There is a terrifyingly good amount of Top 25-level talent in the International League, with the potential for more very soon. While there is definitely a greater amount of hitters listed here, the pitching featured in the IL was nothing to scoff at.
Our other Top 10 lists….
- Julio Teheran, RHP (Braves): If not for Matt Moore’s utter dominance of the minor leagues, Teheran would be an easy choice as the top minor league pitching prospect. With a low-to-high 90s fastball that he commands way too well for a 20 year old and two offspeed pitches that are already prepared for major league hitting, all he needs is a little more time to mature. He definitely has the stuff to strike guys out, and knows how to approach hitters the right way; his AAA run this year shows that. Through 144 innings Teheran struck out 122 and walked 48 with a strong curveball and late-fading changeup. A little more feel for his offspeed stuff will likely take him a long way, as he can already lean on his fastball to get strikes and get weak contact.
- Devin Mesoraco, C (Reds): One of the top two catching prospects in all the minors, Mesoraco has shown improved patience and solid power this year to go along with already valuable defense. In his 120 games at AAA, the .289/.371/.484 line doesn’t completely jump off the page at you, but he has continued to show consistent power and defense from one of the most important positions on the diamond. The reviews on his defense are still good, though he will need to work to keep his value behind the plate. Mesoraco’s decreased caught stealing percentage is a bit of a concern as his strong arm should be capable of better numbers. No one has really thought of him having a tough time staying at catcher in the future, but he still has things about his defensive game that need refinement, like any young backstop. The 23 year old’s bat speed and eye should most likely make him an above-average offensive catcher. He just needs to maintain his all-around game behind the plate to make the entire package worth it. Mesoraco has yet to show that he could hit enough to be a valuable 1st baseman.
- Desmond Jennings, OF (Rays): The talented outfielder seemed deserving of a call up all year long and did eventually get it, but managed to play well in AAA in the meantime. Statistically speaking he didn’t do anything all that impressive this year, collecting 34 extra base hits (12 HRs) and 17 steals (1 caught) through 89 games, walking 45 times against 78 strikeouts. For a prospect as highly touted as he, they are somewhat pedestrian numbers, with some suggesting he was pining for a call up. It looks like they were right if you look at how big of an impact he had after joining the major league team. The 24 year old can easily be a strong leadoff candidate on any team as he has good walk totals and great success on the bases, including a Rays team with a number of options already on board. Jennings’ power is not off the charts but his speed is, and the combination of the two makes him likely to pay off quickly at the major league level, even if he doesn’t continuously post great batting averages.
- Jesus Montero, C (Yankees): If the highly-touted New York farmhand managed to show more defensive ability behind the plate, you would have a hard time ranking many players before him. With the power and high average potential in his bat, he would easily be a huge value if his defensive abilities were a certain, positive element of his game. As it stands now though, it sounds as if there is little chance the Yankees really view him as a legitimate option behind the dish. Montero may get his fair share of games there next year, but I can’t imagine he can have that long of a leash. Either way, his bat should continue to keep him in the lineup as a middle of the order presence with power to everywhere in the park and a strong eye. Montero started the year off on a bad note, so his overall numbers declined (more strikeouts, less walks and extra base hits) compare to last year. On top of that, most noticed that his defense had not improved much, sort of a final nail in the coffin on his defensive reputation. Keep an eye out during spring training though, as I doubt the Yankees are already completely abandoning him as a catching project (yes, project, not prospect).
- Jason Kipnis, 2nd (Indians): There will always be a concern with the middle infield prospect and his strikeout totals, but even with him he should manage to be a valuable offensive cog. Kipnis has evolved offensively this season, even if it didn’t sound like many were sold on him being an above-average offensive second baseman coming out of Arizona State. Some players get by on playing beyond their tools while some are just athletic enough to make up for misplays or errors in judgment without making adjustments. The 24 year old seems to do both. He’s improved his stock as a prospect a ton this year, while also working hard to prove that he can have use in the middle infield. Kipnis showed off a strong walk rate (11%) against a manageable K rate (18%) through 92 AAA games, with 37 extra base hits (12 HRs) and 12 steals. His surprising pop and solid speed should keep him in the lineup, although he won’t be the star with huge batting averages or home run totals. Nevertheless, he has plenty of value.
