For those of you who enjoy these top 20 lists, I apologize for the delay in compiling this one. I knew that this was going to be a banger of a list, but after writing about 40-50 names of potential candidates, I am absolutely floored at the amount of talent left off of this list. The top 20 is an intriguing blend of polished college players and high upside youngsters from both the domestic and international markets. Diverse as they may seem, each player has something in common–they can flat out rake.
After oscillating between two Scott Boras clients for top spot honors, I have decided to go with the #2 overall pick of the 2007 draft Mike Moustakas.
1.) Mike Moustakas—Kansas City Royals
Strengths: Moustakas has a bat that produces prolific power to all fields (he hit 52 HR in his high school career). He has a strong feel for the strike zone and should be able to hit for a high batting average as well. His cannon arm is ideal for 3B as he has been clocked at 98 MPH as a prep player. His athleticism has continually improved over the past three seasons which should open up some opportunities defensively
Weaknesses: He is an average to below average defensive player at this point. There has been come conjecture of playing him at 3B, RF and even C over the past couple of seasons.
2009 Outlook: Moustakas’ bat sizzled in the second half of the ’08 season which may allow for him to use High-A Wilmington as a temporary springboard to AA NW Arkansas. Moustakas is a prime time power prospect in every sense of the word and his role in the middle of a young and already talented Kansas City Royals lineup could begin as soon as Opening Day 2010.
2.) Pedro Alvarez—Pittsburgh Pirates
2008 Stats: N/A
Strengths: Pedro has a polished bat that should hit for above average power and should flirt with .300 on an annual basis. He also has a strong grasp of the strike zone and should be able to put together a good BB/K ratio.
Weaknesses: His range, glove, and arm strength all grade out as fringe average and a shift to 1B may happen at some point in his career. More disturbing is the revelations from Pirates camp that he has reported to camp overweight and out of shape. After being a stick in the mud during the hotly contested bonus negotiations, Alvarez will be hard pressed to meet the lofty expectations heaped upon him.
2009 Outlook: Alvarez is on the fast track to Pittsburgh as the clock is ticking on his 6-year MLB contract. Expect him to start at High-A Lynchburgh before moving to AA Altoona at some point. The Bucs currently have Neil Walker and Andy LaRoche battling for time at the hot corner, but the swiftly approaching arrival of Alvarez will blow both of them off to other positions or organizations.
3.) Brett Wallace—St. Louis Cardinals
Strengths: Wallace has proven at multiple levels and locations that his bat is MLB ready and has the potential to be amongst league leaders in several offensive catagories. Wallace has above average power that racks up XBH in bunches and his plate discipline is nothing short of exceptional. He has also worked hard to improve his defense at 3B, which seems like a good home for his strong arm.
Weaknesses: At 6-1 245 lb., Wallace has big limitations athletically. His thick lower body should drastically limit his range and baserunning speed as he ages.
2009 Outlook: Despite Troy Glaus’ uncertain status following his shoulder surgery, Wallace will not be given much of an opportunity to win a roster spot with the Cardinals this spring. Expect him to start the season at AAA Memphis. He will patrol the infield of Bucsh Stadium at some point this season, however, and once he is up, it will probably be for good.
4.) Mat Gamel—Milwaukee Brewers
Strengths: Gamel’s bat strokes line drives all over the diamond with improving power to the alleys. He is a good athlete who has a fair amount of speed that he uses well on the basepaths and defensively. His arm is quite strong and a seemingly good fit at 3B or in the outfield.
Weaknesses: Mat’s hot corner defense went from dispicable in ’07 to just pretty bad in ’08. It is still the Achilles Heel in his game and a move to the OF seems imminent. Also, Gamel’s plate discipline lapsed considerably after the Brewers traded Matt LaPorta away. Perhaps Gamel was trying to do too much in his absense or just received tougher pitching without the lineup protection that the former Florida Gator provided.
2009 Outlook: The gaggle of mediocre third basemen (Bill Hall, Craig Counsell, Mike Lamb) is not enough to keep Gamel off of the Miller Park infield in 2009. Gamel will get a ton of opportunities this spring as Bill Hall just recently tore his calf muscle and is expected to be sidelined at least until Opening Day. That may be enough time for Mat to demonstrate to the Brew Crew that he is ready to take the mantle as Milwaukee’s starting 3B.
5.) Matt Dominguez—Florida Marlins
Strengths: Dominguez showed surprising power potential as an 18 year old at full season ball. He has excellent contact rates and should be able to hit for a high average as well. The defensive abilities, however, is what sets Matt apart from other 3B prospects. His range, hands, and arm strength make him a perennial Gold Glove candidate.
