Here's a Thought: Nathaniel's Top 100 MLB Prospects: #90-81
This is part two of ten in my top 100 prospects list.
If you'd like to read other entries in this series, you can check them out below:
If you don't want to read the series, and just want to read this article, here's the series intro, to get you caught up to speed (if you've read the intro before, just skip to the next slide):
Last year, I got an extremely positive response to my article "The Top 102 Prospects Who Have Yet To Play in MLB."
I decided that it was time to do something similar, and rate the top 100 prospects this year.
Before we begin, a few notes:
These prospects aren't ranked purely statistically and they are not ranked purely on scouting reports. They are ranked based on both. If you'd like to read more on how I believe one should evaluate prospects, read this.
Also, I can never keep track of who has rookie eligibility in the majors, so I made this list entirely of players who did not debut in the majors before July 15, 2009. If someone debuts after that, however (like Mat Latos), they will still be included.
I'm a bit hazy on 2009 draftees, so just because your team's first-rounder isn't on the list doesn't mean they shouldn't be. I feel like I only have good enough knowledge of about 50 or so draftees this year, and a lot of them are the A's draftees.
So don't take offense, Padres fans, when you see Donavan Tate's not on the list.
Speaking of Tate, I only ranked players who have signed or are projected to sign. "Tough signs" like Tate and Matt Purke were excluded. I did, however, rank Stephen Strasburg, just because the hype on him is so huge.
I can also guarantee that pretty much everyone in the minors was considered. I made sure to carefully look at anyone performing well or rated well. If a prospect doesn't appear on this list, I can certainly tell you why.
I hope you like the rankings. Leave any questions or comments you have for me—I'll be more than happy to respond.
Let's take a look at prospects 90-81.
90. Scott Barnes
Lost in all the Madison Bumgarner/Tim Alderson hype is this 21-year-old lefty, whose three-pitch arsenal (fastball/curve/change) won't wow scouts, but overwhelms hitters.
Barnes works around 90 with his fastball and uses the changeup as his out pitch, and the curve isn't bad. In some ways, that sounds a lot like Cole Hamels. Barnes won't be as good as Hamels, but he should be in the Zach Duke (when he's on) class of pitchers.
89. Ben Hornbeck
The A's drafted Hornbeck in the 32nd round last year.
He was thought as a guy who threw strikes and had a nice change, but wasn't a prospect because he only threw about 81 mph on his fastball.
The A's changed his arm angle a bit, and all of a sudden the 21-year-old found average velocity, as he now sits in the 88-90 mph range. Now he's among the minor league leaders in strikeouts and is dominating the hitter's paradise Cal League.
Like Barnes, Hornbeck is a 90ish fastball/excellent change/decent breaking ball guy. Again, Hamels is the best scenario for that sort of pitcher, but again, expecting Hornbeck to be that good would be foolish.
88. Thomas Neal
Neal has very little defensive value; he's a hulking slugger who's average at best in left.
But he's a heck of a slugger, with a .340/.425/.603 line in High-A. He's shown very good contact ability to go with his 15 homers.
Neal has two issues. First, he's in the hitter-friendly Cal League, and plenty of guys can do well there and then really struggle afterward. Second, he has to be a great hitter to get a starting spot in first or left, the only two positions he can play.
He's obviously hitting great, but we'll have to wait for him to go to Double-A before elevating Neal higher than this.
87. Nick Weglarz
Just like Barnes and Hornbeck are similar, Neal and Weglarz are similar. Weglarz isn't as good statistically (.243/.389/.464), but he's the same age and a level above Neal, and in a pitcher's league to boot.
Note the huge difference between Weglarz's average and OBP in that line. He's a legitimate 110-walk threat, which makes him valuable even if he's hitting .220. He's walked 58 times and struck out 59 this year.
Weglarz, like Neal, is not a good defender, but he could be the next big "walks and power" guy in the majors, like Adam Dunn or Jack Cust.
86. Tony Sanchez
When Sanchez was drafted fourth overall this year, most analysts considered it something of an overdraft. However, I think the pick had less to do with saving money than it had to do with finding a good player at a position where there aren't many.
So while four players drafted behind Sanchez rank ahead of him on this list, he is one of the top catching prospects in baseball.
Sanchez has gotten off to a sparkling start at Low-A (.340/.456/.511) and could reach the majors quickly. Kurt Suzuki is a good idea of Sanchez's upside.
85. Kelvin De La Cruz
De La Cruz is a huge lefty with mid-90's heat and a curve that falls out of the sky. He'd rank quite a bit higher on this list if it wasn't for injury issues, as he's missed most of the year with forearm issues. Forearm issues often become elbow issues later on.
De La Cruz is still pretty raw, and needs to cut his walks down, so missing extended periods of time hurts him more than most pitchers in terms of development time.
However, his fastball-curve combo rivals that of any lefty in baseball, and if his changeup becomes average (scouts think it will) he could be scary in MLB. He'll need to polish his control and changeup up to get there.
84. Alex Liddi
Like Neal, Liddi's put up huge numbers that are tempered somewhat by his offensive environment: High Desert makes the other Cal League parks (save for Lancaster, the most hitter-friendly park in baseball) look like Petco Park.
Still, when a 20-year-old third baseman hits .357/.409/.643 in High-A, one can't help but take notice.
Liddi needs to improve his walk-to-strikeout ratio (86 K, 30 BB). He's an average defender at third. Like Neal, Liddi needs to get to a more neutral environment (and Seattle's Double-A affiliate, West Tenn, is about as neutral as they come) before we can judge what his true offensive ability is.
83. Brandon Allen
Recently traded from the White Sox to Arizona for fireballing reliever Tony Pena, Allen has some of the most prodigious raw power in the game. Since the trade, he's hitting .385/.484/.923 for Triple-A Reno.
Allen isn't just a one-tool slugger: he's got a good sense of the zone, makes decent contact, and plays a nice first base. For comparison, think Adrian Gonzalez with slightly worse defense.
82. Jacob McGee
Like De La Cruz, McGee is a hard-throwing lefty stud who gets knocked down a bit because of injury issues. He's just now getting back from Tommy John surgery that cost him a season.
McGee throws in the mid-90's, snaps off a good curve, and works an average changeup in when he needs it. In many ways, he's a lot like the pre-2009 version of Rays lefty Scott Kazmir.
Injury issues and talk of moving McGee to the bullpen push him down this list a bit, but he could be as good as Kazmir if the Rays leave him in the rotation, which I think they should unless he shows he can't handle a starting role.
81. Jay Jackson
Jackson has emerged as the Cubs' best prospect this year, as he's thrown extremely well in Double-A in just his second full pro season.
While some prospects but up video-game numbers in the minors and never cut it in the majors, Jackson's arsenal seems designed more for the big leagues than the minors. He throws four pitches for strikes, works both sides of the plate, and knows how to set hitters up.
Jackson works off a 90-93 mph fastball that touches 96. He throws a big curve and hard slider that both rate average-plus to plus. His changeup also is at least an average pitch.
Jackson may not grow to be an ace, but he has "solid No. 2-3 guy" written all over him. He may be the next Matt Cain.