Prospects to Watch Part III

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If
the three days of prospects we’ve featured on this blog (part 1 is here and
part 2 is here), this is absolutely the best group. Must be something about
high-in-the-alphabet teams loading up on minor league talent (hey, it holds in
the Grapefruit League, too… Tampa Bay has the best set of prospects over there
and, probably, in all of baseball).

There
are some legitimate future All-Stars on this list — Neftali Feliz, Buster
Posey, Michael Taylor, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak. Get a good look at them
now.

As
I’ve noted before, if a player is on a Spring Training roster, and appears on
two of the Top 100 (or 101) lists posted by Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein and
Baseball America, we’re giving you a heads up.

Check
out those three lists for yourself here:

Goldstein:
http://baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=10142

Law:
http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/insider/columns/story?columnist=law_keith&id=4856310

Baseball
America:
http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/rankings/top-100-prospects/2010/269546.html

Next
week, I’ll reprint the entry from the Spring Training edition of D-backs
Insider featuring Arizona prospects, perhaps with a quick look at how players
are doing so far.

Oakland Athletics
(March 12 in Tucson, March 18 in Phoenix)

Michael
Taylor

Goldstein:
20 – - – Law: 24 – - – BA: 29

There
is some debate, as you can see from the rankings, of which huge slugger should
be first in the Oakland rankings, the 6-foot-6 Taylor or the 6-foot-4 Chris
Carter. There is little debate that they both profile as middle-of-the-order
bats down the road, so they’re the type of prospects worth checking out at
Spring Training. Camp out on the outfield grass and hope to catch a home run.
Law gives the edge to Taylor because he’s more of a total athlete than the more
prototype slugger Carter. Says Law, “a good corner outfielder who hits
.300-plus with lots of walks and doubles and 15-20 homers is an above-average
player and not far below star caliber.”

Chris
Carter

Goldstein:
11 – - – Law: 33 – - – BA: 28

Carter
is more of your run-of-the-mill American League first base/DH type, and he
could wind up in the DH spot down the road. The D-backs sent Carter to Oakland
in the Dan Haren deal back when he was a little more raw in Single-A. In
addition to the home runs, his walk total his risen every year of his career,
which is a good sign for a power guy. Says Goldstein, “He made impressive
adjustments against more advanced pitching to close up some holes in his swing,
reducing his strikeout rate as the season wore on, leaving most to believe
he’ll hit for average as well.”

 

Grant
Green

Goldstein:
86 – - – Law: 93 – - – BA: 52

The
Athletics’ first-round pick out of USC in 2009 could be a quick riser.
Shortstop isn’t a position where the Athletics are loaded at either the Major
League or minor league levels, so he can earn his way up. He only played five
games at High-A last year, so there isn’t much of a statistical sample to look
at. He’s pretty big for a shortstop at 6-foot-3, so we’ll see if he sticks
there.

 

San Diego Padres
(March 22 in Tucson, March 29 in Peoria)

Simon
Castro

Goldstein:
47 – - – Law: 46 – - – BA: 57

Castro
took some big steps forward in 2009. With a promotion to full-season Single-A,
he went 10-6 with a 3.33 ERA in the Midwest League, but even more impressively,
improved his strikeout numbers and significantly improved his walk rate. Castro
throws hard and has three good pitches, so he’ll be fun to see if you catch him
before he’s reassigned. Says Law, “Castro led the Midwest League in strikeouts
in 2009, and while he wasn’t young for the level, his arsenal is legit and will
play at higher levels.”

 

James
Darnell

Goldstein:
64 – - – Law: NA – - – BA: 90

The
Padres’ second round pick in 2008 slugged his way through the Midwest League
before earning a promotion to High-A midway through last year. He was a little
old for the league, hence his muted prospect status, but he’s definitely a
player worth keeping an eye on. Says Goldstein, “His plate discipline is
big-league ready, and he’s an adept hitter with above-average power and a feel
for contact rarely found in a slugger.”

I
was really hoping to get a look at outfielder Jaff Decker, a local product from Sunrise Mountain High School in
Peoria. Strangely, the player Decker sometimes gets compared to physically because
of his boxy shape (he’s 5-foot-10, 190 pounds) and power from the left side of
the plate is Matt Stairs, and the 42-year-old Stairs is actually in Padres
camp. Interesting. Anyway, it looks like we’ll wait until next year for Decker.

 

San Francisco Giants
(March 21 in Tucson)

Buster
Posey

Goldstein:
9 – - – Law: 4 – - – BA: 7

Prospects
don’t really come much bigger than Posey. The much-talked-about young catcher
is getting a good look this month after playing at the big league level and in
the Arizona Fall League last year. He bludgeoned High-A and Triple-A last year,
batting .325 with 62 walks (and only 68 strikeouts), 18 home runs and 31
doubles. Posey actually got in some time at first base against the D-backs out
in Scottsdale earlier this Spring. The Giants seem to be giving him as many
innings as they can to determine whether he’ll be at Triple-A to start the year
or in the big leagues, splitting time with Benjie Molina.

