These prospect rankings are not exactly “true” rankings, in that rather than select the top talent and break it down division by division, I have instead selected the top player in each team’s farm system and ranked those players against the talent in his respective division. This not only cut the length of my project in half, it also profiles a player from every team in the league, leaving no one out of the fun. I have linked every name in the article so that you can bring up the profile for reference.
1. J.P. Taveras, SP, Montreal Expos
The 24-year old flamethrower is already major league ready, and might have began season two with the parent club if not for being sidelined by major knee surgery after just three starts in season one. Montreal’s patience with the future ace has paid big dividends if his AAA production can be matched at the major league level. In 20 starts Taveras is 9-2 with a paltry 3.16 ERA, 151 strikeouts, and an opponent’s average of just .236. The big Venezuelan lives on a fastball that sits 94-95 and has a dominating slider that will get better. He commands both pitches well, but has a tendency to pick around the strike zone instead of challenging hitters with his stuff. He should be a welcome addition to the Expos’ season three rotation, and anchor the staff for the foreseeable future so long as he can avoid the big injury.
2. Bartolo Lopez, LF, Cincinnati Reds
Lopez has displayed monstrous power in his first two pro seasons for Cincinnati, and has not yet suffered from a habit of being fooled by breaking balls. In 79 games at high A this season Lopez was unstoppable, crushing 30 homers while hitting .386 and driving in 103. After a mid-season promotion to AA he has continued his torrid pace slamming 15 more homers and hitting .340. While he does not boast great ability in the outfield his glove shouldn’t be a detriment when he finally reaches the show. Lopez has the bat to be a big star, but he’ll need to listen to his coaches as he continues his ascent. He struggles at times when he tries too hard to pull the ball, and has never seen a pitch at his eyes that he didn’t like. Major league pitchers should be able to neutralize his power with a steady diet of breaking balls, but he should be a frontline slugger and could be in the Reds’ everyday lineup to at the start of next season.
3. Victor Torres, SP, Chicago Cubs
Selected fourth overall by the Cubs in season one, Torres has the stuff to be a frontline starter in the majors, but there are significant questions about his ability to pitch deep into games. At 22, and with significant development remaining, the right-hander may be late in arriving to the majors, but scouts have little doubt that he will be effective, even if it’s out of the bullpen. Torres has been beatable in the minors, but may be hitting his stride at AAA. Through 15 starts he is 6-3 with a 3.05 ERA and averages more than 2-1 strikeouts to walks. A hard thrower who forces hitters to put the ball on the ground, Torres will need to maximize his command of all four pitches to be successful.
4. Willy Marshall, CF, Milwaukee Brewers
Despite his height (6’5”) Marshall may be the fastest thing out of Kentucky since Secretariat. He possesses plus-plus speed and his base running technique and instincts are tops in the system. Marshall will need to improve his batting eye and use his long arms to drive more ground balls through the hole if he wants to be a premier table setter for the Brewers. Through two seasons at AA he has whiffed an eye-popping 190 times, but his ability to hit for extra bases (59 doubles, 11 triples, 22 home runs) could make his strikeouts a moot point. Marshall’s second best attribute is his glove, which already would be among the best in the bigs. His arm rates as average, but his speed and instincts in center will more than compensate when he finally arrives in Milwaukee.
1. Walt Hernandez, SP, New York Mets
If you were Walt Hernandez you’d be rich, have a nice Van Gogh mustache, and have 31 other general managers wishing you were their property. After being the first overall pick by the Mets in season two, Hernandez spurned the NFL despite twice being an All-American punter at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. In 10 rookie starts Hernandez has been human, posting a 3.98 ERA and three wins while striking out 56; but his upside is nearly limitless. With a fastball that sits 94-95 and great command of the strike zone with three pitches, Hernandez is equally devastating to both righties and lefties, and a sharp biting changeup forces hitters to pound the ball into the ground with regularity. Hernandez is a sure bet to be among the elite starters in the National League and a perennial 20-game winner. He should be in the bigs by season five.
2. Fonzie Robinson, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
He may not own a leather jacket, and certainly doesn’t use as much product in his hair, but Robinson is every bit as suave as his television namesake when he’s on the mound. “The Fonz” features a nasty cut fastball, a sharp, 12 to 6 curve, and an above average fastball that explodes on hitters’ hands. In his first pro season Robinson won just eight of his 29 starts, but struck out 179 batters in 164 innings of work, and opponents posted just a .265 average against him. Hitters in high A have found him no more hittable this season, despite a 3-3 record. To date he has limited his walks, but control and his ability to repeat a clean delivery have scouts wondering if he will find success against major league talent. The lefty is effective against hitters from both sides of the plate and has shown an ability to pitch deep into games. His ceiling is as a middle of the rotation starter on a good team, but probably needs a few more years of seasoning in the minors.
3. Enrique Pena, CF, Philadelphia Phillies
Traded to Philadelphia prior to season two with uber-stud Jake Clapp, Pena instantly became the top prospect in the Phillies’ system. Although he lacks blazing speed, Pena has the best glove and range of any outfield prospect in Kinsella, and is rumored to have once caught a pop-foul behind home plate during a game in high school. He has struggled in his first season at AAA, hitting .272 with 55 strikeouts in just under 300 at bats, but is just 19-years old, has an outstanding eye at the plate and above average power. Philly’s lone concern with the fly ball maven is his off season conditioning. Pena struggles to maintain his energy over the course of a full season, leading to inconsistencies at the plate. With time and a re-devotion to his training program Pena’s pros should well outweigh any concerns.
