MLB Power Rankings: Top 15 Prospects in the AL East

Matt SAnalyst IIIApril 19, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: Top 15 Prospects in the AL East

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    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11:  Jeremy Hellickson #58 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park April 11, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Baseball is more than a game.  It's also a way of life.  Perhaps more than any other major sport, baseball relies on long-term development to create successful players.  It generally takes years of grooming before guys are ready to contribute consistently, and as fans know, relatively few ever make it to the major leagues.

    But part of what makes the game so intriguing is being able to track the players who are just on the edge of stardom, wondering and predicting who might be in the next wave of MLB stars.  With the 2011 season now in full swing, it's a good time to examine the game's best prospects and see who we might all be pulling for in 2012 and beyond.

    I'll start with the A.L. East, MLB's toughest division.

    I've ruled out guys like Tampa's Jeremy Hellickson (pictured), Baltimore's Zach Britton, Toronto's Kyle Drabek, and Boston's Ryan Kalish.  The first three, all pitchers, have already earned spots in their respective rotations this year, though Britton may be bumped when Brian Matsuz returns from the D.L.  Kalish is back in Triple-A Pawtucket at the moment, but he proved his readiness last year when a host of Red Sox injuries forced him into action.  Other exclusions include Tampa's Jake McGee and Toronto's J.P. Arencibia. 

    While this group has graduated from prospects to big leaguers (more or less), there's plenty of talent still on the horizon.  Here are the division's current Top 15 prospects.

    This post uses input from Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America

No. 15: Drake Britton, Boston Red Sox

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    LHP 6'2", 200 pounds

    Current Level: High-A (Salem Red Sox, Carolina League)

    Britton underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 but made a solid comeback in 2010 in Single-A ball with the Greenville Drive.  Promoted to the High-A Salem Red Sox, he'll look to continue his climb through the Boston farm system.  But even in a best-case scenario, he's years away from the majors.

    Britton has a good fastball and a good curve, but lacks a quality third pitch.  Coaches are working on developing his changeup.

    The Sox are treating him very carefully after the surgery, so in some ways his ceiling has yet to be established. 

No. 14: Hak-Ju Lee, Tampa Bay Rays

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    SS 6'1", 170 pounds

    Current Level: High-A (Charlotte Stone Crabs, Florida State League)

    The 20-year-old Lee is a solid shortstop prospect with a good mix of hitting and fielding skills.  He brings upside in the form of speed, a good throwing arm, and plate discipline, but there is plenty of room for improvement.  While his range is there, the rest of his defense needs work, and he's unlikely to develop any significant power.

    It will be a few years before Lee gets close to the majors, but the raw tools are there.  He projects as a leadoff-type hitter, but has struggled in that role at the minor league level.  Still, Tampa is an organization that relies heavily on its prospects, so if Lee can work on his flaws he has a chance. 

No. 13: Andrew Brackman, New York Yankees

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    RHP 6'10", 230 pounds

    Current Level: Triple-A (Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Yankees, International League)

    The towering Brackman is an enigma.  At 25, he's nearing the point at which potential turns into reality, and scouts still have mixed feelings.  The knock on him is his inconsistency; his fastball has good movement but varies dramatically in speed from start to start.  He also lacks a third pitch and is another Tommy John "survivor".

    But 2010 was a big year for Brackman.  With the Eastern League's Double-A Trenton Thunder, he refined his curve ball and worked on being more dependable.  The organization seems to think he took a big step forward, as evidenced by his promotion to Triple-A.

    Brackman might end up being a reliever rather than a starter if he can't get his consistency problem sorted out.

    On a personal note...Like Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Larkin, Brackman is a product of the sports mecca Moeller High School in my hometown of Cincinnati.   

No. 12: Travis d'Arnaud, Toronto Blue Jays

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    C 6'2", 195 pounds

    Current Level: Double-A (New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Eastern League)

    Minor league catchers are often works-in-progress, possessing either good defensive skills or a good bat, but rarely both.  D'Arnaud is an exception.  At 22, he has a good mix of power, hitting skills, and defense that make him a likely candidate to reach the majors.

    Part of the deal that sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, d'Arnaud finds himself in a tricky situation.  With J.P. Arencibia positioned as Toronto's catcher of the future, he's blocked from the majors.  However, he's still a couple of years away from being a legitimate big league possibility, so things could change.

    D'Arnaud posted a .726 OPS in limited action with High-A Dunedin last year. 

