The Top 100 MLB Prospects 2010: #80-71

Welcome to the September 30, 2010 edition of This Week in Prospects! This week, we’re continuing the countdown of my top 100 prospect list with prospects 80-71. We’ll look at a couple of Indians and Mariners, as well as an Astros prospect (who knew Houston had those?), two players who rebounded from awful 2009s, and a pitcher who spent much of the year in High-A at age 24.

If you haven’t already, make sure to read the intro/honorable mentions section and the first and second ten prospects on the list.

And in we go…

#80.) Hector Noesi, RHP, Yankees (AAA)—Noesi entered 2010 as a fifth starter prospect in High-A at age 23, but he cruised through three levels this year, mainly thanks to his ability to throw consistent strikes.

Noesi features a fairly pedestrian repertoire—90-93 mph fastball, average curve, average change—but he keeps the ball in the zone and down consistently, leading to constantly miniscule walk and homer totals. It’s the same sort of approach that has turned guys like Matt Cain, Ryan Dempster, Tim Hudson, and Scott Baker into solid major league pitchers, and while Noesi may not be Hudson 2.0, he could be a solid second starter (maybe not for the Yankees though, who have several better pitching prospects, not to mention their lofty standards).

#79.) Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers (AA)—Beltre was considered a bust entering the 2010 season, but showed that label to be premature by pounding the ball at a .331/.376/.460 clip in High-A at age 20. Long an impatient hitter, Beltre failed to improve in that regard, but started making better contact, reducing his strikeout rate. He’s a very good defensive outfielder who stole 18 bases this year.

Beltre did return to his old slumping ways upon hitting Double-A (.254/.301/.357), but at age 20, he was way young for that level and has time to figure it out. He has superstar potential, but the power needs to come, and his plate discipline needs a lot of work.

#78.) J.D. Martinez, OF, Astros (AA)—A late-round 2009 draftee, Martinez ripped the ball apart in short-season ball that year and continued his torrid pace in Low-A this season, batting .362/.433/.598. He possesses a good amount of each hitting tool, with 20-30 homer potential along with good contact skills and solid plate discipline.

Skipping over High-A didn’t faze Martinez, who proceeded to hit .302/.357/.407 in Double-A down the stretch, losing a bit of power but still showing the plus contact and discipline. He isn’t a plus defender in the outfield thanks to knee problems that have bugged him for years, but he’s got enough range to be a solid defender in Houston’s small left field once Carlos Lee leaves.

#77.) Felix Sterling, RHP, Indians (Rookie)—At the tender age of 17, Sterling dominated in the Arizona League, whiffing ten batters per nine innings while keeping his walks reasonable and allowing just two homers in 11 starts. Big and projectable, Sterling features advanced velocity for his age and already touches 94-95 mph at age 17. Both his offspeed pitches are advanced as well, and he could end up a truly dominating force. At age 17, it’s too early to push Sterling much higher on this list, but he’s one of the most intriguing low-level prospects around.

#76.) Austin Hyatt, RHP, Phillies (AA)—We go from Sterling to his polar opposite in Hyatt, a pitcher who spent most of the year in High-A at age 24.

Drafted at age 23 in 2009, Hyatt initially was billed as a relief sleeper, but he was moved to starting when the Phillies discovered he could still crank his fastball into the 90’s as a starting pitcher. Hyatt was pushed to High-A for his first full season due to his advanced age, and he responded by whiffing a whopping 156 batters in 124 1/3 innings, good for 11.29 K/9. He walked just 35 batters and allowed only five homers. Pushed to Double-A late in the year, Hyatt whiffed 25 batters in 22 frames, showing he can still draw swings and misses in the upper minors.

The move to the rotation has worked wonders for Hyatt’s changeup, which now pairs with his slider to give the righty two whiff-generating offerings. Reports on his velocity vary, as he fluctuates from the upper 80’s to low 90’s. He’ll need to get the velocity up more consistently to reach his ceiling.

