Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and the Top 50 Prospects in Baseball
2011 was a sensational year for MLB prospects.
The class of 2011 made many lasting memories, whether it was Ryan Lavarnway's mind-blowing performance in the final week of the season as the Red Sox tried to prevent a historic collapse or Tampa Bay's Matt Moore's stunning outing in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, in which he dominated a powerful Rangers lineup for seven shutout innings.
They also put up some otherworldly numbers. The diminutive Jose Altuve shot down concerns about his size by chasing .400 for the Astros for a time after being called up to the majors for the final 57 games of the season.
Fan favorite and prospect expert non-favorite Paul Goldschmidt tore up the Southern League (.306, 30 HR and 94 RBI in 103 games) and likely would have challenged for the circuit's triple crown had he not made the jump directly to Arizona, where he was a welcomed boost to the D-Backs' division-winning effort.
It was also an excellent year for pitching.
Three players (Matt Moore, Trevor May and Edwar Cabrera) topped the 200-strikeout mark, and another three came withing 20 of joining the terrific trio. The biggest names dominated as expected, with Moore winning 12 games in the minors while posting the second-lowest ERA in baseball (1.92). He also threw a nine-inning no-hitter.
The top right-hander in the minors, Julio Teheran, also performed incredibly, winning 15 games (second in MiLB) and posting a 2.55 ERA in between trips to Atlanta.
Heck, it was even a banner year on the basepaths, where Cincinnati's resident speedster Billy Hamilton stole 103 bases in just 123 attempts and 135 games.
Of all the players who made lasting memories, however, only Moore and Teheran were good enough to warrant inclusion among the top 50 prospects in baseball entering the offseason. Those two arms are joined on this list by 48 others, including the possibly top two prospects of our time, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper.
Without further ado, I present the top 50 prospects in the minors, ranked according to both their 2011 production and their helium heading into the 2012 campaign.
Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres
Adding Gyorko to a system that already featured James Darnell and Chase Headley seemed a bit like overkill when the Padres drafted him with their second-round pick last year, but Gyorko more than lived up to his billing.
This year he's hit .333 with 47 doubles, 25 home runs and 114 RBI. He's showed a solid eye at the plate and decent defensive ability. Considering he offers more pop than either Darnell or Headley, the third-base job could be his long-term.
Tyler Thornburg, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were no doubt hoping to get a seasoned college vet when they selected Thornburg with their third-round selection last year, but they've gotten a whole lot more than just a poised pitcher. In fact, the 22-year-old right-hander put together the best season of any Brewers minor leaguer. In 24 starts, he went 10-6 with a 2.57 ERA and 160 punchouts in just 136.2 innings.
Some are of the opinion that Thornburg would be better suited to a relief role, thanks to his mid to high 90s velocity and his inability to refine a usable third pitch.
Jon Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
By dealing Singleton to the Astros, the Phillies not only got a star outfielder (Hunter Pence), but they also worked out the kinks of Singleton's progression. Once upon a time blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, Singleton now only has Brett Wallace standing in his way of claiming the long-term job in Houston—the same Wallace who was demoted to the minors earlier this year because of his lack of production.
Singleton put together another solid season, splitting time between the FSL and Cal League, showing great plate discipline (70-to-123 BB:K), the ability to hit for average (.298) and decent power (13 HR).
Trevor May, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
One reason the Phillies felt confident dealing top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart was because they had May, now the team's top overall prospect with the departure of Jonathan Singleton in the same trade. May exploded as a strikeout machine this year, racking up punchouts by the truckload. He finished third in all of the minors with 208 Ks.
That wasn't all May did well. He also contributed 151.1 innings and tossed three complete games, two of which were also shutouts. He held hitters to a .221 batting average and surrendered just eight home runs. Most of all, he emerged as a staff ace and a force to be reckoned with in coming years.
Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox knew they were going to have to spend big to get Swihart, the top overall catcher in the 2011 draft class, to sign. In the end it took $2.5 million, chump change for Boston, to get the switch-hitting catcher with plenty of raw power and potential above-average defensive ability to agree to forgo a college commitment to the University of Texas.
50) Brett Jackson, OF, Chicago Cubs
Before the season began, Jackson was arguably the only elite prospect left in the Chicago system. While the Cubs have added a few interesting pieces over the last few months, he still represents quite possibly the best all-around package of any player in the Cubs system.
The only question is how long he's going to remain a Cub. Jackson has been rumored to be the main name included in talks between Boston and Chicago as the teams progress in their negotiations for Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.
No doubt, Jackson is a legit five-tool guy who has slightly above-average tools across the board.
Riding the momentum that he generated with a breakout 2010 campaign that saw him hit .297 with 32 doubles, 14 triples, 12 home runs, 66 RBI and 30 steals, Jackson put together another great season.
He began the year with the Cubs' Double-A affiliate and performed strongly in 67 contests, batting .256 with 10 doubles, 10 homers and 15 steals. He showed good patience, drawing 45 walks and posting an on-base percentage near .400.
He struggled out of the gate after a promotion to Triple-A but rebounded strongly and finished the season as the team's top hitter. He clubbed another 10 home runs, giving him 20 for the season, and added six more steals, giving him one of MiLB's only 20 HR-20 SB seasons.
He raised his average all the way to .297, allowing him to finish with a respectable, combined .274 number.
Jackson sparkled on defense and showed great instincts on the basepaths, and those two talents could very well be what initially get him called up. His bat may take some time to adjust to the big leagues, but he should be just fine in the long run, and for the first time in a very long time the Cubs will have a player who is exciting to watch but, as opposed to Carlos Zambrano, for very good reasons.
.274, 84 runs, 23 doubles, five triples, 20 homers, 58 RBI, 73-to-138 BB:K, 21-of-28 SB (Double-A and Triple-A)
49) Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Middlebrooks had the kind of dream season that only former Red Sox prospects can understand.
Despite having one of the best offensive seasons of any third baseman in the minor leagues, the only exception being guys who spent chunks of their season in the hitter-friendly Cal League, the 23-year-old was consistently overshadowed by the play of Adrian Gonzalez, the MVP-caliber year of Jacoby Ellsbury, constant trade talks, the final-week heroics of former teammate Ryan Lavarnway and eventually the Sox's late-season collapse.
Such is life as a prospect in the Boston system.
Middlebrooks hit .285 on the season with 23 homers and 94 RBI. Most of his damage came with the Sox's Double-A club, although he did receive a late-season promotion to Triple-A, where he slugged two homers and drove in eight runs in 16 games.
As impressive as Middlebrooks' offensive outburst was (it earned him a spot on Team USA in the Futures Game), his defensive awakening was even better. He committed three fewer errors and frequently made highlight-worthy plays. Bottom line...he showed he has what it takes to play third base for the long run.
