Top 100 Fantasy baseball Prospects, Part 2: 26-50

26: Hak-Ju Lee/SS/Tampa Bay Rays/11-4-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Not much power projection, but breakout 2011 resulted in an MLE slash of .272/.325/.385.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Sure, everyone loves power. Lee won’t provide much of it, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an impact player at a position where offense is a luxury. What Lee lacks in power he can easily make up for in pure hitting ability and speed. The fact that he recognizes home run hitting isn’t a part of his game is a big plus.

Lee slaps the ball around the field, and isn’t afraid to work walks to get on base where his speed is a headache for opponents. His efficiency was down last year, but that should improve with work and further coaching. His speed, on-base skills, and modest power make him an ideal player to hit at or near the top of the order. As a table setter, he could be a big contributor in runs scored and stolen bases. He should also provide ample production in batting average. He struggled in his first crack at Double-A, and he’ll open the year back with Montgomery hoping for more success in attempt two. With fellow shortstop prospect Tim Beckham a level ahead of him, the Rays can afford to take their time with Lee.

October 2011: Prior to the season the Rays dealt Matt Garza to the Cubs for a gaggle of prospects. The highest rated prospect was Chris Archer who was coming off a solid 2010 campaign. The true crown jewel appears to be Hak-Ju Lee, who had a breakout 2011 season.

The primary responsibility of any up-the-middle player is defense, and Lee’s is banner. What matters more to fantasy gamers, though, is that he comes equipped with the ability to hit. His power may never show itself as more than average, and his MLEs suggest it won’t, but some scouting reports suggest his plus bat speed could result in gap power with some round trippers tossed in as he matures. His speed should allow him to take advantage of his strong on-base skills and steal bases. He’s one level below Tim Beckham who is in Triple-A right now, but is the better bet to play shortstop for the Rays when he gets there.

27: Kolten Wong/2B/St. Louis Cardinals/10-10-90/ETA:2013
Forecast notes:: Oliver’s forecast loves Wong, and believes he’s ready now. Double digit power and speed combination with a plus batting average: That would play great at second base.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Wong won’t wow fantasy gamers in any one statistical category, but his ability to help across the board will make him a very valuable player at the keystone position. The one category he should shine the brightest in is batting average. He has an advanced understanding of the strike zone and a compact swing that leads to ropes to the gaps. He has enough pop in his bat to hit teen taters in the Show, and enough baserunning savvy and speed to match or best that stealing bases.

Lineup position will be key for Wong, as he’ll need to score a healthy number of runs or drive them in to maximize his fantasy value. His strong on-base skills profile well for the top of an order, and little stands in his way to eventually laying claim to the Cardinals’ leadoff duties in the future. Wong’s pro debut exemplified his polish, and he should fly through the system. Second base is messy on the parent club, but Wong should clean things up, laying claim to keystone duties sometime in 2013.

October 2011: Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks is a Wong believer but alludes to a potential move to left field that would cripple his value in fantasy. Baseball America also cites his ability to play a super utility type role. Small in stature, but not lacking for pop, he could produce teens home run totals. He’s a plus hitter with average speed but good base running instincts that could net him useful stolen base totals.

28: Cheslor Cuthbert/3B/Kansas City Royals/11-16-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Oliver projects that Cuthbert is a few years from being fantasy relevant. By 2015 he is projected to hit high teens home run totals with a low batting average.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The dog days of summer took their toll on Cuthbert, and his final season line paid for it. In May, June and July he hit .308, .307, and .356 respectively with seven home runs in 204 at-bats. He showed patience, walking 19 times, and made contact frequently, striking out only 33 times. The wheels fell off the bus in July, and he was unable to recover in August. His .135 average was putrid, and he struck out 32 times in his final 96 at-bats.

The culprit for his struggles was mostly fatigue. Cuthbert played more than twice as many games in 2011 as he had played in 2010. He also played all season as an 18-year-old. He made strides in the field, but not everyone is sold he’ll stick at third. Cuthbert has the arm to stick there; the concern is that he’ll outgrow the position.

For now, he’ll rank this highly with the thought being he’ll stick at third base. If he moves off the position, he’ll see a significant hit to his fantasy stock. He’ll start the year in High-A playing in a park, Wilmington, that according to ballpark factors found at Baseball Think Factory (thanks to the work of Jeff Sackman and Dan Szymborsk)i, suppressed home runs substantially (0.78 multiplier, with 1.00 being neutral). Keep that in mind if his power numbers aren’t off the charts. Cuthbert projects to hit for power in the future, and as long as the scouting reports continue to read as such, don’t adjust your expectations for him too drastically if he fails to put up a gaudy home run total in 2012.

October 2011: Cuthbert doesn’t get the due he deserves as part of a loaded Royals farm system. At just 18, he’s playing in a full season league and playing well. He has struggled of late, but some scouts believe it’s a product of him wearing down. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks called him a breakout candidate coming into the season. He describes Cuthbert as having “some of the best barrel awareness” he has ever seen in a teen. He uses the whole field as a hitter and has developing power.