4. Cristian Simmons, RP, Washington Nationals
A crafty left hander who has already amassed 66 saves in two pro seasons, Simmons doesn’t rely on power to get outs; he locates his exploding 87-89 mph fastball and pulls the string on hitters with a plus sinker that forces hitters into bad swings and weak ground balls. He has progressed quickly and handled a jump to AA in season two without missing a beat. If he continues to dominate hitters as he has to date, a spot in Washington’s bullpen could be in the near future, and he could be slamming the door on Nationals’ opponents not long after that.
1. Dee Dee Hutton, 1B, Atlanta Braves
The first draft pick in franchise history, “Double-D” Hutton’s combination of pitch selection and patience at the plate combined with his ability to drive the ball to all fields may prove him the most prolific bat selected in season one’s amateur draft. The 21-year old lefty has tagged 67 home runs during the first season and a half of his professional career, amassing 234 RBI, while reaching base .444 percent of the time. Hutton was probably good enough to start for the Braves when he was drafted, but the organization has taken a patient approach with the slugger. He eventually will be one of the most feared run producers in Kinsella history, and may get a chance to shine in the bigs as early as season three.
2. Doug Stewart, SS, Florida Marlins
Selected second overall from Choctaw County HS in season two, Stewart has proven he was worth every penny of the 3.9 million dollar signing bonus Florida eagerly handed him. Since suiting up for the rookie level version of the Fish, he has made mincemeat of pitchers hitting .424 while drawing 24 walks and smashing 10 home runs in just 151 at-bats. An offensive short stop, Stewart projects to a middle of the order slugger who will be an adequate glove up the middle. He displays plus-plus power, an excellent batting eye, and above average ability to make contact. Although he has plus speed, Stewart will need to work on his instincts to be an effective base stealer in the bigs, but the Marlins are hopeful he will be too busy trotting around the bases to concern himself with steals when he arrives in the majors.
3. Hades Ritchie, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Nicknamed “The Dark Lord” by teammates for his unusual first name, Ritchie will certainly be hell to face in the years to come. Boasting a major league ready four seamer and a sinker that should develop into a plus pitch, he has been dominant in his first pro season; posting an ERA of 2.21 in 10 starts at low A. Ritchie has nearly a 5-1 K/BB ratio in 61 innings and has held opponents to a .225 average. Without the ability to overpower hitters Ritchie will use his outstanding control and penchant for ground outs to be successful at the big league level. He has been working on a circle change that could be an effective out pitch when ready. The 20-year old right hander will benefit from Cardinals’ conditioning program and should mature into a top of the rotation starter, if not an ace.
4. Rex Yearwood, 2B, Houston Astros
Yearwood, who starred in three sports at Churchland High School of Virginia, was a first round selection by the Yankees in season one, and was part of the deal that sent Shea Keefe to New York. Although Yearwood lacks the soft glove and range of a major league second baseman, his on-base prowess and above-average power should make him an everyday player in the majors. His ability to drive the ball against righties would make him ideal in a left field platoon for Houston, and at 19 he has plenty of time to grow into his projections.
1. Hi Zaun, 3B, San Fransisco Giants
Selected sixth out of Peoria High School in the season two amateur draft, Zaun is everything a GM could want in a third baseman. A patient hitter with a great feel for the strike zone, he will develop plus power as he matures. His laser arm had scouts thinking he may be better suited in the bullpen, but his bat could be the centerpiece to a potent Giants’ lineup for years to come. 45 games into his first professional season Zaun has shown why he was so highly regarded; batting .333 with 4 homers and 25 doubles. He has already showcased his plus-plus range and cannon arm, and should progress quickly through the system.
2. Alejandro Sosa, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Originally signed by Florida for a 12 million dollar bonus and a major league contract during season one, Sosa was dealt to the west coast for closer Carlos Solano in the off season. Already featuring a blazing fastball, a major league quality slider and amazing control for his age, the 19-year old lefty projects as a premier front of the rotation starter. The Venezuelan got a taste of life in the big leagues at the end of season one and impressed, posting a 1-1 record and a 3.26 ERA in three starts. Sosa also recorded an astounding 8-1 K/BB ratio in his brief stint with the parent club. Dodgers’ coaches have been working to develop his changeup, which could develop into an effective third pitch against major league hitters. Sosa has a penchant for late nights with loose women, and barring any STDs could see his first taste of full time major league life in season three.
3. Buddy Truman, SP, San Diego Padres
A labrum tear in his throwing shoulder cut the “Truman Show” short in season one, but the hefty Canadian is showing no lingering effects from the injury as he carves up opposing hitters in AA. The righty has limited hitters to a .233 average against while recording 11 wins and a 3.06 ERA in 23 starts this season. A classic four-pitch pitcher, Truman has outstanding command of the strike zone and may have the best breaking ball of any prospect in Kinsella. He mixes up batters with a hard, late breaking slider and a looping curve that “starts at your nose and ends at your toes.” He has and will continue to struggle with home runs as he faces better competition, but he rarely issues a free pass and is able to buckle down under pressure to avoid the big inning. A stint in the bigs may be possible next year, but it’s more likely that he’ll begin season four in the Padres’ rotation.
4. Carlos Gutierrez, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Part of a six-player deal with Boston during Kinsella’s inaugural season, Gutierrez may be the one that got away for Red Sox fans. One of many Venezuelan lefties gracing the landscape, he features a repertoire that will consist of three plus pitches once he has had time to refine them in the minors. Without a power fastball he will rely on deception and above average control to record outs at the major league level. His forkball forces hitters to wait on his pitches, limiting the amount of extra base hits against him. Despite a 3.73 ERA at the AAA level this season, Gutierrez is just 9-10. Playing in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League he has surrendered an uncharacteristic 25 homers to opponents, but has walked just 35 batters in almost 150 innings while striking out 120. He could see some time in the majors in season three, but Arizona could afford to wait for another year of development for this South American jewel.