Spring training and the 2010 regular season are right around the corner, which means it's time to take stock of the top potential future stars in the minor leagues.
Below are the first 25 players in my rankings of the top 100 prospects in baseball right now, based upon my years of experience in the industry as a scout and talent evaluator.
In order to be eligible for the list, the player must be part of a major league organization and still considered a rookie (fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the major leagues and fewer than 45 days on an active roster, excluding September call-ups).
1. STEPHEN STRASBURG (RHP), NATIONALS
Age: 21 | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220
2009 Stats: 4-1 W-L | 4.26 ERA | 12 2/3 IP | 23 SO | 7 BB
Finished '09: Phoenix Desert Dogs (Arizona Fall League)
The Skinny: Who else could it be? Despite some early struggles in the Arizona Fall League, Strasburg looked as advertised this fall. He'll bring his 100-mph fastball into big-league camp next month, and looks like a favorite to nab a spot in Washington's rotation. We'll see if he forces the organization's hand or if he needs some seasoning in Triple-A.
2. MICHAEL STANTON (OF), MARLINS
Age: 20 | Bats: R | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 205
2009 Stats: .255 AVG | 28 HR | 92 RBI | .341 OBP | 3 SB
Finished '09: Jacksonville (Double-A Southern League)
The Skinny: Stanton is the closest thing you'll find to Dave Winfield. With his monstrous power, which plays to all fields, above-average speed, athleticism, plus arm and range as a corner outfielder, Florida's prized prospect looks poised to be one of baseball's next five-tool stars. His light-tower power is something that does not come along often.
3. DESMOND JENNINGS (OF), RAYS
Age: 23 | Bats: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 180
2009 Stats: .318 AVG | 11 HR | 62 RBI | .401 OBP | 52 SB
Finished '09: Durham (Triple-A International League)
The Skinny: You can talk about Jennings' outstanding five-tool abilities, and, yes, they are very impressive. But what makes him so fascinating is his combination of those tools and his rapidly improving instincts and feel at the plate. This is a player that's going to hit for a very high average, and has skills at the plate that resemble Yankees' legend Derek Jeter.
4. JASON HEYWARD (OF), BRAVES
Age: 20 | Bats: L | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220
2009 Stats: .323 AVG | 17 HR | 63 RBI | .408 OBP | 10 SB
Finished '09: Gwinnett (Triple-A International League)
The Skinny: Right now there are several star-caliber young hitters on the verge of making their mark in the majors, and Heyward is one of the players leading the pack. The power is still developing for the 20-year-old Georgia native, but Braves fans can be confident that his short left-handed swing will be a big part of the middle of their order for many years.
5. JESUS MONTERO (C), YANKEES
Age: 20 | Bats: R | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 225
2009 Stats: .337 AVG | 17 HR | 70 RBI | .389 OBP | 0 SB
Finished '09: Trenton (Double-A Eastern League)
The Skinny: Can he catch? Yes. Will he catch? It doesn't matter much. His bat is that potent. Much debate surrounds Montero's ability to stick behind the plate, but the bat is going to be special. He has a potential 40-homer bat with the offensive upside of Miguel Cabrera. We could see the Venezuelan slugger as early as midseason in 2010 if all goes well in Triple-A.
6. NEFTALI FELIZ (RHP), RANGERS
Age: 21 | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 190
2009 Stats: 4-6 W-L | 3.49 ERA | 77 1/3 IP | 75 SO | 30 BB
Finished '09: Texas
The Skinny: We got a glimpse of just how special Feliz could be during his late season call-up in 2009. He was dominant in more than 30 innings of work, showcasing his electric upper-90s fastball. Whether he will start or relieve is the long-term question, but either way he should be one of the more fascinating young arms to watch in 2010.
7. BUSTER POSEY (C), GIANTS
Age: 22 | Bats: R | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 195
2009 Stats: .325 AVG | 18 HR | 80 RBI | .416 OBP | 6 SB
Finished '09: San Francisco
The Skinny: Posey has been a model of consistency since he turned pro, and he looks poised to take that consistency to the big leagues in 2010. His extra-short, compact swing should translate seamlessly to the majors. It's never easy for a catcher to learn on the job at the highest level, but if anyone can, it's Posey.
