Thursday, March 25, 2010

Minor League Beat: Twenty Rookies to Watch

Brian Matusz looks to have a huge jump on the A.L. Field

For the record, I hate these kind of articles. You know the ones where you have to predict what will happen. See that’s not really what we do here. We don’t tell you what will happen…instead we tell you the likelihood of a particular thing happening. Yet, because we are all about projecting which prospects will have Major League success, we feel obliged to try to ‘predict’ who will be the 2010 rookies that will have impact this season.

You think it is an easy task? For starters, over the last eight seasons (2002-2009), how many Rookie of the Year award winners were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 25 prospects at the beginning of the season? You can find the answer below. What I will tell you is that 38% of the winners weren’t even ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100, and the average ranking by a R.O.Y. was 69th. While being an impact rookie requires some degree of skill, what it requires more is opportunity for playing time and the good fortune to not get hurt. So as we write this, the numbers tell us that the top half of the players listed here, by long-term prospect value, when considered as a group, has little more than a 10% chance of actually winning the award. We are setting ourselves up for a losing proposition before we ever get started. Nonetheless, we have been polishing our crystal ball, and combined with our group think guesses at likely playing time, have come up with the players that we believe will have the greatest positive impact on their Major League teams this season. Without any further whining, here is our list:

American League

1) Brian Matusz, LHP, BAL – This one seems intuitively easy for us. Matusz has nailed down a rotation spot. He has already demonstrated success at this level that should ensure that he keeps the spot for the entire season, and he is a talented prospect with a very high-floor. You are looking at the A.L. Rookie of the Year…right?

2) Austin Jackson, CF, DET – We ranked Jackson at #92 on our Top 500 list, and many of you thought that was too high. Jackson has had a strong spring and has a virtual lock on the CF job in Detroit. With little competition, there will be little pressure, and he should come out of the gate performing. Don’t expect a ton, but 20SBs, with 12-15HRs and a .750 OPS over a full-season isn’t bad.

3) Michael Brantley, OF, CLE – Brantley just missed our Top 100 list and isn’t likely to get more than about 400ABs, as the Indians will try all season long to find better options. But this is another high-floor prospect with opportunity, and that should translate into 20-25 SBs and a relative light in the power categories .750 OPS.

4) Wade Davis, RHP, TBR – Regular readers of this space already understand that we don’t even believe that Davis is one of the Rays’ five best starting pitchers, so if we were looking at long-term potential, he would be much further down on this list. The fact remains that he has already experienced a taste of Major League success and will open the season as the Rays #5 starter. Barring injury, we don’t see Hellickson or Moore replacing him this season, so he should be good for 25-30 starts. That should produce an ERA in the mid-4.00s with a WHIP around 1.40 and 130Ks…we don’t see another AL pitcher likely to have that kind of success any further down this list.

5) Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, TBR – Hellickson would be our choice for the Rays rotation now, but since he will likely not receive a call-up until one of the other starters goes down, it limits what his contribution is likely to be this year. He should be good for about 80-90 innings though with the same number of strikeouts, and peripherals that far exceed Davis’.

6) Neftali Feliz, RP, TEX – It amazes us when logic and reasoning overtake Major League organizations, but we have been calling for the Rangers to do what they did (insert Matt Harrison in the rotation and keep Feliz in the bullpen) ever since Spring Training began. Don’t get us wrong, Feliz can, and likely should, develop into a lights-out closer, but we just don’t see his ‘stuff’ making it multiple times through a lineup and the bullpen is his best role. Unfortunately for Feliz, that means 2010 will likely be spent in a set-up role—minimizing his impact.

7) Carlos Santana, C, CLE – If Santana were to have started the season in Cleveland, he would have likely been #2 on this list. Instead, we aren’t likely to see him in the Major Leagues until early June. That places a likely ceiling on him of less than 300 ABs. That should still be enough for him to reach double digits in home runs and post a near .800 OPS.

8) Hector Rondon, RHP, CLE – Rondon will begin the season in AAA, in the rotation. While an injury could get him to the Big Leagues sooner, he should be in Cleveland, either in a starting or bullpen role, by early June. He is one of the Tribe’s four best starting pitchers, and they will figure it out before season’s end. It will be likely too late though to see more than 70 innings and 60 K’s with a 4.00 ERA.

9) Scott Sizemore, 2B, DET – The Tigers were bound and determined to put Sizemore in their everyday lineup and ‘by golly’ they have gone and done it—despite a .637 OPS this spring. His ceiling is no more than that of a League average middle infielder, and though he will likely get 450 ABs, don’t expect more than about 10HRs and 10SBs with a less than .700 OPS for the effort. Our guess is that Detroit looks for a different option for 2011.

10) Michael Taylor, OF, OAK – There are a number of directions we could have gone for this 10th spot, but we decided to go with a player that should post strong numbers when he opens the season in AAA, and has only mediocre competition at the Major League level. No one that the A’s have should stand in Taylor’s way past June, and we could see a 10 HR with .800 OPS effort in 300 ABs once he gets there.

Others who are absent from the list:

Desmond Jennings, OF, TB – battling his own injuries and a formidable starting OF in Tampa, Jennings needs help to create an opportunity.

Justin Smoak, 1B, TEX – Chris Davis should bounce back, and Smoak will have to first demonstrate that AAA is no problem for him when he is healthy. Together they are likely to delay his arrival until mid-season.

Dan Hudson, RHP, CHA – It was a whirlwind 2009 where all the stars aligned. Hudson’s ceiling isn’t that high, and 2010 will prove to be more difficult.

Carlos Carrasco, RHP, CLE – May get a shot this year in the bullpen, but Rondon is a better option.

Jake Arrietta, RHP, BAL – There is just too much talent ahead of him in the organization and he will have to wait for his chance.

Adam Moore, C, SEA – Looks to have the #1 catching job in Seattle to open the season and still can’t crack this list…that should tell you all that you need to know.

National League

1) Jason Heyward, OF, ATL – Heyward enters the season as the #1 prospect, has an everyday job locked up, and has had a phenomenal Spring. While the National League rookie talent is much tougher competition than the American League, everything lines up to make Heyward the favorite.

2) Stephen Strasburg, RHP, WSN – We still believe that Strasburg was the best college pitcher ever selected in the draft, but he isn’t likely to see the Majors before mid-May. We expect him to roll once he gets there, and he should still get 18-20 starts. That should leave him with 140 Ks and an ERA in the upper 3.00s.

3) Jaime Garcia, LHP, STL – There is a reason why when everyone else was choosing Shelby Miller as the Cards top prospect that we stuck with Garcia. His stuff is #2 quality and the Cardinals will be giving him the 5th starters spot out of Spring Training. This should give him 20+ starts, 120 strikeouts and ERA that may dip below 4.00.

4) Alcides Escobar, SS, MIL – There has been little suspense as to who would be the Brewers everyday shortstop, since Escobar’s audition late last year. This has allowed him to relax and have a strong spring that came on the heels of an excellent Winter. We worry about his bat a lot less than we did a couple of years ago and there have never been any doubts about his glove. It also would not come as any surprise, to us, to see him be the eventual award winner. We look for something in the neighborhood of 500+ ABs, 20+ SBs and a .720ish OPS.

5) Buster Posey, C, SFG – Had the Giants not resigned Benji Molina, it is quite likely that Posey would be the favorite in the National League. As it stands, Posey will be looking for ABs. The positive is that San Francisco just may keep him in the Majors all season and play him some at first base. While we are not sure how much this helps/hurts his long-term development, it should be a plus for his 2010 impact. Expect 350 ABs, 10 HRs and an OPS approaching .800.

6) Fernando Martinez, OF, NYM
– Martinez finally looks ready to live up to all that potential, as he has been hot ever since the Caribbean Championship Series, posting a 1.320 OPS in 38 ABs this Spring. Playing time is not yet a given for him, or else he might rank higher, but we are expecting 300+ ABs with double digit home runs and an OPS hovering around .780.

7) Drew Storen, RP, WSN – While Storen isn’t likely to see the Majors before mid-May, only Matt Capps on a one-year contract stands in the way of him and the National’s closer job. Expect the job to be his by season’s end, and solid bullpen numbers along the way.

8) Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT – While we might be tempted to find a way to insert him into the lineup now and send Jeff Clement to the bench, the Pirates, rightfully so, want to give Alvarez a chance to tackle the everyday third base duties. This likely means that we won’t see Alvarez in Pittsburg until June when he forces Andy LaRoche across the diamond. When it is all said and done, you should expect 300 ABs, 15HRs and a .760ish OPS.

9) Alrodis Chapman, LHP, CIN – The Reds 5th starter job remains open, and the only thing really standing in Chapman’s way is his own health and possibly Mike Leake. We just have this feeling that the stars won’t line-up for him and he begins the season in the Minors, limiting him to 15-20 Big League starts. That still could net him 100 Ks and an ERA in the mid-4.00s.

10) Gabby Sanchez, 1B, FLA – This is an opportunity pick, as we fully expect Logan Morrison to have supplanted him in the everyday lineup by this time next year. But that is 2011 and in 2010 Sanchez looks positioned for 400 ABs, 15 HRs and a .770ish OPS.

Others who are absent from the list:

Mike Stanton, OF, FLA – Stanton’s big spring tempted the Marlins, but the 20yo could use another half-season in the Minors. We expect big things from him when he arrives, but the opportunity appears limited this season.

Ian Desmond, SS, WSN – Desmond looks to split time with Christian Guzman, and should see 350+ ABs, We don’t care much for the upside here, so we don’t expect all those ABs to produce more than a .700 OPS.

Mike Leake, RHP, CIN – This is an extremely high-floor pitcher who still could emerge from camp as the Reds #5 starter. Still with Chapman coming and Volquez likely returning late, there just aren’t likely many starts for him.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SFG – We ‘downgraded’ Bumgarner this winter when we rated him #21. If you weren’t worried about his second-half of 2009 velocity drop before, you should be now, as he doesn’t have the secondary offerings to be a major factor with a 90MPH fastball.

Logan Morrison, 1B, FLA – Still needs more time in the Minors, so he isn’t likely to see the Majors before mid-season.

Allen Craig/David Freese, STL – One of them will win a roster spot with the Cardinals out of camp, and should end up with 250-300 ABs, but there just isn’t that much to see here.

How many Rookie of the Year Winners over the last eight seasons were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 25? Out of sixteen, just two…Evan Longoria was #2 in 2008 and Justin Verlander was #8 in 2006.
This article is cross-posted from
You can find more Minor League information, from baseballnumbers, all year long at the Diamond Futures website.

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