It's that time of year once again to start counting down our top 15 hitting prospects. The order has been determined roughly by the way our combined top 30s stacked up, although there have been some (mostly minor) tweaks. As I stress every year, the rankings aren't what's truly important here. Here's the focal point: To learn more about the prospect and stimulate discussion of him. What his ceiling is, when he'll get to the majors, what his tools are, etc. That's more important than just looking at the list and saying, "oh, well you think Luke Bailey is a better prospect than Ryan Brett because you ranked him one spot higher." The actual rankings are more of an outline than anything else.
Before we get to the actual top 15, though, we start with the Honorable Mentions:
Matt Sweeney, 1B/3B: I don't know whether Matt Sweeney or Keith Law had the tougher year here. In his pre-season ranking of the top 100 prospects, Law ranked Sweeney at #68, one spot ahead of Royals 3B Mike Moustakas, who only smashed 36 home runs on his way to a .999 OPS in the Royals system in 2010. While Law was the most optimistic, he was far from Sweeney's only fan. We ranked him #6 on our top 15 hitters list season, noting his potential plus power and relatively solid contact rate for a corner position player. Injuries and defensive questions plagued him, but the bat looked legit and he was a pick to be a breakout candidate and possibly the Rays' starting 1B as soon as 2011.
The breakout never materialized. First, he was somewhat surprisingly assigned to the Florida State League despite previous success in high-A in the Angels system. He got off to a hot start, but had already started to cool off before a promotion to Montgomery totally iced his bat. His batting averaged dipped below .200 with the Biscuits, while he managed only 9 extra-base hits in 46 games. The injury bug bit again, cutting his season short in mid-July. Now in addition to needing to prove he can stay healthy and find a position (he's probably not a 3B long-term), he'll have to show he can hit. Sweeney will get a second tour of duty with the Biscuits in 2011.
Yoel Araujo, OF: Araujo received the largest bonus for an international signee, inking a reported $800,000 contract our of the Dominican Republic in July. Araujo was slated to play in the fall instructional league with an eye toward debuting in the Dominican Summer League in 2011 before coming stateside in 2012. Araujo is athletic and has a chance to stick in center field, though he may ultimately be pushed to left if his arm strength doesn't improve. Araujo has a good plate approach and a nice eye for his age, though his raw mechanics draw mixed reviews. He has a projectable body, and could hit for both average and power down the line. He's as far away as prospects get, but could garner serious consideration for the list with a strong performance overseas (a la Hector Guevara in 2009) or even perhaps an appearance in the Gulf Coast League.
Henry Wrigley, 3B: Okay. I'm going to try to present this as objectively as possible. Here's what Wrigley has going for him: He hit for nice power in 2010, knocking 21 home runs between Charlotte and Montgomery. At 6'3" and 180, he has the type of body to be a power hitter. He's not a plus defender but he's certainly capable at 3B.
And here's what I think he has going against him: He was a 14th round pick. He was 23 years old in the FSL, and his numbers fell off in Montgomery and the Arizona Fall League. His approach isn't terrible but isn't great, and it was exploited in Arizona where he hit .183 with 3 walks and 24 strikeouts. He also doesn't have much of a history of hitting, as 2010 was his first season (out of five) with an OPS over .676. Wrigley's performance in Charlotte was nice, but I'm not sold on him as a legit prospect until he can repeat it.
Leslie Anderson, 1B/OF: I'm listing him here since I don't consider him a prospect (Aki Iwamura was younger when he debuted in 2007 than Anderson is if he debuts in 2011), but he has a very good chance of making an impact at the major-league level, so he deserves some recognition. The Cuban is far from your typical 1st baseman, hitting for only average-at-best power. He makes up for it with plus athleticism for a corner guy (he's able to play an average outfield spot) and a contact-oriented approach. Between three levels in the minors, Anderson put up a .302/.359/.442 line with only 54 strikeouts in 99 games. I don't see him as a long-term answer at 1B, but Anderson could have an opportunity to earn big-league at bats in the Spring.