Jan 112012
Phillies minor league OF Jiwan James

Phillies #4 hitting prospect Jiwan James (photo: T.Priddy/MiLB.com)

It’s finally January, and it’s only a month and a half until spring training starts. It’s right in the middle of prospect ranking season. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Minor League Ball, among other sites, are all gradually rolling out top 10-12 lists for each team. At the end of the month, Baseball America will release their annual prospect handbook, and that will cover 30 prospects for each team. In recent years, the increase in fan prospect coverage on the internet has led to many more amateur lists. I of course am one of those amateurs.

This entry will cover my top 15 position player prospects. Trades over the last couple years have really thinned out this list. Travis D’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, Jonathan Singleton and Domingo Santana would all rank highly on this list, and at least three of them should be ranked ahead of the #1 position player prospect still in the organization, Sebastian Valle. As usual, there are a lot of tools in the organization. By my count which could be very inaccurate, there are 15 hitters whose ceiling is that of an every day player, but it’s unlikely most get there. I considered 35 hitters for these 15 spots. All ages will be on Opening Day 2012.

1. Sebastian Valle, C, high-A, 21 (.284 BA/.312 OBP/.394 SLG, all players will follow this format)
6’1, 170 bats R/throws R

Strengths: Valle’s tools have begun translating into in-game production on the defensive side. For two years now, his caught stealing percentage has been above the league average. His receiving has also improved, and he’ll keep working with some of the organization’s best pitching prospects. His quick bat that can generate good power for a catcher. Although he only hit five home runs for Clearwater this year, and his isolated power (SLG minus BA) was only .110, it’s important to keep in mind that that the Florida State League tends to be a low scoring environment thanks to the heavy air in the damp, humid climates. In 2010, he was tied for 11th in the South Atlantic League in home runs when most of the players ahead of him were older, more experienced and appeared in more games.

Weaknesses: Valle is one of baseball’s most aggressive swingers. In his three full seasons of playing in the United States, he hasn’t posted an OBP over .325. He has admitted he doesn’t like walking which is a trait he shares with a lot of Latin players. It’s been said that they have to be aggressive and swing a lot to get their signing bonus, and Valle is one case where it’s clearly true. If he learns which pitches he can drive and which he can’t, and if he does that, he can hit for more power and a higher average while maintaining his aggressiveness. He needs to continue to refine his game defensively, particularly in handling pitches in the dirt.

2. Freddy Galvis, SS, AA/AAA, 22 (.278/.324/.392)
5’10, 170 S/R

Strengths: Galvis is a Gold Glove caliber defender at perhaps the most demanding defensive position on the field. He has great range despite average athleticism thanks to his instincts and reads off the bat. He has soft hands and a quick release, and his offseason strength training improved his arm strength. That added strength also helped him make great improvements at the plate which led to a career year. He’s a switch hitter, but he’s always had better numbers batting left handed. He can make solid contact and hit line drives to all fields. He can hit behind runners and is a pretty good bunter, two little things that are helpful skills to have for someone batting 8th or playing in a utility role.

Weaknesses: Galvis only has one year of solid hitting under his belt, and in 2012 he’ll need to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Galvis will never be more than an 8 hole hitter, but it’s fair to say current MLB shortstops aren’t setting the bar high at the plate. He hit a career high eight home runs last season, but any more than five per season in the majors would be surprising. Despite stealing a career high 23 bases in 2011, it probably won’t be a big part of his game in the majors. He’s another free swinger, but he won’t strike out much.

3. Maikel Franco, 3B, short-season/low-A, 19 (.247/.318/.360)
6’1, 180 R/R

Strengths: Franco’s batting line wasn’t as bad as it looks because it includes 67 plate appearances in low-A where he was completely overmatched as an 18 year old. With Williamsport, he had a .778 OPS. He has very good hand eye coordination which allows him to make consistent contact, and he’s not a big strikeout hitter. He is expected to develop above average power down the road thanks to his bat speed. In the field, Franco is very good. He has a plus arm and the quick reactions necessary for the hot corner.

Weaknesses: Franco certainly won’t be confused for a great athlete. He’s a slow runner, but it won’t affect his ability in the field. He has a 6’1, 180 pound frame, and the Phillies are working hard with him on his conditioning. There isn’t much more room to add strength with that body, so if his power develops, it will be thanks to his swing mechanics and bat speed. Although he had a .367 OBP with Williamsport and doesn’t strike out much, they want him to improve his plate approach. Despite his hand-eye coordination, he doesn’t hit to the opposite field often and needs to improve in that area.

