As Spring Training kicks into high gear, there will be unfamiliar names wearing numbers like 64 and 87. Those are the minor leaguers.
A few of these guys will make an instant impact on their team at the highest level and for others that dream is still a few years away. Whatever each individual case may be there is a lot of talent in the National League East below the major league level.
According to Scouts Inc., the NL East boasts eight players within the top 50 prospects in baseball. Here are the top minor leaguers from each team in the Eastern Division.
Jason Heyward – RF: Heyward is ranked in the Top 5 in several different publications, and by all accounts the guy is headed for stardom. In fairness, the kid has a long way to go, as he is only19 years old. Currently with the Braves in Spring Training, Heyward is proving to be an imposing young man, blessed with a 6-foot-4 inch frame. Braves GM Frank Wren says Heyward “stands out in almost any room.”
Last season in the Class-A Carolina League, Heyward sparkled with the Rome Braves, hitting for average, showing some power and discipline at the plate. He hit .323 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI’s in his first real taste of pro baseball. In 2007, Heyward played in just 12 games overall after getting a late start. Not bad for a kid that doesn’t turn 20 until August.
Heyward is being compared to Dave Parker, a big-time masher that spent 19 seasons in the majors. The young outfielder is one of several Atlanta Braves farmhands that are showing great promise in the minors. Others include Tommy Hanson, a right-hander who is scheduled to hit Atlanta sometime in ’09. He is ranked 24th on the MLB.com Top 50 prospects of 2009. Also keep an eye on outfielder’s Freddie Freeman and Jordan Schafer.
Logan Morrison – 1B : We could put Cameron Maybin here, the stud centerfielder that had a cup of coffee in the majors at the end of 2008. Maybin is certainly turning heads after his performance in limited action, when he played in eight games and hit a lofty .500 with a staggering OPS of 1.105. But we know about Maybin already, as his name has been around for years.
Logan Morrison is a bit of an unknown, but that should soon be changing. Morrison is a first baseman who finished up at Jupiter in the High-A Florida State League in 2008, winning the FSL’s MVP. The 21-year old is a run producing machine, knocking in 178 runs through his first 307 minor league games at four different levels. His offense is clearly on track, but his position is another matter.
Gaby Sanchez, the Florida Marlins rookie first baseman, is blocking Morrison’s path to the big leagues at this moment. Sanchez seems to have the inside track on the starting gig and if his career plays out like most believe it should, Morrison may have to settle for the outfield. According to the South Florida Sun, Morrison has already been preparing for left field, though Marlins Manager Fredi Gonzalez says they will keep him at first this spring. Baseball America has Morrison the third ranked Marlins prospect behind Maybin and outfielder Mike Stanton, but Keith Law of ESPN has him ranked ahead of both on his Top 100 list.
New York Mets
Fernando Martinez – OF: The Mets top prospect is 20-years old and has twice been a Futures Game selection. Martinez is a lefty at the plate and while he has struggled against southpaws (just a .217 average last year in 106 AB’s last year), he is showing signs of promise.
In 86 games at Double-A Binghamton in ’08, Martinez hit .287 and knocked in 43 runs, but scouts believe the power will come with time. In fairness, injuries plagued Martinez last season, hindering what could have been a breakout season. Scouts enjoy his quick bat from the left side and his defense was above-average playing centerfield last year.
His ETA for the majors according to MLB.com is 2010, and it looks like the Mets may need an infusion of young talent as their outfield is certainly aging. Their three projected starters this year are all over 30. However, before Martinez hits the big time, he needs to hit the lefties, or the transition may be excruciating.
Carlos Carrasco – RHP: The Phillies finally have a few talented minor leaguers they can be proud of. A few are creeping close to the big squad as Lou Marson projects to be the catcher of the near future and Jason Donald has a real shot as a backup infielder this year. But Carlos Carrasco gets the nod over these guys because pitching is key.
Carrasco is in camp with the Phillies this spring and is involved in the race for the fifth starter on the big league club. While the odds are against him, he is getting a look. Carrasco struggled a bit at Double-A Reading last season, posting just a 7-7 record with an ERA in the four’s. He moved to Triple-A for six starts last season, and flourished at the higher level, going 2-2 with an ERA south of two. He also had 46 strikeouts through those final six games, and registered them in just 36 innings.
Whether or not Carrasco makes the big squad to begin the year, it’s likely Phillies fans will see him at some point in 2009. Other prospects making waves for the Phillies are outfielders Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown. John Manuel of Baseball America ranks Brown as the #1 prospect in the Phils organization, while Taylor is #6 on that list.
Jordan Zimmerman – RHP: The Nationals do not have a strong farm system this season, ranking 29 out of 30 teams according to Law. The only real prospect they have right now is right handed pitcher Jordan Zimmerman. The draft has not been very kind to the Nats/Expos organization over the past decade, as many of their top prospects (Brandon Phillips, Tony Armas, Bill Bray) have moved on.
Zimmerman has the tools to be the #1 starter for Washington in a few years, but projects as more of a #3 starter in actuality. The 6-foot-2, 200 pound righty spent most of last year in Double-A and did very well. He put together a 7-2 record with an ERA of 3.21. Zimmerman boasts a four-seam fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s and has a decent slider, curveball, and changeup.
Ranked 43rd on Law’s Top 100 list, Zimmerman right now is the only hope coming out of a weak crop in the minors for the Nats. Also on the radar is Ross Detwiler, the Nats first round pick in 2007, and first baseman Chris Marrero. Marrero suffered a major setback last year after breaking his leg and tearing ligaments in his ankle sliding into home plate. The 20-year old is in Spring Training with the Nats, working out at first base after failed attempts at third base and outfield.
Patrick Gallen is the Philadelphia Phillies Examiner for examiner.com. He also hosts his own internet radio show, “Basketball Roundup” on the Sports Journey Broadcast Network. The show airs Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10am-12pm est.