Ranking the top prospects (Nos. 1-25)
Welcome to the second annual ESPN.com ranking of the top 100 prospects in baseball. Last year's No. 1 prospect, Evan Longoria, ended up winning the American League Rookie of the Year Award, setting a high standard for the player at the top of this year's list.The rankings are limited to players who still have rookie eligibility; that means they have yet to exceed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors, and have not yet spent 45 days on the active roster of a major-league club, excluding callups during the roster expansion period after Sept. 1. Only players who have signed professional contracts are eligible. When ranking players, I consider scouting reports on players -- usually my own, supplementing with conversations with other scouts and front-office executives as needed -- as well as performance, adjusted for age and context. I've included last year's rank for players who appeared on the top 100 last offseason. An "ineligible" player (IE) was still an amateur at this time last January, whereas an "unranked" player (UR) was eligible but didn't make the cut.
Law's complete top 100: 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100# -- player's age as of April 1, 2009 RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 1 Matt Wieters C Baltimore Orioles
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Bowie)
Wieters is typically compared to one of two current big-leaguers: Mark Teixeira and Joe Mauer. Those are tough comps to hang on a player who has yet to sniff the big leagues, but in Wieters' case, they're merited. Wieters' similarities to Teixeira don't end with their common alma mater of Georgia Tech or the fact that each was selected with the fifth overall pick (Teixeira in 2001, Wieters in 2007). Like Teixeira, Wieters is a switch-hitter with plus hit and power tools from both sides. He's a little more fluid from the left side with slightly better raw power, but he could stand on his head and still be short to the ball and get good extension on his follow-through. His plate discipline is strong and improving, and he's filled out since college, adding power to the point where he's at least major league average right now. He does glide a little bit on both sides, but it has no discernible effect on his ability to hit. Like Mauer, Wieters is an offensive catcher with a plus arm who makes everything he does look easy. He's consistently around 1.9 seconds from home to second - I've never gotten anything over 1.96 from him - and his receiving skills have improved dramatically since he entered Baltimore's system. And like Mauer, Wieters is big for the position; he's not as thick as Mauer, who was a high school football star, but he's 6-5 with long limbs and is, like all tall catchers, at risk for knee trouble over the very long term. If he has to spend the last half of his career at another position, his bat will play anywhere on the diamond. Wieters could start 2009 in the majors, although giving him a one-month stint in Triple-A would give Baltimore the advantage of another year of control before Wieters hits free agency. Other than that possibility, there's nothing stopping him from becoming an impact catcher from Day One.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 2 David Price LHP Tampa Bay Rays
TOP '08 LEVEL: Majors
I would offer to introduce Price, but he seems to have already introduced himself. Price, like Wieters, is ready to play in the majors right now, although he has a little more development ahead of him that may have to come at the big league level. Price is primarily a two-pitch pitcher today, working at 90-94 mph as a starter but sitting around 94 as a reliever and bumping up to 97. His slider is his out pitch - ask the Red Sox about it - in the low to mid-80s with very good tilt; he can lengthen it against lefties or shorten its break against righties. He does throw a changeup, also in the low 80s, with good action, but it's far enough behind his other two pitches that the Rays had him put it aside for his September callup. He'll need to continue to develop that pitch and improve his fastball command to reach his ceiling as a No. 1 starter, and his workload may be somewhat limited since he threw only140 innings in total in 2008 (including Triple-A and postseason action with the Rays). Given more development time, whether in Durham or in St. Petersburg, he will become a workhorse at the top of the Rays' rotation who racks up strikeouts and shuts down hitters on both sides of the plate.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 3 Jason Heyward RF Atlanta Braves
TOP '08 LEVEL: A+ (Myrtle Beach)