Barring some catastrophic injury to a big leaguer, Middlebrooks will return to Triple-A to try to prove that his .161 showing, along with 18 strikeouts in 56 at-bats, was an aberration.
.285, 62 runs, 26 doubles, one triple, 23 homers, 94 RBI, 10-of-11 SB (Double-A, Triple-A and Low-A)
48) Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
The fact that a 20-year-old outfielder who just had a terrific season at the Double-A level ranks No. 48 on this list just tells you how much talent there currently is in the minor leagues.
While Jays fans will no doubt have their concerns about Gose ranking this low, he has enough question marks to keep him from cracking the top 40.
For starters, there's his plate discipline. Gose struck out 154 times in 509 at-bats this season, a rate of more than 30 percent. Those aren't the kinds of numbers that usually signify "big-league star"—unless, of course, your name is Adam Dunn.
Another hole in Gose's game, and one that is directly related to his strikeout issues, is the fact that in four professional seasons, never once has he finished with a batting average above. 262. For a guy whose best tools are his speed and instincts on the basepaths, that doesn't bode well.
Still, for all the question marks, there's no denying Gose's talents. His speed is as good as any player in the minors, as evidenced by his 70 steals for Double-A New Hampshire this year. Even more impressive was the fact that he was only caught 15 times, down from 32 last season. A success rate of 82 percent on the basepaths bodes very well indeed.
Gose also surprised everyone this year and showed some solid pop, slugging 15 home runs, nearly doubling his career total in just 137 games. He also upped his walk total to a career-high 62, leading many, especially Jays fans, to come to the conclusion that he's starting to hone his batting eye.
MLB.com had this to say about Gose prior to the season:
The Blue Jays are playing a more up-tempo kind of game and Gose's skills should fit perfectly once he gets to the big leagues. He's still raw in some aspects of the game, but he made a very good impression in big league camp this spring, going 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts. He's a plus runner who is a plus defender in centre field. As he learns to be more selective and read pitchers better on the bases...
.253, 87 runs, 20 doubles, seven triples, 16 home runs, 59 RBI, 62-to-154 BB:K, 70-of-85 stolen bases (Double-A)
47) 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 fireballer Michael Pineda.
Those two graduated to the majors early on, 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 by far the rawest 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 games started, one complete game, 96.2 innings, 113-to-39 K:BB, four homers allowed (Low-A)
46) Wilin Rosario, C, Colorado Rockies
Rosario likely would have received a big-league call-up last season if not for an injury that prematurely ended his 2010 season.
This year he repeated Double-A and showed all of the same traits that have made him one of the top all-around catchers in the minor leagues. He hit 21 home runs in 102 games and dealt well with the fact that the Rockies didn't promote him to Triple-A.
After a slow start and some definite pressing at the plate (see 91 strikeouts and just 19 walks), Rosario caught fire. In the two months leading up to his promotion to Colorado he slugged 10 homers.
Finally, in September he got his shot, getting sent straight from Tulsa to the big leagues. He performed decently but showed a lot of the same flaws that plagued him in the minor leagues.
Rosario will likely stick in Colorado due to the fact that in addition to his offensive prowess, he also happens to be one of the top defensive backstops in baseball, posting a 40 percent career caught-stealing rate.
.249, 52 runs, 15 doubles, one triple, 21 homers, 48 RBI, 19-to-91 BB:K, 1-of-2 SB (Double-A)
.208, three runs, one double, two homers, three RBI, 1-to-8 BB:K, 1-of-3 SB (Majors)
45) Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Odorizzi built a solid reputation for himself over in Milwaukee, where he ranked as that team's top prospect before coming over in the Zack Greinke deal. He posted a 3.43 ERA and racked up 135 strikeouts in 120.2 innings last year. This season, however, 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 the better-known, more highly ranked members of the Royals pitching prospects group that includes Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, Tim Melville and John Lamb.
10-7, 3.73 ERA, 27 games started, 147 innings, 157-to-44 K:BB, 17 homers allowed (High-A and Double-A)
44) Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
After a slow start, Arenado got going in May and never slowed down.
He hit .358 in June and drove in at least 21 runs in five different months. He ended the year, all of which was spent in the California League, as Colorado's organizational leader with 122 RBI. That number was also good to take home the minor league RBI title.
For the second consecutive season Arenado was prolific with the doubles, rapping 32 (41 in 2010), although playing in the higher altitudes of the hitter-friendly Cal League turned a lot of his two-baggers into home runs, and he ended up with 10 more long balls (20) 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 strike out (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 struck just once more than he did last year despite getting more than 150 extra at-bats.
Defensively Arenado also had a strong year. Once considered the long-term heir to Todd Helton at first base, he improved his play at third so much that he's now considered likely to stick there. In 50 more games he only committed three more errors than last year.
Obviously, Arenado has the raw power to rank with some of the top sluggers in the minors, but the fact that he's so patient at the plate should make him one of the Rockies' top prospects entering 2012.
.298, 82 runs, 32 doubles, three triples, 20 homers, 122 RBI, 47-to-53 BB:K, 2-of-3 SB (High-A)
43) Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
When Michael Choice showed up at A's spring training this year—less than a year after being drafted, mind you—he opened plenty of eyes, both with his physique (possibly unrivaled even on the big-league squad) and with his raw power (arguably the best of any player in the minors).
It was no surprise, then, that Choice was one of just two Oakland farmhands to crack the 30-home run mark. Watching him take batting practice and tee off on Cal League pitchers was very similar to reliving Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton tear his way through the Southern League last year.
Like Stanton at the beginning of 2010, Choice was a home run waiting to happen. He hit one every 15 at-bats this season and paced the highly offensive Cal League with his final total.
He also ranked among the leaders in RBI, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases. In a stunning development, also Choice continued to improve his plate discipline as the season wore on and actually cut down on his strikeouts on a monthly basis, although he still finished near the top in that category among A's minor leaguers.
.285, 79 runs, 28 doubles, one triple, 30 homers, 82 RBI, 61-to-134 BB:K, 9-of-14 SB (High-A)
42) Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
Sano's combination of power and youth is enough to catapult him up the list of top MLB prospects.
With another fine season he could be looking at a top-25 or even top-10 ranking heading into 2013.
This past season was truly a breakout one for the 18-year-old, who signed with Minnesota back in late 2009. After a mediocre showing in 2010 (seven HR and 60 Ks in 212 at-bats), Sano exploded, hitting 20 home runs in five more contests (66), driving in 59 runs and slugging an astounding .637.
He was a doubles machine (18) and showed well-timed speed, legging out seven triples.
Strikeouts continue to plague the youngster, as he upped his total to 77 in 50 more at-bats than he received in 2010. He drew one fewer walk and saw both his batting average and on-base percentage drop from his 2010 numbers.
Sano was twice named Appy League Player of the Week and was named a Baseball America Postseason Rookie All-Star.
