Climbing the prospect ladder

With seasons wrapping up across the minor leagues and many top prospects either already exhausting their rookie eligibility in the majors or taking their first sips of their cup of coffee, today felt like a good time to look back on the 2010 season at the prospects who did the most to improve their prospect status.

Some prospects enter the professional ranks with a pedigree that affords them every chance to succeed, while others have to work their way up on their own. Some come in with assumed potential, then exceed expectations and catapult themselves to another level. Some have flopped, and must break out to regain their once-heralded potential. And some are unknowns who simply have too much success to ignore.

One season a prospect does not make, but after the 2010 seasons these prospects had, they’ve made themselves worth watching into next season.

Atlanta Braves: Brandon Beachy was undrafted out of college and has yet to even be a starter full time, but the former NAIA player is creating opportunities for himself by posting absurd K/BB ratios (5:1 this season between Double and Triple-A) and striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings. He finally had a chance to start regularly for the second half of the season in Triple-A and impressed with a 2.50 ERA in just under 40 innings of work. In a Braves system loaded with hard-throwing power arms, Beachy might still end up in the bullpen, but he’s established himself as someone the Braves have to consider as a part of their future.

Florida Marlins: Kyle Skipworth had bust written all over him after back-to-back seasons of .208 hitting as a professional. The Marlins’ first-round pick in 2008 (sixth overall) had shown neither the hitting acumen nor power potential that made him such a high selection, and was striking out almost four-and-a-half times for every walk he drew.

A repeat of of Low-A ball appears to be just what Skipworth needed (and did nothing to hurt his development, as he is still just 20). He finally displayed at least the power that the Marlins knew was there. His .250 batting average still doesn’t scream major league hitter, nor does his 129:32 K/BB ratio, but 17 home runs and a slugging percentage that begins with a four are good signs that Skipworth may yet recover some of his status as an eventual major leaguer.

How much of his development was due to repeating a level will be seen next year when he presumably will move to the Florida State League (a notorious pitchers league), but for now, it appears Skipworth does, at the very least, possess some of the tools eighth-hat can help the Marlins sometime after they open their new stadium.

New York Mets: The Mets did not have a great season either in the majors or on the farm, so there wasn’t a lot of breaking out to report, but Cory Vaughn, the son of former major leaguer Greg Vaughn and the Mets’ fourth-round draft pick this year, did enough damage and displayed enough tools that he merits following closely next year.

It’s important to remain wary of a college player dominating short-season ball right after being drafted. College players, hitters and pitchers alike, are often able to feast on the inexperience of young players who are in the league getting their first taste of professional ball. But regardless of the reason, when a a player posts a .239 ISO, steals 11 bases, and throws out six runners from right field in a half season the year he gets drafted, you have to look at him closely next season. The biggest knock on Vaughn from scouts was his tendency to swing and miss, and thus rack up huge strikeout totals, but given his power production and adequate walk totals, 60 strikeouts in 300 plate appearances wasn’t a concern this season. What remains to be seen is how this number fluctuates when he gets to a league with pitchers who throw better breaking pitches.

Philadelphia Phillies: Jonathan Singleton was one of the hottest hitters in the minors for the first half of the season, and despite coming back down to earth in the second half, he still remained consistent and put up a great first full season of professional baseball. An eighth-round pick in 2009 by the Phillies, the 6-foot-2 first baseman was actually held back in extended spring training rather than join the team’s Low-A affiliate in Lakewood right away.

Whatever the reasoning, the move worked, as Singleton showed a polished approach at the plate upon arrival, displaying good power for a young hitter and even better plate discipline (70 K/58 BB). The Phillies are determined to take it slow with Singleton, and with good reason as they have Ryan Howard locked up well into the future. But Singleton should move to the Florida State League next season; his power will be tested by the league’s unforgiving parks.