#75.) Rich Poythress, 1B, Mariners (High-A)—Poythress hit .315/.381/.560 in High-A and showed good strike zone control for a slugger, whiffing just 100 times in 123 games. Still, he’s a 23-year-old first baseman who played half his games in High Desert, so there are certainly some caveats to Poythress’ performance. He could develop into a solid middle-of-the-order bat, but isn’t likely to be a star, like a right-handed Adam LaRoche of sorts.

#74.) Bryan Morris, RHP, Pirates (AA)—Like Beltre, Morris bore the “bust” stigma entering 2010, but also shook it with strong performance. Unlike Beltre, however, Morris kept excelling once moved from High-A (where he put up a 0.60 ERA and 40/7 K/BB in 44 innings) to Double-A. At 23, it was certainly time for the oft-injured former top prospect to turn in a performance like this. He still throws a crisp 91-94 mph fastball and a hammer curveball, and his command has come a long way since his 43/46 K/BB debacle of 2009. If Jameson Taillon can wind up the Pirates ace, maybe Morris can be his sidekick.

#73.) Nick Weglarz, OF, Indians (AAA)—Another slugger type, Weglarz beats out Poythress because he spent much of the year two levels higher despite being four months younger, and he plays a more difficult position. Weglarz doesn’t have much defensive value either—he’s a passable left fielder, and that’s it—but he’s essentially Jack Cust with fewer strikeouts, and that’s valuable.

#72.) Deryk Hooker, RHP, Cardinals (High-A)—Hooker isn’t brought up much when discussing top pitching prospects, but he’s sneaking into the conversation thanks to a fantastic 2010 split between both A-ball levels. He posted a 2.40 FIP in Low-A and kept it at 2.55 in High-A, thanks to a 90-94 mph fastball, plus curve, and solid changeup. At just 21 years old and set to start 2011 in Double-A, Hooker’s ahead of his timetable despite dealing with a 50-game drug suspension in 2009. He’s got a similar repertoire to Adam Wainwright, which should make Cardinals fans giddy.

#71.) Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners (AAA)—Some prospects are easier to rank than others. Weglarz, for example, is a pretty standard-issue walks and power guy. Others are more difficult because of their unusual circumstances. Ackley is certainly one of the toughest to rank in this year’s list.

On the surface, he’s a 22-year-old defensively-challenged second baseman who hit .260/.386/.381 in Double-A and .274/.338/.439 in Triple-A. Hardly top 100 material, right?

But, of course, he’s a former #2 overall pick who was dropped straight into Double-A, with a position switch from first base to second base on top of that. Ackley was miserable early in the year before picking himself up and turning in respectable numbers. Thanks to his pedigree and turnaround, many people rank Ackley much higher than this.

I’m splitting the difference. The big question here is whether Ackley holding his own early in his pro career means he’ll explode now that he has experience, or simply continue in this path. If he explodes, we’re talking about a stud leadoff hitter who’s always on base: a .310/.410/.450 type hitter. If not, then Ackley’s probably just a workmanlike starter a la Mike Fontenot, which is hardly interesting. I do worry about his K/BB going from 41/55 in Double-A to 38/20 in Triple-A. Sure, his power went up, but that’s largely due to the difference in environments. After one year of pro ball, there’s still a slew of directions Ackley’s career could go. It may not be until 2013 before the Mariners can truly know what they have in him.

Topics: Austin Hyatt, Bryan Morris, Deryk Hooker, Dustin Ackley, Engel Beltre, Felix Sterling, Hector Noesi, J.D. Martinez, Nick Weglarz, Rich Poythress

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  • http://www.climbingtalshill.com Evan

    Great article. I just wrote about J.D. Martinez tonight over at climbingtalshill.com. He was just named Houston’s Minor League Player of the Year in his second pro season after being a 20th round pick. I can’t wait to see him in the pros. His plate discipline is ridiculous.

    Great analysis on Ackley too. I can’t imagine 2013 was the eta in mind when the Mariners took a college player most scouts were calling the closest to ‘major league ready’ in the whole draft.

    • http://bleacherreport.com/users/10925-nathaniel-stoltz Nathaniel Stoltz

      Thanks!

