MLB Power Rankings: Each Team's Best Performing Prospect of the Year
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
It was a great year for baseball prospects.
Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, Michael Pineda and Mark Trumbo all put together amazing campaigns from start to finish, while Toronto's Brett Lawrie and New York's Jesus Montero are in the process of showing us that sometimes baseball really does save the best for last.
Down in the minor leagues there were some pretty epic performances as well.
Three pitchers cracked the 200-strikeout mark for the first time in a very long time. Two of those players (Tampa's Matt Moore and Philly's Trevor May) will be featured on this list, while the actual strikeout champion, Colorado's Edwar Cabrera, just missed out.
At the plate, some huge numbers were put up by Houston's tiny offensive juggernaut Jose Altuve, Oakland slugger Michael Choice and Colorado's Nolan Arenado, a name that should be a household one in a few more years.
Most notably, you'll find no Bryce Harper on this list, no Manny Machado and no Jameson Taillon. Each player was bested for top performing prospect honors by another well-deserving stud player.
So let's delve into the 2011 minor league season and find out who was the top performing prospect for each individual team.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
With all due respect to Paul Goldschmidt and Collin Cowgill, both of whom reached the big-leagues for the first time after dynamic minor league campaigns, the top performing prospect for the Diamondbacks has to be left-hander Tyler Skaggs.
Not only did the 20-year-old lefty reach Double-A in just his second full season, but he also challenged for the minor league strikeout crown, started for Team USA in the Futures Game and earned Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors.
Skaggs' stats were a testament to how much his stuff has improved since being drafted by the Angels with the 40th overall selection in the 2009 draft. His fastball which sat in the 90-91 mph range a few years ago, now sits comfortably in the 92-94 range. His curveball has been one of the best in the minor leagues this year.
Skaggs performed so well this year that there were whispers of him getting a late-season promotion to the majors, although after throwing a career-high 158.1 innings, it makes sense to give the youngster some rest.
9-6, 2.96 ERA, 27 GS, 158.1 IP, 198-to-49 K:BB, 10 HRA (Visalia and Mobile)
Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
It was a good year for pitching, both in the majors and the minor leagues, so it's no surprise that so many top performing prospects wound up being pitchers.
Atlanta's top overall prospect, Julio Teheran, did exactly what he's done for the past two seasons, and precisely what the team expected him to do in Triple-A...dominate. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more consistent performer than this 20-year-old right-hander who posted victories in 15 of his 24 starts.
But the major step in the development of Teheran as a pitcher was his willingness to not always go after the strikeout like he had in years past. As a result, his strikeout total dipped, from 159 last year to 122 this year, despite pitching two more innings. Furthermore, opponent's batting average against him also experienced an uptick, from .208 to .232, although clearly his defense was there to back him up, and his ERA was four-hundtreths of a percent lower than last year.
For his efforts in the International League, Teheran was awarded with the Pitcher of the Week honors twice, named a mid-season and post-season All-Star and honored as the Most Valuable Pitcher in the circuit.
Teheran also finally got the call to pitch in the big leagues, although the results there were not as pretty as in the IL.
15-3, 2.55 ERA, 25 G, 24 GS, 144.2 IP, 122-to-48 K:BB, five HRA (Gwinnett)
1-1, 3.86 ERA, 3 GS, 14 IP, 5-to-6 K:BB, two HRA (Atlanta)
Jon Schoop, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
The fact that Schoop performed as well as he did in Low-A ball was astounding.
That he struggled in High-A was to be expected, but the fact that he rebounded to finish as one of the Keys top hitters as a 19-year old might mean the O's have something special in the Curacao native.
Schoop began the year as an afterthought, a backup to top prospect Manny Machado at shortstop. Sure enough, though, he forced his way into the lineup with his bat, and it wasn't long before he was getting regular starts at third base. By May he was outplaying the team's top prospect.
In 51 games with Delmarva, Schoop hit .316 with 12 doubles and eight home runs, three fewer than Machado hit the entire season. He showed incredible plate discipline for a teenager, drawing 20 walks to just 32 strikeouts. He even showed some decent speed, legging out three triples and stealing six bases.
By the time June rolled around, there really wasn't a reason NOT to promote Schoop, despite his age and inexperience (six games of full-season experience coming into 2011).
He struggled, understandably, hitting just .250 during June and .214 during July. He rebounded during August and was the team's hottest hitter during the month, hitting .336 with eight doubles, four home runs and 21 RBI. He slumped a bit in September, but it didn't matter.
He clinched the Orioles minor league player of the year honors by the time August was half-through.
Schoop performed so well at third, that he's now considered the team's long-term answer there. They moved Mark Reynolds to first base to plug that hole so now the only players standing between Schoop and the big-league job are Josh Bell, he of the .205 career average in the Majors, and Brandon Waring, who collects strikeouts like they're going out of style and will one day be worth something.
The real key for Schoop will be avoiding a slump in 2012. With another strong season, he could boost his prospect status greatly and could be considered one of the top young infielders in baseball.
