I know, I know. My last Top 50 update came back on June 13 and I can only offer my humblest apologies. Since that time, the Top 50 list has changed quite a bit, with several players leaving the ranks thanks to their graduation (read: losing rookie status) to the big leagues.
And there are even more changes in store. The Team Top 10s have already been reshuffled in many instances, with players moving up in ranking due to their impressive performances (Example: Brad Peacock now at No. 2 on the Nationals’ Top 10 list). And while there are many new names on the overall Top 50 to check out (the point I’m trying to make is that Prospect Watch is something that should be checked often), there’s a re-ranking of that still to come. So keep an eye out for that.
For now, though, lets work with the 50 we’ve got and give an update on how they’re doing, starting with the pitchers.
Pitcher of the last little while: I figured just looking at a week wouldn’t be fair. A number on this list — Drew Pomeranz, Matt Moore, Tyler Skaggs and Martin Perez (boy, it’s been a good stretch for lefties, hasn’t it?) — have earned promotions recently and pitched well (taking nothing away from Shelby Miller and Jake Odorizzi, who were promoted a little further back). But I’ll give the nod to Tommy John surgery survivor Jarrod Parker. It’s looking the rust has been shaken off at this point. The Diamondbacks prospect has been outstanding lately, looking much more like his old self while Arizona monitors his innings. In his last five starts — all in July — he’s given up one earned run or less. He’s given up just 18 hits in his 26 innings this month for a .196 batting average against. After walking 33 batters in 61 first-half innings, he’s given up just 11 free passes in 31 IP since the break.
And now, the hitters:
Again, many promotions throughout the list. But I’ve got to applaud the work of Dee Gordon. Gordon got a call up to Los Angeles and got sent down after 22 games there. Rather than sulk, though, he has flat out raked in Triple-A. In 16 July games, the speedy shortstop has hit .408/.440/.563. That’s 29-for-71 for those of you scoring at home. He’s also gone 8-for-9 in stolen base attempts, making him a nifty 30-for-34 for the year.
Earlier today, I ran through the American League All-Star rosters with notes on when I covered them as Minor Leaguers or amateurs. Now it’s time to take a look at the NL squad.
Prince Fielder, 1B: I didn’t make it to that 2004 Futures Game, but he did.
Rickie Weeks, 2B: I did a feature on Weeks when he was coming out of Southern University in 2003, though I missed the 2004 Futures Game he attended.
Troy Tulowitzki, SS: We all got to see Tulo as a prospect when he came to Pittsburgh for the Futures Game in 2006.
Lance Berkman, OF: He helped get it all going, playing in that very first Futures Game at Fenway Park in 1999.
Matt Kemp, OF: The Dodger did a journal for us back in 2006. Here’s an example.
Miguel Montero, C: Montero played for the World Team in the 2005 Futures Game, held in Detroit.
Gaby Sanchez, 1B: Sanchez wrote an Arizona Fall League journal for us in 2006 (Sorry I could only find a printer-friendly link).
Joey Votto, 1B: Not only did Votto play for the World Team in the Futures Game in 2006 and 2007, we also interviewed him at the 2007 Rookie Career Development Program.
Brandon Phillips, 2B: When the 2002 season started, Phillips was a Montreal Expos prospect. Just a couple of weeks before his appearance in that year’s Futures Game in Milwaukee, he was traded to Cleveland (along with Grady Sizemore and Cliff Lee in the Bartolo Colon deal.
Jose Reyes, SS: Reyes actually played second base for the World Team in the 2002 Futures Game and won MVP honors for his big triple. Hmmm, Grant Green just won Futures MVP this year and he moved over to second for the game… maybe more guys will volunteer to make the switch.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B/1B: Panda played in the 2006 and 2008 Futures Games and we also interviewed him at the 2009 Rookie Career Development Program.
Starlin Castro, SS: The Cub played in the 2009 Futures Game in St. Louis. The following year, he was a ROY candidate.
Ryan Braun, OF: It started with a feature on Braun while he was at the University of Miami prior to the 2005 Draft, it continued with the Futures Game in 2006, and then AFL that same year.
Jay Bruce, OF: We miked Bruce up at the Florida State League All-Star Game back in 2007, then interviewed him at the 2008 Rookie Career Development Program, where he was also a part of our feature on the outfielders from the 2005 Draft class who were at the RCDP that year.
Hunter Pence, OF: Pence played in the 2006 Futures Game in Pittsburgh and in the AFL.
