MLB Featured Columnists' Poll: The Best Prospects at Each Position
For fans of teams who have already given up on 2010, the most exciting time of the year is fast approaching: prospect season.
We've already seen call-ups like Starlin Castro, Ike Davis, and Justin Smoak. But that's nothing compared to the surge of youngsters who will be called up in the next couple weeks.
This week, to celebrate the advent of our first glimpses at the game's future, Bleacher Report's Featured Columnists have made our own lists of the top prospects (take that, Baseball America!).
This slideshow is a list of the top prospects at each position, followed by a definitive Top 10 list (for the sake of simplicity and the possibility that some of these players would be called up between when voting began and now, anyone who has or would have rookie eligibility counts as a "prospect").
Thanks to everyone who participated!
Note: I sent this survey only to the Featured Columnists who have been active in previous polls. If you are a new FC or you have changed your mind about wanting to participate, send me a message and I'll be sure to keep you in the loop for next time!
Catcher: Carlos Santana, Indians
1. Carlos Santana, CLE—6
2. Buster Posey, SF—4
3. Jesus Montero, NYY—3
T4. Jason Castro, HOU—1
T4. Tyler Flowers, CWS—1
Featured writer: Samantha Bunten
What impresses me most about Santana is how good he is compared to the league's other top catching prospects, who should theoretically have a huge advantage over him developmentally.
Posey and Castro were both first round draft picks with experience catching in college ball at top-tier baseball schools (Florida State and Stanford, respectively) who have likely been groomed for the majors since they were in middle school.
Santana, on the other hand, was an undrafted free agent with no college experience, thrust into professional baseball in a country far from his home and where he didn't speak the language.
If Santana can already outplay Posey and Castro now, just think how good he'll be once he has benefited from the same amount of high-level instruction, complementing his spectacular talent.
This year: 9 HR, 39 RBI, 5 SB, .306/.440/.551 (AAA, 43 games)
Minor League career: 71 HR, 348 RBI, .288/.399/.492 (512 games)
First Baseman: Justin Smoak, Rangers
1. Justin Smoak, TEX—6
2. Brett Wallace, TOR—4
3. Yonder Alonso, CIN—2
T4. Chris Carter, OAK—1
T4. Ike Davis, NYM—1
Featured writer: Eric Ball
Smoak jumped to Triple-A last season after being picked 11th overall in the 2008 draft.
He got off to a strong start in Triple-A, hitting .300, while drawing 10 walks in only nine games. He had only three strikeouts and four extra-base hits.
Scouts raved about the quality of his at-bats. Yet since being brought up April 23, he has hit .165 while only compiling 11 RBI. Most scouts see him as a rookie simply adjusting to the majors.
The Rangers have yet to lose faith, keeping him in the lineup throughout this rough stretch. He will break out of the rough start, it's only a matter of time. Have patience, Ranger fans.
This year: 4 HR, 11 RBI, .165/.287/.320 (MLB, 30 games); 2 HR, 5 RBI, .300/.470/.540 (AAA, 15 games)
Minor League career: 17 HR, 68 RBI, .293/.411/.461 (135 games)
Second Baseman: Dustin Ackley, Mariners
1. Dustin Ackley, SEA—9
2. Eric Young, COL—3
3. Brett Lawrie, MIL—2
Featured writer: Nino Colla
It hasn't taken Dustin Ackley long to be one of the top prospects in all of baseball.
The second overall pick in 2009 did nothing but hit over .400 every season with North Carolina during his college career.
Before even playing a professional game, Ackley was already rated by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization.
Baseball America says he has the ability to win numerous batting titles, but more impressively Ackley has done nothing but hit and win at the collegiate level, carrying a .410 average in three College World Series appearances.
Ackley's pro career isn't off to a great start average-wise, but he's still displaying the same plate discipline he did with the Tar Heels.
This year: 1 HR, 12 RBI, 5 SB, .206/.345/.316 (AA, 39 games)
Third Baseman: Pedro Alvarez, Pirates
1. Pedro Alvarez, PIT—10
2. Josh Bell, BAL—2
T3. Lonnie Chisenhall, CLE—1
T3. David Freese, STL—1
T3. Josh Vitters, CHC—1
Featured writer: Brandon Williams
The Pirates' most promising prospect since Barry Bonds, Pedro Alvarez is on the verge of making his major league debut, with early June as the likely target date.
