If you click over to the “Ky. in the Minors” page you can see an in-depth list of every minor league player with Kentucky ties. As always, if you know of a player who is not on the list you can send me an email at email@example.com. So you have a list of every Kentucky player in the minors, but which of those players have the best chance to become impact major leaguers? My goal in this series of posts is to let you know which minor leaguers from Kentucky are top prospects. I’ll start by examining where these players and the members of the state’s three minor league teams rank on their Baseball America’s organization top 30s and will work toward a master list of Kentucky prospects.
In the first installment of the “BluGrass Baseball Top Prospects” post, here are the top organizational prospects on the state’s three minor league teams according to Baseball America.
Bowling Green Hot Rods
- #2 — SS Tim Beckham — Beckham ranked only behind Tampa Bay pitcher David Price on the Baseball America top 30 prospects list for the Rays. Since Price is currently pitching for the Rays his prospect status will soon be exhausted, and Beckham should move up to the number one spot. Beckham, the number one pick in the 2008 draft, is from Griffin, Ga., and has all the tools to become an all-star shortstop. In Baseball America’s mid-season prospect report for Tampa Bay, the publication listed Tim Beckham as the player who took the “biggest leap forward.”
- #6 — LHP Matt Moore — According to Baseball America, Moore’s only weakness entering 2008 was his control which he dramatically improved on during his time with rookie Princeton. After posting a 2-2 record with a 1.66 ERA in 2008, BA said that Moore only needed to prove himself against tougher competition. Moore, a 2007 8th round pick, hasn’t disappointed this season in Bowling Green. The lefty is 6-3 with a 2.87 ERA with 116 strikeouts and 45 walks in 81.2 innings.
- # 18 — C Jake Jeffries — Jeffries was the Rays third round pick in 2008 out of UC Davis. In his first professional season he batted .315 with two home runs and 41 RBI for short season Hudson Valley. Jeffries has continued to hit for Bowling Green this season. He is currently hitting .270 with six home runs and 43 RBI in 77 games. He has shown and exceptional eye at the plate with 28 walks and 25 strikeouts in 281 at-bats.
- #27 — OF Kyeong Kang — Kang was the first South Korean to be selected in the MLB amateur players draft. He moved to the United States with his family in high school and was selected by the Rays in the 15th round of the 2006 draft. Kang was named a mid-season all-star in the New York-Penn League in 2008 and finished the year with a .278 average, six home runs and 43 RBI. Kang was selected to represent the Rays for the World team in the 2009 Futures Game. Through 48 games for Bowling Green, Kang is batting .285 with two home runs and 22 RBI.
Hit the jump for the top prospects on the Lexington Legends and Louisville Bats.
- #3 — RHP Ross Seaton — Seaton was the Astros’ third-supplemental round pick in the 2008 draft. He touched 96 mph in his senior season of high school, but signability issues caused him to fall to the Astros in the third round. Seaton waited until late July to sign and therefore only made three starts in 2008. The fireballer controls three pitches and his fastball sits at 90-94 mph. In 16 starts for Lexington this season, Seaton is 6-8 with a 2.57 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 94.2 innings. According to BA, Seaton projects as a number two starter at the major league level and could develop into a top of the rotation fixture.
- #6 — RHP Jordan Lyles — Lyles is an excellent example of a player who somehow slips through the pre-draft evaluation process. He was considered a strong commitment to South Carolina and therefore was ignored by many scouts, causing him not to even be included in the top 200 2008 draft prospects by Baseball America. The Astros surprised everyone by taking him in the first-supplemental round, but Lyles has done nothing but impress since signing a professional contract. He opened 2008 with 68 strikeouts in just over 55 innings, and has continued his dominance in 2009 by leading the South Atlantic League in strikeouts for most of the season. Lyles is 5-7 with a 2.92 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 95 and two-thirds innings pitched in 2009. Jim Callis of Baseball America recently wrote that Lyles had passed Seaton as a prospect, and my bet is he would rank just behind Jason Castro as the second best prospect in the Astros’ system today.