Andrew McCutchen, OF: He was a 2008 Futures Gamer (and one of the 2005 Draft outfielders who wasn’t at the RCDP in 2008), and since I’m a Pittsburgh guy, I get to watch, and talk to, him regularly.
Justin Upton, OF: Upton was part of that RCDP feature linked to above and he homered in the 2007 Futures Game in San Francisco.
Shane Victorino, OF: Seeing Victorino at the All-Star Game again is one of my favorite things here. Victorino was a two-time Rule 5 pick and we once joked about having to re-name the rule after him. We also interviewed him at the 2006 Rookie Career Development Program.
Andre Ethier, OF: Ethier was the 2005 winner of the AFL Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award. Just a short time after the AFL season ended, Ethier was traded from the A’s to the Dodgers.
Matt Cain, RHP: Too bad I missed that 2004 Futures Game, huh?
Jair Jurrjens, RHP: Back in 2007, we traveled to Erie, Pa. to talk to this young right-hander from Curacao. He was pitching for the SeaWolves, the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate. He got traded that offseason to the Braves.
Clayton Kershaw, LHP: In 2007, we went to Michigan and the Great Lakes Loons to check out the new ballpark and interview the then 19-year-old during his first full season of pro ball. He pitched in the Futures Game that season as well.
Tim Lincecum, RHP: Back in 2006, when Lincecum was a curiosity of sorts coming out of the University of Washington, he did a Draft journal for us.
One of the best things about my job in covering prospects is that I get to know players at the very beginning and see them “before they are stars.” Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and cover a vast number of young players on their way up who have now gone on to bigger and better things. I must admit, I take a certain kind of pride when I see someone I knew in the Minors (or as an amateur) make it to an All-Star Game.
When Adam Jones made the All-Star team in 2009, I was able to talk to him about the journal he used to write for us (you can sample one here if you like) when he was an up-and-comer in the Mariners system, just making the transition to center field.
When Shane Victorino was an All-Star that very same season (perhaps he’ll go again as the Final Man), we joked about the times we talked about him being a two-time Rule 5 pick and how they might need to re-name the rule after him.
The list goes on and on. So I looked through this year’s All-Star rosters to keep an eye on anyone I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with when they were prospects on the way up. I’ll do the American League now, with the NL later on today:
Robinson Cano, 2B: I didn’t make it to the 2004 Futures Game (it’s the only one I’ve missed, but I had a good reason: my daughter, Elena, was born that week), but I was there in Chicago in 2003 to see him play.
Curtis Granderson, OF: Granderson, then a Minor Leaguer with the Tigers, wrote an Arizona Fall League journal for us back in 2004. Here’s a sample of that journal, where he talks about dressing up as Rick James for Halloween.
Josh Hamilton, OF: When we saw Hamilton play in the 2000 Futures Game in Atlanta — and get three hits, if my memory serves — we knew he had special talent. We obviously didn’t know the adversity he’d face, but the pure on-field skills were apparent back then.
Josh Beckett, RHP: That was a pretty good U.S. squad in 2000, wasn’t it? Hamilton and Beckett went 1-2 in the 1999 Draft and both made it to the Futures Game a year after being drafted. He was in the big leagues the following year, at age 21.
Gio Gonzalez, LHP: Ahh, Gio. Gotta love Gio. Gio played in the Futures game in 2006 and also played in the Arizona Fall League. Back in the day when we had MLB Radio, he did a weekly segment from the AFL with us. It wasn’t always so easy to track him down, but when we did, it was about as much fun on the radio as we had.
Russ Martin, C: I met Martin when he was the catcher for the Double-A Jacksonville Suns, the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate at the time. They won the Southern League title that year and that was a squad with just a ridiculous amount of talent on it (James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, to name a few).
Miguel Cabrera, 1B: He was a 19-year-old third baseman when he played in the Futures Game for the first time, in 2001. He was there again in 2002 and there was plenty of buzz around him any time he hit, with it pretty apparent what was to come.
Howard Kendrick, 2B: He was Howie when I met him for the first time and he did an AFL journal for us (here’s an example) which was fantastic. Even if he’s Howard now, he still stands out as one of the all-time good guys I’ve covered.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B: Youk played in the 2003 Futures Game and he was still getting a lot of attention for his “role” in the book Moneyball. We had a good laugh over how he should be called “The Jewish God of Walks” instead of the “Greek God of Walks.”
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: He was in the 2007 Futures Game in San Francisco. The year before that, in 2006, I got to chat with him during the Eastern League playoffs, when he was playing for the Portland SeaDogs.
