Top 50 Prospects: April Checkup (Part One)

With a month of baseball just about in the books, it’s time to check in on my top 50 prospects to see how they’re doing so far in 2004. Today I’ll look at the top 25 and tomorrow I’ll cover prospects 26-50.

The Top 50 Prospects of 2004 (1-25)
The Top 50 Prospects of 2004 (26-50)

1) Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

As expected, Joe Mauer was Minnesota’s starting catcher coming out of spring training. He got off to a great start and had Twins fans drooling after he went 3-for-4 with two walks in his first six plate appearances. Then Mauer tore his knee going after a foul ball in the middle of his second game. The injury required surgery and Mauer has been out ever since. It was a relatively minor knee surgery (is there such a thing?) and Mauer is currently rehabbing and is expected back fairly soon. He looked as good as advertised, but two games are still just two games. His Rookie of the Year chances are probably cooked, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

.750/.833/.750 with 0 RBIs and 2 runs in 2 MLB games

2) B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

After dominating Single-A and holding his own in a 29-game stint at Double-A last year, B.J. Upton is back there to start this season. He’s been extremely impressive thus far, hitting .344 with two homers, five doubles and two stolen bases in 16 games. Upton has continued to do the two things he did a lot of last season — take walks and make errors. He already has nine walks, but he also has nine errors.

.344/.429/.525 with 11 RBIs and 14 runs in 16 AA games

3) Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers

After being the #2 overall pick in last June’s draft, Rickie Weeks dominated in a very brief stint at Single-A last year and then made his major-league debut with the Brewers. This year, he’s back in the minors, playing at Double-A Huntsville. He has continued right where he left off last season, batting .333 with seven extra-base hits in 54 at-bats. He hasn’t hit a homer yet, he’s striking out quite a bit (20% of his at-bats) and his work on the bases (1-for-3 on steals) hasn’t been good, but you can’t argue with the overall production.

.333/.410/.500 with 6 RBIs and 5 runs in 15 AA games

4) Jeremy Reed, Chicago White Sox

The was some talk that Jeremy Reed, who hit .409 at Double-A last season, would get a chance to start the year with the White Sox, but that never happened. Instead, Chicago went with Aaron Rowand in center field and started Reed at Triple-A Charlotte. From the looks of things, it’s probably going to be a short stay. Reed is hitting .342 with six doubles and five stolen bases in 17 games. The one concerning thing is that his plate discipline and strike zone judgment, which were so good last year, have not been good at all this season. He has just two walks all year and has struck out 11 times, after striking out just 18 times in 66 Double-A games.

.342/.364/.452 with 6 RBIs and 9 runs in 17 AAA games

5) Andy Marte, Atlanta Braves

Andy Marte is at Double-A and is putting up very similar numbers to what he did at Single-A in 2002 and 2003. He batted .281 with a .492 slugging percentage in 2002 and .285 with a .469 slugging percentage last year. So far this season, he’s hitting .275 with a .490 slugging percentage. The only real negative in his performance thus far is that he has struck out in 31% of his at-bats, which is up from 23% in each of the past two seasons.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

.275/.339/.490 with 4 RBIs and 7 runs in 13 AA games

6) Bobby Crosby, Oakland A’s

Bobby Crosby won Oakland’s starting shortstop job out of spring training, but has been in a funk thus far. He is hitting just .204 in 54 at-bats and just returned from a knee injury that he sustained after colliding with Bobby Kielty while chasing a popup. He has struggled making contact, striking out in 39% of his at-bats. His walk rate and power have been decent, although nothing special. I still think he’ll win the Rookie of the Year, but he’s going to have to start making a lot more contact.

.204/.267/.389 with 10 RBIs and 6 runs in 15 MLB games

7) Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels’ season is on hold due to a sore left elbow. Hamels has not thrown a pitch yet this year, but is expected to make his 2004 debut fairly soon. Elbow injuries to young pitchers are obviously pretty scary, so this isn’t the best way for him to begin what was looking like a very exciting season.

