Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Midseason Top 150 Prospects

Monday, July 21, 2008

Up this week is the Midseason Top 150 Prospects article. With one exception (Taylor Teagarden is expected to be sent down this week), only those prospects currently in the minors and with future rookie eligibility still intact qualify for the list below. Also, I'm not including any 2008 draftees. As a result, this list is a whole lot weaker than the preseason one. Anyone not moving up is definitely moving down.

Writeups are included for the top 25. Beginning Tuesday, I'll write up five additional prospects per day on the blog.

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2008 Midseason Top 150 Prospects

1. David Price - LHP Rays - DOB: 08/26/85 - ETA: Aug. 2008
Previous rankings: 2008 #7

4-0, 1.82 ERA, 28 H, 37/7 K/BB in 34 2/3 IP (A+ Vero Beach)
4-0, 2.03 ERA, 26 H, 25/10 K/BB in 31 IP (AA Montgomery)

That Price went down with an elbow injury before throwing his first professional pitch was more than a little worrisome, but he's been brilliant since returning in late May, and as long as the Rays were being completely upfront in calling the injury a strained muscle, there's no reason to look at him as more of a health concern going forward than the typical 22-year-old pitcher. Price is on his way to showing above average command to go along with his dominant fastball-slider combination, so he could prove to be better than Scott Kazmir. The Rays might add him to their rotation next month.

2. Clayton Kershaw - LHP Dodgers - DOB: 03/19/88 - ETA: Aug. 2008
Previous rankings: 2007 #40, mid-2007 #9, 2008 #6

2-3, 1.91 ERA, 39 H, 59/19 K/BB in 61 1/3 IP (AA Jacksonville)
0-2, 4.42 ERA, 39 H, 33/24 K/BB in 38 2/3 IP (NL Los Angeles)

Kershaw spent most of 2007 in the Midwest League and walked five batters per nine innings, yet there was a lot of sentiment for giving him a rotation spot coming out of spring training. He went on to receive his first chance in late May and demonstrated that he still wasn't quite ready. Subpar command is the only thing holding him back. With a 95-mph fastball and a curve that's about as nasty as any in baseball, Kershaw has even more upside than Price. He just needs to throw more strikes. Right now, he's about where Chad Billinglsey was in 2006. Clearly, the Dodgers should put him in the pen next spring and sign Brett Tomko to become their fifth starter.

3. Colby Rasmus - OF Cardinals - DOB: 08/11/86 - ETA: May 2009
Previous rankings: 2006 #135, mid-2006 #47, 2007 #27, mid-2007 #11, 2008 #2

.249/.351/.401, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 69/49 K/BB, 13 SB in 313 AB (AAA Memphis)

The belief was that Rasmus had a shot at a starting job this spring and he actually had a big March while vying for the opening in center field, but the Cardinals sent him down anyway and a typically slow start followed. Unfortunately, it took him longer than expected to pull out of it, and after he finally did explode with a .333/.441/.535 line in June, he ended up missing the first 2 ½ weeks of July with a strained groin. Rasmus doesn't lose much ground here, though. He was never a very good bet for major league success this season anyway. He still could have a future as an All-Star after erasing doubts regarding his ability to stay in center field. He should possess 30-homer ability by the time he reaches his prime seasons.

4. Matt Wieters - C Orioles - DOB: 05/21/86 - ETA: June 2009
Previous rankings: 2008 #16

.345/.448/.576, 15 HR, 40 RBI, 47/44 K/BB, 1 SB in 229 AB (A+ Frederick)
.361/.439/.569, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11/10 K/BB, 0 SB in 72 AB (AA Bowie)

Drafting aggressively for once, the Orioles grabbed Wieters with the fifth overall selection last year and gave him $6 million to sign just before the Aug. 15 deadline. It could go down as the team's best investment of the decade. Wieters has been even better than anticipated offensively, though he really should have been in Double-A all along, and his defensive reputation wasn't inflated at all. While he probably won't hit for average like this in the majors, he has legitimate 20-25 homer potential and he draws walks at a very good clip. He might already be the best catcher in the organization. However, with Ramon Hernandez signed for 2009 and possessing little trade value, there's no guarantee that he'll open next season in the majors.

5. Matt LaPorta - OF Indians - DOB: 01/08/85 - ETA: Sept. 2008
Previous rankings: 2008 #14

.288/.402/.576, 20 HR, 66 RBI, 63/45 K/BB in 302 AB (AA Huntsville)
.375/.375/.563, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4/0 K/BB in 16 AB (AA Akron)

Baseball teams still aren't allowed to trade draft picks, but the Brewers certainly had their eyes open to the possibility of dealing LaPorta from the moment they made him the seventh overall selection last season. Price, Wieters and perhaps Rick Porcello have to be the only other 2007 first-rounders Cleveland would have looked at as a fair return for CC Sabathia, and all three of them cost much more than LaPorta in the form of a signing bonus. The Indians have left LaPorta in the outfield since picking him up, but he's likely to overtake Ryan Garko next year and establish himself as the team's long-term first baseman. He gives it his all, but he just doesn't have the range to be of much use in left or right. His bat could make him an All-Star in his best years. Besides the obvious 30- to 35-homer power, he possesses a fine eye at the plate that could lead to OBPs in the .380-.400 range.