.290, 82 runs, 24 2B, five 3B, 13 homers, 71 RBI, 42-to-76 BB:K, 12-of-19 SB (Delmarva and Frederick)
Ryan Lavarnway, C, Boston Red Sox
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
The Red Sox have been waiting for an heir apparent to Jason Varitek to, well...make himself apparent, and it appears they have finally gotten their wish, with Ryan Lavarnway.
Yes, his catching prospects are about as bright as Jesus Montero, of Boston's New York rival, but his bat is something special. This year, splitting time between Double- and Triple-A, Lavarnway hit .290 with a system-best 32 home runs. He also drove in 93 runs, rapped 23 doubles and drew a decent number of walks.
If only his defensive prowess measured up to his ability at the plate, he would be manning backstop in Boston on a full-time basis.
Fortunately, the team called him up to get a longer look at him and his defensive liabilities. If he proves to be solid with the bat, which he has so far (.304 with three RBI in eight games), he could earn himself a spot on the team's roster for next year, something that has become almost impossible for a Red Sox minor leaguer in this age of free agent spending.
.290, 75 runs, 23 2B, 32 HR, 93 RBI, 57-to-107 BB:K, 1-for-1 SB (Portland and Pawtucket)
.304, three runs, two 2B, three RBI, 4-to-6 BB:K (Boston)
Junior Lake, SS, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs need a superstar minor league shortstop like they need a hole in their head. With Starlin Castrol firmly entrenched at short, the Cubs are set for at least a decade, making players like Junior Lake fairly expendable.
Still, that shouldn't diminish the season that the 21-year old from the Dominican Republic had. First, Lake tore up the Florida State League, earning his first All-Star nod and showcasing skills that made him one of the most exciting players to watch in baseball.
After the break he took his game to Double-A, where he was one of the youngest players on the Tennessee squad. He struggled at first, hitting .214 in June and .220 in July, but rebounded with an incredible August. In 23 games he hit .322 with six doubles, three homers, nine RBI, 20 runs scored and seven steals.
Everything seemed to come together for Lake this year, his fifth with Chicago. He showed great speed, some decent raw power and a rocket arm that is easily the strongest in the system. The word around the Windy City is that Lake might be destined for third base at some point.
.279, 80 runs, 21 2B, six 3B, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 19-to-109 BB:K, 38-of-44 SB (Daytona and Tennessee)
Dayan Viciedo , OF, Chicago White Sox
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Many people were shocked when Cuban defector Dayan Viciedo was left off the opening day roster in Chicago, and looking back, it's a wonder that he played almost the entire season at Triple-A Charlotte, despite dominating International League pitching for nearly five months.
Viciedo clearly let the demotion affect his play during the first month as he struck out an a pace that was very unlike him and slugged only three home runs. He picked up the pace in May, hitting .349 with six homers and an astounding 27 RBI in just 23 contests, and carried that play into June, hitting .371 with another four long-balls.
His play slipped a bit in July, but he became more selective at the plate and rebounded with a strong finish to the year. He was rewarded for his stellar campaign with another September promotion to the Majors, where he has continued to rake, hitting .357 with one homer and four RBI in just 11 games.
One of the primary reasons Viciedo remained at Charlotte for so long is so he could learn a new position, outfield. Primarily a first and third baseman during his first two seasons with the Sox, he shifted to the outfield to increase his versatility.
With that task out of the way, there should be nothing standing in the way of him landing a spot on the big-league roster next year.
.296, 60 runs, 28 2B, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 45-to-83 BB:K, 2-for-3 SB (Charlotte)
.357, five runs, one 2B, one HR, four RBI, 2-to-8 BB:K, 1-for-1 SB (Chicago)
Billy Hamilton, SS, Cincinnati Reds
There may have been players who had more complete, rounded campaigns, such as Neftali Soto or Dennis Phipps, but nobody opened as many eyes this year as Billy Hamilton.
The 21-year old set the minor leagues on fire with some of the fastest wheels to ever come through the Reds organization. Three times Hamilton stole over 20 bases...in a single month. His highest steal total came during May, when he swiped 23 bags in just 27 games. Who cares about the fact that he batted .218 during the month.
Hamilton was right on pace for 100 steals heading into the final week, but after being blanked for three consecutive games the possibility looked dim. And then he went and swiped eight bags over his final three contests, to come into the finish with a cool 102.
102 steals...in one season. That kind of feat hadn't been accomplished since 2001 and has only happened in the minor leagues 12 times...EVER! He broke the team's minor league record as well, shattering the old mark of 98 set back in 1988.
Stealing bases wasn't the only thing Hamilton did well. He also rapped 18 doubles, legged out nine triples and scored 99 runs, one short of completing a double-double (100 runs-100 steals). He also showed incredible patience for a then 20-year old playing in the Midwest League, drawing 52 walks. Those free passes helped him boost his on-base percentage near .350.
And he rebounded from his tough showing at the plate in April and May to hit over .320 the rest of the way, ending the year with a decent .278 average.