The first round of the 2007 draft looks like it's going to turn out a half-dozen stars or well above-average big leaguers, if not more, with Heyward at the top of the list of its high school products. Even at age 17, Heyward was a physical specimen, already 6-4 and well-built with room to add muscle as he gets older. He controls the strike zone well, both laying off pitches out of the zone and working himself into hitters' counts; his contact rate was one of the best in the South Atlantic League this year despite his relative youth. He gets his arms extended well, setting up slightly away from his body, so the ball down or over the outer half is well within his reach. Atlanta has moved him from center to right field; he has a plus arm and above-average range now that he's out of the middle of the field. His upside is just a question of power; he's going to hit for average and be an asset in the field. His swing and body point to 30-plus homers a year, which, coupled with a healthy on-base percentage and defensive value, would make him one of the most valuable players in the game.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 4 Neftali Feliz RHP Texas Rangers
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Frisco)
Feliz was something of a known quantity last offseason, having come over to Texas in the Mark Teixeira trade, but he was just a very live arm with no full-season experience and only 72 pro innings in total. He started 2008 by obliterating Midwest League hitters and continued to miss bats after a two-level jump to Double-A. Coming from a low 3/4 slot, Feliz has some of the easiest velocity you will ever see, mostly 94-97 mph but dialing up and down a little as needed. He turns his changeup over well, especially considering his arm slot, and gets good fading action on it, so it's not surprising that his strikeout rate against left-handed hitters was 28 percent higher than it was against right-handed hitters. His slider is still inconsistent; it's short, a good sign for someone who has a little bit of sling in his delivery, but the pitch can back up on him. He'll have to return to Double-A this year and refine his command and control, since he can't just blow it by hitters as he did in low A, but he could also show up in the majors at some point in 2009 depending on his own progress and the Rangers' place in the standings.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 5 Travis Snider OF Toronto Blue Jays
TOP '08 LEVEL: Majors
Snider was rushed to the majors this year, but to some degree it's his own fault, as he never stumbled after any of his previous promotions and continued to hit in the majors despite a big drop in his contact rate. Snider is a fair athlete who should have defensive value -- especially from his arm -- but the bulk of his value will be in his bat. His setup and swing are very simple, and his path to the ball is short, so he should be able to hit for a good average even if he's striking out 140 times a year, and he's already showing good power and projects as plus down the road. He looks a little stiff, but is an average runner and more than adequate in right field, with a 60 arm. Putting him directly into Toronto's lineup this year is probably too aggressive -- he was the youngest position player to get a major league at bat in 2008 -- but he should be a big league regular by Opening Day 2010 and an impact player two or three years after that.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 6 Madison Bumgarner LHP San Francisco Giants
TOP '08 LEVEL: A (Augusta)
A year ago, Bumgarner was a live arm, a projectable body, and a name to file away for the future. He only started throwing breaking balls late in his high school career, and the rudimentary secondary stuff plus his low arm slot had scouts -- including me -- assuming he was a long way away from the majors. His slider made enormous strides in his first full year in pro ball, and his changeup is now solid-average, no small feat for a pitcher who throws from a low 3/4 slot. He's unusual for pitchers of his ilk in that his arm action is fairly short and compact; many pitchers who throw from below 3/4 get long in the back, almost slinging the ball, and have trouble turning over a changeup or staying on top of breaking balls as a result. His command and control are both above-average, and he was aggressive in going after South Atlantic League hitters, who stood little chance against him. The Giants were careful with Bumgarner in 2008, but there's a good chance he finishes this year in Double-A and shows up in the majors at some point in 2010.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 7 Lars Anderson 1B Boston Red Sox
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Portland)
Anderson is the best of a fairly deep class of first base prospects in the minors right now, separating himself by his relative youth and advanced approach. Anderson has outstanding plate discipline for a prospect his age - or any age, really, but his relative youth makes it much more impressive. His career OBP sits at .404, and you can see a cerebral approach to the strike zone. As a hitter, Anderson has a high setup and makes a big, quick first move down to get into hitting position; once he gets started, he's very short to the ball and makes a lot of hard contact with good backspin. He has the swing and physical potential to hit 30-plus home runs, but is still working out which pitches to pull and which pitches to take to the opposite field. He's adequate at first base despite being a well below-average runner. Despite the fact that he finished 2008 with a strong performance in Double-A, Anderson is a few years away from becoming an impact big-league hitter with both a high OBP and big power, but he has the complete package and only requires development time to get there.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 8 Buster Posey C San Francisco Giants
