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mid-season-top-20-1-10 | July | 2008 Articles

2008 Archives

Mid-Season Top 20: 1-10

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Here's the second installment of the mid-season top 20. The criteria for the list is that the players must have been in the minors at the All-Star break and must not have passed over the rookie limits for at-bats or innings. None of the 2008 draftees were included because simply, we haven't seen enough of them. You can check out numbers 11-20 here. 1. RF Jason Heyward- After being selected 14th overall in last year’s draft, Heyward came into 2008 with high expectations. The 18-year old outfielder has certainly lived up to those expectations so far and is arguably one of the top five prospects in baseball after his impressive first half. In 87 games, Heyward is hitting .324/.388/.464 with eight home runs, 17 doubles, and 15 steals (16 attempts). He has shown good power and more importantly, incredible plate discipline for a player of his age and experience. As Heyward continues to mature physically, he’ll develop more loft in his swing and the power will increase. The speed has been quite a pleasant surprise and over time he’ll probably settle in as a 10-15 stolen base guy. His defense is a little raw but he’ll be able to stick in right field and should be a plus defender in time. Heyward seems quite ready to move up but he might be kept in Rome for the rest of the season and then skipped to Mississippi to start 2009. 2. RHP Tommy Hanson- Hanson’s early no-hitter really put his 2008 season on the map. In seven starts for Myrtle Beach, the 6’6” right-hander dominated to the tune of a 0.90 ERA and a .116 batting average against. Hanson’s performance earned him a pretty quick promotion to Mississippi, where his two biggest deficiencies have started to show themselves. In 64 innings for Atlanta’s double-A club, the 21-year old has allowed eight long balls and 27 walks. The control isn’t a huge problem but he is approaching four walks per nine and you’d ideally like to see that come down. The much bigger issue is how many home runs he’s giving up. The wind aided Hanson in Myrtle Beach but Mississippi is far less forgiving and Hanson is finding that out first hand. Hanson has always pitched up in the zone too much, which leads to too many fly balls. That has to change if he wants to succeed in the majors. Hanson has the stuff to be a front-line starter but those two things are going to have a big say in whether he ends up reaching his potential. 3. CF Gorkys Hernandez- With Jordan Schafer’s HGH suspension, Hernandez takes over as the system’s top center field prospect. Hernandez was off to a blazing start this year with a .309/.378/.568 line through the first month of the season, but a May hamstring injury sidelined him for nearly a month. He’s been hit and miss since returning but it seems like the hamstring might still be limiting Hernandez, who is hitting under .270 since returning from the injury. The 20-year old speedster, whose season line is at .282/.350/.427, has improved his walk rate and power this year while his strikeout rate has taken a small turn for the worse. All four of his homeruns have come away from Myrtle Beach so his power is probably better than the stats suggest and he might still have some pop to add if his body fills out more. Hernandez will need to increase his walk rate and cut down on the strikeouts as he moves up but it isn’t a real concern at this point. He is a plus defender in centerfield but if both he and Schafer end up in the outfield at the same time, Hernandez will be the one moving over to left. 4. CF Jordan Schafer- Most people figured that Schafer would be in Atlanta by this time but an early HGH-related suspension sidetracked the promising center fielder’s 2008 campaign. Schafer started off pretty well after returning, hitting .274/.405/.484 in 95 June at-bats but a dismal July has knocked his season line down to .221/.365/.390. As with any player suspended for PED’s, this drop-off in performance raised some red flags but in breaking down his peripherals, I’m not so sure there is any connection. Schafer’s problem may be that he just isn’t being aggressive enough. The outfielder has doubled his walk rate from last year (9% in 2007, 18% in 2008) but that also comes with a strikeout rate that has increased from 22% to 31%. He may have become overly-patient at the plate, which is driving his strikeout rate up. Chances are that Schafer is headed for a September callup and he’ll get a chance to win the starting center field job in 2009. 5. LHP Jeff Locke- The 20-year old left-hander hasn’t enjoyed the breakout season that many people (including myself) expected this year but he may still be on his way. Locke began the season in a slump, going 1-6 with a 4.77 ERA through his first 11 starts (counting his 7 inning relief appearance as a start). Nothing really stuck out as a reason for this besides a large number of hits, so chances are it was just a matter of luck. Since then, Locke is 3-3 in nine starts with a 2.88 ERA. Locke has maintained his strong control with a decent strikeout rate and strong groundball tendencies (1.82 GO/AO). He has made progress on his changeup and as his secondary pitches continue to develop, the strikeout rate should increase. Locke has everything needed to be a front-of-the-rotation southpaw in the majors, and looks to be adjusting well to his first full professional season after struggling a bit early. 