Hello gents. I try to put one of these up every year. Figured it was time to do one for 2015.
I do use the 20-80 grade scale. For example, Yadier Molina has 20 speed, Giancarlo Stanton has 80 power, Billy Hamilton has 80 speed, etc. etc. A 70 grade is considered to be borderline plus-plus, a 60 grade is considered to be plus, whereas 55 is above-average, 50 is average, 45 is fringe-average, 40 is below-average, and so on...
1) Carlos Correa, SS - Correa is the clear-cut #1 prospect in Houston's system. From a tools standpoint, he possesses a grade 70 or better arm, 65 raw power, a potentially 65 hit tool, and is a fair runner as well. The glove at SS should be in the 55-60 range for his first three to four years in the majors, but I'd imagine that he would need to move to 3B when he gets into his mid-late 20s. Still, he's impressed scouts enough to the point where they think he'll play good defense there at least for awhile, as several projected that he would need to move to 3B right off the bat due to his 6'4" frame.
His skills and makeup are well beyond his years, as he has a great approach at the plate, and really shortens up his stroke in 2-strike counts, which has led to minimal strikeouts for someone his age. He really is the total package. Could be a Troy Tulowitzki type of player if it all comes together in the big leagues. I expect him to be in the majors sometime in 2016.
2) Mark Appel, RHP - Many people were jumping off of the Appel bandwagon when he was falling apart in the California League, but reports of his stuff remained strong despite the poor results, and it was known that he was never at 100% throughout the year, though most people didn't seem to care that much about that fact, interestingly enough. Jeff Luhnow finally wised up and moved him away from the moon-like hitters' park in Lancaster and promoted him to Corpus Christi, where he found his groove and put up good numbers. Furthermore, he finished the year on an even stronger note, looking terrific in the Arizona Fall League.
MP's arsenal is a frontline one, as his fastball sits in the 93-96 range and will touch higher. His out-pitch, his slider, is a grade 65 offering when it's on, as it has sharp late movement and will induce plenty of whiffs in the 85-88 range, even to left-handed batters as well. His changeup looked like a future plus offering while he was as Stanford but it's been a weird pitch ever since he was drafted. It still flashes plus, but it's just not nearly as consistent as it used to be, and he has had some trouble commanding it as well. Scouts think it'll be a solid third pitch at-worst, but could be an above-average or better one if he were to get it under control. His control remains good, but his command hasn't been as great as it was supposed to be. All in all, he could be a #2, or an underachieving #3, but he'll eat up innings either way with his 6'5" frame. Could be up as soon as this year.
3) Domingo Santana, RF - Santana may or may not be deserving of the number 3 spot in these rankings, but since he's a bat, I'll give him the slight edge over those just below him. First & foremost, he's one of those guys that just looks the part. He's 6'5" 225, and is a good athlete for his size. His 65 raw power is his best tool, as he hit 64 HRs total in his past three years in the minors, topping out at 25 at Double-A in 2013. His arm is a weapon in RF, as he has thrown out more than a fair share of baserunners in the minors. Scouts grade it as a 60-65 tool. He's a good runner for his size, but he won't get more than 7-10 stolen bases per year, I'd imagine. The glove is good enough to not be a negative out in RF, but the arm is what makes him a presence out there.
The big question mark for Santana are his contact skills and hit tool. His swing is interesting, to put it generously. He loads up pretty late, and as a result, is prone to whiffing on plus velocity, despite possessing above-average or better bat speed. The good news for him is that going the other way is what he does best, but he may be a guy who always strikes out a fair bit. He's still very young and put up good numbers in Triple-A last year despite being one of the youngest players in the league, though he did have a .406 BABIP help him significantly. Still, the 12% walk rate is promising. What will make or break him will be the development of his hit tool. I think he needs more time in Triple-A, but he should see action in MMP this year regardless.