Washington Nationals: If it looks like a fluke, and it smells like a fluke… I don’t want to automatically dismiss Tyler Moore‘s season as an aberration, but how often do 23-year-old 16th-round picks just “figure it out?” All the signs scream that this will be the best season of Moore’s life at any level, including his ridiculous 120:37 K/BB ratio, and the fact that his production is coming in a league he’s too old for.

But at some point, 75 extra-base hits in one season are just too much to ignore, especially when they are in no part inflated by an unsustainable BABIP (.287 on the season). Moore’s aggressive approach will certainly be tested next season in Harrisburg, but if his power remains, then perhaps he figured out just enough to turn himself into a major league role player of some sort down the road in Washington.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs knew they had something in Kenneth McNutt when they give him $115,000 as a 32nd-round pick in 2009, but the 6-foot-4 righty (who goes by Trey) has already given the team more return on its investment than expected. McNutt put on a show this season, splitting time between both levels of A ball before two rough starts at the end of the season in Double-A. The two-promotion year should tell you what the Cubs think of him, but if not, his 10.2 career K/9 rate should do the trick. Drafted out of community college, McNutt turned 21 just last month, and should start next season in Double-A, just a phone call away from Wrigley.

Cincinnati Reds: Welcome back, Devin Mesoraco. After a disappointing 2008 season and a worse 2009 campaign, almost all of the luster had come off of the former first-round pick. But then, boom goes the Devin Mesoraco dynamite to the tune of 26 home runs over three levels in 2010.

Spending most of the season in High-A and Double-A ball, Mesoraco totaled 56 extra-base hits and a .312 batting average, while also improving his walk totals. He’s even dropped a .987 OPS and three home runs in a brief (10 game) stint in Triple-A, where he will likely begin next season. The Reds will need catching help next season, but given Mesoraco’s sudden turnaround, they could be looking at a one-year stopgap before turning over the reins.

Houston Astros: At what point does an unsustainable BABIP become somehow sustainable? The answer to that question will tell you the legitimacy of what J.D. Martinez has done in the Astros organization over the past year and a half.

Partly because of a career batting average of .344, and no BA lower than .303 at any level, the former 20th-round pick has established himself as a prospect mainly based on his power. Martinez has 100 extra-base hits in 206 games over four levels in the past season-and-a-half. But his .344 BA is due largely in part to BABIP’s of .448, .353, .398 and .369 at each level respectively, which is clearly unsustainable, especially for a power hitter who doesn’t run particularly well. Typically 879 plate appearances should be enough for things like this to correct themselves, but luck is unpredictable and Martinez appears to be on a heater. And you never walk away from the table when you’re on a heater.

Milwaukee Brewers: In an all-around uninspiring farm system, especially when it comes to position players, second- round D-II senior signee Nick Shaw was a pleasant surprise in 2010. Known for his exceptional eye at the plate, and a number of other extremely average tools, Shaw made the most of his abilities by posting a .337/.467/.479 line in his first professional season.

Of course, he did this large in part to a ridiculous .410 BABIP, but the positives are that he walked more than he struck out and stole 14 bases, which are both attributes that should continue. He’s almost certainly not a potential .337 hitter down the road, and there’s no chance he ever slugs .479 again, but if he continues to handle the bat effectively and control the strike zone, he could eventually serve a role on a major league team.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Rudy Owens could have made this list last year after a break outseason, making this the year to watch to see if he backed it up. Not only did he back it up, but he raised the bar for himself once again, demonstrating impeccable control and an advanced knowledge of how to pitch. Never a flame-thrower, Owens is the classic “make the most out of what you have to work with” pitcher. Owens will never be a big strikeout pitcher, but by limiting the fly balls he allows and surrendering virtually no extra base runners, Owens has established himself as an integral part of the Pirates’ future pitching rotation.

St. Louis Cardinals: Numbers from the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League don’t always mean much, but 19-year-old RHP Bryan Martinez has done nothing but produce in either league, so in a farm system devoid of young talent like the Cardinals’, he’s worth following to see what he does when he joins a travel league. Martinez has posted low ERAs at every stop, thanks in part to unsustainably low BABIPs, but he has also shown solid strikeout rates and low walk rates, which are good indications for the future.

