It is time to get started with our league top 10′s. We will not do short season or rookie leagues, but will do Lo-A through AAA. First off, the Midwest League. This was not a top year for talent in the Midwest League, but there are always a handful of guys here to keep an eye on. To qualify for the list a hitter must have 200 PA’s and a pitcher must have thrown 75IP.
1. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners
I spent a decent amount of time debating whether to put Walker or Sampson here. Both pitchers are very talented and had strong years, but after some thought, Walker is clearly ahead. What sets Walker ahead is his impressive 12-6 curveball and a more smooth delivery. Both the curve and mid to high-90′s fastball project as plus pitches and he has made progress on a changeup. His numbers were consistent all season, post an ERA of 2.89 and punching out 113 hitters in just over 95IP. Walker is an outstanding athlete and has made large progress in a year. He still needs consistency with his control and his secondary pitches will need to make some progress. He will not be an ace, but I could see Walker as a no. 2 starter.
2. Keyvius Sampson, RHP, Padres
Sampson had a strong year in Fort Wayne, posting an ERA of 2.90 and an impressive 143 K’s in 118IP. He features a stron mid-90′s fastball and a good changeup. His changeup is also solid, but both that and the curve are going to need some work before Sampson reaches AA. Mechanically, Sampson is not terrible, but his motion can get ‘whippy’ at times. Sampson made progress in every area asked of him this season, including a full year healthy. He had shoulder issues in the past which will always be a concern, but has had no significant problems in almost two years. Walker and Sampson have similar upside, but Walker has shown to be a bit further along at the moment.
3. Jake Marisnick, OF, Blue Jays
Though he is playing CF now, do not expect Jake Marisnick to be anchoring that spot when he reaches the bigs. At 6-4 200 lbs. Marisnick will be moving to RF at some point in the near future. Despite the positional issue, Marisnick was nothing short of outstanding in Lansing this season. He displayed all 5-tools, with a line of .320/.392/.496 and 37 stolen bases. In some time with the Lugnuts last season, Marisnick struck out frequently, but showed great improvement by striking out less than 100 times in a full season. As he fills out his frame, expect the stolen bases to decrease, but 20 a year is very reasonable. Though Marisnick looked over-matched at times last year, that was not the case in a full season of Midwest League baseball.
4. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers
Castellanos is, like many 19 yr olds in Lo-A, a project. The important thing is that he held his own and impressed in areas. Castellanos has a very smooth swing that impressed me at the All-American Game at Wrigley Field two years ago. He will hit 20+ homers and close to 40 doubles every year. It is always good to see a teenager hit above .300 (Castellanos hit .312) but he will need to cut down the 130 K’s if he expects that high of an average in the future. I expected a little more power out of Castellanos, but the MWL is a pitcher-friendly league. He will need to work at cutting down the strikeouts, but the future is certainly bright for Castellanos.
5. Matt Szczur, OF, Cubs
When the Cubs drafted Szczur in the 5th rounds last year, many considered it a steal. Szczur did nothing to change that belief in Peoria. He posted a .314/366/.431 line, showing exactly what you would expect out of a leadoff hitter. Szczur struck out in a mere 10% of ABs and walked nearly as many times as he K’d. He has a great approach at the plate, has shown to be efficient on the bases and will be able to play an outstanding CF. Moving forward, Szczur will need to prove he can do what he did in Peoria, as he moves up the minors. He struggled some in Daytona, but will get a chance to prove himself again in April. If all goes well, Szczur could be leading off and anchoring CF for the Cubs for a while.
6. Billy Hamilton, SS, Reds
This kid has speed that rivals Usain Bolt. In Dayton, Billy Hamilton stole 103 bases! That is nothing short of jaw-dropping. On top of that he was only caught 20 times, giving him a success rate above 83%. Unfortunately, everything else about Hamilton is less impressive. He posted a line of .278/.340/.360, which is not something to write home about. Moreover, he struck out 133 times and will need to make a significant cut to that number moving forward. He is a switch-hitter and has a decent swings from both sides, but must be more selective with his pitches. While his range at short is well above average, his arm strength has been cause for concern. Ultimately, I feel Hamilton will remain at short because his range is going to be near impossible to ignore. The upside for Hamilton is there. Even if he does not make the strides necessary to be an above average player, there is always demand for somebody with game-changing speed.
7. Daniel Corcino, RHP, Reds
Despite his small frame, Corcino displays a power fastball. The 5-11 right-hander had a strong season in Dayton, posting an ERA of 3.42 and a K/BB of just under 5/1. Corcino has a mid-90′s fastball, coupled with a promising slider. He needs to make progress with a changeup to avoid the bullpen in the future. He punched out an impressive 156 hitters in less than 140IP. Corcino, too, has a ‘whippy’ motion and frequently loses his balance while on the mound. This is always a concern and something that needs to be addressed. The upside for Corcino is there, but he has things to work on to avoid the bullpen in the future.
8. Drew Hutchison, RHP, Blue Jays
There may not be a more intelligent pitcher in minor league baseball than Drew Hutchison. He truly gets the most out of his talent. When you look at his pitches, you would probably see a back of the rotation starter. Then you see 171 K’s in 150IP, and think otherwise. The strikeouts, coupled with a nearly 5/1 K/BB make Hutchison a formidable prospect. His fastball sits around 90 to go with a decent slider and change. Hutchison may never have a true swing and miss pitch, but he has made some look foolish in Lo-A. He spent some time in AA, where he showed the same dominance and will be back there to start next season.
9. Cory Spangenberg, 2B, Padres
Spangenberg is the only 2011 draftee to make the list. He has a very impressive left-handed swing and was considered one of the top pure hitters in this years draft. Spangenberg impressed in the Northwest League, but showed room for improvement with the TinCaps. Spangenberg has plenty of speed and significant range at 2B. He will never hit for much power, so a guy like Spangenberg will need to hit .300 and have a solid OBP to make up for it. Unfortunately, his K numbers have been a significant concern, striking out over 20% of the time in the MWL. That is the most important number moving forward and something that will need to be addressed if Spangenberg expects to be a big-league 2B.
10. Garrett Gould, RHP, Dodgers
Gould struggled at times in the minors last season, but did not face many issues with a 2.40 ERA in 123 IP. He features a strong curve and a solid fastball. Currently sitting in the low-90′s, Gould still has room to add velocity as he fills out his 6-4 frame. He has not shown what it takes to be a top starter, but Gould is making progress towards becoming a mid-rotation guy. He will need to continue to improve his command moving forward.