TWiP (10/7): The Top 100 MLB Prospects 2010: #70-61

Welcome to the October 7, 2010 edition of This Week in Prospects!

In this, the fourth installment of my top 100 prospects list (not counting the intro), we’ll be looking at prospects 70-61, including the one 2010 draftee who made an impact in the majors, three toolsy outfielders, and a bunch of possible #2 starters. We’ll also look at a 26-year-old catcher who spent most of the year in Double-A. Why is he on the top 100 list, and ahead of an outfielder many rank among the best prospects in baseball? Read on!

Previous installments:

Intro/Honorable mentions (please read this if you haven’t)
#100-91
#90-81
#80-71

#70.) Alex White, RHP, Indians (AA)—Like #71 prospect Dustin Ackley, White is a 2009 first-rounder (15th overall, in his case), who put up solid but unspectacular numbers in the upper minors just a year out of college. A 2.25 ERA in Double-A at age 21 is great, particularly in a pitcher’s first pro season. The 6.42 K/9 is problematic, though; it’s pretty tough to turn into a front-of-the-line starter in the majors when your Double-A whiff numbers don’t impress. Still, White throws a good low-90’s heater and two good offspeed offerings, so he could be a poor man’s Dan Haren and a fine #2/#3 starter for a playoff team.

#69.) Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox—The only reliever to make this list, Sale dominated almost straight out of college, uncorking his fastball with an average velocity of 96.4 mph and showing two good offspeed pitches. It’s tough to know what to do with him, though—guys like Joba Chamberlain and Neftali Feliz, initially brought up as relievers to “get experience before they start in the majors,” often wind up staying in the bullpen if they dominate like this, and Sale’s upside takes a big hit if he doesn’t wind up starting, not to mention the fact that he hasn’t been professionally tested as a starter. So, there’s any number of possible outcomes here, from a stud lefty closer like Billy Wagner to a stud lefty starter like David Price to a flameout like Andrew Miller.

#68.) Christian Friedrich, LHP, Rockies (AA)—Friedrich took a definite step back in 2010, losing over 3 K/9 from 2009 while dealing with one nagging injury after another. Now 23 and still without any track record of dominating the upper minors, the chances that Friedrich becomes an ace are dwindling, particularly in light of the multiple injuries. Still, we’re talking about a lefty with low-90’s heat, arguably the best curve in the minors, and two other good pitches. Since he dominated in 2008-09, give Friedrich something of a mulligan for 2010; there’s still ace potential here, but Friedrich is no longer a safe bet to turn into the next incarnation of 2002 Barry Zito.

#67.) Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins (Low-A)—It seems as though just about every list of prospects out there has Hicks much higher than this; he and Dustin Ackley are probably the two farmhands who I rank lowest compared to the mainstream opinion.

Hicks didn’t even make my top 100 last year thanks to mediocre Low-A numbers that didn’t jive with his scouting reports at all. He repeated the level this year and hit .279/.401/.428, which certainly puts him on the list—I believe in the guy much more than I did last year. Still, it’s telling that Hicks was the rare top prospect to repeat a level, and at 21 and just heading into High-A, he’s not some sort of prodigy.

Hicks is a gifted center fielder with good patience at the plate who could regularly put up upper-.300s OBPs in the majors, but the rest of his game is a work in progress. He struck out 26.5% of the time last year, and only hit eight homers; either the power needs to come or the strikeouts need to come down. Hicks also was just 21-for-32 in steals and doesn’t seem to be the sort to be a huge threat in that area either.

This isn’t to be too negative on Hicks: he’s a fine prospect and a potential .280/.380/.420 hitter with Gold Glove defense; I just feel like it’s important to point out what makes my opinion of him differ so much from many others. Scouts love the guy, so maybe there’s a breakout in here, but it’s worrisome that he’s struggled in so many facets of the game despite so much ability. And hey, if he goes out and rips the cover off the ball, I’ll be more than happy to admit my mistake (see Freeman, Freddie).