Alvarez (.246/10/42 at Class AAA Indianapolis) has 35-homer, 100-RBI potential and will become one of the majors' premier players at the hot corner.
The 6'3", 220-pounder has just one glaring weakness (hitting lefties), but the Pirates envision him, OF Andrew McCutchen and 1B Garrett Jones as the foundation of a revival that will turn the tide of the downtrodden franchise.
Once he learns to pound southpaws, there's no question that Alvarez will immediately compete with New York's David Wright and Washington's Ryan Zimmerman for the title of best 3B in the National League. Within two to three seasons, he will overtake both.
This year: 10 HR, 42 RBI, .248/.333/.497 (AAA, 45 games)
Minor League career: 37 HR, 137 RBI, .278/.367/.525 (171 games)
Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Cubs
1. Starlin Castro, CHC—6
2. Alcides Escobar, MIL—5
T3. Tim Beckham, TB—2
T3. Ian Desmond, WAS—2
Featured writer: Bob Warja
Starlin Castro has a hose for an arm, a lightning-quick bat and great range at shortstop.
He was the top ranked shortstop among Keith Law's ESPN rankings, and despite just turning 20, is doing very well at the major league level, save for a three-error performance in his second game.
While he didn't show much power in his relatively brief minor league play, he has already hit two opposite field homers in the majors, and even Law projects that he will develop power as his body fills out and he gains experience.
I know that recent Cubs over-hyped prospects like Corey Patterson and Felix Pie haven't panned out, but I truly think that Castro is the real thing.
This year: 2 HR, 11 RBI, .350/.409/.500 (MLB, 16 games); 1 HR, 20 RBI, 4 SB, .376/.421/.569 (AAA, 26 games)
Minor League career: 9 HR, 122 RBI, 51 SB, .310/.362/.421 (264 games)
Outfielder No. 1: Jason Heyward, Braves
1. Jason Heyward, ATL—13
2. Desmond Jennings, TB—10
3. Mike Stanton, FLA—9
4. Austin Jackson, DET—6
5. Domonic Brown, PHI—2
T6. Michael Brantley, CLE—1
T6. Jose Tabata, PIT—1
T6. Ryan Westmoreland, BOS—1
Featured writer: Lewie Pollis
Before the season, the Jay-Hey Kid was at or near the top of every knowledgeable writer's top prospect lists. Nothing he's done so far this season has changed that.
It's hard to find adjectives strong enough to adequately describe the 20-year-old phenom. "Ruthian" comes to mind. "Future Hall-of-Famer" sounds accurate.
This auto-cidal slugger hit so many moonshots in Spring Training that the Braves had to put up nets over the right field wall to protect the cars in the executive parking lot.
Then, he smoked a ball so hard it went past the the parking lot. Against the wind.
According to Braves manager Bobby Cox, the noise Heyward's bat makes when it hits the ball is "kind of like ol' Hank Aaron's sound." What does that tell you?
This year: 9 HR, 33 RBI, .290/.409/.580 (MLB, 40 games)
Minor League career: 29 HR, 125 RBI, .318/.391/.508 (238 games)
Outfielder No. 2: Desmond Jennings, Rays
Featured writer: Jeremiah Wood
Jennings, 23, is considered by most to be the top prospect in a loaded Rays farm system.
He has great bat speed, is an exceptional runner, and even has the potential for some power as he continues to develop. He’s your prototypical top-of-the-order guy, a very good contact hitter that has the speed to get on base anytime he puts the ball in play.
He already has an advanced approach to hitting and baserunning (his 88 percent success rate on steals was among the best in the minors) and is simply an exciting player to watch.
The only knock on him so far is that he’s had some trouble staying healthy.
If he’s able to come up this season, he could team with Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton to create one of the fastest defensive outfields ever assembled. Either way, he is likely Crawford's long-term replacement in left field.
