MLB Spring Training: 2011 RealSportsNet All-Prospect Team
Spring Training Camps are buzzing with life and one of the most exciting parts of the Spring Season is getting to see top prospects compete against major league talent. While top prospect lists have been made for every team, RealSportsNet’s 2011 All-Prospect team consists of players who should make a major impact in the coming year. Some of these guys will be starting Opening Day in the Majors and others won’t make an impact until after the All-Star break. These prospects are rated not only on their overall potential but on the opportunities they will have to show their skills in the MLB this coming season.
Catcher: J.P. Arencibia – Toronto Blue Jays
Jesus Montero would probably be the popular pick for this spot, but he is blocked by Russell Martin (at catcher) and Jorge Posada (at DH) in New York. With John Buck now in Florida, Arencibia could be the opening day starter and get a full season-worth of at-bats. He struggled in a brief MLB stint in 2010, but dominated in the minors. In 459 AAA at-bats, he hit .301 and smashed 32 homeruns. Arencibia should be ready to produce in the majors, and could be a power-hitting catcher for years to come.
First Base: Freddie Freeman – Atlanta Braves
With Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee out of the way, Freddie Freeman is set to join pal Jason Heyward in Atlanta this year. Despite playing most of the season at 20 years old, Freeman played extremely well in AAA, hitting .319 with an .898 OPS and 18 homeruns. Freeman isn’t a prototypical first baseman, and he projects to hit for a high batting average with limited homerun power (although he should have a ton of doubles). A plus defender, Freeman should get a full season of at-bats and produce for the Braves.
Second Base: Dustin Ackley – Seattle Mariners
The second overall pick in 2009, Ackley has already played in AAA and should be in the majors at some point in 2011. The Mariners current starter is Brendan Ryan, a career .259 hitter, who has no power and little speed. Ackley just won the MVP in the Arizona Fall League and possesses top speed. Although his minor league numbers are unimpressive, Ackley is pretty much ready for the majors and could help boost a woeful Seattle offense in 2011.
Third Base: Mike Moustakas – Kansas City Royals
Moustakas’ stock took a huge hit after a woeful 2009 season in A+. The Royals pushed him to AA anyway and the results were phenomenal. In 2010, between AA and AAA, he hit .322 with 36 homeruns and a .630 slugging percentage. Moustakas’ numbers weren’t as impressive in AAA (but that’s expected) but he is definitely MLB ready. The Royals have been terrible and won’t get any better now that Zach Greinke is starting in Milwaukee. After the Alex Gordon failure, the team may be cautious with Moustakas, but he will be playing in the Majors at some point in 2011.
Shortstop: Tsuyoshi Nishioka – Minnesota Twins
I’ll admit, this one is a bit of a stretch. Not only is a Nichioka not truly a prospect (he’s 26 and has played professionally in Japan) but he will likely be starting the year at second base for the Twins. That said, he is a rookie and played shortstop in Japan, so he could play that position should Alexi Casilla struggle or get hurt. Nishioka has plus speed and should hit for a good average although his power is limited. Last season, he won the batting title in Japan, so he could have a big impact in the Majors this year.
Outfield: Desmond Jennings – Tampa Bay Rays
The heir to Carl Crawford’s old spot in left field, Jennings got a cup of coffee at the majors in 2010 and should get plenty of playing time in 2011. A .299 career minor league hitter with plenty of speed, Jennings will be a future star at the top of the Rays order. Even if his bat takes some time to adjust, Jennings is pretty good at drawing a walk and should contribute on the base paths right away.
Outfield: Domonic Brown – Philadelphia Phillies It’s a toss-up between Jennings and Brown for the top MLB ready outfield prospect, but Brown’s five tool talents might give him the edge. As with most other players on this list, Brown has already gotten a taste of MLB action and he should at least be splitting time in right field for the Phillies in 2011. In 2010, Brown hit 20 homers (a career high) and swiped 17 bases in the minor leagues while hitting .327 between AA and AAA. While he won’t immediately be able to replace Jayson Werth, the Phillies should be set at right field for years to come.
Outfield: Ben Revere – Minnesota Twins
Revere made it to the majors for the first time in 2010 despite being drafted back in 2007. Although he struggled, Revere is a .328 career hitter in the minor leagues and has plenty of speed. He has stolen 146 bases across four minor league seasons but has also been caught stealing 52 times. If he can continue to get on base (.389 career minor league OBP) at the major league level he could find a place at the top of the Twins order in the near future.
