The most major-league ready prospects: American League
While everyone wants to know who their team’s top prospects are, more importantly, they want to know who is going to able to help their team now. Some of the game’s best talent is often years away from contributing to the big-league club as their abilities have to catch up with their potential. Here are the top prospects for each team that should be ready to help their team in 2012.
Yankees — Jesus Montero, C , 22 (age), R/R
The Yankees have some very good pitching in their system with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, both starters with high ceilings who just need some more time to refine their skills. Montero proved over his 18-game stint with the big-league club that he is ready now, at least offensively. He hit .328 with four home runs, 12 RBI and an .996 OPS, and he showed his immense power by blasting a couple of bombs into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium. He will most likely spend some time at DH as his defense isn’t where it needs to be, but his bat is true and could contend for a batting title down the road.
Red Sox — Felix Doubront, LHP, 24
The Red Sox have some exciting young hitters in their system with Will Middlebrooks, Bryce Brentz and Garin Cecchini. But Brentz and Cecchini are still too young, and Middlebrooks needs to work on his plate discipline before he is ready to make an impact. Anthony Ranaudo, their first-round pick in 2010, is a 6’-7” power righty who projects to a frontline starter, but he has yet to pitch above A ball. Doubront is ready to add depth to the bullpen and can be a spot starter as well. He has four pitches in his arsenal and has command of all of them. He had a 6.10 ERA over 10.1 innings for the Red Sox in 2011, picking up a save along the way. While he doesn’t have the upside of the other prospects mentioned, the Red Sox need help in their bullpen now, and he will provide that this season.
Rays — Matt Moore, LHP, 22
This is an easy call. After posting a 2.64 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 700 strikeouts over 497.1 minor-league innings, Moore made his much anticipated debut for the Rays in 2011. Over 9.1 innings, he struck out 15 batters while walking just three. He picked up his first major-league win over the Yankees on September 22nd, going five shutout innings, striking out 11 while only walking one. His fastball reaches the upper 90s with great movement and his control is pinpoint. The Rays continue to have one of the best farm systems in baseball as Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Drew Vettleson, and former first-overall pick Tim Beckham, are all toolsy prospects, but Moore is head and shoulders the best of the bunch, and one of the best in baseball.
Blue Jays — Deck McGuire, RHP, 22
Drew Hutchison went 14-5 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.04 WHIP with 171 K/ 35 BB in 149.1 innings over three leagues in 2011, and may have a higher ceiling than McGuire. But the Blue Jays are going to want the 21-year-old to show he can do it again before they give him a shot in the majors. McGuire had a 3.02 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 124 K/45 BB over 125.1 innings split between single-A+/double-A. While 2011 was his first professional season, the 11th pick in the 2010 draft was chosen because he was considered to be a fast riser through the system. The 6’-6” righty has four pitches that all rate as better than average, and he has command of all of them. The Jays have some nice offensive prospects coming up through the system. Anthony Gose is a speedy leadoff hitter, Travis d’Arnaud is a catcher who excels on both sides of the plate and Jake Marisnick is an exciting 20-year-old with five-tool potential. The Blue Jays’ 4.32 team ERA ranked 24th in baseball in 2011, so pitching is their most glaring need. McGuire could help them this season.
Orioles — Joe Mahoney, 1B, 24, L/L
Shortstop Manny Machado is one of the top prospects in the game. His offensive potential reminds some of Alex Rodriguez, and his defense should allow him to stay at short. But he is still just 19 and at least a year away. Dylan Bundy, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, is a future ace but hasn’t started his professional career yet. Mahoney is a 6’-6” left-handed first baseman whose power is starting to come around. After hitting .294 with 11 home runs and 69 RBI over 88 games split between single-A+/double-A, he hit .325 with four home runs and 22 RBI over 20 games at the Arizona Fall League this year. The Orioles need a first baseman and Mahoney can supply enough defense and offense to hold down the job.
Tigers — Drew Smyly, LHP, 22
Jacob Turner is going to be a frontline pitcher for the Tigers. But the 20-year-old looked lost at times during his time with the major-league club and may have been rushed. His stuff is without question, he just needs more seasoning at the minor-league level. Smyly went 11-6 with a 2.07 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 130 K/36 BB over 126 innings split between two leagues in 2011 and got better as the competition did. Over 45.2 innings at double-A, he had a 1.18 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 53 K/15 BB. He was then invited to play for Team USA, where he was the most dominant pitcher at the Pan Am Games, going 2-0 with 17 K/1 BB over 17 scoreless innings as Team USA won the silver medal. Smyly has excellent command of four pitches and could take Turner’s spot in the rotation and give the team a left-handed starter.
White Sox — Addison Reed, RHP, 22
Over 108.1 minor-league innings, Reed had a 1.41 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 155 K/20 BB. His 12.9 K/9 and 7.8 K/BB ratios are both outstanding and ranked among the leaders in the minors last season. He got a promotion to the big leagues in 2011 and struck out 12 over 7.1 innings, allowing just one walk. The White Sox are in rebuilding mode, and their farm system ranks near the bottom in all of baseball. With the trade of Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays, they now need a closer. Reed could fill that role in 2012, and, at the very least, will be a major factor in their bullpen.