.278, 99 runs, 18 2B, nine 3B, three HR, 50 RBI, 52-to-133 BB:K, 103-of-123 SB (Dayton)
Zach McAllister, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Jason Miller/Getty Images
As is the case with so many New York Yankee prospects, it's often not until they leave the organization that they find sustained success at the big-league level. It happened with Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke, and it looks likely that we're one day going to be able to add McAllister's name to that list.
In Yankee land the burly (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) right-hander is better known as the guy New York had to give up late last year to get Austin Kearns. Most fans didn't mind the loss, because McAllister was 8-10 with an ERA approaching 5.10 at the time of the trade, but more well-informed fans would have also been able to tell you that for the two years prior to his 2010 meltdown he was arguably the best pitcher in an organization loaded with high-ceiling arms.
This year, in a different city with much less pressure to be perfect, McAllister truly thrived. He made 25 starts for Columbus of the International League and was brilliant in almost every single one. He posted one of the best winning percentages in the league, going 12-3 and held down a solid 3.32 ERA. He tossed three complete games, one of which came in the form of a shutout.
He pitched a career high 154.2 innings and posted by far the best K:BB ratio (128-to-31) of his entire career. The Indians rewarded McAllister for his consistency, granting him a one-start call-up in July and another in August. He was hit hard in those two games, but showed enough to warrant a long look next spring.
12-3, 3.32 ERA, 25 GS, three CG, one ShO, 154.2 IP, 128-to-31 K:BB, 11 HRA (Columbus)
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies had so many worthy candidates for top performing prospect honors, including Chad Bettis (12-5, 3.34 ERA), Kent Matthes (.334, 23 HR, 95 RBI), Tim Wheeler (.287, 33 HR, 86 RBI), Corey Dickerson (.282, 32 HR, 87 RBI),Kyle Parker (.285, 21 HR, 95 RBI) and the reigning minor league strikeout champ, Edwar Cabrera (8-3, 3.34 ERA, 217 K).
However, for the second consecutive year, the best performance came from 20-year old Nolan Arenado, the team's second-round pick from 2009. After hitting .308 with 41 doubles and 12 homers last season, the California native took his game up a notch in the hitter friendly California League.
After a slow start, he got going in May and never slowed down, hitting .358 in June and driving in at least 21 runs in five different months. He ended the year, all of which was spent in the Cal League as the organizational leader with 122 RBI. That number was also good to take home the RBI title as the best number in all of the minor leagues. He bested the next closest competitor by eight.
Again, Arenado was prolific with the doubles, rapping 32, although playing at higher altitudes turned a lot of his two-baggers into home runs and he ended up with ten more long-balls than he had in 2010.
A major developmental step forward in Arenado's game occurred in his plate discipline. He was never an easy guy to strikeout (52 K in 373 ABs in 2010), but this year he became more willing to take a walk. He improved his walk total from 19 to 47, and walked just one more time than he did last year despite getting more than 150 extra at-bats.
On defense, Arenado improved his play at third. Some see him as the inevitable heir to Todd Helton at first base, but his prowess at the hot corner has people discussing a potential long-term fit there.
.298, 82 runs, 32 2B, three 3B, 22 HR, 122 RBI, 47-to-53 BB:B, 2-for-3 SB (Modesto)
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers knew they were getting an incredibly polished hitter when they selected Castellanos with their first selection in the 2010 draft. And it was for that exact reason that they felt no qualms about shelling out a then-record $3.45 million to get him to sign.
With only seven games and 24 at-bats, the team didn't get a very good look at him last year, but this year he has more than made up for the time lost by waiting until minutes before the signing deadline. He played the entire season at age 19 in the Midwest League and hit .312, good for fourth in the circuit.
He finished tops in the league with 158 hits, second with 36 doubles and ninth with 76 RBI. He showed a definite willingness to take a walk (45), but also showed some aggression at the plate (130 Ks) that will have to be toned down if he wants to continue to hit for a high average as he climbs the ladder.
After a tough April, his first full month in pro ball, Castellanos hit better than .303 in every other month, including at a .375 clip during June and .324 in August.
The team thought they might have lost him in a deal with Seattle that made one of their top three picks from last year available to the Mariners, but the M's took Chance Ruffin instead of the talented third baseman.
.312, 65 runs, 36 2B, three 3B, seven HR, 76 RBI, 45-to-130 BB:K, 3-for-5 SB (West Michigan)
Christian Yelich, OF, Florida Marlins
The Marlins were so sure about the ability of their first-round pick from 2010, that they had no problem sending Christian Yelich to the South Atlantic League to start the 2011 campaign. In fact, Yelich already had six games of experience he earned at the end of last year, a testament to how advanced the then 19-year old's hitting ability was.
This season, Yelich continued to show Florida they made the right call. In 122 games, all of which were spent with Greensboro, he hit .312 with 32 doubles, 15 home runs, 77 RBI and 32 steals. You could make the argument that there was no better player than the now 20-year old Yelich. He was named the league's Player of the Month for July and was also named a Sally League All-Star.
