Reviewing the Top Prospects: AL East

Entering 2010, FanGraphs posted Top 10 prospect lists for all 30 MLB organizations. And it’s been a great year for rookies, which means there are going to be a lot of changes in the Top 10 lists for 2011. Before we tackle that beast after the season, though, we’re taking a look at how each club’s No. 1 prospect has fared in 2010. Today, we’re starting with the American League East division.

The New York Yankees

Jesus Montero | Catcher
2010 Level: Triple-A
Age: 20

It’s been a tumultuous season for Montero, who didn’t hit above .250 in a month until June and was almost traded out of the organization. Despite all the drama, Montero remains in pinstripes and that’s a very good thing for the organization. Still just 20, the catcher has held his own at triple-A given his age. He’s currently hitting .286/.359/.493 in 371 at-bats. He’s shown power potential (.208 ISO) against much more advanced pitching while keeping his strikeout rate in check for a power hitter (19.9 K%). Montero’s defense continues to be a work-in-progress (14 passed balls, 23% caught stealing) but time is still on his side. Value: Down Slightly

The Tampa Bay Rays

Desmond Jennings | Outfielder
2010 Level: Triple-A
Age: 23

A late start to the 2010 season, due to an injury, hampered Jennings’ overall impact this year. He’s had an OK – but not great – season at triple-A as a 23 year old. The outfielder is currently hitting .285/.358/.415 in 340 at-bats. He’s been quite successful on the base paths (31 for 33) but his power has not developed as hoped (.129 ISO – his lowest rate since ’06). Jennings has probably been passed by pitcher Jeremy Hellickson as the club’s No. 1 prospect, but the outfielder should still make Carl Crawford or B.J. Upton expendable during the off-season. He still has a little ways to go before he’s a high-impact player. Value: Even

The Boston Red Sox

Casey Kelly | Right-Handed Pitcher
2010 Level: Double-A
Age: 20

It hasn’t been a good year to be a Red Sox prospect. Prospect lists flipped back and forth between Kelly and Ryan Westmoreland as the club’s No. 1 prospect but the latter player underwent brain surgery while the former struggled to adjust to double-A. Given that 2010 was Kelly’s first time committing to pitching full-time (after spending his prep career and first pro season as a two-way player), perhaps Boston was a little too aggressive with the 20-year-old hurler. The right-hander currently has a 5.31 ERA (4.03 FIP) through 21 starts and has seen his walk rate (3.32 BB/9) more than double over last season. Kelly has been quite hittable (11.18 H/9) but he’s also been the victim of a high BABIP (.366). The ’08 draft pick probably needs to repeat double-A in 2011 and it would be nice to see him get his ground-ball rate (currently 45%) back up over 50%, as it was in 2009. Value: Down Slightly

The Toronto Blue Jays

Brett Wallace | First Baseman
2010 Level: Triple-A/MLB
Age: 23

Obtained from Oakland in the off-season during the Roy Halladay dealings, Wallace has now joined his fourth organization since turning pro in 2008. The first baseman was sent from Toronto to Houston (via Philadephia) during the July traded deadline dealings in exchange for raw, but athletic, outfielder Anthony Gose. The move was a bit of a head-scratcher but the Jays organization is openly gambling on potential. Wallace was having an OK season at triple-A prior to the trade. Playing in a very offense-favorable environment, he hit .301/.359/.509 in 385 at-bats. His power output was a little disappointing considering his environment (.208 ISO), and so too was his walk rate (6.4 BB%). After the trade, which saw him land in Houston, Wallace has hit .294/.385/.353 in 34 MLB at-bats. The loss of Wallace to Houston has left pitcher Kyle Drabek – who was also picked up in the Halladay deal – as Toronto’s No. 1 prospect. Value: Down Slightly

