Climbing the prospect ladder—AL edition

On Tuesday, we discussed one prospect from each National League organization who did enough this season to elevate his prospect status. Today, we’ll examine the American League…

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles system is rather bare these days, but for the right reasons. The graduation of Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Josh Bell, and Chris Tillman to the majors has left the team’s minor league ranks lacking in high level talent, especially talent near the majors, but that’s okay for now. Until prospects like this year’s top pick Manny Machado are ready for Baltimore, the team will have to hope players like Ryan Berry develop to higher levels than anticipated. Berry, a 9th round pick in 2009 out of Rice University, finished his first professional season with a 3.22 ERA and a solid 8.1 K/9 rate and a 2.94 K/BB ratio. Plus, you have to like a guy who is willing to sport this look. The O’s pushed Berry to to High-A ball and he succeeded, so the next test will be Double-A. He likely won’t get there until midway through 2011 (he should start next season back at Frederick), but advanced competition will be the determining factor as to whether Berry’s arsenal of pitches is enough for him to remain a starter.

Boston Red Sox: Disregard the .350 BA. The reason Oscar Tejada established himself as a prospect in 2010 is the development of the power that suggests he can eventually become a major league hitter. Disregard the still below-average BB/K ratio, but notice that despite his increased power, he still managed to drop his K-rate below the 20 percent threshold. Tejada still has some work to do as a prospect, but his .148 ISO and 32 doubles means his development he’s getting better as he faces tougher competition, which is what every organization wants for its prospects.

New York Yankees: Graham Stoneburner is at the top of my list of prospects most likely to make their major league debut for another organization, because he’s good enough to get to the majors, plays for the Yankees, and is not quite good enough to crack a Yankees rotation typically stacked with major league veterans or stud rookies. Stoneburner burst onto the scene this year after being selected in the 14th round last season, and had no problem tackling either level of A ball. With the majority of his success coming in the pitcher’s haven that is the Florida State League, the biggest test will be proving himself in a more neutral playing environment. If you are in favor of judging prospects based only on the challenges that have been put in front of them, you have to give Stoneburner some attention.

Tampa Bay Rays: Alex Cobb has been putting up good traditional numbers for a few years now, but in the stacked Rays system, it’s easy to get lost among the Wade Davises, Jeremy Hellicksones, Matt Moores and Alex Colomes. But upon arrival in Double-A this season as a 22-year-old, Cobb elevated his strikeout rate for the second consecutive year, this time crossing the one K/IP mark while maintaining solid control numbers. Cobb has now played a full season at every level, and,in the Rays’ one-year-at-a-time system, should have a full season in Triple-A next year. He still may not be in the same class as some of the other top prospects in the Rays system, but he proved this year that he’s a legitimate starting pitching prospect.

Toronto Blue Jays: J.P. Arencibia. “What are you talking about, Jeff? He’s exactly the kind of player we thought he’d be!” “Of course he is, back in 2008. But do you remember last year?” That’s the imaginary conversation I think I would have with most Blue Jay fans after reading this, especially after Arencibia’s crazy-awesome two-homer major league debut. But don’t forget just how written-off Arencibia was entering this season. Heck, after the Jays acquired Travis D’Arnaud in the offseason, Arencibia wasn’t even unanimously considered the Blue Jays catcher of the future. But after a .626 SLG in Triple-A? That title is his to lose.

Chicago White Sox: Ugh. The White Sox farm system makes me cringe. They traded their best pitching prospect (Dan Hudson) and their top hitting prospect (Jared Mitchell) missed the entire season, leaving virtually no high ceiling players. Of their mid-level prospects, none stepped up to fill the void, and the best thing you can say is that third base prospect Brent Morel put together his second consecutive solid season and looks like he could be a Jeff Cirillo-type player. Like I said. Ugh.

Cleveland Indians: Jason Kipnis has enough talent that he was a second-round pick last year, but after laying the groundwork last season, Kipnis’s first full professional season was even more impressive. Anytime a left-handed hitting second baseman can post an .878 OPS with a respectable walk rate while playing more than half his time in Double-A, it’s good enough for ladder climbing.

Detroit Tigers: It’s the strikeouts that have put Charlie Furbush on the prospect map. Don’t believe anything else you hear. It’s the strikeouts. Starting the year as a 24-year-old in the Florida State League, Furbush wasn’t on the radar of most prospect-watchers. But he’s always missed bats, and he missed an entire season in 2008, so the talent has been there and we have an excuse for being too old. While challenging for the minor league lead in strikeouts all season, Furbush also made a rapid ascent through the Tigers farm system, all the way in Triple-A by the end of the season. He may never be the ace of the Tigers staff, but after a strong 2010, he’s relevant once again.

Kansas City Royals: In a system stacked not just with prospects, and not just with pitching prospects, but with left-handed pitching prospects, John Lamb made the biggest jump from prospect to stud of any Royal southpaw. It’s not that Lamb did anything different in 2010, he just did it better and he did it against better competition, jumping all the way to Double-A as a teenager. He’ll start there again next season after a few bumps in the road, but he may be in Kansas City before he can legally drink.