Weaknesses: He needs to improve on his ability to work deeper into counts and draw more walks. More advanced pitchers will be able to get him out with off speed pitches out of the zone, lowering his batting average totals. Though athletic, Dominguez is not a threat on the basepaths (0 career SB).
2009 Outlook: Dominguez will move to High-A Jupiter to start the season. If he continues to build on his successes from last season, it is conceivable that Florida could bump him to AA. He is one of the Marlins’ brightest prospects and his track to the big leagues should move quickly.
6.) Wilmer Flores—New York Mets
Strengths: Limitless projectibility. Flores has a long, athletic frame that has already demonstrated the ability to hit for power and average in his debut season. He has excellent bat speed and an advanced feel for the game comparable to a young Miguel Cabrera.
Weaknesses: Many of his skills right now are quite raw. Flores is only 17 years old and there are some questions as to how his body will develop. If he bulks up like Cabrera did, it could prove to be slightly detrimental to his athleticism. He also needs to continue to strengthen his grasp of the strike zone and work deeper into counts.
2009 Outlook: David Wright has the Mets’ 3B job sewn down through at least 2012 (and likely beyond). That should give the young Flores ample time to develop at a conservative pace. His next step is full season Low-A Savannah, which should give us a better glimpse at where he is at in his development.
7.) Josh Vitters—Chicago Cubs
Strengths: Vitters has big time power potential and the ability to hit for a high average as well. His bat speed is top notch and the fluidity of his swing is akin to that of elite left handed hitters. Those within the Cubs organization praise Vitters’ work ethic and makeup.
Weaknesses: Defense is still a bit of a struggle for Josh. He has a decent glove and a very strong arm, but his footwork and range issues are still a work in progress. He has a big frame which should make his speed on the basepaths become below average in time. Like many young sluggers, Vitters needs to continue to progress with his knowledge of the strike zone.
2009 Outlook: Josh was pushed a bit too aggressively in the early part of last season by being sent to full season Low-A ball. He”s ready now. Expect Vitters to blossom offensively at Low-A Peoria building on his power potential and, hopefully, his defensive prowess.
8.) Neftali Soto—Cincinnati Reds
Strengths: Soto has an awesome bat that has demonstrated advanced power potential and an ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field with authority. Soto is an XBH machine, racking up 39 in less than 300 AB. He makes good contact at the plate and should be able to keep his batting average at around .300 as a pro.
Weaknesses: He is a man without a defensive home right now. The Reds shifted him from SS to 3B and 1B but his defensive acumen is so-so. He may need to move to the OF down the road as both Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco have more defensive upside than him at the hot corner.
2009 Outlook: Soto should move to High-A Sarasota in April and, at just 20 years old, there is no reason to rush him to AA. Keep an eye on where Soto plays defensively. A move to the OF could open things up for him.
9.) Todd Frazier—Cincinnati Reds
Strengths: Frazier’s tall, muscular fram allows for him to hit for excellent power that should translate to 22-28 HR per season at the major league level. He has a makeup that is off the charts and his desire to be the best player on the field is evidenced in his tireless work ethic.
Weaknesses: Frazier can become overly aggressive at the plate at times, racking up strikeouts. He, like Soto, has yet to find a defensive home, having played at SS and 1B as well as the hot corner.
2009 Projection: Frazier continues to the Reds’ new AA affiliate Jacksonville. Keep track of whree he plays defensively. If he makes the move to 1B, he may find himself packaged up in a deal to another franchise in the near future. The Reds are quite set at first with both Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso having more upside than Frazier.
10.) Wes Hodges—Cleveland Indians
Strengths: Hodges has a smooth swing from the right side that has shown good gap power and the ability to drive in runs. He has a strong sense of the strike zone and is improving on working counts.
Weaknesses: Hodges’ defense is still way below average. His range, glove and arm accuracy still need quite a bit of refinement. Fortunately for him, there aren’t any other decent 3B prospects in the Indians’ farm system that threaten to push him off of the hot corner, but his sub .900 fielding percentage should not earn him any opportunities at Jacobs Field anytime soon.
2009 Outlook: Hodges should get a full dose of AAA this season with an implicit goal of shoring up his defensive shortcomings. The Indians traded for Mark DeRosa in the offseason, likely as a one year stop gap to allow Hodges to develop. Expect him to get a late season call up after the roster expansions in September.
There’s the first 10 third base prospects. I am currently working on the next 10 with a goal of getting them online by tomorrow morning sometime. Feel free to comment on any one of these 10 or to submit your own top ten lists. If you like what you are reading and are looking to buy cards of any kind, I would be honored if you did so through the eBay afflilate links on my site!