He’s got enough defensive skills to stick at third base as well. He was an honorable mention on Keith Law’s midseason top-50 prospect list as well, and is a C+ high upside prospect in the eyes of Sickels.

29: Jacob Turner/SP/Detroit Tigers/5-21-91/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Two solid years with good control but only average strikeout rates.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Having not spent a full season at any one minor league level, Turner is on the Tigers’ accelerated pitcher development plan (see: The Rick Porcello Plan). Turner has acquitted himself well at each stop save for struggling in a couple major league starts after a decent debut in the Show.

Turner’s control and command are excellent. His high water walk mark in the minors was a plenty good 2.53 BB/9 in 113.2 innings pitched at the Double-A level. He’s walked under two batters per nine innings at every other level of the minors. Turner throws three average or better pitches, a couple of fastballs that sit in the low-90s with movement, a plus curveball, and an average change-up that flashes more on occasion.

His strikeout rates have been a little low for a prospect who occasionally gets future ace grades, and at worst, gets top-flight number two starter grades. A big part of that is likely the speed at which he has been moved through the system after being selected in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft. In three Triple-A starts made after his major league debut, he was at his best, striking out 20 batters in 17.1 innings pitched (10.38 K/9), all while still pounding the strike zone (1.56 BB/9). Turner is in the mix for the Tigers’ fifth starter gig this spring. If he doesn’t break camp in that role, expect him to lay claim to it sometime early in the summer.

October 2011: Turner was considered the top high school pitcher in the 2009 draft, and the Tigers promptly snapped him up and paid him an above-slot $5.5 million. He’s a three-pitch starter with a fastball around 92-94 mph that can be bumped up a bit when he needs a little extra oomph. Most scouting reports describe his heater as having sink or boring action, which help him induce ground balls. His best secondary offering is a developing 12-to-6 curveball with plus potential and a change-up that could end up being an average big league pitch.

He has moved quickly, and in a perfect world has the package to develop into a top of the rotation starter. His control is quite good, but his strikeout rate leaves something to be desired from a fantasy perspective. The natural fear for those who have followed the Tigers’ recent development of pitching arms is that Turner turns into Rick Porcello version 2.0. He hasn’t been rushed as quickly, and has struck out more hitters in his brief Triple-A and major league time, so don’t rush to that assumption just yet

30: Taijuan Walker/SP/Seattle Mariners/8-13-92/ ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Control is a work in progress, but strikeouts in bunches.
Scouting notes: March 2012: The Mariners have a trio of starting pitching prospects that compares favorably to just about any in all of baseball, and Walker’s ceiling is the highest of the bunch. He is also the furthest away. That said, his play in 2011 was excellent for a 2010 draftee who was a multi-sport prep star, and he should move faster than most would have anticipated.

Walker joined professional ball with a live arm that fired blazing fastballs. He still has that fastball, but now backs it with a developing change-up he’s able to use in games, and a hammer curveball that is a doozy and can make opposing hitters look foolish. It’s unclear where he’ll begin the year in the minors. He may open in High-A playing in a hitter-friendly environment, or he may open skipping a level and pitching at Double-A. Either assignment will prove challenging for Walker, and will better help set an accurate timetable for his arrival to the bigs.

October 2011: Impressive season in Single-A as an 18-year-old who was considered a raw high school pitcher when the Mariners selected him in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft. In part, he was considered raw because he was a high school basketball player and played shortstop as well. He throws a fastball with heavy sink and premier velocity (can reach 98 mph). As one would expect, that sinking fastball has helped him rack up the groundball outs (1.54 ground out-to-fly out). He also throws a plus curveball and is developing a change-up. His control has been described as spotty by both Kevin Goldstein and Sickels, so a 2014 ETA may be a bit ambitious. When he does arrive in the majors, calling Safeco Field home will be a nice perk.

31: Bubba Starling/OF/Kansas City Royals/8-3-92/ETA: 2016
Forecast notes: 2011 Draftee out of high school. No forecast.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Little has change with Starling since his October write-up. He still oozes with tools, and still doesn’t have any professional game experience. He did see time in instructional league with the organization, and will look to earn a full-season league assignment in the spring. The sky is the limit for Starling, but there are countless stories of great athletes who failed as baseball players.

October 2011: The toolsy Nebraska football recruit chose professional baseball at Major League Baseball’s signing deadline. His two-sport prowess limited his opportunities to play in premium high school baseball showcase events, and leave him an exciting piece of clay that needs molding to become something special at the major league level. He’s a high-risk/high-reward type who may never be able to translate his physical abilities into baseball skills, or he may take well to coaching and turn into a superstar capable of 30/30 seasons with batting average. Starling’s ranking on this list is likely to be polarizing, but at a certain point that tantalizing upside is too hard to pass on.