Minnesota Twins: Everyone knew Joe Benson had power, they just needed to see it. The former second-round pick finally displayed the power that scouts had been saying was there, and did it primarily in Double-A. He’ll never hit .300 or draw a ton of walks, but if he can hit for power like he did this past year, he can be a productive player for the Twins.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: It’s hard to imagine Mike Trout raising his prospect profile, but that’s exactly what he did this season, jumping from former first rounder and legit prospect to potential top prospect in all of baseball. The utter dominance Trout has displayed as a professional has to be more than even the Angels had expected upon drafting him last season. When it comes down to it, anyone who can jump 80 or so spots in overall prospect rankings certainly qualifies as a ladder climber.

Oakland A’s: When the A’s drafted Grant Green in the first round in last year’s draft, they knew they were getting a player who could remain at the shortstop position, could run enough to steal some bases, and could handle the bat enough to be a major league regular. What they did not know, however, was that the inside-out swing of Green would be revamped, and that the former Trojan player would develop 40-double/20-homer power. Whether that translates to the majors remains to be seen, and his lack of plate discipline may prevent it from happening, but Green has already displayed more power than the A’s bargained for upon drafting him, giving him the potential to become more than just a mid-level regular and instead be a potential all-star.

Seattle Mariners: Michael Pineda always had the talent. He just couldn’t stay healthy or consistent. This season, he was both. Finally able to stay on the field, Pineda was able to throw 139.1 innings and reach as high as Triple-A. Minor league opponents, managers and scouts couldn’t help noting the dramatic improvement on his off-speed offerings. Pineda conjures some of the highest regards of any minor league pitcher from those who have faced him, and the 2010 season allowed him to go from potential prospect to probable major league starter.

Texas Rangers: In just three minor league seasons, Michael Kirkman has gone from walking as many batters (or more) then he struck out, to the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year, and an effective enough reliever in the major league bullpen that he may be included on the team’s postseason roster. His long-term future still may be in the Rangers rotation, but if nothing else, Kirkman has proved that, at worst, he can be an effective left-handed reliever, something more than a specialist but not quite a set-up guy. Kirkman, just four years removed from walking more than 13 batters per nine inning, will compete for a spot in the Rangers rotation next season.

Now that’s what I call climbing the ladder.

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Comments

  1. Sue Dinem said...

    Perhaps you can explain why no mention of Brandon Short? Kid turned 22 yesterday and put up line of .316/.365/.491 with 15HRs and 79RBI with Winston-Salem in the Carolina League.

  2. Jeff said...

    Sue,

    The raw numbers for Short look good, you’re right about that.  Especially in the Carolina League.  But they are fueled by a .372 BABIP, so while the power numbers may be somewhat real, I don’t see him continuing to be a .316 hitter.  The other red flag was his 107:28 K/BB rate.  He’s never shown a great command of the strike zone, but the thing that scares me most is that it appears to be getting worse as the competition gets better, which is understandable, but not a good sign.  As the curveballs and sliders get better (the biggest jump in that department typically occurs between A+ and Double-A), his lack of plate discipline will be exposed even more.  I’m just not sure if the power can be sustained without an adjustment being made.

  3. KG said...

    White Sox system would be much better were it not for the short-sighted trade of Brandon Allen to the D-Backs for Tony Freakin’ Pena.  Also, had they not called Chris Sale up, I think he’d be a big boost to their system.  Was definitely not a fan of the Hudson trade; even though Jackson has be awesome so far, he’s only under control for one more year, and really expensive.  Would have been fun to see if Hudson could have pitched well in the AL (not to the same degree as he has, obviously, given league differences, but still…)

  4. KG said...

    Also, you forgot Trayce Thompson for the White Sox – he is absolutely a high-ceiling, possible-impact level talent.  Still far away, and has yet to translate tools into results, but everything I heard has been very positive.

  5. Jeff said...

    You’re right KG.  It’s not like the White Sox system has been barren for years.  They’ve just used their prospects either in the majors already or as parts of trades.  They’ve traded away a lot of good prospects in the past few years.  And they do have some good prospects like Thompson, but his performance this year certainly didn’t qualify him for this list.  At this point he’s all projection and no performance.  Their system currently has mostly players that fall into that category or players who don’t have much further to go in the way of reaching their ceilings, and outside of Mitchell, not much in the way of high ceiling guys who aren’t still quite far away like Thompson.

  6. Erik said...

    Jeff:

    Do you have a reasonable comp for Joe Benson?

    Would Mike Cameron be reasonable? A more athletic, less patient Nick Swisher? Rob Deer?

    Thanks, from a Twins fan.

  7. Jeff said...

    With Benson, I think you’re looking at the Twins version of Reed Johnson, but with more power and more strikeouts, but slightly less consistency.  He looks like he could be a good 4th outfielder on a team that is in contention every year, with the ability to play all three OF positions, provide pop off the bench, and start against lefties in place of Span or Kubel, if Kubel is still playing the outfield by the time Benson gets there.

  8. Jeff said...

    And he’s bigger than Johnson too, which is where that power comes from, but it’s worth mentioning that the comp isn’t necessarily based on the player’s stature, but their performance.

  9. Rex said...

    I’m curious about Benson’s home road splits, .391 wOBA on the road .331 wOBA at home. Is New Britain that tough on hitters?

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