The most major-league ready prospects: National 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.
Mets — Matt Harvey, RHP, 22 (age)
Zack Wheeler is going to be a good pitcher in the big leagues, but Harvey is better, and more ready. Back in 2007, he was the #1-rated prospect by Baseball America and a three-time preseason All-American. After starring at North Carolina for two years, he was chosen by the Mets with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft. In 2011, he went 13-5 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 156 K/47 BB over 135.2 innings. He features a four-seam fastball in the upper 90s, a late-breaking curve and a developing change-up. His make up on the mound is that of a polished veteran and he should get a crack at the rotation this season.
Nationals — Bryce Harper, OF, 19, L/R
The Nationals are going to give Harper every opportunity to win a job out of spring training, and if you know anything about the kid, he will not disappoint. With enough moxie for 10 people, and even more talent, he was probably ready to play in the majors at 17. The power, speed, arm and overall abilities are once-in-a-generation talent. He will be the Tim Tebow of baseball in 2012 as far as media coverage goes.
Marlins — Jose Ceda, RHP, 24
Christian Yelich was the team’s minor league player of the year in 2011. He has all the tools to be an all-star outfielder in a few years. But at just 19, he is still a year or two away. Matt Dominguez is a plus defender at third base. His bat, however, isn’t quite there yet and the signing of Jose Reyes pushes Hanley Ramirez to third, putting a road block up for Dominguez. Ceda is a 6’-4”, 255 lb power arm who has struck out 330 batters over 260.2 career minor-league innings. He has also held opponents to a .178 batting average over that span. Control problems have been a slight issue with him, but he has closer stuff and will no doubt be a big part of the Marlins bullpen in 2012.
Braves — Julio Teheran, RHP, 20
The Braves have been trying to shop Jair Jurrjens during the off season, and Teheran is a big reason why. The 20-year-old spent all of 2011 at triple-A and went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 122 K/48 BB over 144.2 innings. His fastball can reach the upper 90s with movement, his curveball is a plus pitch and his change-up is borderline devastating. After shaking out the nerves during his call up in 2011, he should be ready to go this season and be a top candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
Of course, if the Braves can’t find a suitor for Jurrjens, then Teheran might be held back. In that case, shortstop Tyler Pastornicky would be the guy here. The 22-year-old hit .314 with seven home runs, 45 RBI and 27 stolen bases over 117 games between double-A/triple-A in 2011. He also only struck out 45 times over 459 at-bats, a great sign for a leadoff hitter. He is also an above-average defender and has a very high understanding of the game. He should be the starting shortstop for the Braves in 2012.
Phillies — Justin De Fratus, RHP, 24
The Phillies have some intriguing young pitching prospects in Brody Colvin, Jesse Biddle and Trevor May, who had 208 strikeouts over 151.1 innings last season. But none of them have pitched past A+ ball, and the Phillies rotation is pretty solid anyways. De Fratus is a 6’-4”, 220 lb power righty who will add depth to their bullpen and can be used as a long reliever if needed. He had a 2.99 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 99 K/25 BB over 75.1 innings split between double-A/triple-A in 2011. He also recorded 15 saves, showing the ability to close out games. He has a plus fastball with late life, and his slider is still developing but should be a very good offering.
Cubs — Brett Jackson, OF, 23, L/R
Cubs fans have been waiting to see what Jackson can do for a couple of years now. It looks like he will finally get a chance to showcase his across-the-board talents in 2012. The signing of David DeJesus should not effect his shot at playing time as both Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano will inevitably need more than enough days off. Jackson hit .274 with 20 home runs, 58 RBI and 21 stolen bases split between double-A/triple-A in 2011. He missed almost a month due to a wrist injury so his numbers dipped from seasons past. He is a top-of-the-order hitter with speed, patience and power from the left side. He also plays an excellent center field with the range and enough arm to hold down the position. Matt Szczur might be the team’s best prospect, but Jackson is ready now.
Cardinals — Shelby Miller, RHP, 21
Miller is one of the top pitching prospects in the game and doesn’t have anything left to prove in the minors. He went 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 170 K/53 BB over 139.2 innings split between A+/double-A in 2011. His fastball is a plus/plus pitch, reaching the upper 90s with movement. His curve and change-up are both developing plus pitches, and his mound presence is off the charts. With Chris Carpenter, a healthy Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and Kyle Lohse, Miller could help form one of the best rotations in baseball in 2012. Oscar Taveras, the 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, hit .386 with a 1.028 OPS over 78 games at single-A Quad Cities in 2011. He is still raw in some areas but looks to be a superstar in a couple of years.
Brewers — Wily Peralta, RHP, 22
The Brewers farm system currently ranks as one of the worst, and with MVP Ryan Braun possibly facing a 50-game suspension, they don’t have many offensive-ready options. Wily Peralta is ready to contribute, but with Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson, there doesn’t seem to be room for him. But a lot can happen between now and spring. The 6’-2”, 240 lb righty went 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 157 K/59 BB over 150.2 innings split between double-A/triple-A in 2011. He was lights-out in the very hitter friendly PCL, going 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 40K/11 BB over 31 innings, allowing zero home runs over that span.
