04 March 2010

Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #6 - #10

#6. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

This is why the Rays are in no hurry to shell out tens of millions of dollars to Carl Crawford. After hitting well enough (.316/.395/.486) in AA to win Southern League MVP, Jennings went to AAA for a month or so and hit even better (.325/.419/.491). He's got tremendous speed (52 for 59 in steals and 10 triples in 2010) and that helps make him a potentially elite defensive center fielder as well. He also has the plate discipline, at 23, that Crawford is just starting to develop at age 27.

He hasn't shown a lot of power yet, but his 6'2" frame could probably carry more muscle than the 180 lbs he currently sports. Even if he never bulks up much, a lead off hitter who can smack a dozen homers and steal 40 or 50 bases while getting on base 40% of the time and playing excellent defense in center is a huge asset for any team.

Not that he's going to produce like that right out of the gate, but it shouldn't be but a year or two before Jennings is one of the best young players in the game. Technically, Jennings is "blocked" by Matt Joyce at the moment, but on a scale of one to ten, Joyce is not that good. Jennings should be in the majors by mid summer.

#7. Buster Posey, C, Giants
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

In my column on last year's top prospects, I had two, tentative criticisms of Posey, both of which he answered with aplomb in 2010. One was that his having recently been converted to catcher made him something less than a stellar backstop, but then he went out and caught 45% of would-be base stealers at two levels in 2010, so I can't say that anymore.

The other was that his power, displayed only in his last year at Florida State, had not yet emerged as a pro. Well, after hitting 18 homers and 31 doubles between High-A and AAA, with a slugging percentage well over .500, I can't say that anymore either.

While Posey's seemingly got little to prove in the Minors, the Giants are not known for their bravado in promoting prospects, especially when they've got a comfortable - if not especially good - major league option. Having re-signed Bengie Molina for the year, Posey will likely get some more seasoning in AAA, but assuming that he continues to hit the cover off the ball, he should be up in the majors for good by the end of May.

Long term, he's likely to soon become the best catcher in the game, but in the short time he'll just be jockeying for playing time. If the Giants fall out of contention, he'll probably get more playing time in the majors, so they can help him develop, bu tif they can somehow stay within earshot of a playoff berth, look for them to give Molina the bulk of the playing time while Posey wiles away on the bench or in AAA.

Ironic, isn't it? The more they need him, the less playing time their best catching option will get.

#8. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

You've got to give Alvarez (and agent Scott Boras) credit: They may have made a big stink about his signing last year, but it was with good reason. When he finally got to play, Alvarez struggled a bit in High-A ball, hitting only .247 although still with impressive power, making some wonder if the Pirates had made a mistake.

Nevertheless, upon his promotion to AA, Alvarez raked at a .333/.419/.590 clip, having one of the best second halves in all of professional baseball. He's expected to start the year in AAA, and given that Andy LaRoche is the only thing between him and a major league job, we should see him in the majors by June or July. He's too big and too slow to be a third baseman for long, but then the Pirates aren't exactly stocked with great hitting first basemen either, so he should get his chances to play once he's there.

#9. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
Opening Day Age: 21
ETA: 2010

Another questionable inclusion on a prospect list, after having spent two months on the Rangers' roster and pitching 31 stellar innings, but at least he's not within 5 innings of the "rookie" limit. Feliz has a 100 mph fastball that moves and a solid slurve, plus a change up that is still developing. His trouble as a reliever has always been walks (with a rate of almost 4 per nine innings in the minors) but in the majors last year he pitched only in relief, where he could rely mostly on the fastball, and it worked.

The Rangers, understandably, want him to start, but right now their projected starting five has an average age of about 25, with Rich Harden as the most seasoned veteran, at 28, so there's no hurry. In any case, he'll have a hard time succeeding if he can't get the walks down. One saving grace - and it's something he'll need, pitching half his games in Arlington - is that his stuff is so filthy it's almost impossible to hit it solid, which is why he's allowed only seven homers in 276 minor league innings.

Make no mistake: Despite all the hype about the three-digit fastball, Feliz is still a work in progress. But that work can be done at the major league level.

#10. Carlos Santana, C, Indians
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: 2010

Santana spent all of 2009 at AA Akron, where he hit for decent average (.290) in addition to remarkable power (55 extra base bits) and patience (90 walks). He's not a great defensive catcher, having caught only 30% of base stealers at AA, but unlike Montero, he is serviceable. He hits with power to all fields, swings at few bad pitches (as evidenced by his having struck out only 83 times in 535 at-bats) and generally makes life difficult for pitcher wherever he goes.

He's behind Lou Marson and grizzled veteran Mike Redmond on the Tribe's depth chart, but if Pronk or Russel Branyan get hurt, they could conceivably call Santana up to DH or play first base. With the Tribe trying to rebuild, there's really no hurry, and Santana hasn't even been to AAA yet.

His bat is good enough that he could be an adequate MLB first baseman right now, or at least that's what Bill James' projection says. CHONE is a lot more conservative, while PECOTA's more modest, but closer to James. the one real issue is playing time. Unless something really bizarre happens, Santana isn't likely to see much MLB action before he gets a chance to master AAA, which means late 2010 at the earliest.

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