In our first edition of this countdown, we looked at individuals like fireballer Craig Kimbrel, the accurate Madison Bumgarner, and bigtime slugger Jay Bruce. This part of the countdown starts to focus more on an elite core of individuals who look to bring the most promise to baseball over the next 10 years. These individuals aren't the absolute best of the best, but they are certainly up there in terms of talent and ceiling. Alright, let's start to dive in:
15. Michael Pineda, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Before the 2011 season, one of the players I was high on was this big right-handed fireballer. In fact, he was my early rookie of the year pick (he finished 5th in some rather shady voting). Pineda, as noted, throws some serious gas, but unlike some other pitchers of similar velocity in this countdown, he features surprisingly average control. He has a 3-pitch mix of fastball, slider, and change-up that he uses to mainly do one thing: strike batters out. Every pitch Pineda throws is hard, and every pitch he throws can get a batter out. These things are great, and they definitely project Pineda to have major success in the future, but he does one thing poorly: he leaves the ball up in the zone. Perhaps it has something to do with trying to challenge big-leaguers with fastballs, but Pineda gave up 45% FB in 2011, which led to a .9 HR/9 rating in SAFECO last year, which is rather high.
Tools: Velocity, Stamina
Weaknesses: FB Rate
Notable stats: 9.11 K/ 2.89 BB/ 3.36 SIERA
14. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is a guy that is very intriguing for a lot of reasons. Firstly, he's a big, left-handed bat with tons of power and plenty of patience. Hosmer was the 24th rated prospect pre-2009, was not rated pre-2010, and then was suddenly rated the 8th best prospect prior to 2011 as part of a resurgence of the Royals' farm system. If you want a look at the next potentially elite first baseman, go take a look at Hosmer. The patience didn't really show in his time in the bigs in 2011, but it was his rookie year (at 21 years old) so we'll cut him some slack. One of the rare things about Hosmer is that, for a major power hitter with relatively good patience, he does not strike out much at all. In fact, the 14.6% K rate he had in the majors last year was his highest since 2009, when he was in A+ ball. This contact ability lets him put the ball in play so much that eventually his superior power is allowed to take over. Defensively, saying he's got room for improvement is probably an understatement as he posted some pretty terrible ratings last year in the field.
Tools: Power, Contact Ability
Notable Stats: 14.6% K, .172 ISO, .314 BABIP
13. Jesus Montero, C/1B/DH, New York Yankees
No, the position listing is not a mistake. At this point in time, it's nearly impossible to guess where the Yankees think Montero will play in the future. He can play catcher (just not very well), and the Yankees have Mark Teixeira at first base, so it looks like Montero will primarily be a DH with split time at catcher if he stays in New York. There is no doubting Montero's raw ability, but his lack of a position and the late mishandling of prospects by New York leads me to believe that he won't reach his full value or potential in New York. As far as raw skills go, Montero excels with his power as his primary weapon. His defense behind the plate is shaky at best, but power and contact ability have helped Montero put up some amazing offensive numbers. Despite 2011 being Montero's 2nd (top prospect with two full years in AAA, eh...) year in AAA, Montero saw dips in all of his numbers. Decreased BB rate, increased strikeouts, and significantly decreased ISO. There could be a number of reasons for it, but that kind of setback without an increase in competition is a little bit of a red flag. However, Montero's offensive skill set is good enough to be one of the best designated hitters in the game. He won't put up the value he could at catcher, but he will still produce plenty of value over his career.
12. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have a lot of problems, and it is rather obvious. However, one of the things they do not have to worry about is shortstop, where a quickly budding star has found home at the Friendly Confines. Castro has one thing going for him that a lot of young players don't, and that is elite contact ability. Castro very rarely strikes out (13.7% over two years in the majors), and he swings and misses less than 7% of the time. Along with the contact ability, Castro has good (not great) speed and power that seems to be progressing as he fills out his frame. Right now, StarCast has two major shortcomings: plate discipline and defense. Castro's plate discipline is almost non-existent. He swings at everything (fortunately, he makes contact with 93% of the pitches he swings at), and doesn't like to take walks. Personally, I don't believe that this is an issue with not recognizing pitches and location, but it's an overconfidence in the ability to hit the ball and put it into play. It's almost like Castro doesn't realize that he can provide value and get better pitches to hit if he doesn't swing at those borderline pitches. Defensively, Castro has one of the stronger throwing arms you'll ever see, and he also has good range. His problems? Insanely inconsistent throwing motion and accuracy. He doesn't set his feet before he throws, which leads to wild errors. A little coaching and maturity could very well fix these problems, which should give Castro a ceiling as one of the game's best shortstops.
Tools: Contact Ability, Speed, Arm Strength
Weaknesses: Patience, Throwing Accuracy
Notable stats: 13.7% K/ 6.9% SwStr/ .345 BABIP
11. Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves
It is odd writing about someone who is only 3 months older than me, but that's what we've got here. Teheran doesn't reach legal drinking age until the 27th of January. This youth gives Teheran the advantage of nearly 15 years of solid big league experience in front of him as a pitcher if he can stay healthy. As a pitcher, Teheran features a good fastball (average 93 MPH) with a great curve and change up that he will throw off of it. The break and movement on his pitches are clean and crisp, and he's got great ability. In 2010, Teheran pitched 142 innings as he jumped from A ball to A+ ball to AA ball. The quick progression came as part of Julio striking out a ton of batters in the lower minors and walking very few. This K/BB rate
is something to get excited about, as it was close to 5 over the first 100 innings of Teheran's 2010 campaign. His stuff is elite and his arm is young, which means he has tons of room to grow into an elite pitcher in the majors.
Tools: Velocity, Control
Weaknesses: Consistency, FB rate
Notable stats: 8.6 K/ 2.6 BB/ 0.5 HR in minors
10. Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Chase Utley may be seeing his career come to a close, but Dustin Ackley is here to make sure that we get to see a similar second baseman in the majors for the next 10 years. Ackley's primary skill is his elite patience (at the plate, not in progression as Ackley went straight from rookie ball to AA). He sees pitches extremely well and does not strike out much at all. In fact, he only had one year in the minors where his K rate was higher than his BB rate. Ackley has good power, but he'll most likely be more of a doubles hitter than an elite power hitter. He will probably flex his muscles 15 times a year and hit some bombs, but his best days will come as a guy who is very patient and then crushes mistakes into the left-center and right-center gaps. Similarly to Utley, Ackley isn't incredibly fast, but he's smart and has at least average wheels. In the minors, he only stole 17 bases over two years, but he was successful 74% of the time. Defensively he won't be as good as Utley, but he'll make all of the plays that he possibly can. Not elite range, but good awareness, good reaction time, and an adequate arm for 2nd base. The mix between offensive ability and defensive ability is one that will make Ackley an elite player over the next ten years, and that is the primary reason why he cracks the top ten in our countdown. For those of you wondering, only one middle infielder cracks the top 10 here, and it is Ackley.
Tools: Patience, Contact Ability, Intelligence
Notable Stats: 14.2% BB/ ~.160 ISO/ 2.7 fWAR in 90 games in 2011
9. Mike Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
We're in the top 10 now, so we're looking for players that are going to be in the realm of "superstar" level play over the next decade. These are the players that you will likely hear about most during that span, and there aren't many guys who are going to put up power numbers like Mike Stanton. Power doesn't even begin to describe how far this dude can hit a ball. On MLB Network's countdown of furthest home runs in 2011, Stanton led the list by appearing on it five times. This power shows up in Stanton's stats, as he has a .264 ISO in 1000 PA in the majors along with 56 home runs. Stanton's power is backed by decent patience, which is perhaps enhanced by the fact that nobody wants to give up mistakes to a guy who will constantly hit the ball 450+ feet. Offensively, Stanton's biggest weakness (by far) is the fact that he strikes out...a LOT. In those 1000 PA, Stanton's posted a 29.0% K rate, which is remarkably high. Defensively, Stanton has done well so far as an above-average fielder. He's got a strong arm and surprising range, which makes him a great fit for right field. In his first 1000 PA, Stanton has produced 8.4 WAR (on b-ref) and 7.3 fWAR. That's rather good, especially for someone who is only going to be 22 by opening day of 2012.