Astros — Jarred Cosart, RHP, 21
Most of the top talent in the Astros organization is still at the lower levels. Guys like Jonathan Singleton, Delino DeShields and Domingo Santana haven’t played beyond A+ ball and still have some work to do. Cosart is ready, but the Astros might be a little cautious with him. Injuries caused him to miss time in 2009 and 2010. He remained healthy in 2011 and posted a 4.12 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 101 K/56 BB over 144.1 innings between A+/ double-A. His fastball is one of the best in the minors, often hitting the upper 90s. His curveball is a plus pitch and his change-up is developing. The Astros don’t appear to be in contention anytime soon, so they can afford to be patient with him. There is little doubt about his abilities, however, and he could contribute this season if called upon.
Reds — Devin Mesoraco, C, 23, R/R
Twenty-one-year-old second baseman Billy Hamilton stole 103 bases in 2011. He needs to work on his plate discipline before the Reds give him a call up. Yonder Alonso is still learning the outfield as Joey Votto is planted at first base. Mesoraco has Ryan Hanigan to beat out, so the position should be his. He has a plus arm and plays solid defense, but his bat will keep him in the line up. He hit .289 with 15 home runs, 71 RBI and a .855 OPS over 120 games at triple-A before getting a September call-up from the Reds. He should hit for average and power while keeping base runners honest with his arm.
Pirates — Jeff Locke, LHP, 24
Gerrit Cole, the first-overall pick in 2011, reminds some of Roger Clemens because of his size, power arm and mound presence. Jameson Taillon, the second-overall pick in 2010, is a 6’-6” righty with four plus pitches, and command of all of them. Both are going to be studs, but the Pirates are going to wait on them. Locke came over from the Braves in the Nate McClouth trade and looks ready to be a starter this season at the major-league level. He had a 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 139 K/55 BB over 153.1 innings between double-A/triple-A in 2011. He isn’t a power pitcher but can throw all three of his pitches for strikes and mixes them well to keep hitters off balance.
Giants — Heath Hembree, RHP, 22
Gary Brown hit .336 with 14 home runs, 80 RBI, .925 OPS and stole 53 bases in his first full season in 2011 at single-A. The Giants are probably going to want to see the 23-year-old do it against better competition before they give him a shot. Eric Surkamp went 11-4 with a 1.94 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 170 K/45 BB over 148.1 innings and was one of the best pitchers in the minors last season. But cracking the Giants rotation is going to be hard with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito locked in place. Hembree will give them more depth in their already deep bullpen. He had a 1.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 78 K/25 BB over 53.1 innings between single-A/double-A in 2011. His 38 saves led the minors last season. He features a fastball that can touch triple digits and a slider with late break. He also uses a changeup to completely baffle hitters, as evidenced by his 13.2 K/9.
Rockies — Drew Pomeranz, LHP, 23
Nolan Arenado is an RBI machine but his defense may hold him back another year. Wilin Rosario will most likely win the starting catching job. He can hit for average, power and has a canon arm. As good as those players are, Pomeranz is on another level. The fifth-overall pick in the 2010 draft, he was acquired from the Indians in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. At 6’-6”, 230 lbs, the lefty has a power arm and outstanding command. He had a 1.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 119 K/38 BB over 101 innings across three leagues in 2011. He pitched well over his four starts for the Rockies, striking out 13, while only walking five over 18.1 innings. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and his curveball is plus/plus. His change-up is developing like most young pitchers. He should be a top candidate for NL Rookie of the Year in 2012.
Dodgers — Shawn Tolleson, RHP, 23
Over 15 innings at single-A Great Lakes, Tolleson had a ridiculous 33 strikeouts to only four walks. He allowed eight hits and zero runs. On the season, over three leagues, he went 7-2 with a 1.17 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 105 K/18 BB over 69 innings, including 25 saves. His fastball sits in the upper 90s and his slider is a wipeout pitch with late break. Javy Guerra is the closer for the Dodgers now, but that could change in 2012.
Diamondbacks — Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, 24, R/R
With Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin and Wade Miley, the Diamondbacks have the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. But with Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter in place, it’s too hard to say who will vie for the fifth spot. Goldschmidt secured his spot with his play in 2011. After hitting .306 with 30 home runs, 94 RBI and a 1.061 OPS over 103 games at double-A, he hit .250 with eight home runs, 26 RBI and a .808 OPS over 48 games with Arizona. At 6’-3”, 245 lbs, he has tremendous power and should hit in the middle of the lineup in 2012. Lyle Overbay shouldn’t be tough competition for him.
Padres — Anthony Rizzo, 1B, 22, L/L
The Padres have a deep and talented farm system and they got even better when they trade reliever Mike Adams to the Rangers. Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin are both outstanding command pitchers with bulldog mentalities. Both have bright futures with the Padres, but both will probably have to wait another year, especially with the depth in the rotation. Jedd Gyorko may have the best bat in the minors, but his position in the field remains a question. Rizzo, like Goldschmidt, destroyed minor-league pitching in 2011. The 6’-3”, 220 lb lefty hit .331 with 26 home runs, 101 RBI and a 1.056 OPS over 93 games in the PCL. However, unlike Goldschmidt, he struggled in the majors. Over 49 games, he hit just .141 with one home run, nine RBI and a .523 OPS. He also struck out 46 times over 128 at bats. Defensively, he is solid, but he will have to show he can handle big league pitching if he wants to keep his job.