The Baltimore Orioles

Brian Matusz | Left-Handed Pitcher
2010 Level: MLB
Age: 23

One of my early favorites for Rookie of the Year in the AL, Matusz has gone through some growing pains in 2010. His ERA currently sits at 5.08 (4.76 FIP) and he’s been an extreme fly-ball pitcher, as witnessed by his ground-ball rate of just 35.9%. Matusz’ four-pitch repertoire has helped him keep things together reasonable well for his rookie season but a lack of fastball command – as well as an inconsistent changeup – has hampered his development. Because he had limited time in the minors (19 career starts), the lefty is learning to pitch at the MLB level so there will probably be some bumps in the road in 2011, as well. Value: Even

Up Next: The NL West




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


49 Responses to “Reviewing the Top Prospects: AL East”

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  1. Kelly and Wallace have both slipped more then Montero

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    • Jake R says:

      I would argue that Montero’s value has risen this year. He has answered some of the questions about his defense and is starting to look like he at least has a real shot of being a big league catcher. And, although he struggled offensively in the first half, He is 20 and in AAA, made the adjustments, and is the hitter we all knew he was so far in the second half. If he stays hot through the end of the season, he has to remain in the conversation for the best prospect in the game.

      Kelly and Wallace have both slipped modestly. Wallace probably slipped the most, with long term questions about his power reinforced and, with his defense, he needs the power to be anything more than an average 1B. Kelly’s season is much like Montero’s first half without the second half surge. He’s far too young for his level to be overly concerned about his struggles. I still have confidence he would be dominant if in High-A this season and that, if he had not been challenged so aggressively, people would not be doubting his prospect stock. More so than moving his stock down, he’s treaded water, but is drifting toward the edge of a precipice. If he struggles in a repeat of AA next year, his prospect status will nosedive rather quickly.

      In other news for prospects mentioned in the system, although Westmoreland’s diagnosis and surgery clearly are negatives for the Boston farm system, his recovery, although under the radar, has been nothing short of spectacular. He’s already participating, in a limited capacity, in baseball activities and his new goal is to be ready to participate in Fall Instrux (capacity to be determined). I’m not saying he’s back to being the player he was. But, he remains well ahead of schedule in his recovery. And, that can’t be anything but a good thing.

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      • alskor says:

        If Montero has answered any questions about his defense he has done so in the negative. He’s allowed an astronomical amount of SBs (86 SB in 88 games! leading the league by a wide margin) with a poor CS% – and on top of that 14 passed balls and 6 errors.

        Was the question: “Are you definitely a 1B/DH and not a catcher?” If so… sure… he’s answered that, alright.

        I’m not sure where people are getting the idea he has improved dramatically on defense. I saw a quote or two citing some improvement in May… and its been steep downhill since then. Anyone have a link/source?

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  2. tdotsports1 says:

    Marc, would you agree with Drabek would have to be considered slightly down as well? I understand he had a no-hitter and his GB rate has improved and he is still young, but his K rate has been anything but impressive and considering the amount of praise he has garnered as being a potential ace, I do not see him being a legit #1 with his current minor league splits/stat set without some serious improvements across the board? Comment?

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  3. Will says:

    8th in the league in OPS in the International League as a 20 year old and International League Player of the Month in July (and with a good possibility of getting it again in August with a .410/.477/.744 line) and that’s brings his power down?

    No one ever thought he would be a catcher, so his defensive struggles can’t really be factored into his value coming down slightly. I seriously doubt the way he’s performed has lowered the opinion of him anywhere in baseball.

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  4. Undocorkscrew says:

    I’m interested in seeing who the Braves top prospect is. Offensively, it’s Freeman….obviously. I’m gonna guess Teheren, who’s upside is off the charts.

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  5. awayish says:

    LOOLLOL

    okay

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  6. awayish says:

    desmond jennings is even while montero is down slightly. what world are you living in

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  7. frenz says:

    Kelly gets ballwashed to high-heavens in ’09; proceeds to blow nuts in ’10 and his value has regressed “slightly?” Montero gets off to a slow start; puts up a .355/.423/.656 line in the last two months and his value also drops.

    Comedy hour here in fangraphs!

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    • Jake R says:

      Kelly is 20 years old in the international league. He pretty much gets a mulligan for this year. But, his margin for error for next season, if he wants to remain a top prospect, is very slim now.