Yelich was drafted as a first baseman, but moved to the outfield this year. The move paid off as he showed incredible athleticism and fantastic speed, both in the field and on the base-paths. His 32 steals ranked him in a tie for sixth place, and his success rate of 86% was one of the best percentages as well.
Yelich was at his best during July, when he hit .372, drove in 20 runs, slugged four homers and stole 11-of-12 bases.
With one full season under his belt, Yelich is one of the top outfielders in the minor leagues, hands down.
.312, 73 runs, 32 2B, one 3B, 15 HR, 77 RBI, 55-to-102 BB:K, 32-for 37 SB (Greensboro)
Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Anyone who saw 5-foot-7, 170 pound infielder Jose Altuve take the field during the first few weeks of the 2011 minor league season wouldn't have put money on the 21-year old reaching the Majors before the year was through, but that's exactly what Altuve did, rising from High-A ball to the big-leagues and needing just 87 games to do it.
Altuve had a phenomenal season in 2010, hitting .301 with 42 steals, but really took his game to the next level this year. He began the year back in Lancaster, where he hit .276 in a 31-game stint last season. He absolutely raked, leaving the league as it's batting champ with an insane .408 number. He was an extra-base hit machine, racking up 13 doubles, seven triples and even five home runs in just 52 games, and complemented those with 19 steals.
The Astros decided to get aggressive and promoted him to Double-A, where amazingly he kept up the pace, hitting .361 with another 17 extra-base hits in just 35 games. Clearly this kid meant business.
In their final move of the season, the big-league club called him up, where he has proceeded to hold his own, especially considering his tender age. Through 36 games, he's hit .283.
Altuve wasn't in any given league long enough to earn any honors, but he did put on quite a show in the Futures Game, providing numerous sparks for the World Team.
.389, 59 runs, 22 2B, ten 3B, ten HR, 59 RBI, 26-to-40 BB:K, 24-for-38 SB (Lancaster and Corpus Christi)
.283, 23 runs, nine 2B, one 3B, two HR, 12 RBI, 4-to-24 BB:K, 5-for-7 SB (Houston)
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Kansas City Royals
For all the love that the stable of Royals pitchers got this year, the guy who put forth the best performance was the one who didn't join the organization until late in the off-season. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi put together a campaign that made just about every other arm in the system jealous.
The 21-year old built a solid reputation for himself over in Milwaukee, where he was before coming over in the Zack Greinke deal, posting a 3.43 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 120.2 innings last year. This season, he took his game to a whole new level.
He hit the ground running, winning five of his first 15 starts for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. He posted a 2.87 ERA in 15 starts and struck out an astonishing 103 batters in just 78.1 innings. That was more than enough to warrant a promotion to Double-A, where he struggled, but managed to find some consistency towards the end of the campaign. In his final start of the year, he threw seven-innings of one-hit, shutout ball, a fitting end to an amazing year
Odorizzi finished the '11 campaign with a lower ERA and more strikeouts than Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, Tim Melville and John Lamb.
10-7, 3.73 ERA, 27 GS, 147 IP, 157-to-44 K:BB, 17 HRA (Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas)
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Baseball America's 2011 Player of the Year, Mike Trout did the unthinkable, again, topping his dream campaign from last year, rocketing through the minors all the way to the big-leagues, reaching the pinnacle of his profession weeks before his 20th birthday.
Once again, there was little Trout didn't do. He hit .326 in 91 games with Double-A Arkansas, rapped 18 doubles, legged out 13 triples and cracked 11 home runs. He scored 82 runs, nearly one per game, and drove in 38. On the base-paths he proved to be just as dangerous, swiping 33 bases.
When Trout finally got the call to Anaheim, it seemed a bit premature, and he showed his youth, struggling to keep his average above .200 for the first few weeks, but as time wore on he began to look more and more comfortable.
During an 11-game stretch in August, Trout was on fire. He hit .40, slugged four home runs (including two in one game) and drove in seven runs.
Whereas it once appeared that Trout's ETA in L.A. was sometime late during the 2012 campaign, it looks as if he could be the team's starting outfielder come next spring.
.326, 82 runs, 18 2B, 13 3B, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 45-to-76 BB:K, 33-for-43 SB (Arkansas)
.229, 18 runs, five 2B, five HR, 15 RBI, 7-to-19 BB:K, 1-for-1 SB (Los Angeles)
Rubby De La Rosa, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Last year de la Rosa exploded onto the scene, firing 100 mph fastballs with regularity not seen outside of Stephen Strasburg's rehab complex. This year, the scrawny right-hander seemed destined for a campaign of sharpening his breaking stuff and reigning in his fastball in Double- and Triple-A.
Instead, he earned his way to the Majors after just eight starts with Double-A Chattanooga. In those eight starts, though, he was awesome. He racked up 52 strikeouts in just 40 innings, while allowing just one home run and 30 base hits. Batters hit a mere .199 against him and he left the Southern League with a 2.93 ERA.