32: Jedd Gyorko/3B/San Diego Padres/9-23-88/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: 2011 MLE slash line of .303/.357/.510 suggests he’s ready now.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Don’t always judge a book by its cover. Gyorko isn’t going to earn high marks for his physical appearance, but that hasn’t stopped him from playing defense well enough at third base to project him to stick there. It also hasn’t prevented him from ripping the cover off of baseballs at the dish.

He has hit a scintillating .323/.392/.518 in 844 professional at-bats. He was even better than that in the AFL, slashing an almost unfathomable .437/.500/.704 with five home runs in 82 plate appearances. His power grades out as average to a hair above and will be done no favors playing his home games at Petco in the future (though, Petco isn’t nearly as tough on right-handed power as it is on left-handed power). What he lacks in power from the corner, he makes up for with projections of a high batting averages from seemingly every scouting outlet. All laud his short swing and strike zone awareness. Whether it be in Double-A, or in Triple-A, he’ll begin the year in the high minors with a chance for a September call-up.

October 2011: Gyorko isn’t a great defender, but he’s a passable one who won’t need to be moved off the hot corner, which immediately makes his offensive success this year more exciting. Most of his home run production came in the hitter-friendly Cal League, but he has done well moving up to Double-A, hitting six home runs in 221 at-bats. He squeaked his way onto Baseball America‘s and Goldstein’s MidSeason Top 50 Prospect list, but missed Keith Law’s.

He was a college hitter drafted in last year’s second round, so low minor league success was to be expected. His complete dominance was better than expectations, though, and his success in Double-A is most promising for future big league success. Goldstein really likes his bat speed and projects average power. Playing in Petco is no walk in the park, but right-handed hitters like Gyorko don’t have to deal with the soul-crushing home run suppression left-handed hitters do. He has a higher floor and safer projection than most of the third basemen in front of him on this list, but lacks the high ceiling of the others.

33: Martin Perez/SP/Texas Rangers/4-4-91/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Too many walks and hasn’t put together a major league-quality season yet. Still young and in Triple-A.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Southpaws with Perez’s stuff don’t grow on trees. It is important to keep in perspective that his struggles in Triple-A came as a 20-year-old. The Rangers’ official website says he has added a two-seam fastball to his pitch mix. Any extra weapons he can deploy to effectively retire hitters is a good thing.

Perez is likely to open the year at Triple-A, continuing to work as a starter, but there were some rumblings from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in late February that he may break camp as the lone lefty in the Rangers bullpen. Perez wouldn’t be the first big-time southpaw prospect to get his first introduction to the bigs in a relief capacity, but he’d probably be best served taking another crack at Triple-A hitters as a starting pitcher.

October 2011: As I ranked players using good old-fashioned pen and paper, Perez made me regret not opting for pencil as he was moved on the list often. Like Oliver and the Forecaster, I’d like to see more results. That said, it’s hard not to get excited about a 20-year-old southpaw in Triple-A with gaudy scouting reports and plus velocity. Baseball America thinks highly enough of him to rank him sixth on its midseason top-50 prospect rankings list.

J.J. Cooper’s July 8 midseason top-50 prospect chat wrap addressed a reader’s question about Perez’s performance, citing scouts saying he’s shown three plus pitches. Let that sink in for a second: not one, not two, but three plus pitches from a left-handed pitcher with plus velocity and is in Triple-A at 20 Those who have faith in him putting things together would be justified in ranking him higher, and those who wish to see him perform better in games would be equally justified in moving him down the list. This serves as a happy medium ranking.

34: Manny Banuelos/SP/New York Yankees/3-13-91/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Control and strikeout rates took a significant step backwards, and it shows in comparing his 2010 MLE to his 2011 MLE.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Banuelos took a step back in his control, and in his strikeout rate in 2011. He still has plus stuff, and is quite young. He’s getting work in spring training with the Yankees, but will return to Triple-A to begin the year. If he is able to recapture the command and control he showed in the lower levels of the minors, he could be a spot starter candidate over the summer.

October 2011: Good 2009 at age 18 followed by an average 2010. Way too many walks (4.8 BB/9, 5.7 BB/9) but young enough to be projectable to 3.8 BB/9, 7.7 K/9, 4.27 ERA in 2014.

The gap between him and the higher-ranked Martin Perez probably isn’t as big as this list might suggest. Both are young left-handers in Triple-A with plus stuff, according to industry experts. Banuelos’ two best pitches by most accounts are his fastball and his change-up. His fastball resides in the low 90s and can touch 95 mph. He also throws a curveball with plus potential. The biggest concern surrounding Banuelos is his command, which has eroded since moving up the minor league ladder. At just 20, he has time to work that out.

The biggest difference between Banuelos and Perez is that Banuelos will pitch his home games at Yankee Stadium, which is more homer-happy than Rangers Ballpark at Arlington, and in the more treacherous American League East.

