It’s a sign of the times. Young, cost-effective talent is one of the most valuable resources for all organizations, and teams have increased the emphasis on scouting and developing prospects.
You already know the big names from the first half of the 2010 rookie class, but what about 2011 and beyond?
Here are the top 25 prospects still in the minor leagues. They have never seen a day of major league service, and include the top three selections from the 2010 draft.
25. Zach Britton, starting pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
Britton owns the best sinker in the minors and has posted a 2.49 ERA and 65.6 ground-ball percentage between Double-A and Triple-A this season. He profiles as a left-handed, Derek Lowe-like No. 3 starter and could join a talented young Baltimore rotation as soon as this September.
24. Mike Montgomery, starting pitcher, Kansas City Royals
The ultracompetitive Montgomery would have ranked a little higher on this list, but he’s been shelved since June 15 with soreness in his left pitching elbow. The Royals insist that placing him on the DL was a precautionary measure, and Montgomery’s stuff and moxie give him top-of-the-rotation potential.
23. Brett Lawrie, second baseman, Milwaukee Brewers
Lawrie is yet another Brewers prospect with an excellent bat but questionable defensive skills. His upside will be determined by what position he plays. Lawrie would make a fine player in a corner outfield spot, but could be a perennial All-Star if he can stick at second base.
22. Kyle Gibson, starting pitcher, Minnesota Twins
The Twins took a risk by drafting the injured Gibson with the 22nd overall selection in the 2009 draft, but their gamble has paid immediate dividends. Gibson has a 3.24 ERA and 7.7 K/9 ratio between Single-A and Double-A this season, and could be ready to join Francisco Liriano atop the Twins’ rotation by mid-2011.
21. Casey Kelly, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Kelly dominated Single-A hitters in almost every way last season, but the right-hander has faced some serious adversity this year in Double-A. While his 5.28 ERA is unimpressive, advanced statistics suggest it should be nearly an entire run lower, and scouts still believe he has the stuff and polish to be a No. 2 starter in the majors.
20. Eric Hosmer, first baseman, Kansas City Royals
One of the better pure hitters in the minors, Hosmer has recovered from an injury-plagued 2009 campaign to hit .344 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs in high-A ball this season. The Royals are still waiting for his power to develop, but they believe he can become a similar player to their current stud first baseman, Billy Butler.
19. Jameson Taillon, starting pitcher, Pittsburgh Pirates
The second overall pick in this year’s draft, Taillon gives Pittsburgh a chance to develop its first legitimate ace in years. Frequently compared to a young Josh Beckett, Taillon is unlikely to be major league ready until mid-2013 at the earliest, but Pirate fans will find him to be well worth the wait.
18. Shelby Miller, starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
Miller is a very similar prospect to Taillon, but gets the nod here because he’s a year closer to the majors. The Cards have been limiting his innings since mid-June, but Miller has dominated low-A hitters, posting a 3.96 ERA and 12.4 K/9 ratio thus far in his first full professional season.
17. Brett Wallace, first baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
Wallace is hitting .296 with 14 home runs, 21 doubles and 45 RBIs in Triple-A this season, and is likely to replace the offensively inept Lyle Overbay sometime in the next month. Wallace doesn’t have the prodigious power of most elite first baseman, but should hit for high averages and plenty of doubles in the majors.
16. Manny Machado, shortstop, Baltimore Orioles
With Starlin Castro reaching the majors and Tim Beckham struggling, Machado will become the best shortstop prospect in the minors once he signs with Baltimore. A raw and athletic player, Machado won’t reach the majors for several seasons, but can be a five-tool shortstop in the Troy Tulowitzki mold.
15. Tyler Matzek, starting pitcher, Colorado Rockies
Many believed Matzek to be the top prep arm in the 2009 draft, but he fell to Colorado at No. 11 due to his demand for a large signing bonus. Currently pitching in Single-A, Matzek has a high ceiling as an ace southpaw in the Jon Lester mold, and Matzek could be compiling high strikeout totals in Colorado by mid-2012.
14. Aroldis Chapman, pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
Chapman has seen mixed results in his first season in American baseball, posting an impressive 10.34 K/9 ratio but a worrisome 5.40 BB/9 ratio. The Reds have used him in relief lately and hope he’ll make an impact in their bullpen down the stretch, just as David Price did for the Rays in 2008.
