This is the final entry of 10 in my top 100 prospects series.
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 the top 10 prospects in baseball.
When a 19-year-old dominates Double-A hitters, he's usually pretty special.
Mejia throws very, very hard, topping out at 100 mph, and he backs up his fastball with a changeup with so much drop that hitters think it's a curveball. He has excellent command of both pitches.
Mejia has baffled batters at both High-A and Double-A this season and is almost ready for Triple-A before his 20th birthday.
Mejia does need to improve his curveball to complement the fastball and change, but even without any improvement, he could be the next Rich Harden (hopefully without Harden's injury issues).
I mentioned when talking about Yankees lefthander Manny Banuelos (No. 12) that Yankees prospects are often over-hyped. Montero is a good example; he's usually ranked in the top five, but that's a bit too high.
That said, Montero is a freakishly good hitter who ranks as the fourth-best position player in the minors. He's hit .335/.392/.556 across two levels at age 19. He doesn't strike out much for someone with a lot of power, so the .300 average is for real, and Montero should be a 30-40 home run guy.
The issue with Montero is his defense. He's not a very good catcher, and few think he'll actually play there in the majors. If moved to first, he'd still be a valuable hitter, but he wouldn't be far and away the best hitter at his position like he is at catcher.
Montero projects as a Mike Piazza-style catcher or Carlos Delgado-esque first baseman.
Jennings can do it all. He's hitting .326/.409/.504 in Double-A, is 36-for-41 in steals, and has an even 48/48 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also is an excellent center fielder.
Jennings is primed to be the next big 25 HR/50 SB guy in the majors, and he adds excellent defense to the equation. He also makes excellent contact for a slugger and has excellent plate discipline for a speed player.
The sky's the limit for the athletic Jennings, who may provide the Rays with an even better version of B.J. Upton.
Another 19-year-old who's split the year between High-A and Double-A, Stanton has hit .272/.365/.523 across the two levels a year after smashing 39 homers in Low-A.
Stanton has ridiculous power to all fields and should hit 35-55 homers per season. He isn't a .300 hitter, but he should hit .280 or so in the majors, and he draws a good number of walks.
Stanton is also a plus defender in right who can handle center if needed.
A true future star, Stanton should be a No. 3 or No. 4 hitter for many years, and should have many top-five MVP finishes.
This one probably shocks you.
Ranked just 10th on the Phillies prospect list by Baseball America entering the year, Knapp has really increased his stock this season.
Knapp has struck out 11.71 batters per nine innings while maintaining a decent walk rate and keeping the ball in the park.
On top of the statistical excellence, Knapp has age and stuff on his side. He's only 18 and already pitching well in a full-season league against hitters often 21 or older.
Then there's his stuff. Knapp's fastball sits around 95 mph and touches 100, and his slider and changeup both rate as plus pitches.
Knapp may not get much hype, but I can't understand why. Who doesn't like an 18-year-old with triple-digit velocity, two good off-speed pitches, and excellent results in a full-season league?
Probably the most hyped starting pitching prospect currently in organized ball (by that, I mean "aside from Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman"), Bumgarner has a 1.54 ERA between High-A and Double-A, and he's only 19.
The tall lefty throws 92-97 mph with a ton of run and sink on his fastball. He throws a hard breaking ball that looks like a curve but has slider speed, and it's an average-plus pitch. His changeup is average.
Bumgarner does have some mechanical issues, and his low arm angle could be an issue against righthanders, who do tend to hit him a bit harder than lefties. Bumgarner could be something like Randy Johnson if everything breaks right for him.
Level: N/A (unsigned)
Will he sign? I have no idea. The No. 1 overall pick in the draft has ridiculous bonus demands that the Nationals don't want to give in to, but it would be such a P/R disaster if they didn't sign him that they may have to give the righty what he wants.
Strasburg's talent is legendary. He throws in the high-90s all day and can supposedly get up to 103-104 mph. Scouts project him to throw even harder and think he could be the first pitcher on record to throw 105 mph (the highest anyone's ever recorded, to my knowledge, is 104 mph by Juan Morillo, Erick Threets and Joel Zumaya).
Strasburg backs up the fastball (which has good movement on top of the speed) with a decent breaking ball and change. The breaking ball is similar to Bumgarner's—curve break, slider speed. Strasburg has average-plus command.
In my short lifetime, there's never been a starting pitcher who can just sit at 97 mph all game. The closest thing we have to that now is Ubaldo Jimenez, who averages 95-96 mph.
The hype on Strasburg is unbelievably high, but to be the best pitching prospect in the game, he'll have to a) sign and b) get some pro innings under his belt and prove he's that good.
Like Knapp, Perez is a guy I've put in the top 10 that you probably have never heard of.
Ranked fifth among Rangers prospects by Baseball America entering the year, Perez got high reviews in the BA Prospect Handbook: "One scout said his arm action, ability to pitch on a downward plane, and power repertoire reminded him of Johan Santana."
That comparison's not a stretch. Perez is several months younger than Knapp, but he's been even better than the Phillies righthander in the Low-A South Atlantic League.
Perez has excellent command of all three of his pitches. He throws a 90-96 mph fastball with late tail, a big, hard curveball, and a changeup with late sink. The fastball and curve rate as plus pitches, and the changeup is already average.
Perez just turned 18 in April, but he's already fully equipped to pitch in High-A and perhaps even Double-A. He could be the next Santana.
Tillman is the best pitching prospect in baseball. He has No. 1 starter upside, and while he may not have the ceiling of Strasburg, Knapp, or Bumgarner, he's got the best chance of reaching his ceiling of any pitching prospect on the entire list.
Tillman has been the best starter in Triple-A this year, and he's only 21. He's already a mid-rotation-quality big league starter at his young age.
Tillman throws a moving fastball in the 90-96 mph range and backs it up with a hammer curve and good changeup. He's got great, clean mechanics and projects to handle a big workload. He's got plus command as well.
You can never guarantee prospects, but Tillman is as close to a guaranteed front-of-the-rotation guy as you can get.
We end our journey through the top 100 prospects with Atlanta's right fielder of the future, Jason Heyward.
Heyward is 19-years-old and hitting .396/.476/.679 in Double-A.
That's not a misprint.
Heyward is the complete package as a hitter. He's got power to all fields that he's just beginning to grow into. He could be a 50 HR threat.
In 53 Double-A at-bats, Heyward has walked eight times and struck out just four. He swings at good pitches to hit and hits them hard, and he has the pitch recognition skills to lay off off-speed stuff out of the zone.
Heyward has decent speed and excellent baserunning instincts, and he is a great defender in right field.
Heyward is a once-in-a-generation talent. The 1990s had Ken Griffey Jr., the 2000s had Albert Pujols, and the 2010s will have Heyward.