Projected International League (AAA) Prospect Team

Successful minor league organizations encourage their marketing and sales departments to shy away from focusing marketing campaigns and sales pitches around prospects in their affiliation’s organization. This is why you will see minor league teams focusing on their team’s manager, mascot, or the family friendly atmosphere of the stadium. In general it is just smart business. However, the main reason for this is the stability of the manager, mascot, or family friendly atmosphere. In minor league baseball, the players you have today could be gone tomorrow. Wait 5 minutes and minor league front offices may be running around crazily. Could you imagine what that would do to a marketing campaign?

But here at Seedlings to Stars, we can focus on the minor league prospects because we don’t have to worry about selling tickets and, hey in the International League, a promotion for a prospect means a trip to the show. Such news would be terrific as we could get to see the beginnings of a new major league career.

For my first article and series at Seedlings to Stars, I will be taking a look at the “all projected team” of each league in full season minor league baseball. It should be noted that with four weeks left before the minor league season begins, it is not easy to predict what players will end up where. This is mainly done by my gut feeling and an educated guess as to where the players will begin based on research and logic.

For the Rankings, the sources that I will use are:

Position Players

C Ryan Lavarnway, Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)

2011 Statistics (Boston Red Sox/AAA Pawtucket/AA Portland): 546 Plate Appearances .285/.370/.553/.923 59 XBH 61 BB-117 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: 53

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Baseball Prospectus (#98), MLB.com (#93), John Sickels (#97)

Finding a better looking offensive catcher in the minor leagues might be difficult to accomplish. Since entering full season baseball in 2009, Lavarnway has put up three consecutive 20+ homerun seasons with at least an .880 OPS. Lavarnway’s 2011 season was great by even his measures though. Despite spending all year at the three top levels of minor league baseball, he produced career bests in batting average, OPS, homeruns, and tied for his career high in extra base hits. While the bat projects well, Lavarnway’s defense is what holds him back at this point. While it’s improved since he entered pro ball, Lavarnway still projects as an all bat type player. If Lavarnway begins 2012 in AAA, he will hit in the middle of a lineup that looks like it has the chance to be very potent in Pawtucket.

1B Neftali Soto, Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds)

2011 Statistics (AAA Louisville/AA Carolina): 432 Plate Appearances .278/.333/.576/.909 53 XBH 26 BB-98 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospects Rankings: N/A

Neftali Soto showed signs of a breakthrough when he put up a .461 slugging percentage in 2010 in the Carolina League, which was almost 80 points above the league average and the 7th best in the league. In 2011 Soto took those to new levels when he put up the 3rd best slugging% in the Southern League and finished tied for first in the league in homeruns with current Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. While Soto definitely has displayed power, he is pretty much all power at this point. Even though his discipline has improved somewhat from unbearable to below average, Soto’s strikeout rate continues to climb at a much faster rate since he entered full season baseball in 2008. He will begin the 2012 season in AAA, but may be road blocked in the major leagues by Joey Votto for now.

2B Henry Rodriguez, Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Reds)

2011 Statistics (AA Carolina/A+ Bakersfield): 566 Plate Appearances .320/.372/.469/.841 50 XBH 39 BB-78 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: 99

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: N/A

A potential teammate of Neftali Soto’s in AAA in 2012, Henry Rodriguez split the 2011 season between high-A and AA and showed the same offensive ability he displayed in 2010 in low-A ball Dayton. If there is one weakness in Rodriguez’s game offensively it is his discipline, but even then he showed considerable improvement from 2010 to 2011. What the 22 year old switch hitter does though offensively is mostly everything else. He’s shown surprising power for a middle infielder of his size (listed at 5’10” 150 pounds) and combines that with great contact ability (.312 batting average over the last 2 years) and solid speed coupled with good instincts (63 steals the last 2 years). While the offense is good all-around, Henry Rodriguez’s defense leaves something to be desired.