This year: 11 SB, .260/.349/.342 (AAA, 25 games)
Minor League career: 26 HR, 130 RBI, 145 SB, .303/.388/.450 (336 games)
Outfielder No. 3: Mike Stanton, Marlins
Featured writer: Cameron Britt
Mike Stanton is a power-hitting, 6’5” monster of a 20-year-old outfielder sitting with the Florida Marlins’ AA affiliate (where he has slugged 17 home runs while batting at a .318 clip through 40 games).
The California native has been awing fans at every stop through his two-plus years in the minors as he has slugged a grand total of 85 home runs—including 39 with the A affiliate of the Fish in 2009—and 63 doubles (plus nine triples…not bad for a big guy) through 311 Minor League games.
When you think of this young right-handed hitter, think of power, power, and more power (especially once he grows into his big frame a little more)—and some strikeouts (he’s racked up close to a 3:1 ratio of those to walks over the course of his Minor League career, although he has managed a BB:K of 35:42 thus far in 2010).
But, those come with the package…and with this dude’s upside, I think the Marlins can tolerate that.
This year: 17 HR, 44 RBI, .318/.451/.734 (AAA, 41 games)
Minor League career: 85 HR, 236 RBI, .274/.368/.565 (312 games)
Pitcher No. 1: Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
1. Stephen Strasburg, WAS—15
2. Aroldis Chapman, CIN—10
T3. Neftali Feliz, TEX—8
T3. Brian Matusz, BAL—8
T5. Madison Bumgarner, SF—6
T5. Jeremy Hellickson, TB—6
T7. Casey Kelly, BOS—4
T7. Mike Leake, CIN—4
9. Drew Storen, WAS—3
T10. Jake Arrieta, BAL—1
T10. Kyle Gibson, MIN—1
T10. Nick Hagadone, CLE—1
T10. Shelby Miller, STL—1
Feautred writer: Joshua Worn
What are you really supposed to expect when the report card on this guy includes expectations no less than the Cy Young and MVP awards, and numerous All-Star appearances?
Now, throw in a former World Series Hero who says that this guy could possibly be the best pitcher in the big leagues upon arrival within the next few weeks?
His minor league numbers up to this point: 6-1 with a 0.89 ERA in 8 starts in AA and AAA. 40.1 innings, 17 hits, 10 walks, 49 strikeouts. His WHIP is 0.67.
If those don't look like Xbox numbers I don't know what does.
This year: 3-0, 0.39 ERA, 27:4 K:BB ratio (AAA, 23.1 innings); 3-1, 1.64 ERA, 27:6 K:BB ratio (AA, 22 innings)
Pitcher No. 2: Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Featured writer: Cameron Britt
We’ve all heard about Aroldis Chapman and his electric left arm.
Holding a mid- to upper-90s fastball, a hard slider sitting in the upper-80s, and a low-80s changeup with a little movement, this guy has the repertoire to be in the big leagues right now…and his 15 Ks through 10.2 Spring innings almost garnered the 6’4” 22-year-old that opportunity.
But, the Reds opted to send the Cuban defector to AAA Louisville where he has gone on to post a 3.98 ERA with a 2:1 (exactly) K:BB ratio through 40.2 innings.
His 8.6 H/9 rate is a bit concerning—but his limited professional experience coupled with his raw stuff allows one to overlook that and gawk at his potential as the next great left-handed pitcher in baseball.
The kid’s raw, but this kind of stuff from a left-handed hurler is very special and should be very effective when he’s finally called up to Cincinnati.
This year: 4-2, 3.89 ERA, 48:24 K:BB ratio (AAA, 40.2 innings)
Pitcher No. T3: Neftali Feliz, Rangers
Featured writer: Joel Reuter
Strasburg gets all of the hype (rightfully so to this point), but Feliz has the stuff to be just as dominant.
While he still needs to develop a better second pitch, his fastball is among the best around and regularly hits triple digits.
Acquired from the Braves in the Mark Teixeira deal, Feliz slid into the closer’s role this season and has already posted 12 saves while continuing to strike out over a batter an inning.
While it is looking more and more like his future will be closing out games and not in the rotation, but there is no reason to believe he won’t be a perennial All-Star in that ninth inning role.