4) Mike Foltynewicz, RHP - Folty has one of the few true 80 grades in the minors with his electric fastball. Even as a starter, it will sit 95-98 and will touch higher, up to 101 reportedly. It's tough to control a pitch like that, so while I think he does a decent job at getting it in the strike zone, I suppose he could improve it. His curveball flashes above-average, and his changeup projects to be an average 3rd pitch, though he'll need to improve his command of it in time.
He has all of the tools that an evaluator wants out of a SP: An athletic and strong 6'4" frame that is well put-together, and is built for logging innings. The main problem for Foltynewicz, aside from his questionable control, is that his arm slot for his curveball is significantly different than the arm slot for his heater. People may not think it's a big deal, but it's very noticeable, and experienced major league hitters will absolutely pick up on it. I really want to see him as a SP, but he may have to be a reliever in the long-term. The control issues, the differing arm-slots, the firmness and lack of command in his changeup... It's tough to see what he'll become. I'd be surprised if he didn't make the opening day roster, but I'd like to see him as a reliever for this year, and possibly insert him into the rotation in 2016.
5) Rio Ruiz, 3B - Our 3B situation with the big club is arguably the worst in the league, so it's good to have a couple of good 3B prospects in the minors, and Ruiz is the best one. He probably has the best plate discipline in the system, as well as one of the prettier swings you'll see from the left side. Both his hit tool and raw power are in the 55-60 range, though it seems like everyone is split on which tool is better than the other. His arm is a good one, as it's received above-average grades and plus ones as well from scouts. His glove is a bit of a question mark right now, as he's not very mobile, but there seems to be some optimism that he'll improve it enough to where it's average, and with his potentially plus arm, that'll make for solid or better defense from the hot corner.
Rio is going to undertake the biggest jump in the minors -- the jump to Double-A. He is young for the level, but he's ready, as he's very skilled and polished. I expect him to be in the big leagues sometime in 2016.
6) Brett Phillips, CF - I'm sure this ranking will come as a bit of a surprise to some, but Phillips really is the dark horse of the system. He was a toolsy 6th round pick back in 2012, and has developed into one of the top prospects in the system. His arm from the outfield is lethal, as it has gotten both 70 and 75 grades from evaluators and scouts, but it has always been that great since his high school days. What wasn't so great a few years back was his bat. It wasn't a liability at all by any means, but there were question marks surrounding it. The main one was about his power, or lack thereof. Since then, he has put that doubt to bed for the most part, as he hit 17 HRs in 2014. Furthermore, his plate discipline has proven to be very legitimate, as he's more than willing to take a walk, and doesn't strike out that often either.
Phillips is an above-average or better runner, and has received 55 & 60 grades for his glove out in center, but his arm is what will make him special out there. If he continues to excel in High-A and possibly in Double-A as well in 2015, he could continue to shoot up this list, as his defense has terrific potential from a premium spot. It will mainly depend on the bat, but people are optimistic that he can handle the upper minors in time with his mature approach at the plate. Could be up as early as late 2016.
7) Colin Moran, 3B - Moran was acquired in the genius trade that Jeff Luhnow pulled off back in July that sent Jarred Cosart to Miami and also brought back former top prospect Jake Marisnick, who has since graduated to the big leagues. Moran's bread and butter is his bat. He consistently makes good contact and projects to hit around .290 in the big leagues with his simple & fundamentally sound swing. The problem for Moran is that his hit tool is arguably his only above-average or better tool. His power hasn't come along as scouts thought it would, as most give it a 50 grade now, though it wouldn't be a big shock if he were to ever unlock it in the future. His arm has been given 55 grades here & there, but most view it as average, and his glove is viewed as average as well, though his lack of mobility is something that could hold him back a little. Overall, he projects as a regular at 3B, but he could become better if the power comes out of hiding.
Moran has played well enough in Double-A to earn a ticket to Triple-A, and it helps that Rio Ruiz is more than ready to move up to Double-A to take his place there. Moran will get the first crack at 3B of the two, and I'd bet on it being sometime this year.