3B Will Middlebrooks, Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)

2011 Statistics (AAA Pawtucket/AA Portland/A-Lowell): 472 Plate Appearances .285/.328/.506/.834 50 XBH 26 BB-114 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#68), Baseball America (#51), Baseball Prospectus (#55), MLB.com (#56), John Sickels (#78)

Expected to start at the hot corner for the Paw Sox in 2012, Will Middlebrooks has the toolset to be a big league starting third baseman. Middlebrooks features a quick bat with raw power and defensive skills that could make him a great all-around third baseman. What he hasn’t fully put together yet is the production. A former two way player in high school, Middlebrooks has shown improvement in power and has cut back on strikeouts, but has regressed in plate discipline overall since entering full season baseball. Still with the kind of tools that Middlebrooks has, it’s possible that a breakout could be only a matter of time away and the potential in such a breakout is scary.

SS Tim Beckham, Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays)

2011 Statistics (AAA Durham/AA Montgomery): 579 Plate Appearances .271/.328/.408/.736 44 XBH 42 BB-120 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: MLB.com (#92)

It’s been some kind of a ride for Tim Beckham, hasn’t it? A former first overall pick in the draft in 2008, Beckham seemed to have fallen off the prospect radar a bit until a solid year in 2011. Beckham put himself back on the radar screen after displaying power that hadn’t been seen since he entered pro ball. Beckham doubled his minor league homerun total with 12 in 2011 and set a career high in extra base hits with 44. If Beckham could combine his power from 2011 with plate discipline in 2010 (11.4% walk rate in 2010), then Beckham would boost his future outlook more. In a world where you’re always looking for improvement, Beckham also cut back on his errors for a second consecutive season and has seen his fielding% go from .919 in 2009 to .960 in 2011. Given that Beckham is still just 21 years old, he definitely has time on his side and all players develop at different speeds.

LF L.J. Hoes, Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles)

2011 Statistics (AA Bowie/A+ Frederick): 566 Plate Appearances .285/.354/.390/.745 34 XBH 53 BB-81 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: N/A

A former 3rd round pick by the Baltimore Orioles, L.J. Hoes had a second consecutive solid season to his belt.  While Hoes regressed some in discipline from 2010 to 2011, he showed improved power, albeit Bowie’s home park is homer friendly. L.J. especially broke out in the second half of 2011 when he batted .306 with a .398 on base percentage and .462 slugging percentage.  A former infield prospect, Hoes moved to left field in 2011. The move puts a damper on his prospect value though given his bat would profile nicely as a second baseman, but not nearly as well in left field.

CF Starling Marte, Indianapolis Indians (Pittsburgh Pirates)

2011 Statistics (AA Altoona/A+ Bradenton/Rookie): 281 Plate Appearances .319/.387/.460/.847 26 XBH 13 BB-65 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#87), ESPN (#72), Baseball America (#73), Baseball Prospectus (#56), MLB.com (#40), John Sickels (#64)

An interesting prospect, Starling Marte’s tools are very good, but his plate discipline is astonishingly bad. It doesn’t help that it has gotten worse as he’s gone by each full season level. Marte obviously has been able to handle pitching thus far and generally the jump to AA is one that makes or breaks prospects as it’s seen as the hardest jump in minor league baseball. Still, it’s hard to imagine that a player that walked in just 3.8% of his plate appearances in 2011 and 3.3% if you don’t include intentional walks, can be successful at the big league level. He’ll begin in AAA and could reach the major leagues at some point in 2012.