35: Danny Hultzen/SP/Seattle Mariners/11-28-89/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Sterling walk and strikeout rate projections from Oliver.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Hultzen pitched very well in the AFL, starting in six games and firing 19.1 innings to the tune of a 1.40 ERA and 2.79 FIP. He didn’t miss many bats in his first three turns, striking out just two batters in nine innings, and failing to strike out a batter in his second and third starts, which spanned three and four innings respectively. He picked up his strikeout pace in his last three games, though, recording 16 in 10.1 innings.

Not included on his MiLB player page, or in the stats rattled off above, is his impressive two-inning start in the AFL Rising Stars game in which he allowed no hits, no runs and one walk, and struck out two. He is a very polished 2011 college draftee who is likely to begin the year in Double-A and finish the year in the majors.

October 2011: Most scouting reports describe him as having a No. 2 starter’s ceiling. While that’s solid, some of the other pitchers drafted around him are viewed as having more upside. That said, Hultzen is considered polished and has a seemingly higher floor than those same higher upside starters.

He’s a southpaw who throws a fastball in the 92-94 mph range, but can touch 96. He also throws a slider that Kevin Goldstein calls a plus pitch, Baseball America calls an average pitch that shows plus potential, John Sickels refers to as improved, and Lincoln Hamilton of Project Prospect says has shown plus break but occasionally flattens out. All those scouting gurus rave about his change-up and call it a plus pitch, with most declaring it his best offering.

His command and control are above average, which along with three quality offerings helps support his high floor. His fantasy value is boosted with Safeco being his home ballpark.

36: Drew Pomeranz/SP/Colorado Rockies/11-22-88/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Outstanding professional debut MLE 3.74 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 2011.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Pomeranz is a big southpaw with plus velocity on his fastball. That velocity was down a bit in his major league debut that followed an emergency appendectomy. His plus fastball is actually his second-best pitch, trailing his knee-buckling curveball. Unfortunately, Pomeranz’s change-up lags behind both plus offerings and is currently below average. He’s gotten by primarily as a two pitch pitcher, but will need to develop his change-up to at least average if he hopes to have sustainable success in the bigs. The pitch has shown promise, and it’s expected that he’ll just need time and repetition for that to be the case.
He’ll have a shot to be in the Rockies rotation on Opening Day. If he struggles in the spring, the team may opt to take it slower with him and send him down to Triple-A, a level he bypassed in his ascent to the majors.

October 2011: Who better to describe his pitching arsenal than Pomeranz himself? Pomeranz’s bread and butter is a spike curve that he can use to get hitters from each side of the plate. As a lefty with plus velocity and a plus breaking ball, the foundation is already in place for success. The key is his ability to use his change-up to keep hitters off balance. It’s not pre-humidor Coors, but it is still a launching pad so he’ll need to turn some of his flyball outs into groundball outs. Overall, a solid debut in professional baseball that points to a promising future if he continues to develop accordingly.

37: Carlos Martinez (formerly Carlos Matias)/SP/St. Louis Cardinals/9-21-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Control issues and poor performance in High-A in 2011, but strikes batters out at a high rate.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Martinez’s fastball is arguably the best in the minors. The pitch has velocity and movement, but is thrown with effort. The effort required for him to pump out heaters leads many to believe he’ll end up closing games, not starting them.

His secondary pitches remain, well, secondary by a wide margin. He throws both a curveball and a change-up. The curveball flashes plus, but the change-up is further behind and he’ll occasionally throw it too hard. As long as he remains a starter, he’ll rank this highly, as his ceiling is fronting a rotation. The fallback of closing games and piling up strikeouts out of the bullpen isn’t the end of the world for those choosing to gamble on Martinez.

October 2011: Martinez is another example of scouting reports straying from future projection based on current statistical performance. He throws with easy velocity, according to Keith Law, and can hit triple digits on the radar gun. Guys who throw plus-plus velocity heaters that light up the radar gun are few and far between.

Even more exciting is that the pitch is far from straight and has natural cutting action, according to Baseball America. He ranked 18th on its Top-50 Midseason Prospect list, and fourth on Law’s. In addition to his exceptional fastball he features a curveball and is developing a change-up. His poor walk rate and high ERA in High-A may allow a buying window on this youngster in dynasty leagues. Once the performance catches up to the stuff, or perhaps if it catches up, he’ll be a tough player to pry away from an opposing owner.

38: Anthony Rizzo/1B/Chicago Cubs/8-8-89/ETA: Arrived
Forecast notes: Had a breakout 2011 despite major league struggles. Mid-20s homer run totals projected.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Rizzo found himself on the move again this offseason. Then-Padres general manager Jed Hoyer made a big splash with them in 2010, sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox in a deal that involved acquiring Rizzo. One of his first moves in the same position with the Cubs was acquiring Rizzo yet again.

