Top 5 risers under 25 by organization - NL Central

November 27, 2008

All Divisions: AL East / AL Central / AL West / NL East / NL Central / NL West

Now that the regular season in both the major and minor leagues is complete, we have a full grasp on which young players increased their stock. Here, I take a look at the players under 25 who I believe increased their value the most. These are not rankings in regards to talent or depth, but rather in whose value rose the most around baseball. Added weight was given to players in the majors or near major-league ready. Also, 2008 draftees are not eligible for these lists.


Chicago Cubs top 5 risers under 25
No.   Player   Pos.   Comments   Age   Lvl   PP   SS
1   Jeff Samardzija   RHP   Incredibly improved (7.3 BB%, 9.4 K%) in A+ in '07, became 20.2 K%, 3.04 FIP in MLB in '08   23.6   MLB   NR   X
2   Josh Vitters   3B   Struggled considerably in Midwest league but .364 wOBA in rookie ball, should fare well in '09   19.0   A   32    
3   Dae-Eun Rhee   RHP   Korean right-hander had injury troubles, but in 40.0 IP: 9.9 BB%, 20.5 K%, 62 GB%, 2.86 FIP   19.5   A   NR    
4   Welington Castillo   C   Finished the year in AA, posting a .339 wOBA through 219 PA; .284 wOBA in A+ (127 PA)
  21.4   AA   NR    
5   Jovan Rosa   3B   20-year-old Put up a .291/.348/.432 line in tough Midwest league, breakout potential in '09   21.0   A   NR    
* Age refers to the players age on October 1st, 2008                
** Lvl refers to the highest level that the player has played at                
*** PP refers to the ranking that Project Prospect gave the player going into the 2008 season                
**** SS stands for "Sully Select", which is a prospect that Brett Sullivan expects to continue a steep rise in 2009                


Sully Select: Jeff Samardzija made a gigantic decision when he decided to give up football by signing a contract with the Chicago Cubs. Early results showed that this may have been a poor decision, as Samardzija put up the following FIPs from 2006 to 2007: 4.37, 5.41, 4.46, and 6.09 between Rookie-ball and AA. During this period he only struck out about 10% of the batters he faced. Now, Samardzija is a major league pitcher and no one questions his decision. With a fantastic stint in the bigs last season where his fastball regularly touched 97, expect the Shark to continue being a big-time pitcher.

2009 Outlook: Once Again, the Cubs made it to the playoffs and had nothing to show for it. Chicago should field a similar roster as last season in 2009 and could very well still be playing basesball in October.


Milwaukee Brewers top 5 risers under 25
No.   Player   Pos.   Comments   Age   Lvl   PP   SS
1   Alcides Escobar   SS   Extremely skilled shortstop made strides with the bat (5.2 BB%, .108 isoP, .802 OPS) in AA   21.7   MLB   NR   X
2   Mat Gamel   3B   Incredible first half, dropped off at end of season, overall numbers great but with concern   23.1   MLB   110    
3   Angel Salome   C   Broke-out in 2008: (.972 OPS, 8.1 BB%, .200 isoP) but .400 BABIP definitely had a hand   22.3   MLB   NR    
4   Jeremy Jeffress   RHP   From 4.32 FIP, 26.0 K% in A in '07 to 3.33 FIP, 29.9 K% in A+ in '08; expect similar trend in '09   21.0   AA   105   X
5   Jonathan Lucroy   C   First full-season in minors resulted in .872 OPS, 10.8 BB% and 20 HR between A and A+   22.3   A+   NR    


Sully Select: Alcides Escobar was recognized as a slick-fielding, athletic shortstop with potential at the plate but the numbers never added up. His professional career up to 2007 generally consisted of a mid .600 OPS with poor discipline and not much power to speak of. As a 21-year-old in AA in 2008, however, Escobar finally started putting some of the pieces together. Escobar flashed the most power and patience he has to date and should he continue his progression, he has the chance to one-day become an all-star caliber shortstop.