13. Michael Pineda, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners
No pitcher has improved his stock more than Pineda this season, as he’s gone from an intriguing but injury-prone hurler in the low minors to an ace-in-the-making in Triple-A. With a 2.72 ERA and 9.6 K/9 ratio, Pineda should be called up in September and could start 2011 as the M’s No. 2 or 3 starter.
12. Aaron Hicks, outfielder, Minnesota Twins
Hicks possesses all the natural talent in the world, but he’s yet to translate his impressive tools into production and is hitting just .264 with five home runs, 35 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in Single-A. Many prospect junkies are very high on Hicks, and there’s no denying that his upside is special.
11. Mike Moustakas, third baseman, Kansas City Royals
Moustakas is taking full advantage of the hitter-friendly Texas League this season, hitting .347 with 21 home runs, 76 RBIs, 25 stolen bases and a .413 on-base percentage. While he’s unlikely to hit for such a high average in the majors, Moustakas has big-time power and should be batting cleanup for the Royals by this time next season.
10. Logan Morrison, first baseman/left fielder, Florida Marlins
A sweet-swinging, prototypical No. 3 hitter in the Lance Berkman mold, Morrison has recovered from an injury-plagued 2009 season to post solid numbers in Triple-A this year. Morrison’s power numbers are down from past years, but he’s raised his average against lefties from .228 last season to .317 in 2010.
9. Dustin Ackely, second baseman, Seattle Mariners
The second overall pick in the 2009 draft, Ackley has yet to post gaudy numbers, but he’s faced an aggressive development plan and started his professional season in Double-A. Ackley still needs to learn the intricacies of playing second base, but should bring his Derek Jeter-like hitting skills to Seattle by late 2011.
8. Julio Teheran, stating pitcher, Atlanta Braves
Teheran is the best of an impressive crop of young and upcoming Braves pitchers, and has absolutely dominated Single-A hitters this season. Teheran has used his impressive three-pitch repertoire to hold opponents to a .210 average and should give Atlanta another ace to pair with Tommy Hanson in the near future.
7. Martin Perez, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
Perez’ basic statistics aren’t very impressive, but the left-hander is posting a 9.34 K/9 ratio in Double-A at the age of 19. Thanks to his Venezuelan heritage and filthy stuff, Perez is commonly compared to Mets ace Johan Santana, and that’s the type of upside he has.
6. Jesus Montero, catcher/designated hitter, New York Yankees
Had the Yankees successfully completed the Cliff Lee deal, it might have been a blessing in disguise for Boston fans, as Montero would have started his career mashing in Seattle rather than New York. Montero has no chance to stay a catcher, but should start 2011 as the Yankees’ everyday designated hitter, where he will be an absolute offensive monster.
5. Bryce Harper, outfielder, Washington Nationals
Harper’s bat is fairly similar to Montero’s, but the newcomer gets ranked one spot ahead here because of his ability to impact the game defensively and on the bases. Harper will be a tough sign for the Nationals, but could be putting up Ryan Braun-type numbers in his first few years as soon as 2013.
4. Jeremy Hellickson, starting pitcher Tampa Bay Rays
Hellickson lacks the upside of many of the pitchers lower than him on this list, but could join a major league team tomorrow and already profile as a No. 2 or 3 starter. Hellickson has nothing left to prove in the minors, and will likely either be promoted or traded by July 31.
3. Mike Trout, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
In his first full professional season, Trout is hitting .362 with six home runs, 39 RBIs and 45 stolen bases — and he’s increased his value more than any other prospect this season. With plus-plus speed, great hand-eye coordination and developing power, Trout has a chance to become the next Carlos Beltran and could be with the Angels by mid-2012.
2. Desmond Jennings, outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays
One of the fastest players in the minors, Desmond has put his early-season injury troubles behind him and hit .296 with a .375 OBP and 21 stolen bases in Triple-A. With B.J. Upton climbing further into Joe Maddon’s doghouse every day, look for Jennings to replace Upton in center field by early August.
1. Dominic Brown, outfield, Philadelphia Phillies
A true five-tool player, Brown has dominated two levels this season — hitting .326 with 19 home runs, 59 RBIs and 14 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A. With Raul Ibanez hitting .243 with little power, the Phillies could add Brown to their roster in August as they vie for their third consecutive NL pennant.