Ten hitting prospects worth knowing about

I’m going to follow up my summary of pitchers off to hot starts with a similar list of young position players. The following players were generally not considered among their respective organizations’ top five prospects before the season started, but all are off to good starts and could be considered top prospects by the end of the year.

Bryan Anderson
C | St. Louis Cardinals | 20

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      AA  125  .280  .355  .424  3    11  14  21   

The left-handed hitting catcher has continued to produce at the plate following an aggressive promotion to Double-A Texas League. Anderson remains patient at the plate and already matched his home run total from last year. He has success hitting to all fields; more than 40% of his line drives and flyballs are hit to the opposite field. The 20-year-old is still learning the nuances of his position, but he has thrown out more than 45% of runners attempting to steal this season.

Wladimir Balentien
RF | Seattle Mariners | 22

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007     AAA  187  .337  .404  .572  11   22  21  35 

Balentien’s raw power has attracted attention since his professional career began. His aggressive approach at the plate was a problem for most of his career, and Balentien struck out in more than 25% of his plate appearances during the first four years of his career. In 2006, he demonstrated some patience at the plate and walked in more than 13% of his plate appearances. He also improved his contact rate in the second half of the 2006 season. This year, he’s making contact often enough to hit .337 and post an OBP above .400 while continuing to launch plenty of doubles and long home runs. Once a one-dimensional slugger, Balentien finally is looking like a well-rounded hitter capable of contributing to a major league lineup as soon as this year.

Asdrubal Cabrera
SS | Cleveland Indians | 21

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      AA  152  .309  .399  .500   6   16  22  21   

The Indians acquired Cabrera as part of the Ben Broussard/Eduardo Perez deal with Seattle last year. The Mariners rushed Cabrera up to Triple-A Tacoma in his first full season of professional baseball, so I am not worried that the Indians have moved him down to the Double-A Akron this year. Cabrera, a strong defensive shortstop, continues to improve his on-base skills (he has more walks than strikeouts this year) and hit for some power while playing half his games in a home park that isn’t conducive to extra-base hits.

Chris Carter
1B | Chicago White Sox | 20

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      A+  192  .307  .379  .563  10   27  21  33      

The powerful right-handed hitter already has 26 extra-base hits this year, but Carter’s improved ability to make contact is what puts him on this list. Like Balentien, Carter was widely assumed to be a one-dimensional hitter before this season but has made adjustments to become a productive and well-rounded hitter this year. Carter has struck out only 30 times this year, and that improvement has not come at the expense of good contact. More than 20% of his batted balls have been line drives.

Aaron Cunningham
LF | Chicago White Sox | 21

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      A+  191  .288  .355  .492   7   21  21  30     

Carter’s teammate was featured on my preseason list of breakout candidates, and he has not disappointed. Since moving up to the Carolina League, the former sixth-round pick has incrementally improved his walk rate, strikeout rate and power production. Cunningham could finish the year as Chicago’s most valuable prospect.

Jared Goedert
3B | Cleveland Indians | 22

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      A+  165  .364  .475  .715  16   26  35  29     

I first started following Goedert when he won an organizational award for “hard hit percentage” last year. This year, he’s pacing the league with 16 home runs already. The former ninth-round pick just celebrated his 22nd birthday, so the Indians could challenge him with a promotion to the Carolina League later this year.

Jed Lowrie
SS | Boston Red Sox | 23

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      AA  138  .283  .422  .442   2   15  33  25   

An ankle injury and early season slump caused many Sox fans to forget about Lowrie last year when fellow 2005 draftees Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Michael Bowden established themselves as top prospects. He finally heated up in August, hitting .327/.383 /.529, and has picked up where he left off in Double-A Portland. Lowrie’s power production is still mostly limited to doubles and triples, but he is consistently making contact and his OBP is buoyed by a league-leading walk rate (19% of all plate appearances).

Desmond Jennings
CF | Tampa Bay Devil Rays | 20

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007       A  177  .299  .386  .418   3   12  22  25

Jennings is positioned to lead the next generation of Rays outfield prospects. The former three-sport star is going to draw Carl Crawford comparisons, but he already is showing more patience at the plate than Crawford ever has by walking in 11% of his plate appearances. Jennings is a good contact hitter but is not just slapping the ball on the ground and using his speed to get on base; 16% of his batted balls are line drives and he already has a dozen extra-base hits. Jennings likes to run; he is 21-for-30 in stolen base attempts this year.

Taylor Teagarden
C | Texas Rangers | 23

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007      A+   99  .323  .481  .646   8   16  28  22   

Teagarden was drafted out of Texas as a strong defensive catcher, but his bat has impressed this year. He is leading the California League in isolated power while hitting the ball hard to all fields. He missed a year of development due to elbow surgery, so he is older than most prospects in the California League and we shouldn’t get too excited until we see what Teagarden does against more age-appropriate competition in a less hitter-friendly environment. Still, there’s a lot to like about his performance thus far.

John Whittleman
3B | Texas Rangers | 20

YEAR     LVL   AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  XBH  BB  SO
2007       A  156  .353  .444  .641   9   26  28  36    

Whittleman struggled in his first full season of professional baseball, but he made steady improvement in putting the ball in play and flashed some power last July. He returned to the Midwest League this year and has quickly established himself as one of the league’s best hitters. Whittleman’s patient approach has fueled a .451 OBP. More than 21% of his batted balls have been line drives, and Whittleman already has launched 26 extra-base hits. His defense remains a concern, however. Whittleman has comitted seven errors in his last 10 games at third base.

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