      Montero, similarly, pretty much gets a mulligan for his first half struggles. I look at his second half line as much more indicative of the player he is, with probably a somewhat inflated batting average. I think his stock has at worst stayed the same and, in my mind, has risen slightly. But, that’s mostly because I think his chances of being a MLB catcher are up from the offseason.

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      • Total Dominication says:

        Kelly’s in AA, not AAA. Your correct that he is young for his level, but Montero would get more of a pass then Kelly. Freddie Freeman is the only player younger than 27 in AAA with a OPS higher than Montero. Montero’s OPS in the last 2 months is over 1000. How has he changed the same way has Kelly? How has he dropped at all?

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    • William says:

      While Kelly’s value has fallen, I think that this approach is consistent with the Sox’ new philosophy on their minor league system – namely, pushing their prospects into more advanced levels before they’re geniunely ready. There was a lot of concern after Buchholz struggled and needed a demotion to handle it, after outperforming every level he was at; it isn’t surprising to see these growing pains from the Sox prospects.

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      • Z2 says:

        So you’re saying if Boston prospects struggle, it’s ok because that’s their philosphy?

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      • James says:

        It isn’t ok but give it more than one year. Like Lars at AA took a year to figure it out. Sure he has struggled in AAA (though he has hit well this past month) but he is one of the youngest players there are 23. But it is their philosophy to put their players in situations where they are over matched and with it being his first full season of pitching (more innings ect.)this year should be a bit of a mulligan.

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      • Rich says:

        No, its not a problem when they struggle when they’re significantly younger than is normal for their league-age.

        Thats kind of the point of pushing them hard, so they have to struggle.

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    • Michael says:

      The rating of Montero has probably everything to do with the fact that he’s not a catcher. If he’s at 1b or DH- he’ll need to post an OPS of .850 to be worth 3 wins/

      As for Kelly, this is only his second year pitching full time. And while his ERA sucks, his FIP is actually pretty solid. At 20 years of age, he’s way ahead of the curve (as is Montero, but again, his issue is where does he play)

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      • Kevin S. says:

        But he hasn’t shown he’s any *less* likely to be a catcher than he was at the start of the season, so relative to his April 1 value, he shouldn’t have decreased.

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      • alskor says:

        Yes, and Kelly’s strikeouts are up, as is his velocity.

        Still, the pinpoint control he exhibited last year has gone away. Stock is clearly down slightly, but I think I like his ceiling a bit more than last year. He’s still a top prospect with two secondary pitches that are very good now and project as MLB out pitches.

        I would say Montero’s stock is steady, maybe down a teeny bit (if so, it will be due to guys passing him more than anything he’s done), and the rest (Kelly, Jennings, Wallace and Matusz) down slightly.

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    • Harry says:

      Seriously! He’s a TWENTY year old at AAA. Struggles at first, makes the necessary (batting) adjustments but his stock is down? Considering no one thought he was going to catch last year, I dont see how this can be the case.

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  8. Nolan Ryan's Changeup says:

    While no one is arguing that Montero will become the next Pudge I have heard that his defense is noticeably less awful in the field, and that the Yankees would consider using him as a catcher for a few years since they haven’t relied on catcher defense for a long time now.

    And with his recent offensive surge he’s cemented himself as the best bat prospect in the game. How has he fallen? It doesn’t mean he moved up, but I think he certainly treads water.

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    • sabernar says:

      People forget that Posada is no wizard behind the plate. How much defense are they really going to be giving up once Montero gets promoted? A little, sure, but not a whole lot, I would guess. I think the bigger thing for him is learning to work with major league pitchers and building relationships with them.

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    • James says:

      I’ve read other publications that say his so called improvement isn’t that noticeable and it is still a huge longshot for him to be a catcher.

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      • Z2 says:

        From the same publications that have said he has no chance to be a catcher right? Believe that’s referred to as “CYA”

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  9. Total Dominication says:

    Montero’s ranking is bullshit. He’s mashing AAA as a the youngest in the league. How has he not risen, yet alone fallen?

