This story was written by Stan Whyte, currently a writer for Baseball Reflections.com.
Back on Jan. 22, Keith Law of Scouts, Inc. wrote a column for ESPN.com that ranked the top 100 prospects in the Major Leagues for the 2009 regular season. Since most of us do not pay whatever fee that is charged to get ESPNinsider, we only have access to the top 20. So here is a first half list of that Top-20 and tracking what they’ve done thus far in 2009. For some of these young stars, their call up to the Majors could be much sooner, rather than later.
1. Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles organization
This youngster has been the most mentioned amongst scouts, fantasy experts, and anyone else who has an opinion on the game. Some thought that Wieters would make the Orioles out of spring training but it was not to be. Seeing as how Wieters only had experience in Double-A ball previous to this year, asking a catcher to immediately play in the Majors at the young age of 22 is just slightly unfair.
As of May 14, Wieters is hitting .263 in 95 at-bats for Triple-A Norfolk and has a respectable on-base percentage of .366. Being a switch hitter, he has struggled against lefties, posting only a .200 average against them in 20 at-bats. By comparison, Gregg Zaun, starting for the Orioles, is hitting just .212 with an on-base percentage of .309. Wieters is likely to see a call up later this summer but could make an appearance in Baltimore sooner if any injuries occur.
2. David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays organization
From 2008 ALCS hero to starting for Triple-A Durham of the International League in 2009? It might sound crazy, but moving Price back to the Minors was actually a great decision by the Rays' front office. Price was expected to compete for a possible spot in the Rays’ rotation this season and posted a 1.08 ERA in one start and three games overall this spring. However, concerns about his makeup as a starter persisted and the decision was made to put the Vanderbilt grad back in Durham where he could develop his change up to accompany his powerful fastball and devastating slider.
Rays starters currently have a 5.07 ERA through May 14, so it makes you wonder, "how much longer will Price be held in Durham to develop his game, especially if the Rays rotation continues to flounder?" Currently, Price is 1-4 with a 4.60 ERA in 29.1 innings pitched this season. If Price doesn’t want to be shuffled between Minor League starter and Major League reliever, like so many other top prospects, then he will have to develop some consistency as a starter while at Durham.
3. Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves organization
Only 19, this New Jersey native is at least a few years away from making the big leagues. However, the Braves have shown the ability to develop some top outfielders such as Jeff Francoeur and, recently, Jordan Schafer. Heyward, who plays right field like his Major League counterpart, Francoeur, is a physical specimen at 6'4" and has the potential to be a perennial 30-homer player in the majors.
Heyward started 2009 out at Myrtle Beach in the Class A Advanced Carolina League. So far, he’s hitting at a .265 clip to go along with 13 RBI and a respectable .832 on-base plus slugging percentage. He should continue to develop and top out at Double A by the end of the season.
4. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas Rangers organization
This 20-year-old starter was a part of the Mark Teixeira trade a few years back and has progressed into a top starter in the Rangers organization. Last year, he topped out at Double A Frisco and this year is starting in Triple A Oklahoma City. Aside from Kevin Millwood and Scott Feldman, who have ERA of 2.98 and 2.74 in 12 combined starts, the starting rotation has an ERA of 5.32.
Small ballpark aside, the Rangers' rotation has been ineffective this season. With a potent offense and bolstered by a reliable bullpen, they lead the AL West by 2.5 games as of May 16. It looks like there might not be a need for Feliz to get his call up just yet.
5. Travis Snider, LF, Toronto Blue Jays
Notice how we did not put “organization” next to where Snider plays. Well, that is because he’s the full-time starter out in left for the first-place Jays this season—that’s right: first-place for the sole team north of the border. And it is early May so how long before we stop calling them pretenders and start calling them contenders? It took until July or so before people actually took the Rays seriously and they made it all the way to the World Series.
According to Law, it is Snider’s own fault that he has made it to the bigs so soon, seeing as how he is only 21, because he never encountered any stumbling blocks at any level of the Minors. In his rookie campaign, he’s currently hitting .253 with 12 RBI through 91 at-bats. His history and past performance suggests that he should be hitting for a higher average than where he currently is, so we’ll continue to track that as the season progresses.
6. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants organization
Law is big on this 19-year-old who finished last year pitching for Class A Augusta. Bumgarner began the year pitching for the San Jose Giants, another Class A club in the Giants organization. He dominated there, going 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA in five starts. He also held hitters to a .217 batting average. Not wanting to hinder his development any further by pitting him against lesser talent, Bumgarner was sent packing eastward and is now playing for Double A Connecticut. In his first start on May 17 for the Defenders, Bumgarner went six strong innings and struck out nine while allowing just one hit. Law predicts that, at this rate, the youngster will be in San Francisco “at some point in 2010.”
7. Lars Anderson, 1B, Boston Red Sox organization
According to Law, first base is loaded with plenty of prospects, but Anderson has benefited by being younger than most of them at 21. He finished last season with Double A Portland of the Eastern League. He started back there this season and has struggled to this point, only hitting .233 as of May 17. In his last 10 games, he has hit just .189 with five RBI and eight strikeouts. On the season, he has struck out 32 times and has an on-base percentage of .310. This contrasts greatly with his career OBP of .410. All good hitters, especially young ones, go through stretches such as this one. Hopefully, he will emerge from it without his progression to the majors suffering any damages.
8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants organization
Posey went fifth overall in last year’s first-year player draft to the Giants and has already developed into one of the top catching prospects. The former FSU Seminole is currently handling the pitching staff for Class A Advanced San Jose and is hitting .287 on the year with 63 total bases accumulated to go along with 22 RBI and even three steals. Yes, catchers can swipe a base every now and then, as well. Besides, Posey has those fresh college legs. As those legs and knees gather more innings caught, however, expect the number of steals to fall or disappear altogether. Steals aside, Posey has a nice future ahead of him as an MLB catcher.
9. Tommy Hanson, RHP, Atlanta Braves organization
This 22-year-old is literally one injury away from making his first start in the Majors and continues to make his case for getting that call up. In eight games started this year for Triple A Gwinnett of the International League, Hanson is holding hitters to a .172 batting average with a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 innings pitched. He does only have a 2-3 record to show for his efforts, but the big wigs in Atlanta are most likely not keeping a tally of his wins and losses.
The Braves are currently in third place in the NL East with an even record of 18-18 as of May 18. They have the second lowest amount of runs allowed in the division behind the New York Mets. Their rotation is bolstered by the arrival of veterans such as Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez. The youngster from last year, Jair Jurrjens, leads the staff with an ERA of 2.08. If the rotation suffers any injuries, the Braves will have to determine if Hanson is ready for his big league debut.
10. Rick Porcello, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Law was not kidding when he wrote that the Tigers are usually aggressive with their prospects. Porcello, just 20 years old, finished last year in Top Class A Lakeland. This year, he found himself in the top of the class, starting for the Detroit Tigers. So far, he’s fared well in seven starts, going 4-3 with a 3.86 ERA. He has the stuff to blow guys away and rack up the Ks, but part of the reason why he was on the fast track to the Majors was because of his ability to develop into a ground ball pitcher with a good two-seamer. The Tigers might have found a shining light to reverse their starting rotation horrors from last season.
To read more of Stan's work at Baseball Reflections, be sure to follow this link. Baseball Reflections cover almost every major league teams as well as top stories and opinion articles. Check out the rest of our work at www.baseballreflections.com.