.292, 58 runs, 18 doubles, seven triples, 20 homers, 59 RBI, 23-to-77 BB:K, 5-of-9 SB (Rookie Ball)
41) 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, still just 19, continued to show Florida it 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 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 basepaths. His 32 steals ranked him in a tie for sixth place, and his success rate of 86 percent 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 bases in 12 attempts.
With one full season under his belt, Yelich is one of the top outfielders in the minor leagues, hands down.
.312, 73 runs, 32 doubles, one triple, 15 homers, 77 RBI, 55-to-102 BB:K, 32-of-37 SB (Low-A)
40) George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Springer is a rare breed: a legitimate 30-30 threat who actually made it to college and played all three seasons.
Most players with Springer's talent get scooped up and offered way more money than they can turn down out of high school, making him all that more appealing. He's a potential five-tool outfielder with a decent amount of experience.
Springer's best tool is his potential above-average power. He set a school record last season with 18 homers, and he profiles as a 25-35 HR hitter as a pro. He's also blessed with incredible speed, which was on display last season as well when he stole 33 bases, getting caught only twice.
Springer could very well be a 30-30 guy in the majors while offering decent defense in one of the outfield corners. He's been playing a good bit of center field in college, but as he fills out and focuses more on his power stroke, he's likely be forced to slide over.
Houston has been sorely lacking elite position player talent and appears to be on the right track, selecting two incredibly talented athletes in back-to-back seasons.
39) Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
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 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 doubles, eight triples, 12 homers, 50 RBI, 22-to-100 BB:K, 24-of-36 SB (Double-A)
38) Grant Green, SS, Oakland Athletics
Green was the darling of the Futures Game during the All-Star weekend, going 2-for-2 with two doubles and an RBI. He also scored a run.
Also, after unexpectedly being asked to move over to second base after not taking any ground balls there for months, Green handled all of his defensive chances better than anyone expected.
Not only was he one of just three players (Jose Altuve and Austin Romine were the others) to notch two hits, but he also won game MVP honors after scoring the game-tying run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The event also seemed to jump-start his bat. After making his appearance in the game, Green hit over .300 the rest of the way.
For the season Green hit a respectable .291 with nine homers and 62 RBI for Oakland's Double-A squad. The power numbers are way down from 2010, when he hit 20 home runs, but he's still hitting at a solid clip while showing greater patience, and the A's are more than confident that the power will return.
Green is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, where he's already homered once in three games.
.291, 76 runs, 33 doubles, one triple, nine homers, 62 RBI, 39-to-119 BB:K, 6-of-14 SB (Double-A)
37) Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Wong was one of just a handful of legitimate second baseman prospects in the 2011 MLB draft class, and his combination of fielding acumen and hitting ability, which according to many ranked second to only Anthony Rendon, made him an easy first-round pick.
Wong exploded onto the scene with a stellar freshman season at Hawaii, during which he hit .341 with 11 homers and 52 RBI. He added in 11 steals and a very impressive BB-to-K ratio (25-to-23) to boot.
He followed up his rookie campaign with an even more impressive 2010 season. Wong hit .357 with four triples, seven homers, 40 RBI and 57 runs. He stole 19 bases and had 16 more walks than strikeouts.
He boosted his stock even further with an impressive performance in the Cape Cod League. Wong hit .341 with three homers and 11 RBI in 38 contests. He also led the league with 22 steals and posted another strong walk ratio (18-to-13). He was rewarded for his efforts with the league MVP trophy.
Wong returned to Hawaii for his junior season and raked at a record pace, hitting .378 with seven homers and 53 RBI. He paced Hawaii in nearly every offensive category, including walks, steals and slugging percentage.
Wong has excellent plate discipline, and it was on display during his 47-game cameo in the Midwest League for St. Louis. He drew three fewer walks than strikeouts and hit .335 in 194 at-bats, showing good pop (five HR) and speed (nine SB).
.335, 39 runs, 15 doubles, two triples, five homers, 25 RBI, 21-to-24 BB:K, 9-of-14 SB (Low-A)
36) C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
With maybe one or two exceptions, there has been no hotter hitter over the past year than C.J. Cron.
He ranked very high nationally in most offensive categories during his junior season at Utah, finishing the year with a career-high .434 average, 15 homers and 59 RBI. He also rapped 26 doubles.
He followed that up with a first-round selection in the June draft by Los Angeles and went right to work proving his worth ($1.47 million bonus) for the team's rookie league squad. In 34 games, he hit .308 with 13 homers and 41 RBI before succumbing to a dislocated kneecap that forced him to have surgery.
Cron has always been a strong hitter; see his .431 average and 20 home runs in 2010 and his .337 average and 11 homers as a freshman. Those numbers he accomplished with the old college bats. The damage he did this past year has come with the new equipment, which was supposed to keep offense down and limit the number of home runs from hitters.
Cron began his career as a catcher and has gone back and forth from there to first base, where he filled in last year after an injury to the Utes' primary first baseman and where he's played mostly this season, expanding his defensive chops.
He played first during pro debut and will remain there long-term.
.308, 30 runs, five doubles, one triple, 13 homers, 41 RBI, 10-to-34 BB:K (Rookie ball)
35) Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Despite concerns about his delivery and throwing mechanics, Jungmann was unstoppable in 2011.
The former Longhorns ace was named the Dick Howser Player of the Year for his performance during his junior season (13-3, 1.60 ERA), and the combination of his success and his filthy repertoire of pitches helped him earn a first-round selection in the June draft by Milwaukee.
The Brewers coveted Jungmann not only for his ideal size (6'6'', 220 pounds) and track record of being a winner (32 victories in three seasons), but also for his consistent velocity on the mound. Jungmann has been clocked as high as 97 mph, but sits comfortably in the 93-96 mph range. He's excellent at maintaining his velocity deep into games, and as a result, he tossed five complete games for Texas this season.
While Jungmann's secondary stuff isn't as impressive as fellow Top 15 pick Jed Bradley, also tabbed by Milwaukee, it's certainly good enough to rank him inside the Top 40.
Given his advanced feel for pitching and his track record of winning wherever he pitches, it wouldn't be a total shock to see Jungmann start in High-A or even Double-A.
34) Javier Baez, 3B, Chicago Cubs
While Baez didn't receive the attention that some of his fellow Top 10 picks did, he has one thing that no one else from the 2011 draft class has, a comparison to Hanley Ramirez.
And while the youngster still has a long ways to go to even warrant being mentioned in the same sentence as the Marlins slugger, Baez is plenty talented. His electric bat was considered one of the best in the draft class, regardless of eligibility (college or high school), and he projects to have slightly above-average power down the road.
In addition, he's also an incredible athlete who played both shortstop and third base this past season. He's going to stick at third base, but there was talk before the draft that he could play any number of positions, including catcher and second base.