      I actually saw Martinez in person last year when he played for Tri-City. Nice, smooth swing and a real max-effort player who stood out. Obviously, he’s delivered on his promise in 2010.

      I don’t think 2013 is Ackley’s ETA: I meant that more in the sense of it being the first time we’ll really know what sort of major leaguer he’ll be. Since he’s already had a decent half-year in AAA, and the Mariners need offense, he could actually be up early next year.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • http://www.climbingtalshill.com Evan

        Oh, I got ya. Sorry, I misunderstood that. Yeah, I would expect to seem him Seattle before too long just for the fact they have no one who can hit outside of Ichiro.

  • ryan

    After an abysmal start, Ackley tore up AA in his first taste of full-season pro ball. He then held his own in AAA, and performed well in the playoffs.

    Like you stated, the M’s dropped him in the deep end of the pool. He’s tackling a new position- first time ever- and handling the switch to wood bats. Did you expect him to deliver Engel Beltre High-A type numbers?

    Your ranking of Ackley is a prime example of results-based analysis. Same with Poythress. Same with most of these players.

    I enjoy your write-ups, but your ranking of Ackley is probably way off. Why go out on a limb for the sake of going out on a limb?

    • http://bleacherreport.com/users/10925-nathaniel-stoltz Nathaniel Stoltz

      This is why I hate it when people get caught up in the numerical rankings instead of my actual analysis. Ackley has a chance to be a star. He also has a chance to not be a star.

      A strict results-based analysis would mean Ackley probably isn’t on the list. There’s very little special in his 2010 numbers, and he wasn’t particularly young for his levels.

      There are two sides of Ackley here:
      1.) A defensively challenged 22-year-old second baseman with average numbers in the upper minors.
      2.) A player who was rushed and jerked around defensively and still managed to hold his own in the upper minors immediately.

      The question is, how much do we discount his merely average performance for those reasons? We can’t truthfully say how much it really affected him. If you think it was a huge deal, then sure, you throw him way up the rankings. If you think it wasn’t, you don’t rank him at all. I split the difference and acknowledged the possibilities–what more do you want? Me blindly saying that Mariner prospects are destined for great things? That’s not what I do.

      As for Poythress’ analysis, when you’re a slugging first baseman, performance is pretty much the name of the game, no? He’s not projectable, he plays the easiest position to play, and he has a fairly typical profile for that position. Only real wrinkle there is that annoying High Desert environment.

    • Wally Fish

      I don’t think Nathaniel’s ranking of Ackley or Poythress is results based at all. There are enough scouts and experts that have questions about both players that a healthy dose of skepticism is certainly warranted.

      When you are talking about a top-100 list anyone between 40-100 (maybe even anyone after the top-25) is largely interchangeable depending on what you as a scout, fan or passerby find relevant and important. It’s all about perspective and just listing a player in a top-100 list says a lot about their future in the game.

      I personally am not bullish on either Ackley or Poythress so placing both of them in the 2nd half of a top 100 list is certainly warranted.

  • ryan

    They are results based, though. Poythress is top eighty because of his stats. Ackley plummets down the list because of his lack of stats.

    Firstly, how is not ranking Ackley at all even an option? That’s pure nonsense, as it completely disregards potential.

    When it comes to ranking Ackley, the choices are either: A. rank him like you did if you think he’s overrated. B. Rank him top 10-15 if you think he’s the same potential all-star he was a year ago.

    And while calling the man defensively challenged might be accurate at this moment, it’s basically irrelevant. Give him another year or two at second to prove himself either way, (it’s the first time in his life he’s played there!). Also, try to maintain awareness that he’s a great left fielder the minute the M’s want to switch him back.

    If you want to “split the difference” between what scouts pretty much agree on and a worst case scenario, enjoy your freedom. I don’t see the point in it. I think it’s lazy.