8) Scott Kazmir, New York Mets

While Hamels’ season hasn’t started yet, Scott Kazmir has been pitching, just not particularly well. He has a 6.14 ERA in his first four starts at Single-A. Kazmir, as usual, is still racking up big strikeout numbers (14 in 14.2 innings), but he has also walked seven batters while serving up two home runs. Opponents are hitting .328 off Kazmir, after he held them to a .202 batting average last year.

0-0 with a 6.14 ERA and 14/7 K/BB ratio in 14.2 A innings

9) Jeff Mathis, Anaheim Angels

Jeff Mathis is starting 2004 by performing almost exactly the same as he has in the past. In 2001, he hit .299 with a .455 slugging percentage. In 2002, he hit .287 with a .444 slugging percentage. Last year, he hit .315 with a .486 slugging percentage. And so far this year? .286 with a .446 slugging percentage. He’s doing what he always does — good batting average to go along with solid power and plate discipline.

.286/.349/.446 with 9 RBIs and 7 runs in 15 AA games

10) Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers

Prince Fielder is teaming up with Rickie Weeks at Double-A Huntsville this year. So far, Fielder is doing what he does best, hitting .279 with four homers and two doubles in 61 at-bats. He’s walking at his usual pace, but striking out quite a bit more than usual. Fielder has K’d in 25% of his at-bats this year, after striking out just 16% of the time last season.

.279/.361/.508 with 11 RBIs and 11 runs in 17 AA games

11) Edwin Jackson, Los Angeles Dodgers

It looked for a while like Edwin Jackson would start the year in the Dodgers’ rotation, but he didn’t perform particularly well this spring, so the Dodgers decided to start him back at Triple-A. Las Vegas is a very tough place for pitchers and Jackson has not done well thus far. He is 3-1 in four starts, but he has a 6.20 ERA, although his peripheral numbers aren’t nearly that bad.

3-1 with a 6.20 and 14/8 K/BB ratio in 20.1 AAA innings

12) Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins

Much like last year, when he hit .329/.384/.620 with six homers in 79 Double-A at-bats before the Twins promoted him to Triple-A, Justin Morneau is off to a blistering start this season. He is playing at Triple-A and hitting .397 with five homers and five doubles in 68 at-bats. There isn’t much more for Morneau to prove in the minors at this point, so it’s only a matter of when the Twins decide to do the pitchers of the International League a favor and call him up.

.397/.453/.691 with 15 RBIs and 12 runs in 16 AAA games

13) Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals

Similar to Edwin Jackson, there was some thought to starting Zack Greinke with the big club this year. Instead, the Royals sent him to Triple-A Omaha, where he has a 3.68 ERA in three starts. As he did last year, Greinke is showing excellent control, walking just three batters in 14.2 innings. He also has 12 strikeouts and batters are hitting only .224 off him.

0-1 with a 3.68 ERA and 12/3 K/BB ratio in 14.2 AAA innings

14) Casey Kotchman, Anaheim Angels

Casey Kotchman has always hit, but his problem has been staying healthy. He is once again hitting this year and, so far at least, he’s been able to stay on the field. Kotchman is batting .319 with three homers and five doubles in 69 at-bats so far at Double-A, and he has posted his typically outstanding strikeout/walk ratio of 6/7.

.319/.405/.522 with 12 RBIs and 11 runs in 18 AA games

15) Joe Blanton, Oakland A’s

Joe Blanton has picked up right where he left off last season, when he went 11-8 with a 2.29 ERA between Single-A and Double-A. He’s at Triple-A this season and has a 2.59 ERA in four starts. The strikeout/walk ratio isn’t nearly as outstanding as last year’s, but he hasn’t allowed a homer and batters are hitting just .238 off him.

1-1 with a 2.59 ERA and 15/8 K/BB ratio in 24.1 AAA innings

16) David Wright, New York Mets

David Wright is giving Justin Morneau a run for his money for the best start by a top prospect this year. Wright is hitting .358 at Double-A, with three homers and 11 doubles in 67 at-bats. Wright is drawing tons of walks, he’s been hit by a pitch five times already, and has nine stolen bases at a 75% clip. Here’s an interesting stat: Wright, who has 14 strikeouts, is hitting .453 when he makes contact.