He has good, not great, speed, but he makes up for it with great athleticism and excellent instincts on the basepaths and on the field.
Basically, he's everything the Cubs thought they were getting with Josh Vitters.
Baez signed too late to get meaningful at-bats this season, but he did look sharp at the plate in the few games he did appear in.
.278, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 0-to-4 BB:K, 2-for-2 SB (Rookie Ball and Low-A)
33) Jed Bradley, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Bradley had a breakout season for Georgia Tech and parlayed his success into a Top 15 selection and a $2 million signing bonus.
He was already a known name in college baseball circles, but the steps he took this year have not only cemented his spot in the first round, but also made many question whether he just might be the top overall pitcher from the college ranks.
It's easy to think that, with his polished approach and his repertoire that includes a low 90s fastball that can touch 95 mph. He also has an above-average changeup and a potential above-average slider. In addition, Bradley's fastball has some natural sink on it, making him a better bet to succeed since he won't be chasing the strikeouts like some of the other top pitchers with better velocity.
For the season, Bradley posted a very deceiving 7-3 record, the worst of any of Tech's starting pitchers.
He was roughed up a few times, and as a result, only averaged about six innings per start, which isn't that much in a year where pitchers racked up complete games by the boatload. On the plus side, batters only hit .239 off of him, and he served up just one home run.
32) Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets
The Mets' first-round pick from 2010, Harvey has seamlessly navigated through the team's farm system.
In this, his first season with the team, he shined brighter than any other individual, reaching Double-A and needing just 14 starts to do it. The right-hander dominated in his early season stint with the St. Lucie Mets, winning eight of those 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.
Despite spending just two and a half months in the FSL, Harvey was named Pitcher of the Week twice and awarded a spot on the midseason All-Star roster. He also made an appearances at the Futures Game.
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 midseason. 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 games started, 135.2 IP, 156-to-47 K:BB, 9 HR allowed (High-A and Double-A)
31) Mike Montgomery, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Montgomery has arguably the highest ceiling of any Royals pitcher, and that's quite an impressive feat considering the quality, and depth, of their pitching talent.
Part of it has to do with the fact that Montgomery is left-handed, but the majority of it is because of his stellar stuff. His fastball can touch the mid-90s, although it sits comfortably in the 91-94 mph range. He combines that stellar pitch with a lethal curveball and an improving changeup.
That three-pitch combo allowed Montgomery to breeze through the lower levels of the Kansas City system, posting a sub-2.50 ERA through his first three seasons. As evidenced by his struggles in 2011, however, he's going to need to sharpen his command of each pitch in order to succeed at the higher minor league levels and in the Majors.
The ball got away from the 22-year-old a lot more frequently in 2011, as evidenced by his career-high 69 walks (more than double his total from 2010) career-high seven hit batters, and career-high 14 wild pitches. All that lack of control made his stuff play down and he finished the season with 11 losses and a 5.32 ERA.
Still, on the plus side, Montgomery made a career-high 27 starts and blew past his career-mark of innings with 150.2 in 2011. He was pitching in Triple-A at age 22, something few others were doing so there's that too.
The Royals fought the urge to bring Montgomery up, and in the end it was probably the right call. Better to allow him to start off the 2012 season in Triple-A and pick up some confidence that he's going to need to survive in the big leagues, a place he'll see for sure next season.
5-11, 5.32 ERA, 28 games, 27 games started, 150.2 IP, 129-to-69 K:BB, 15 homers allowed (Triple-A)
30) Josh Bell, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Even though Bell made his intentions known that he wished to not be drafted and instead attend the University of Texas, the draft rumors surrounding the high school slugger refused to die down.
All but one team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, refused to believe that Bell would turn down a record-breaking bonus in favor of college, and in the end they were rewarded for their beliefs. They selected Bell with the first pick of the second round and shelled out $5 million to get him to sign just minutes before the signing deadline.
In Bell, the Pirates have one of the most talented high school hitters to come along in quite some time. He has received comps to some of the best outfielders in baseball and seems a pretty likely bet to reach his potential.
The 6'3", 205-pound outfielder is arguably a five-tool talent depending on who you ask. Baseball America tends to agree, calling his offensive upside some of the best in this high school class.
Bell is a switch-hitter with the chance for above-average power, but the exciting tools don't end there.
He has a short, powerful swing and combines it with excellent bat speed to crush pitches in the zone to all parts of the field.
In the field, he offers slightly above-average defensive ability. He has a cannon for an arm, but lacks the range to stick at center field as a pro, his position in high school. Bell could play center in a pinch, and will likely begin his pro career there, but he won't be long for a corner spot.
Neither spot will diminish the impact of his impressive arm strength, giving him yet another tool.
On the basepaths, he has pretty good speed. That should wane as he develops a bit more and adds some muscle, but his instincts and fundamentals are good enough that he could be a 15-20 steal guy as a pro.
29) Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City Royals
Myers had a dream season in 2010.
He worked his way up from Low-A to High-A and seemingly got better and better each day of the season. He finished with a .315/.429/.506 line, hit 14 homers and drove in 83 runs in 126 games. He also posted an 85:94 BB:K ratio, an incredible number for a guy who hadn't even turned 20 years old.
This year, he fell back to earth, something the Royals didn't expect when they went ahead and transitioned him from behind the plate to the outfield in an effort to speed his path to the majors.
He ended the year with a mediocre average (.254) and mustered just 32 extra-base hits, a year after combining for 54. He also only managed 49 RBI and struck out at a career-high rate.
Don't let the rough season fool you though. Keep in mind that Myers is just 20 years old and he now has one full-season of Double-A ball under his belt.
Toss in the fact that he has one of the best bats and some of the best plate discipline of any hitter his age, and he should be just fine.
.254, 50 R, 23 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 49 RBI, 52-to-87 BB:K, 9-of-11 SB (Double-A)
28) Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants
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 is offensive production, and in addition 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.
He'll no doubt make the jump to Double-A next season, and assuming he performs at even a fraction of his 2010 level, he'll see Triple-A time as well.
.336, 115 runs, 34 2B, 13 3B, 14 HR, 80 RBI, 46-to-77 BB:K, 53-of-72 SB (High-A)
27) Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
26) Manny Banuelos, LHP, New York Yankees
For his age, Banuelos was one of the top pitchers in the minors this year.
He began the year as one of the youngest pitchers in the Eastern League and performed incredibly well, striking out a batter an inning and holding batters to a .263 average. He earned a spot on the Eastern League midseason All-Star team and likely would have earned a spot on the postseason squad as well had he not been advanced.
The Yankees aggressively promoted the 20-year-old to Triple-A, where surprisingly he's held his own, posting a 4.19 ERA in seven starts and showing the ability to compete at the highest level of the minors.