He had a breakout season in 2011, putting up huge numbers in the Pacific Coast League. Hitter friendly environment or not, a .331/.404/.652 line is impressive. In 413 plate appearances he hit 26 home runs as well. He struggled in 153 plate appearances in the majors, striking out often (30.1 percent strikeout rate), and failing to hit for power. In reality, he failed to hit at all. He showed excellent plate discipline, but was over-matched by big league pitching. Rizzo has excellent power, but Kevin Goldstein mentioned in his prospect write-up that it comes partly as a result of a pull-happy approach. At his best, Rizzo uses the whole field and lets his natural power play.

He should start the year in Triple-A, with Bryan LaHair opening the year as the Cubs starting first baseman. A summer promotion is highly likely. Trading Petco Park for Wrigley Field is a dream move for Rizzo. Petco Park is hell on left-handed power, while Wrigley Field has enhanced power production 11 percent over the last three years according to the Bill James Ballpark Index.

October 2011: Rizzo has had a huge season in the Pacific Coast League. Unfortunately, numbers in the PCL are inflated due to friendly hitting environments, so take the raw numbers with a spoonful of salt. Scouting reports aren’t all glowing for Rizzo; there are questions about whether he can hit for both power and average. His desire to hit for pop has resulted in more strikeouts and a pull-happy approach.

Possibly a positive to take away from Rizzo’s numbers is a dominance against right-handed pitching and struggles against left-handed pitchers (his same-handed counterparts). If it is simply a matter of needing more exposure and repetition against them, Rizzo could take another step forward in his development. The biggest knock against Rizzo may just be his home ballpark. Petco is hell on left-handed batters, which is unfortunate because it will lower the ceiling on his greatest fantasy skill.

Two years younger than Paul Goldschmidt, Rizzo would rank ahead of him if they played if their games in similar home ballparks. Alas, they do not.

39: Jacob Marisnick/OF/Toronto Blue Jays/3-30-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Projected to offer a bit of power, speed and some average. No one standout fantasy asset, but a contributor in all facets of the fantasy game.
Scouting notes: March 2012: His tools run the gamut, and began to translate into skills this past season. Marisnick showed some power, and he projects to hit more home runs as he matures. There are questions about just how high his home run ceiling is, though, because his swing is currently conducive to roping line drives and not clearing fences.

He has above average speed, and he put it to good use, stealing 37 bases in 45 chances. His sky high BABIP of .371 last year suggests his .320 average was probably a touch lucky. That said, above-average runners tend to have a higher than average BABIP, and line drives have the highest average of balls put in play.

Marisnick would rank higher if his breakout didn’t come while repeating Low-A. He was still age-appropriate for the level, but his stock will soar if he even comes close to repeating his stats in High-A. It’s also probable that if his stellar play continues, he’ll see Double-A before the end of the year.

October 2011: Scouting reports loved Marisnick’s tools coming into the season, but they didn’t translate onto the field in 2010. This season saw him turn the corner and put them into good use on the field, and turn many of his detractors into believers. All his tools project to be average or better. If he develops a bit more home run power, he can leapfrog most of the outfielders in front of him.

40: Josh Bell/OF/Pittsburgh Pirates/8-12-92/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: 2011 Draftee out of high school. No forecast.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Without his having played a professional game yet, there is little to add to Bell’s scouting notes. He should begin his pro career in Low-A playing for West Virginia.

October 2011: Many considered Bell unsignable because he and his family wrote to all major league teams before the draft informing them he wanted to attend college at the University of Texas. Ultimately, the Pirates threw caution to the wind when the risk became minimal at the top of the second round, and the gamble paid off as he signed at the deadline.

Bell is a switch-hitter who most scouting reports describe as having been the best high school hitter in the draft. Scouts project him to hit for both average and power. He doesn’t offer the same speed upside of Starling, but his chance of failure seems less than Starling’s as he has succeeded frequently against the top high school competition available. Power that doesn’t require selling out average isn’t easy to find in fantasy leagues, making Bell’s potential something to covet.

41: Eddie Rosario/OF-2B/Minnesota Twins/9-29-91/ETA: 2015
Forecast notes: Power outburst in 2011. Projects to offer home runs at a solid clip, but poor walk rate is reflected in his low on-base percentage projection.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Rosario had a fine 2010, but nothing in his statistical profile foreshadowed his offensive explosion 2011. He crushed 21 home runs in 298 plate appearances at the Rookie League level. Put another way, he hit one home run in every 14.19 plate appearances. Comparatively, Mike Napoli hit one home run in every 14.4 plate appearances. Therein lies the problem with looking at stats without scouting reports.

Rosario isn’t a hulking figure who projects to be a 30-plus home run hitter annually, but he does project to hit for above average power. He also runs well enough—17 stolen bases in 23 chances—to expect helpful stolen base totals in his big league future. He spent 2011 playing the outfield, but the Twins are transitioning him to second base. If he takes to the position change, and he continues to rake in full-season ball, he’ll be a big mover on this list. Rosario will open the year in Low-A.

