I’ve outlined my top 10, and now things should get interesting as we move to spots 11-13. A few things to note before we continue. This list is my own, its my opinion, and I expect you to disagree in cases. My hope is that my case is outlined in a manner that makes sense, and you can at least understand why I picked player X in spot Y. If there are things that don’t make sense, I’m more than happy to explain in more detail. If I don’t get to it in the comments, I’ll answer any and all questions in the post top-30 mailbag. Enough yammering, lets get to it.
11. Julio Rodriguez, RHP
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2010 Summary: Rodriguez put up big numbers in 2010, especially in the strikeout department with 126 in just 90.1 IP across two levels. He also lowered his home run rate significantly from 2009 to 2010. In his 3 pro seasons, he’s now struck out 190 in 150.1 IP, while allowing just 111 hits.
Strengths: Its tough to argue with the big strikeout numbers Rodriguez has put up. His long arms and legs help him create natural deception, and his arm works well in his delivery. Though the pitch is inconsistent, he can snap off a big breaking curveball that obviously confounds the inexperienced hitters in the NYPL and the SAL. He also improved his groundball and HR rate substantially in 2010, which is a positive sign.
Weaknesses: The biggest shortcoming of Rodriguez, right now, is the inconsistency of his velocity. Keith Law reported him at 90-93 in the beginning of an outing this summer at Lakewood, but that he then dropped off into the 87-90 range. He has filled out a bit since being drafted, but the consistent velocity still isn’t there. His command and control are a tick below average right now, and his curveball can get a bit soft at times, as he slows his arm down to create a bigger break. You can see this if you watch the video linked above closely.
Best Case: At just 20 now, he’s going to be young for his level in 2011, and he still has a chance to develop further, whether it be adding velocity or improving his secondary offerings. His delivery creates deception, and hes always likely to be a tough guy to square up. So, in short, I don’t know what the best case is, because the scouting reports on him have been so divergent. His curveball already flashes plus at times, so its easy to imagine him in the starting rotation going forward.
MLB ETA: Its a ways away, and he has a number of other arms to compete with. After repeating the GCL, he handled two levels this year, and pitched well at Lakewood. He could start back at Lakewood and take a rotation spot, or move to Clearwater and function in the swing man role again.
Ranking Difficulties: He’s one of the toughest prospects to really understand. The strikeout numbers, and I love strikeouts, are off the charts good, and he’s done at as a younger prospect in more advanced leagues. The groundball rate is moving in the right direction, and as I talked about back in 2008 when he was drafted, I like his athletic delivery. Yet his fastball velocity varies wildly, and the reports on him have all conflicted. Some indicated his velocity was consistently 90-93 at the end of the season, some indicate he was still in the high 80s. If he ends up in the 88-92 range, its tough to see him as an impact guy, and he’s more a back of the rotation starter. However, if he can ramp things up in short stints and sharpen his curveball he could also be a solid late inning reliever.
Final Thoughts: Drafted as a 17 year old in 2008, he is still very young, and pitched 2010 as a 19 year old for the entire season, meaning he still has plenty of time. What I want to see, more than anything, are consistent scouting reports from him in 2011. If his velocity can hold steady in the 90-93 range, he should be just fine in the rotation. His curveball has the potential to be a true weapon if he can maintain a consistent release point on on both his fastball and curve. He’ll need to sharpen his command and control, but his 2010 was a solid step forward in his development.
12. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
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2010 Summary: After three years in rookie ball, two overseas, Hernandez had an excellent season in the pitcher friendly NYPL, hitting .325 and drawing his share of walks, while also swiping 32 bases at an 84% clip. He also draws solid marks for his defense at second base, committing only 7 errors and showing good range.
Strengths: Hernandez does a number of things really well, starting with his ability to make consistent contact. He struck out in less than 10% of his plate appearances, which I consider to be elite level contact ability. By comparison, the strikeout rate of all prospects in the NYPL was 20.1% in 2010. On top of his ability to make consistent contact, he also walked in almost 10% of his plate appearances. He showed strong aptitude on the bases, and in a full season league, he figures to steal close to 50 bases. His defense should be an asset going forward.