- #10 — OF Jay Austin — Austin struggled in his first season as an Astro, batting only .198 as one of the youngest players in the rookie Appalachian League in 2008. He was the Astros’ second round pick in 2008 and projects as a top of the lineup batter as a major leaguer. One scout compared him to Michael Bourn, only not as fast but with a better bat. Austin has shown improvement in 2009 at Lexington. In 70 games he has batted .278 with one home run and 22 RBI. He has 18 steals, but needs to improve his accuracy as he has also been caught stealing 12 times.
- #14 — LHP Brad DyDalewicz — The man with the best name on the 2009 Legends’ roster checks in at 14 on BA’s top Astros prospect list. DyDalewicz was the Astros’ eighth round pick in 2008 out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Tex. He only appeared in four games for rookie Greeneville in 2008 after signing with the Astros, but has excelled in 2009 at Lexington. The left-handed pitcher is 5-3 with a 3.24 ERA in 12 starts with 38 strikeouts in 58 and one-third innings pitched. DyDalewicz, Seaton and Lyles are each performing well in the South Atlantic League as teenagers and have a chance to move up the Astros’ farm system together.
- #17 — LHP David Duncan — The 2009 season couldn’t have started much worse for Duncan. After he posted a 3-4 record with a 4.88 ERA for short-season Tri-City in 2008 during his first professional season, the Astros started Duncan at high A Lancaster this season. Duncan was clearly overmatched by the more advanced hitters as he struggled to the tune of an 0-9 record with and 8.51 ERA in 11 games. Houston sent him back to Tri-City where he pitched well in three starts before being promoted to Lexington. In his first start for the Legends on July 9, he earned the win after allowing five runs in five innings.
- #20 — C Frederico Hernandez — The Astros signed Hernandez as an international free agent in 2006 out of Venezuela. Hernandez excelled at rookie Greeneville in 2008 by batting .298 in 36 games with three home runs and 17 RBI. Hernandez hit lefties at a .440 clip in his first season in the states. The 2009 season hasn’t been as kind to Hernandez as he is currently batting .227 with five home runs and 26 RBI in 69 games for Lexington. Hernandez’s future with the Astros seems to be destined to backing up Jason Castro at the major league level if he makes it, so his best bet might be a trade in the future if he can prove his worth at higher levels.
- #27 — 1B Phil Disher — Disher might represent the 2008 Lexington Legends’ season better than any player and you won’t find his name anywhere on that team’s roster. The 2008 Legends under-performed their way to the worst record in the minor leagues while Disher annihilated short-season pitching without a call-up. While Disher continued to prove he was too advanced for the New York-Penn League the Astros played it conservative and left him there while Lexington ran out a lame-duck season. Disher batted .304 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI for Tri-City in 2008 while being named a mid-season all-star and a Baseball America short-season all-star. Disher did find his way to Lexington in 2009 where he is batting only .156 with four home runs and 17 RBI in 39 games. He is currently on the seven-day disabled list with a hip/labrum issue.
- #3 — OF Drew Stubbs — Stubbs rocketed up the minor leagues in 2008. He began the season at high A Sarasota and ended it in AAA Louisville. He hit .277 with seven home runs with 57 RBI between three levels, but batted .293 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 19 games for Louisville. BA projected he might fill the Reds’ center-field vacancy in the second half of the 2009 season after gaining some more experience at Louisville, and that may be how things work out for the Reds and Stubbs out of necessity more than performance. With Jay Bruce out for an extended period with a broken wrist, Stubbs is the leading candidate to be promoted to fill his spot after the all-star break. The Reds have Stubbs penciled in along Bruce in their outfield of the future when he stays in the majors for good.
- #4 — SS Chris Valaika — 2009 hasn’t been kind to Valaika as he was recently named the most disappointing Reds prospect during the first half of the season. Valaikia has batted .231 with four home runs an 20 RBI for Louisville this season. He made matters worse by breaking his hand when he punch a water cooler, forcing him to the disabled list for six weeks. Before the season BA trumpeted Valaikia as a player whose work ethic would make up for his lack of tools. The magazine projected that Valaikia might challenge for the Reds’ shortstop job by the end of the season, but he’ll have to step up his performance to follow through on that projection.
