Top 50 Prospects

About the same time every year when pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the bookstores are flooded with stat books, fantasy baseball books and magazines.  And all of them have some sort of listing of who they think are the best prospects in the minors.  I'm not particularly comfortable trying to predict the future 4 or 5 years down the road, especially since so much can change in a couple of months.  So I'm not gonna state that all these are the guys who are gonna be the All Stars of tomorrow.  Instead, I'd like to offer my list of the 50 minor leaguers who had the best seasons last year, who are still young enough to become very good players.  I'll rank them according to how impressive I thought their season was.

1)  Rick Ankiel (LHP, STL) - no one has produced numbers like his at such a young age since Gooden.
2)  Corey Patterson (OF, CHC) - did it all in low A-ball, although his strikezone judgment could use a little work.
3)  Pat Burrell (OF/1B, PHI) - a complete hitter just waiting for a spot to open in Philly
4)  Vernon Wells (OF, TOR) - was named outstanding player of the league at 3 different levels.
5)  Nick Johnson (1B, NYY) - getting hit by pitches 37 times helped him produce a Ted Williams-like .525 on-base
6)  Sean Burroughs (3B, SD) - hit .400+ from June through the playoffs as one of the Midwest/California circuit's youngest players
7)  Ryan Anderson (LHP, SEA) - 19-year olds in AA don't normally strikeout 10+ batters per game, but he and Ankiel did it.
8)  Ruben Mateo (OF, TEX) - a broken hamate bone kept him eligible for ROY honors in 2000.
9)  Brad Penny (RHP, FLA) - dominated the Arizona Fall league after struggling with injuries last season
10) Rafael Furcal (SS, ATL) - stole 90+ bases between 2 levels last year and held his own in the Dominican Winter League
11) D'Angelo Jimenez (SS, NYY) - a car accident will keep him out of action this year, but he was the superior shortstop on the Yankee's farm
12) Matt Riley (LHP, BAL) - pitched brilliantly at 2 levels before tiring in September
13) Dermal Brown (OF, KC) - dominated 2 levels before being rushed to the majors
14) John Patterson (RHP, ARI) - solid year in a tough place to pitch (El Paso) and continued to pitch well in Arizona in the fall.
15) Milton Bradley (OF, MON) - fiery outfielder ended the Eastern League Championship with a grand slam, then torched the AFL, batting .352
16) Chin Feng-Chen (OF, LA) - Taiwanese import became the first 30/30 player in California League history
17) Wilfredo Rodriguez (LHP, HOU) - emerging lefty used to hit the low 90's.  Now he hits 98.
18) Abraham Nunez (OF, FLA) - D-backs are protesting the Mantei deal with good reason - this guy was the player to named later
19) Ben Petrick (C, COL) - Colorado's catcher of the future does everything well but throw runners out
20) Travis Dawkins (SS, CIN) - good plate discipline, speed, and great defense.  If he develops power, he'll be Barry Larkin Mk 2
21) Tony Armas (RHP, MON) - pitched very well at AA as one of the younger players and had a solid ML debut
22) Adam Dunn (OF, CIN) - decided to forgo football at U of Texas and devoted himself to baseball.  Looks like a good move.
23) Ramon Ortiz (RHP, ANA) - pitched very well at 2 levels and then ran into a wall in the majors
24) Eric Munson (1B/C, DET) - didn't have much problem hitting homers in his first exposure to wooden bats
25) Michael Cuddyer (3B, MIN) - solid play in all aspects of the game at high A ball
26) Jesus Colome (RHP, OAK) - had a very solid year in a hitter's league
27) C.C. Sabathia (LHP, CLE) - 6'7", 240 lbs. and throws very hard... no, that's not intimidating. And he was very young for the level of competition
28) Jack Cust (OF, ARI) - he's a very good hitter, and the D-backs hope he'll either become a passable fielder or they'll move to the AL
29) Mike Bynum (LHP, SD) - didn't allow a run in low A ball, so the Pads moved him up to high A ball where he merely dominated.  Has a killer slider.
30) Josh Hamilton (OF, TAM) - #1 draft pick this past year, showed no problems handling rookie ball pitching
31) Francisco Cordero (RHP, TEX) - part of the Juan Gonzales trade, throws hard with good control
32) Alex Escobar (OF, NYM) - injuries have plagued his career, but when he's healthy, observers and the numbers say he has Vlad Guerrero type talent.
33) Kip Wells (RHP, CHW) - numbers were not that impressive and yet he made good account of himself at 3 levels, including the Major Leagues
34) Mike Restovich (OF, MIN) - another Twins' prospect who's solid in almost all facets of the game.
35) Felipe Lopez (SS, TOR) - some are saying he's the next great AL shortstop, but he'll have to improve his eye for the strikezone to make that leap.
36) Wes Anderson (RHP, FLA) - one of the few unheralded Marlins prospects, but that won't last too much longer.
37) Dernell Stenson (1B, BOS) - will have a chance to produce at Fenway if Daubach falters and Burkhart is merely a mirage.
38) Barry Zito (LHP, OAK) - another quality hurler in the A's farm system.  Not so much a stuff guy, but an obsessive student of the game
39) Chad Hermansen (OF, PIT) - it's still amazing that this guy has spent the last 2 years in AAA and is still only 22.  The Martin trade clears his way.
40) Peter Bergeron (OF, MON) - likened to Steve Finley with better discipline and less speed
41) Adam Eaton (RHP, SD) - hard-nosed competitor with an improving fastball.  In his first AA start, he threw a no-hitter against the Yanks club.
42) Marcus Giles (2B, ATL) - just like his brother, he hits wherever he goes.
43) Rob Bell (RHP, CIN) - suffered from arm/shoulder woes most of the season but pitched well when he was healthy.
44) Eric Gagne (RHP, LA) - had an outstanding year in AA and posted a 2.10 ERA with the Dodgers.
45) Alfonso Soriano (SS, NYY) - was the MVP of the first Futures Game but fell off in the second half.
46) Ed Yarnall (LHP, NYY) - former-LSU College World Series pitching hero is ready for the bigs
47) Mike Meyers (RHP, CHC) - posted a composite ERA of 1.73 at 2 levels using Maddux-like command of 4 pitches
48) Hee Seop Choi (1B, CHC) - the first hitting product out of Korea looked like the second coming of Rafael Palmeiro.
49) Wascar Serrano (RHP, SD) - as one of the youngest players, averaged nearly a K/IP in the California League while posting an ERA of 3.33
50) Luis Rivera (RHP, ATL) - had a solid year in A ball, but absolutely terrorized Mexican League hitters.  Might make the jump to the bigs this spring.