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    • joe says:

      He’s a Yankee prospect,;…..if Theo or Jack Z had draftef him, a 20 yr old in AAA would at least be even… since he is from a nonfavored SABR GM, he’s dropped.

      Of course had Jack Z drafted or traded for him (as opposed to a left handed hitter posing as a switch hitter), or had drafted him the GM would be a genius…..

      Awaits the inevitable down vote from the SABR community zombies who thinks Jack Z is the most bestest GM evah,,,,, ckearly a guy who’s a victum if curcumstaces,,,, nothing to do with a crappy roster

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      • Kevin S. says:

        No, but I’ll downvote you for thinking that the SABR community only loves Theo and Jack Z. Most advanced statistical analysts I’ve read have, at the minimum, a very healthy respect for what Cashman does.

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  10. Michael says:

    Guys- Montero ain’t a catcher- that’s why his value has dropped. That isn’t the opinion of fangraphs- it’s also the opinion Keith Law, John Sickels and the scouts they communicate with. Sickels recently posted that some scouts have told him that Posada is a significant upgrade defensively over Montero- think about that for a second- His receiving sucks, his footwork sucks, and he’s mediocre at throwing out base runners. Put that all together and you have a 1b or DH.

    Another thing to consider, look up pictures of Montero. Apart from when he showed up to camp a little fat (which is not an issue at all now) The guy’s a lean kid, he’s amazingly powerful already, which is pretty scary considering he could pack on another 20-40 pounds as he enters his mid 20s and end up being around 240 pounds. It’s very unlikely he catches a significant number of major league baseball games.

    Other teams know this. The Yankees know this. The problem for both Montero and the Yanks is that they’ve got a long term 1b who is pretty damn good. They also have their long term DH playing at 3b. Now, assuming they can slot him in a DH, what kind of offensive number would he have to put up to produce more value than a really good defensive outfielder with above average offense? He’d have to hit like Edgar Martinez or pre-2009 David Ortiz. Does he have the talent to do that? Sure. But that’s also almost certainly a best case scenario.

    He’s still an elite prospect but it’s become more apparent he ain’t sticking at catcher.

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    • Will says:

      That can’t be the reason his value dropped. No one saw him as a catcher before the season started. Since everyone’s opinion of his defense was that he wasn’t sticking at catcher, the fact that they still have that opinion doesn’t lower his value.

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      • Total Dominication says:

        This.

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      • Michael says:

        I don’t think it was everyone’s opinion that he was definitely not sticking at catcher; instead I think people felt that it was unlikely that he would remain there. This season has removed most if not all doubt.

        Add to that- if he does in fact play for the Yankees- he’s a DH. Probably a damn good one but how good would he have to be to be worth more than 3.0 wins per season?

        You’re looking at him having to bat .300/.350/.500 to be worth more the Elvis Andrus last year. Sure, he’s capable of doing that, he’s an exceptional talent but for him to be be the best prospect in baseball we’d all have to assume an OPS well north of .900 as a major leaguer.

        Is that really a reasonable floor for Montero? I don’t think it is.

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    • t says:

      As stated above, defensively the questions are still there. He hasn’t shown he will be able to stick at C but he also hasn’t been that awful where he will have to be moved. People have the same opinion of him as they did before the season, it’s still too early to know what will happen with him.

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      • Michael says:

        Again- Going into this year, it wasn’t certain he’d have to move. It was probable- but it wasn’t a forgone conclusion, like it is this year.

        Some recent commentary:

        “Callis was asked “Defensively, could Montero be adequate (like Posada) if called up right now to catch 2 of every 5?” to which he simply responded, “No”. After that he was asked “Do you consider Posada “adequate” defensively?” He responded “Fair enough. But Posada > Montero defensively””

        Then Kevin Goldstein was asked “What are the flaws of his defensive game right now?” He responded “Bad receiver, doesn’t block well, bad vs running game.” After that a Yankee fan who is covering the team this season got onto his case stating that he has seen Montero 50+ times this season and he can be a good defensive catcher, he then questioned Goldstein because he probably hasn’t seen him once. Goldstein responded, “More important: Me seeing Montero in person, or me talking to four scouts, all universal on Montero, who have seen him 20 times?”