Starting Pitcher: Jeremy Hellickson – Tampa Bay Rays
If not for the Rays’ wealth of pitching, Hellickson likely could have spent all of 2010 in the majors. He did get to make a couple starts due to injuries, and pitched well in the majors, finishing the year with a 3.47 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 36.1 innings. As in 2009, Hellickson dominated in the minors (2.45 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 3.51 K/BB in AAA) and is probably the most polished pitching prospect in baseball. With Matt Garza now in Chicago, Hellickson finally has an opportunity in Tampa Bay and should challenge for AL Rookie of the Year.
Starting Pitcher: Mike Minor – Atlanta Braves When Minor was drafted seventh overall by the Braves, many felt he was a safe pick who would reach the majors quickly but not reach as high a ceiling as most guys chosen that early. He proved pundits right in one regard when he made the majors in his first full professional season. He proved them wrong by dominated in the minors and showing that he has the potential to be a second or third starter for years to come. The “finesse” lefty surprised everyone by striking out tons of batters in AA (10.9) and even more in AAA (11.3) while posting a 3.44 minor league ERA. Although he struggled in his last few MLB starts, Minor is the leading candidate to claim the fifth spot in the Braves rotation and is just another impressive arm coming out of the Braves system.
Starting Pitcher: Kyle Drabek – Toronto Blue Jays
The main piece the Blue Jays acquired in the Roy Halladay trade, Drabek hasn’t pitched in AAA but made his MLB debut last year. In AA, he dominated hitters, posting a 2.94 ERA while striking out a respectable 7.3 batters per nine. Although Drabek has had some control issues (3.8 BB/9 in 2010) he is major league ready and will get every opportunity to start now that Shaun Marcum is part of Milwaukee’s new look rotation.
Starting Pitcher: Michael Pineda – Seattle Mariners
Pineda’s 2010 wasn’t as dominant as some other pitchers on this list, but he stayed healthy all year (which was a problem in 2009) and posted excellent ratios. He’s one of the few guys on this list who hasn’t made his debut yet, but that should come relatively early into the 2011 season, as he is currently listed as the fifth starter on the Mariners website. He dominated in AA last year, and although his numbers dropped off in AAA, he had a great season for a 21 year old. With 8.8 K/9 and 4.26 K/BB in his minor league career, Pineda has shown top of the rotation stuff, and could compete with Hellickson and Drabek for AL Rookie of the Year.
Starting Pitcher: Corey Luebke – San Diego Padres
Luebke doesn’t have as high a ceiling as some other pitching prospects (notably, Mike Montgomery), but gets the fifth spot because of the opportunity he has in San Diego. With Jon Garland’s departure, Luebke has a chance to start the year in San Diego after pitching well (4.08 ERA, 18K in 17.2 innings) toward the end of 2010. In the minor leagues, Luebke split 2010 between AA and AAA and put up a 2.68 combined ERA. Not a great strikeout pitcher (just 6.9 K/9 in 2010), Luebke has great control and is ready to be a part of the Padres rotation.
Relief Pitcher: Craig Kimbrel – Atlanta Braves
Despite being overshadowed by Aroldis Chapman and Nationals Rookie Drew Storen, Kimbrel was arguably the most dominant pitcher to debut during the 2010 season. In just 20.2 innings, Kimbrel struck out 40 batters (that’s 17.4 per nine innings) and allowed just a single earned run to score. He showed great poise during the playoffs and is a future closer. While he will likely split saves with Jonny Venters in the coming year, Kimbrel should continue to dominate. Although he walks a few too many batters, they are offset by his ridiculous strikeout totals (14.4 K/9 in the minors) and seemingly unhittable stuff.
Relief Pitcher: Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox
Although he may have a future in the rotation, Sale could start the year pitching out of the bullpen in 2011 (he also could go back to AAA to stretch out and join the rotation later in the year). Either way, Sale is a power arm that can rack up strikeouts (32 in 23.1 MLB innings last year). He has spent more MLB innings than minor league innings as he was just drafted in 2010, but already has proven he can perform on a big stage. While his walks might be a little high right now, Sale has a huge arm and could follow guys like David Price and (potentially) Neftali Feliz by pitching out of the bullpen before converting to the rotation.
Relief Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman – Cincinnati Reds
Chapman got as much hype as any pitcher not named Strasburg during the 2011 season as he consistently lit up radar guns with triple-digit heat. Another pitcher whose future is likely in the rotation (he started 12 games in AAA before pitching out of the bullpen in the majors), Chapman’s only weakness seems to be control. However, he didn’t walk as many people while pitching in relief in the majors (from 4.9 to 3.4 BB/9) and will rack up the strikeouts whenever he enters the game. If all goes well, he could be the Reds closer by the end of the year.