8) Vincent Velasquez, RHP - If it weren't for continuously nagging injuries, Vince would probably be higher up on this list, as his overall arsenal is the most impressive in the system outside of Appel. His fastball will sit in the 92-95 range but will routinely hit 96, and his changeup is a plus pitch at present, grading out as a 65 offering. It's in the 81-84 range with great arm speed and outstanding late fade. Both his control & command are solid at present, thanks to a repeatable delivery and an athletic 6'3" frame.
What will decide Velasquez's future is how his breaking ball turns out. He throws from a low 3-quarters arm slot, so theoretically he's all set up to throw an average or better pitch, but it just hasn't turned out that way. Multiple reports indicate that it will be an above-average pitch in one inning, and a below-average one in the next. It really is a weirdly inconsistent pitch, as he can't bring himself to stay on top of it all the time. Without the development of the breaking ball, Vince could be a #3 or #4 type of SP, but if he were to harness it, he could be a #2. Mid-late 2016 is the earliest that I could see him up with the big club.
9) Michael Feliz, RHP - Thank Christ for PEDs, right? Feliz would be in the Oakland organization if it weren't for him getting busted back when he signed in 2010 that nullified his agreement with the A's. Firstly, he's a physical presence out on the mound at 6'4" or 6'5", and weighs about 215 pounds. His fastball is his big pitch, as it's in the 93-97 range, and has good ride up in the zone, which gets hitters to chase it. His slider flashes plus, though it's not a consistent enough pitch at present. He'll toss out a changeup that has looked semi-decent when he's thrown it, as some think it could be a solid 3rd offering.
His delivery has a little more effort than it should, but since he's such a big guy, most scouts and evaluators don't make a big deal about it. His control is solid presently, but he'll need to sure up his command eventually if he doesn't want to bury himself with walks in the upper minors. Feliz is an intriguing projection right now, as some think he could be a #2, and others think he'll be a #3 with good strikeout numbers. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the worst pitchers' park and league in the minors. Could be near or at the top of this board in a year or two, depending on how he develops his secondaries. Has a mid-late 2017 ETA for me.
10) Teoscar Hernandez, OF - Hernandez might not be the best pure athlete in the system thanks to Brett Phillips, but he is arguably the most explosive one, due to his 20/20 potential. He raked in the California League last year like he should have, and got a taste of Double-A before the season ended. He possesses grade 55 to 60 raw power, as he's a well-built athlete at 6'2" 185 with excellent bat speed. His speed is plus on the basepaths, but it's still up in the air if he'll play CF or RF long-term, as his glove is a little questionable. Fortunately, though, he has an above-average arm so he can play RF if he needs to, and has the bat as well to fit there.
Like Domingo Santana, the thing that will make or break Teoscar is his hit tool. He'll need to sure up his approach at the plate so he can get on base more like Santana has done over the past few years to make up for the strikeouts, but overall, he's a potential impact player in the big leagues. Could be a flashy regular with All-Star potential if he were to pan out.
Guys who just missed the cut:
Josh Hader, LHP - Possesses a heavy fastball from the left side with good late life, and has a potentially above-average changeup as well. He lacks a steady or even a show-me third pitch, though, and his delivery is a very wacky one. He's still projectable and is a good athlete, and despite the fact that he put up outstanding numbers last year, especially for his age, his delivery is rough and his command profile is not good. Going to wait and see with him.
Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP - McCullers boasts a power arsenal, as both his fastball and curveball project to be 65-70 pitches, but his delivery is high-effort and his changeup hasn't made that much progress. His control gets the best of him too often, unfortunately, and as a result, evaluators and scouts think it's 50/50 that he starts in the long-term. We'll see how he handles Double-A.
Derek Fisher, LF - I thought Fisher was an outstanding pick back in May, as people pegged him as a top 20 pick before he hurt his wrist and lost most of his power during the season at UVA. He's a plus athlete with good speed and above-average raw power when he's healthy. Also has a good feel for hitting and a solid approach at the plate. I fully expect him to be in the top 10 this time next year.
Any and all feedback is welcome.