Top 20 Hitting Prospects - A Rough Draft

Hak-Ju Lee slides into the top spot for hitters via i.pbase.com

Last week I made up a rough draft of the top 20 pitching prospects, and now it's time for the position players. The bats are tougher to rank, in my opinion, because the bulk of them are so far away from the majors. Desmond Jennings has passed the eligiblity threshold (130 AB), but this list presumes no one else will (next highest is Robinson Chirinos with 55). Like last week, the tiers are more thought-out at this stage than the actual rankings. Keep in mind that this is very early in the process and nothing is set in stone. Last note: Excuse the short write-ups, blame Irene.

Tier One
1. Hak-Ju Lee - He'll be the system's top hitting prospect but he's fading down the stretch, hitting .211/.287/.368 about three weeks into a promotion to double-A. But his OPS is up .100 points from last season, and made it to Montgomery as a 20-year-old while his body is still developing. His home runs and triples are up (20 combined vs. five last year) and he's maintained a solid plate approach. He's matched 2010's stolen base total of 32, but has been thrown out more than twice as much. I wonder if his spring training case of chicken pox has kept his body from getting in top shaping entering the season, which would potentially explain the caught stealing uptick and the late-season dropoff. Don't forget the plus, maybe plus-plus, glove.

2. Drew Vettleson - After seeing many of the Rays' highly-touted draft picks scuffle early in their career, Vettleson's .289/.365/.474 line in his Princeton debut is like water in the desert. He's shown decent power, seven home runs, and speed, 20 stolen bases, as part of an all-around game. Maybe he doesn't have a superstar ceiling, but between the numbers and the scouting reports, he doesn't seem to have a real weakness either.

Tier Two
3. Tim Beckham
- He's up to triple-A as a 21-year-old and has had extended showings of the ability that made him such a top pick. His power and stolen base ratio are both up from previous seasons, but his strikeout-walk rate is down and his defense, while improved, isn't in Lee's class. He's shown a willingness to take pitches, but that can work to his disadvantage as he winds up in a lot of two-strike situations.

4. Josh Sale - The .203/.278/.329 line is obviously a letdown from what was supposed to be a polished high school bat, but it's not like he's striking out at an O'Connerian rate. He has a .235 BABIP, an issue that FreeZo took a deeper look at. Short story: It's not low just because of bad luck. It's not time to give up after one season (though I'm sure I'll take heat for ranking him this high), but I think it's fair to say Vettleson has passed him.

5. Mikie Mahtook - The top bat chosen by the Rays in the 2011 draft, Mahtook will make his unofficial pro debut in the Arizona Fall League. While new bat standards stifled offense around college baseball, Mahtook hit .383/.496/.709. He'll make his real debut in Bowling Green next year.

6. Brandon Guyer - No, he doesn't walk much and probably isn't going to, but he's hitting .315/.387/.525 in his first International League rodeo. He's sustained an average over .300 against both right- and left-handed pitching, and we'll surely see him for more than a one-game cameo in September.

Tier Three
7. Derek Dietrich
- He's likely the frontrunner for the organization's hitter of the year award, leading the organization in home runs with a current .281/.351/.508 line. His 36-116 walk-strikeout ratio is something that can possibly be exploited by upper-level pitching, but I can't penalize him too much as he hasn't gotten the chance to face any. He's going to move off SS pretty soon, and it'll be very interesting to see if he can handle 2B.

8. Ryan Brett - He's a contact specialist (25 walks, 22 strikeouts in in 59 games) but he's not just slapping singles. He's got 19 doubles, five triples, and three home runs and packs solid pop for his 5-9/180 frame. He steals bases efficiently -- 21 steals, 3 times caught -- and plays a decent second base.

9. Tyler Goeddel - He got $1.5 million to buy him away from a UCLA commitment, and that's because he might have the highest upside of any hitter in the draft. He's still quite raw and needs to fill out his 6-4/170 frame, but he shows the makings of decent power and has above-average arm strength and wheels to boot. He'll follow the Sale/Vettleson route and debut in Princeton next year.

Tier Four
10. Tyler Bortnick
- He doesn't have eye-popping traditional tools but it's really hard to argue with the results he's shown for two and a half seasons in the organization. His power his down this season, though he's topped 30 doubles, and he's augmented that with 76 walks against 63 strikeouts, helping him to a .423 OBP. Once on base, he steals bases with a remarkable efficiency: 41 steals, just 4 times thrown out.

11. Jeff Malm - Weird season. He lit the NY-P League on fire in July with a .314/.435/.608 line, but he's hitting just .156 in August and his season average is down to .245. He's maintained decent on-base skills in August, so thBABIP dragons are likely hurting him some. He's needs the bat to carry him as a first basemen, and I need to see some longer sustained success to rank him higher.

12. Oscar Hernandez - I dunno. It's impossible to judge what a VSL line of .402/.503/.732 means, but this seems like as good a place as any to spot him. Here's hoping he's playing with Princeton (or even Hudson Valley) in 2012.

13. Robinson Chirinos - Got off to a terrible start in Durham, so even with a rebound his numbers fell well short of the dominant ones he posted the last two years with Chicago. Had some nice moments in the big leagues, but hit just .218 overall there. Honestly I could see ranking him five spots higher; he's probably the trickiest one to pin down.

14. Russ Canzler - The minor-league free agent pickup is hitting .312/.398/.525 at Durham, but is he just a quad-A type? The only way to find out is to play him against major-league pitching, and that's a chance Canzler has shown he deserves.

Tier Five
15. Johnny Eierman
- He has some very nice power potential, but his big stride needs to be calmed down some and it'll take time to re-work himself as a more balance hitter. Expect to see him as part of a very talented Princeton lineup.

16. Jake Hager - Okay, at this point I'm sort of just throwing darts with the 2011 draftees. Hit .257 in Princeton as an 18-year-old.

17. Ty Morrison - He was my big breakout pick entering the season, but not a whole lot has gone right. He missed significant time with a shoulder injury, and while he's hitting .274 with Charlotte, it's a very empty average. He's walked 8 times and struck out 63 in 60 games with just nine extra-base hits out of 65 total. His stolen base success rate has also fallen from 85% to 72%. Hopefully he can just write-off 2011 (these big companies, they write-off everything) and start fresh in 2012.

18. Brandon Martin - Darts, I tell you.

19. Granden Goetzman - No, really.

20. Stephen Vogt - He's hitting .305/.342/.503 between Montgomery and Durham, and he doubled last season's home run total in roughly 100 fewer PAs. He can hit but doesn't have a true defensive home. Is there a spot for a super-sub that can play C/1B/LF/RF?

The "Just missed but probably has a decent argument to be on here somewhere and may well be on the final edition of this list" list:
Justin O'Conner
Cameron Seitzer
Cody Rogers
James Harris
Kes Carter
Juniel Querecuto
Luke Bailey
Todd Glaesmann

And to wrap up... how much fun would this 2012 Princeton lineup be?
SS Jake Hager
RF Granden Goetzman
C Oscar Hernandez
3B Tyler Goeddel
1B John Alexander
LF Johnny Eierman
2B Brandon Martin
CF James Harris
DH Whoever

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