Prospect ranking season is here. Top 10 lists will be arriving shortly and in preparation for that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The series is back for a second year.
The Graduate: Jeff Niemann, RHP
It took longer than expected for Niemann to graduate to the Majors, but it was well worth the wait for the Rays. Niemann started off a little slowly, but he gained momentum and finished the season with a WAR of 3.2. In 180.2 innings, the 6’9” right-hander allowed 185 hits while posting a walk rate of 2.94 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 6.23 K/9. It would be nice to see him improve him ground-ball rate from 40.5% and cut down on the line-drive rate of 20.0%. Niemann could also stand to improve his secondary stuff, as his fastball (7.9 wFB) was really his only consistently above-average pitch in ’09.
The Riser: Wilking Rodriguez
Rodriguez had an excellent North American debut in ’09 at the rookie-ball level. The 19-year-old right-hander allowed just 44 hits in 56 innings of work. He also showed above-average control with a walk rate of 1.93 BB/9. He coupled that with a solid strikeout rate at 8.36 K/9. That rate could improve even more as he sharpens the command of his low-to-mid-90s fastball, curveball and change-up. Rodriguez was helped by a .269 BABIP and left-handed batters struggled against him with an average of .154. The organization will probably be patient with him and move him up to short-season ball.
The Tumbler: Fernando Perez, OF
Perez has never been a top-notch prospect but the speedy outfielder is considered an excellent fourth-outfield prospect. An injury wiped out his ’09 season so his “tumble” really wasn’t a fault of his own. Perez strikes out too much for a player with modest power (.106 ISO at triple-A in ’08), although he does a reasonable job of getting on base via the walk. If he were to play everyday, Perez could reach 30-40 steals. His 0.8 career WAR is tied almost solely to his defensive abilities.
The ’10 Sleeper: Matthew Sweeney, 1B
Obtained from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir deal, Sweeney is a potential steal – especially if he can stay healthy for an extended period of time. The 21-year-old left-handed hitter missed the entire ’08 season and appeared in just 68 games in ’09. He did not show much rust and hit .299/.379/.517 with a .218 ISO in 211 high-A at-bats prior to the trade. The former Angels prospect struggled against southpaws in ’09 with a line of .186/.284/.339. Defensively, Sweeney probably won’t cut it in the Majors as a third baseman, so first base or designated hitter is his likely role.
Bonus: Nick Barnese, RHP
Barnese was highlighted as a potential sleeper candidate during the ’08 series and he graduates to the Top 10 list in ’09 (coming soon). The 20-year-old right-hander spent the year in low-A ball where he missed time with injuries and made just 15 starts. Barnese allowed 56 hits in 74.2 innings of work.