.358/.476/.657 with 12 RBIs and 12 runs in 18 AA games

17) Alexis Rios, Toronto Blue Jays

Alexis Rios is at Triple-A this season, biding his time until the Blue Jays decide he’s ready to play every day. So far, Rios is hitting .291 with three homers and six doubles in 79 at-bats. He has only walked three times, so his OBP (.317) is sub par, but he’s hitting for power, which was basically the only missing ingredient in his game last year.

.291/.317/.506 with 14 RBIs and 5 runs in 19 AAA games

18) Dioner Navarro, New York Yankees

With the Yankees’ current catcher leading the American League in homers and slugging percentage, Dioner Navarro is doing all he can to impress the Expos for the impending trade of Jose Vidro to the Yankees at mid-season. Navarro is hitting .305 at Double-A Trenton, with a homer and three doubles in 52 at-bats. Just like last year, he’s making a lot of contact at the plate, striking out in just 11% of his at-bats thus far.

.308/.368/.423 with 6 RBIs and 9 runs in 15 AA games

19) Jason Bay, Pittsburgh Pirates

Jason Bay was a popular Rookie of the Year pick before the season, but he has yet to step onto the field, thanks to a shoulder injury. He’ll participate in extended spring training and should be ready to join the Pirates soon.

20) Ervin Santana, Anaheim Angels

Another guy who hasn’t played yet this year because of a shoulder problem. I don’t have any word on when Ervin Santana might return, but it doesn’t sound particularly serious, at least from what the Angels have said.

21) Ryan Wagner, Cincinnati Reds

After impressing in his brief stint with the Reds at the end of last season, Ryan Wagner’s first full season in the majors is off to a very rough start. He has struggled with his control and has given up 17 hits in 7.2 innings, after allowing just 13 hits in 21.2 innings last year. The good news is that his bad numbers are mostly due to one disastrous appearance, when he allowed six hits and five runs without recording an out against the Cubs. Take that one game away and he has a 2.34 ERA.

1-1 with an 8.22 ERA and 5/6 K/BB ratio in 7.2 MLB innings

22) Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians

Grady Sizemore is showing good plate discipline so far this year, with 10 walks in 18 games, but he isn’t hitting a whole lot. He’s batting .206 in 63 at-bats, with a homer and four doubles. Sizemore also is just 2-for-4 on stolen bases, which normally wouldn’t be concerning, but Sizemore’s stolen base rates have been dipping for years now.

.206/.311/.349 with 10 RBIs and 7 runs in 18 AAA games

23) Dallas McPherson, Anaheim Angels

Dallas McPherson is the last of several awesome prospects on this list playing for Double-A Arkansas, along with Mathis, Kotchman and, when he returns from his shoulder problem, Santana. McPherson is off to a solid start, hitting .275 with seven extra-base hits in 69 at-bats. He’s walking a ton, but also striking out in 20% of his at-bats.

.275/.363/.435 with 9 RBIs and 11 runs in 18 AAA games

24) John Maine, Baltimore Orioles

I think I was a lot higher than most people on John Maine coming into this season, ranking him as my #24 prospect. So far, he’s been great at Double-A Bowie, going 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA in four starts. I particularly like the 26 strikeouts in 21 innings, as well as the 3.7/1 strikeout/walk ratio. Oh, and batters are hitting just .171 off him so far.

3-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 26/7 K/BB ratio in 21.0 AA innings

25) Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

King Felix is the youngest of my top 50 prospects, born in 1986. He dominated low Single-A last year, enough to get me so excited I ranked him #25, but I also said, “All of the disclaimers about young pitchers and injuries apply, and certainly Hernandez needs to show that he can pitch like this at higher levels, but right now he looks like a serious stud.

Well, Hernandez moved up to high Single-A this year and he’s continuing to dominate. He’s 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA in his first four starts, with a beautiful 27/7 strikeout/walk ratio. Remember, this is a guy who turned 18 last week.

2-1 with a 3.48 ERA and 27/7 K/BB ratio in 20.2 A innings

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