TOP '08 LEVEL: A- (Salem-Keizer)
Posey presents a very balanced set of tools that, given his position, make him among the most valuable properties in the minor leagues. A recent convert from shortstop who also pitched a little in college, Posey is a plus defensive catcher with a plus arm (he pitched in the low 90s), soft hands, and a lot of energy at a position that demands it. At the plate, he has a compact stroke, excellent bat control, and a good eye, so while he doesn't project to hit for more than average power, he should make plenty of hard contact and end up a doubles hitter with 15-20 home runs per year. The combination of a projected plus hit tool and currently plus defense make him a very high-probability prospect -- he plays in the big leagues no matter what, be it as a quality backup if he never improves at all or as a star everyday catcher if he reaches his offensive ceiling.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 9 Tommy Hanson RHP Atlanta Braves
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Mississippi)
Hanson made the top 100 last year as a bit of a sleeper whose upside made him worthy of the relatively high ranking, but in 2008 he cemented his status as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Hanson projects as a potential No. 1 starter, with a four-pitch arsenal headlined by a 92-95 mph fastball and a plus curveball with great depth. He's 6-6 and gets good angle on his pitches, thanks in part to the work of the late Myrtle Beach pitching coach, Bruce Dal Canton, in keeping him over the rubber. He still has room to fill out physically and perhaps add a little velocity, and adding a slider last year gave him yet another weapon to miss bats. Hanson has a few areas for improvement -- his changeup is below average, so he doesn't have a real out pitch against lefties; his command and control are both below average, although he can just overpower minor league hitters, which keeps him below the top 10. He's probably less than a year from contributing in the majors.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 10 Rick Porcello RHP Detroit Tigers
TOP '08 LEVEL: A+ (Lakeland)
The Tigers, typically aggressive with their top prospects, started the 18-year-old Porcello in high-A this year, one of only two high school arms from the 2007 draft to do so (the other -- San Francisco's Tim Alderson -- is also on this list). He responded, but not in the way you might have expected. Porcello can dial it up to the mid-90s, but has settled in as a low-90s; he's a strike-throwing, ground-ball-generating machine, throwing two-seamer after two-seamer and not having to rely on the sharp curveball he used in high school. He doesn't miss a lot of bats with the new approach, but generating ground balls keeps the pitch count down, and pitchers who throw strikes and don't give up home runs can be very successful. But bear in mind that Porcello has the raw stuff to be more of a strikeout pitcher, and when he reaches the majors, he could blend the two approaches and be one of the top pitchers in the game.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 11 Tim Beckham SS Tampa Bay Rays
TOP '08 LEVEL: A- (Hudson Valley)
The first pick and best overall prospect in the 2008 draft, Tim Beckham was mildly disappointing in his first taste of pro ball, although there were no major red flags. Beckham has average or better tools across the board, with the potential to be plus in every tool if his power develops fully. He was better on defense than at the plate last summer; he's athletic and fast with an above-average arm, but his footwork needs improvement. At the plate, he has some mechanical issues to work through as he transitions to the wood bat, including a deep setup and slight wrap. He has very quick wrists and uses the whole field well, so the changes he needs to make are incremental and not drastic. He did make plenty of contact in the Appalachian League, especially considering his age, but he'll need to improve his patience and find a way to get his bat to the ball a little sooner to reach his full potential.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 12 Colby Rasmus CF St. Louis Cardinals
TOP '08 LEVEL: AAA (Memphis)
Don't hurt yourselves jumping off the Colby Rasmus bandwagon, OK? Rasmus played his entire injury-plagued 2008 season in Triple-A at age 21, and by the time he made a few adjustments and started hitting, he hit the disabled list twice and played just five more games before the season ended. (After an 0-for-22 stretch in mid-May, Rasmus hit .336/.444/.517 over 171 plate appearances until he hurt his groin on July 1.) The scouting report on Rasmus hasn't changed: He still has quick hands and gets the bat to the ball quickly, projects to have plus power, is an above-average runner, plays a solid center field, has the arm to play right, and shows a generally advanced feel for the game given his age. He also has a history of good plate discipline and solid contact rates. So, please, before you send him off in endless trade proposals, remind me again what's not to like here?
