Minggu, 25 Maret 2012

Prospect Avenue: Part Two

In part 1 we looked at such names as Danny Hultzen, Anthony Rizzo, and Yoenis Cespedes. Now, we'll continue with the top-ten prospects who should contribute in 2012.

10. OF Bryce Harper, Nationals

Age: 19
BA Rank: #1
Draft: 2010 - 1st round, 1st overall

I examined Harper's case as a major-leaguer earlier this year, and while I encourage you to follow the jump, we are all aware of the mammoth talent in Harper. He is the most skilled position player prospect since at least A-Rod, maybe Griffey, and perhaps of all time. He's hit basically everywhere he's been, and, oh yeah, he's 19.

Despite all his talent, I listed Harper at #10 for a couple of reasons. First, he didn't get a big-league spot out of Spring Training. He was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse last week. Additionally, many signs point to him not being ready to face MLB pitching. Most scouts agree that there are holes in his game, and you can tell that when he faced high-level pitching at Double-A in 2011, he was a little behind the rest of the league (.329 OBP). He didn't really hit in limited Spring Training at bats, either. Harper will be given time in center field at Syracuse, and the Nationals, smartly, are playing the long game with him. Despite his upside, I would not expect to see him before June, or maybe July (the new CBA and Super-Two rules may play a role here). As a result, his 2012 production probably won't be off the charts, but as the game's most exciting prospect, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on in this season.

9. SP Drew Pomeranz, Rockies

Age: 23
BA Rank: 30
Draft: 2010 - 1st round, 5th overall

The centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, Pomeranz, a lefty, is exactly what you like to see in a pitching prospect. He has a live, mid-90s fastball and a breaking pitch that has been described as the best in the 2010 draft class. He is supposed to have great control, though he did struggle a bit with his command (3.4 BB/9) in 2011. If he can get back to the command that he displayed at Ole Miss and polish off a third-pitch changeup, he could be a monster as soon as this year. Playing time shouldn't be an issue: he's currently penciled in as the Rockies' third starter, though they probably won't let him go more than 150 innings or so, as his previous high is just 101.

8. SP Jarrod Parker, Athletics

Age: 23
BA Rank: 26
Draft: 2007 - 1st round, 9th overall

Tommy John surgery kept Parker out for 2010, but he picked up where he left off in 2011, striking out 7.7 per 9 and walking 3.8. Supposedly, the life is back in his 95 mph fastball, and his pre-surgery command is supposedly back as well (though he has struggled this spring, walking 13 men in 11 innings). He features a sharp slider and curve, and has added a good changeup. With no real competition, he was expected to compete for a spot, but lack of sharpness had him optioned to minor league camp last week. He'll pitch with Triple-A Sacramento for now, but as soon as he shows he's still the guy worth trading for Trevor Cahill, expect him to start pitching for Oakland.

7. 1B Yonder Alonso, Padres

Age: 25
BA Rank: 33
Draft: 2008 - 1st round, 7th overall

Alonso has long been one of those 'good problems' for the Reds. With no fielding ability, he's practically chained to first base, but the Reds already had the best left-handed hitter on the planet manning first. They 'solved' that problem by sending him to San Diego in the Mat Latos trade, and after they dealt Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs, he'll begin the season as their starting first baseman.

Alonso has always hit. He has a career Minor league OPS of .837, and a Major league OPS of .833. He's supposed to have monster power potential, but he's never really grown into it, even at a relatively advanced age, and PETCO is probably not the best place to find your power stroke. Still, he takes plenty of walks (11% MiL walk rate), and hits enough line drives that he should show plenty of doubles power, if nothing else. And don't get me wrong: he still looks like a 20-homer player with some upside. He's already shown an ability to hit MLB pitching, and I see no reason to think he shouldn't create some real value for the Padres.

6. SP Brad Peacock, Athletics

Age: 24
BA Rank: 36
Draft: 2006 - 41st round

One of the pitchers acquired in the Gio Gonzalez trade, Peacock has gone largely unnoticed by many major publications (unranked by MLB.com's top-100, for instance). He features two plus pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a wicked knucke-curve. This allows him to strike out a ton of batters: over the last two years he's struck out 325 men in 289 innings from High-to-Triple-A. He features two other mediocre pitches, but his real third weapon is his ability to locate the first two: he's walked just 2.9 batters per 9 over the last two years. Peacock is an MLB pitcher at this point (he got a 12-inning cup of coffee last September), but Oakland may play with his service time as he was sent down with Parker last week. Just as with Parker, however, there is no real competition for him in the rotation, so as soon as the A's think he won't qualify for Super-Two status, he'll be with the big league club.

