Catching up with the BA Top 20...
Given that we're nearly half way through the season - and frankly, I'm a little bored - I thought I would check in on some of my comments and predictions on Baseball America's top 20 prospects list. Let's see how I did with #1 through #10 and then next week I'll look at the rest...
#1. Jason Heyward , about whom I had nothing negative to say, won the Braves' right field job with a stellar spring training and, frankly, no real competition from anyone on the roster. He mashed right out of the gate and was continuing to do so when he injured his thumb, which diminishes his Rookie of the Year chances but not his long-term prospects. His 11 homers, 42 walks and 45 RBI currently lead all qualified MLB rookies, and his .821 OPS is second only to Gaby Sanchez.
#2. Stephen Strasburg : I assume you've heard of him. If it's possible, he's been even better than expected, though for what it's worth, Walter Johnson doesn't think much of him .
After going 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA in 11 minor league (AA and AAA) starts, he was promoted to Washington where they continued, for one game at least, to allow him to face minor league hitters. He beat the lowly Pirates like a Disney villain beats a wayward step-child, fanning 14 in seven innings and generally embarrassing them all night. He then proceeded to tie a record for strikeouts in his first three and first four career games, before his teammates' lousy defense and inexperience cost him a potential win against Atlanta on Monday night. Seems like he's gonna be OK.
#3. Mike Stanton : I've taken a lot of flak over the years for my criticism of Stanton - based mostly on the fact that players who strike out as often as he does in the minors rarely become successful major leaguers - and for a while there it looked like I was going to have to eat my words.
Stanton - whose full name is a much more interesting Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton - came out of the gate swinging, as he always does, and destroyed AA pitching for about two months. His .313/.442/.729 line gave him the Southern League lead in OBP, Slugging and of course OPS, and his batting average was 8th. Good time for a promotion, right?
Well, yes, but probably, given that he was still striking out about once every three and a half at-bats, you would think they'd want him to get some seasoning in AAA first, wouldn't you? See if he can hit Chris Waters' curveball, or Brandon McCarthy's change-up, or Clay Mortensen's slider or Brian Bruney's fastball or Michael Kirkman 's assortment of junk before exposing him to (I kid you not...) Roy Halladay, Neftali Feliz, Jeff Niemann, C.J. Wilson, Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and, in case he wasn't already flabbergasted enough, R.A. Dickey, among others. Heck, Kevin Millwood even fanned him twice, and he sucks.
To date, he's hitting only .217 in the majors, having struck out in 30 of his 69 at-bats. Four of his 15 hits have gone for extra bases, including two homers, but he's clearly overmatched for the moment. let him get his feet wet against competition that's not so far over his head, and he may impress you next year.
#4. Jesus Montero , the biggest prospect in the Yankee system, has not hit quite as well as hoped so far this year. He's still hitting doubles and taking walks at a decent rate, but his batting average is down to about .250, perhaps due to bad luck or, perhaps, to all the work they're doing to develop his awkward catching mechanics.
He's hit .228 with a .665 OPS as a catcher so far this year, but .311 with a .948 OPS as a DH, so maybe he can't get out of his head when he's catching. He's only caught 20% of base stealers so far this year (18 of 90) but then the rest of the Scranton catching corps is even worse (2 for 24), so maybe he's not so bad and his pitchers just need to learn a slide step or something.
In any case, he hit .284/.324/.505 in June, so maybe he's coming around. I saw him hit a double and a triple at Lehigh Valley a couple of weeks ago, both off the wall, and he looks to me at least like the real thing. Look for him to heat up in the second half as he either gets more comfortable behind the plate or abandons catching all together. Look for him in the Bronx this September.
#5. Brian Matusz leads the AL with nine losses, but this belies the fact that he's actually pitched reasonably well for a rookie in his first long exposure to the majors, and this without any seasoning at AAA at all. Five of those nine losses occurred in Quality Starts , which happens a lot to pitchers on a team like the 2010 Orioles. If he can keep from getting dismayed by his teammates' porous defense and limp offense, he should turn out to be a very solid major league pitcher.
#6. Desmond Jennings was expected - by Baseball America and by me - to reach the majors in mid summer, and nothing he's done in the first half of the season has changed my mind. He's currently hitting .301/.376/.439 and is 19-for-20 in stolen bases at AAA Durham, but the Rays were in first place until a couple of weeks ago, and anyway, where would they put him?
Carl Crawford has been great, and Zorilla, while not the beast he was in 2009, has been fine too. BJ Upton is hitting only .226, but he's also the youngest and the best base stealer of the group, so they can't exactly bench him either. Probably they use one of those guys as a DH and then put either Hank Blalock or Willy Aybar on the bench, and DFA the other one. In fact, I fully expect them to come to this conclusion within the next couple of weeks or so. Mark my words.
#7. Buster Posey - I said the following about the young Giants' catcher in early March:
Posey will likely get some more seasoning in AAA, but assuming that he continues to hit the cover off the ball, he should be up in the majors for good by the end of May.
[...] If the Giants fall out of contention, he'll probably get more playing time in the majors, so they can help him develop, but if they can somehow stay within earshot of a playoff berth, look for them to give Molina the bulk of the playing time while Posey wiles away on the bench or in AAA.
Of course the Giants just traded Molina to the Rangers , which may or may not mean that they're bailing on 2010. While I would imagine that they still fancy themselves as contenders this year - they're currently 40-37, 5.5 games out in their own division with more than half the season left to play - it's likely that they also know that 55 of their remaining 85 games come against winning teams or teams with positive run differentials, and that they would have to leap-frog three teams to win their division this year.
If this isn't giving up but actually the first of a few steps in making a real push, Posey should be a help, though they'll need more of it.
While Posey has yet to really "hit" much in the majors, he was hitting .349 in the Pacific Coast League at the time of his promotion, and clearly has nothing left to prove down in the bushes. He isn't likely to bloom into the second coming of Mike Piazza in 2010, but he probably won't embarrass himself either.
#8. Pedro Alvarez . Well, he mashed at AAA, kind of the Giancarlo Cruz -Mike Stanton of the International League, hitting .277/.363/.533, with 13 homers and 68 strikeouts in 66 games. In the two weeks he's spent in the majors, he's hit only a buck-fifty-two and has made two errors at the hot corner, but then Andy LaRoche (.229/.295/.313) seems determined to give his job away, so Alvarez will get a chance to improve.
The Pirates, in dead last and with perhaps the worst offensive team in almost 40 years, have little to lose by giving him a chance to play. Look for him to eventually start to make some more contact and produce some power, though even at his best in the minors, he was striking out a little more than once per game, so don't expect that to change any time soon.
#9. Neftali Feliz leads the AL with 21 Saves as I write this, and he's struck out 37 batters in 34 innings with a 2.62 ERA. I'd say he's adjusted well to the majors. And if they keep him in the bullpen, then the control problems he showed as a starter may be behind him. That's probably asking a bit much, but it's not so outlandish as to be impossible.
#10. Carlos Santana did not seem fazed by his first exposure to AAA pitching. He hit .316/.447/.597 there, averaging an extra base hit in just about every other game and amassing more walks than strikeouts. While there was thought to be no rush - at least by me - to promote him to the majors, those numbers and the dismal performances of Lou Marson and Mike Redmond (a combined .200/.251/.270 with one homer between them) made it necessary to do something .
Enter Senior Evil Ways himself, who has hot .345 with four homers and more walks than strikeouts in his forts two weeks. Santana's not likely to keep hitting like this, but he's a good bet to finish the year with something like a .310 average and 15 or 20 homers, despite spending the first two months in the minors.
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