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 13 Carlos Santana C Cleveland Indians
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Akron)
In 2007, Santana hit .223/.318/.370 in the Midwest League, didn't make Baseball Prospectus' list of the top 11 Dodgers prospects, and didn't crack the top 20 on Baseball America's list. Now, after hitting a combined .330/.435/.569 in high-A -- walking more than he struck out -- he projects as a middle-of-the-order, switch-hitting run producer who, by the way, is a legitimate big league catcher. Santana has a very compact swing and makes a lot of hard contact, but he also has enough strength in his upper body to generate power despite the short swing. Behind the plate, he's a good receiver and has an above-average arm, but needs to work on his game-calling. Given his tremendous control of the strike zone and above-average power, he has very little to do to turn into an average big league catcher, but there's a high probability that he develops into much more.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 14 Josh Vitters 3B Chicago Cubs
TOP '08 LEVEL: A (Peoria)
Vitters started the year slow due to a hand injury, ended up returning to short-season ball, and hit everything in sight. He has an easy, smooth, quick swing that would be that classic "sweet" left-hander's swing if it wasn't for the fact that he hits right-handed. He doesn't have great loft in his swing, but is strong and makes extremely hard contact; he led the Northwest League in doubles at age 19 and as he fills out a little bit, some of those will go over (or through) the wall. He's fringe-average at third base; he has plenty of arm and his footwork is improving, although he's not likely to ever be plus over there. If there's a concern, it's the very low walk total; he's not a hacker or even impatient, but is very aggressive, and that works as long as he's ahead of the pitchers and can make so much solid contact. If his patience doesn't improve and he doesn't continue to hit .320-plus, his ceiling will start to drop. If the patience comes, he's a potential No. 3 hitter who'll hit plenty of doubles and 25-plus home runs with a high average.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 15 Justin Smoak 1B Texas Rangers
TOP '08 LEVEL: A (Clinton)
Smoak signed on Aug. 15 -- deadline day -- and had just 56 at-bats in the regular season. But once he started hitting, he didn't stop 'til mid-November. In 124 total plate appearances between the Midwest and Arizona Fall Leagues, he hit .327/.411/.551 with five homers. Smoak is often compared to Mark Teixeira, and there's some logic to it, as both are switch-hitting first basemen with big power and plus gloves. I think of Smoak as more of a switch-hitting Adrian Gonzalez -- he doesn't have quite the same raw power as Teixeira, but has a very disciplined approach at the plate and does have a plus glove at first. Smoak is legit from both sides of the plate, centering the ball extremely well and showing power both to pull and to the opposite field. His path to the ball is short and he sets up almost loaded, with a short move backwards serving as his trigger. His only flaw as a player is his complete lack of speed, which limits him to first base, but he's an excellent fielder there his bat would play anywhere on the diamond.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 16 Fernando Martinez OF New York Mets
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Binghamton)
Martinez's big issue is staying healthy; he has yet to reach 400 plate appearances or play in 100 games during any of his pro seasons, excluding winter ball. This is a shame, because Martinez has a special bat and the injuries plus some aggressive promotions have obscured it. Martinez offers huge power potential, putting on a display in BP, but it has only briefly started to emerge in games. He has very quick and strong wrists, letting the ball travel on him before exploding quickly and making solid, hard contact. In the field, he's looking more likely to end up in right field; the Mets have one of the game's best center fielders in the big leagues and don't need to groom Martinez for that position. His pitch recognition, while good for his age, hasn't progressed over the last two years, and the more he's pushed up the system the less likely it is that the skill will develop. Martinez has now played the equivalent of a full season in Double-A before his 20th birthday, and the Mets are faced with the difficult decision of whether to promote him to Triple-A because he has "graduated" from the lower level or return him to the Eastern League for the third consecutive year so he can work on his plate discipline and, maybe, catch his breath.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 17 Eric Hosmer 1B Kansas City Royals
TOP '08 LEVEL: Rookie (Idaho Falls)
