Getting close now, huh?
It’s time for the ninth installment of my Top 100 Prospect List, as we look at ten guys who could develop into superstars. There’s lots of diversity in this set of ten, including three catchers, several upper-minors and MLB players, and three guys who haven’t even seen full-season ball yet.
Let’s get it rollin’!
Previous installments in the Top 100 Prospect List:
#20.) Jesus Montero, C, Yankees (AAA)—Montero failed to replicate his stunning 2009 numbers after moving up a level to Triple-A, but shook off a slow start to hit a more-than-respectable .289/.353/.517 at age 20. He added some walks and power this year, which is a good sign. Montero is one of the best offensive prospects in the minors, and his MLB-readiness also helps him out on a list like this. However, it’s well-documented that he’s not a plus defensively and may need to move to first base or DH, where his bat would be less spectacular. After all, only 14 batters in all of MLB get to DH on any given night, so you better hit if you’re going to stick there. Montero should hit plenty well enough to play anywhere, but the looming defensive issues, combined with his slightly worse 2010 production, drop him out of the top ten, where I had him last year.
#19.) Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (AAA)—Belt was a 2009 5th-rounder who was looked at as a sort of plus defensive 1B Doug Mientkiewicz type. After one year, it looks like he pairs that excellent defense with one of the most potent bats in the minors. Dropped straight into High-A for his first pro experience, the 22-year-old hit a whopping .381/.491/.626. Double-A pitching also struggled with Belt, who promptly hit .337/.413/.623 after being promoted. He continued to hit well in Triple-A late in the year (.229/.393/.563). With his 23-homer season, Belt showed a lot more pop than anyone expected, and he took a ton of walks while keeping his strikeout level reasonable. He even stole 22 bases. Belt could be the rare first baseman who contributes in all facets of the game—think Derrek Lee in his prime.
#18.) Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees (Short-season-A)—At the tender age of 17 (even this late in the offseason, he hasn’t turned 18 yet), Sanchez bashed his way to a .353/.419/.597 line in Rookie ball, and even turned in a respectable .278/.322/.426 in a late New-York/Penn League cameo. While he’s much less proven than Montero due to his age and level, Sanchez is considered by far the superior defender, and there’s little doubt he’ll stick behind the plate long-term. It’s a bit of a risk to rank such a young and unproven player this high, but Sanchez has a huge ceiling.
#17.) Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds (AAA)—A high 2007 first-rounder, Mesoraco was pretty much written off by the beginning of the 2010 season, as he had just hit .228/.311/.381 in High-A, and had never slugged above .400 or posted a .312+ OBP in his three-year career. What a difference a year makes, I suppose. Mesoraco improved his conditioning and got in better shape, and voila, he suddenly looked like the tools-laden stud he was supposed to be, showing good catcher defense and bashing his way through three levels much like Belt. Mesoraco gets the slight edge over Belt here because he plays a tougher position.
#16.) Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (Rookie)—Sano, like Sanchez, is so young that just about anything can go wrong with him. Still, he was given a huge bonus as the crown jewel of the 2009 Latin American market, and promptly went out and hit .307/.379/.491 across two Rookie ball levels just a month after turning 17. Sano has light-tower power, but does need to refine his approach, which is still fairly raw. Still, he’s well ahead of his age—consider that he could struggle for five straight years and still be just 22—and his ceiling is enormous.
#15.) Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (AA)—I jumped on the “Hosmer is overrated!” bandwagon right as he was drafted, and felt very good about that as he struggled to a .241/.334/.361 line last year. Whoops—he turned around and bashed the lights out in 2010, hitting .354/.429/.545 in High-A and .313/.365/.615 in Double-A, all before turning 21. Hosmer tightened up his strike zone a lot this year—how’s 66 K in 137 G for a power guy?—but still ripped 72 extra-base hits and showed an increased home run stroke in Double-A. He’s also a solid defender at first, and should be a true offensive force.
#14.) Mike Minor, LHP, Braves—Another guy who I never believed in is Minor, who a lot of people wrote off as an overdraft thanks to mediocre stuff. Whoops again—by the end of his first full pro season, the lefty had racked up 40 2/3 impressive big league innings, striking out 43 while walking only 11. His minor league stats were just as good as you’d think for someone with that sort of big league production, but most importantly, Minor showed off more stuff than expected, with a fastball that averages about 91 and a killer changeup. There’s a bit of Johan Santana here, and Minor is now object lesson #2 (the first being Ricky Romero) that maybe we shouldn’t completely write off polished college pitchers with “mediocre stuff” before we actually see what they can do.
#13.) Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals (AAA)—Lots jumped off the Moustakas bandwagon after a putrid .250/.297/.421 2009, but he came out swinging in 2010, hitting .347/.413/.687 in Double-A. His old plate discipline issues resurfaced in Triple-A, but he’s already shown he can rebound from that, and it’s hard to call his .564 Omaha slugging percentage a disappointment. Moustakas’ 36-homer output was an emphatic reminder as to why he was 2007’s 2nd overall pick—he could be an MVP-level star.
#12.) Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates—Like Moustakas, Taillon’s another #2 overall pick—it’s just that he’s from this season. The huge high school righty has yet to make his pro debut, but he’s got a bigtime fastball and two stellar breaking pitches. Were it not for mega-prospect Bryce Harper, Taillon could have easily been the first overall pick thanks to his true ace-level ceiling.
#11.) Jason Knapp, RHP, Indians (Low-A)—I ranked Knapp sixth last year, so while you won’t see him this high on most lists, this is actually a demotion from me. It comes mainly because Knapp missed large part of 2010 due to shoulder trouble, and when he did get back, he was pitching in Low-A, the same level he dominated last year, so the big righty didn’t tell us anything new about his abilities. Still, though, Knapp has a fastball/curve/changeup combo that just about anyone would envy, particularly the heater, which runs up near triple digits on occasion. He’ll still be just 20 in 2011, starting the season out in High-A, so it’s not like he isn’t ahead of the age curve despite the injuries. Knapp showed himself to be in fine form when he did get on the hill last year, striking out a whopping 29 batters in 16 Low-A innings late in the season. Few pitchers have more upside.