The draft signing deadline has come and gone and, believe it or not, there are only about two weeks left in the regular season for the minor leaguers. This means it's time to start thinking about rankings. Because of the system's absurd depth, my plan is to make lists 20-deep this year rather than 15. Consider this my first draft, though I think the tiers are more important than the actual ranking. Let's start with the pitchers:
1. Matt Moore - I don't think any explanation is needed here. He's just about the undisputed top pitching prospect in the game. He led the minors in strikeouts in 2009 and 2010 but he'll have to fight to keep that crown this year. Edwar Cabrera with the Modesto Nuts (Rockies high-A affiliate) leads the pack with 202 punchouts and two starts remaining. The Phillies' Trevor May, with high-A Clearwater, is in second with 189 and Moore is right behind with 188. May and Moore each have three starts left, but there's work to do to catch up to Cabrera.
2. Alex Torres - We could call this the "great stuff, but..." tier. Torres led the Southern League in strikeouts last year and he has a shot to repeat in the International League this year (he trails Tom Milone 141 to 137). Unfortunately he also led the SL in walks, and he may retain that title too (Andrew Brackman has issued 71 free passes, Torres 70). Despite his 5'10" stature, Torres does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. That means the walks don't hurt as much since he tends not to allow home runs and is able to induce double plays. The control hurts his ultimate ceiling, but batters aren't able to make solid contact since everything he throws moves. Could be a decent rotation option or a lethal bullpen weapon.
3. Enny Romero - He's three levels lower than Torres and with an ERA almost a run and a half higher, but I like Romero almost as much. Such comparisons may be blasphemous but he's doing a modest Matt Moore impression: He had very good ratios with Princeton (72-14 walks in 69 innings a season ago) and carried the strikeouts -- but not the control -- to Bowling Green. Romero has walked 59 in 99.1 innings this year, though he's shown flashes. In June and July, he walked a combined 15 hitters in 46.2 innings after walking 19 in May alone. He's got excellent stuff and a good pitcher's build and is primed for a potential breakout season in Charlotte next year.4. Taylor Guerrieri - No need for a big paragraph here as you've surely read the scouting reports on the Rays' top pick. If we're lucky he'll pitch in a few games with the GCL Rays down the stretch, otherwise we'll have to wait until next June for him to pitch in a game.
5. Alex Colome - Despite reports of great stuff, Colome has never really had the breakout season. His ERA (3.48) is better than last year's but his K/BB has fallen from 2.80 to 1.79. He made it up to double-A as a 22-year-old but his 1.95 ERA in six starts masks a scary 21-18 K-BB rate. He's still got that electric arm and is probably looking a full year in Montgomery, not unlike...
6. Chris Archer - He had his breakout season in 2010 with the Cubs, but hasn't carried that over to the Rays organization. Like Colome, he's 22 with very good stuff but has seen his rates go backwards. His improved control last year was entirely in his time in the Florida State League; in 200 Southern League innings between the second half of last year plus this year, he's walked 114. He's virtually tied with Colome, in my opinion.
7. Matt Bush - There's a pretty sizable gap between tiers from Archer to Bush. The former shortstop has great stuff, but he is strictly a reliever and has battled control issues. With only 67 career innings, the walks should go down and if/when they do, he'll have an impact from the bullpen. He's mainly rated this highly on the basis of his wicked fastball/slider and the fact the rest of the starters in the organization have a major weakness.
8. Ryan Carpenter - He had a weird college career at Gonzaga, flashing plus stuff for two seasons but not posting the results it would indicate. Then in his junior year, his fastball velocity was down and his breaking pitches less sharp but he had his best year. If he regain his stuff (including a fastball that could reach the mid-90s) while retaining his pitchability, he has a very high ceiling. Even with a fastball around 89-91, as it has been, he should be able to crack a team's rotation. But he was also as low as 84 this past spring, so there's a pretty wide gap between his ceiling and floor.
9. Grayson Garvin - Essentially he's a safer version of Carpenter. His fastball is in the same range, though his change-up is his go-to offspeed pitch. He also has a longer track record of results than Carpenter, pitching in a much tougher conference. One complicating factor is his health: He signed for $370,000 which is a quarter-million less than slot, reportedly because of concerns over his elbow. He had trouble with it a few years ago but all seemed right since then. However, if Garvin truly felt the Rays were lowballing him and that his elbow was fine, I think he would've gone back to Vanderbilt for his senior season.
10. Lenny Linsky - Sort of like Matt Bush in that he's a reliever with two potential plus pitches but also a history of some command issues. He's looked very good at Hudson Valley, though, and he's a good candidate to be skipped over Bowling Green into Charlotte's bullpen next year.
11. Nick Barnese - It's getting pretty muddled here. Barnese struck out 11.5 in Hudson Valley in 2008, though the strikeouts didn't follow into full-season ball. He seemed to re-create himself a bit as a control pitcher last year with a sub-2.0 BB/9 in Charlotte, but he's more than doubled his walk total in seven fewer innings so far this year. His fastball has good life but his secondary pitches haven't improved as anticipated.
12. Jake Thompson - Okay, I admit it: I don't know what to make of him. His strikeout rate of 4.2 per 9 innings is about half of what it should be given the reports on his stuff. His walk rate is solid but not great, and he's allowing a hit per inning. Despite that, his ERA is 2.83 thanks in large part of his ability to keep the ball in the park. In fact, in 149 career innings as a pro, he's allowed four home runs even though his groundball rate isn't anything special. So... I don't know.
13. C.J. Riefenhauser - I've covered him here before so I won't go all-out again, but he's been one of the system's breakout prospects. He's got almost a 4-to-1 K-BB ratio and batters are hitting just .217 off him. He's been especially tough on left-handers though he may eventually be limited to relief.
14. Albert Suarez - Not a big dropoff between tiers this time as now we're into the players who missed time with injury. Suarez was added to the 40-man roster last off-season but has pitched just 122.2 innings since 2008, missing time with Tommy John surgery and a knee injury.
15. Wilking Rodriguez - A little bit underwhelming last year at Bowling Green; missed significant time with a shoulder injury in 2011.
16. Joe Cruz - Completely bombed in Montgomery before going on the shelf with a shoulder injury that was originally expected to keep him out until 2012. He's recently returned and has dominated the Gulf Coast League, but... it's the Gulf Coast League.
17. Jesse Hahn - A little disappointing that he hasn't made it back onto the field yet (recovering from Tommy John Surgery), but his stuff was really good at Virginia Tech. Hopefully he's able to at least make an appearance or two with the GCL Rays before the year is out.
18. Marquis Fleming - He has one really, really good pitch (his change-up), but his fastball lacks movement and velocity, around 90 mph, and he's walked too many.
19. Jason McEachern - Looked great at Hudson Valley but has run into problem at Bowling Green, where he spent all of 2010 and put up a 5.68 ERA. His control has been better there, but he's getting hit hard again (28 in 20 innings) and his strikeouts are down. He's only 20 years old, but his combined numbers above short-season ball are not pretty.
20. Justin Woodall - The former University of Alabama safety hadn't played baseball since high school, but he's still got a big-time fastball and is striking out more than a batter per inning with the Renegades. And I always like to end my lists with an "interesting" guy (note: this did not end well for Wade Townsend).
What's your list look like?