4. Jiwan James, CF, high-A, 22 (.268/.327/.363)
6’4, 180 S/R

Strengths: James is a top notch athlete, and his athleticism and tools had people wondering if he would be taken in last month’s rule 5 draft. He remained in the Phillies organization, and they’ll hope to develop him further. He can chase down any ball in center because of his great speed, and he’s also a smart fielder who sees the ball off the bat well. The Phillies originally signed James to pitch, but an injury led them to put him back in the field where his good arm is an asset. He has 30+ steals in consecutive seasons, and his speed allows him to stretch his hits into extra bases. He’s capable of hitting for contact, especially while batting left handed.

Weaknesses: He just got through a season in high-A, but James is still incredibly raw. His OPS the last two seasons have been .686 and .690, and it’s going to become more about production than tools in the upper minors. He has a poor plate approach that leads to far too many strikeouts for a player that’s not going to hit for much power. He goes through phases where he recognizes pitches and stays patient, but it’s not nearly consistent enough. James is a switch hitter, but he needs to improve batting right handed and at least hit some line drives. Despite his speed, he needs to become a smarter baserunner and improve his stealing percentage. His production has just been okay up to this point in his career, and that can partly be attributed to spending his first two years as a pitcher. However, his tools need to translate into games very soon.

5. Tyler Greene, SS, rookie, 19 (.276/.386/.379)
6’2, 175 R/R

Strengths: Greene may have the most impressive set of all-around tools in the Phillies’ 2011 draft. Apparently many teams were concerned about his inconsistent senior season performance in high school, and the Phillies were able to get this 2nd round talent in the 11th. His athleticism has improved, and he can be a threat on the bases. Despite his size (6’2, 175), he should be able to stick at shortstop because he has nice range and a very good arm. At the plate, Greene has great bat speed and could hit for some power as he continues to get stronger.

Weaknesses: He’s still very young, and all of his tools need refinement. With improvements in swing mechanics, Greene could start squaring up the ball more consistently. His plate approach needs to be improved, not just in terms of pitch selection but how to approach each at bat. His power may or may not come. Despite his athleticism and arm strength, Greene is clumsy at shortstop. He can throw inaccurately and often mishandles balls. Early in his career, he’s going to be very streaky at the plate and in the field. Throughout his high school career, his performances have been very uneven.

6. Carlos Tocci, CF, N/A, 16 (did not play)
6’2, 150 R/R

Strengths:The Phillies signed Tocci in August after his 16th birthday. He earned a signing bonus of 759k, a large number for an organization that doesn’t often spend big in the Latin American market, so it’s clear they love his talent. He’s a true centerfielder with very good athleticism, and his arm won’t be a problem. He doesn’t have great bat speed, but it could improve as he gets older and stronger. Tocci can hit line drives to any field and frequently makes contact. In Liga Paralela play in his native Venezuela, which is a winter league for minor leaguers, he posted a .402 OBP, good for second on a team of Phillies prospects.

Weaknesses: He has never had a professional at bat, so he’s obviously still very far away from making an impact in the majors, if ever. He’s incredibly raw, and it’s easily possible that his tools never materialize in games. He’s 6’2 and 150 pounds, so he’ll need to add strength as he gets older. Unfortunately, he may not be able to add much muscle to his skinny frame. Regardless of the strength he adds, he won’t hit for power. His average bat speed will also prevent him for hitting for meaningful power.

7. Aaron Altherr, COF, short-season/low-A, 21 (.243/.291/.339)
6’5, 190 R/R

Strengths:Despite the down year, the tools are still there, and the Phillies are still high on him. He’s a decent athlete, and this year he improved to become a plus baserunner, stealing 37 bases and only being caught four times between Williamsport and Lakewood. He could develop average power thanks to a quick bat, and he can add muscle to his 6’5, 190 pound frame. In prior years, Altherr made consistent, hard contact and should hit for a better average. His athleticism means he could play centerfield in a pinch, but it’s not his best position.