- # 11 — RHP Daryl Thompson — Thompson also has disappointed in 2009 with a 1-2 record and a 6.59 ERA in eight games. To add to his bad luck he is currently on the 7-day disabled list. Thompson was acquired by the Reds from the Nationals in the trade that sent Lexington native Austin Kearns to Washington. In 2008 Thompson was 8-4 with a 2.70 ERA across four levels of the minor leagues and earned a brief callup to Cincinnati. He was the organization’s pitcher of the year in 2008, but Thompson was 0-2 in three starts for the Reds. He entered 2009 with a chance to crack the Cinci rotation.
- # 15 — RHP Zach Stewart — Stewart is competing with Chris Heisey for fasting rising prospect in the Reds’ system this season. He began the year at high A Sarasota and made 14 starts between Sarasota and AA Carolina. He made his first appearance out of the Louisville bullpen on June 25. Stewart is 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA on the season with 71 strikeouts in 84 and two-thirds innings. Zach is a 2008-draft pick and has already reached AAA. He might move even quicker now that he’s working as a reliever and a September call-up isn’t out of the question.
- # 18 — LHP Matt Maloney — Maloney currently ranks third in the International League in ERA (2.39) and first in complete games (3). He already made an appearance in Cincinnati, going 0-2 in three starts. He ranked second among Reds’ farmhands in strikeouts (141) and wins (12) in 2008. He was named the International League pitcher of the week on May 18, 2009, and held that honor once in 2007. Maloney should serve and Cincinnati’s sixth or seventh starter for the rest of the season, and will garner a call-up in September at the least.
- #22 — OF Chris Heisey — No player in the minor leagues has improved his stock more than Chris Heisey this season, so he is most certainly the most improved prospect in the Bluegrass. Heisey was ranked the 22nd best prospect in the Reds’ system be BA before the season. The magazine said that Heisey didn’t have a standout tool but impressed you more the more you watched him. He has performed at every level, but will always be sold a little short based on his lack of a standout tool. He was overlooked at least until this season. After batting .350 with 16 home runs and 53 RBI between AA Carolina and AAA Louisville, Heisey has seen the awards and accolades flow in this season. He has been named player of the week in both the Southern League and International League this season, was named to the Futures Game and was selected by BA as a mid-season minor league all-star and mid-season all-surprise team member. The Reds might consider calling Heisey up to the majors to replace injured Jay Bruce in the second half.
- #23 — OF Daniel Dorn — Dorn was the Reds 32nd round pick in the 2006 draft out of Cal State Fulerton. The outfielder showed impressive power in 2008, slugging 22 home runs between high A Sarasota and AA Chatanooga. He earned Southern League player of the week honors once in 2008 and hit the second most home runs in the Reds’ organization. Dorn is batting .250 with 11 home runs and 29 RBI through 75 games for Louisville this season.
- #25 — LHP Pedro Viola — Louisville closer Pedro Viola currently has seven saves for the Bats and has struck out 39 in 35 and one-third innings pitched. Viola’s future in the majors is as a lefty set-up man as he has held left-handed batters to a .145 batting average. Viola moved to the starting rotation for his final six games for AA Carolina in 2008, but has appeared only as a reliever for Louisville and appears destined to fulfill that role as a major leaguer. Viola will have shave his 4.84 ERA to make it as a reliever.
- #28 — C Craig Tatum — Tatum was ranked the best defensive catcher in the organization by BA in 2008. Tatum committed seven errors in in 96 games between AA Chattanooga and AAA Louisville in 2008 and was charged with four passed balls. He also threw out 39 percent of basestealers last season. Tatum’s celling appears to be as a backup catcher because his bat hasn’t caught up to his defensive ability. In 2009 Tatum is batting .237 through 61 games.