While the stock market has had its share of ups and down's in the past year (mostly down), the prospects below have seen their stock rise and are some of this season's biggest risers.
RHP Daniel Hudson – Chicago White Sox
Hudson, a 13th round pick in 2008, was hardly a top name in the system when the season opened. That will change next spring as Hudson has become one of the crown jewels of the system. The 6-foot-4 right-hander shot up the ladder this year and handled the meteoric rise with ease. In 144.1 innings pitched between Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, Hudson held minor league batters to 104 hits while sporting a sterling 33/161 BB/K. This performance earned Hudson a ticket to the majors on Wednesday and that will mark the fifth level that the Old Dominion product has pitched at this season, a feat rarely accomplished by even the greatest prospects. The White Sox might have their rotation locked in for awhile now -- Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Hudson.
OF Jaff Decker – San Diego Padres
There may not be many positives at the big league level for the Padres, but the minor league outlook may be more promising thanks in part to prospects like Decker. The 42nd overall pick in the 2008 draft, Decker has started his career with a bigger bang than most hitters from his draft class. The Midwest League often swallows up young hitters, but the 19-year-old has been an exception, as evidenced by his .303/.442/.523 line and a 82/87 BB/K. His 965 OPS is tops in the league and only two others are above 900. Due to his short and stocky 5-foot-10 frame, Decker will always have his doubters, but he has proved them wrong so far.
C Derek Norris – Washington Nationals
While the Nats may have blown it last June by not signing first rounder Aaron Crow, they found a keeper in fourth rounder Derek Norris, suddenly one of the best catching prospects in the game. Norris has had an impressive season in the South Atlantic League – .286/.412/.513. His 23 homers are second-most in the league while his 924 OPS ranks fourth. Patience is a virtue and Norris seems to have it as he has walked 89 times on the year, 16 more times than anyone else in the South Atlantic League. Better yet, after having a 35/69 BB/K before the break, he has tightened it up to 54/47 since. Even if he can't last behind the plate over the long haul, his bat will carry him either way. Only Stephen Strasburg figures to out-rank him in the system this winter.
RHP Jenrry Mejia – New York Mets
Mets fans have had to endure a miserable, injury-riddled season, but some help is on the way. Mejia is an exception in what is largely a barren system with few bright spots. After the aggressive Mets skipped the 19-year-old past Low-A, Mejia had a strong nine-start stint in High-A before being bumped to Double-A. Despite being one of the youngest players on the circuit, Mejia has held his own against older Double-A competition, as shown by 41 strikeouts in 38.2 innings of work. His mid 90's heater is arguably the best fastball in the system and his strong ground ball tendencies (68% in High-A; 57% in Double-A) will only help him as he moves up the ladder. A late-2010 debut isn't out of the question.
RHP Jordan Lyles – Houston Astros
The Astros were widely criticized when they selected Lyles in the supplemental first round last year. Nobody is laughing now. Don't let Lyles' 6-11 record fool you. He has been one of the most impressive pitchers in the minors this year and he still hasn't turned 19. As Lyles filled out his frame in the months after being drafted, he saw his fastball climb from the high 80's to the mid 90's and he has used it en route fanning 161 in 138.2 innings of work while walking only 38 in the South Atlantic League. His secondary stuff isn't on par with his heater, but he has plenty of time to fine tune his arsenal. With apologies to Jason Castro, I believe it's Lyles who should be on top of Houston prospect lists this winter.
OF Tyson Gillies - Seattle Mariners
Hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, the legally deaf Gillies is one of the top Canadian natives in the minor leagues. A 25th round pick in 2006, Gillies has had a breakout year despite making the jump from short-season ball to High-A. That type of leap makes his numbers more impressive. He has a .339/.430/.483 line in 565 plate appearances and the OBP is the highest mark in the California League. His best asset is his speed, which rates as an 80 on the 20-80 scout scale, and it's evident in his 13 triples and his league-leading 44 stolen bases. Though he has clubbed nine homers on the year, eight of them have come at his home park, High Desert, one of the best hitting environments in the minors. He doesn't project as a big power threat down the road, but rather as a high on-base, top-of-the-order hitter who can change the game on the basepaths. "He was almost like Jacoby Ellsbury for me, a lefthanded leadoff hitter with the speed to make things happen. He's a high-energy guy who just seems like he does everything right. Looking at what he did in High Desert, the way that park is friendly to hitters, I was skeptical. But seeing him here [at the Future's Game] had me pretty excited," a National League scout told Baseball America.
OF Thomas Neal – San Francisco Giants
The 2005 draft is widely regarded as one of the best drafts of all time and Neal, who went in the 35th round that year, is aiming to make it look even better. Through his first three seasons in the minors, Neal had done little of note and he began this year as a virtual unknown. Enter the California League and you get a breakout – .330/.423/.576 on the year – while hitting strongly at home, on the road, against righties, and lefties. Making more contact has undoubtedly helped Neal – after fanning at a 27.7% clip in April, he has cut it to 16.2% since. As is the case with many hitters who see sudden and dramatic spikes in their numbers once they get into the California League, it's hard to know just how authentic their breakouts really are. But “Neal's always had big-time power,” says Baseball America, and he has a chance to put himself in the Giants long-term plans. Considering the big league outfield is comprised of such luminaries like Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, and Fred Lewis, opportunity figures to be there in the next couple years.
Don't forget about me!
OF Kyler Burke – Chicago Cubs
It seems like Burke has been around forever – he was a supplemental first round pick back in 2006. The Padres quickly gave up on him and traded him to the Cubs and Burke had done nothing to make the Padres regret dealing him away. Until now. A two-sport athlete in high school, Burke was one of those guys long on tools but short on polish and it showed as he struggled through his first few seasons in the minors. As a result, he dropped off many people's radars, but the light has come on this year in Low-A. After having a 39/104 BB/K over 421 plate appearances last season, Burke has improved that to 76/98 in 541 plate appearances this year, including a tight 46/47 ratio after the break. His highest monthly walk rate (20.9%) and his lowest monthly strikeout rate (14.0%) both came in August while his isolated power has increased each month since May. It's worth noting that Burke is repeating the level – he has had a few hundred plate appearances in Low-A over the past couple years – but at 21, he's still younger than the average Low-A age of 22.2. His BABIP is also a career-high .364. If he's able to transition smoothly to High-A next year, he'll get a lot more attention than he is receiving now.
Contact Ryan Fay at firstname.lastname@example.org