The minor league season is finally under way. We'll try not to get too excited or too distraught over opening-week performances, so certainly some of the analysis below can be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, let's look at those prospects who are off to hot starts, as well as those who likely wish spring training hadn't ended just yet.
1. Brett Lawrie, 3B, TOR - Despite being just 21 in the Pacific Coast League and learning a new position, Lawrie has more than held his own thus far for Triple-A Las Vegas. The 6-foot, 215, third baseman is 6-for-16 with five runs, three extra-base hits and two walks through four games with the 51s. Scouts have never questioned Lawrie's bat, but Lawrie is switching from second base to third due to the presence of Aaron Hill with the parent club. Still, the Jays were impressed with Lawrie's glove in spring training despite still picking up the nuances of a new position. With Edwin Encarnacion and Jayson Nix splitting time at the hot corner and both struggling, Lawrie could see the big leagues as early as June 1.
2. Jenrry Mejia, P, NYM - Mejia was dominant in his first start Friday for Triple-A Buffalo. The 21-year-old righty tossed six scoreless innings, scattering three hits, walking two and striking out six. The only remaining question is whether the Mets view him as a starter or a reliever at the big-league level, as he made 30 appearances out of the bullpen for the Mets in 2010. Although the Mets are concerned about wear and tear on his arm (Mejia has never thrown more than 94.2 innings in any season), it may behoove the Metropolitans, considering their woeful rotation, to keep him stretched out and to insert him into the rotation at some point. He certainly has the arsenal to be effective as a starter.
3. Brett Jackson, OF, CHC - Jackson is bordering on five-tool status as his power continues to come around for the Cubbies. Although he could have easily started the season in Triple-A, Chicago decided to be patient with its best prospect and give him more at-bats for Double-A Tennessee. Jackson has rewarded the Cubs with a 7-for-17 start, including one home run, six RBI, four walks and two stolen bases over the first four contests with the Smokies. The 22-year-old still strikes out a bit too much, but we're nitpicking at this point. The Cubs have a fairly crowded outfield, so Jackson is a likely September call-up in 2011 with an eye toward hitting the majors for good in 2012. Still, he is emerging as one the better overall hitting prospects in the game.
4. Logan Forsythe, 2B, SD - A forgotten man after an injury-plagued 2010 campaign, Forsythe began the 2011 season with a bang for Triple-A Tucson. The 24-year-old second baseman smashed two home runs on Opening Day and is 6-for-14 overall through the first four games in the PCL. He has also drawn six walks over that span while swiping a base to boot. His plate discipline has always been the best part of his game, and despite the friendly hitting confines of the Pacific Coast League, it's nice to see Logan with some power after hitting three home runs all of last season. Although Orlando Hudson is blocking his path in 2011, Forsythe is the second baseman of the future for the Padres and is certainly worth keeping on your radar due to his abilities at such a notoriously thin fantasy position.
5. Matthew Moore, P, TB - After becoming the first minor league pitcher since Francisco Liriano to post 200-plus strikeouts in a single season, Moore didn't miss a beat in his opening start of 2011. Moore allowed one run on two hits in 5.0 innings for Double-A Montgomery last Thursday. The 21-year-old lefty did not walk a batter while striking out seven. Although the Rays are stocked with arms directly ahead of him (Chris Archer, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis), Moore could move quickly from Double-A and make a case for a September call-up. However, with the frugal Rays rebuilding again, Tampa might take it slow with such a prized neophyte. Still, there's no denying Moore's talents, and by the end of 2011 he has the chance to be the top pitching prospect in baseball.
6. Drew Pomeranz, P, CLE - Pomeranz's minor league debut could not have gone better, as the 22-year-old lefty hurled 5.1 shutout innings for High-A Kinston. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 draft allowed just two hits, did not walk a batter and punched out nine. Although the Indians have gotten off to a surprisingly hot start, their starting pitching remains suspect at best, meaning that Pomeranz has the chance to get promoted through the ranks as soon as 2012 due to his college pedigree. However, he must show continued improved control and a third offering to go with his low-90s heater and knuckle-curve.
1. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI
2. Jacob Turner, P, DET
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B, KC
4. Matt Harvey, P, NYM
5. Julio Teheran, P, ATL
1. Zach Stewart, P, TOR - Despite spending the entire year with Double-A New Hampshire last season, Stewart is back with the Fisher Cats to start the 2011 campaign. His first start this year was a bust, as Stewart allowed four runs on seven hits in 5.1 innings pitched. The 24-year-old righty walked three and struck out two batters for the game. Stewart battled some command issues last season, posting a 106:54 K:BB in 136.1 innings. Stewart allows too many baserunners, and his fairly steady decline in strikeouts at the higher levels leads to the belief that he may not have a ceiling much higher than that of a No. 3 starter.
2. Chris Dwyer, P, KC - Dwyer hasn't necessarily done much to diminish his stock, it's merely that the Royals are loaded with arms at or above his level. With Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Danny Duffy all more highly touted than Dwyer, the 23-year-old will have to be nearly perfect to grab attention from those pitchers. His first start of the season for Double-A Northwest Arkansas won't exactly help that cause, as the 6-2, 210, lefty allowed three runs on four hits in just four innings. Dwyer walked three batters while punching out four. Dwyer also does not get many groundball outs; fewer, in fact, than the above-referenced pitching phenoms. Therefore, he has the penchant for getting burned by home runs a bit more than the others. Dwyer is still a standout prospect, but may not get the recognition he deserves in such a stocked system unless he is absolutely electric.
3. Tim Beckham, SS, TB - Beckham hasn't hit above .275 at any level in the minors thus far and has failed to hit more than five home runs in any season as well. His plate discipline has improved slightly over the years, but he still has not warranted his No. 1 overall slot from the 2008 draft. With career highs in steals (22) and on-base percentage (.346) last season, there's still hope that Beckham will one day turn into a superstar. However, the acquisition of Hak-Ju Lee from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade only furthers the notion that the Rays might finally be accepting that Beckham may not be a star shortstop after all.
4. Simon Castro, P, SD - Castro got blown up in his first start of the season for Triple-A Tucson, allowing nine runs on nine hits in just four innings on Sunday. Castro walked three and struck out two. With the acquisition of Casey Kelly in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, Castro might not even be the best pitching prospect in the Padres system anymore. Castro has also only pitched three times above Double-A, meaning he'll likely need some seasoning before getting a look with the big club. The hitter-friendly confines of the PCL might only serve to stunt Castro's progress further.
5. Michael Taylor, OF, OAK - How the mighty have fallen. Once a top-notch prospect in the Phillies organization, Taylor had a difficult 2010 campaign, hitting .272/.348/.392 with six home runs, 78 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He struck out 92 times in 127 games, easily surpassing his previous high of 70. The most alarming concern for Taylor was the complete and utter lack of power from the 6-5, 255, outfielder. Never a monster home-run hitter, he had at least 19 dingers in each of the two prior seasons to 2010. He fanned 11 times in 40 at-bats during spring training and now is battling a wrist injury. As such, it appears that Taylor is far from a return to prominence.
6. Caleb Gindl, OF, MIL - Gindl will miss at least a month with a strained oblique muscle. However, injuries aside, Gindl may not possess the overall package to be a starting outfielder in the majors. Gindl has average to above-average tools, but no part of his game jumps out. He hit just nine home runs at Double-A last season, driving in 60 runs in 128 games. As a corner outfielder, these types of numbers will not get the job done. He also only stole 10 bases as well last season, meaning he is nowhere close to a speedster in the Brett Gardner mold, which would excuse his low power totals. Although he shows nice discipline at the dish, he hasn't hit higher than .277 the last two seasons. It remains to be seen if he can be any more than a utility outfielder, even at just 22.