8. BRIAN MATUSZ (LHP), ORIOLES
Age: 22 | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 200
2009 Stats: 11-2 W-L | 1.91 ERA | 113 IP | 121 SO | 32 BB
Finished '09: Baltimore
The Skinny: We got a glimpse of what Matusz could do in 2009, and it was an impressive one. He showed a feel for all his pitches, and that, coupled with his 91-93 mph fastball, should make for a long, successful career. With a taste of the show in 2009 behind him, Matusz is a top contender for AL Rookie of the Year in 2010.
9. MARTIN PEREZ (LHP), RANGERS
Age: 18 | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 165
2009 Stats: 6-8 W-L | 2.90 ERA | 114 2/3 IP | 119 SO | 38 BB
Finished '09: Frisco (Double-A Texas League)
The Skinny: This is an aggressive ranking for Perez, given his limited experience at the upper levels, but you can make the case that he has the best stuff of any left-handed starter in the minors. The Rangers have a southpaw with the total package, and given his 92-96 mph fastball, feel for his secondary pitches and mound presence, this is one of the few prospects that can truly be projected as a future ace.
10. JEREMY HELLICKSON (RHP), RAYS
Age: 22 | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 185
2009 Stats: 9-2 W-L | 2.45 ERA | 114 IP | 132 SO | 29 BB
Finished '09: Durham (Triple-A International League)
The Skinny: Perhaps the most universally underappreciated pitching prospect in the minors, Hellickson has almost silently moved his way up the ladder. He has the potential for three above-average pitches and has pinpoint command that stacks up with any pitcher on this list. He's undersized, about the only thing a critic could point to, and could be a factor for the Rays in 2010.
11. STARLIN CASTRO (SS), CUBS
Age: 19 | Bats: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 160
2009 Stats: .299 AVG | 3 HR | 49 RBI | .342 OBP | 28 SB
Finished '09: Tennessee (Double-A Southern League)
The Skinny: Cubs fans seem to be ready to push this guy to the show in 2010, but he may not be quite ready for that. Castro is improving rapidly at the plate and has shown the ability to punish good pitching. The power is still coming along and should continue to as he fills out. He has all the tools to be the shortstop in Chicago for years to come.
12. CHRISTIAN FRIEDRICH (LHP), ROCKIES
Age: 22 | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 210
2009 Stats: 6-5 W-L | 2.41 ERA | 119 2/3 IP | 159 SO | 43 BB
Finished '09: Modesto (Advanced Single-A California League)
The Skinny: The Rockies have tried to take it slow with Friedrich, but he's all but forced promotion by dominating at every level he pitches. Armed with a 90-94 mph fastball and big, plus curveball, he looks like a nice left-handed complement to Ubaldo Jimenez at the top of the Colorado rotation.
13. PEDRO ALVAREZ (3B), PIRATES
Age: 22 | Bats: L | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 235
2009 Stats: .288 AVG | 27 HR | 95 RBI | .378 OBP | 2 SB
Finished '09: Altoona (Double-A Eastern League)
The Skinny: Alvarez has been streaky in his professional career, but the production has been immense when he's caught fire. He's looking more and more like the elite middle-of-the-order bat the Pirates desperately need. There's a good chance he ends up at first base, but his bat more than plays at any position.
14. MADISON BUMGARNER (LHP), GIANTS
Age: 20 | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 215
2009 Stats: 12-2 W-L | 1.85 ERA | 131 1/3 IP | 92 SO | 34 BB
Finished '09: San Francisco
The Skinny: Bumgarner's velocity was down late in 2009, causing some alarm among Giants fans. He's still very young and has logged a lot innings, so it shouldn't be too much of a concern. He has the command and stuff to pitch at the front of the rotation when he's at his best.
15. KYLE DRABEK (RHP), BLUE JAYS
Age: 22 | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 185
2009 Stats: 12-3 W-L | 3.19 ERA | 158 IP | 150 SO | 50 BB
Finished '09: Reading (Double-A Eastern League)
The Skinny: If Phillippe Aumont was the pitching prospect with the best stuff in Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee deal, then Drabek is the one with the best combination of stuff and polish. He's undersized, but the 22-year-old has the stuff, bloodlines and feel for pitching to perform at the top of a big-league rotation. Aside from some lingering makeup concerns, Drabek is very close to the total package.
16. CARLOS SANTANA (C), INDIANS
Age: 23 | Bats: S | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 188
2009 Stats: .290 AVG | 23 HR | 97 RBI | .413 OBP | 2 SB
Finished '09: Akron (Double-A Eastern League)
The Skinny: Not a bad guy to get in return for Casey Blake, is he? Santana has been outstanding in the Cleveland system and has easily emerged as its catcher of the future. He projects to have 25-homer power at the next level, and can handle the defensive side of things.