Banuelos has some of the best stuff in the Yankees' system, despite being one of its least imposing (5'11", 155 pounds) players. His fastball sits in the mid-90s and he complements it with an impressive curveball.
With the success of unproven rookie Ivan Nova, who not only locked down a spot in the New York rotation, but went 16-4 helping the Yankees to the American League East title, Banuelos could find himself pitching out of the big-league rotation before the team breaks camp next spring.
Keep in mind too that Banuelos was one of the best pitchers in spring training this past season, striking out 14 in just 12.2 innings and posting a sub-2.20 ERA.
6-7, 3.75 ERA, 27 games started, 129.2 IP, 1 CG, 1 SO, 125-to-71 K:BB, 9 HR allowed (Double-A and Triple-A)
25) Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees
Montero has been the Yankees' top prospect going on three seasons now, and would rank much higher if he had any defensive value to speak of.
His hitting ability, however, is sensational. His raw power is 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 means 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 .286 with three homers and six RBI in 10 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 R, 19 2B, 1 3B, 18 HR, 67 RBI, 36-to-98 BB:K (Triple-A)
.286, 7 R, 1 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 3-to-10 BB:K (Majors)
24) Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Colorado Rockies
Pomeranz was included as the "player to be named later" in a deal with the Rockies that sent him, Alex White and two other prospects to Colorado in exchange for Ubaldo Jimenez. He earned such a dubious distinction because it hadn't been a full year since he signed a professional contract, making him technically "untradeable."
Pomeranz wasn't long for the minors, with a considerable amount of poise and excellent stuff. He confounded hitters in college with a low 90s fastball and an impressive knuckle-curve, and has used the same combination to fool his minor league competition so far.
He has excellent control of his body, and therefore, excellent control of his pitches, especially his fastball. He also throws a changeup. He has the perfect pitcher's frame (6'5", 230 lbs) and should be an inning-eater at the big-league level.
His pedestrian win-loss total (4-3) doesn't begin to describe the fantastic season Pomeranz had. He started out in High-A ball, dominated to the tune of a 1.87 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 77 innings, and earned a quick promotion to Double-A, where he looked equally sharp in three starts (17 K in 14 IP, 2.57 ERA).
He made a two-start pit stop in Triple-A (10.2 IP, seven Ks, zero runs), before landing in Colorado, where he threw five brilliant two-hit innings in his big-league debut.
There's no doubt that Pomeranz will be a major factor next spring, when he's likely to nail down one of the remaining spots in the rotation.
4-3, 1.78 ERA, 20 GS, 101 IP, 119-to-38 K:BB, 3 HR allowed (High-A, Double-A and Triple-A)
1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 GS, 5 IP, 2-to-0 K:BB (Majors)
23) 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. His production this season has led me to believe that he's a lot more valuable than most prospect rankings indicate.
For starters, 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 a .375 clip during June and .324 in August.
The Tigers almost had to give up Castellanos to Seattle in the Doug Fister/David Pauley deal, but instead parted with Chance Ruffin.
.312, 65 R, 36 2B, 3 3B, 7 HR, 76 RBI, 45-to-130 BB:K, 3-of-5 SB (Low-A)
22) Matt Purke, LHP, Washington Nationals
Purke was a potential top-three pick heading into the 2011 college season, but had a disappointing year, getting hit with numerous injuries. His velocity was down, and all of the injuries brought back concerns about his delivery that have plagued him since his high school days.
Teams wavered on whether they thought Purke was going to try to go back to TCU and earn his way into the first round for next year, hence his drop all the way to the third round, where the Nationals happily scooped him and then shocked the baseball world by getting him to agree to a contract. All it took was a $4.15 million big-league deal.
For a player who has apparent mechanical difficulties, a big-league deal seems a bit hasty. Unless of course, the Nats have no plans to use him in a starting role. That seems to be the only way many envision Purke getting to the majors in the four years that Washington has him under contract for.
Still, when Purke is on, you can make the case that he's better than Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall selection, or any of the other top arms from the 2011 draft class. The fact that he put together a 16-0 record during his freshman year at TCU tells you all you need to know. In addition, when healthy, he throws in the mid-to-high 90s and throws one of the most wicked sliders you'll ever see.
21) Devin Mesoraco, C, Cincinnati Reds
For the better part of two seasons, there has been no better catcher in the minors than Cincinnati's Devin Mesoraco.
The former first-round pick (15th-overall in 2007) has finally made good on his promise as a prospect, showing explosive potential at the plate and serviceable ability behind it. Mesoraco has slugged 41 homers the past two years, including 15 for the Reds' Triple-A affiliate this past season. He's also driven in at least 71 runs in back-to-back campaigns.
The real key for Mesoraco has been remaining healthy, and while he hasn't avoided the dings and scrapes that come with catching full time, he's avoided any major ailment that would keep him sidelined long term.
After appearing in just 215 games his first three seasons, he has played in 233 the past two seasons. Of that number, 190 starts have come behind the plate, where his 29 percent caught stealing rate is on-par with some of the better defensive catchers in the minors.
In addition to being a major power threat (one HR every 20 ABs since 2010), Mesoraco has also shown incredible patience. He walked a career-high 52 times in 2011 while striking out just 83 times.
The Reds finally rewarded the 23-year-old for his stellar run with a promotion late in the season. It didn't go as well as either side had hoped (.180, 10 Ks in 50 ABs), but at least he got the experience.
Depending on what the Reds do with Ramon Hernandez and veteran backup Ryan Hanigan, Mesoraco could end up back in Triple-A to start 2012, but without a doubt he'll be summoned before too long.
.289, 60 R, 36 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 71 RBI, 52-to-83 BB:K, 1-for-2 SB (Triple-A)
.180, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3-to-10 BB:K (Majors)
20) Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Hultzen dramatically improved his stock this season, proving to be one of the toughest pitchers to hit in all of college baseball while showing an uptick in his velocity and a sharpening of his other pitches.
For the year, the lefty ranked second in the nation with 165 strikeouts. He posted an 12-3 record and a 1.37 ERA while filling the role of staff ace, setting the tone for Virginia and taking on the challenge of facing each opponent's No. 1 starter each Friday. He rose to the challenge, beat down his opponents and come out as top-two pick.
Hultzen does a good job keeping hitters off-balance with his excellent curveball, which has very deceptive motion. And he also mixes in a changeup, and occasionally a splitter.
The improvement in his fastball, however, was the main reason for his success this season. After showing high-80s, low-90s velocity during his first two seasons, he sat in the 91-94 mph range all year, occasionally hitting 95. If he can sustain that kind of velocity as a pro, he has No. 1 starter written all over him.
The Mariners thought highly enough of him to shell out $8.5 million, a big-league contract and a guaranteed appearance at spring training next season.
19) Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers
Despite his mediocre performances over the past three seasons, Perez has maintained his place among the top prospects in the game, thanks to his incredible stuff. Prospect experts claimed all he needed was time and experience.
This year his promise finally started to translate into performance. For the first time in three seasons, normal average people can see that Perez is one of the top lefties in the game.
The 20-year-old began the year in Double-A, but earned a promotion to Triple-A after 17 appearances. He posted a 3.16 ERA for Frisco, and notched an 83:36 K:BB ratio in 88.1 innings. His first-half performance culminated in a Texas League All-Star selection and an invitation to the Futures Game.
After his return from Arizona, Perez made his starts out of the Rangers' highest minor league rotation, Round Rock.
He looked comfortable during his first start, allowing just one run in five innings while striking out four and walking none, but his second outing didn't go so well. He gave up 11 hits, got tagged for six runs (three earned) and lasted just 3.1 innings.
In all, Perez made 10 starts for Round Rock, and got roughed up in much the same way that he did in 2009 and 2010, posting a 6.43 ERA and walking 20 batters in 49 innings. Hopefully, this was just a part of the learning process, and when Perez returns to Triple-A in 2012, he'll show even better results.
8-6, 4.33 ERA, 27 G, 26 GS, 137.1 IP, 1 CG, 1 SO, 120-to-56 K:BB, 10 HR allowed (Double-A and Triple-A)
18) Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Scouts didn't pay too much attention to Lindor's stats this past season since he played for such a terrible team, but rather focused on his tools and how he parlayed them into real-time action.
He features a rocket arm and solid defensive tools, although he sometimes gets too flashy with the leather at shortstop. He's one of the few shortstop prospects who scouts feel can stick at SS long-term. With the right instruction and a few seasons worth of experience, Lindor could be a Gold Glove caliber shortstop.
Furthermore, Lindor is a switch-hitter with a chance for borderline above-average power. He won a home run derby contest last summer, and while that was a good snapshot of the kind of power he could have, it's not likely that he'll hit more than 15 as a pro.
Lindor was definitely worthy of a Top 10 selection by Cleveland, and gives the Indians their most exciting prospect since they traded for Grady Sizemore.
17) Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Former Angels prospect Tyler Skaggs had a solid campaign last year, showing great stuff and solid results in the Midwest League. A year later, he's solidified his status as one of the top lefties in the minor leagues.
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, earned Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors and was named a midseason All-Star in the hitter friendly California League.
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 innings, 198-to-49 K:BB, 10 HR allowed (High-A and Double-A)
16) Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
For all the attention that Trevor Bauer got after signing, the D-Backs scooped up a pitcher four picks later who might one day surpass Bauer on the diamond, thanks to incredible athleticism, mid-to-high 90s heat and the perfect pitcher's frame.
That's right, Archie Bradley, the second high school pitcher taken in the 2011 draft, after Dylan Bundy, is one of the top prospects in baseball.
Bradley came on strong late in the season, improving his draft status from mid-to-late in the first round all the way up to seventh, where the D-Backs eventually popped the native Oklahoman. It was a banner year for Oklahoma pitching, and in the end, even though Bundy earned the greater draft position (and bonus), it was Bradley who came out on top, with his Broken Arrow HS squad taking the state championship from Bundy's Owasso High.
Bradley pitched brilliantly in the state championship game and reportedly touched triple digits, the first time all season.
In addition to his sensational fastball, Bradley also throws a couple of mean breaking pitches. His curveball was one of the best in the high school class and his changeup has rapidly improved to the point where it too has above-average potential.
Topping off Bradley's resume is his incredible athleticism. Had he not signed with Arizona, he was headed to Oklahoma to serve as Landry Jones' backup on the football squad. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, Bradley would have made a sturdy QB, but now has a bright future on the mound to look forward to.
15) Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals
What can be said about Starling that hasn't already been covered extensively?
He was the feel good story of the draft, going No. 5 overall to his hometown club, Kansas City.
He has blinding speed, and could be a future base-stealing champ.
He has light-tower power with the ability to crank balls out of any part of any ballpark.
He's a graceful fielder with an impressive arm that could have made him a top-two talent on the mound.
He was also the top athlete in this draft. He played basketball, baseball and football during his high school career, and he excelled in all three, earning Carl Crawford comparisons for his potential in all three sports. He earned a scholarship to play both football and baseball at Nebraska, but turned down those offers in exchange for a $7.5 million bonus, the largest ever given out by the Royals.
14) Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
While Shelby Miller wins the top honor as the Cardinals' best pitching prospect, it's Carlos Martinez who has arguably the higher ceiling.
Just 20 years old, Martinez has already drawn comparisons to another famous pitcher with the same last name...Pedro Martinez. He already throws in the mid-to-high 90s and could be capable of reaching triple digits if the Cardinals ever decided to use him strictly in a relief role.
2011 was his debut season in the States, and the Cardinals couldn't have asked for a better showing. The Dominican fire-baller needed just eight starts to prove he was too advanced for the Low-A Midwest League. He racked up 50 strikeouts in 38.2 innings, surrendered just one home run and left with a 2.33 ERA.
He spent the final 10 starts of the season with High-A Palm Beach. Make no mistake, he got hit hard (5.28 ERA, .269 average against), but he kept fighting and had several starts where his stuff was too good for High-A hitters too.
As good as Martinez was, and at times he was as dominant as any pitcher in the minors outside of Matt Moore and Julio Teheran, he still has long ways to go before reaching his full potential. He still needs to sharpen his command (30 walks in 46 IP with Palm Beach), and improve his off-speed pitches.
Aside from that, all the youngster needs is more experience. With another strong campaign, Martinez could end up at the very top of this list.
6-5, 3.93 ERA, 18 GS, 84.2 IP, 98-to-44 K:BB, 2 HR allowed (Low-A and High-A)
13) Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers
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). 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 10 doubles, hitting two homers and driving in 17 runs.
Profar is a tiny enough guy (5'11", 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, also a member of this Top 50 list.
.286, 86 R, 37 2B, 8 3B, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 65-to-63 BB:K, 23-of-32 SB (Low-A)
12) Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Turner was selected exactly 10 picks before Shelby Miller and has followed a similar career path since signing with the Tigers.
He looked incredible during an 11-game stint in the Midwest League, posting a 51-to-9 K:BB ratio in 54 innings. That was enough for the Tigers to get aggressive and bump him up to High-A ball, where he was just as dominant. In another 13 starts, he managed to post a lower ERA (2.93) and a similar K:BB ratio (51-to-14). That left him with a season line of 6-5, 3.28 and 102:23 K-to-BB ratio, and a fast pass to Detroit.
He spent most of his time at Double-A Erie this season, but just like last year, he's looked advanced for his age. As one of the youngest pitchers in the league, Turner posted a 3.48 ERA and a 90-to-32 K:BB ratio in 113.2 innings. Batters hit just .239 against him.
