Filed under: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Uncategorized
By Wes Yee
2010 was a year of serious emergence in baseball. Much hyped prospects Buster Posey of the Giants and Jason Heyward of the Braves stepped forward and established themselves as bona fide stars. St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia threw up a sub 3 ERA and Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez nearly won the MVP.
This season there’s a whole new list of players primed to make an impact. While perhaps the biggest names in the prospect world (Bryce Harper and Mike Trout) may not see major league time this season, there is a group of young players who will influence playoff races.
1. Jesus Montero, Yankees – This beastly catcher has drawn comparisons to Frank Thomas and Miguel Cabrera in the batter’s box. He improved consistently as a 20 year old in AAA in ’10 and should break camp with the team thanks to the injury to Francisco Cervelli. While his defense has drawn serious long term questions, Montero has a cannon arm and is blocked only by a declining Russell Martin and the hobbled Jorge Posada. An injury (not unlikely given their histories) to either would open up full time at bats for Montero. With a healthy and reinforced Red Sox lineup, Montero’s bat will be counted on to provide additional offense in an aging lineup. If he succeeds early, Yankees Manager Joe Girardi will have no choice but to find a place for him to play.
2. Michael Pineda, Mariners – Baseball Reference lists the intimidating Pineda at 6’5, 180. Reports from Spring Training, however, have him at 6’7, 260. He’s a flamethrowing righthander who can touch the high 90’s. Opponents hit just .227 against him in the minors and he showed good control. Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro has to be upset that he picked Phillipe Aumont over Pineda when trading Cliff Lee after the 2009 season. Pineda has shown that he’s ready now, and he too should break camp with the major league club.
3. Brandon Belt, Giants – Belt led the minors in hitting and OPS in 2010 and has held his own in Spring Training. Giants management has already announced that he’ll hit 7th if he breaks camp with the club, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll be up by June. While it’s his bat that entices people, his defense is outstanding, starting with an arm that touched 93 mph in high school. He moves well and could offer a consistent RBI man with 20-30 HR power. Think of Belt as a first baseman in the Todd Helton mold. Athletic with a great approach and ability to hit for average.
4. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins – Nishioka won the Pacific League batting title in 2010 and is known for plus speed. He’ll be an integral part of a contender in Minnesota, playing up the middle for a strong defensive team. Don’t expect any power, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t hit at least .300 with 25 steals.
5. Manny Banuelos, Yankees – Banuelos won’t break camp with New York, but he should be in the majors sometime this summer. He’s a lefty who sits in the low 90’s and can touch 95. He has outstanding command and major league capable off speed pitches. The major concern with Banuelos is workload, he’s never gone more than seven innings in a game or 108 innings in a season. This could work out for the Yankees though, as limiting his workload early could conserve some innings for the big league club upon his call up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him break in as a reliever, a la Aroldis Chapman.
6. Jake McGee, Rays – McGee was one of the top starting pitching prospects in the minors in 2008 when he blew out his elbow. He moved to the bullpen last year and showed a high 90’s fastball. With Rafael Soriano and the rest of the Rays bullpen gone, McGee is expected to step in and pitch crucial innings. He’ll be a big reason behind the Rays success or failure in 2011.
7. Freddie Freeman, Braves – Freeman has received a decent amount of hype already, as he’s been photographed as a Jason Heyward sidekick. He’ll open the season as the starting first baseman and will be counted on to fill the void left by Chipper Jones’ youth and Derrek Lee’s departure. He’s strong athletically and I expect to see an Ike Davis type rookie season.
8. Julio Teheran, Braves – Teheran, the minors’ top pitching prospect, sits in the 94-96 mph range and throws a dominating changeup. He’s just 20 years old and will probably start the season in AAA. His stuff is elite and if Atlanta gets desperate due to injury in the rotation or ineffectiveness in the bullpen you could see him get a callup. Atlanta’s bullpen lacks experience after the retirement of Billy Wagner and their rotation includes Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson, two older pitchers.
9. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays -Hellickson has been much discussed. He has a relatively low ceiling compared to the other pitchers on this list but is also more proven than any of the others. He’ll be the #4 or #5 starter but really slots in behind David Price as the Rays second best pitcher.
10. Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians – Chisenhall isn’t big at 6’1, 200 but hit for good power in 2010 (17 HR in 460 AB) and tore up Spring Training this year. He’s been sent to minor league camp, but that was before Jason Donald injured his hand. Jack Hannahan, Jason Nix and Luis Valbuena should start the season at third for the Tribe, but none have the pedigree or staying power that Chisenhall will offer once he’s called up, likely in May or June – late enough to delay his arbitration clock.
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