6. Max Scherzer - RHP Diamondbacks - DOB: 07/27/84 - ETA: Aug. 2008
Previous rankings: mid-2007 #12, 2008 #31

0-0, 2.84 ERA, 16 H, 43/6 K/BB in 25 1/3 IP (AAA Tucson)
0-2, 2.90 ERA, 25 H, 33/14 K/BB in 31 IP (Arizona)

Scherzer was unbelievable in April, amassing a 1.17 ERA in four starts for Tucson. He allowed 12 hits, walked three and struck out 38 in 23 innings. A promotion to the majors followed, and Scherzer continued to impress. However, the Diamondbacks decided they didn't want to use him exclusively as a reliever, and after they sent him down, he hurt his shoulder. He's now missed a month with what the team has called fatigue, but he is expected back soon. Scherzer throws 93-95 mph as a starter and harder as a reliever. His slider is an outstanding strikeout pitch, and he's made definite progress with his change, which should guarantee that he's a starter for the long term. If there's nothing structurally wrong with his shoulder -- and the Diamondbacks don't think there is -- then he could play a big role come August and September. He's on his way to becoming a No. 2 starter.

7. Elvis Andrus - SS Rangers - DOB: 08/26/88 - ETA: 2010
Previous rankings: 2006 #110, mid-2006 #96, 2007 #129, mid-2007 #109, 2008 #30

.291/.350/.346, 1 HR, 39 RBI, 62/24 K/BB, 37 SB in 309 AB (AA Frisco)

Andrus is more than merely holding his own lately. The Texas League's youngest player is hitting .327 in 119 at-bats since returning from a fractured finger last month. He's also swiped 10 bases in his last 10 games. Andrus is still figuring out exactly what he can do on a baseball field. He's on his way to becoming an above average defender at shortstop and his swing is starting to result in fewer grounders and more liners. He's never been one to be blown away by fastballs. With 12 homers in more than 1,400 professional at-bats and just 13 extra-base hits total this year, he still isn't showing any real power. However, that's perfectly acceptable at age 19. At worst, he figures to be good for 10-15 homers per year in the majors by the time he's in his mid-20s. The Rangers will have reason to move Michael Young back to second or to third in 2010.

8. Cameron Maybin - OF Marlins - DOB: 04/04/87 - ETA: May 2009
Previous rankings: 2006 #79, mid-2006 #36, 2007 #18, mid-2007 #6, 2008 #9

.265/.357/.461, 12 HR, 38 RBI, 99/43 K/BB, 17 SB in 306 AB (AA Carolina)

Maybin can go head-to-head with any prospect in the minors when it comes to tools, and it's not like he's failed to perform: he had a 932 OPS in 91 minor league games last year, and he's currently at 818 as a 21-year-old in Double-A. However, his strikeout rate is more of a concern than ever. He's at 99 this year even through he's missed the last 2 ½ weeks with a sore back. Maybin offers 30-homer potential and great defense in center field. However, he may not be a top-of-the-order guy. The speed is there and he does walk quite a bit, but he's going to have a very difficult time hitting for average in the majors as often as he swings and misses. Perhaps it's something that will work itself out over time. By showing more patience with him than expected -- there appeared to be a very good chance that Maybin would be in center field on Opening Day -- the Marlins have given him his best chance of success.

9. Jason Heyward - OF Braves - DOB: 08/09/89 - ETA: 2011
Previous rankings: 2008 #47

.324/.388/.464, 8 HR, 43 RBI, 58/38 K/BB, 15 SB in 336 AB (A- Rome)

The first of four Braves outfield prospects in the top 150, Heyward has displayed legitimate star potential since being selected 14th overall in the 2007 draft. The 18-year-old features an advanced approach at the plate, and he's only going to get stronger. It's reasonable to think he'll have 35-homer seasons in the majors. His speed will probably evaporate with time, but the Braves were already looking at him as a corner outfielder when they drafted him. He handles breaking balls quite well for someone his age, and lefty-lefty matchups have posed him no problems so far. He could start moving quickly next year.

10. Rick Porcello - RHP Tigers - DOB: 12/27/88 - ETA: 2010
Previous rankings: 2008 #17

5-6, 2.97 ERA, 88 H, 53/26 K/BB in 94 IP (A+ Lakeland)

Had money not been an issue, Porcello likely would have been the second or third pick in the 2007 draft. Since it was, he slipped to the Tigers at No. 27. It took a $7.3 million bonus to land him, but the Tigers don't regret it, especially since he's their one top prospect left after the Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria deals. Porcello, though, hasn't been overpowering as a pro. Billed as a mid-90s guy coming out of high school, he's usually been in the 91-94 mph range with his fastball in the FSL. Fortunately, he does get sinking movement on the heater and he has three complimentary pitches, including a plus curveball. Because of his ability to induce grounders, he still appears to possess No. 2-starter ability.