No. 11: Anthony Ranaudo, Boston Red Sox

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    RHP 6'7", 230 pounds

    Current Level: Single-A (Greenville Drive, South Atlantic League)

    The LSU product was regarded as the best college pitcher in the nation before elbow problems derailed his 2010 season.  But a strong showing in the Cape Cod League enticed Boston into signing the big righty.  The hope is that he'll return to 2009 form, when he led the Tigers to a national championship.

    Ranaudo has three pitches: a good fastball in the mid-90s, a power curve, and a solid change.  He has the arsenal and the size to be a weapon.  

    The downside lies in his injury risk and some mechanical flaws that affected him last year.  But at 21 years of age, Ranaudo has some time to work out the kinks before the Sox move him up the ladder.

No. 10: Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays

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    DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Infielder Brett Lawrie #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays sets for play against the Detroit Tigers February 26, 2011 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    2B 6'0", 215 pounds

    Current Level: Triple-A (Las Vegas 51s, Pacific Coast League)

    Lawrie's stock continues to rise as he makes his way through the minors.  The cornerstone of the deal that sent Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee, Lawrie has a great opportunity to be in the majors as soon as this year. He's torching the PCL with a 1.140 OPS, 10 runs scored, six doubles, and seven RBI through 11 games.

    The 51s have Lawrie playing third, where his defense needs work.  But that's no surprise given that all of his pro experience has been at second.  The Blue Jays' Aaron Hill is in the process of having another disastrous campaign, so a call-up for Lawrie at some point this season wouldn't be a shock. 

No. 9: Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

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    FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  :  Chris Archer #35 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays Photo Day on February 22, 2011 at the Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    RHP 6'3", 185 pounds

    Current Level: Double-A (Montgomery Biscuits, Southern League)

    Only 22, Archer is already with his third organization, having bounced from the Indians to the Cubs to the Rays.  Part of the deal that sent Matt Garza to Chicago, Archer is highly regarded by the Tampa organization.

    He has a power arm and throws two pitches well.  His fastball can hit 96 miles per hour and has a natural cut to it, but his best pitch might be his slider.  Archer needs to improve his command and must learn to keep that slider in the strike zone.

    He'll probably make it to Triple-A this season, where the Rays can better evaluate his likely role in the majors.  But with a strikeout rate of better than a batter per inning, he'll definitely fit in somewhere.

No. 8: Jose Iglesias, Boston Red Sox

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    FORT MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Infielder Jose Iglesias #76 of the Boston Red Sox fields a ground ball during a Spring Training Workout Session at the Red Sox Player Development Complex on February 19, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    SS 5'11", 175 pounds

    Current Level: Triple-A (Pawtucket Red Sox, International League)

    Red Sox fans hope that Iglesias is the solution to a long-term problem.  Boston has been without a reliable shortstop ever since Nomar Garciaparra left town, but hopes are high that the 21-year-old Cuban-born Iglesias can live up to his potential.

    He posted a dominating .958 OPS in Low-A ball before making the jump to Double-A Portland last season, and 2011 began with Iglesias in Pawtucket.  He's struggling a bit at the plate, but Iglesias is not prized for his hitting skills anyway.  His value lies in his fielding ability and he's considered the best defensive shortstop in the minors.

    Pegged as Gold Glove-caliber, Iglesias will make it to majors regardless of his bat.  While he may never be anything but a nine-hole hitter, his defense is legit and much needed in Fenway.

No. 7: Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

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    FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 14:  Pitcher Dellin Betances #72 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Boston Red Sox during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at City of Palms Park on March 14, 2011 in Fort Myers, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Im
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    RHP 6'8", 255 pounds

    Current Level: Double-A (Trenton Thunder, Eastern League)

    In 2010, Betances went from a being off the radar to being one of the minors' best arms.  Elbow surgery in 2009 had the organization concerned, but a collective 2.11 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in High-A and Double-A last year alleviated any worries.

    With a respectable fastball and a six-to-twelve power curve, Betances has the necessary throws.  He needs to improve his changeup, but more than that, he needs to prove himself over the course of a full season.

    Don't be surprised if the 23-year-old sees the Triple-A level this year, but he needs a lot more seasoning before getting a call-up.  Still, it's hard to ignore his potential.  This guy could evolve into a true ace. 

No. 6: Manny Banuelos, New York Yankees

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    LHP 5'11", 155 pounds

    Current Level: Double-A (Trenton Thunder, Eastern League)

    Though he lacks the size of many other top pitching prospects, Banuelos is among the best arms in the minors.  He's been dominant at every level, with a lifetime 2.54 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over three-plus seasons.

    Banuelos has a mid-90s fastball and a quality curve, but his best pitch might be his changeup.  His command and ability to change speeds make him very dangerous.