Sully Select: Jeremy Jeffress has always been an intriguing prospect. The intrigue took a major hit in 2007 when he was suspended 50 games for substance abuse. Jeffress has shown big-time strikeout potential, as evidenced by his 22.0 and 26.0 K% in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Although his poor command has not improved to this point, Jeffress has further increased his ability to wiff opposing batters (29.9 K% in 2008) and should continue to make hitters look foolish as he sharpens his command in the upcoming years

2009 Outlook: Milwaukee proved in 2008 that they are a legitimate contender, and although the probable loss of C.C. Sabathia will hurt significantly, a budding farm system coupled with the emergences of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, and Corey Hart lead many to believe the Brewers have numerous winning seasons ahead of them.


            Houston Astros top 5 risers under 25                
No.   Player   Pos.   Comments   Age   Lvl   PP   SS
1   Brian Bogusevic   CF   Went from poor AA pitcher to stud AA hitter within a few months, continued success in AFL   24.6   AA   NR   X
2   Chris Johnson   3B   After a sub-.700 OPS season in 2007, had a .869 OPS, .182 isoP in AA, but struggled in AAA   24.0   AAA   NR    
3   Bud Norris   RHP   Spent 2007 mostly in low-A, jump to AA in 2008 was successful: 8.8 BB%, 23.9 K%, 3.93 FIP   23.5   AA   NR    
4   Koby Clemens   C   Increased BB% (13.3), decreased K% (21.5) from 2007 to 2008, .350 wOBA overall in '08   21.8   A+   NR    
5   Polin Trinidad   LHP   Far from incredible but solid rates in A+ and AA in '08 (4.7 BB%, 16.0 K%, 3.36 and 4.22 FIPs)   23.8   AA   NR    


Brian Bogusevic was a two-way star at Tulane when he was drafted 24th overall by Houston in 2005. After converting to pitching full-time, Bogusevic never seemed to capture what it was that made Astros scouts originally believe he could be a stud on the mound. With hope for Bogusevic as a pitcher rapidly declining, the organization made the decision to try Bogusevic as an outfielder once again – and since then he has done nothing but hit, albeit in a small sample size. Bogusevic has a chance to be the total package from center field, something that is very valuable around baseball, particularly in an Astros system that can be considered nothing less than brutal.

2009 Outlook: The Astros are a team with no direction – do they want to rebuild or do they want to make a playoff push? I don’t think they know, and if they want to rebuild it will be very tough with such a weak system. They are multiple pieces away from contending for the division, so I expect another mediocre season from Houston in 2009.


            St. Louis Cardinals top 5 risers under 25                
No.   Player   Pos.   Comments   Age   Lvl   PP   SS
1   Daryl Jones   LF   A different player in 2008: .316/.407/.483 between FSL and TEX leagues as 21-year-old OF   21.2   AA   NR    
2   Jess Todd   RHP   2007 2nd round draft-pick soared through 3 levels (A+, AA, AAA) and posted a 3.24 K/BB   22.4   AAA   NR    
3   Chris Perez   RHP   Poor in AAA in '07 (22.4 BB%, 25.9 K%, 6.22 FIP, 58 TBF), great in '08 (11.4, 36.2, 3.59)   23.2   MLB   NR    
4   Jonathan Jay   CF   .712 OPS between A+ and AA in '07, broke out in '08: .312/.382/.463 between AA and AAA   23.5   AAA   NR    
5   Mitchell Boggs   RHP   Solid in PCL in AAA in '08 (125 IP, 81 K, 4.51 FIP) but very poor in MLB (13.4 BB%, 6.37 FIP)   24.6   MLB   NR    


Daryl Jones was a highly-recruited football player coming out of high-school, but it was his speed and hand-eye coordination that allowed the Cardinals to spend a 3rd round pick on him. In 2006 he flashed some potential by putting up a .838 OPS in rookie ball, but followed it with a disappointing performance in the Midwest League. 2007 once again showed that the Midwest league can be devastating to a hitter, as Jones managed a meager .599 OPS. Then from nowhere, like a lightning strike, Jones exploded in 2008 putting up a potent season, ending it as a 21-year-old with a .904 OPS in 124 AA at-bats. If his current trend continues, Jones will be a solid big-leaguer in the near future.