6. 1B Freddie Freeman- When the Braves took Freeman in the second round of last year’s June Draft, I pegged him as a sleeper prospect to watch but I had no idea he would be as good as he has this quickly. The 6’5” first baseman has been overshadowed in the Rome lineup by Jason Heyward but is actually significantly outhitting Atlanta’s top prospect. Through 362 at-bats, Freeman is hitting .322/.378/.549 with 15 home runs and 28 doubles. Freeman has a very projectable body and as he fills out, those doubles will start leaving the park. Like Heyward, Freeman has shown pretty incredibly plate discipline for someone his age (53/32 K/BB) but there has been one big negative for him. Against southpaws, Freeman (a left-handed batter) is hitting only .188/.263/.348 in 69 at-bats. His strikeout rate isn’t much higher against lefties than it is against righties, so this may not be as big of an issue as the numbers suggest. Even with his current problems against left-handers, Freeman is developing into one of the game’s better first base prospects. 7. LF Brandon Jones- 2007 was breakout year for Jones, who finally translated his tools and athleticism into performance on the baseball field. The 24-year old outfielder hit a combined .295/.367/.490 last season between Mississippi and Richmond but has seen his power completely disappear this season to go with an increased strikeout rate. Through 64 games, Jones is slugging below .400 with an equally unimpressive batting average and on base percentage to go with that. One positive sign is that Jones has a .462 SLG during July so he may be coming out of his funk. I can’t imagine that the power has just disappeared so that isn’t a big worry of mine. A more pressing problem with the outfielder is his defense. He has got strong defensive tools but takes poor routes in the outfield and is a below average defender. Jones was once thought of as Atlanta’s long-term solution in left field but with a number of talented outfield prospects coming through the system, he is very much in danger of being knocked out of the future plans. 8. RHP Julio Teheran- For a 17-year old with seven professional innings under his belt to make it onto a top ten list, there has to be some amazing talent and from all accounts, Teheran has some of the highest upside in the minors. The Columbian right-hander has three plus pitches with a fastball that sits at 94-95 mph, a sinking changeup in the low-80’s and a hard breaking curveball. Teheran’s control can be a bit inconsistent but that should be helped as he works out some kinks in his mechanics. Right now the Braves are being incredibly careful with the young right-hander and he’s been shut down since June 23rd with arm soreness. With all pitching prospects, health is a concern and that hold true even more for such a young pitcher who, at 6’2” and 160 lbs., is far from physical maturity. Teheran will probably spend this year and next year in short-season ball before moving up to Rome. Avoiding injury is going to be Teheran’s biggest challenge. 9. LHP Cole Rohrbough- Few prospects saw their stock rise as much as Rohrbough’s did last year but the southpaw has taken a couple of steps back this season. The 21-year old missed time early in the year with biceps tendinitis and since returning has seen a huge drop-off in his control. During his breakout ’07 campaign, Rohrbough was walking just under three batters per nine innings, with a 4.80 K/BB ratio. This season, the left-hander is walking just under five batters per nine innings, with a 2.35 K/BB ratio. In the past, an inconsistent arm slot has led to control and hitability issues. I haven’t heard anything about his mechanics this year but that or the injury could be the case in Rohrbough’s loss of control. When he is on, he has one of the best fastball-curve combos in the system but he’ll need to improve the control and continue to develop his changeup to succeed at higher levels. 10. C/1B Tyler Flowers- Flowers’ spring training home run started his first full pro season off with a bang. In the time since then, he hasn’t disappointed. The 22-year old has a line of .282/.419/.459 in 305 at-bats for Myrtle Beach with 11 home runs and 19 doubles. Despite moving to a homer-suppressing park, Flowers’ power has increased this year and his plate discipline has gone to a whole new level. Last year with Rome, Flowers walked 11% of the time and was striking out in 19% of his at-bats. This year his walk rate has risen to 19%, while his strikeout rate is at 24%. The strikeouts aren’t that high for a power-hitter who is drawing that many walks and his on-base skills are simply amazing. Flowers’ power should keep improving and if he can keep the strikeouts down, he should be an impressive all-around offensive player. Flowers has spent most of the year behind the plate, but at 6’4” 245 lbs, with one knee surgery already under his belt, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll stay there long-term. If Mark Teixeira is somewhere else next season, it doesn’t seem too farfetched that Flowers could get a chance to win the first base job.

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