the strike zone and good on-base skills.
Grandal’s receiving skills can lapse at times, but it’s not overly worrisome. He possesses the physicality for the position as well as a slightly above-average arm that has helped him hose base stealers at a 34 percent clip.
Having started the year at Triple-A, he'll have a chance to make his major league debut at some point during the 2012 season. Nick Hundley’s three-year extension this spring does complicate things for Grandal, though it shouldn't impede his 2013 arrival.
39. Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
Height/Weight: 6'2", 170
Drafted/Signed: 2008, South Korea
Previous Rank: 41
Double-A: .237/.291/.321, 8 XBH, 6 SB, 24 K/10 BB (31 G)
Overview: Lee is an exceptional fielder—one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors. He has phenomenal range and a plus arm with outstanding instincts and feel for the position. His bat is behind, and he will never provide the thump to be the consistent All-Star that some other shortstop prospects likely will.
Across two stops in 2011, Lee posted a .292/.365/.416 slash line with 33 swipes and 37 extra-base hits. A left-handed hitter, he runs well and should consistently collect more doubles and triples than home runs.
A full season in Double-A should provide Lee with the seasoning he needs to be a big-league shortstop in 2014. However, nothing is certain when it comes to the Rays and shortstop prospects.