Here's a Thought: Nathaniel's Top 100 MLB Prospects: #50-41
This is part six of 10 in my top 100 prospects series.
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 50-41.
#50: Ezequiel Carrera
Carrera is a prototypical leadoff guy. He just turned 22, is hitting .322 in Double-A, and has more walks than strikeouts.
Carrera is a very good center fielder and has the speed to steal 30-40 bases per season.
The downside with Carrera is that he doesn't hit for much power, but he's a lot like Ichiro and could eventually succeed Ichiro as the Mariners' dangerous leadoff hitter.
#49: Trevor Reckling
The bad: Reckling has some command issues and has just a 65/47 K/BB ratio in 88 Double-A innings.
The good: Reckling is just 20, keeps the ball in the park (just three homers and a 50.2 GB%), and is already a decent Double-A pitcher at a young age.
Furthermore, Reckling has arguably the best offspeed pitches in the minors. His fastball is in the 88-93 mph range, which is plenty good enough for a lefty. He has excellent command of his deceptive changeup, and throws one of the best lefty curves in the minors.
Reckling's still a bit rough around the edges, but he's got some Johan Santana in him.
#48: Kasey Kiker
It's no coincidence Kiker is ranked right next to Reckling. Both are prized fastball-curve-change lefties in Double-A for AL West teams.
Kiker's control is a little bit better than Reckling's, and he does get more strikeouts, although he's a year older. Just 5'9", Kiker is tough to face in spite of his short stature because he throws inside a lot. He's hit a whopping 16 batters this year, somewhat because of his average command, but more because of his aggressiveness inside.
Kiker's got a little more velocity than Reckling, pitching at 90-97 mph. His curve and change are both plus pitches.
Kiker is something of a lefty Pedro Martinez, with the same stuff and aggressiveness, but less command. He could finally give the Rangers an ace.
#47: Angel Villalona
I ranked Villalona #1 on this list last year. That seemed something of a stretch, but most experts had him in the 10-30 range.
He's fallen far this year because he's shown no control of the strike zone, striking out 73 times and walking just nine. He's also nothing special defensively at first.
That said, there's a reason Villalona's a top-50 prospect: he has perhaps the highest power ceiling in the game. He could be a perennial 50-HR guy in the Ryan Howard/Prince Fielder mold. He's also in High-A at age 18, which is ridiculously advanced for his age. It's not surprising he's showing some issues when facing pitchers often six years older than he.
Despite his undeveloped pitch recognition, Villalona has still managed to hit .267, and he makes good contact for a slugger. If he learns how to lay off breaking stuff, he could be the next great power hitter in baseball. If he doesn't, however, he could be the next Brad Eldred and be confined to Quad-A status.
Given his young age, it's far, far too early to write Villalona off.
#46: Bud Norris
Quite the contrast with Villalona, the 24-year-old Norris is very good right now but unlikely to improve much. He's got two plus pitches: a mid-90's fastball and a great breaking ball with slider velocity and curveball break.
A short, stocky righty, Norris looks a bit like Roger Clemens, and has a similar bulldog demeanor on the mound. His control needs a bit of refining, and he needs to use his changeup more, as two-pitch starters rarely cut it in the majors.
Norris is almost certainly going to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter; he doesn't have the upside of someone like Reckling, but he also has much less downside. He's major-league-ready and should be very good from day one in a Houston uniform.
#45: Dustin Ackley
Level: N/A (unsigned)
The second overall pick in this year's draft, Ackley has yet to sign, but it's nearly certain that he will.
Ackley is a decent defensive center fielder who is a plus in the corners. He could be a .325 hitter with a .400 OBP in the majors someday.
His other offensive tools aren't overwhelming. Ackley is a gap power guy who can steal a few bases, but he doesn't project to slug over .500.
Ackley could be Darin Erstad with a longer peak. If that sounds underwhelming to you, remember Erstad hit .355/.409/.541 in 2000.
#44: Dominic Brown
A wiry, toolsy outfielder, Brown's having an excellent age-21 season in High-A, hitting .315/.392/.537 in a pitcher's league.
For a toolsy prospect, Brown has advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition, so he draws a good amount of walks and doesn't strike out much despite having a big strike zone at 6'5". He's a plus defender in right who can be a 20 SB guy in the majors as well.
All told, Brown should at least be the next Alex Rios, and he could be even better than that.
#43: Neftali Feliz
Coming into the season, Feliz was thought of as a top-10 prospect by many, and I would have at least put him in the top 20. He's put together a nice year in Triple-A at age 21 and has done nothing to quash the hype.
So why in hell is Feliz ranked 43rd?
In late June, the Rangers, for whatever reason, decided Feliz would fit best in the bullpen, which lowers his upside dramatically. Sure, he'll be a great reliever, but you convert mediocre starters (Mariano Rivera, anyone?) to relief, not dominant ones.
Feliz throws an upper-90's fastball with good movement and also throws a plus breaking ball and changeup, so it's not like he was a two-pitch guy that needed to move to relief. I'd drop him to the 60's if I was sure he was going to stay in relief, and I'd rank him in the 10-15 range if he was a starter, so I'm splitting the difference and ranking him here. If he's moved back to the rotation, consider him moved up 30 spots.
#42: Brett Wallace
Fewer prospects scream "professional hitter" more than Wallace, whose bad body makes him a below-average third baseman who would move to first if the Cardinals didn't have some Pujols guy over there.
Wallace isn't the best of power guys, but he should hit 20-30 HR/season. Few batters project as .310/.390/.540-level guys, but Wallace is one of them. I have him a bit lower than most because of his defensive limitations and because his maxed-out body limits his ability to add power, but he's a true difference-making bat.
#41: Justin Smoak
Smoak was taken two picks ahead of Wallace in last year's draft, and has done nothing to disappoint.
He's a switch-hitting first baseman with excellent contact, plate discipline, power, and defense. Texas had a first baseman with that skill set named Teixeira a few years back, and that seemed to work out pretty well.