    The only real concern is his frame.  Can he hold up to the demands of full major league seasons?  Supporters will point to Tim Lincecum as evidence, but the worry remains.  However, if he proves to be durable, Banuelos could be a front-end starter.  

No. 5: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

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    C 6'2", 220 pounds

    Current Level: Single-A (Charleston RiverDogs, South Atlantic League)

    Suddenly, the Yankees farm system is looking extremely deep and dangerous, particularly in terms of pitching and catching.  The 18-year-old Sanchez is already drawing comparisons to New York's other backstop prospect, Jesus Montero, who will be discussed later.

    Sanchez brings a mix of power, hitting, and defense that has scouts clamoring to watch him.  Last year he posted a .936 OPS on Rookie and Low-A ball, though he did struggle a bit after being promoted to the Staten Island Yankees.  In 2011, he'll begin in Single-A ball where through five games he's held his own.

    He has a big arm but needs to improve his defense, although that's to be expected given his age.  Sanchez's biggest obstacle might be the talent in front of him. 

No. 4: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays

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    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  (EDITOR'S NOTE: IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY DESATURATED) Desmond Jennings #27 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Photo Day at Charlotte County Sports Park on February 26, 2010 in Port Charl
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    OF 6'2", 200 pounds

    Current Level: Triple-A (Durham Bulls, International League)

    A year ago, Jennings was one of the best prospects in the nation, ranked in the top 10 by most major scouting services.  Since then, injuries have caused some setbacks.  But Jennings is still a five-star talent.

    He has weaknesses, including an average arm, mediocre power and a tendency to be streaky at the plate.  But those are outweighed by his overall hitting ability and tremendous speed.  Jennings already has an excellent batting eye that will only improve with experience, and his bat is quick through the zone.  Plus, his career stolen base rate is better than 84 percent, showing a great understanding of how to run the basepaths.

    His 2009 OPS of .888 is probably more indicative of his skill than last year's .756.  Jennings' 2011 campaign is off to a hot start, and a mid- to late-season call-up is entirely possible. 

No. 3: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

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    SS 6'3", 185 pounds

    Current Level: Single-A (Delmarva Shorebirds, South Atlantic League)

    The 18-year-old Machado was considered the best high school position player in the nation when he was selected third overall by the Orioles in 2010.  And his pro debut did nothing to disprove that notion.  In nine games in Rookie and Low-A ball, he posted a collective .831 OPS.

    The only real questions mark with Machado is his youth.  He has all the skills, but only time will tell if those can translate to the pro level.  But clearly there's a lot to like.

    He has a great batting eye, good bat speed, and his fielding skills are solid.  The power indicators are positive as well, giving him the potential to be a true five-tool player.  Over the next few years, keep an eye on Machado as he rolls through Baltimore's farm system. 

No. 2: Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

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    LHP 6'2", 205 pounds

    Current Level: Double-A (Montgomery Biscuits, Southern League)

    Moore is only 22 years old and already a horse.  He has the build and mechanics of an innings-eater, a guy who can maintain his good stuff deep into games.  It's an ability that means a great deal to major league clubs and is appreciated by relievers everywhere.

    With recent improvement to his changeup, Moore has three quality pitches.  His fastball hits the mid-90s and he has a powerful late-breaking curve.  In all, he's considered the organization's best minor leaguer now that Jeremy Hellickson in with the Rays.

    His strikeout rate screams ace potential, and if Moore can refine his command a bit, he'll hit the majors next year. 

No. 1: Jesus Montero, New York Yankees

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    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 21: Jesus Montero #83 of the New York Yankees works out during the second day of full teams workouts at Spring Training on February 21, 2011 at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    C 6'3", 235 pounds

    Current Level: Triple-A (Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Yankees, International League)

    Baseball America ranks Montero as the nation's third best prospect behind the all-world Bryce Harper and L.A.'s Mike Trout.  And frankly, Montero is probably a better power bat than either of those outfielders.  His pure strength coupled with strong wrist action and tremendous bat speed will likely lead to a lot of home runs and lofty batting averages at the pro level.

    Since graduating from Rookie ball, Montero's worst season OPS is .868; this kid is going to rake.  The trouble is that he's not a catcher.  The Yankees are going to have to find another spot for him or be willing to put up with below average defense.

    With Gary Sanchez moving up through the system, the smart thing to do is convert Montero to a right fielder and get his bat in the lineup as soon as possible.  A 2011 call-up is probable.  Even though he lacks speed and doesn't offer much of a glove, Montero is, in all likelihood, going to be an impact player for a long time.