Honorable mention in the NL:

Nick Neugebauer (RHP, MIL)
Mike Darr (OF, SD)
Brad Baisley (RHP, PHI)
Jason Jennings (RHP, COL)
A.J. Burnett (RHP, FLA)
Lance Berkman (OF, HOU)
George Lombard (OF, ATL)
Chip Ambres (OF, FLA)
Julio Ramirez (OF, FLA)
Kurt Ainsworth (RHP, SF)
Julio Lugo (SS, HOU)
Ben Broussard (1B, CIN)
Ben Sheets (RHP, MIL)
Pablo Ozuna (2B/SS, FLA)
Vince Faison (OF, SD)
Chad Hutchinson (RHP, STL)
Jacob Peavy (RHP, SD)
Randey Dorame (LHP, LA)
Adam Everett (SS, HOU)
Grant Roberts (RHP, NYM)
Adam Kennedy (2B, COL)
Ted Lilly (LHP, MON)
Jung Bong (LHP, ATL)
Buddy Carlyle (LHP, SD)
Byung Hyun Kim (RHP, AZ)
Rico Washington (C, PIT)
Wilson Betemit (SS, ATL)
Carlos Urquiola (2B, AZ)

I would have included Josh Beckett (RHP, FLA), but he's yet to throw a professional pitch.  Somehow, though, I think he'll be on enough of these lists in the future that he won't miss out too much on being left off this year.

Stats for the hitters
Stats for the pitchers