Weaknesses: Altherr took a step back this season by being totally overwhelmed in his first taste of a full season league. His plate approach leaves a lot to be desired, and he struck out too often in Lakewood. He’ll be 21 on Opening Day getting his second shot at Lakewood, and he’ll be the league average age and has to perform. Because he doesn’t quite have the range to be a regular in center, he’ll have to move to a corner which means he’s going to have to hit for more power, and that hasn’t happened so far. An average arm will confine him to left field which will put even more pressure on his bat.

8. Leandro Castro, COF, high-A, 22 (.277/.304/.481)
5’11, 175 R/R

Strengths: Despite not being overwhelming physically at 5’11 and 175 pounds, Castro can hit for a little power. His aggressive swing generates really good bat speed, and he equaled his home run total from 2010 (10) in less than half the at bats in Clearwater, a tougher place to hit. Although he only hit about .250 in Lakewood, he usually makes consistent contact and hits for a solid average. His bat control allows him to put the ball in play. For now, he’s a decent athlete.

Weaknesses: Castro probably isn’t a great fit in a starting lineup, but if his hit tool carries him, he will get to the majors in some capacity. He’s incredibly aggressive at the plate and thinks he can hit every pitch, leading to poor and almost non-existent walk rates. Castro missed nearly two thirds of the season with an injury. He’s expected to lose his speed as he gets older and won’t be an asset on the bases. His arm is only average, and left field will be his best position.

9. Brian Pointer, COF, rookie, 20 (.278/.353/.503)
6’0, 190 L/L

Strengths: Pointer took advantage of his second year in the GCL after not seeing much action in 2010. He slugged .504 in a pitchers league, and he was the team’s second best hitter besides GCL lifer Chris Duffy. Despite only being 6’0 and 190 pounds, Pointer is very strong and will hit for power. His bat speed and solid hitting mechanics will allow him to hit for contact. His tools project to be average across the board. He stole eight bases without being caught, but he probably won’t be much of a threat on the bases. He doesn’t have the athleticism to play center field, but he can fit in either right or left with above average range. His competitiveness will allow his tools to play up and overachieve.

Weaknesses: It’s important to not glean too much information from stats in the GCL, so he will have to keep hitting at higher levels. Although he’s expected to hit for power, Pointer’s other tools and athleticism aren’t overwhelming. He struck out too often and needs to improve his plate approach against righties and lefties. Showed an alarming large split against righties and lefties and will need to hit left handed pitching much better down the road. He doesn’t have typical power hitter size and may be maxed out physically.

10. Roman Quinn, CF, N/A, 18 (did not play)
5’9, 165 S/R

Strengths: Quinn was the fastest relevant prospect in the 2011 draft with “game-changing speed” according to Baseball America. That speed will help him on the bases and the field where his position is yet to be determined. He played shortstop in high school, but his athleticism may play better in center field, although it is possible he remains in the infield. Quinn is learning to switch hit and is a natural right handed hitter. Despite his small stature (5’9 165), the ball jumps off Quinn’s bat. He has quick bat speed and can hit line drives to all fields. He generates surprising power for his size.

Weaknesses: Quinn signed right at the deadline in August and did not get any pro experience in 2011. Like most great athletes, he’s very raw and may never pan out. His first foray in switch hitting didn’t go well but has improved in further attempts. Although he has surprising power for someone his size, it’s still likely going to top out as gap power. He’ll need to get stronger to hit more difficult pitching with authority.

11. Larry Greene, 1B, N/A, 19 (did not play)
6’2, 230 L/R

Strengths: His strength. He had more power than any other high school hitter in the 2011 draft. At 6’2 and 230 pounds, he’s stronger than most. He has an aggressive, powerful swing that generates bat speed and can hit the ball as far as anyone. That may be where the strengths end. There’s some debate about his athleticism with some believing that he’s able to play left field. That would improve his value tremendously.

Weaknesses: It’s possible that Greene ends up as an entirely one-dimensional player. If he can only play first base, he’s going to need to hit for a lot of power to profile at the position. Much of his success came against subpar Georgia competition, and he struggled against better pitching in showcases. He swings and misses a lot which doesn’t suggest good things about his plate approach and ability to make contact. He did not gain any professional experience because he signed so late, and an injury in the instructional league limited him there too.