Tools: Power, Arm Strength
Notable Stats: .264 ISO/ 56 HR/ 11.9 UZR (3.5 dWAR)
8. Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Very rarely does a pitcher like this come about. Moore was drafted in the 8th round of the 2007 player entry draft, and he has absolutely exploded onto the scene. Pre-2010, he was the 35th rated prospect, pre-2001 he was the 15th rated prospect, and by mid-season he was being rated as the best pitching prospect in all of minor league baseball. The phrase "easy gas" takes on new meaning when it is applied to Matt Moore. I haven't been following the analysis of prospects for more than a couple years, but even I have the ability to realize that Matt Moore throws a ball 98 MPH and it looks like he's playing soft toss. He has a remarkable fastball, devastating curve, and a "change up" that comes in at a cool 86 MPH. Moore compiled 12.7 K/9 n the minors and his control got better with every year of development (he was down to 2.7 this year with a K/BB ratio of 4.57). Whenever Moore has been challenged to get better, he has come through. He strikes a ton of guys out, has decent control, and he keeps the ball in the ballpark. Unless his arm snaps off, Moore should be able to dominate hitters for a long time to come.
Tools: Velocity, Stuff
Notable Stats: 12.7 K/ 0.5 HR
7. Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta Braves
If not for an injury-riddled disappointment of a 2011 campaign, the J-Hey Kid would easily have cracked the top 5 in this countdown. It seems that last year almost everyone forgot about Jason Heyward and all of the different skills he brings to the table. He hits for power, draws walks, doesn't strike out a ton, he runs the bases effectively, and he fields his position very well. At any other time, I think Heyward would be the consensus top young player in the majors, but he's in a group of extremely elite players here. When I say Heyward does everything well, I am not exaggerating. Here are his career rates:
13.2% BB/ 20.5% K/ .171 ISO/ .302 BABIP/ 12.8 UZR/ 9 Outfield Assists
There are very few players I would consider taking over Heyward, and I really wanted to move him into the top 5 of this countdown, but I just can't at this point in time.
Tools: Power, Defense, Throwing Arm, Patience
Weaknesses: Swings and Misses
Notable Stats: See above
6. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
I wrote about him being a breakout candidate, and I definitely expect him to become one of the feature players in the league. In fact, since I personally believe Matt Kemp will fall off, I would not be surprised if, at some point, Andrew McCutchen becomes the best center fielder in all of baseball. McCutchen is an older player by this list, but he absolutely deserves to be here (as he'll be 25 on opening day). McCutchen brings the entire package when he steps on a baseball field. Elite speed, fantastic power, great patience, great contact ability, and elite defense at a premium position. Much like with Heyward, the only way to do everything justice is to post the entire line from McCutchen's first 1500 PA in the major leagues:
End Results: .276 BA/ .365 OBP/ .458 SLG (123 OPS+)/ 12.4 WAR
Other Rates: 11.7% BB/ 16.3% K/ .182 ISO/ 126 wRC+/ 78 SB (25 CS)
There isn't anything McCutchen can't do on a baseball field. He hits line drives and doesn't just hit ground balls to rely on his speed, as he has fantastic power for a center fielder. McCutchen, last year, also showed many signs of trying to use the power (perhaps he realizes that power is more valuable than speed) by lifting the ball into the air more and seeing an increase in his strikeout rate. His skills are constantly improving, and he's due for his breakout year at age 25 in the 2012 season.
Tools: Power, Speed, Defense
Notable Stats: See Above