Friday, March 6, 2009

TPC 2009 Top 10 Hitting Prospects

The following list is best understood as a ranking of hitters, with minimal regard for scouting reports, internet hype, or team name.  The list is generated primarily off of what a player has done on the field, particularly in the batter's box, and reflects demonstrated potential as opposed to assumed potential.  While capacity as a hitter is the main concern, each player's defensive position can also play a role in their ranking, and will be noted if necessary.  This list may not look like lists produced by big name prospect guides, but TPC was not created to mirror other sites.  It was created to help baseball fans gain a more accurate understanding of player potential.

  1. Matt Wieters -- Obvious choice here.  Worst case scenario, he's an average everyday catcher.  Mid-range scenario, he's a repeat All-Star in his prime.  Best case scenario, Chuck Norris changes his name to Matt Wieters.
  2. Matt Laporta -- This is where the TPC list diverges from the crowd.  The majority of prospect junkies and publications gave up on Laporta at the end of 2008 when he slogged his way through a season ending slump.  But keep in mind that he posted those numbers (.649 OPS and 2 home runs in 60 at-bats) after a 1 month period that included a mid-season trade to Cleveland, followed by the death of his grandfather whom Laporta was very close to, the Futures Game, and then a trip to China where he sustained a concussion due to a bean ball to the head.  It wasn't like the guy just stopped hitting one day.  He went through some stuff that got to his head (literally), and things fell apart for a minute.  Prior to July, Laporta had hit 30 home runs in just 452 plate appearances, and had an OPS around 1.000 for the majority of his minor league career, numbers that say a whole lot more about his potential than a few dishevelled games with Cleveland.  
  3. Gordon Beckham/ Yonder Alonso/ Justin Smoak/ Buster Posey -- Ok, so I'm cheating with this one a bit.  None of these guys has played much in the minors, but they all have incredible talent, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them all playing in the same All-Star game in a few years.  If I had to rank them purely on offense, I'd go with Alonso, Smoak, Beckham, then Posey.  If you mix in their defensive skills, I think they all come out about the same.  By the end of 2009 we should have a better feel for what they can all do, and I won't rank them all together like this.
  4. Jason Heyward -- Braves fans have it made in the shade with this guy.  He's a Man Child Beast Machine, and should be good for a high average, 30 to 40 home runs a year, and 20 plus stolen bases, all while playing solid defense.  But only if Frank Wren and company don't screw things up.
  5. Brett Wallace -- I almost put Wallace in at number 4, but I can't justify putting him ahead of Heyward.  In 2008 Wallace showed that his bat is for real, and he can hold down 3rd base just fine.  He's not the prototypical power hitter, but he'll hit .300 or better, with somewhere around 30 home runs for most of his career.  He'll also post an OPS in the .900 to 1.000 range, and that makes him very productive at his position.
  6. Chris Carter -- While I think the Chris Carter in Boston could be very productive, I think the Oakland Chris Carter has All-Star potential.  Legitimate 40 plus home run power, and great comps including Fred McGriff and Chris Davis.  
  7. Max Ramirez -- If Ramirez weren't a catcher, he'd still be a good hitter.  But the fact that he can hold his own behind the plate and profiles as a .300 hitter with the potential for 30 home runs and an OPS in the mid-.900 range puts him with some very good company.  
  8. Jesus Montero -- As with Ramirez, Montero's bat is good, but it's his defensive position that makes him appealing.  Also, like Ramirez, Montero profiles as a .300 hitter, with 30 home run potential, although I think Montero has the higher ceiling.  The only down side to Montero is whether he stays at catcher or not.
  9. Josh Reddick/ Freddie Freeman/ Lars Anderson -- Another cheap trick, but I'm still not sure which one of these players to go with.  They are all very talented, but they all have a long ways to go.  Anderson has been overhyped, Reddick has been overlooked, and Freeman has been overshadowed, but each one of them is either going to hit for a high average or power at times, and sometimes both.  Anderson looks like a .290-.315/ 30 plus home runs type hitter, which is solid for first base, Reddick could post similar numbers in the outfield, which also makes him a very solid prospect.  Freeman has similar potential, and once again, as a first baseman, he should be able to hold his own quite well.  
  10. Colby Rasmus -- I considered putting Rasmus a bit higher on this list, but at times he has really struggled, and I think he could take a bit longer to develop than other players.  He'll probably be good for a .270 to .290 average with 30 plus home runs and 10 to 20 stolen bases, but he'll also go through some really tough slumps that could really take a toll on his confidence.  Fortunately for the Cardinals, Rasmus has a lot less risk than a guy like Travis Snider (26% strikeout rate), but has all the upside.  When he's on his game, there won't be many better, but getting there will be the hard part.  
Comments: I'm sure there are a lot of prospects that did not appear on the above list that readers feel should have.  I'll try to address some of my reasons for leaving certain players off the list.

Travis Snider -- Snider has shown that he can hit for power and get on base, but his overall skill set doesn't put him higher than 12th or 13th on my list.  His strikeout rate of 26% isn't extremely high, but it's too high for a guy with a .214 ISOP in the minors.  In order to overcome such a high K%, a hitter needs to post an ISOP somewhere in the .250 range at Snider's age.  

Mike Stanton -- I really like Stanton's raw power, which compares well to some of the best hitters in baseball, but a 28.3% strikeout rate at A ball is a major red flag.  If Stanton's plate discipline improves in 2009, he'll shot up all kinds of prospect lists, but until then, I'm going to be cautiously optimistic about him.

Pedro Alverez -- Everything about Alverez is a cause for concern to me.  His college stats were good, but not the best, his contract problems with the Pirates, his history of injuries, the organization he plays for, everything.  He could prove me wrong, but I'm going to do like Alvarez did and hold out until I see something I like before committing.

Mike Moustakas -- I really like Moustakas, and he came very close to making the list.  He has above average power, good defensive skills, and solid plate discipline, but nothing really pops out at me.  I also have concern for any player in the Royals farm system and will one day play for a major league team that could be better run by monkeys.  

Josh Vitters -- I think Vitters could be very good, but he hasn't done much so far.  Check back in 6 months.

Taylor Teagarden -- Teagarden was very close to making the list, but there just wasn't enough room.

Logan Morrison -- Good player, but not an outstanding candidate at first base.  I'll take Lars, Carter, or Freeman over Morrison.

Anyways, that's the 2009 hitters top 10 list.  Like it or love it, I'm happy with it.  We'll see how it looks in a few months.

Edit: I forgot to include a comment about Cameron Maybin.  I like Maybin, but I've always felt the the hype precluded the product.  One of his most recent comps is Felix Pie, and I see a lot of similarities between the two, and while both are very talented, they don't have dominant or game changing skills.  Above average contact, average power, good speed, solid defense.  Give him a few years and Maybin will be much better, but for now he has a lot to work on.

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