Central Processing: 2009 Prospect Review (1s)

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I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the #1 pre-season prospects from each AL Central team have performed in 2009.  Enter the first edition of the Central Processing 2009 Prospect Review.  For purposes of the rankings, I am using Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook and am listing players in alphabetical order based on their ML team.  Let’s take a look at the career paths of Gordon Beckham, Carlos Santana, Rick Porcello, Mike Moustakas, and Aaron Hicks to date.

Chicago White Sox:  SS/3B-Gordon Beckham (9/16/1986)

Drafted by the White Sox in the 1st round (8th overall) of the 2008 draft out of Georgia University, Beckham immediately put himself on the prospect map with his professional debut.  It was just 58 at bats with Low-A Kannapolis, but he made a strong showing in the South Atlantic League by hitting 0.310/.365/.500 with 11 R, 8 RBI, 5 BB, and 7 SO.  Beckham opened the 2009 season with Double-A Birmingham and hit 0.299/.366/.497 in 147 AB before being promoted to Triple-A on May 27th.  Once with Charlotte, it would only take 28 AB and a slash line of 0.464/.448/.679 before he would get the call to Chicago on June 4th.

That same day, he made his ML debut by going 0-3 and he started his big league career 0-13 before collecting his 1st hit on June 9th against the Tigers.  In 327 AB with the White Sox, Beckham has hit an impressive 0.272/.346/.465 with 25 2B, 12 HR, 50 R, and 54 RBI.  On top of that, based on 34 BB and 57 SO, he has a good idea of what he is doing at the plate.  On the defensive side of the equation Beckham has handled himself okay despite playing 3B due to the presence of Alexei Ramirez at SS.  His UZR/150 is -4.0 isn’t great, but it is important to note that he had only 8 games of experience at 3B in the minors before his call up.  Even if his defense doesn’t improve, and at 22 years old still learning the position it should, it is good enough based on the bat he brings to the table.  Beckham is in the running for the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Award.

Cleveland Indians:  C-Carlos Santana (4/8/1986)

What Beckham has done is certainly impressive, and he is proving it at the ML level which puts him above the Indians top prospect, however Carlos Santana has been making his own noise in 2009.  The Dodgers originally signed Santana out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 for the relatively small sum of $75,000.  At 19 years old, Santana hit 0.295/.412/.410 in rookie ball while playing 2B, 3B, OF, and C.   In 2006 he split time between rookie ball and high-A playing 3B/OF and hit 0.282/.379/.436 with 10 HR and almost as many walks (54) as strikeouts (62).  2007 saw Santana move behind the plate for 67 of his 86 games played for Low-A Great Lakes and the transition took its toll on him at the plate.  In 292 AB he hit just 0.223/.318/.370 but his plate discipline stayed intact as he walked 40 times compared to just 45 strikeouts.

On July 26th, 2008 he was traded to the Indians as the Dodgers received 3B-Casey Blake in return.  Santana spent all but 2 games of his season in Double-A and played primarily C.  It was a breakout year at the plate for Carlos as he wound up hitting 0.326/.431/.568 with 39 2B, 21 HR, 117 RBI, 89 BB, and 85 SO.  That line alone would be enough to be any ogranization’s top ranked prospect heading into 2009.  Add in the fact that he plays catcher and it would appear that the Indians have something truly special on their hands.  Santana spent the entire 2009 season in Double-A and, despite moving up a level, turned in a very solid season hitting 0.290/.413/.530 with 30 2B, 23 HR, 97 RBI, 90 BB, and 83 SO.

With the trade of Victor Martinez to the Red Sox at the non-waiver deadline and the struggles of Kelly Shoppach (0.214/.340/.399), the road appears clear for Carlos Santana to be the Indians starting catcher on opening day next year.  Oh, and did I mention he is a switch hitter?

Detroit Tigers:  RHP-Rick Porcello (12/27/1988)

The Tigers drafted Porcello in the 1st round (27th overall) of the 2007 draft out of Seton Hall Prep HS in New Jersey.  He was in the coversation as the best player available after David Price in the draft, but fell to the end of the 1st round due to the dreaded signability issue.  Porcello made his professional debut in 2008 pitching for High-A Lakeland.  In 24 starts and 125.0 IP he put up an impressive 2.66 ERA while giving up only 116 H, 33 BB, and 0.244 BAA but he struck out only 72.

It was enough to put him in the conversation for the 2009 Tigers rotation and when April rolled around, he was primed to make his ML debut at just 20 years old.  He had a rough 1st outing on April 9th against the Blue Jays and lasted only 5 innings while giving up 9 hits and 4 runs.  He is currently 13-8 with a 4.21 ERA, 1.327 WHIP, 1.73 SO/BB, and an ERA+ of 108 in 147.2 IP.  The Tigers have been careful with him allowing him to go over 100 pitches just twice all season, but the pressure of winning the division may be altering their plans for Porcello.  Both those 100+ PC outings have come in his last 4 starts and he has already thrown 22.2 IP more this season than last season.  At a time when most teams are easing off their young starters, or shutting them down completely, the Tigers are relying on Rick to keep taking the mound.  Watching Porcello pitch in 2009, I have not come away with the impression of a future ace or even a frontline starter but it is easy to forget that he is just 20 years old and has plenty of development time ahead of him to evolve into a staff ace.  Whether or not he ever develops into a 1 or 2, there is no doubt that he already belongs in a ML rotation and is, at worst, a 3 or 4 starter for many years to come.