12. Harold Garcia, 2B, AA, 25 (.300/.327/.480)
5’11, 190 S/R

Strengths: After missing essentially the entire season with a knee injury, Garcia was playing winter ball and should be ready to go for spring training. His work ethic will help in his recovery and bounce back. He’s able to spray line drives to all fields as a switch hitter, perhaps best exemplified by his record 39 game hitting streak in the Florida State League in 2010. He has decent athleticism, but he won’t be a huge base stealer. It’s enough to allow him to play all over the diamond, but with his average arm, his best position should be second base. Although he’s never hit more than eight home runs in a season, he may not be limited to singles and doubles.

Weaknesses: Although he should recover from his injury, it’s still a lost year of development, in a key year no less. Garcia was slow to make progress until recently, so he’s a bit older than most prospects. AA is an important stop on the way to the majors, and so far he only has 12 games above A ball. His upside may only be as a utilityman, but second base gives him his best shot to play. His lack of patience at the plate is a limiting factor. Although he’s hit roughly .300 in his minor league career, he strikes out more than the average player. He’s a switch hitter, but he’s been poor from the right side of the plate.

13. Harold Martinez, 3B, short-season, 21 (.256/.357/.346)
6’3, 210 R/R

Strengths: Martinez looks great in a uniform. At 6’3 and 210 pounds, he looks like a player that should hit for power which he does in batting practice while showing good mechanics, and he led the ACC in home runs his sophomore season. He hit just over .300 in his junior season at Miami, his first time accomplishing that in college. He’s not a bad athlete and could play corner outfield in addition to his primary position on the hot corner. He has a good arm and was a fixture on USA Baseball teams as an amateur.

Weaknesses: Martinez is a great example of a 5 o’clock hitter.  He shows a great stroke and hits home runs in batting practice, but when the games start, his mechanics break down and he struggles.  He’s frequently unable to time pitches and has poor pitch recognition.  When the NCAA instituted new bat regulations last season, his power production dropped dramatically, and he had only one more extra base hit than sacrifice fly.  His isolated power was only .090, which isn’t even close to acceptable for a third baseman.  His OBP at Williamsport was over .350, but he struck out too often.

14. Zach Collier, COF, low-A, 21 (.255/.328/.349)
6’2, 185 L/L

Strengths: Collier is a very good athlete and stole 35 bases with Lakewood in 2011.  He should still have all the tools he had when he was drafted in 2008.  He had no problem hitting top pitching in the amateur showcase circuit, and he was billed as more polished player than most similar players.  His walk rate with Lakewood was slightly above average and reflected that, but he was still prone to striking out.  After losing a season to a serious hamate injury and complications, he was able to play a full year in 2011.  His arm should be good enough to play in right field.  Collier’s OPS was .776 and .773 in May and June respectively.

Weaknesses: Collier will miss the first 50 games of the 2012 season due to a positive amphetamine test.  That’s a significant blow to a player that has already lost a full year of development.  He faded badly in the second half of the season, possibly wearing down in his first entire season in a full season league.  It’s always iffy whether or not a player like Collier’s power will develop, and the hamate injury complicates his power development further.  He’ll have to play a corner outfield which means his bat needs to provide a lot of value.  Collier needs to improve his base stealing efficiency.

15. Cesar Hernandez, 2B, high-A, 21 (.268/.306/.333)
5’10, 160 S/R

Strengths: Scouts still feel that Hernandez can be a solid regular despite the down season.  A double jump from short season ball to high-A as a 20 year old would be difficult on most.  He’s a fast runner whose stolen base percentage dropped from 2010 to 2011.  He’s a very good defender at second base with nice range and an above average arm, and some believe he could even play shortstop.  He’s a switch hitter with a quick bat that allows him to hit the ball to all fields.  He may even be able to hit for a little power for a middle infielder.

Weaknesses: Hernandez clearly struggled handling the advanced pitching he was facing.  He’s supposed to put the ball in play a lot, but he only hit .268 for the season and his strikeouts were way up.  Plate approach deteriorated at the higher level.  Hernandez is supposed to offer something from both sides of the plate, power from the left and contact from the right, but he provided neither batting right handed in 2011.  His caught stealing percentage needs to drop to be a more effective baserunner.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!  Scott also regularly updated the PSC 2011 Minor League Thread with player stats, game results, and more, and will be doing the same for the PSC 2012 Minor League Thread as well…