Justin Upton and the Baby Backs have been the surprise story of the 2011 campaign. Former Yankees farmhand Ian Kennedy has been lights out for Arizona, throwing his hat into the Cy Young ring. Daniel Hudson and Josh Collmenter have been young stalwarts in the Arizona rotation as well. Meanwhile, the D-Backs have installed power phenom Paul Goldschmidt at first base and even given Collin Cowgill some time in the outfield. Let's not forget that Arizona's core "veterans" in Chris Young and Miguel Montero are 27 and 28, respectively. All of these young studs have led Arizona to a surprising lead in the NL West.
Add Trevor Bauer into the mix. The No. 3 overall selection in the 2011 draft is already at Double-A Mobile. In his first start Sunday, he scattered five hits over five shutout innings for the BayBears. The 20-year-old righty walked one while striking out eight. With Jason Marquis done for the season with a broken leg, Arizona could call on Bauer by Sept. 1 to give it a boost in its quest to snatch the NL West title away from the defending champion Giants, as well as make him eligible for the playoff roster.
1. Jake Marisnick, OF, TOR - The term "five-tool prospect" gets overused, but Marisnick certainly fits the bill for the Jays. The 20-year-old outfielder is batting .321/.394/.499 with 12 home runs, 71 RBI and 31 steals through 98 games for Low-A Lansing. Marisnick has been even better over his last 10 games, slashing .415/.489/.683 with two home runs, seven RBI and five steals. An athletic fielder with a standout arm, Marisnick has the chance to excel. We'll temper our expectations before seeing him at the higher levels, but based on projections, Marisnick has the chance to be a shining star for Toronto.
2. Brett Jackson, OF, CHC - Jackson is mighty close to a promotion to the big club. Over his last 10 games, the 23-year-old outfielder is batting .390/.457/.756 with four home runs, nine RBI and one stolen base. In 29 games since being promoted to Triple-A Iowa, Jackson is hitting a crisp .303/.394/.606 with eight home runs, 17 RBI and four stolen bases. With the Cubbies fading fast in the NL Central, Jackson should get a long look in September, with the chance to start in 2011 for Chicago.
3. Trevor May, P, PHI - Other than Tampa Bay uber-prospect Matt Moore, there might not be a better strikeout pitcher in the minors than May. In 131.1 innings for High-A Clearwater, May has fanned 178 batters. In addition, he has held opposing hitters to a .214 BAA. Over his last 10 starts, May has been pristine; the 21-year-old righty has posted a 2.83 ERA and 90:21 K:BB ratio in 60.1 innings. If May can continue to limit the walks (he has 56 overall in 2011), he should be among the elite pitching phenoms in the game entering 2012.
4. Eric Surkamp, P, SF - Another hurler with massive strikeout potential, Surkamp has a 156:40 K:BB ratio through 128.1 innings for Double-A Richmond. The 24-year-old lefty has an impressive 2.03 ERA, and opposing batters are hitting a paltry .217 against him. With Zack Wheeler heading to the Mets in the Carlos Beltran deal, Surkamp is arguably the No. 1 pitching prospect in the San Francisco organization. In addition, the Giants have been anything but shy in promoting their stud prospects; as such, Surkamp has a shot at the Giant rotation as early as next season.
5. Randall Delgado, P, ATL - Delgado hit the big leagues before Triple-A, but his first two starts for Triple-A Gwinnett were impeccable. After struggling in a spot start for the Bravos earlier this season, Delgado was sent back down to Double-A to continue his development. The 21-year-old pitched his way to Triple-A in August and has not allowed a run in his first 13.0 innings in Gwinnett. Delgado has scattered six hits over that span, posting a 15:5 K:BB ratio and 2.14 GO:AO ratio. Opposing batters are hitting a putrid .140 against him thus far. Though the Braves are stacked at both Triple-A and the big-league level with arms, Delgado remains a superior prospect for Atlanta. In fact, he'll get another shot at the bigs in replacing the injured Tommy Hanson in the Atlanta rotation.
6. Greg Billo, P, KC - Billo has gotten little love this season despite a 1.40 ERA at Low-A Kane County. The 21-year-old righty has a 105:22 K:BB ratio through 115.1 innings for the Cougars. He has posted a 1.26 GO:AO ratio, and has held opposing batters to a .209 BAA. Though he's not overpowering, Billo has shown excellent control with the ability to induce groundballs when necessary. A 28th-round selection in the 2008 draft, Billo earns kudos for a standout 2011 campaign, which should gain him some notoriety heading into the offseason, at least among Royals fans. He has been brought along slowly thus far, so it will be interesting to see how the Royals choose to move him along heading into 2012.