RF Bryce Harper, Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals)

2011 Statistics (AA Harrisburg/A Hagerstown): 452 Plate Appearances .297/.392/.501/.893 43 XBH 59 BB-87 K

Seedlings to Stars Top 100: #3

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#3), ESPN (#2), Baseball America (#1), Baseball Prospectus (#2), MLB.com (#2), John Sickels (#1)

What more do you say about the most well-known prospect in baseball? Well all Bryce Harper did in his first season, at an age that most kids are graduating from high school, was put up a near 1.000 OPS in A ball and get promoted to AA by early July. Harper did struggle in AA, but that’s to be expected. There’s also a lot of talk now that Harper could skip AAA completely and start 2012 in the majors. The smart money would be on the Nationals to have him begin the year in AAA though. Harper has incredible bat speed that produces some of the best power in minor league baseball. His bat has been obviously talked about since people watched youtube videos of him hitting 500 foot homeruns as a high school kid.  He has plus-plus power and great bat speed with hand-eye coordination that gives him the potential to hit for average as well. Even in his first season, Harper displayed patience as he walked at a 13% clip, including a non-intentional walk percentage of 11.5%. Beyond the bat though, Harper is a very good all-around player. He has a plus-plus arm in right field and good speed, which allowed him to steal 26 bases in his first full season. Ultimately the Nationals will have an interesting decision and if they are smart, in my humble opinion, Bryce Harper will begin the year in the minor leagues.

DH Tyler Moore, Syracuse Chiefs (Washington Nationals)

2011 Statistics (AA Harrisburg): 561 Plate Appearances .270/.314/.532/.846

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: N/A

While his teammate Bryce Harper has been placed on the fast track, the Washington Nationals have taken a level by level approach with Tyler Moore. Few players have displayed the power that Moore has shown over the last two seasons. In 2010, Moore hit 77 extra base hits and drove in 111 runs over 129 games for the Potomac Nationals. Moore, who  was 3rd in slugging percentage in the Eastern League after leading the Carolina League in the same stat in 2010, will likely need to cut down on strikeouts to carry his value as a hitter to the next level. Moore has gone up in strikeouts each season and his walks have decreased over the same time. Moore could be a type of hitter that Washington could use though, a pure power hitter. Moore is a typical bat first, first baseman as he is not great defensively. He doesn’t hurt himself particularly though either. A combination of Harper and Moore could be interesting to watch if you like the long ball early in the year in the International League. It is hard to think of a bigger duo of power hitters than that pair.

Starting Pitchers

RHP Julio Teheran, Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta Braves)

2011 Statistics (MLB Atlanta/AAA Gwinnett): 16-4, 2.85 ERA, 164 1/3 IP, 144 H, 56 BB, 132 K, 1.22 WHIP

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: #7

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#4), ESPN (#18), Baseball America (#5), Baseball Prospectus (#5), MLB.com (#4), John Sickels (#10)

After entering the 2011 season as one of the top prospects in the game, Julio Teheran didn’t do a whole lot to disappoint. He put up dominant numbers in AAA and then struggled a bit in his first taste of the major leagues. In a pitching rich organization like the Atlanta Braves, Teheran will likely return to AAA to open the 2012 season while he waits for his next callup to the big leagues. He has a great arm and a good changeup to back it up. The difference for him will be the progression of his curveball. He has at least two weapons to work with though and that’s the difference in dominating in AAA and dominating in the major leagues.

LHP Manny Banuelos, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (New York Yankees)

2011 Statistics (AAA SWB/AA Trenton): 6-7, 3.75 ERA, 129 2/3 IP, 130 H, 71 BB, 125 K,  1.55 WHIP

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: #26

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#9), ESPN (#23), Baseball America (#29), Baseball Prospectus (#29), MLB.com (#13), John Sickels (#45)

Arguably, if not unanimously, the best southpaw set to begin in the International League, Banuelos sits in the low 90s with a good changeup and a decent curveball. He struggled with command in 2011 and struggled to get right handed hitters out (.285/.391/.398/.789 vs. RHB’s in 2011). Banuelos faced 408 right handed hitters in 2011 and walked 14% of them. Compare that to the 8.3% of left handed hitters (169 hitters) that he faced. After making 7 starts in AAA, Banuelos is probably going to be back in AAA to open the 2012 season.