Hosmer had just gotten his feet wet in pro ball after signing late last summer when the Pirates decided to drag him into their argument with Scott Boras and Pedro Alvarez, costing him a handful of at bats at the end of the Pioneer League's season; fortunately, he's talented enough to overcome the loss of a little development time. Hosmer was the top high school bat in the 2008 Rule 4 draft; he has quick wrists and shows big raw power, especially on any pitch that allows him to get his arms extended. Like a lot of left-handed power hitters, he doesn't like the ball in on his hands, but the hole is small and he can make a pitcher pay for a mistake that catches a little too much plate. Hosmer was also a decent pitching prospect in high school, touching 94 mph, so he has the arm to play right field and is probably enough of an athlete to handle it as well; at worst, he's a plus defender at first. He should be in the middle of Kansas City's lineup in three or four years.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 18 Andrew McCutchen CF Pittsburgh Pirates
TOP '08 LEVEL: AAA (Indianapolis)
Andrew McCutchen has been rushed. Repeat after me: He has been rushed. This isn't a criticism of the current regime in Pittsburgh, as the rushing all took place before Neal Huntington could even get a catalog to pick out new drapes for his office, but they inherited a player who had arrived in Triple-A before his 21st birthday despite posting a .710 OPS in Double-A, a level he reached after the Pirates skipped him right past high-A. He's been rushed, I say. The good thing is that he has survived this hazing and even performed well in several areas, notably his plate discipline. McCutchen has strong wrists and forearms and makes hard contact, but doesn't get his lower half involved at all and thus hasn't hit for the kind of power he's capable of producing. He has great bat speed and has hit for average while making plenty of contact. He's a 65-70 runner but had an uncharacteristically sloppy year as a base stealer; he's a plus glove in center but could use a little work on routes. The power should come -- he's too young for us to assume that it won't -- and the new regime in Pittsburgh has a much better player-development protocol in place.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 19 Brett Wallace 3B St. Louis Cardinals
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Springfield)
Wallace was the best pure hitter in this year's draft, but fell to the Cardinals due to questions about his ultimate position. He's playing third base right now, and the Cardinals intend to keep him there until he plays himself off it; he has plenty of arm and is fine on balls in front of him, but lacks lateral range severely. Still, his bat is so special that if he can improve to just a win below average at third, he'll be a star. He makes hitting look easy -- he hits lefties (.387/.479/.484 in 62 at bats last year) and righties, all pitches, all areas of the zone, whatever's thrown at him -- and has pull power to right and doubles power the other way. Sure, his body type is unusual for a pro baseball player -- he has enormous thighs, but it's muscle, not fat, and emphasizing that only detracts attention from what really matters: Brett Wallace will hit.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 20 Brett Anderson LHP Oakland A's
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Midland)
Anderson took a huge step forward this year, both in terms of his stuff and in his track record when he showed he could succeed both in the tough California League and in a short stint in Double-A. Anderson is a command left-hander with an out-pitch curveball and an average changeup that projects as plus. The curve has a very sharp, almost spiking two-plane break; he maintains good arm speed on the changeup and it runs late towards his arm side. His main weakness was always his fastball, but his velocity has been improving and he's now solid-average as a starter. He showed in the Futures Game that he can bump it up to 94 or so in a short stint. He commands all of his pitches, can pitch to both sides with his fastball, and releases the ball late to get a little advantage on the hitter. His arm action is a little long, and he comes a little across his body; other than that quibble, he looks like a very solid mid-rotation starter with a chance to be a two or even a one.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 21 Derek Holland LHP Texas Rangers
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Frisco)
Holland's isn't the biggest jump on to the list this year, but it might be the most surprising. Texas wasn't on Holland when he was in junior college until they saw him at the NJCAA World Series a few weeks before the 2006 draft, and they took a flier on him in the 25th round as a draft and follow. His velocity has since increased; he was 88-91 mph the following spring, then was 90-93 in the summer of '07 in Spokane. By the middle of 2008, he was already in Double-A, sitting 93-95 and touching 98, with natural bore and cut to the pitch and uncanny command. His changeup is already an above-average pitch, and he held right-handed hitters to a .215/.268/.305 line across three levels this year. His slider is still a work in progress, but it's improving, and he has enough command and deception to get left-handed hitters out in the minors. He doesn't have the raw upside of Feliz, but he's not far behind him in potential and is ahead of him in command and feel for pitching, and is the most likely of Texas' horde (pun intended) of pitching prospects to contribute to the big club in 2009.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 22 Carlos Triunfel 2B/SS Seattle Mariners
TOP '08 LEVEL: A+ (High Desert