42: Zack Wheeler/SP/New York Mets/5-30-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Projection not as good as the scouting reports and he needs to lower his walk rate.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Wheeler’s walk rate improved by leaps and bounds after he joined the Mets. Matt Eddy of Baseball America reports the gains in his control were a result of reverting back to his high school mechanics in July. He already misses bats, leaving him wiggle room in the walk department, but if he maintains his control gains, he’ll be an absolute monster. He’ll open the year in Double-A, and is creeping ever closer to breaking Giants’ fans hearts in the majors.

October 2011: The Mets strengthened their farm system at the trade deadline by shipping Carlos Beltran to the Giants in return for Wheeler. Since joining the Mets system his walk rate has taken a giant step forward, dropping from 4.81 BB/9 to 1.67 BB/9. His strikeout rate has remained elite, and is supported by plus fastball and developing curveball and change-up. Both of his secondary offerings lag behind his fastball, and while neither is a plus pitch at this moment, they both have flashed that type of potential.

Adam Foster of Project Prospect offered a scouting report in May on Wheeler, and while the write-up is solid, the most interesting part is the embedded video of each of his pitches. He still has to tackle the upper minors, but his first two seasons have gone well and shown promise.

43: James Paxton/SP/Seattle Mariners/11-6-88/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Needs to further refine his control, but he should be an asset in strikeouts and hover around 9.0 K/9.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Paxton’s route to affiliated professional ball was winding. He declared for the 2009 draft, and was selected in the supplemental first round by the Blue Jays. He didn’t agree to a contract, and planned to resume his college career at the University of Kentucky. Unfortunately, he lost his college eligibility due to being represented by an agent, Scott Boras, in his contract negotiatons. He spent 2010 pitching in an independent league, and was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Mariners. He didn’t sign in time to make his affiliated professional ball debut in 2010, and instead impressed debuting in 2011.

Paxton is a large, 6-foot-4 and 220 pound, southpaw with a power arsenal. He throws his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, and can reach back for 97 mph when he needs it. His repertoire also includes a plus curveball, and a change-up that made big strides last year. Paxton used that pitch mix to confound Low-A and Double-A hitters alike, striking them out at a 12.41 K/9 clip. His control needs work, though, it was better after his promotion from Low-A to Double-A. Paxton was a non-roster invitee to the Mariners’ spring training camp, and a long shot to win a rotation spot. He should start the year in the upper minors with an in-season promotion to the majors probable.

44: Gary Brown/OF/San Francisco Giants/9-28-88/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Projects to steal around 20 bases with a solid average and a handful of home runs in the coming seasons.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Brown capped his big minor league season with a lackluster showing in the AFL. In 55 plate appearances he hit just .220/.278/.300 with only three extra base hits, none of which were home runs.

One of the knocks on Brown following his college career was that he didn’t walk as much as one would like for a potential leadoff hitter to. His 7.2 percent walk rate in High-A was passable, and leads to some hope he’ll develop the “old man” skill of working walks. Unfortunately, he reverted back to being unacceptably impatient in the AFL walking just one time.

A small sample size warning for his AFL work is in order, and it is important to understand he may have simply been exhausted after a long season. That said, summarily dismissing his poor play in the AFL is probably taking it too far. It was Brown’s first exposure to advanced pitchers, and that knowledge should be tucked away in the back of one’s mind. He’s set to open the year at Double-A with Richmond. If everything goes according to plan, he’ll be pressing for the Giants center field job by early 2013, and attempting to nail down the leadoff job as well.

October 2011: The Giants’ 2010 first round pick played tremendously in his full season debut this year. The next step will be succeeding against upper minor league talent. He should be on the fast track to the majors, and if his tools fully develop could be a top-of-the-order hitter. He may not offer more than a handful of home runs (though Kevin Goldstein suggested in a recent podcast he could flirt with 20), but his speed is a clear 80 on the 20-80 scale and should allow him to be a big stolen base contributor (he stole 53 this year). He makes contact at a high rate, and punished the ball in the offensive-friendly Cal League, hinting at being a batting average contributor in fantasy as well.

45: Christian Yelich/OF/Florida Marlins/12-5-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Oliver sees a blend of moderate power and speed with a decent batting average.
Scouting notes: March 2012: With new scouting reports available on Yelich, I no longer can say “I’ve yet to find a scouting report that describes his speed as better than average,” as I do below. His speed is rated as average to slightly better, and his base running instincts are excellent. He has pop, but doesn’t project to have elite power even after he fills out. However, he’ll offer enough power to be an asset in home runs at peak maturity.

His swing lends itself to high batting averages, but he’ll need to close the gap in his platoon split if he hopes to avoid being exploited late in games. Yelich hit a robust .341/.413/.531 against right-handed pitching, but stumbled against southpaws, hitting just .256/.337/.391. Given time, I expect he’ll make the necessary adjustments. Yelich will open the year in High-A, and could finish it in Double-A.