Straight to L.A. he went and he showed little fear, striking out a batter an inning during his first three relief appearances. Injuries forced the Dodgers to give him a shot as a starter, and he thrived. He threw five-innings of one-run ball in his first start and after a couple of rough starts in June, he really found his stride during July.
In five starts during the month, he posted a 2.89 ERA and struck out 29 batters in 28 innings.
During his last start of the month, however, he experience some discomfort that was later diagnosed as a torn ligament in his elbow. Hello Tommy John surgery! Yet another thing he has in common with Strasburg.
2-2, 2.93 ERA, eight GS, 40 IP, 52-to-19 K:BB, one HRA (Chattanooga)
4-5, 3.71 ERA, 13 G, 10 GS, 60.2 IP, 60-to-31 K:BB, six HRA (Los Angeles)
Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Peralta picked up a struggling farm system and put it on his back, emerging from the great scorching of the Brewers prospect talent as the team's top prospect.
Peralta, a native of the Dominican Republic, had shown flashes of dominance before, especially during 2010, when he made the full-time commitment to starting. This year he was one of the best arms anywhere, putting up some pretty filthy numbers with incredible consistency. He dominated hitters in the Southern League for 21 starts before finally being granted his release to Triple-A, where he carved up PCL hitters with the same ease.
He racked up 117 strikeouts in 119.2 innings in the Southern League, and added another 40 in the Pacific Coast League, giving him a grand total of 157 for the year, a career-high and more than any other pitcher in the system, save for Tyler Thornburg. But while there are doubts about the latter's prospects of remaining a starter, Peralta seems destined for the Brewers' starting five by next year.
11-7, 3.17 ERA, 26 GS, one CG, 150.2 IP, 157-to-59 K:BB, nine HRA (Huntsville and Nashville)
Liam Hendriks, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
The Twins farm system didn't have the best year, with the majority of the best performances coming from international stars such as Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and most notably, Liam Hendriks.
The 22-year old Australian has quietly put together a very solid career with the Twins, showing some of the best control in the minor leagues and some decent stuff to back up his poise and command. Coming off of a break-out season (8-4, 1.74 ERA, 105-to-12 K:BB), it seemed the only way the right-hander could go was down, but he bucked the trend and had arguably an even better campaign.
He began the year with Double-A New Britain, but worked his way out of the Eastern League by July after posting an 8-2 record, a 2.70 ERA and an 81-to-18 K:BB ratio in 90 innings. He was named an EL All-Star and earned a spot on the World Team at the Futures Game.
He struggled a bit after his promotion to Triple-A (4.56 ERA), but still maintained his poise, walking just three batters (compared to 30 strikeouts) in 49.1 innings and allowing zero home runs. Hendriks looked so good in his final two starts (eight hits, one ER, 11 K, 0 BB in 14 innings) that the Twins called him up to finish out the season with the big-league club.
He could factor into the team's rotation next year, especially if he continues to look as good as he did in his big-league debut (7 IP, three ER, four Ks).
12-6, 3.36 ERA, 25 G, 24 GS, two CG, 139.1 IP, 111-to-21 K:BB, five HRA (New Britain and Rochester)
0-1, 3.86 ERA, 1 G, 7 IP, 4-to-3 K:BB, one HRA (Minnesota)
Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The Mets went after Matt Harvey so hard in the 2010 draft because they desperately wanted a front-line starter who could be more consistent than so many of the arms they scooped up from the international market.
They got exactly that, and in his first season with the team, he shined brighter than any other individual, reaching Double-A in the process. The right-hander dominated in his early season stint with the St. Lucie Mets, winning eight of his 14 starts and posting a 2.37 ERA. He racked up an astonishing 92 strikeouts in just 76 innings and mesmerized FSL hitters with a mid 90s fastball and a couple of solid breaking pitches.
The Mets decided to get aggressive with him, just as the Indians had done with another former UNC ace, Alex White, and promoted him to Double-A mid-season. The challenge in the Eastern League was greater, but by season's end Harvey was posting the same kinds of numbers he did in the FSL.
He finished with an organization best 156 strikeouts, held hitters to a .246 average and surrendered just nine long-balls all year.
13-5, 3.32 ERA, 26 GS, 135.2 IP, 156-to-47 K:BB, nine HRA (St. Lucie and Binghamton)
Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Montero has been the Yankees top prospect going on three seasons now.
His hitting ability is sensational, his raw power inspiring and if he was with any other team he would have more than a season's worth of big-league experience under his belt already. Unfortunately, Montero plays for the Yankees, which mean's it took him close to 250 games at Triple-A to earn his first shot at the Majors late this season.
Montero started incredibly slowly this year and had just six home runs by the time July rolled around. He clubbed 12 more during the final two months, including eight in August, to finish with 18 in just 109 games. His average climbed all the way to .288 before his promotion to New York.
Where, I might add, he has been an offensive catalyst, hitting .308 with three homers and six RBI in eight games. He had a two-homer game a few nights ago and looks as seasoned as the rest of the hitters in the Yankees lineup.
