Cubs top prospect Josh Vitters may be the best prospect you don’t know. (mwlguide / flickr)
By now, everyone has heard just about everything there is to know about some of the biggest prospects in the game. There probably isn’t too much new I can tell you about guys like Jay Bruce, Joba Chamberlain, Clay Buchholz or Evan Longoria. There has been so much media attention given to the top tier of prospects (more than I can ever remember) that there is a whole gang of young players that are constantly overlooked and forgotten.
So with that being said, I have decided to put together a collection of prospects called “The Best Prospects You Don’t Know” for both leagues comprising of the top prospect at each position (and here’s the key) who you may not know much about. Below is the National League team I have compiled of all the best who you may have never heard about. As always let me know what you think and if I have missed anyone you think deserves to be on here.
CATCHER: J.R. Towles, HOU
After flying through the Minors in 2007 and joining the Astros by year’s end, it gives you a good idea of how good of a young catcher this kid is. Towles is a very good hitter who can hit for average and has above average power (for a catcher) thanks to his very good eye at the plate. He’s a dead pull hitter (which is fine in Houston’s ballpark) but he does need to learn to hit to other fields to be successful in the big leagues. Last season he had 40 at-bats with Houston and hit .375/.432/.575 with 12 RBI. Defensively he is rather quick behind the plate and calls a good game but he could use some work in a few areas such as throwing out base runners. Otherwise projects to be an above average everyday catcher in the Majors.
FIRST BASE: Steve Pearce, PIT
Thus far Steven Pearce has had success at every level in his professional career. Pearce’s greatest asset is his strong offensive abilities. He has the bat to hit for both average and power and has an excellent eye at the plate which will really help with his on base percentage. In fact he put up some impressive numbers last season hitting .334/.400/.586 in AA, .320/.366/.557 in AAA and .294/.342/.397 in 68 at-bats with the Pirates. Defensively he’s nothing to get excited about as once again, he’s in the lineup for his bat, not his glove. He, along with McCutchen and Walker, seem to be the only bright spots in the Pirates thirsty Minor League system.
SECOND BASE: Matt Antonelli, SD
Matt Antonelli has the defensive skills that would make him an asset at any position for the Padres. He has a strong arm and good speed which has some people projecting him as a future center fielder. While he doesn’t have much power, he does make excellent contact thanks to his bat speed plate discipline. Last season he hit .312/.407/.494 in A+ and .294/.395/.476 in AA. I project him as having the ability to hit for a high average and possibly develop some gap power. As I mentioned, he doesn’t look to have much home run power which will even be more evident in pitcher friendly San Diego.
SHORTSTOP: Chin-Lung Hu, LAD
Chin-Lunh Hu seems to have a lot of people that feel he won’t pan out as a major leaguer. He has a small frame but is very strong and quick. After struggling at the plate in 2006, he made great strides which helped quiet many of his critics. In 191 at-bats for AAA Las Vegas last season he hit .319/.337/.508 which is a huge improvement from the year before. His strongest asset is by far his defensive prowess as he is a gem in the field. Hu has great range and soft hands but only appears to have an average arm. If he can continue to carry over his plate success to the majors, he may be able to find a job at second base as Jeff Kent’s replacement if he retires next season.
THIRD BASE: Josh Vitters, CHC
Vitters was the best high school hitter in this past year’s draft. What makes him so special at the plate is his uncanny hand-eye coordination, fast wrists, and beautiful, fluid swing. He has great bat speed with a short, compact swing that generates incredible home run and gap power. He had an unimpressive start to his pro career and ended up only getting 30 at-bats in Rookie ball hitting .067/.094/.067 and .190/.261/.190 in 21 at-bats in A- ball. It’s hard to believe he’s only 18 years old, but considering his 6-foot-3 build, he still has a lot of potential to add mass and in turn adding more power. Vitters should be a huge addition to the Cubs roster in the next few years.
OUTFIELD: Jason Heyward, ATL
Talented young outfielder has harnessed very strong plate discipline with huge power potential. Looks to be a potential 30-35 home run hitter. Has the tools to be a star in the Majors and will shoot through the Atlanta system fairly quickly. In the GCL last year he hit .321/.375/.571 in 28 at-bats with one homer and 6 RBI. While he is a plus right fielder he may slide over to first base with Jeff Francoeur holding down right field for the foreseeable future.
OUTFIELD: Matt LaPorta, MIL
Probably the best known on this list, this former catcher is a big, strong power hitter who made a big name for himself in college. LaPorta has an easy loft to his swing and a strong, powerful frame which still has room to add some muscle. He has fantastic plate discipline and can flat out hit for power to all fields in any stadium. LaPorta had a nice year at A ball hitting .318/.392/.750 with 8 doubles, 10 homers and 27 RBI in only 88 at-bats. He is a better fit at first base but that spot is already anchored down on the Brewers by Prince Fielder. It appears as if the Brewers will continue on with playing him in left.
OUTFIELD: Michael Burgess, WSH
Another big bat is in Washington’s future with Burgess. The future corner outfielder has tremendous bat speed and hand-eye coordination. This coupled with his incredible raw power potential has the Nationals excited. Spending most of 2007 in Rookie ball, he hit .339/.444/.622 with 8 homers and 32 RBI. Good defensively with a very strong arm that will fit in nicely in right field.
PITCHER: Jarrod Parker, ARI
Parker has all the makings of being a top of the rotation starter for Arizona. He has a great combination of skills with fluid mechanics, smooth delivery, fantastic command and very strong mound presence. His pitch arsenal includes a big fastball sitting 94-97 mph with pretty good movement and excellent command as well as two potentially plus pitches in a changeup (low-80’s) and curveball (high-70’s). Both of those should improve as he continues to work on them. He’s very confident on the mound and is an outstanding athlete.
PITCHER: Jair Jurrjens, ATL
Picked up in a trade with Detroit, Jurrjens is an athletic youngster has two plus fastballs and a strong change up that he has excellent command of. Last season he went 7-5 with a 3.20 ERA and 20.0% K/PA in AA and 3-1 with a 4.70 ERA and 10.7% K/PA with Detroit in 7 appearances. Has an incredible make up and has a great chance to make the Braves rotation this year if he can harness his control and consistently throw strikes. Look for him to be a big impact with the Braves this season.
PITCHER: Sean Gallagher, CHC
Gallagher has the mentality that the plate belongs to him and not the hitter. With this fearless attitude, Gallagher isn’t afraid to come inside on batters which is incredibly important, especially for a youngster. His repertoire includes two fastballs – one in the low-90’s with good sinking movement and the other a few mph faster that rises, a stellar curveball, a change and a very successful slider all of which he has very good command of. In AAA Iowa Gallagher went 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 22.7% K/PA in 8 games in 2007. It’s not often you see a pitcher this young with so many pitches at his disposal and such strong poise on the mound.
PITCHER: Chris Volstad, FLA
Volstad is a tall, lanky righty who is a groundball pitcher with a low-90’s sinking plus fastball to go along with a plus curve and very strong changeup. Very good make-up on the mound with great control of his pitches. Volstad went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA in 7 games for AA Carolina. Needs to find a way to finish hitters off better as he tends to struggle with this. With some tinkering in approach could be a frontline starter very quickly.
As you can see there is a huge crop of talented young prospects that tend to be forgotten about by the media. Hopefully this helped shed a little light on these players and what makes them so special. Stay tuned as I will soon unveil this same list but highlighting the American League prospects that need a little extra attention.
By Matthew Whipps
“The Diamond Cutter“
Major & Minor League Baseball Columnist
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