#66.) Alex Cobb, RHP, Rays (AA)—The sort of guy who nobody really notices as he cruises through the minors, Cobb improved his stock by whiffing 128 batters in 119 2/3 Double-A innings. It’s not often you see a pitcher whiff over a batter per inning for the first time in Double-A, but that’s exactly what Cobb did—call him the anti-Friedrich. Like Friedrich, though, Cobb has a big curveball that he can throw for strikes; it’s his improvement with his fastball and changeup that led to his 2010 breakout. He won’t make the long-term impact for the Rays that Jeremy Hellickson will, but Cobb has #2 starter potential.

#65.) Joe Wieland, RHP, Rangers (High-A)—Like Cobb, Wieland pitched to contact in the lower minors, but he saw his strikeout rate jump in 2010. In his case, the whiff increase came after a midseason promotion from Low-A to High-A, and there’s certainly never a better time for a prospect to start missing bats than when he hits the Cal League.

What sets Wieland apart, like Cobb, is his impeccable control, as he walked just ten batters in his 59 Cal League innings to go with the 62 whiffs. He keeps his low-90’s heater in the bottom of the zone and pairs it with a hard breaking ball and a solid changeup. As with Cobb, that isn’t the sort of pitcher who fits best at the front of a rotation, but works great as a second fiddle to a flashier ace (Martin Perez?).

#64.) Rashun Dixon, OF, Athletics (Low-A)—People love to talk about Aaron Hicks, but Dixon is a very similar player, and he gets very little hype in prospect circles. Dixon hit .275/.371/.383 in the Midwest League, to Hicks’ .279/.401/.428, but Dixon is a year younger and was getting his first crack at the level (after flopping in short-season the year before, no less). A projectable outfielder with solid defensive ability, Dixon, like Hicks, needs to cut the strikeouts (30.4%), but flashes impressive plate discipline for his age and experience. Expect Hicks to have slightly more speed and defense, while Dixon has a better shot at being a 20-HR guy. Both should be above-average MLB outfielders.

#63.) Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers (AA)—Another toolsy outfielder, Robinson falls ahead of Dixon and Hicks in the ranks because he’s proven himself at Double-A and thus has a shorter distance to the majors (and fewer things that can go wrong). Robinson hit .297/.401/.434 in Double-A last year, losing some of the pop from his Cal League showing in 2009 (.306/.375/.500) but adding some plate discipline. Yet again, whiffs are a problem (28.6%), but Robinson projects to be a better basestealer than Hicks or Dixon, with 37 swipes last year. He could be a valuable all-around contributor.

#62.) Johermyn Chavez, OF, Mariners (High-A)—It’s always annoying to deal with Cal League hitters in prospect rankings, so it’s tough to know if Chavez’s 32 homers are for real. But he gets bonus points for 1) whiffing less than once a game and 2) being 21 years old, younger than fellow Cal League sluggers Rich Poythress and Paul Goldschmidt. With his combination of plus power and decent hitting skills and athleticism, Chavez could be a Carlos Lee-type player if everything breaks right for him.

#61.) Robinson Chirinos, C, Cubs (AAA)—As someone who takes age into account a lot, and perhaps excessively, in these rankings, it’s really difficult to put a 26-year-old who spent most of 2010 in Double-A in this spot. But what else could I do? Chirinos hit .314/.409/.576 in Double-A and then .345/.419/.582 in Triple-A…and he’s a catcher. He rarely strikes out, owns plus power, solid plate discipline, and a strong arm behind the plate. Heck, the guy even can help out as an extra infielder—he used to play shortstop early in his career. With essentially no flaws in his game (okay, except for going 1-for-6 on the bases this year), Chirinos could be an extremely dangerous offensive catcher, and basically forced me to rank him here despite his advanced age.

Topics: Aaron Hicks, Alex Cobb, Alex White, Chris Sale, Christian Friedrich, Joe Wieland, Johermyn Chavez, Rashun Dixon, Robinson Chirinos, Trayvon Robinson

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