Despite an HGH scandal, Jordan Schafer ranks second among our top 35 prospects.
Spikes Up, our exclusive baseball column, is pleased to unveil the fourth annual Spikes Up Top 35 Prospects List, once again beefed up from last year’s version.
This season, 11 players are back from the 2007 rankings, while another 15 (exactly half of last year’s list) have graduated to the major leagues. For the second straight year, just four slipped out of the rankings.
1. Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati – After placing 14th in our rankings last year, this tender-aged (just turned 21) flyhawk has shot to the top of the RotoRob Prospect List this year. Bruce is ticketed for a bit of seasoning at Triple-A, but don’t sleep on this guy. Expect him to arrive in Cincy by May or June and be capable of putting up some very strong numbers immediately. Sure, he’ll probably be prone to plenty of Ks, but Bruce is a star in the making, drawing comparisons to Larry Walker and Jeremy Hermida, among others. The only thing worrying me here is manager Dusty Baker’s propensity to screw up younger players.
2. Jordan Schafer, OF, Atlanta – There’s some debate whether Schafer is the top Braves’ prospect or even the best of the three great young outfield prospects in the organization (Schafer, Jason Heyward, Brandon Jones), but for my money, Schafer is the man. He’s the clear heir apparent to fill the void left in centrefield when Andruw Jones left town. Sure, Schafer is getting hyped by the Atlanta PR machine, but this 21-year-old, a third-round pick in 2005, is headed for greatness. Last season, he completely destroyed the Sally League, forcing an early-season promotion to High-A where he scored 70 runs in 106 games, showed some pop and some patience. Yes, I’d like to see him cut the strikeouts, and the HGH suspension will definitely delay in his arrival date, but it wouldn’t shock me if Schafer were starting in Atlanta by mid-season 2009, if not sooner.
3. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston — Although he struggled this spring, don’t let the bloated ERA fool you — Buchholz is among the top prospects in the game. He absolutely dominated in Double-A last season, earning recognition as a classification All-Star from Baseball America, before moving up to Triple-A. With Pawtucket, Buchholz had some issues with the long ball, but certainly held his own. Finally, he pitched extremely well with the BoSox (perhaps you heard a thing or two about that no-hitter?).
4. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay – This power-hitting hot corner prospect enjoyed a big season as a Biscuit (mmm…biscuits) before moving up to Triple-A and continuing his power display. Our No. 20 prospect last year, the kid’s time has come, but the Rays decided to have him start at Triple-A even though he deserved to break camp with a job after such an impressive spring. Regardless, Longoria will definitely factor into the AL ROY race this season, especially now that he’s arrived in Tampa thanks to an injury to Willy Aybar.
T-5. Wade Davis, RHP, Tampa Bay – Davis soared up the prospect list in 2007, moving up to High-A and significantly improving his control without sacrificing the Ks. He then moved up and more than held his own at Double-A – one of the true acid tests for pitching prospects. Davis is starting the year back in Double-A, but I’m confident he’ll see time in the majors this year, making him an intriguing reserve pick. This 22-year-old is part of a treasure chest of talent that the Rays have hoarded, and is proof positive (along with Jake McGee and David Price) that the organization is finally capable of developing pitching prospects (although James Shields’ emergence last year helped begin that process).
T-5. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers – Kershaw (our No. 24 prospect a year ago) just turned 20, so ideally the Dodgers will find a way to get him more seasoning, but with his dominance, they won’t be able to hold him back for long. LA’s top draft choice in 2006 (seventh overall), Kershaw has been dominant as a pro from day one, taking his place today as the team’s top prospect. Within three months, he’ll be in a Dodger uniform; within three years, he’ll be challenging for the Cy Young award.
T-7. Travis Snider, OF, Toronto — Snider is not expected to be a factor in the majors this year, but in keeper leagues, this is a guy you definitely want to tuck away. While there are some varying opinions of how good a prospect he’ll be, he impressed the hell out of most as one of the youngest players in the AFL last year. Snider, the 14th overall pick in 2006 after a dominating high school season in which he led his team to the Washington State championships, projects as a big-time power hitter down the road.
T-7. Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis – This 21-year-old centrefielder has left a wake of damage wherever he’s played. He led his team to the 1999 Little League World Series, and then in high school he mashed 24 homers, passing Bo Jackson for the second highest total in one season by an Alabama High School player. Last season, Rasmus led all Double-A players with 29 homers and looked solid in the AFL, convincing the Cards to clear the decks in CF by dealing veteran Jim Edmonds. St. Louis has opted to let this five-tool talent get a bit more seasoning in Triple-A, but rest assured, he’s going to be patrolling centre in Busch sooner rather than later. Don’t sleep on this kid.
9. Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida – The centrepiece of the package the Marlins received from the Tigers when they dispatched Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis north to Motown, the not yet 21-year-old Maybin is a future stud in centrefield. As if the Marlins didn’t have enough speed, this kid, potentially the future face of the organization, brings plenty to the table. Size, speed and power – Maybin has it all. Imagine him as the next Torii Hunter, except with a higher ceiling. No wonder Maybin’s already excited fans this spring. After his fast start, however, Maybin fizzled a bit, and will begin the year in Double-A. He’s up slightly from No. 10 on last year’s list.
10. Homer Bailey, RHP, Cincinnati – Despite some souring on him (we had him at No. 4 on the list last year), Bailey still looks like a future ace to me. Just 21, the kid only has 45 career innings under his belt, so I wouldn’t spend more than a buck on him for 2008. But in looking forward, let’s keep things in perspective. Recall that Johan Santana had a 6.49 ERA in 86 innings as a 21-year-old, so don’t panic if Bailey takes some lumps this year. Stay the course, and you’ll be rewarded.
11. Chris Marrero, OF, Washington – He’s only 19, but nothing is going to hold Marrero back for long. The team is expecting big things from their top prospect, and no one’s expectations are higher than Marrero’s – he wants to be in the bigs by the end of the season. I wouldn’t bet against this pure home run hitter arriving in Washington by September, even though he’s starting out at High-A. With a double in his only Spring Training at bat, Marrero already has downtrodden Nats’ fans getting excited.
T-12. Franklin Morales, LHP, Colorado – After enjoying a breakout season in which he was among the Texas League leaders in Ks before a promotion to Triple-A, Morales ultimately wound up in the majors and played a key role over the final two months as the Rox rolled into the playoffs. This 22-year-old lefty has a chance to be the next great Venezuelan pitcher, and he’s a name to watch after breaking camp with the fifth starter job for the Rockies. The team’s top pitching prospect, Morales is gifted with amazing stuff, including a knee-buckling 12-to-6 curve. I’d like to see him sharpen his control, but impressively, it was much less of an issue when he arrived in the majors – a truly excellent sign.
T-12. Andy LaRoche, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers – After another spectacular half-season at Triple-A, LaRoche made his MLB debut last year, and flashed his gap power. The 24-year-old, the Dodgers’ 39th round pick in 2003, has been riding high since his breakout 2005 season in which he mashed 30 dingers. Adam’s baby bro looked like the odds-on favourite to break camp as the team’s starting third baseman, but a thumb injury will sideline him for five-to-eight weeks. Don’t worry; he’ll be back, and will challenge for the NL ROY before it’s all said and done. LaRoche was our No. 6 prospect a year ago.
14. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston – Everyone has already seen the impact this kid can have on a team after he took the BoSox by storm late last year and in the playoffs. A great contact hitter, Ellsbury is thought to be the first native Navajo player to ever take the field for a major league team. He’s going to split time in centre with Coco Crisp to begin the season, but Ellsbury’s ability to be an offensive instigator and his superb defensive work will force Crisp out of town sooner rather than later.
T-15. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, New York Yankees – Part of a trio of young Yank hurlers expected to form the nucleus of the pitching staff in years to come, Chamberlain burst on to the scene last season, spending the final two months as Mariano Rivera’s set-up man. This intense hurler gained cult status almost immediately. Ultimately expected to be a starter, that plan’s been put on hold for now as Chamberlain will begin the year out of the pen. But contrary to last season, he will not rely strictly on his fastball/slider combo, instead opting to use all four pitches this year.
T-15. Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego – The Padres’ second round pick in 2005 has ascended through the system and is now the organization’s top prospect. He’s a hard worker, but is currently blocked by Kevin Kouzmanoff. There was talk of either shifting Kouz to left field or converting Headley into an outfielder, but the team believes he’s not ready to play outfield in the majors so they optioned him to Triple-A. He’ll be back, making him a decent late-round flyer in this year’s drafts.
17. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh – The Pirates moved this young speedster up the ladder aggressively last year, and he struggled somewhat at Double-A. But make no mistake – with his power, makeup and strong defense, McCutchen will finally provide the answer the Pirates have been seeking for several years in centrefield very soon. Our No. 17 prospect from last season didn’t hit well in the AFL, but showed a good batting eye. McCutchen will start the year in Triple-A, but should make his MLB before the end of 2008, assuming he can adjust to the higher level as well as he did last year (.313 BA in limited Triple-A action).
T-18. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Oakland – A key component of the package the A’s received from Arizona for Dan Haren, Gonzalez has emerged as one of the top CF prospects in the game. While there are questions about his attitude, it’s unclear if the 22-year-old Venezuelan is immature or actually has issues. Regardless, he’s a great prospect to tuck away in keeper leagues, although injury issues this spring burned his chances of break camp as the A’s everyday centerfielder. The 2005 Midwest League MVP has all the tools necessary to become a star, and after hitting .310 last season in a brief Triple-A trial, our No. 21 prospect from last year sure looks ready to contribute in the bigs.
T-18. Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay – As if the Rays needed another top prospect, Jennings burst onto the scene last year after barely being a blip on the Rays’ prospect list heading into 2007. After showing a bit of everything in the Sally League (.315 BA with 45 steals, gap power and patience), Jennings has soared up the charts. This one is strictly for keeper leagues, but if he can duplicate his breakout campaign, this kid will move fast and be knocking on the door of the bigs before you know it.
T-20. Ian Kennedy, RHP, New York Yankees – Another of the young Yankee arms charged with helping to lead the team back to the playoffs for a 14th straight time. This former USC product comes with some health risks, but he’s ascended the New York prospect list for a reason. Some think the Yanks reached a bit when they grabbed Kennedy with the 21st pick in 2006, but with Joba pen-bound, Kennedy landed a rotation spot this season, and judging by his superb spring showing, I’m expecting a solid rookie season.
T-20. David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay – The first overall selection in the 2007 draft was expected to move very quickly, but an injury this spring will slow down that timetable. He’s expected to miss about six weeks and then pitch at High-A, so Price will have to make a serious statement fast if he wants to pitch in the Show this year. He remains a fantastic keeper league prospect, but hoping for a contribution in 2008 now seems a stretch.
22. Angel Villalona, 3B, San Francisco – Could it be true? Could the Giants finally produce fantasy-worthy position prospect for the first time in a generation? Villalona is just 17, so let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, but considering he’ll likely play full-season ball at that age, it’s easy to get excited. A tremendous keeper prospect, Villalona’s long-term home is expected to be first base.
23. Nick Adenhart, RHP, Los Angeles Angels – Despite injuries to the team’s top two starters (John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar), the Halos opted to send their top pitching prospect to Triple-A to begin the season, where he’ll be part of a prospect-heavy Salt Lake squad. Adenhart’s results weren’t awful this spring (although he was a bit too hittable), but the Angels wisely decided to give the youngster more time to mature. After all, he has yet to pitch above Double-A. Keep an eye on Adenhart’s minor league numbers as out No. 22 prospect from last year has sleeper potential as a mid-season call-up.
T-24. Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore – Wieters, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, is the best catching prospect in the game. Now, the question is whether he’ll be able to live up to that $6 million bonus the O’s gave him – the biggest upfront payout in draft history. The Georgia Tech alumni and 2006 First Team All-American has the power and on-base skills needed to excel, but as we all know, well-hyped catching prospects often fade into obscurity (A.J. Hinch, anyone?).
T-24. Rick Porcello, RHP, Detroit – Porcello was the fifth highest ranked prospect heading into last year’s draft, but he slipped all the way to No. 27 because of signability issues (the fact that he was a Scott Boras client sure helped). The Tigers grabbed him and signed him to a record $7.28 million, four-year deal, way above bonus guidelines. Immediately, he became the jewel in a Tiger minor league system that is suddenly bereft of top prospects. The 6’5” Porcello was a big New Jersey high school star who was committed to UNC before penning a deal with Detroit. He did not pitch in the minors last year, so is making his pro debut this season at High-A Lakeland.
T-26. Joey Votto, 1B/OF, Cincinnati – Votto’s poor spring cost him the starter’s job in Cincy, but he still made the team and it shouldn’t take much for him to overtake Scott Hatteberg soon. The Toronto-born 23-year-old, drafted out of high school in the second round in 2002, broke through in 2006 as the Southern League MVP. He built on that last year by continuing to show good patience at Triple-A, and did extremely well after getting the late-season call to the Show. This dude is ready.