Kansas City Royals:  3B-Mike Moustakas (9/11/1988)

Most of you already know the history, but for posterity, I’ll recap him anyway.  Moose was drafted by the Royals in the 1st round (2nd overall) of the 2007 draft out of Chatsworth HS in California.  He debuted in Idaho Falls in 2007 and hit a solid 0.293/.383/.439 in his 1st professional action.  The Royals bumped him up to Low-A Burlington for the 2008 season and while he struggled in the 1st half of the season but rebounded to hit 0.272/.337/.468 with 25 2B and 22 HR in 496 AB overall.

Moustakas spent all of 2009 with Wilmington, and hit 0.250/.297/.421 with 32 2B and 16 HR in 492 AB.  Much has been written about his “struggles” and also the fact that Wilmington, and the Carolina League in general, is a very difficult place to hit.  Most of the experts, such as the guys who write for Baseball America, are not that worried about Moose, and that gives me hope that he will turn it on when he moves on to Double-A.  Based on his 2009 home/road splits there is definitely something to Wilmington being an unfriendly environment.  However, it is hard to ignore the fact that he has struck out 184 times compared to only 79 walks in 266 games played.  His BA and OBP have declined during his 3 minor league seasons, and while the organization will certainly feel pressure to have him open 2010 with the NW Arkansas Naturals, he may be better served by returning to Wilmington next season for at least a few months.  He has been assigned to play in the Arizona Fall League so his opening 2010 assignment likely hinges on his performance with the Rafters.  Since questions remain about his ability to stay at 3B, a move to the OF may be in his future.  If the organization think that may be necessary in the future, they need to make the move now and not waste development time, like they did with Billy Butler.

Minnesota Twins:  OF-Aaron Hicks (10/2/1989)

Hicks was drafted by the Twins in the 1st round (14th overall) in the 2008 draft out of Wilson HS in California.  He is a switch hitting pure athlete with true five tool ability who was also considered a 1st round talent based on his potential as a pitcher.  Hicks made his debut in 2008 for the GCL Twins and impressed by hitting 0.318/.409/.491 with 18 extra base hits, 12 SB, 28 BB, and 32 SO in 173 AB.  It was impressive enough for Baseball America to rank him ahead of OF-Ben Revere on the Twins prospect list going into the 2009 season.  That in itself is quite a statement when you consider Revere hit 0.379/.433/.497 in Low-A during 2008, but more on Ben in a later post.

Hicks spent the 2009 season in Low-A with the Beloit Snappers and hit 0.251/.353/.382 with 22 XBH, 10 SB, 40 BB, and 55 SO in 251 AB.  Like Moustakas for the Royals, Hicks wasn’t terrible in 2009, but based on the preseason expectations a lot of people are concerned about his future.  Unlike Moustakas, Hicks maintained a solid walk rate in relation to his strikeouts and showed improvement as the season went on.  After hitting 0.222 in June, he hit 0.223 in July, then 0.264 in August, and 0.333 in 6 September games.  During the same 4 month span, his SLG went from 0.259, to 0.372, then 0.358, and finally 0.667.

Summation:

Each of the five stories have a lot of chapters left to write, but right now Beckham and Santana are the books I can’t put down.  Porcello could also be added to that group, but I have not been that impressed with him though he has been better than a league average starter at just 20 years of age which says a lot.  He is the solid book that you enjoy reading when you have the time.  Hicks and Moustakas are akin to the book you start reading because you watched and loved the movie that was baed on the book.  Shortly into the 2nd or 3rd chapter you quickly realize that the the movie took plenty of liberties with the plot, storyline, and characters.  The differences aren’t necessarily bad, but they certainly leave you feeling a bit let down because the story isn’t playing out as you expected.

Based on their performance leading up to this season, including this season, and in future seasons, I would rank them in the following order

  • Gordon Beckham-CWS:  He is at the top because I am 99% sure we will see him in a ML All-Star game sometime soon.
  • Carlos Santana-CLE:  He has only reached double-A at this point, but the big-time potential and positional scarcity rank him solidly ahead of Porcello in my book.
  • Rick Porcello-DET:  20 years old, in the majors, and slightly better than league average is nothing to be ashamed of, but I don’t see a frontline starter when I watch him pitch.
  • Aaron Hicks-MIN:  Oozes with talent, and he’s in a strong organization.  I’m fairly certain he will reach the majors, but what type of player he will be when he gets there is still very much up in the air.
  • Mike Moustakas-KC:  He has been inconsistent, has questions surrounding his plate discipline, and his future position remains up in the air.  The strength of the 4 guys above him has a lot to do with his standing on this list, and is not solely due to any failure on his part.  I want to make very clear, that I have not given up on Moose and still believe he has a big future ahead of him with the Royals.
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Tags: Aaron Hicks AL Central Baseball Carlos Santana Chicago White Sox Cleveland Indians Detroit Tigers Gordon Beckham Kansas City Royals KC Mike Moustakas Minnesota Twins MLB Rick Porcello Royals

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