2009 Outlook: St. Louis had a disappointing year in 2008 by many regards, wasting another dominant season from the great Albert Pujols. They have solid depth in the upper minors, and a surplus of outfielders that they could use to strengthen their weak middle-infield. With a firm rotation and bullpen heading into 2009, St. Louis has a strong chance to move from 4th in the Central to playing in the post-season.


            Cincinnati Reds top 5 risers under 25                
No.   Player   Pos.   Comments   Age   Lvl   PP   SS
1   Jay Bruce   CF   Took his rookie lumps, but kept head above water as 21-year-old in MLB (.330 wOBA, 21 HR)   21.4   MLB   1   X
2   Chris Valaika   SS   Struggled after jump to A+ in '07 (.639 OPS), finished '08 with .843 OPS between A+ and AA   23.1   AA   NR    
3   Todd Frazier   SS   Made mockery of Midwest league (1.000 OPS), came back to earth in A+ (.808), .853 overall   22.6   A+   NR    
4   Johnny Cueto   RHP   22-year-old took rookie lumps like Bruce, but 8.8 BB%, 20.5 K%, 4.87 FIP are very promising   22.6   MLB   11    
5   Neftali Soto   3B   Showed monsterous power potential in rookie ball (.358 isoP), transitioned well to Midwest   19.5   A   NR   X


Sully Select: Jay Bruce’s 2008 campaign needs to be taken into perspective to understand just what kind of player we are talking about. Not many 21-year-olds can step into the big show and immediately produce at a high level. Following his destruction of the International Leauge (.365/.394/.635), Bruce made an immediate impact for the Reds. With 21 home-runs and 17 doubles in 413 AB as a rookie, Bruce has shown sky-high power potential, and as he adjusts to major league pitching, expect his performance to increase exponentially in the coming years.

Sully Select: Neftali Soto must have known that the Midwest league is usually tough on young hitters. Following Soto’s stint in rookie-ball in 2008 – where he abused Pioneer league pitching to the tune of a .388/.423/.746 line, Soto managed not only to continue to make solid contact in the Midwest league, but hit for power as well (.500 slugging). Discipline remains an issue with Soto as it does with many youngsters, but his bat is lethal and he should continuing proving that in the upper levels.

2009 Outlook: One of these years has to be the year that the Reds put it all together, right? Cincinnati must be hoping 2009 is that year as the likes of Bruce, Cueto, Joey Votto, and Edinson Volquez continue to improve. I believe it’s still too early for them to contend in this strong division, and that it is more likely the following years where the Reds will either meet expectations or continue to disappoint.


            Pittsburgh Pirates top 5 risers under 25                
No.   Player   Pos.   Comments   Age   Lvl   PP   SS
1   Andrew McCutchen   CF   Following a .717 OPS season in '07, greatly improved patience (11.5 BB%), power to follow   21.9   AAA   24    
2   Jose Tabata   RF   Complete 180° following trade to Pit -- .289 wOBA (329 PA, RF) to .414 wOBA (97 PA, CF)   20.1   AA   35    
3   Bryan Morris   RHP   Unlike Tabata, Morris struggled following trade but 20.5 K%, 53 GB%, 3.80 FIP overall in '08   21.5   A   NR    
4   Jamie Romak   RF   Always posted solid numbers, '08 was no different -- .862 OPS, 25 HR between A+ and AA   23.0   AA   NR    
5   Shelby Ford   2B   Solid with the bat in AA in '08 (.795 OPS, .173 isoP), even better in AFL (.899 OPS, .221 isoP)   23.7   AA   NR    


Andrew McCutchen was the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft known for its abundance of high-school outfield talent. Drafted behind Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin and before Jay Bruce and Colby Rasmus, McCutchen has taken a little longer to develop than the rest of the class. McCutchen has consistently hung between a .700 and .800 OPS in his minor league career, and although he may not have the upside of some of the others in the draft class, McCutchen still has a rare combination of speed, discipline, and power potential that could vault him into the elite class of center fielders once he matures.

2009 Outlook: Oh, the Pirates. Once again, Pittsburgh finished last in the Central, and unfortunately things aren’t looking much brighter in the near future. With a very week farm system, and a scarcity of young talent on the major league roster (Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit being the two most worth mentioning), I would be shocked to see the Pirates climb out of the cellar in 2009.


Brett Sullivan can be reached at