Triunfel opened a lot of eyes in the Arizona Fall League as the circuit's youngest player, showing tremendous natural aptitude for hitting and more than adequate fielding at second base. Triunfel sets up with his hands high, and they're so quick that he closes to the ball in no time, hitting line drives to all fields but rarely trying to pull the ball out, even though he probably could at the cost of some contact. Triunfel's performance this year was more impressive than it looks at first glance. For one thing, he started the year 3-for-39, then hit .307/.355/.433 the rest of the way, a period that included a suspension for violating team rules and a 3-for-46 stretch in June. For another, he was 18 in high-A, a level generally populated by players in their early 20s, and not only did he perform well, but he rarely struck out, a good sign that he was rarely (if ever) overmatched. He's an above-average runner and a good base stealer. He's a natural shortstop but played second in the Fall League, showing good hands and a good transfer on the double play. There are some concerns on Triunfel. The suspension is one, his age is another. His listed date of birth is Feb. 27, 1990, which would mean he'll play all of 2009 at age 19, but as a Dominican prospect who's already put together physically, some have questioned his age. If he's really about to turn 21, he's still a good prospect, but not a potential star. There's no firm evidence to back up the questions, though, so for now, we'll assume he's going to turn 19 and is still on track for stardom.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 23 Logan Morrison 1B Florida Marlins
TOP '08 LEVEL: A+ (Jupiter)
Morrison is strong, very strong, with plus raw power already; when he squares up, the ball absolutely flies off his bat. He's a tick below Anderson because of the latter's patience, but Morrison has more raw power. Morrison does have a pretty advanced approach at the plate himself, and his 2008 numbers were depressed by the pitcher-friendly environment of the Florida State League. Morrison does have some mechanical issues that keep his swing inconsistent; he's on his front foot a little early, and he tends to get under the ball, but the fact that he can hit as well as he does despite not squaring the ball up as often as some other prospects is testament to his strength. Florida's first base job is open -- you could argue it's been open for at least a year -- but whoever fills it in 2009 may miss a few throws because he's too busy looking over his shoulder.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 24 Trevor Cahill RHP Oakland A's
TOP '08 LEVEL: AA (Midland)
Cahill's two-seam fastball is just toxic. He sits in the low 90s but has ridiculous sink on the pitch -- a hard, late, diving action that has led to protests outside his home stadium by People for the Ethical Treatment of Worms. Hitters who can't hit it swing right over it; the only solution is to try to lay off it and hope that he's forced to elevate the pitch or go to one of his secondary pitches, none of which can measure up to the Nastygram. Cahill's best offspeed offering is his spike curveball, which is inconsistent but at times has a sharp downward bite; it's a notoriously tough pitch to command, although the fact that he can snap off a good one is a good sign that he could throw a pretty effective "regular" curveball if the A's feel he'll never quite command the spike. His slider is slurvy and he doesn't have great feel for it or for his changeup, which is more of a show-me pitch right now. His season ended early when he strained his rib cage at the Olympics, and the A's wisely shut him down. He has more upside than system-mate Brett Anderson, but lacks Anderson's command and assortment of quality secondary stuff, meaning he has more development ahead of him before he can be a top- or near-top-of-the-rotation starter.
RANK PLAYER POS. ORGANIZATION '08 RANK #AGE 25 Desmond Jennings OF Tampa Bay Rays
TOP '08 LEVEL: A+ (Vero Beach)
Jennings missed two months with back trouble to start the year, then hurt his non-throwing shoulder while rehabbing the back. He tried to play through the shoulder injury, but lasted just 102 plate appearances in 2008 before surgery ended his regular season, although he came back to play on the Peoria Javelinas' taxi squad in the Arizona Fall League. The lost year of development hurts, but Jennings remains a top prospect due to his tool set and tremendous feel for the game. Jennings is a great athlete, a plus-plus runner who's well-built and has a compact stroke geared toward contact. He is strong enough and should be big enough to hit 20-25 homers a year (if not more), but his power hasn't shown up in games yet, and it's not likely to do so until he's 100 percent physically. He also has outstanding baseball instincts in the field, on the bases, and even at the plate, where he shows good pitch recognition. He gets a mulligan on his '08 stats because he was never fully healthy, and gets knocked down a peg here because of the potential for recurrent back trouble down the road, but he still has star potential as a center fielder who can hit and adds value on the bases.
Law's complete top 100: 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 76-100Keith Law, formerly the special assistant to the general manager for the Toronto Blue Jays, is the senior baseball analyst for Scouts Inc.
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