 

Madison
Bumgarner

Goldstein:
21 – - – Law: 28 – - – BA: 14

Bumgarner
is fighting for a rotation spot after making his big league debut last season. Talk
of him losing velocity has become so commonplace that there seems to be some
genuine debate over whether it’s an issue the team should worry about, or
whether it’s simply a natural case of finding a velocity to maintain over the
course of a full game and a full season. Either way, he’s definitely one of the
best lefty prospects in the game, and you’ll almost certainly see him in the
Majors this year. Says Goldstein, “When he’s on, Bumgarner can be electric,
touching 95-96 mph with a fastball that earns as much praise for its movement
as its velocity. He’ll show an excellent power breaking ball at times, and
earns high praise for his aggressive, fearless style.”

 

Seattle Mariners (March
15 in Tucson, March 20 in Peoria)

Dustin
Ackley

Goldstein:
12 – - – Law: 8 – - – BA: 11

While
Stephen Strasburg was the talk of the draft last summer, Ackley was the best
position player of the lot, and went to the Mariners with the No. 2 pick. Like
Strasburg and fellow first-round draftee Mike Leake (who faced Ackley’s North
Carolina Tar Heels in the College World Series, by the way), Ackley made his
pro debut in the Arizona Fall League. He was undaunted, it seemed, by the
advanced level of the players in the league, batting .315 with a .412 on-base
percentage in 20 games.

 

Michael
Saunders

Goldstein:
62 – - – Law: 74 – - – BA: 30

Saunders
made his debut with the big league club in 2009, but to contribute more to the
team in 2010 he’ll have to get through the Mariners’ glut of outfield/DH types,
including Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, Ken Griffey, Milton Bradley and Eric
Byrnes. He’s been a good on-base type player throughout his minor league
career, posting a .364 OBP in 438 games, and showed some good power in 64
Triple-A games last year. Says Goldstein, “Saunders is a big, athletic
outfielder with plenty of upside. He’s combines plus raw power with good speed,
and his quick, compact swing gives him more contact ability than most with his
profile.”

 

Texas Rangers (March
14 in Surprise, March 30 in Tucson)

Justin
Smoak

Goldstein:
17 – - – Law: 9 – - – BA: 13

They
like Smoak enough that they went ahead and gave him a real big league jersey
number (12) in camp. Take note anybody who plays in an AL-only fantasy league
or even a deep regular league – there’s a decent chance you’ll be seeing him
play for Texas this year. Says Law, “Smoak is a very disciplined hitter with
similar swings from the left and right sides, centering the ball extremely well
and showing power to pull and to the opposite field.”

 

Neftali
Feliz

Goldstein:
3 – - – Law: 13 – - – BA: 9

The
rare pitcher whose fastball reaches an MPH number higher than the temperature
numbers in a Texas summer, Feliz made his big league debut in 2009 and was as crazy
dominant as advertised. He’s a Major Leaguer now, so he’ll definitely still be
with the Rangers at the end of this month in Tucson. In his first 12 big league
outings, Feliz threw 22 innings, gave up one run (that’s a 0.41 ERA), and
struck out 28 batters while walking one. Yikes! Says Goldstein, “In shorter
stints out of the pen, Feliz was utterly dominant, with his normally mid-90s
fastball suddenly sitting at 96-98 and touching 101 mph. He makes the velocity
look effortless with a free and easy delivery.”

 

Tanner
Scheppers

Goldstein:
68 – - – Law: 78 – - – BA: 42

After
being picked by Pittsburgh in the second round in 2008, Scheppers didn’t sign
and wound up going to Texas in the first round last year. Between the drafts,
he started four games with the independent St. Paul Saints, putting up pretty
good numbers (1-1, 3.32 ERA, 20 Ks in 19 innings). Scheppers didn’t play in the
Rangers system until the Arizona Fall League last year, when he pitched 11
innings out of the bullpen. Dallas Morning News reporter Evan Grant wrote on
Twitter
that Scheppers was regularly hitting 96-plus MPG in his first spring
outing. 

If
you could make it to the back fields, this is a team where their minor league
camp might be as much — or more — fun to watch as big league camp. This organization
is just overrun with great prospects.

 

I’m
not sure I’ve ever used this blog to pump up the Arizona Fall League before,
but this entry is a good place to start. Nearly all of these guys have Fall
League experience and, as I noted above, Scheppers and Ackley actually made
their professional debuts there. It’s like watching a minor league All-Star Game
every day there.

 

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