11 March 2010

Commentary on Baseball America's top 20 Prospects: #16 - #20

#16. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: 2011

It's tempting to compare Castro to Alcides Escobar, given that they're both Latin American, NL Central shortstop prospects, tall with wiry frames (6'1", 160 lbs) and known for their defense. Escobar is already 23, though, and has a starting job on a major league contender, whereas Castro won't be 20 years old for two more weeks, and will be given more time to develop as his major league team rebuilds.

The difference, however, is that while Escobar is expected to be a speedy, punch-and-judy hitter who wins Gold Gloves, Castro for some reason is expected to turn into Alfonso Soriano. As he has hit about .300 everywhere he's played professionally, and they're listed as the same size, I guess I can see that, but Soriano hit for power in the minors.

Castro seemingly has no power at all, having never hit more than three homers in any season in the minors, and none at all in over 110 AA at-bats last season. He hit one in the AFL, to go with his .376 batting average, but as you're probably tired of hearing by now, everyone hits in the AFL, so take that with a grain of salt.

I suppose it's possible, since he's so young, that he'll eventually develop some power, but more likely he'll become a hack and slash, or at best a line drive hitter who swings at everything and makes up for some of that with his speed and his glove. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but when you're expecting Soriano and you end up with Royce Clayton, people are bound to be disappointed.

He does have some speed (47 stolen bases in his 3-year career) but perhaps not great instincts, given that he's gotten caught as often as once in two or three tries as some stops in the minors. If the speed is there, it will at least help him with his defense, even if it's not an asset on the major league basepaths.

Personally, I think it's a little early to dub this guy on of the best prospects in the game, as so far he's only shown glimpses of the player the scouts expect him to become. So much can happen between age 19 and reaching the majors, and so much that's expected can fail to happen, that anyone without shock the world talent at this age should be grasped loosely.

#17 Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers
Opening Day Age: 19

ETA: Mid-2011

Perez has a low-90's fastball an above average change-up and perhaps a major league quality curveball despite the fact that he won't be 19 years old for almost another month. After embarrassing players in the high-A Sally League for most of the year (105 strikeouts in 93 innings, 2.31 ERA), Perez got roughed up a little in AA. But don't let that "1-3, 5.57" next to his name on the stats sites fool you.

First of all, it was only 21 innings. Secondly, it was more due to bad luck (a .374 BABIP) than bad pitching. According to FanGraphs, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, a metric that takes luck and defense out of the equation and scales it to look like an ERA) at Double-A was only 3.82. That's still well above the 2.46 he'd posted in Single-A, but also perfectly acceptable for an 18-year old at the second highest rung of the minors.

The Rangers will perhaps let him spend all of 2010 at that level to allow him to learn how to pitch a little more, but he could be in the majors by the middle of next year if everything goes well. At which time he'll still be just barely 20 years old.

Other than his youth, there's not much going against Perez. He's got good control (fewer than 3.5 walks per nine innings in the minors), good mechanics and two quality breaking pitches to go with a solid fastball. Baseball Prospectus called him "the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball", and no, they did not forget about Madison Bumgarner and Brian Matusz.

The Rangers are the only team with three players in the top 20 this year. Though they haven't sniffed the playoffs in over a decade, that could change soon.

#18 Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays
Opening Day Age: 22
ETA: Mid-2010

Hellickson's got unbelievable command and control, walking barely two hitters per nine innings in the minors while striking out almost ten. His fastball is only 90-92 at best, but he's got such command of it, and its movement, that it may not matter. He's also got a very good curve and a major league quality changeup that produce a lot of swings and misses.

There are two things he does not have, however:

1) Anything left to prove in the minors, or

B) Anywhere to pitch in the majors.

Which is a problem.

Given that the Rays already have a young, talented starting rotation, they have little choice but to start Hellickson out in AAA again, which is not completely awful given that he is just 22 and that he's pitched only nine games at that level. Command guys who don't have overpowering stuff tend to take a while to develop as major leaguers anyway.

#19 Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins
Opening Day Age: 20
ETA: Mid-2011

This first round draft pick out of high school impressed everyone by hitting .318/.409/.491 as an 18-year old in the 2008 rookie league, and he acquitted himself well in single-A in 2009, even though he only hit .251 there. Like Perez, he was victimized more by bad luck (only a .307 BABIP) more than poor performance, and his numbers should bounce back this year. He's a switch hitter with patience, speed and a cannon arm that threw mid-90's gas as a prep school pitcher, but with some work to do before he can get to the majors.

He's projected as a five tool player, though after getting caught eight times in 18 tries last season at Single-A, it appears that he needs to learn how to better utilize his natural speed if he's going to be a base stealing threat. Watching his swing, he reminds me of another switch hitting centerfielder, Carlos Beltran, though to be fair, it's pretty much a textbook swing.

#20 Logan Morrison, 1B, Marlins
Opening Day Age: 22

ETA: 2010

Though not the blue chip prospect he was after hitting .332 in 2008 in a pitcher's league, Morrison is still hanging on to his spot in the top 20. And this despite suffering through a wrist injury that limited him to only 82 games and eight homers in 2009. His pedestrian .277 batting average belies his skills at getting on base, which are more clearly evidenced by his .411 OBP. He hit 24 homers at A-ball in 2007, but hasn't shown that kind of power since, even though his body and his swing suggest that he should be a slugger.

Perhaps the wrist injury forced him to be more patient or perhaps he's just maturing as a hitter, but 21-year olds who walk more than they strike out are few and far between. Still, Morrison has shown the ability to hit for average, power or on-base percentage at different stops throughout his minor league career, but never more than one of those skills at a time. If he's healthy this year - and that's a big "if" since he's only 1-for-14 in spring training as I write this - he'll need to put together at least two of those three to stay at the top of prospect lists.

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