The stars have aligned such that this is Prospect Week: John Sickels released his eagerly awaited Top Twenty Sunday night, and Kevin Goldstein is due to release his top eleven for Baseball Prospectus on Wednesday. The major surprises on the Sickels list, I think, are Bryan Anderson at eight and Clay Mortensen at 17.
Anderson I agree with. As I said when I was ranking prospects at my old gig, I'm terrified of prospects with one skill who run out of the others too soon: the control pitchers who stop striking people out completely at AAA, the power pitchers whose walk rates go up as they climb the system, and in this case, the contact hitter who can't punish mistakes in the high minors.
What's worrying about Anderson is that he's not making any progress at his secondary skills as he moves through the system; they're actually deteriorating. Look at Anderson's isolated power trend through the minors:
Of course these are still really good numbers; he's been young for every league. But even the players who hit around .300 with low ISOs hit for some power in the minors—they had enough to burn that, by the time they hit the Major Leagues, they were still capable of doing enough damage to keep the bat from getting knocked out of their hands.
Here's a frivolous, arbitrary, but vaguely pertinent Baseball Reference P-I list: at least 400 PA, .280 or better batting average, .100 or worse ISO. That gives nine players, two of whom should be intimately familiar to you right now. There are some examples, there are some counterexamples; Alexi Casilla's a very well-regarded young second baseman, and he never managed an ISO higher than Anderson's, and neither did Yadier Molina—who was, for what it's worth, rushed through the minors—or Ryan Theriot. But Aaron Miles put up a .150 ISO in AAA. Anderson's not a speedster like Casilla or Juan Pierre, either.
I haven't done a study on it any more thorough than that P-I search, but here's my concern, in the form of a baseless generalization: in general, the pitchers who get by with fringy strikeout rates, the hitters who get by without hitting for any power... they weren't already That Guy in the minors. Aaron Miles hit 34 doubles one year; Brian Bannister struck out a ton of bush leaguers. Andyrsyn's still got a lot of time to show off some doubles power, but this system is finally deep enough that a guy who needs time to develop can do it in the back of the top ten.
Another thing that's going to be interesting to watch as prospect rankings come out from all of the usual sources: the placement of David Freese and Allen Craig, the bat-first third basemen currently chasing one-another around the high minors. Sickels, a long-time fan of Craig, has them at 12 and 14, with Freese taking the lead. Future Redbirds has a great roundtable discussion up today concerning the two; their recent Top 20 had Craig at 12 and Freese at 7.
One final thing about Sickels's list: I like that he includes a lot of Honorable Mentions at the bottom of the list. In a superficial way, they're confidence-boosters: they say, "This prospect isn't top 20 material, Dan, but you're not wasting your time by checking his stats every night. Someone who actually knows how to value prospects shares your interest."
That's why I was so sad to see Thomas Pham, my tools goof white whale, not make the cut. He's so fast! He hits for such power! He's so incapable of doing anything else! If he'd made the honorable mentions I'd have held out a little more hope for a Daryl Jones-style breakout season; now my nightly look at his spot in the box score will take on a more mournful air.
On an unrelated note, I was very happy to learn that the blogger formerly known as the 26th Man—I'd link to The 26th Man, but suffice it to say that after some spammers grabbed the domain name it is less about baseball and more about sexual deviancy—is back writing about the Cardinals as the Five O'Clock Blogger. At the moment he's soliciting advice on the Lineup of the Damned, a project designed to construct Cardinals fans' least favorite lineup of all time, and he'd like some VEB input.
He picked Kenny Lofton, based on his antics in the 2002 NLCS. After minimal deliberation—which is, I think, the right kind of deliberation for this kind of project—I've decided on Carlos Zambrano. His mini-feud with Jim Edmonds, culminating in a home run follow-through that was long and majestic even by JIm Edmonds standards, was a great moment in mustache-twirling history, and every rivalry needs its villains.