Martinez may start next season in the GCL once again, but should move to short-season ball over the summer, and if he really impresses, the Cardinals could push him aggressively into full-season ball in Low-A.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt is all bat and little else, but luckily for the Diamondbacks, there’s plenty of bat there to make him worthwhile. Goldschmidt is challenging for the minor league lead in home runs (currently at 34) while also knocking 40 doubles.

Unfortunately, cases can be made for why his impressive performances, both this year and last, may not hold up. Last season, Goldschmidt posted a .303 ISO in the Pioneer League as a 21-year-old college hitter feasting on inferior competition. This season, his numbers have to be taken in the context of the hitters’ haven that is the California League. Also, in both seasons, Goldschmidt has posted his numbers due at least in small part to high BABIPs of .390 and .378. This, of course, doesn’t mean Goldschmidt won’t continue to be a productive hitter as he progresses through the minors. It’s simply the grain of salt that must be served when discussing his ridiculous production.

Colorado Rockies: Unfortunately for the Rockies, the player in their system that established himself the most is no longer in their system. But we’re going to talk about him anyway. Chris Balcom-Miller was recently sent to Boston for Manny Delcarman, a strange move for a Rockies team that will always be in need of potential starting pitchers. Balcom-Miller, a 6th round pick in 2009 established himself as a reliable starter in his first full season of professional baseball, posting a phenomenal 6.16 K/BB rate. He’s not overpowering, but has an good change-up for his age that should allow him to eventually become a back-of-the-rotation starter or reliever, depending on the development of his slider.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 2010 was the first season playing domestically for Rubby de la Rosa, who not only established himself as a prospect in the Dodgers organization, but also established himself as a potential starter and jumped as high as Double-A. While his 1.37 ERA at Chattanooga is not likely to hold up over time, de la Rosa has done enough to put himself in the same discussion as Ethan Martin and Aaron Miller as potential future members of the Dodgers rotation.

San Diego Padres: After a dominant season in High-A ball in 2009, Simon Castro backed up his performance with a good 2010 season in Double-A, effectively putting him on watch in San Diego. The sheer dominance of hitters wasn’t there as the competition got a little stiffer for Castro, but the fact that he sustained his success at a higher level for a second straight season says more about his potential than simply dominating hitters might. He should start 2011 in Triple-A with his sights set on PetCo Park sometime next summer.

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt is in the discussion for Minor League Player of the Year, which should say something about how far he’s come since being a 5th round pick by the Giants just last season. Ignore Belt’s .383 batting average in the California League, but focus on the power numbers, which also include double-digit triples. Belt has good speed to go with his bat, and could allow him to play left field in San Francisco. He jumped three levels this season, and is currently wrapping up his monster season in Triple-A, just a phone call from the majors. And while I wouldn’t expect .357/.461/.624 ever again, Belt’s plate discipline (91 BB/93 K) and power/speed combination should play quite well in the expansive AT&T Park outfield. And it should play there soon.

Next Friday, we’ll take a look at the American League.

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Comments

  1. Sue Dinem said...

    Tyler Moore’s breakout season is not a fluke. Those of us who have watched him day in and day out this season recognized the change in his approach in mid-July and the success that followed is well-documented. Put simply (so that BA can understand), Moore stopped putting himself in 1-2 and 0-2 counts, and got more hitter’s counts, which he pounded. Even when he was below the Mendoza line, Moore’s outs were loud. When he connects—as the BABIP suggests; don’t forget minor-league scorekeeping is notoriously generous—he makes solid contact

    Is he the next Ryan Howard (another 23-y.o. that was “too old” for A+ that put up siilar numbers when adjusted for league context)? Probably not, unless you’re comparing his defense, but he remains a prospect that belongs on your radar.

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