Either because they felt he earned it, or because the Tigers wanted to showcase him to try to get the Rockies to deal them Ubaldo Jimenez, Turner came up to the big leagues for a one-start cameo and looked surprisingly polished.
No deal went through and Turner returned to the minors, this time at the Triple-A level. He looked even better, if possible, for the Mudhens, posting a 20-to-3 K:BB ratio in just 17.1 innings. After three starts, he once again got called up, this time for good.
Turner might return to Triple-A to start the 2012 season, but he'll likely come up to stay sometime during the year.
4-5, 3.44 ERA, 20 GS, 131 innings, 110-to-35 K:BB, 10 HR allowed (Double-A and Triple-A)
0-1, 7.45 ERA, 2 GS, 9.2 innings, 8-to-3 K:BB, 1 HR allowed (Majors)
11) Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Despite Cole's mediocre stat line (6-8 3.31 ERA, eight HRA), he definitely earned his status as the No. 1 overall selection in the June draft by the Pirates.
Don't get me wrong; most of Cole's other stats were more impressive than those, like his 119 strikeouts in 114 innings, four complete games and team-leading three pick-offs.
The most impressive number to consider when talking about Cole is 100, as in the miles per hour rate that Cole achieves with regularity. He pitches more comfortably in the 94-98 mph range, which is still more than enough to challenge big-league hitters consistently.
His secondary pitches are all very good (while still behind Stephen Strasburg's when he was coming out), and his command of them is above average.
The one thing that hasn't been above average this season for Cole and a primary reason for his struggles, was his command of his fastball. Pinpoint accuracy was what made Strasburg Strasburg. Cole was severely lacking in that area, especially this past year, although you can't teach velocity and the right-hander has arguably the best in the minor leagues.
10) Manny Machado, SS, Baltimore Orioles
Machado jumped out to such a hot start that many, including myself, were wondering if the Nationals made a mistake choosing Bryce Harper instead of the 19-year-old shortstop from Miami with the first overall pick in last year's draft.
He tripled in two runs in his first game, stole a base in his second and got walked four straight times in his third.
Machado got dinged by a couple of injuries (including a dislocated kneecap), missed some time and when he finally returned to the field, it took him some time to get readjusted. He earned a promotion from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Frederick after just 38 games, in which he hit .276 with eight doubles, two triples, six home runs, 24 RBI and a 23:25 BB:K ratio.
He got off to a slow start with Frederick, but bounced back with a strong July in which he hit .317 with seven doubles, 12 RBI, five steals and 10 walks.
And as a testament to his batting prowess, Machado earned yet another four-walk game. I wouldn't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure he's the only player to post two four-walk games this season.
Machado ended his season with a sterling run in the Carolina League playoffs. He won championship series MVP honors and helped Frederick to their first league title since 2006.
It's been a long time since the O's had a shortstop of the caliber of Machado. In fact, you'd have to go back to the days of Cal Ripken, who despite his Hall of Fame credentials, had nowhere near as much all-around talent coming out of high school as Machado does.
.257, 48 R, 20 2B, 5 3B, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 45-to-73 BB:K, 11-of-17 SB (Low-A and High-A)
9) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Taillon's debut season certainly wasn't the most impressive put together by a first-round pick, but the Pirates don't care. They managed to stretch out the 19-year-old's right arm, capable of producing 99 mph fastballs, without any injury or trauma.
Heading into 2012, Taillon will be fully healthy and fully stretched out, fully capable of pitching into the sixth and seventh innings, something he didn't do once in 2011. Still, even without going deep into games, the right-hander put up some very fine numbers.
For starters, he struck out 97 batters in just 92.2 innings, walking just 22, a very impressive number for a pitcher as young as Taillon. In some contests, Taillon looked unhittable, alternating mid-90s fastballs with stunning breaking stuff. Even while he was getting hit, he was still managing to keep hitters off balance.
Taillon's season may have flown under the radar due to some pedestrian numbers in the ERA (3.98) and win-total (two) department, but make no doubt he'll be poised for a breakout season in 2012.
2-3, 3.98 ERA, 23 GS, 92.2 IP, 97-to-22 K:BB, 9 HR allowed (Low-A)
8) Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
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 foresaw 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, 4 HR allowed (High-A and Double-A)
7) Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
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, opponents' batting average against him also experienced an uptick, from .208 to .232, although clearly his defense was there to back him up, as his ERA was four-hundtreths of a percent lower than last season.
For his efforts in the International League, Teheran was awarded with the Pitcher of the Week honors twice, named a midseason and postseason 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. Not only he is going to finish the 2011 campaign with the Braves, he's likely to warrant a long look next spring. He could find 29 other rotations that would be easier to crack, but with his talent, I wouldn't count him out.
15-3, 2.55 ERA, 25 G, 24 GS, 144.2 IP, 122-to-48 K:BB, 5 HR allowed (Triple-A)
1-1, 3.86 ERA, 3 GS, 14 IP, 5-to-6 K:BB, 2 HR allowed (Majors)
6) Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
How pathetic is that?
Anthony Rendon was the top hitter available in the 2011 draft, was rumored all year long to be the projected No. 1 overall pick, and somehow, he's not even the top-ranked player in the Nationals' system.
Still, if you're going to play second-fiddle to anyone, it might as well be Bryce Harper. And ranking second in Washington's farm system doesn't mean Rendon isn't also one of the top players in the minor leagues.
Possessing a lightning quick bat and an incredible batting eye, Rendon should have no problem handling minor league pitching. The only reason he'll spend more than a full season there will be because he'll have to learn a new position. I don't know if you've heard but the Nats already have third base covered (see Zimmerman, Ryan).
Rendon experienced some injury issues during his collegiate career at Rice, but he still finished his time with the Owls as a career .371 hitter and with nearly 100 more walks than strikeouts.
If any one man was worth a $6 million signing bonus, it would be Rendon, who Baseball America guru Jim Callis has reportedly said he would take over any player from the past three drafts, including that Harper guy.
5) Trevor Bauer, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
If we lived in a world where size didn't matter, and let's be honest, it does and we do, Trevor Bauer would have been a no-brainer selection for the Pirates with the top overall pick in this year's draft.
Sadly, Bauer needed someone to blaze the path before him, namely Tim Lincecum who, with a funky delivery and a smallish frame, has managed to win two Cy Young awards in just four-plus seasons in the majors.
On the heels of the most impressive collegiate campaign since Stephen Strasburg, Bauer wound up as the third-overall selection in the draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who, sharing a division with San Francisco, know all too well the impact a pocket-sized ace can make. He signed quickly for a $3.4 million bonus, and is already on a path that will likely have him pitching in the majors by the end of this month.
