Baseball America: Top 20 prospects
Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg flashed top form in Fall League play
Rangers lead the way with three of the top 20 prospects, including Neftali Feliz
Yankees have a potential hitting star in catcher/DH Jesus Montero
Baseball America's Prospect Handbook is going to press, and it's hard to describe the book to my non-baseball friends (a short list, but I have had a few such discussions). It's a book of 900 scouting reports on the game's top minor league players: 30 for each of the 30 major league organizations. To give you a taste of the Handbook, I presented my own ranking of the farm systems earlier this month, and that proved prescient, as the Phillies showed their system's strength by using it (and Cliff Lee) to deal for Roy Halladay. The Phils won't be in our top five when the book comes out, not after dealing one of the game's top 20 prospects. In another example of what you'll find in the Handbook, here are my personal top 20 prospects in baseball.
1. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
Why he's here: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft showed why he has all that hype, showing three premium pitches in the Arizona Fall League. His fastball reaches 100 mph, his slider has devastating power and movement, and his changeup has flashes of brilliance, even at 90 mph.
What he'll be: The face of the Nationals and a No. 1 starter.
When he arrives: The Nats will be tempted to push their best arm to the majors quickly but should be able to resist until the second half of 2010 at the least. If he's not in the majors on Opening Day 2011, it will be a major upset.
2. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
Why he's here: The 2009 Minor League Player of the Year has exceptional hitting skills, making consistent, hard contact and showing impressive power. He's evoked comparisons to Dave Parker with his overall athleticism and long, powerful frame.
What he'll be: The Atlanta native is poised to take Chipper Jones' mantle as the Braves' franchise player, starting with hitting in the No. 3 hole.
When he arrives: Unless Atlanta brings in a corner outfielder this offseason, Heyward should hit his way into the lineup in 2010.
3. Mike Stanton, OF, Marlins
Why he's here: No one in the minors combines Stanton's athletic ability and physicality with his sheer power.
What he'll be: Stanton is a bigger, stronger version of Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson. He has 40-homer potential and fits the right-field profile perfectly.
When he arrives: The Marlins haven't been shy about promoting prospects aggressively, but Stanton struggled a bit in Double-A last season. If he struggles at first in his first big league action in 2010, don't give up on him.
4. Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays
Why he's here: Once he stayed healthy for a full season, Jennings showed true five-tool talent. He has size, speed, strength, explosiveness and skills.
What he'll be: Jennings has many similarities to current Rays center fielder B.J. Upton, but his hitting track record is more consistent.
When he arrives: The Rays have an outfield spot open presently for 2010, and Jennings should be a big league-ready, inexpensive solution.
5. Jesus Montero, C/DH, Yankees
Why he's here: The minors' best hitter, Montero gets compared to Mike Piazza as a catcher whose hitting tools far outstrip his defense. The Yankees don't see him as Jorge Posada's heir because his defense is on par with Piazza's or worse.
What he'll be: Because he's likely to move out from behind the plate, Montero should be a first baseman or DH primarily. Other ex-catchers with premium bats such as Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado leap to mind.
When he arrives: New York's offseason moves will dictate whether Montero spends all season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or moves up to the big leagues as a part-time catcher and DH.
6. Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles
Why he's here: The minors' most polished pitching prospect threw 40-plus innings in the majors and showed impressive secondary stuff and a feel for changing speeds.
What he'll be: If Matusz keeps hitters honest enough with his fastball, he could give the Orioles their best starting pitcher since Mike Mussina's departure.
When he arrives: He already did last year, but in 2010 Matusz will get to play a support role to veteran Kevin Millwood.
7. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
Why he's here: When Alvarez gets hot, he goes nuclear. He has impressive power and can go on home run binges, and he still is athletic enough to play a capable third base early in his career.
What he'll be: Alvarez has a chance to follow the Jim Thome career path as an early-career power-hitting third baseman who eventually settles in as a mashing first baseman.
When he arrives: Not soon enough for the Pirates, who could use some pizzazz. Alvarez looked capable in Double-A but might have his arbitration clock delay his big league debut until midway through 2010.
8. Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
Why he's here: Feliz has one of baseball's quickest, most electric arms, and showed it off when he first was called up to the major leagues last August.
What he'll be: The big question with Feliz is his ultimate role. Before tiring down the stretch last year, Feliz showed he could be an impact relief arm, and his feel for his secondary stuff comes and goes. The Rangers see that easy upper-90s gas, though, and see a starter.
When he arrives: Feliz is expected to break camp in 2010 in Texas' rotation. It might take a while for him to truly arrive as a starter, as was the case for flamethrowers such as Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett.
9. Buster Posey, C, Giants
Why he's here: The 2008 College Player of the Year, Posey combines athletic ability and hitting prowess with playing a premium position.
What he'll be: Remember Russell Martin before Joe Torre played him 150 games a year? Posey may not have Martin's fiery leadership, but he'll be a similar catcher with better hitting ability.
When he arrives: As soon as he shows he can receive effectively for pitchers such as Brian Wilson and Matt Cain, who have premium velocity. Then he'll have to take it up another notch to handle Tim Lincecum.
10. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants
Why he's here: No pitcher has had Bumgarner's sheer results the last two seasons, when he went 27-5. He did it in 2009 with diminished velocity but it didn't seem to matter as he mowed down Double-A competition at 19.
What he'll be: Bumgarner's mound presence and ability to pitch off his fastball evokes Cliff Lee. He has similar mound presence and could match Lee if he regains some of his slider's lost bite.
When he arrives: The Giants have enough other rotation options to keep Bumgarner on the farm for at least part of 2010, and perhaps until late in the season, when he could get another bullpen cameo.
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