17. WADE DAVIS (RHP), RAYS
Age: 24 | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 220
2009 Stats: 10-8 W-L | 3.40 ERA | 158 2/3 IP | 140 SO | 60 BB
Finished '09: Tampa Bay
The Skinny: The Rays are a player-development machine, and Davis is yet another example of that. He has front-of-the-rotation-type stuff and showed it with some strong performances down the stretch with the big-league club. He could be a major factor for them out of spring training this year.
18. DUSTIN ACKLEY (IF), MARINERS
Age: 21 | Bats: L | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 185
2009 Stats: .315 AVG | 1 HR | 12 RBI | .412 OBP | 1 SB
Finished '09: Peoria Javelinas (Arizona Fall League)
The Skinny: Arguably the best pure hitter to come out of the 2009 draft, Ackley has looked as advertised thus far. His position on the field is still in question, but his bat is clearly not. He should move very quickly up the minor-league ladder.
19. DOMONIC BROWN (OF), PHILLIES
Age: 22 | Bats: L | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 204
2009 Stats: .299 AVG | 14 HR | 64 RBI | .377 OBP | 23 SB
Finished '09: Reading (Eastern League)
The Skinny: Brown is often described as a scout's dream. He has a frame reminiscent of Darryl Strawberry's, and while his power probably won't reach those heights, he has tools galore. The on-the-field results have caught up to the tools in a hurry, but he's not a finished product.
20. ALCIDES ESCOBAR (SS), BREWERS
Age: 23 | Bats: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 175
2009 Stats: .298 AVG | 4 HR | 34 RBI | .353 OBP | 42 SB
Finished '09: Milwaukee
The Skinny: Escobar is known as outstanding glove man, and it has long been said that he could handle the job at shortstop defensively in the big leagues right now. Well now the bat has caught up, just as scouts have long projected.
21. JARROD PARKER (RHP), DIAMONDBACKS
Age: 21 | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 180
2009 Stats: 5-6 W-L | 3.14 ERA | 97 1/3 IP | 95 SO | 38 BB
Finished '09: Visalia (Advanced Single-A California League)
The Skinny: We'll have to see how he rebounds from elbow surgery, but had he not gotten injured, Parker would have been a top-10 candidate. He has electric stuff when he's healthy, and would have been poised to compete for a spot in the big-league rotation.
22. JUSTIN SMOAK (1B), RANGERS
Age: 23 | Bats: S | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 200
2009 Stats: .290 AVG | 12 HR | 57 RBI | .410 OBP | 0 SB
Finished '09: Oklahoma (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
The Skinny: Smoak hit some bumps in the road in 2009 at the upper levels, but most scouts agree that he's still very much on track. The Rangers are deep at first base, so they don't need to rush him. This is a smart player, however, that should be able to adjust and push himself to the majors in 2010.
23. JENNRY MEJIA (RHP), METS
Age: 20 | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 162
2009 Stats: 4-6 W-L | 3.14 ERA | 94 2/3 IP | 91 SO | 39 BB
Finished '09: Binghamton (Double-A Eastern League)
The Skinny: Mejia looks like of one of the most exciting pitching prospects the Mets have had in quite some time. He can reach the upper 90s with his fastball and has learned to pitch effectively and more frequently with his secondary pitches. The Mets will try to take it slow with this powerful young arm. We could see him in 2011.
24. CASEY KELLY (RHP), RED SOX
Age: 20 | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 200
2009 Stats: 7-5 W-L | 2.08 ERA | 95 IP | 74 SO | 16 BB
Finished '09: Salem (Advanced Single-A Carolina League)
The Skinny: He is not overpowering, with a fastball sitting around 91 mph, but his command, movement, feel for pitching and strong secondary arsenal make him a candidate to be a fast-moving prospect with No. 2 starter upside. He's very advanced for a high school draft pick, and now that he's dedicated only to pitching, Kelly could move up very quickly.
25. AUSTIN JACKSON (OF), TIGERS
Age: 22 | Bats: R | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 185
2009 Stats: .300 AVG | 4 HR | 65 RBI | .354 OBP | 24 SB
Finished '09: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A International League)
The Skinny: One of the centerpieces in the blockbuster that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Jackson will be given a shot at the center-field job for the Tigers in 2010. We'll find out soon enough if he's ready. His power stroke is the only thing scouts are still waiting on, otherwise, he has grown leaps and bounds since he was drafted.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.