T-26. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati – Much like Nook LaLoosh in Bull Durham, Cueto “announced his presence with authority.” Except, of course, Cueto has an idea where his fastball is going, and it’s usually in the strike zone. This 22-year-old kid from the Dominican Republic was playing in the FSL All-Star game in 2007, but now he’s in the Reds’ rotation and has become an immediate waiver wire favourite. This phenom has No. 1 starter stuff, making him a big part of a revitalized Reds’ system.
28. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas – This former top prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization was traded to the Rangers as part of the Mark Teixeira deal at the trading deadline last year. Moving to Class-A ball in Spokane after the deal, Feliz struck out 27 in only 15 innings pitched. Although he’s several years away from arriving in the Show, the kid with the mid-90s fastball has the long term potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.
29. Reid Brignac, SS, Tampa Bay – After that 2006 season, when he captured virtually every award available, it was assumed that Brignac would be on the fast track to the bigs. A funny thing happened in that second full season in Montgomery — he proved he was human. With the bar set so high in 2006, a .260 BA, with 17 HR, 81 RBI and 15 stolen bases would have to be considered somewhat disappointing. Expect a better overall performance in 2008 from this 22-year-old former second rounder, our No. 18 prospect from 2007.
30. Mike Moustakas, SS, Kansas City – Drafted second overall in the 2007 draft by the Royals, this 19-year-old shortstop signed for a reported $4 million bonus. Baseball America fingers Moustakas as having the best infield arm, best power and best batting average from the class of ‘07. A graduate of Chatsworth High in California, Moustakas batted .577 with a California prep record 24 homers in 97 at bats. He reported to the Idaho Falls Chukars in the Rookie Pioneer League and batted .293 with ten RBI in 11 games. Because Moustakas is a below average runner, with somewhat limited range, some believe that a change of positions might be in order down the road, but the Royals are planning for now to stick with the “Moose” at his natural position of shortstop.
31. Jarrod Parker, RHP, Arizona – Parker was drafted out of Norwell High in Ossian, Indiana, by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft. The right-handed flamethrower signed just prior to the deadline for a reported $2.1 million bonus. Parker, the 2006-07 Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year, brings to the D-Backs a fastball in the 94-97 mph range, occasionally touching 98 mph. The fact that some scouts suggest he has the best arm action of any pitcher in the 2007 draft bodes well for Parker as he heads into his first full season in professional ball.
32. Jeff Clement, C, Seattle – Coming off a breakout 20-homer, 80-RBI campaign at Tacoma, this former third overall pick from the 2005 draft is looking at a return to Tacoma to commence the 2008 season. With incumbent Kenji Johjima heading into free agency next year, look for 2009 to be the year we see Clement assuming a full-time role. He’s a must-keep in deep dynasty formats.
T-33. Daric Barton, 1B, Oakland – Barton turned a very strong September 2007 into a job this spring at first base. The on-base skills are most certainly evident, although at this time the power seems a bit on the light side for a first baseman. The 22-year-old hit only nine home runs in 516 at bats for Sacramento last year and this apparent lack of power should be a concern heading into 2008.
T-33. Chin-Lung Hu, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers – A well-rounded player, Hu smacked 14 homers and drove in 62 runs with 15 stolen bases last year and has played in both the 2006 and 2007 Futures Games. Despite the fact that it would appear Hu is ready to contribute, with both Rafael Furcal and Jeff Kent signed for 2008, it looks like Hu will be starting the year coming off the bench in LA while he awaits an injury or trade.
35. Brandon Wood, 3B, Los Angeles Angels – It’s hard to believe that our No. 3 prospect from a year ago is still only 23. The memories of that awe-inspiring 2005, when he launched 43 homers and drove in 115 runs, seem like such a long time ago. Wood is starting the year at Triple A and moving back to his original shortstop position. The future still looks bright, but do beware that his K rates from the past three years in the minors are virtually identical. Have we seen the peak here or just a hiccup in the learning curve?
Graduating from last year’s top 30 prospect list: Delmon Young (1), Alex Gordon (2), Philip Hughes (5), Matt Garza (7), Yovanni Gallardo (8), Mike Pelfrey (9), Billy Butler (11), Troy Tulowitzki (13), Ryan Braun (15), Chris Young (16), Tim Lincecum (19), Justin Upton (23), Andrew Miller (26), Jason Hirsh (29), Hunter Pence (30).
Dropping off the list this season: Adam Miller (12), Fernando Martinez (25), Scott Elbert (27), Jose Tabata (28).