October 2011: His hitting grades out as a plus, but his power is somewhat questionable. He may develop above-average game power, but that remains to be seen as he fills out and physically matures. He did hit 15 home runs in 461 at-bats in Single-A, which is promising. He also stole 32 bases, but I’ve yet to find a scouting report that describes his speed as better than average. He was caught only five times, so he may be able to get the most out of that tool with intelligent base running.

He should be able to reach base often because in addition to his plus hit tool, he walks frequently (55 walks). If he continues to steal bases in the upper minors, or his power takes a step up, he’ll shoot up this prospect list.

46: Brett Jackson/OF/Chicago Cubs/8-2-88/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: .250s hitter with playable teens power and speed.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Jackson is one of those players who is able to get away with a low contact rate. He has enough power and speed to be a 20/20 guy, and is a good enough defender to remain in the lineup should he go through a dry spell due to his high strikeout rate. More than one quarter of his plate appearances at Double-A or higher (780 plate appearances) have resulted in strike three.

On the impressive side of the ledger, in those same 780 plate appearances he has walked 13.2 percent of the time. Those in leagues that count OBP should bump Jackson a bit higher up this list as he’ll have more value there than in standard scoring formats. His on-base skills could help him eventually settle into the top third of the Cubs order. As a veteran of less than 200 Triple-A at-bats, Jackson will likely open the year in Triple-A. He should reach the majors over the summer.

October 2011: He doesn’t have any jaw-dropping tools, but he’s average to above average across the board. He’s hit his way to Triple-A, and succeeded there in spite of a high strikeout rate that may pose problems in the majors. He can walk some, he can hit for some power and he can steal some bags. In a lot of ways, he resembles a Drew Stubbs-lite to me.

47: Jonathan Singleton/1B/Houston Astros/9-18-91/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Excellent hitter with low-20s home run power and stellar on-base percentages.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Singleton is the one minor league first baseman I believe has “near superstar,” potential. He ranks lower than fellow first base prospect Anthony Rizzo because he has yet to take an at-bat above the High-A level, and he’s further from reaching his ceiling. Singleton draws walks like a grizzled vet, and has kept his strikeout rate in check for a developing slugger, though, it did spike to 27 percent as a member of the Astros organization.

His in-game power lags behind his raw batting practice strength, but it is expected the gap will close with experience. Singleton will open the year in Double-A as a 20-year-old, and won’t turn 21 until September. If he were to spend all of 2012 in Double-A, and all of 2013 in Triple-A, it is possible Houston’s first baseman of the future could get his first cup of Joe in September 2013.

October 2011: Singleton has played first base since the Astros acquired him at the trade deadline, but he played some outfield in the Phillies system before the trade. He’s a big guy, but athletic enough that scouts think he could man left field. His power projects to be a plus, and could be a plus-plus tool in the future. Despite his young age, he has already shown the ability to draw walks. If he’s a first baseman, his ranking is about right, but if he’s developed as an outfielder and sticks, he should be ranked a bit higher.

48: Oscar Taveras/OF/St. Louis Cardinals/6-19-92/ETA: 2014
Forecast notes: Breakout 2011 leads to projections of near .300 averages as soon as 2015.
Scouting notes: March 2012: After he played the entire year in Low-A, where he swung a scorching hot stick, the Cardinals challenged Taveras, sending him to the AFL. Taveras proved the Cardinals’ confidence wasn’t misplaced, hitting .307/.312/.413 with one home run and five doubles in 77 plate appearances. He failed to walk even once, but his showing as a 19-year-old against advanced pitching was plenty encouraging. Taveras will probably begin the year in High-A, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cardinals opened him in Double-A.

October 2011: He put up video game numbers in Single-A this year, but will be tested in the Arizona Fall League. He didn’t appear high on most Cardinals prospect lists coming into the year, but should see his name move up this coming year. He would rank higher, but not all scouting reports are bullish on his future stock, and see his advanced approach for his age being the biggest reason he has been so successful, not outstanding developing tools.

Others believe his total package gives him a reasonably high offensive ceiling. Such widely divergent scouting reports makes him tough to peg. If his hitting and power develop to 60 level, he should be higher, but if they fall flat and sit closer to 40, he probably doesn’t belong on the list at all. Watch his Arizona Fall League performance, and more importantly, his larger sample of performance moving up a level next year.

49: Yasmani Grandal/C/San Diego Padres/11-8-88/ETA: 2012
Forecast notes: Two good years with a 2011 MLE line of .265/.341/.425.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Grandal is no longer behind fellow prospect Devin Mesoraco. That’s the positive. The negative is that instead of calling Great American Ballpark his home, that distinction is now bestowed upon Petco Park.

As a switch-hitter, he won’t feel the full brunt of the power-crushing effects left-handed batters do. That said, most of his cuts will come as a left-handed batter, and that has to be taken into account when projecting his fantasy home run output. He displayed a sound approach at the dish in his first full professional season, and should continue to hit for a high average so long as that approach holds while moving up the professional ladder. He finished 2011 in Triple-A, and he’ll begin 2012 there. I expect the Padres to take a look at him after rosters expand in September.