- Mike Minor, LHP (Braves): He certainly didn’t sell every team on his future potential coming out of Vanderbilt, but Minor is doing so now in the Atlanta farm system. While concerns about his velocity existed before, they are non-existent now as the lefty throws all around the low 90s, spotting up a strong fastball and changeup well. Minor’s curve has also gotten a lot of praise, it just needs more work to be a consistently good option for him. More than anything it appears that command will be his biggest issue going forward, as he has been troubled with walks in the past. This year Minor has worked to keep them lower (and he has), and his strikeouts have stayed more or less in the same above-average territory as last year. More often than not his changeup was seen as a weapon coming out of college, and it should continue to be as he evolves as a pitcher. If the command of his curve gets just a little better, he can work it well off of a fastball that he can routinely hit the corners with on most occasions.
- Lonnie Chisenhall, 3rd (Indians): This leans much more on the idea of ranking by sheer potential than the other players on the list, as his 2011 was pretty underwhelming. Chisenhall’s .267/.353/.431 line through 66 games earned him 25 extra base hits (7 HRs) with 28 walks against 47 strikeouts. He dealt with some cold periods at the plate, swing problems, and concussion issues/complications during his time at AAA, but there were not any glaringly negative reports out there on him in 2011. When he’s on, the 23 year old is capable of great average and impressive power from the left side of the plate while maintaining a patient but contact oriented approach. At the very least he should be average defensively at the hot corner if not a good bit better. Next season should make him one to follow as a strong candidate to quietly produce good numbers offensively as long as he stays healthy, which he should if pre-2011 reports mean anything.
- Ryan Lavarnway, C (Red Sox): With the acquisition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the offseason, it didn’t appear as if Boston had much in mind for the 24 year old backstop. Nevertheless, he decided to hit his way up to the big league club with a .295/.390/.612 line (.317 ISO) through 61 games. With legitimate power in the International League, it made him hard to ignore as at least an average defensive catcher. What’s interesting is that his overall numbers were better than years before, but not by any dramatic amount really. He’s always shown off a good amount of power, walks, and average, while keeping his strikeouts at a more-or-less reasonable level. It remains to be seen if he can provide any semblance of upside over the incumbent (who is a good power/ok walks/so-so average guy), but he very well may have hit his way onto the 2012 major league roster.
- Tom Milone, LHP (Nationals): It would be easier to rank the lefty higher if you could convince me that his fastball could keep hitters from sitting on his offspeed stuff through a whole year. While it is not a foregone conclusion that hitters can simply ignore his fastball (because he will spot it right on the corner), higher level hitting will be patient enough to work him over enough times in a season the more they see him. At the moment though, you must give him the benefit of the doubt and trust in what he has done year in and year out during his time in the minors. Especially in 2011, where he threw 148 AAA innings of 3.22 ball (2.24 FIP) striking out 155 and only walking 16, showing off some of the most absurd control seen in a while. Milone’s ability to spot up his mid-to-high 80s fastball inside and outside really make him hard to hit when his offspeed pitches have just as much pinpoint accuracy. You can say that his ceiling may not be as high as more live-armed prospects, but his floor certainly is. Unless he gets a case of the yips and loses his feel for pitching, you have to at least trust that he can be a back of the rotation kind of arm, if not a mid-rotation guy.
- Yoder Alonso, 1st/OF (Reds): Hmm. A bat without a position. In the NL. That should turn out well. Well, the polished offensive product could play first, but then that would involve putting the ever-so-talented Joey Votto somewhere else. Which won’t be happening. Which is also a shame, since Alonso’s very solid .296/.374/.486 line at AAA (40 extra base hits, 46 walks against 60 strikeouts) could prove very useful in many a lineup around the majors. Some are skeptical if he will be able to hit for enough power in the majors, but his approach and bat speed look perfectly capable of producing enough doubles and home runs to garner a 1st base jobs somewhere. It seems as if he’s likely to settle in as a less-power’d, patient, solid average type player, if only he could find an organization with an every day job for him. Not a flashy offensive star, but he can be more than useful.
Just Missed: Andy Oliver, LHP (Tigers), Kyle Gibson, RHP (Twins), Dayan Viciedo, 1st/3rd (White Sox)