    By your rationale, any highly regarded college player who doesn’t dominate his first year in the minors loses a good portion of his promise. Doesn’t that sound a little trigger happy to you? You know, getting all Fontenot on Ackley, or Pedro Alvarez? How far are you going to drop Aaron Hicks and his slooooow progress?f Martin Perez didn’t look all that great this year; how far are you going to sink that turd? He wasn’t nearly as good as Mauricio Robles was at the same level and he’s only one year younger; shouldn’t he slip down into the bottom thirty of your top 100? No? Oh, why not? Because of potential? And where is Robles? Probably not on the list. Why not? Because of potential.

    Martin Perez’s potential isn’t nearly as predictable as Ackley’s.

    (I am assuming quite a bit concerning your ranking of Perez. We’ll have to see where he falls on your list)

    As for Poythress, what he did should be expected from a power hitting former college 1B in High Desert. He has so much to prove in AA that ranking him top eighty is capricious at best.

    • http://bleacherreport.com/users/10925-nathaniel-stoltz Nathaniel Stoltz

      Why are you so caught up in a number? The numbers don’t matter very much. What matters is the actual rationale behind them. Do I think Ackley is a potential AS? Sure. Do I think that he’s got some real issues? Yes. Do I feel his rather unique development makes him difficult to judge? Yeah. I’ve admitted he’s tough to rank, and that he could make a #71 ranking look really stupid by 2013. Heck, by next June, if people like you are right.

      Here’s the thing. Projection is great, which is part of the reason why I feel Martin Perez, for example, is one of baseball’s best prospects. But the one “sure thing” we have in our analysis is the numbers. If Ackley hit like he did in April all year, would you be annoyed at me for this? Of course not; those results fly in the face of his potential. We’re also not talking about a projectable guy here with Ackley; he’s a polished college hitter who largely is what he is. Maybe some power potential, but it’s not a situation where he’s raw physically or athletically.

      It essentially boils down to this: You’re either a) convinced his numbers will come up as soon as he’s given 100 games in the same spot and two years at the same position, or b) thinking a) is possible, but until the breakout happens, reserving judgment. Sometimes the guy does break out, and when he does, I don’t hesitate to kick him up the list (see Freeman, Freddie). Other times, the potential goes unrealized, and my skepticism is proven warranted. Prospect analysis is a tough game; you’re never going to win ‘em all.

      And hey, I apply the same rationale to Aaron Hicks, who you’ll see on next week’s list and didn’t even make my top 100 last year. Ackley was 45th last year; he hadn’t signed yet, and I don’t like to rank people very high until they prove something in pro ball. Ackley has yet to prove he’s an elite pro player, so he still isn’t kicked up to the top.

      The difference with Perez is that he’s 19 and in AA (plus, the dude struck out over a batter per inning; that’s hardly “struggling”), so age is a huge, huge factor. If Ackley were 19, he’d probably be in, well, my top 10-15. But if this weren’t his first year in pro ball, he wouldn’t even be on my list.

      As for Poythress, certainly a valid argument for why he shouldn’t be on; I do like the lack of strikeouts for a slugger, though. It helps him stand out from the Paul Goldschmidts of the world.

  • ryan

    I am caught up in a number because I like Ackley, I watch him play, I read his scouting reports, and such, and I think he will be a good MLB player in a short amount of time. Ranking him 71st isn’t like ranking him 35th or 10th. When I think of the 71st best prospect I think about guys without all*star potential, or lower level guys who have to prove they can move up the levels. Wilmer Flores is a 71st best prospect.

    It isn’t fair to Ackley to say he’s a “polished college hitter” than cannot continue to improve upon his hitting skills. He’s 22, not 26. It isn’t just about power, either. He should continue to adjust, and continue to improve upon his plus hit tool. I cannot accept that he’s done progressing as a hitter. Look at all the hitters who continue to get better as they push toward their 30′s. Hundreds of examples. The league is full of them. It’s the natural progression. It comes with experience.

    If you want to wait until Dustin proves he can hit .310/.400/.450 in AAA before you deem him worthy of a top thirty slot- which would be like believing Bill Gates is rich only after he showed you his bank receipt- you probably won’t get your chance. Ackley will be up with the M’s sometime in 2011 and will likely never see another top 100 prospect list.

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