On Thursday, we examined the bottom 20 qualifiers for this list. That portion of our rankings consisted of high-ceiling players who are several seasons away from the majors, or lower-ceiling prospects who can make major league impacts soon. Friday, we covered some promising young athletic players, as well as a few pitchers who may profile better as relievers and were ranked between 80 and 61. Saturday, we covered some of the games best prospects, but prospects who also have some key flaws and were in the middle of the pack, between 60 and 41.
Today the list rolls on, and we examine players who are either safe bets to be above-average major leaguers soon, or some minor leaguers with All-Star upside. The younger players on this list have the potential to top these rankings next year, while several others should make their MLB debuts in a few months.
40. Arodys Vizcaino, pitcher, Atlanta Braves
Based on pure talent, Vizcaino is arguably a Top 20 prospect. What's troubling, though, is that he's been rushed through the minors and has thrown over 85 innings just once in his professional career. He's small, listed at just six feet and a generous 190 pounds, and has already battled injuries in his career. Vizcaino showed how dominant he can be out of the bullpen in a brief major league stint last season, and his future may lie in relief.
39. Robbie Erlin, starting pitcher, San Diego Padres
It's not hard to make the case that Erlin has the best command of any pitcher in the minors. The lefty walked just 16 batters in 147 1/3 innings pitched between High and Double-A last season, while striking out 154 opponents over that same period. Erlin is somewhat undersized and lacks a true out pitch, but has a very high floor. He'll be a number three caliber MLB starter by June, and has number two starter potential.
38. Brett Jackson, outfielder, Chicago Cubs
Jackson is a fairly divisive player in the prospect community –- some see a potential star, whereas others think he'll flame out against major league pitching. The truth likely lies somewhere in between, and while Jackson's high strikeout rates might prevent him from posting elite OBPs, his power/speed combination is very real. Jackson compares favorably to a left-handed Chris Young, albeit with less range and more patience. He should be MLB ready by July.
37. Randall Delgado, starting pitcher, Atlanta Braves
Frequently overshadowed by fellow prospects Vizcaino and Julio Teheran, Delgado is an outstanding pitcher in his own right. Delgado won't turn 22 until February, yet reached the majors last season after a solid showing in Double-A and a brief stint at Triple-A. He needs to refine his command and better develop a third pitch to complement his devastating fastball-changeup combo, but has the ceiling of a number two pitcher with a fairly high floor as well.
36. Zack Wheeler, starting pitcher, New York Mets
The Mets absolutely robbed the Giants when they nabbed Wheeler for Carlos Beltran last July, and now get to reap the rewards of his promising young career. He needs to refine his command –- his BB/9 was north of four in High-A last season –- but if he does, he has ace potential. Still just 21, Wheeler posted a strikeouts per nine innings above 10 and induced a groundball rate of over 50 percent, so it’s clear that he dominates when around the plate.
35. Jake Marisnick, outfielder, Toronto Blue Jays
Marisnick exploded onto the prospect scene in 2011, hitting .320-17-77 with 37 steals and a .392 OBP in Single-A. Although those numbers are eye-popping, an even stronger indicator of success for Marisnick is that his walk rate rose while his strikeout rate fell last season, indicating a better approach at the plate. This is an aggressive ranking for him after just one standout season, but he's a potential five-tool centerfielder with an advanced feel for hitting at age 20.
34. Gary Sanchez, catcher, New York Yankees
Perhaps the catcher with the highest upside in the minors, Sanchez has nearly the offensive upside of former Yankees prospect Jesus Montero, but with the physical tools needed to stay behind the plate. Still only 19, Sanchez needs to cut his strikeout rate and improve his maturity, but he has massive power –- he had 34 extra base hits (XBH) in 301 at-bats last season –- and should move up to High-A in 2012. If he improves his walk rate, he'll be an elite prospect.
33. Anthony Rizzo, first baseman, Chicago Cubs
Many seem to be down on Rizzo after he struggled badly in 49 games in the majors last season, but all he needs is more time to develop. Rizzo mashed to the tune of a .331 average and .404 OBP with 26 homers and 34 doubles in 413 plate appearances in Triple-A as a 22-year-old. That's impressive, and is even more so when you consider Rizzo lost an entire year of development in 2008 while battling cancer. He's a future 30-homer threat and plus defender who should be ready by July.
32. Hak-Ju Lee, shortstop, Tampa Bay Rays
While Lee flashes five-tool potential, he's no lock to reach double-digit homers in the majors with any consistency. That being said, his other four tools all grade as above average, and Lee should be a productive MLB shortstop in fairly short order. Lee should spend his age 21 season at Double-A, where he'll work on limiting his strikeouts and better translating his speed into range in the field and steals on the bases. His floor appears to be as a Jason Bartlett-type player, but he has the ability to be much more.