RHP Randall Delgado, Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta Braves)

2011 Statistics (MLB Atlanta/AAA Gwinnett/AA Mississippi): 8-8, 3.67 ERA, 174 IP, 164 H, 71 BB, 153 K, 1.35 WHIP

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: #21

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#55), ESPN (#98), Baseball America (#46), Baseball Prospectus (#41), MLB.com (#42), John Sickels (#41)

Randall Delgado made his major league debut last season at 21 years old after just 4 starts in AAA. Delgado, who entered 2011 as Baseball America’s 35th best prospect, made 7 starts for the Atlanta Braves and posted a 2.83 ERA in those 7 starts with a 1.23 WHIP. It’s questionable whether Delgado will begin the 2012 season in Gwinnett or Atlanta, but at this point it’s highly likely that he’ll spend quite a bit of time in Atlanta in 2012 regardless of where he begins the season. When Delgado is going well, he’ll be low to mid 90s with his fastball and throw a good curveball and solid changeup. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Delgado has a good pitching frame. He does struggle with command at times and has consistently been over 3 walks per 9 in his minor league career. Still at just 22 years old, Delgado and Teheran give something for Braves fans to look forward to in the near future.

RHP Dellin Betances, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (New York Yankees)

2011 Statistics (MLB NYY/AAA SWB/AA Trenton): 4-9, 3.77 ERA, 129 IP, 103 H, 76 BB, 144 K, 1.39 WHIP

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: #88

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: Scout.com (#28), ESPN (#83), Baseball America (#63), Baseball Prospectus (#63), MLB.com (#41)

In what looks like a rotation that is just for Braves and Yankees fans, Dellin Betances gives the Yankees a second pitcher in the top four. Possessing an arm to dream on, Betances uses two plus pitches with his fastball and curveball and mixes in a changeup that will likely make the difference between whether he becomes a frontline starter or a dominant reliever. Dellin is listed at 6 foot 8 and 245 pounds giving him an enormous advantage with the downhill plane, which makes his fastball even tougher. Command is not Betances strength as witnessed by his 76 walks in 129 innings in 2011. Still, his career .212 opponents average in full season baseball, including .216 in 2011, has allowed Betances to keep a manageable 1.28 career minor league WHIP. After making 4 starts in AAA, Dellin Betances will likely begin 2012 in AAA.

RHP Chris Archer, Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays)

2011 Statistics (AAA Durham/AA Montgomery): 9-7, 4.09 ERA, 147 1/3 IP, 147 H, 86 BB, 130 K, 1.58 WHIP

Seedlings to Stars Top 100 Rank: N/A

Other 2012 Top 100 Prospect Rankings: ESPN (#63), Baseball America (#89), MLB.com (#74)

One of the prospects traded by the Chicago Cubs to Tampa Bay for Matt Garzalast offseason, Chris Archer went from breakout prospect in 2010 to regression in 2011. Archer has never commanded the ball well in his career in the minor leagues, but his strikeout percentage regressed from over 9 to under 8 per nine innings and his opponents average went from .207 from 2008-2010 to .263 in 2011. His strikeout percentage over those three years was 9.17 per nine innings and dropped to 7.9 per innings in 2011. Archer works mid 90s on his fastball and features a plus slider to go with it. If his command issues continue, which they likely will, then Archer could wind up in the bullpen. For now though, he’s likely to stay a starter, at least until he reaches the major leagues. After finishing the 2011 season in AAA, Chris is likely to begin 2012 in Durham.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Bryce Harper Chris Archer Cincinnati Reds Dellin Betances Durham Bulls Gwinnett Braves Henry Rodriguez Indianapolis Indians Julio Teheran L.J. Hoes Louisville Bats Manny Banuelos Neftali Soto New York Yankees Norfolk Tides Pawtucket Red Sox Randall Delgado Ryan Lavarnway Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees Starling Marte Syracuse Chiefs Tampa Bay Rays Tim Beckham Tyler Moore Washington Nationals Will Middlebrooks