5. C Devin Mesoraco, Reds

Age: 24
BA Rank: 16
Draft: 2007 - 1st round, 15th overall

The Latos trade didn't completely ravage the Reds' system, as the top catching prospect in baseball is about to graduate to their big league club. Mesoraco is set to serve an apprenticeship under Ryan Hanigan in 2012, but if he hits and Hanigan doesn't, he could take his job at some point during the summer. Mesoraco is probably an average defensive catcher, throwing out 26% of baserunners while allowing 10 passed balls in 2011, but it's his bat that makes him such a great prospect. In 120 Triple-A games in 2011, he hit .289/.371/.484 with 15 home runs, after OPSing .964 in 2010. Supposedly, he can still get beat by inside stuff, but raw power and a penchant for walking make him a threat at the plate. He's athletic and hard-working, and baseball people expect him to make the strides to be a big-league catcher, as well. Which is more than we can say about:

4. C Jesus Montero, Mariners

Age: 22
BA Rank: 6

Perhaps the only available prospect the Mariners would have bitten on for Pineda, that swap took place in January. Montero is ridiculously talented with a bat. He makes consistent contact, hits for power, and walks at about an average or better pace. In his minor league career, he's hit .288/.348/.501, hit 15 home runs four times, and posted a .996 OPS in 69 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2011. Montero can hit.

The caveat is his defense. He's a catcher in name only. He's too big (the bad way) to field the position effectively, and while he has a strong arm, he supposedly has poor throwing mechanics and footwork, a virtual waste of the tool. Seattle is committed to trying him at catcher, though it looks like he'll get more DH time and just back up Miguel Olivo.

Montero is going to hit: of that I am sure. The question is, how well? Safeco will impact his offense, but how much? On the upside is Mike Piazza, with a downside like the latest version of Bengie Molina, and Montero likely to land somewhere in the middle.

3. SP Yu Darvish, Rangers

Age: 25
BA Rank: 4

I like Darvish. Like, a lot. His pitching repertoire and skillset really do deserve their own article, so if you're interested in his abilities, you really should check it out. The long and short of it is that he is probably the greatest non-pan-American pitcher to ever live, featuring a vast array of pitches that he commands and moves expertly and throws with serious velocity, touching 100 mph in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

In that article I address his conversion stats, and why I think he should work in the MLB where some other Japanese pitchers have failed. He's been impressive this Spring so far, with 10 strikeouts in 9 innings, with most people very impressed with his fastball. His breaking stuff seems to be a little tough to control so far, with 7 walks, but it remains to see which (if any) of the myriad issues that could be. Smart money is on the Rangers' #2 starter figuring it out and making 33 very good starts in 2012.

2. OF Mike Trout, Angels

Age: 20
BA Rank: 3
Draft: 2009 - 1st round, 25th overall

Mike Trout is Superman. While Harper may do everything well, and his hitting makes him the greatest talent in a generation, nobody has been as effectively well-rounded since Mays and Mantle. He hits (.338 lifetime average), he walks (11.5% career walk rate), and he hits for power (.508 career SLG). And he runs. Oh, does he run. He's gone 89/114 (78%) over the last two years in the minors, and nobody caught him in four attempts in the majors last year, not even Matt Wieters. He runs to first a half second faster than any major leaguer, and gets to third in the time it takes an international runner to run 100 meters. As a result, he could probably be one of the best center fielders in baseball right now.

But, we're looking at 2012, and the reality is that Mike Trout probably won't spend all of 2012 in the majors - despite the fact that he is unquestionably at least the second best outfielder in the Angels' organization. He hasn't played much this spring, going hitless in four at bats, due to a shoulder issue. He was cleared to throw Monday and will be DHing with minor league teams probably the rest of Spring Training, with an eye on playing full time in two weeks. After that, he'll probably be confined to Triple-A until the boos keep Jerry DiPoto up at night and he has to bench Vernon Wells or Torii Hunter. Or Bobby Abreu. Coincidently, this may be in mid-June when Trout loses his shot at Super-Two status. Just, you know, out of coincidence. Trout should play 3-4 months at an All-Star level, and that is why he should be the second-most valuable top prospect in 2012.

1. SP Matt Moore, Rays

Age: 23
BA Rank: 2
Draft: 2007 - 8th round

A small-framed lefty, Moore is fantastically talented. He features shockingly easy mid-90s heat, complements it with a wicked curve, and tops it off with a nifty fading change that, despite being his third pitch, is still one of the best changeups in the minors. With excellent command of this repertoire, he's done nothing but strike guys out over a lengthy minor league career (12.7 K/9!), while walking surprisingly few (3.8 BB/9) for someone as stuffsy as him. The Rays typically bring their prospects along slowly, but a 1.92 ERA kept Moore moving through the system in 2011, ending with a cup of coffee in Tampa, where he struck out 15 men in 9.1 innings, and started Game 1 of the ALDS, shutting out the eventual AL Champion Rangers for seven innings.

As far as natural ability go, he's one of the most gifted hurlers in the world. Only time will tell how far he goes, but the sky is the limit. The Rays will give him every opportunity: after signing a huge extension that could keep him in Tampa through 2019, there is no reason to play with his service time, and Moore will start 2012 in the rotation. With 170 combined innings in 2011, he will probably pitch a full season as well. While I wouldn't bet on it, he could go as far as winning the Cy Young Award as a rookie -- and that is why he is the #1 most valuable prospect in 2012.

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