First, some caveats. If you're not interested in reading about process, just skip right to the list.
I didn't put a great deal of thought into this. I spend a lot of time on the offseason list. On this, I spent about ten minutes thinking about it and an hour writing it. I'd call this a high-precision, decent-accuracy list. While I've seen all of the listed players play, I find major league playing time to be a relatively highly weighted factor in my offseason analysis. That ordinarily doesn't happen until late in the season (if at all), so that's an item that can't be factored into this list. Obviously, there are still almost two months of the minor league season left for most of these players; fall/winter ball is missing, too. Finally, the sobering impact of elapsed time on analysis isn't possible. I watched some of these players this morning.
So what's gone into this list that wasn't there in the offseason is spring training and, at most, about 100 minor league games. Substantial data but, for me, ordinarily not enough to effect major changes in position on a top-10 list, unless there's a significant injury. In addition, players obviously lose their prospect status based on major league action and the amateur draft happens so a few more names are in the mix. No relevant names have been added or subtracted via trade or other similar transactions.
On to the list. Offseason ranking, if any, in parentheses. Position is current and not necessarily projected major league position. If you want more detailed scouting reports, you can find most of them in the offseason list.
1. SS Tim Anderson (2)
His development from raw athlete to baseball player remains on-track with improvements most notable in his base-stealing (32-for-40) and defense. The 22-year-old's offensive stats at Double-A are very similar to last season at High-A -- a very good thing considering the jump in level -- but with a decrease in ISO that can be attributed to going from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park. He's likely to see Triple-A soon.
2. RHP Frankie Montas (3)
Finally looking like he'll get in a full season of pitching, he's transitioned reasonably well to Double-A and held his strikeout rate (22.4 percent) steady compared to 2014. Unfortunately, he's seen his walk rate tick up a good amount from 5.8 to 9.6 percent. Repeating mechanics remains a problem, in addition to a tendency to overthrow his fastball. It's still about a 65/35 chance between reliever and starter, with his command problems being offset by improved secondary offerings.
3. RHP Spencer Adams (5)
Last year's 44th-overall pick is looking more and more like a steal. While his H/9IP rate illustrates how he's a victim of Kannapolis' poor defense, the 19-year-old is doing what he needed to do this season: get innings. His slider and circle change are also improved from 2014, though he remains more a good control than good command pitcher. Long development path ahead but a tantalizing profile.
4. RHP Carson Fulmer (NR)
This year's eighth-overall pick has a good fastball that sits low 90s, and he can consistently reach back for mid-90s. His mid-80s curve is also a good pitch. Per usual, the 21-year-old will need to develop a decent changeup to make it as a starter, as well as refine his command. He looked like more of a future reliever (though with significant high-leverage potential) when I watched him for Vanderbilt, but we'll see what improvements the White Sox can make on him.
5. RHP Tyler Danish (4)
His transition to Double-A has not been smooth. At 20, he's one of the youngest players in the Southern League, and he's found that more advanced hitters aren't as willing to chase and get themselves out. The 10.2 percent walk rate is ugly, as is the .346 BABIP. This is his first taste of adversity as a pro and how he responds will dictate a lot about his future role.
6. 3B Trey Michalczewski (10)
One of the youngest players in the Carolina League, the switch-hitter has shown improvement at the hot corner. While his .269/.351/.408 line isn't eye-popping (particularly given his offense-friendly home park), the guy is 20 and in High-A. Also, he's noticeably cut his strikeouts from the 25-28 percent range in his first two seasons down to 19.5 percent while holding his walk rate steady around 10 percent.
7. LF Courtney Hawkins (7)
Given the home run suppressing home park, Birmingham was going to be an interesting challenge for the 21-year-old. He also missed a few weeks with a finger injury, with his production immediately before and after the DL stint muted. His strikeout rate remains disconcertingly high at nearly 30 percent, but the game power is impressive. If he ever figures out how to layoff breaking balls, he'd be a monster.
8. CF Jacob May (NR)
A good season was halted by a collision with Anderson on June 2 that resulted in a concussion. He just began his rehab assignment and appears to be on schedule for his projected August return. His 25 steals in 36 attempts was tops in the league at the time (a lead Anderson took) and remains second place a month and a half later. The 23-year-old is an above-average defender, held back by a weak arm. His contact-oriented approach plays up because of his plus-plus speed.
9. CF Trayce Thompson (NR)
This 24-year-old has been hanging around prospect lists for more than six years now, and his 2015 campaign finds him back in the top 10. After two OK seasons at Birmingham, he showed a new, aggressive approach in his first taste of Triple-A, cutting his strikeouts down from 24.5 percent in Double-A to 18.9 percent in Charlotte. More contact has come at the expense of walks but I think it's a good tradeoff. His speed, defense and pop are a good profile for at least a fourth outfielder and this season has brought back hope that he may be a bit more than that.
10. 2B Micah Johnson (t-8)
I've always been bearish on Johnson and he's shown little to allay my primary concern. The speed remains enticing and the bat has improved in his second taste of Triple-A. The 24-year-old is just a horrible defender at second and in all likelihood will remain so. Whether a move to the outfield is workable is speculative, given his three-times surgically repaired arm, total lack of experience and, frankly, no discernible outfield skill other than speed. A good speed/decent-bat bench player can work, but just isn't very valuable.
Most of you know that I eschew numeric lists in favor of groupings, which I think more accurately display the difference, or lack of difference, in value amongst players. If someone wants to re-order my numeric rankings while remaining within the same player grouping, I'm not going to argue with them. So here's that.
- First Group: Tim Anderson. I think he's a top 25 prospect.
- Second Group: Frankie Montas. I think he's a top 75 prospect.
- Third Group: Spencer Adams and Carson Fulmer. Both have arguments for the top 100.
- Fourth Group: Tyler Danish, Trey Michalczewski and Courtney Hawkins. All have significant question marks that limit ceiling, though their floors suggest major leaguers.
- Fifth Group: Jacob May, Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson and a few others. Reasonable projections would be bench players with a distinct possibility of nothing more than AAAA.
The players dropping out:
Carlos Rodon (1): Exceeded innings limit.
Matt Davidson (6): Uninspiring 2015 season causes me to finally give up the ghost, at least as a top-10 player. The organization seems like it has as well.
Carlos Sanchez (t-8): Exceeded plate appearances limit.
Preempting questions on a few others:
Tyler Saladino: I've always graded him as a utility infielder. Like a few others, he has a decent argument for placement on the back-end of the list. Eventually, though, one runs out of numbers for a list of 10.
Micker Adolfo: At some point he has to hit and he certainly has to do that if he wanted to move into my top ten. He's still just 18 so don't get your panties in a wad. He's dramatically improved his strikeout rate so it's not like there hasn't been progress.
Everyone else playing rookie-level: Video is very limited on these players. I don't like ranking players high if I haven't seen them play with my own eyes at least a bit, unless there are overwhelming scouting reports. A guy like third baseman Maiker Feliz is one to watch for this time next year as he comes with a scouting pedigree and has made big strides as a 17-year-old in his second DSL season.