David Price, LHP: Price didn’t spend too much time as a prospect, did he? But when he was at Vanderbilt, the year he became the No. overall pick in the first televised Draft, he did a Draft journal for our site.
Ricky Romero, LHP: Romero was the first pitcher take in the 2005 Draft’s first round (the one with Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Braun taken ahead of him, along with Jeff Clement). In 2007, the Cal State Fullerton product wrote a season-long journal for us and was probably one of the most reliable journal writers we’ve ever had.
C.C. Sabathia, LHP: Remember what I said about the 2000 U.S. Team in the Futures Game? Sabathia was there as well.
James Shields, RHP: He was Jamie when I first saw him pitch. But anyone who saw him throw his changeup in the Arizona Fall League championship game back in 2005 knew he was going to be a big leaguer soon thereafter.
Justin Verlander, RHP: In 2004, I went to Virginia to see Verlander and his Old Dominion team take on Justin Orenduff and Virginia Commonwealth (Orenduff would be a supplemental first-round pick of the Dodgers, but arm troubles derailed his career). Verlander struck out 16 in that game for the win. The result of that trip was a two-part Q&A with both Justins (Part I and Part II)
The last of my video interviews during my time in North Carolina, this one is with University of Florida two-way player Brian Johnson. I’m always impressed with guys who are so talented that they can pitch and hit at such a high level and Johnson earned extra points in my book for high-tailing it to North Carolina to join Team USA such a short time after his Gators came up a bit short against South Carolina in the College World Series. Here’s the entire interview.
If you haven’t seen the feature on USA Baseball “veteran” (hard to use that term for a teenager) Albert Almora, you can read it here. There’s two minutes of my interview with that. Here’s the entire interview, raw and unedited. I must say that I came away impressed with Almora, not just because of his tools, which are plentiful, but with how he carries himself at such a young age. Tools + makeup generally means a very bright future.
If you checked out the preview for the USA Baseball Prospect Classic, you saw two minutes or so of my interview with former big leaguer Scott Brosius, who is in his first year of managing the 18 and under national team. Here it is in it’s undedited, raw entirety — we talked about the team, the USA Baseball facilitiy and the Prospect Classic itself. Enjoy
As I sit here in my hotel room in Cary, North Carolina, getting ready to be a part of the broadcast team that will bring you the first-ever USA Baseball Prospect Classic, I can’t help but think, before an inning has ever been played, that this is by far the coolest event no one knows about (at least not yet so much).
For those of you who don’t know what it’s all about, you can read my preview about the two-game event. But, in a nutshell, it’s the Collegiate National Team playing two exhibition games against the 18 and under trial team. And the more I prepare and think about it, I’m getting all geeked out.
Yes, I know, this is a bit of a niche thing. But it’s an ever-growing niche and every year it seems there’s more and more information out there on amateur players/Draft prospects. Will it ever reach the fever pitch of the NFL Draft? Probably not, largely because I don’t see college and high school baseball hitting the popularity levels of college football. But imagine if football had the Army/Under Armour high school all-americans (or whatever they’re called) playing against, or competing with the players in, say, the Senior Bowl. The latter may not have the top college players, but you get the idea.
Well, that’s exactly what this USA Baseball Prospect Classic is. With the exception of some of the college players who went to the Cape Cod League and a few who played deep into the College World Series, so they opted not to come, these two games will put the top 50-60 amateur players — nearly all of whom will be top picks in the 2012 Draft — on one field at one time.
Every year as the Draft comes around, people email, leave comments here, or tweet with questions about the Draft class. Well, you can get started on your 2012 research now with these games. Watch the broadcasts (on MLB Network Saturday and Sunday at noon ET, but they’ll likely be rebroadcast several times), look for stories, follow live scoring on www.usabaseball.com, whatever you have to do. That will give you a big leg up on knowing what’s coming in 2012. As the preview states, if this Classic existed the last few years, it would have had a huge amount of future first-rounders on the field at one one time.
And this is just the first year of this thing, so it’s only going to get better. I only hope that the exposure (both on mlb.com and on MLB Network) will help it grow and more prospects will be drawn to it… perhaps even getting a few more college guys to come here instead of heading to the Cape (love the Cape League, by the way, just saying that the way things are set up now, they could come here, then still have some time in the Cape).
So check it out and become a fan of what USA Baseball is doing here. If you’re a prospect geek — and chances are if you’re looking at my blog, you are — this is a dream event. (And if you’re in Durham, come on by and say hello).
I’ll add some video interviews on here as the weekend progresses.