This year: 1-1, 3.09 ERA, 12 saves, 24:4 K:BB ratio (MLB, 23.1 innings)
Minor League career: 16-6, 3.03 ERA, 325:119 K:BB ratio (276 innings)
Pitcher No. T3: Brian Matusz, Orioles
Featured writer: Nick Cafferky
When the Orioles were a premier baseball organization, it was because of their pitching staff. If Baltimore ever wants to get back to that level, it will be because of the core of young pitchers that will be led by Brian Matusz.
Even if you choose to ignore the fact that this youngster already has three pitches that are exceptional (fastball, changeup, curveball), he is still amazing to watch just because of the way that he composes himself.
The poise that Matusz already possesses on the mound at his young age is very rare and it's what excites the fans in Baltimore so much.
Quality left-handed pitchers are such a sought-after commodity and the Orioles feel like they have a masterful one that will anchor the staff for a long time.
This year: 2-4, 5.26 ERA, 41:19 K:BB ratio (MLB, 49.2 innings)
Minor League career: 11-2, 1.91 ERA, 121:32 K:BB ratio (113 innings)
Pitcher No. T5: Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Featured writer: Kevin O'Brien
The 20-year-old left-handed pitcher has a lot of promise for the Giants.
First off, the Giants have a history of developing good pitchers (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez), which bodes well for Bumgarner's future and development.
Secondly, Bumgarner has shown excellent command and control in the minors. In his rookie year in Augusta (Single-A), he posted a ridiculous 7.81 K/BB ratio (compounded by a 1.33 BB/9).
The main knock on Bumgarner has been velocity and pitch variety. Last year in his callup, Bumgarner averaged only 89.2 MPH on his fastball. The same proved to be true in Spring Training. However, after a couple of starts and tweaks to his mechanics, Bumgarner is in the 90-plus MPH range again.
With stuff in the 90s, a four-pitch repertoire, solid command, and great mound presence, Bumgarner will be another key cog in the already-impressive Giants rotation.
This year: 3-1, 3.14 ERA, 36:13 K:BB ratio (AAA, 48.2 innings)
Minor League career: 30-6, 1.87 ERA, 292:68 K:BB ratio (321.2 innings)
Pitcher No. T5: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
Featured writer: Brett Kettyle
Thus far in 2010, Jeremy Hellickson has posted a 3.24 ERA, 9.9 K/9 and 5.00 K/BB in nine starts at AAA Durham.
With those numbers, he’s on pace for his worst season in the minors leagues in which he pitched in more than five games. You could make a case that Hellickson, not former top prospect David Price, was the better pitcher over the course of his minor league career.
With a low nineties fastball, solid curveball and amazing change-up (which sits about 10-15 mph below his heater) Hellickson has the repertoire to pitch in the majors. In 18 AAA starts over the past two years, he has posted a 2.85 ERA and 10.5 K/9.
He’s ready to pitch in the majors, and when one of the Rays' starters goes down due to injury, Hellickson will finally get his chance to shine at the major league level.
This year: 7-2, 2.79 ERA, 60:12 K:BB ratio (AAA, 58 innings)
Minor League career: 44-15, 2.72 ERA, 567:112 K:BB ratio (519 innings)
The Top 10
1. Stephen Strasburg—154 (6)
2. Jason Heyward—144 (8)
3. Mike Stanton—57
4. Carlos Santana—49
5. Desmond Jennings—47
6. Buster Posey—43
7. Pedro Alvarez—41
8. Aroldis Chapman—38
9. Neftali Feliz—36
10. Brian Matusz—30
(Voting on a 14-9-8-7... basis)
Also receiving votes:
11. Austin Jackson—24
T12. Dustin Ackley—23
T12. Jesus Montero—23
14. Madison Bumgarner—17
15. Starlin Castro—16
16. Jeremy Hellickson—15
17. Casey Kelly—11
18. Justin Smoak—10
19. Josh Bell—6
T20. Mike Leake—5
T20. Jose Tabata—5
T22. Tim Beckham—4
T22. Jason Castro—4
T24. Domonic Brown—3
T24. Drew Storen—3
T24. Eric Young—3
27. Brett Wallace—2
T28. Yonder Alonso—1
T28. Ike Davis—1