October 2011: Grandal’s surface numbers are more impressive than Wilin Rosario‘s, but the ceiling isn’t described as being as high by most scouting outlets. He’s also behind Mesoraco, further hurting his ranking. That said, he’s a switch-hitting catcher with the potential for plus offensive contributions. Catchers have a wide variety of skills they need to hone in the minors, so they develop at different speeds. He may not take the same leap fellow Reds prospect Mesoraco made because of lesser tools, but even a slight jump in production would be reason for excitement.

50: Anthony Gose/OF/Toronto Blue Jays/8-10-90/ETA: 2013
Forecast notes: Monster stolen base projection with double-digit power, but ugly batting averages.
Scouting notes: March 2012: Gose’s play in the AFL was essentially an extension of his play in Double-A all year. His .250/.348/.433 slash in the AFL was a near carbon copy of his .253/.349/.415 with New Hampshire in the Eastern League.

He understands the value of a walk, but struggles mightily to make contact. After inefficiency stealing bases in 2010, he became a great base stealer in 2011. While hitting is a completely different skill, if his growth as a base runner foreshadows his ability to be coached elsewhere, Gose could really turn the corner in 2012. He’s primed to enjoy the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League, but is stuck behind a crowded outfield on the parent club.

October 2011: Forecast doesn’t like his defense, but most scouting grades suggest his best attributes are his range and arm in the outfield, and his speed. His hitting is what comes under the most scrutiny. Some reports suggest he’ll be able to make enough contact to take advantage of his speed and post a decent average. Others see a guy who strikes out too frequently to hit for average.

He offers some pop, and is capable of drawing walks. If he’s can get on base at even a moderate rate in the majors, he can be an impact stolen base threat with better than negligible power. If he isn’t able to cut back on the strikeouts, he’ll be a defensive-minded center fielder or fourth outfielder. Either of those scenarios would make him a fantasy non-contributor. The ceiling may not be high enough to offset the floor and justify this ranking. I’m buying in based on the leap he was able to make in stolen base success, and hoping that’s evidence of him being coachable.

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  1. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Mike

    I suspected someone would get through the cracks.  Nice catch.  As the scouting notes can attest, I recognize he is a Cub, but I missed updating that in his player headline.

  2. Rob said...

    Thanks again for another good article…  I read somewhere, I think it may have been Kevin Goldstein, that Oscar Taveras could be a top 10 prospect next year…  I’ll be keeping my eyes on him.

  3. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Rob

    Thanks Rob.  I know Goldstein is a big fan of Taveras.  I asked him a question on twitter relating to his hit and power tools after he posted his top 101.  He believes he’s more likely to have a plus-plus hit tool and hit .300 annualy than hit for plus power.

  4. Sam Samson said...

    “The gap between [Banuelos] and the higher-ranked Martin Perez probably isn’t as big as this list might suggest.”

    It isn’t as big as one place?

  5. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Sam

    Chech the time stamp.  That was his initial write-up back in October of 2011.  I left it so readers would have a time stamp/chronological order.  If you don’t like it say so, I’m hoping to upgrade my updates accordingly.

  6. S said...


    Are these based purely on Oliver?  I’m not seeing how a guy like Cuthbert is over Starling.  Starling’s upside in unquestioned a top 5 (at worst)fantasy prospect, his future power is at least a 60, and speed at least a 70.  Meanwhile Cuthbert provides basically nothing on the basepaths, and isn’t a huge power guy.  These are likely the two most important fantasy attributes to have, so I just don’t see how Cuthbert is ranked ahead.  Then just an aside, you mention one of the fastest players in the minor leagues in Gary Brown as being able to steal “around 20 bases” when he actually projects to steal at least 40.  Then based on your Gose comment (which I agree with) I would think he has to be at least 20 spots higher if this is truly based on fasntasy.

  7. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ S

    The statistics mentioned in the Forecast notes are purely Oliver’s projection.  The Scouting notes are where I point out things the experts are saying, and occassionally chime in with some of my own thoughts based on what I’ve read.  As far as Cuthbert and Starling go, I think you are short changing Cuthbert some.  Most reports I’ve read suggest plus power, and a plus batting average.  He also plays a scarer position, and has pro experience under his belt.  As soon as we see how Starlings tools actually play, I suspect he’ll make a big move up the board.  For now, the blend of present information, position, and upside for Cuthbert earned him the nod from me.

  8. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ S

    I actually expect Brown to steal more bases than his Oliver projection, and am a bit surprised it is as low as it it.  I think 30you plus is a fair jumping off point, with the potential for north of 40 like you suggest.  Moving on to Gose, I like him quite a bit, but there are enough questions about his hit tool that I have to temper my ranking.  While I value ceiling more than floor, disregarding floor entirely is a bit unwise.

  9. Sam Samson said...


    Got you—that’s fine, just found it a tad confusing till you pointed that out.  As I’m very easily confused, I may be the only one not following.

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