10 March 2010

Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #11 - #15

#11. Dustin Ackley, OF/1B/2B, Mariners
Opening Day Age: 22
ETA: 2011

After hitting over .400 in each of his three years at UNC, Ackley got a six million dollar signing bonus as the #2 pick in last year's draft. And don't think the batting average is the only thing he's got going for him. He also got on base almost 50% of the time, slugged almost .650, walked almost twice as often as he struck out and stole 43 bases at a 75% success rate.

Due to arm problems, including a Tommy John surgery, he only played first base in college. Normally, a bat like his could play anywhere he wanted, but the Mariners are apparently moving him to second base, and it seems to be going well. At 6'1", 185 lbs, Ackley's not the lumbering physical specimen that you would expect from a slugging firstbaseman with numbers like his, and the Mariners seem to think he had the physical agility to play the keystone in the majors. Or more likely, they don't think he'll develop the kind of power expected of a first baseman or left fielder.

He played second base in the Arizona Fall League and apparently did well enough, in addition to hitting .315/.414/.425 in 20 games. Everyone hits in the AFL, so take that with a grain of salt, but at least the switch to wooden bats didn't cripple him. Note that his power output was considerably less, though that was what I said about Buster Posey after last year's AFL and he turned out OK.

Ackley projects more of a Derek Jeter type, perhaps with less propensity to strike out, with only modest power but with speed, average and patience to more than compensate. I'm always leery of dubbing someone one of the best prospects in baseball before he's faced any real competition, but if Ackley starts out at High-A ball and progresses as they expect, he could be in the majors by the middle or end of next year.

#12. Alcides Escobar, SS, Brewers
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: 2010

One of several players to repeat on this year's top 20 (along with Heyward, Posey, Bumgarner, Feliz, Alvarez and Stanton), Alcides is again the only one of the score predominantly here for his glove and not his bat. Escobar's defense is very, very good, with incredible range and instincts and a great arm, but he's also got speed to burn and a decent line-drive type of swing. He doesn't have much patience or any power and at 6'1", 155 lbs isn't likely to develop the latter - but then neither did Ozzie Smith, and he had an OK career.

The future is now for Escobar, who will be the Brewers' everyday shortstop after they traded JJ hardy away in the off season. Because both his range and his speed on the bases depend so much on his speed, he'll be more susceptible than most to any sort of leg injury, but if he develops as expected, he's a perennial Gold Glove middle infielder who can hit for a respectable average and steal 30+ bases.

#13. Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers
Opening Day Age: 23
ETA: Mid-2010

This is the body you expect to see with Dustin Ackley's numbers, except that Smoak has the numbers too, or at least he did in AA. After mashing the ball for three years in the SEC, Texas made him the #11 overall pick in the 2008 draft, and he's moved up quickly through the ranks. Though he hasn't shown much of the power he had in college, he has shown some, and his body (6'4", 220) and approach suggest that the homers will come.

He stalled a bit in the second half of last season, after his promotion to AAA, though how much of that was difficulty adjusting to the highest level of the minors (well, short of the National League, anyway) and how much had to do with an oblique strain is anybody's guess. Given that he hit nine homers in nine World Cup games in the fall, he's probably not favoring that oblique anymore, I would say.

#14. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: Mid-2010

After posting a 15-3 record with a 1.46 ERA in Single A as an 18 year old, there was really nowhere for Bumgarner to go but down, statistically speaking. he did, but not very far. He posted a combined record of 12-2 at High-A and AA with an ERA comfortably under 2.00, but his strikeout rate dropped dramatically, from about 10.4 per nine innings last year to about six per nine this year in AA, before fanning ten batters in ten frames at the major league level.

Most sources seem to agree that the drop in strikeout rate coincided with a drop in velocity, continual over the year, which could be a harbinger of problems. Indeed, I said in my prospects article last year that his mechanics, particularly the long, sweeping arm action, concerned me, and perhaps this is a sign of a shoulder injury beginning to rear its ugly head. Or, it might just be because he threw too often and too vigorously between starts, as he and the Giants seem to think. That, of course, begs the questions of

1) Why it wasn't an issue in 2008, if he had the same training regimen, or

B) Why he bothered to change his regimen in 2009, if everything was going so well in 2008.

So far this spring, his velocity is still down a bit, so we have to wait and see. With his control and his long, left handed delivery, he can still be a good starter in the majors, but to be great he's going to need those extra few mph on the heater.

#15. Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies
Opening Day Age: 22
ETA: 2011

Phillies fans, this is the reason that Cliff Lee is no longer on your team.

Well, that's not precisely true, but essentially GM Ruben Amaro figured that Brown was not enough of a prospect to tide the farm system over without getting a little help. So after practically emptying the cupboards to get Roy Halladay, he sent Lee to Seattle for more prospects, including another toolsy outfielder, Tyson Gillies.

Brown's big frame had some projecting him for eventual 30-homer major league power, but he's shown little evidence of that in the minors so far. He did hit 11 homers in 238 at bats at High-A last year, but then smacked only three in almost 150 at bats at AA. He's got great speed, but it comes from his long stride rather than quick movement, so he gets caught stealing a little more than you would like. Overall he's been caught about 28% of the time, though in some stints it's been as much as 35%, which hurts the team. Not as much as thinking, but still.

His body type and statistical profile remind me a lot of Bernie Williams for some reason, though I think he's probably got less patience and a better arm. Bernie took a while to develop, and wasn't really an impact player until age 26 or so, and I see a similar path for Brown. He's still working on the patience and power, but all the tools are there for success. Given the Phillies' crowded major league outfield, he should have time to master both AA and AAA before he gets much exposure in the Show. Best case scenarios have him in the majors in the middle of next year, though I would guess a September 2011 call up is more likely.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: