The hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League was certainly extra friendly this year. Only two pitchers made the Top 10 list, with offensive stars taking up most of the limelight.
Our other Top 10 lists….
- Brett Lawrie, 3rd (Blue Jays): Coming into the year he looked like a work-in-progress at the hot corner. As of now, he looks more than capable of playing third (probably playing above-average at this point) while producing more than expected with the bat. With Lawrie’s power potential and bat speed, most believed that he could be a high impact bat, though it didn’t sound like the power would be emerging this soon. His home park in Las Vegas has been considered a hitter’s haven, but Lawrie has performed just as admirably with the bat, especially in the power department. On top of his excellent power and average potential (only struck out at a 16% clip), speed is another part of his game that rounds him out as one of the more valuable and impactful up and coming bats. More time will be needed to really tell if he can be a successful third baseman year round, but so far the results have been good. The range, glove, and arm strength needed to provide a ton of value are already there. Quite a well-rounded player to have at a position that has quickly become rather poor league-wide.
- Anthony Rizzo, 1st (Padres): If not for Lawrie’s positional value, you could easily place the Padres’ first base prospect at #1 overall. His left-handed power approach at the plate should be incredibly valuable in time, even in Petco. In Pacific Coast League action he displayed patience, power, and average, all of which have continued to evolve and advance since his 2010 campaign in the Red Sox system. More than anything though, his power is what’s most encouraging. Rizzo’s .320 ISO (26 HR, 34 doubles) was one of the best in the PCL, and paired with his already improved walk numbers, he should be a big value in time.
- Dustin Ackley, 2nd (Mariners): A fantastic approach at the plate gives him high walk totals and fantastic average potential. His power has come in to question, but it should be perfectly fine as his approach to hitting is already evolved far beyond most hitters his age. The former North Carolina outfielder/first baseman’s gift for hitting should run him into a high doubles total that should balance out any lower home run counts that he might register. Ackley’s defense has also been criticized, but looks to have survived his promotion, even appearing to be slightly above-average up the middle.
- Brandon Belt, 1st (Giants): One of the most patient and powerful bats in the PCL, his great bat speed and power will make him a fixture in San Fransisco sooner or later. He has a fine idea of the strike zone, though he will collect his fair share of strikeouts with an aggressive approach. Belt has plus power but may not always hit for it as his approach is so mature in his use of the entire field. Defensively one can’t complain, as he’s done everything that the Giants have asked. You can’t ask for all that much more from him at the plate, as his swing has more than enough loft for power and stability for good average.
- Brett Jackson, OF (Cubs): Slightly influenced by the nice hitting conditions of the PCL, his power was on full display for most of his time in AAA (.254 ISO). A steady defender in center field (if not a little above-average), his offensive contributions put him among the best hitting prospects in the middle of the outfield. Jackson’s baserunning increases his value by his ability to steal a base and turn a single into a double. He doesn’t amaze anyone with a single tool (although he flashes some impressive power at times), but he also manages to rarely underwhelm.
- Mike Montgomery, LHP (Royals): The hard-throwing lefty’s down year has to be a disappointment combined with fellow lefty farmhand John Lamb going down with an injury. Struggling with command throughout 2011, he did not find the strike zone nearly as much as he did in 2010. Fortunately his strikeout rate remained similar to what fans saw last year, so his stuff (excellent fastball, great-but-developing curve and change) was never in question. His 5.32 ERA (4.30 FIP) is deceptive, as it was inflated by the PCL, bad luck, a higher BABIP, and a lower stranded baserunners rate. Look for a rebound in 2012.
- Eric Thames, OF (Blue Jays): More or less just an average corner outfielder defensively, Thames will need to hit to be relevant, and in 2011, hit he did. His 36 extra base hits in 53 games brought his ISO to .257 against a walk rate of 9.5% and a strikeout rate of 17% (.352/423/.610). Thames’ swing should routinely generate quality contact, and his approach should help him to post some solid averages and power numbers as a regular. He’s capable of legging out a few triples each year, moving around the bases well the ball is hit, but don’t expect him to steal often. While Thames’ walk and strikeouts totals improved this year, his contact rates will need to be monitored.
- Collin Cowgill, OF (Diamondbacks): Always the overachiever, the center fielder has a knack for contact and posting strong offensive seasons while providing steady defense. With 63 strikeouts against 51 walks and a very solid .200 ISO (45 extra base hits, 13 HRs), he can provide tons of offensive value as a top-of-the-order type hitter. Cowgill isn’t super fast on the bases, but is smart enough to steal, grabbing 30 against only 3 caught in 2011. While his 5’9″ 185 lbs frame doesn’t leave much to project on, if you look at the past two seasons you can see that he’s a consistent, contact driven (with 10 HR/great doubles power) bat. On top of that he should manage to be a league average center fielder at least, and above-average in one of the corners (a likelihood with Chris Young in center).
- Jerry Sands, OF/1st (Dodgers): Just one in a strong class of PCL 1st basemen (think Brandon Allen as well), the 24 year old has shown off some of the best power seen in 2011. He’s kept his walk to strikeout ratio more or less the same for the second year in a row (1 to 2) while continuing to maintain his power. Sands can hit for okay average (.278 this year, .270 last) but will never be a huge average guy. He certainly has an idea how to hit and a good grasp of the strike zone, it’s just more that his aggressive approach does not exactly lend itself to batting titles. Just an average defender, he will need to keep the walks up and strikeouts down to continue to show offensive value. Beware his massive home/road splits (ugly away).
- Jay Jackson, RHP (Cubs): Looking like a surefire rotation candidate at the end of 2009, things have not gone quite right since. More of an athletic, mid-rotation groundballer than anything else, his feel for pitching out of college had most excited. At this point the potential for 4 solid pitches (two plus when on) is still there, it’s just become a little harder to nail down. Jackson is capable of above-average groundball numbers, and they improved this year, but he was inconsistent from start to start. Nevertheless, his fastball and slider can be quality with improved command and mechanics. When you see his 5.34 ERA you might cringe, but his 3.79 FIP makes you think about just what went wrong this year. Jackson’s walks were never out of control and he still struck out a decent amount of guys (Ks fell a little), but BABIP issues and a lower strand rate don’t help.