Now if he could only figure out this catching thing.
.288, 52 runs, 19 2B, one 3B, 18 HR, 67 RBI, 36-to-98 BB:K (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
.308, six runs, three HR, six RBI, 3-to-7 BB:K (New York)
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Few teams had as prodigious a farm system as Oakland did this year, and by that I mean few teams slugged as many home runs as A's farm-hands. In fact, 22 players on their four full-season squads ended the year with double-digit home runs. Only two players cracked 30, including the top performing prospect of the year for Oakland, Michael Choice.
The team knew they were getting an insanely talented player when they selected Choice with their first-round pick last year. He showed instantly his light-tower power, homering seven times in just 30 contests after signing. This year he went off, as they say, slugging 30 long-balls in 467 at-bats.
That number paced the highly offensive California League. He also ranked among the leaders in RBI, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases. And in a stunning development, Choice continued to improve his plate discipline as the season wore on and actually cut down on his strikeouts on a monthly basis.
.285, 79 runs, 28 2B, one 3B, 30 HR, 82 RBI, 61-to-134 BB:K, 9-for-14 SB (Stockton)
Trevor May, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Lesser teams might have worried about their future when dealing a prospect of Jarred Cosart's stature, but not the Phillies. They knew they had Trevor May, and considering he was having a career year, and a few other guys were having break-out campaigns as well, they were in good hands.
May finished third in the minor league strikeout race, with 208, and was in contention for top honors heading into the final week. Unfortunately, he could only must 11 in his final two starts and fell behind Edwar Cabrera (Colorado) and Matt Moore (Tampa). Still, the right-hander surpassed his career mark of 182 set last year.
This year May showed he has what it takes to persevere even when he doesn't have his best stuff. Despite all the strikeouts, he actually became a much better pitcher, especially at pitching to contact. Batters actually had more luck against him this year, hitting .221, compared to the .213 they mustered last year, but he managed to lower his ERA by about half a run.
He showed incredible stamina, posting a career high 151.1 innings and tossing three complete-games. He continued to be stingy with the long-ball, serving up just eight in 27 starts. He was named the FSL Pitcher of the Week twice.
10-8, 3.63 ERA, 27 GS, three CG, two ShO, 151.1 IP, 208-to-67 K:BB, eight HRA (Clearwater)
Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
It's been a known fact for several years that Starling Marte's ceiling is one of the highest in the Pittsburgh system.
This year, however, the pieces finally came together and Marte put together a campaign worthy of a top prospect. In addition to his first All-Star nod, Marte was also named to the Futures Game World roster and looked exceptional performing against the best prospects in the game.
He hit .332 in 129 games, all with Double-A Altoona. He ranked near the top of the Eastern League leaderboard with 38 doubles, eight triples and 91 runs. He also paced his own squad with 24 steals and finished second in home runs and RBI. For his efforts, the 22-year old outfielder earned team MVP honors, in this his fifth year with the Pirates.
Marte has always been considered a premium talent, but until this year he had never appeared in more than 68 contests in a single season, limiting his exposure to the rigors and trials of a full season. He responded incredibly well and should end the season as one of the team's top prospects.
.332, 91 runs, 38 2B, eight 3B, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 22-to-100 BB:K, 24-for-36 SB (Altoona)
Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
As with most organizations, St. Louis had several worthy candidates for top performing prospect honors, but in the end the best combination came from right-handed fire-baller Shelby Miller.
Miller was just one of a number of talented high-schoolers taken in the first-round of the 2009 MLB Draft, including Tyler Matzek, Zack Wheeler, Jacob Turner and Matt Purke. The poise shown by this group as a whole has been outstanding (save for Matzek), and Miller might just take the cake. The right-hander got off to a terrible start last year and was forced to head all the way back to instructional league, quite a humbling experience for a pitcher who was considered to be one of the most big-league ready of all the high-school arms.
The move paid off, and when Miller returned to the mound he began to pitch like one of the best pitchers in baseball. He carried that momentum over into the 2011 campaign, which he began in the High-A Florida State League. Miller showed uncanny ability, posting a 2.89 ERA and racking up 81 strikeouts in just 53 innings for Palm Beach and earned a speedy promotion straight to Double-A, where many forsaw him starting the year.
At Springfield, Miller was even tougher on hitters. He dropped his ERA to 2.70, won nine of 16 starts and added 89 more punchouts to his total, giving him 170 for the year. He proved to be just as stingy with the long-ball, giving up just two after serving up the same number for Palm Beach. Combined, opposing batters hit a meager .219 off of him, down nearly 30 points from last year.
Like a lot of other players on this list, Miller also earned an invite to the Futures Game and showed not only excellent stuff (mid 90s fastball, stellar breaking stuff), but also the poise he has become famous for.
There's no doubt that Miller will crack the big-league roster some time next season and he'll likely get a shot to win a rotation spot out of spring training.