Weaknesses: Its easy to see in his profile, he has no raw power, and at 5’10/170, he doesn’t really project for much down the line. He hit 3 home runs in 2 seasons in the VSL, but has zero in 2 short seasons in the US. He could still add a bit of muscle, and if he can develop even a line drive stroke, he should be okay.
Best Case: Second base is not a traditional power position, though we’ve been spoiled watching Chase Utley day in and day out. Hernandez profiles as a top of the order hitter who can work the count, but should always provide a healthy batting average, along with a ton of stolen bases. Defensive numbers in the minors mean very little to me, so I want to see more scouting reports on his defensive ability. But his approach at the plate, coupled with his speed and his potential above average defense gives him the chance to be a solid every day player.
MLB ETA: Hernandez turns 21 in May and was just added to the 40 man roster, so he does have to move quickly, but if he moves a level at a time, starting at Lakewood in 2011, he should be ready to stick as a utility guy at worst in 2014.
Ranking Difficulties: The lack of power may turn some people off, but all of his other skills are above average. Guys with zero power often struggle at higher levels, but the reason I’m not concerned about Hernandez right now is the elite contact level. He doesn’t swing and miss much, and he has excellent speed. If he were a left fielder, I’d be concerned, but as a middle infielder with excellent speed, a solid glove, and the ability to hit .300, he still profiles as an every day player. Will it come with the Phillies is another question.
Final Thoughts: I guess I’m taking a risk on Hernandez, but I love the fact that he plays a premium position, has a good idea of the strike zone, makes elite contact, and has excellent speed. I think as he gets more comfortable, he’ll develop at least some power, but as long as he keeps hitting, and shows a good approach, he’ll be fine.
13. Domingo Santana, OF
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2010 Summary: It was rough sledding for Santana in 2010, as he struggled mightily at Lakewood, and never really got on track at Williamsport. Despite most of his numbers regressing, he still managed to draw a ton of walks, showing that while he struggled making contact, he was still able to work the count. He was the youngest player in the SAL by over a year, and will be the youngest, or one of the youngest, again in 2011.
Strengths: Santana’s strengths are still his strengths. He’s a big dude, at 6’5/200, and he just turned 18 in August. He showed excellent raw power in 2009, in a league that stifles power, it just didn’t come out against more advanced pitching in 2010. His approach at the plate is advanced for his age, as he draws plenty of walks. He has a strong arm, and he should be an asset defensively in right field going forward.
Weaknesses: Santana is mostly still projection. He was really in over his head in 2010, and if he’d spent an entire season at Williamsport, things might have looked different. He has major issues making contact, striking out in over 35% of his plate appearances, and he loses his timing with his swing. His raw power did not translate against better pitching.
Best Case: His upside is still an all-star right fielder, but he took a step back in 2010. His raw power is still excellent, his approach at the plate shows promise, but he has to start making more contact. Even reducing his K rate to, say, 25% in 2011 would be a huge step forward. He profiles as a 3 true outcomes offensive player, drawing walks and hitting home runs, while piling up strikeouts. But with the raw power, he could hit 30+ HR a season.
MLB ETA: He may be further away than any prospect in the system. He just turned 18, and he’s going to need a ton of reps against advanced pitching to hone his craft.
Ranking Difficulties: Where to begin. I was obviously too high on Santana last season, even though the power and patience were off the charts good in his debut, and other outlets were also hyping him up. Its clear that he just wasn’t ready. I like this spot on the list, because his upside surpasses anyone behind him on the list, yet he’s still miles away. The fact that he still drew plenty of walks in 2010, despite all of his struggles, gives me hope for him going forward.
Final Thoughts: To put things into perspective, if Santana were a US citizen, he’d have been drafted this past summer, and he’d have gotten a few PAs in the GCL as a 17 year old. As it is, he’s already logged 550+ PAs and experienced advanced pitching. He should know exactly what he has to work on, and reports on him have indicated he is a hard worker and a bright kid. As you can see in this video clip, he has a strong stance, almost resembling Andruw Jones from a more narrow setup. He pulls his hands against his body a bit in his swing load, which may be cutting off some of his power, but he has time to work out all of the kinks.