Indians — Scott Barnes, LHP, 24
The Indians farm system isn’t very deep, and aside from a pair of shortstops in Tony Wolters and Francisco Lindor, the talent is thin. With Wolters being 19, and Lindor just 18, both are still a couple years away from the big-league club. Barnes is a lefty who can come in and contribute this season as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He had a 3.45 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 107 K/36 BB over 99 innings in 2011. He has a plus fastball with good movement, a tight slider and a change-up that rates as above average.
Royals — Mike Montgomery, LHP, 22
The Royals have brought up a ton of talent over the last couple of years. With guys like Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Christian Colon, John Lamb and Bubba Starling, they still have a wealth of talent in waiting. All of them should be quality major leaguers, but still aren’t ready to contribute right now. Montgomery is ready, even if his 2011 numbers don’t suggest it. Over 150.2 innings, he posted a 5.32 ERA and 1.50 WHIP with 129 K/69 BB for triple-A Omaha. But in the PCL, pitchers are at the mercy of the hitters and the desert air. The 6’-4” lefty features a plus fastball, a plus curveball and a change-up that is developing into a plus pitch. With all of the offense the Royals have, they still need a frontline starter to replace Zack Greinke. Montgomery has more than enough talent to fill that spot and should get a chance in 2012.
Twins — Kyle Gibson, RHP, 24
Miguel Sano could be the next Vladimir Guerrero. He hit .292 with 20 home runs, 59 RBI and a .988 OPS over 66 games in 2011. But he is just 18 and he hasn’t played past the rookie level yet, so he will need time. Aaron Hicks is a five-tool player who is still figuring things out at single-A ball. The Twins suddenly need a lot of help at the major-league level, but pitching remains their biggest need. Their 4.58 team ERA ranked 29th in baseball in 2011. Gibson is a 6’-6” righty with great command of three pitches. Over 95.1 innings at triple-A, he had 91 K/27BB. He is a groundball pitcher with a plus slider and change-up. His fastball is average, but he spots it well and keeps hitters off balance by mixing up his pitches.
Mariners — James Paxton, LHP, 23
The Mariners boast some of the best prospects in baseball. Taijuan Walker, 19, was named the organization’s minor-league player of the year after posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 113 K/39 BB over 96.2 innings at class-A Clinton. But the Mariners aren’t going to rush him. Last year’s first-round pick (2nd overall), Danny Hultzen was the best pitcher at the Arizona Fall League, posting a league-leading 1.40 ERA with 18 K/5 BB over 19.1 innings. But the Mariners will most likely want the 21-year-old to get some time in the minors before promoting him for good. Nick Franklin could be an All-Star shortstop one day, and Guillermo Pimental is a 19-year-old with raw power. Paxton is ready now. A 6’-4”, 220 lb left-handed power arm, he had a 2.37 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 131 K/43 BB over 95 innings across two levels in 2011. He could join the rotation or be a force out of the bullpen in 2012.
Rangers — Tanner Scheppers, RHP, 24
Jurickson Profar is one of the best prospects in baseball. At just 18, his defense and approach at the plate are off the charts. He is being blocked by Elvis Andrus, but being so young, the Rangers have time before they are forced to make a decision. Mike Olt is a defensive whiz at third base who led the Arizona Fall League with 13 home runs, 43 RBI and a 1.197 OPS. But Adrian Beltre poses a huge positional block. With the signing of closer Joe Nathan, and Neftali Feliz reportedly moving to the starting rotation, the Rangers could use more depth in their bullpen. Scheppers is able to supply that in 2012. His fastball can get up to 100 mph, and his curveball is a plus power pitch. He can be a stud seventh-inning reliever, or insurance if Nathan’s injury problems continue.
Angels — Mike Trout, OF, 20, R/R
Considered by many to be the best prospect in baseball, Trout’s combination of speed, hitting, power and defense is unmatched by any prospect in the game. He struggled at times during his 40-game stint with the big league club in 2011, hitting .220 with five home runs, 16 RBI and four stolen bases, but his defense was flawless. After ridding the nerves of his first go-around, Trout should be more relaxed this season and be one of the more exciting young players in baseball for an Angels team that is now loaded with the signings of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
Athletics — Jarrod Parker, RHP, 23
When the A’s traded starter Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for Parker and other prospects, he instantly became their top prospect, as well as their most ready one. His fastball can reach the upper 90s and his Frisbee slider is a wipe-out pitch. His curve and change-up are both above average offerings, and he has good control of all four pitches. He made his major-league debut for the Diamondbacks September 7, tossing 5.2 shutout innings. Michael Choice and Chris Carter are both big power bats in the A’s system. Grant Green is an offensive-minded shortstop who could end up at second base. All are ready to contribute, but Parker should have the most immediate success.