11-6, 2.77 ERA, 25 GS, 139.2 IP, 170-to-53 K:BB, four HRA (Palm Beach and Springfield)
Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres
Coming into the year the Padres seemed pretty well stacked at third base. At the big-league level they had Chase Headley, who wasn't flashy, but had a solid 2010 campaign that was key to the team's near-run to the playoffs. Down in the minors, they had James Darnell, who hit .311 with 20 homers two years ago.
Still, the team had high hopes for another young player manning the hot corner, their second-round pick from last year, Jedd Gyorko, who took over both the California and Texas Leagues this year with his explosive, dynamic bat and sensational raw power.
The 22-year old began his run to top performing prospect honors in the Cal League, known for it's offensive prowess. Gyorko exploded immediately, and never quit tearing the cover off the ball, finishing his 81-game stint there with a .365 average, 18 homers and 74 RBI. Amazingly, Gyorko rapped 35 doubles in just 340 at-bats! He also showed solid plate discipline and some sneaky speed, swiping 11 bases.
After his promotion to San Antonio, he cooled, but just a bit. He bounced back from a .257 average in July to hit .300 in August and .360 in five September contests. He ended his 59-game stint in Double-A with a .288 average, seven homers and 40 RBI.
For the entire season, Gyorko's numbers are some of the most impressive in baseball. He paced all players with 192 base hits, finished second with 114 RBI, and fourth with 47 doubles.
.333, 119 runs, 47 2B, two 3B, 25 HR, 114 RBI, 64-to-114 BB:K, 12-for-15 SB (Lexington and San Antonio)
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
Another Futures Game participant, Brown fought off a strong showing by Erik Surkamp to take home honors as the top performing Giants prospect this season.
You could make the argument that Brown is one of the most complete, well-rounded players in the minor leagues, and could even put him up there with Mike Trout in terms of athleticism. Their production is definitely on-par. Here's how their stats from their first full season compare to each other:
Very similar indeed eh? Unfortunately there are a few differences. For starters, Trout compiled those numbers as a 19-year old, the majority of which came during an 81-game stint in the Midwest League. Brown, on the other hand, was 22-years old, and performing just one level above Trout in the highly offensive California League.
Still, offensive production aside, Brown offers some of the best tools in the game. His speed is blinding, and his defensive ability is well above-average. He is without a doubt, the Giants center-fielder of the future and destined to be a top-of-the-lineup hitter for a very long time.
.336, 115 runs, 34 2B, 13 3B, 14 HR, 80 RBI, 46-to-77 BB:K, 53-for-72 SB (San Jose)
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners started off the season with a pretty strong farm system. They had one of the top hitter-pitcher combos in all of baseball with polished hitter Dustin Ackley and fire-baller Michael Pineda. Those two graduated to the Majors early one, but they also managed to add some solid pieces throughout the course of the season, including Francisco Martinez (from Detroit), Chance Ruffin (Detroit) and Trayvon Robinson (Los Angeles).
Through it all though, the top performing prospect was a guy who began the season late, and with little fanfare. Over the course of 18 starts, however, first-year player Taijuan Walker showed he had the stuff and the polish to grow into one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.
The results were astounding: a 2.89 ERA, a nine-inning complete-game, 113 strikeouts in 96.2 innings, and just 39 walks. Somehow, Walker was able to achieve those numbers playing the majority of the season at age 18. He turned 19 in early August.
What's even more impressive is that Walker hasn't been playing baseball for that long, and was actually considered to be, by far, the most raw prospect taken in the early parts of last year's draft. There were experts who thought he might spend all of the 2011 campaign in rookie ball, or at best a short-season league.
Instead, he took the Midwest League by storm and emerged as one of the circuit's top prospects.
6-5, 2.89 ERA, 18 GS, one CG, 96.2 IP, 113-to-39 K:BB, four HRA (Clinton)
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Topping the 200-strikeout mark in the minor leagues is nearly as difficult as hitting 300 in the Majors. Usually, if you're talented enough to rack up that many punchouts in the minors, you're not going to stick around too long before hearing your name called up to the big-leagues.
Taking that into account, it's downright astonishing that not only has Rays lefty Matt Moore cracked the 200-K mark...he's now done it for two consecutive seasons. Last year, he became the first player since 2002 to top the double-century mark. This year, he became the first to do it twice consecutively since 1988. He also just missed out (by seven Ks) on winning his third consecutive minor league strikeout title.
But that wasn't the only thing the top lefty in the minors accomplished this year. He started out 8-3 in the Double-A Southern League and in his final start before being promoted to Triple-A, threw a nine-inning no-hitter, complete with 11 strikeouts.
After getting bumped up to Durham, Moore was just as un-hittable, getting 79 punchouts in just 52.2 innings, winning four of his nine starts, while holding down a 1.37 ERA. Moore won Pitcher of the Week honors three times in 2011, was named a Southern League All-Star and earned a spot on the Team USA Futures roster.
But the final honor was the sweetest. The 22-year old was promoted to the big-leagues late on September 11th, completing his journey and giving him a few starts to audition for next year.