31. Taijuan Walker, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners
Walker is raw and relatively untested, but there's a lot to like with his athletic frame, youth and plus fastball. Walker struck out 122 batters in 104 2/3 innings last season, and if all goes well he could reach Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2012. Odds are better that he'll need at least two more seasons in the minors to refine his command and develop his off-speed pitch, but he's on the short list of highest-upside pitchers in the minors.
30. A.J. Cole, starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics
A cursory look at Cole's numbers in Single-A last season might not impress you, but if you look past his win-loss record and his ERA –- two relatively ineffective statistics –- it's evident that Cole dominated. A 10.99 strikeouts per nine innnigs, 2.43 walks per nine innings and 2.53 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark indicate that Cole had little trouble dispensing with older competition. Cole will look to increase his workload in 2012, and could reach Double-A by season's end. He has ace potential.
29. Jarrod Parker, starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics
The main piece coming back to the Athletics in the Trevor Cahill deal, Parker has been all over the prospect map since being drafted in 2008. He missed the entire 2010 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but threw 130 2/3 strong Double-A innings last season. His strikeouts were down and his walks were up from his pre-surgery days, but that's to be expected in his first year back. Parker could use another half-season in the minors, but he has No. 2 starter potential.
28. Rymer Liriano, outfielder, San Diego Padres
This is about as high as you'll see Liriano on any prospect list, but potential five-tool center fielders don't grow on trees. There’s plenty for Liriano to work on –- he needs to improve his defense, face more advanced competition and prove his 2011 walk rate wasn't a fluke. But in terms of tools, Liriano can compare to a player such as Grady Sizemore if he maintains his speed, or Hunter Pence if he fills out a bit more. He's a high-risk, high-reward prospect, but his potential is too great to ignore.
27. Miguel Sano, third baseman, Minnesota Twins
Sano has been a heralded prospect since signing with the Twins in 2010, and put up huge numbers as an 18-year-old in rookie ball last season. Sano hit 20 homers and a total of 45 extra base hits in 2012, but struck out far too much and is still a work in progress defensively at third. Worst-case scenario, Sano moves across the diamond to first base, and only his power translates to the majors. Best-case, he's a three-tool third baseman capable of hitting 40-plus homers a year.
26. Dylan Bundy, starting pitcher, Baltimore Orioles
The first high school arm and fourth overall player selected in the 2011 draft, Bundy is very polished and should move through the minors faster than most high school arms. He's just 19 and has yet to throw a professional inning, though, so he's still several seasons away from the majors. The only real concern anyone has about Bundy is his size –- he's a little smaller than most power pitchers, but there's nothing in his delivery that suggests durability will become an issue down the line.
25. Tyler Skaggs, starting pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks
The main piece coming back to the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade, Skaggs has dramatically improved his prospect stock over the past two seasons. Once viewed as a mid-rotation starter, Skaggs now looks more like a future number two or borderline ace, and has posted huge strikeout numbers in High-A and Double-A last season. He needs another 100 innings in the minors to work on his command, which will be important as Skaggs lacks premium velocity.
24. Carlos Martinez, starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
One of the most exciting arms in the low minors, Martinez racked up 98 strikeouts in 84 2/3 innings between Single and High-A last season. The 20-year-old throws in the mid-90s and induces ground balls at a high rate. There's some significant recoil in his delivery, though, leading some to believe he’ll wind up in the bullpen. Either way Martinez has an electric arm, and his next test will be to throw for more innings while developing his secondary pitches.
23. Danny Hultzen, starting pitcher, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners surprised many by taking Hultzen with the second overall pick this June, and while it's unlikely they nabbed a future ace, they did get the most MLB-ready pitcher in the draft. Hultzen has good command of three average-or-better offerings, a durable frame and the good fortune to throw with his left hand. He could be ready for the majors by June and is in many ways similar to Drew Pomeranz, but with a touch more upside.
22. Trevor Bauer, starting pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs selected Bauer third overall last June, and hope he can follow the likes of Roy Oswalt, Tim Lincecum and other short, hard-throwing righties who've dominated in the National League. Considered by some to be the most MLB-ready right-hander in the draft, Bauer made four starts in Double-A after signing and should begin 2012 there as well. It wouldn't be surprising to see him crack the big leagues by June, though, and he should be successful immediately.
21. Drew Pomeranz, starting pitcher, Colorado Rockies
The key piece coming back to the Rockies in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, Pomeranz is very close to being MLB ready in what will be just his second professional season. The big left-hander excelled in High-A last season, pitched well in five Double-A starts, and held his own in four major league starts at season’s end. He’s more of a mid-rotation starter than a potential ace, but he's a safe bet to become a Jon Danks-type starter in short order.
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