Whether or not he's qualified is not the issue. Bauer has certainly proved that with a dominating college campaign at UCLA, where he recorded complete games in his last nine starts and led the nation in strikeouts and innings pitched.
Bauer's repertoire is probably the deepest in baseball, majors or minors. He throws both a two and four-seam fastball, a curveball, a changeup, a slider and something he calls a reverse slider. That's six pitches, all of which he has average to above-average control over.
There's no doubt in my mind, and there should be none in yours, that Bauer will occupy one of the top-three spots in Arizona's rotation come 2012.
1-2, 5.96, 7 GS, 25.2 IP, 43-to-12 K:BB, 3 HR allowed (High-A and Double-A)
4) Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
The highest ranked player from the 2011 MLB Draft, Bundy is arguably the top high school prospect in the past 25 years.
His exploits at Owasso High in Oklahoma, are the thing of legends. His average start during his senior year saw him allow, on average, one-hit, and threw down at least 11 strikeouts. He was practically a no-hitter waiting to happen. His team ended up losing in the state championship game to fellow first-rounder Archie Bradley's squad, but that didn't stop Bundy from earning Gatorade National Player of the Year honors.
In fact, Bundy marks the second Gatorade national award winner in three years for Baltimore, who previously drafted the 2009 winner, Matt Hobgood. No doubt, the team is hoping for a brighter future than the one that has beaten down Hobgood.
All you have to know about Bundy's greatness is that he earned a major league contract from the O's. Those are about as rare for high school picks as $10 million bonuses are for anyone in the draft. The common belief among baseball experts is that Bundy could be in the majors before almost anyone else from the '11 draft class, save for Trevor Bauer, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Danny Hultzen.
Much like Bauer, Bundy has a vast repertoire of deadly offerings. His fastball is fast and can top triple digits at times, although it sits more comfortably in the 95-98 mph range. His curveball is an above-average pitch, and that, combined with his fastball, would have been enough to make him a first-rounder.
He also features a changeup, which is by far the worst of his pitches, but is still at least average, and a cutter, which he introduced this past season to devastating results. To hitters, that is.
He's an incredible athlete and a workout warrior. Feel free to YouTube his workout video if you need proof of the latter. He has earned very high praise, specifically from the draftniks over at Baseball America for being better than anyone in the '11 class at landing his foot in the same place repeatedly. That's the primary reason that he has such epic command for an 18-year-old.
The Orioles have many talented young pitchers like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and further down Daniel Klein and Dylan's older brother Bobby, but until they inked Dylan to to a $6.225 million deal, they lacked a true ace.
Now they have one.
3) Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
While strikeouts are a definite turn-on for most baseball fans, they're not always the best indicator of how talented a pitcher truly is. For example, Greg Maddux struck out just 145 batters per year and he will do down in history as one of the top pitchers from the modern era. On the other hand, Erik Bedard has been a strikeout-machine throughout his career, but has failed to remain healthy enough for his ability to matter much.
Moore has been so prolific and so good in the minor leagues, that it's hard to think that he's going to end up as a strikeout-wizard with health and attitude issues, a la Bedard, but it's still too early to label him as the next Cliff Lee.
Instead, we'll have to split hairs, and simply call him the top pitching prospect in baseball. Without a doubt, if he played in any other organization, Moore would have been on a big-league roster for months now, maybe years. But because he has the luxury of playing for Tampa, Moore has been brought along slowly, and you simply can't argue with the Rays' track record with pitchers the past few years.
Moore racks up the strikeouts and victories thanks to his low-to-mid 90s fastball and his amazing curveball. Both pitches are arguably the best in the minors. He throws two variations of his fastball, a two and four-seamer. The two-seamer has great movement, while the four-seamer looks faster than its clocked velocity.
Every season he's pitched in the minors, Moore has seemingly gotten better. This year, it seems he can do no wrong. He pitched his way out of Double-A after striking out 131 batters in just 102.1 innings. It only took him half the number to pitch his way into the big leagues, as he racked up another 79 strikeouts in nine Triple-A starts. That gave him 210 for the season.
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 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.
Moore picked up honors everywhere he went this season, earning Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors, midseason All-Star honors, International League Pitcher of the Week, and he even earned a spot at the Futures Game, where he blew away the competition.
The sweetest reward came just a few before the end of the season, though, when he was called up to Tampa to finish out the season with the big-league club. He immediately made his presence known and earned a spot on the division series roster, making a gigantic splash by tossing seven shutout innings against baseball's top offensive squad.
Keeping Moore out of the team's 2012 opening day rotation will be incredibly hard.
12-3, 1.92 ERA, 27 GS, 1 CG, 155 IP, 210-to-46 K:BB, 11 HR allowed (Double-A and Triple-A)
0-0, 13.50 ERA, 1 G, 1.1 innings, 2-to-0 K:BB, 1 HR allowed (Majors)
2) Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
What else is there to be said about Harper, arguably the game's top prospect?
The second uber-prospect to come through Washington's system in the the past two seasons, Harper jumped out to an extraordinary start. He was so good, in fact, that he put the solid performances of the two other top-three picks from the 2012 draft (Jameson Taillon and Manny Machado) to shame.
In just 72 games with Low-A Hagerstown, Harper slugged 14 homers, drove in 46 runs and stole 19 bases. In the field he showed off his rocket arm, throwing out six runners attempting to advance. And he showed patience beyond his years, posting a 44-to-61 BB:K ratio.
Those historically great numbers were enough to earn Harper a promotion, straight past High-A to Double-A Harrisburg, where he made his debut months before his 19th birthday. He struggled immediately to adjust to better pitching and when he did manage to make contact, the ball rarely left the park (just three HR in 129 ABs).
Still, simply making it to Double-A as an 18-year-old was enough to consider Harper's debut season a total success. His final line for the season looked like this: .297, 63 R, 24 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 26 SB, 59-to-87 BB:K.
The highlight of his season, however, came in a meaningless exhibition game, the 2011 Futures Game played during the All-Star break. In the contest, Harper went hitless, but still showed amazing skill by making a throw from the warning track all the way to home plate with just one bounce. Very few, if any, player in the minors could make that throw.
Even if Harper begins the 2012 season back in Double-A, you can be assured that he'll be playing just one level away from the big leagues in Triple-A by the time he turns 19 and a half.
.297, 63 R, 24 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 26-of-33 SB, 59-to-87 BB:K (Low-A and Double-A)
1) Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
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 basepaths 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 .400, slugged four home runs (including two in one game) and drove in seven runs.
Where 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. Trout narrowly missed out on losing his "rookie" status for next season, falling seven at-bats short.
.326, 82 R, 18 2B, 13 3B, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 45-to-76 BB:K, 33-of-43 SB (Double-A)
.220, 18 R, 5 2B, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 7-to-22 BB:K, 2-of-2 SB (Majors)