Welcome to the September 23, 2010 edition of This Week in Prospects! This week, we’re continuing to count down my top 100 prospect list of 2010, going with #s 90-81 this week. If you haven’t already, make sure to read the intro/honorable mentions section and the first ten prospects on the list.
We’ve got a couple of low-level Mariners prospects in this list, as well as two future NL catching studs and a player who struck out nearly 15 batters per nine innings. Let’s get this rollin’!
#90.) Matt Packer, LHP, Indians (AA)—Packer came out of nowhere to dominate the Midwest League and proved his legitimacy by stringing together a solid month in Double-A to close the season.
Two things really set Packer apart from most minor league finesse lefties—his command is right there with anyone’s and the ball is always at the bottom of the strike zone. He also can get the ball going in the low 90’s, so we aren’t necessarily talking about Aaron Laffey 2.0 here. Indians fans sick of finesse lefties may be cautious, but Packer could be the sort of durable strikethrower who works as a great complement to a flamethrowing ace (Jason Knapp, perhaps?)
#89.) Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs (AA)—Jackson is an all-around talent who put together a fine 2010 between High-A and Double-A, walking 73 times and stealing 30 bases while hitting .297 with twelve homers. Jackson just recently turned 22, he’s already ready for Triple-A, and he looks like a guy who can contribute in every facet of the game (he also plays a quality center field). The one thing holding him back? Jackson whiffed 126 times this past season, including 63 in 61 Double-A games. He’s got to keep the whiffs down to project as an All-Star, particularly since he hasn’t quite developed huge power yet.
#88.) Ji-Man Choi, C, Mariners (High-A)—Another one of these sleeper guys who nobody’s heard of, Choi spent most of 2010 tearing up the Arizona League at a .378/.459/.541 clip before turning in a .302/.380/.442 line in a brief High-A run at age 19. Teenage catchers who can hit High-A pitching are a rarity, as I’m sure you know.
Beneath the surface, there are some issues with Choi—he strikes out too much to sustain this sort of ridiculous batting average, he’s still raw defensively, and his High-A performance is tempered by a) a small sample and b) the fact that it came with High Desert, a ridiculous hitter’s haven. Still, if he keeps hitting and can stay behind the plate, Choi holds tremendous promise.
#87.) Jonathan Garcia, OF, Dodgers (Rookie)—At age 18, this talented outfielder was one of the top hitters in the Pioneer League, hitting .305/.365/.527. He’s somewhat similar to Jackson, an athletic outfielder with a well-rounded offensive game marred slightly by elevated strikeout numbers, although Garcia’s power is better developed and he isn’t as much of a basestealer and defender. Like most of the lower-level players on the Top 100 list, he’s pushed toward the bottom of the list because he’s so far from the majors, but Garcia could certainly turn into an impact hitter.
#86.) Tony Sanchez, C, Pirates (High-A)—Sanchez missed the last half of 2010 after being hit in the face with a pitch, but spent the first half carving up a pitcher’s league, hitting .316/.416/.454, impressive from a 22-year-old catcher. His defensive stock seems to have dropped somewhat since he was drafted, and he didn’t show as much power in 2010 as he did in 2009, although playing in the FSL may explain that. The fourth overall pick in 2009 was widely considered an overdraft at the time, but a year and a half in, he’s looking to be a very solid big league catcher.
#85.) Miguel De Los Santos, LHP, Rangers (A)—De Los Santos struck out 50 batters in 32 short-season innings, but managed to top that by whiffing a whopping 62 in 38 1/3 frames after being promoted to Low-A. Few, if any, minor league starting pitchers could boast that sort of strikeout rate—over half of the lefty’s outs were Ks.
The lefthander throws hard, reaching the 95-96 mph range, and his changeup is already a plus pitch, featuring screwball-like movement. His fastball-changeup combo could be enough to make him a successful MLB pitcher, a la Cole Hamels, but De Los Santos also features a solid curveball.
He’s still rough around the edges, walking 44 batters in 70 1/3 innings last year, but with a whopping 112 whiffs, he’s doing a whole lot right.
#84.) Derek Norris, C, Nationals (High-A)—Norris hit just .235 last year, but he has tons of qualifiers that diminish that issue.
First, he’s a catcher. Second, he was young for his level. Third, he was recovering from a wrist injury, which is particularly tough to hit with. Fourth, he still slugged .419. Fifth, he walked a whopping 89 times in 94 games to post a .419 OBP despite the dismal average.
Norris’ glovework behind the plate is less than stellar, and his super-patient approach leads to some whiffs, but he’s a catcher with a legitimate shot to post .400 OBPs and .500 SLGs in the bigs. Those are extremely valuable. How well he puts the wrist injury behind him will determine if he can do that or become merely a solid-average offensive catcher.
#83.) Wilmer Flores, SS, Mets (High-A)—A conflicting character among prospects, Flores has quite a bit going for him, but quite a bit going against him, and it’s thus harder to rank him than many other prospects. He hit .300 in High-A at age 18, which is extremely impressive, as I mentioned with Choi. Further impressive is the fact that, unlike Choi, Flores did it in a pitcher’s environment over a large sample.
But from there, the problems emerge. Flores isn’t likely to stay in the infield, so the whole “18-year-old shortstop” thing is tempered by his likely position switch (most think right field is his future home). He also walked just nine times in 67 High-A games, which catches up to prospects eventually (see Vitters, Josh). It wasn’t like he was slugging, either, slugging just .415. Flores could certainly develop into an All-Star caliber hitter, but his lack of plate discipline could also catch up to him. He wouldn’t be the first prospect to have that happen. His super-accelerated timetable also makes Flores somewhat hard to judge against his peers. Oh well; just accept that any number of things could happen to him based on the positive and negative signs, and be aware he’s someone to watch, as Flores certainly could be an elite MLB player if things break right.
#82.) Randal Grichuk, OF, Angels (Low-A)—Grichuk is similar to Flores in some ways—an impatient hitter with a good batting average and a high prospect profile. He already has more power than Flores—he slugged .525 in Low-A, after all—but Grichuk, who was born a week after Flores, was a level below the Mets prospect and is already an outfielder. Like any 18-year-old who slugs .500 in full-season ball, he’s worth watching, as that’s no mean feat, but it remains to be seen if Grichuk can develop the K/BB ratio necessary to be a top-flight MLB outfielder. 50/9 marks like last year’s will only cut it for so long.
#81.) Brandol Perez, LHP, Mariners (Rookie)—Perez has the distinction of being the only player on this list that has yet to play US ball.
What did he do down in the Dominican that was so special, you ask? Try a 0.19 ERA.
That’s one earned run in 48 1/3 innings. That sort of thing doesn’t happen often, and Perez didn’t turn 17 until last month, so he was young for the DSL as well. With a 68/14 K/BB ratio, he’s got the peripherals to back up the shiny ERA (okay, his FIP is 1.26), and he’s a big, projectable lefty who already throws in the upper 80’s at his young age. He uses a hammer curveball as his out pitch, has a decent slider, and his changeup is further along than those of most DSL pitchers.
We’ll find out more about Perez’s abilities next year when he comes to America, and like most of the low-level guys on this list, he could make this ranking look silly in either a positive or negative direction in two years. But if there’s any DSL/VSL prospect casual prospect followers need to know about right now, Perez is the guy.