12-3, 1.92 ERA, 27 GS, one CG, 155 IP, 210-to-46 K:BB, 11 HRA (Montgomery and Durham)
Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Manny Machado got all the attention before the season, but a lesser-known shortstop from Texas was the real star of the season at shortstop.
Jurickson Profar put on a hitting clinic in the Low-A South Atlantic League as the circuit's youngest player. In 115 games, he hit .286 against players one, two and even three years his senior. He ranked near the top of the leaderboard in doubles (37), triples (eight) and runs scored (86). And his walk-to-strikeout ratio of 65-to-63 has to be considered one of the top marks in all of baseball this year.
In case you were wondering how old this Rangers wunderkind is, he played the entire season at age 18.
More impressive than Profar's final line (.286/.390/.493) was the consistency that he brought to the park everyday, every week and every month. He showed touches of being overmatched early in the season, but held his own the rest of the way, hitting at least .261 in each month after April. In July, he tattooed Sally League pitching to a .330/.427/.521 line, rapping ten doubles, hitting two homers and driving in 17 runs.
Profar is a tiny enough guy (5-foot-11, 165 pounds) that he figures to not only stay at shortstop, but develop into a pretty damn good defensive player as well. He has all the tools, including soft hands and a great arm.
He has excellent speed, as shown by the fact that he legged out eight triples and swiped 23 bases.
Profar also showed amazing maturity during his at-bats in the Futures Game during the MLB All-Star Break. As the youngest player on either team, he looked great, tripling off of 23-year old Twins ace Kyle Gibson.
.286, 86 runs, 37 2B, eight 3B, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 65-to-63 BB:K, 23-of-32 SB (Hickory)
Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Brad White/Getty Images
More than a few players, such as David Cooper, had much more impressive stat lines this year, but no one player brought as much excitement with him wherever he went as Brett Lawrie.
The native Canadian, who was drafted 16th-overall back in 2008, was dealt before the season even began from Milwaukee to Toronto in exchange for Shaun Marcum. Lawrie had already established himself as the top prospect in Milwaukee and built a reputation as one of the more polished hitters in the minors. One thing he couldn't figure out was where he fit into the team's plans defensively. After several failed attempts at catcher and second base, his new organization, Toronto decided to have him give third base a try.
Not only did Lawrie take to third like a Canadian to Molson, he also enjoyed his finest offensive season. During stretches early in the year he seemed almost impossible to get out. He hit .361 during the first month of the year, .349 in May and .368 during July. Home runs also came in bunches. Playing in the very offensive Pacific Coast League didn't hurt, but the 21-year old still managed to slug 11 long-balls during May. He also drove in 37 runs in just 30 games that month.
Unfortunately, Lawrie was hit by a pitch just days before an expected call-up to Toronto and suffered a fracture to a bone in the back of his hand. That put him on the shelf for about a month and delayed his arrival in the big-leagues.
When he returned to action, he showed the same explosive bat and was nearly immediately recalled. Since joining his hometown club, he has been nearly unstoppable, hitting .312 with eight doubles, four triples, nine homers and 23 RBI in just 36 games.
In addition, Lawrie's play at third has been solid enough that there's almost no way he doesn't head north with the club next spring as their starting third baseman.
.347, 64 runs, 24 2B, six 3B, 18 HR, 62 RBI, 26-to-54 BB:K, 13-for-15 SB (Las Vegas and Dunedin)
.312, 22 runs, eight 2B, four 3B, nine HR, 23 RBI, 13-to-25 BB:K, 6-for-6 SB (Toronto)
Brad Peacock, RHP, Washington Nationals
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Peacock weathered a hot start from top Nats prospect Bryce Harper, and then held off a late charge from pitcher Tom Milone, and in the end the former 41st-round selection came out as the the best combination of production and projection that the Washington system had to offer this year.
The 23-year old right-hander from Miami has had an up-and-down career, showing glimpses of potential as a number-two or three starter for a big-league club, but until this year had struggled to maintain any sort of consistency. This season he started out great and just kept on rolling, all the way past the finish line and into a late-season call-up to the Majors.
Peacock dominated Double-A, picking up wins in ten of his 16 outings, posting a 2.01 ERA and striking out an astonishing 129 batters in a mere 98.2 innings. His strikeout rate was, dare I say, Strasburgian. During his time at Harrisburg, he was twice named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week, received his first All-Star nod and was named to the Team USA Futures Game squad.
After the break, he received a promotion to Triple-A, where he kept up his high level of play and consistency. He won five of his nine starts, posted a solid 3.19 ERA and had twice as many strikeouts (48) as walks (24).
He didn't look so good in his 1.1 inning stint for the big-league club, but considering before this year he had less than 40-innings of experience above High-A ball I wouldn't be too concerned.
15-3, 2.39 ERA, 25 G, 23 GS, one CG, 146.2 IP, 177-to-47 K:BB, nine HRA (Harrisburg and Syracuse)
0-0, 6.75 ERA, 1 G, 1.1 IP, 0-to-1 K:BB (Washington)