The number one prospects in baseball over the previous 3 years have been Jay Bruce, Matt Wieters, and Jason Heyward. Bruce and Wieters are in the show and are every-day starters (and pretty draftable in fantasy – each for different reasons). Heyward, by all accounts, has a good chance to break camp with the team – and at worst get called up this year for some QPT (Quality Playing Time). These players were tops in their classes almost without question (over time Longoria, Price, and Strasburg may make a strong argument). The question is Who is Next?
Let’s take a quick look at the season prior to each player being tops in their classes and who of the current batch of prospects may be next:
Jay Bruce 2007 from A+, AA, AAA (133 gms): 87 / 26 / 89 / .319 / .962
Matt Wieters 2008 from A+, AA (130 gms): 89 / 27 / 91 / .355 / 1.053
Jason Heyward 2009 from A+, AA, AAA (99 gms): 69 / 17 / 63 / .323 / .963
Assuming Heyward’s nagging injuries didn’t keep him from missing some time, his counting stats would work out to be approximately 90 / 22 / 83 which is right in line with Bruce and Wieters.
A couple of candidates from the 2010 prospects which will probably still be Minor League eligible for next year: Jesus Montero, Michael Stanton, and Starlin Castro.
Jesus Montero – 20 years old – Huge bat and nice strike zone discipline. He is also a physical specimen which has many scouts and experts questioning if he is really going to be a catcher in the major leagues. In 2009, he compiled a line of 45 / 17 / 70 / .337 / .951 in 92 games split between A+ and AA ball. This looks extremely similar to the line that Heyward put up in roughly the same number of games and if not for a broken finger, Montero may have overtaken him for Baseball America's minor league player of the year. He doesn’t have the wheels that Heyward, Bruce or even Wieters does, but his stick ranks up there with any of the elite bats in the minor leagues.
Michael Stanton – 20 years old – Big Power. By now, everyone has read about Stanton’s huge power and the mass amount of homers he has hit over the last couple of years. In 2009 his stat line looked like this: 76 / 28 / 92 / .255 / .842. Nice work by any standard. Undoubtedly, everyone has also heard about his propensity to strike out. I wouldn’t worry too much about this aspect of his game however – he is constantly described as a tireless worker and recently has shown his understanding that baseball is mostly a mental game when you have the type of tools he does (link). Will he strike out more than Heyward, Montero, Bruce, etc.? Yes. Will he struggle more when he finally makes his MLB entrance? Yes, probably. Will he work to improve and understand that baseball is a thinking man’s game? Yes. I think the intangables and work ethic give Stanton a big edge over other pure power guys. Oh, and his defense has never really been a question so there will be a place for him on the field when he is ready.
Starlin Castro – 19 years old – Complete Package. Speed, plate discipline, and power projection are all there for Castro. Making the case for Castro is a bit different since he will not put of the HR or RBI totals of Stanton or Montero. He will be an on-base machine that will increase his SB totals from last year. His 2009 totals looked like: 56 / 3 / 49 / .299 / .734 with 28 steals. None of these stands out as exceptional but when you consider he was the youngest regular position player in A+ ball last year and moved up to AA by year’s end, it puts it into more perspective. This year, look for Castro to split time between AA and AAA and don’t be surprised to see him get a game or three in with Chicago depending on injuries, etc. at the big club level. His defense is reported as superior and his speed is excellent. If his power develops, he can be very special at a very thin position from a fantasy standpoint. I don’t foresee Hanley territory, but something closer to Jose Reyes with a slight decrease in SB.
So in 2011, who will be most likely to be atop the majority of the prospect lists? My money goes toward Stanton. Montero’s bat is special and from a fantasy perspective would be my pick in a keeper league setting – but, the position uncertainty will hurt his ranking in many circles (we have seen that this year with Neftali Feliz). Starlin will be a top 5 prospect next year baring a wheel going flat. Stanton however is a big bat, with a well defined position, and has the defense and work ethic to make people drool about what is in store for his future. Fantasy-wise, it will be a few years before he won’t hurt your BA, but when it is all said-and-done, Stanton will probably settle into the .260 range, take walks, and hit for a ton of power. Frankly, everyone loves the long ball, and so do I. Front runner for 2011 top prospect –Michael Stanton.