1. Starling Marte, OF, PIT
2. James Paxton, P, SEA
3. Miguel De Los Santos, P, TEX
4. Drew Hutchison, P, TOR
5. Reese Havens, 2B, NYM
1. Liam Hendriks, P, MIN - 2011 has been largely a season to forget for the Twins. At the big-league level, the team has struggled to stay healthy and likely will miss the postseason for the first time since 2008. In the minors, top prospect Kyle Gibson has a partial tear of his UCL in his right elbow along with a muscle strain. Though he is not scheduled for Tommy John surgery at this time, the procedure has not been ruled out should Gibson's elbow not respond to conservative treatment. Throw the 22-year-old Hendriks into the conversation, as he has been blown up in his last two starts for Triple-A Rochester. Hendriks has allowed 14 runs in his last five innings pitched, allowing 15 hits over that span. With Gibson hurt, Hendriks is arguably the best healthy pitching prospect for the Twins, but he'll obviously have to do better than this.
2. J.C. Ramirez, P, PHI - The Phils felt it was worth the gamble to include their best pitching prospect, Jarred Cosart, in the Hunter Pence deal. Not only because of their other-worldy rotation featuring Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt, but also because of the rest of the pitching coming through their pipeline. Ramirez was part of this thought process, as he had been having a breakout season until a few starts ago. Over his past four starts for Double-A Reading, the 23-year-old has given up 20 runs. Over that timeframe, a span of 19.0 innings, Ramirez has fanned 18 batters, but also issued 11 free passes. Walks have continually been a bugaboo for Ramirez, who has walked 45 batters in 122.0 innings en route to a 4.72 ERA. Though the Phils still have the above-referenced Trevor May as well as Brody Colvin, perhaps they counted their chickens a bit too soon regarding Ramirez.
3. Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA - It's been a rollercoaster year for Dominguez, who started spring training as the frontrunner for the Marlins' starting third base job. Now, it's possible he won't even make it to the big leagues this season, as Dominguez was placed on the DL with a hamstring strain. He missed about six weeks earlier this season with a broken left elbow. The 21-year-old hasn't exactly been scalding the ball with Triple-A New Orleans either, hitting .260/.317/.439 with 11 home runs and 53 RBI in 77 games for the Zephyrs. With the Fish headed nowhere in 2011, the Marlins could choose to play it safe with Dominguez, leaving him to heal in September and give making the MLB roster another try in 2012.
4. Tyler Moore, 1B, WAS - A power prospect, Moore has been cold lately, batting just .158/.171/.181 with nine strikeouts over his last 10 games for Double-A Harrisburg. The 24-year-old has not shown the greatest plate discipline this season, fanning 117 times in 117 games while amassing a mere .304 OBP. Though he has 25 home runs and 76 RBI, he is blocked by Mike Morse at the big-league level, and even perhaps Chris Marrero in Triple-A. With a .268 batting average overall to boot, Moore may have issues cutting it in the majors due to his lack of patience at the dish.
5. Yasmani Grandal, C, CIN - A temporary Downgrade for Grandal, who is on the disabled list with a concussion after taking a foul tip off the mask for Double-A Carolina. Likewise, the Reds seem to be falling in love with Devin Mesoraco all over again, as Mesoraco is batting .292/.371/.486 with 13 home runs and 62 RBI for Triple-A Louisville. Though Grandal probably has more upside, Mesoraco will likely hit the bigs first. With the Reds already having position problems with Yonder Alonso, another blocked path to the majors could similarly delay Grandal's debut, or even make him trade bait. Before going on the DL, Grandal was hitting .283/.333/.487 with four home runs and 19 RBI through 32 games with the Mudcats.
6. Mike Montgomery, P, KC - The Triple-A swoon has continued for Montgomery, who was tagged for five runs on eight hits in six innings in his last start for Omaha. Monty surrendered two home runs to bring his total to 14 allowed through 125.1 innings this season for the Storm Chasers. The 22-year-old lefty continues to walk too many batters, issuing 13 free passes over his last five starts. With an overall ERA of 5.31, along with 62 walks compared to 104 strikeouts, Montgomery should remain in Triple-A for the time being to work out the kinks.
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