        So yeah, he’s not a catcher and he’ll have to post insane numbers to be warrant being considered the best prospect in baseball.

        But it’s not all bad news-

        Keith law also recently said that production to the level of Frank Thomas would be an optimistic (but not overly optimistic) long term forecast of Montero’s career.

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      • Z2 says:

        Watching a player is more important that taking other people’s word for it. No scout who been saying Montero can’t make it at catcher is suddenly going to sing a different tune.

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    • PJ says:

      Keith Law compared Montero to Frank Thomas. How has his value DROPPED!?!?!?

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      • Michael says:

        again, that’s best case scenario. It’s more likely he falls well well well short of that.

        The point is- if he’s a DH, he’s got to post an OPS north of .900 to be worth as much as a great fielding league average hitter at a premium defensive player. Can he do that? Sure. How likely is it? Who knows?

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      • James says:

        I’m pretty sure Keith law has also compared him to Miguel Cabrera and other Great players. Who cares what he says? That is best case scenario like Michael says but Montero still has the chance to become Paul Konerko too.

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  11. Vandelay says:

    I am a Yankees fan so I will defend a prospect in our system against very meaningful and important blog posts such as this.

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  12. Mike Green says:

    If Wallace’s status is “down slightly”, Montero’s would have to be “up significantly”. Wallace had a worse year at age 23 while repeating a level. Montero is 20 and moved up a level. It was pretty clear at the start of the year that both were first basemen in waiting, and both needed to learn to play the position.

    Personally, I’d have Wallace as “way down” and Montero as “level”. I expected Montero to hit about like this in triple A. He’s still a great hitting prospect.

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  13. Matthias says:

    What about J.P. Arencibia? A 24-year-old catcher (with the Jays) who had 31 homeruns in AAA before getting called up a couple weeks ago. 31 homeruns! That’s a lot of power, even with a K-rate in the 20s. He had 21 the year before, so it seems like legit power….

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    • alskor says:

      This is a review of prospect rankings from before the season, not a new ranking.

      As for Arencibia, I’m pessimistic his poor approach will allow him to use nearly as much of that power in the bigs. Hard to see him being a real impact guy with his lack of selectivity… BUT with plus pop, a good glove and just enough everywhere else he will still likely be a fairly valuable MLB player IMO. I’d still take a number of other prospects above him – particularly catching prospects and especially those without such majors flaws in their game. Its worth noting his great 2010 and good 2009 both occurred in one of the best hitters parks in the minors (Las Vegas/Toronto’s AAA) in one of the best hitters leagues (PCL) and (his 2010) while he was repeating the level at the age of 24.

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  14. Mark says:

    Out of curiosity, at the start of the season if you were told that Montero would be hitting what he is, would that have been a lowering of his value? My feeling is that it was his earlier struggles whilst adapting to better pitching that bears heavy on the mind whilst evaluating his performance.

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  15. KevinM says:

    I don’t think it’s outrageous for Montero to put up very high numbers as a DH that would drive up his WAR. He’s a 20 year-old power hitter who hits most of his HRs to RF and CF heading to the leading HR park in the Majors in it’s 2 years of existence.

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    • alskor says:

      Its so very, very hard to put up say >3 WAR as a DH. MVP caliber seasons at the plate are virtually the only way… even then, the positional adjustment and lack of any defensive WAR help kills you. It really can’t be overstated how difficult this is. The entire way we calculate WAR is built in a way that makes it virtually impossible.

      OTOH, its not fair to think of Montero as a future DH, either. There’s really no reason to assume he can’t be an okay defensive 1B. I think given his physical attributes I would be very uncomfortable assuming he can a good defensive 1B… though I’ll concede its certainly possible. I don’t think its fair to ding Montero because the team he’s on has an excellent 1B signed long term. We don’t do this to Desmond Jennings, for instance. This isn’t much of a difference (1B vs. DH) I realize, but I think its bears mentioning here.

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  16. Jay says:

    Could Montero play LF?

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