11. Fernando Martinez - OF Mets - DOB: 10/10/88 - ETA: 2010
Previous rankings: mid-2006 #80, 2007 #10, mid-2007 #8, 2008 #12

.462/.500/.692, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2/0 K/BB, 0 SB in 13 AB (R GCL Mets)
.292/.333/.421, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 51/13 K/BB, 5 SB in 233 AB (AA Binghamton)

With a .328 average in 119 at-bats since the beginning of May, it seems like Martinez is starting to get a handle on Double-A pitching. He got off to another slow start in April, and 32 of his 53 strikeouts came in the first month of the season. He's made adjustments versus breaking balls since, and he's collecting a lot of singles as a result. His power stroke isn't there yet at age 19, and it's likely similar adjustment periods are in store when he's promoted to Triple-A and later the majors. However, he remains an elite prospect with All-Star upside. He should possess the power to his 30 homers per year, and he projects as an above average defender in right field.

12. Travis Snider - OF Blue Jays - DOB: 02/02/88 - ETA: Aug. 2009
Previous rankings: 2007 #71, mid-2007 #43, 2008 #24

.279/.333/.557, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 22/5 K/BB, 1 SB in 61 AB (A+ Dunedin)
.263/.337/.454, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 101/32 K/BB, 1 SB in 304 AB (AA New Hampshire)

For a 20-year-old in Double-A, Snider has a nice enough line. However, his strikeout total is even more extreme than Maybin's. He's fanned 123 times in 97 games this year, and he's also walked less frequently as the year has gone on. There's still an awful lot to like about his bat. Snider generates big-time power without resorting to a particularly long swing, and he's not guilty of trying to pull everything. He doesn't offer much on defense or on the basepaths, so his bat will have to carry him, and he'll probably struggle against left-handers early on in his major league career. I had thought he might be ready to assume a lineup spot in Toronto on Opening Day 2009, but it looks like he'll need at least an additional half year in the minors next season.

13. Austin Jackson - OF Yankees - DOB: 02/01/87 - ETA: June 2009
Previous rankings: 2008 #35

.290/.368/.444, 8 HR, 55 RBI, 73/48 K/BB, 14 SB in 383 AB (AA Trenton)

Jackson never could master in the Sally League in a year and a half at the level, but in 163 games at Single-A Tampa and Trenton since his promotion last year, he's hit .312 with 41 doubles, 11 triples and 18 homers. He's also displayed a surprisingly strong walk rate this year. On defense, he has the range to play center and a very good arm. He may eventually need to move to right, but he'll probably be an upgrade over Melky Cabrera with the glove when he arrives in New York. The Yankees could deal Cabrera and let Jackson compete for the job next spring. Look at him as a 20-homer guy with the ability to hit for average.

14. Michael Bowden - RHP Red Sox - DOB: 09/09/86 - ETA: May 2009
Previous rankings: 2007 #97, mid-2007 #35, 2008 #65

9-4, 2.33 ERA, 72 H, 101/24 K/BB in 104 1/3 IP (AA Portland)

Bowden also got off to a great start last year, amassing a 1.37 ERA in eight starts at the extreme offensive environment at Single-A Lancaster, but he was mediocre after a subsequent promotion to Double-A. Eastern League hitters gave him no trouble this year, and he was just moved up to Triple-A last week. There was some concern that Bowden's delivery would lead to arm woes, but he's stayed healthy to date. Bowden has shown 91-95 mph velocity with more consistency this year, and his curveball is as much of a strikeout pitch as ever. He is a flyball pitcher, but since he doesn't walk a lot of batters, the homers he allows should be solo shots. He's shaping up as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

15. Mat Gamel - 3B Brewers - DOB: 07/26/85 - ETA: May 2009
Previous rankings: none

.370/.429/.597, 15 HR, 81 RBI, 74/40 K/BB, 5 SB in 395 AB (AA Huntsville)

Gamel has the stick of a top-10 prospect, but with anything more than batting gloves on his hands, he scarcely resembles a major leaguer. Especially now that LaPorta is gone, the Brewers have good reason to try him in the outfield. While he's a fair enough athlete, there's simply no way he's making it at third base. Gamel's bat should be ready during the first half of next year, assuming that it isn't already. The left-handed hitter makes an awful lot of hard contact and could settle in as a 25-homer guy. He's hit .398 against lefties this year, so it doesn't appear that he'll need to be platooned. The Brewers probably won't be willing to move Corey Hart to center field to make room for him, but he could be the first player called on in the event of an injury next year.

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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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