Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
All grades are EXTREMELY PRELIMINARY and subject to change. Don't get too concerned about exact rankings at this point, especially once you get past the Top 10. Grade C+/C guys are pretty interchangeable depending on what you want to emphasize.
Feel free to critique the list, but use logic and reason rather than polemics to do to. The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2011 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
Philadelphia Phillies Top 20 Prospects for 2011
1) Domonic Brown, OF, Grade A: He may have some adjustment pains, but I believe in him. He's come a long way from being unable to hit rookie ball pitching.
2) Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Grade B+: Concern over poor second half splits kept me from going with the A-, but I do like him a lot. Can he adjust to the outfield? How will bat play in Florida State League?
3) Brody Colvin, RHP, Grade B+: Best of the hard-throwing high school pitcher cadre the Phillies have gathered recently.
4) Jarred Cosart, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B+, would get the higher grade but I'm concerned about his durability given elbow soreness.
5) Trevor May, RHP, Grade B: Like Cosart, I considered higher grade due to his incredible dominance potential, but in his case command issues cost him a notch.
6) Jesse Biddle, LHP, Grade B: One of my favorite players from the '10 draft class, power-armed lefty and a local talent to boot.
7) Sebastian Valle, C, Grade C+: He has intriguing defense and power combination, but strike zone judgment needs a lot of work.
8) Domingo Santana, OF, Grade C+: Very, very young for his levels last year. Quite toolsy, will need more development time.
9) Vance Worley, RHP, Grade C+: Should be a competent fourth starter. Doesn't have the ceiling of some of the guys below, but a much safer bet to make it.
10) Julio Rodriguez, RHP, Grade C+: Sleeper prospect, great numbers and late season scouting reports indicate velocity increase.
11) Cesar Hernandez, 2B, Grade C+: Excellent speed and defense in the difficult-to-hit-in New York-Penn League. I think he is overlooked.
12) Justin De Fratus, RHP, Grade C+: At worst a very good reliever, and I think there is a chance he could close eventually.
13) Josh Zeid, RHP, Grade C+: Was a bit old for the Sally League, but numbers are excellent, scouting reports are good, and he pitched well in Arizona Fall League. I think he is underrated by other sources.
14) J.C. Ramirez, RHP, Grade C+: Great arm, still working on learning how to pitch.
15) Perci Garner, RHP, Grade C+: Raw for a college pitcher, but I like his ceiling.
16) Austin Hyatt, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C, Changeup artist could be fifth starter or useful bullpen asset within the next year.
17) Jiwan James, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+, Yes, Yes, I know all about his tools, and I actually like him. But he didn't make much progress turning those tools into skills in 2010. On upside-only he would rank in the top ten, but I don't grade just on upside. Performance counts too.
18) Aaron Altherr, OF, Grade C: Borderline C+, Like James, he's got excellent tools, and like James he would in the top ten on tools alone. But my ratings are a combination of tools and skills, and his skills are still quite raw.
19) Leandro Castro, OF, Grade C: See James and Altherr.
20) Matt Rizzotti, 1B, Grade C: Flipside of the last three prospects. Rizzotti can hit, but is limited defensively and blocked in Philadelphia.
OTHERS OF NOTE: Phillippe Aumont, RHP; Drew Carpenter, RHP; Zach Collier, OF; Kelly Dugan, OF; Gauntlett Eldemire, OF; Freddy Galvis, SS; Harold Garcia, 2B; Tyson Gillies, OF; Mario Hollands, LHP; Bryan Morgado, LHP; Jonathan Musser, RHP; Jon Pettibone, RHP; Brian Pointer, OF; Cameron Rupp, C; Michael Schwimer, RHP; Kevin Walter, RHP; Matt Way, LHP.
I expect the first six or seven slots here won't be controversial at all. There is broad industry consensus on the top levels of the Phillies system. Brown is outstanding and the perfect model of how the Phillies want their tools guys to develop. Singleton was great this year, then you have the group of impressive young pitching prospects. I think Colvin is the best of the group, but all of them have the talent to rank number one on this list a year from now.
Then it gets weird. The Phillies have a large mass of raw tools guys: James, Santana, Altherr, Castro, plus Collier, Dugan, Eldemire, and Pointer. They have unrefined power arms like Ramirez and Garner. They also have several polished pitchers with excellent performance records but less praise from scouts, but who could help in the majors sooner than the raw tools guys. On tools and upside alone, the athletes would rank ahead of the skill players. But history shows that most of the raw tools guys are going to fail, or at least not live up to their potential. Domonic Brown is the exception, not the rule. I don't grade on just upside; my philosophy is that I look at both tools and skills, future potential and current performance. Sometimes my opinion will come down on one side of that divide, sometimes another.
The whole point of baseball prospecting is to make your own judgments and not just regurgitate the rankings of other people, experts or not. It helps to remember that none of us have a perfect window into the future; the cloud of unknowing descends on us all. Doing this for 15 years has taught me a lot of humility. This is part of the reason I always go back and look at my old lists at mid-season, to see where I was right, where I was wrong, and why.
Sometimes my approach works, sometimes it doesn't, but the biggest problems I've run into have occurred when I let someone else's opinion override my own judgment.
Also remember the disclaimer in the first paragraph: Grade C+/C guys are pretty interchangeable depending on what you want to emphasize. If you want to emphasize something else on your own list, by all means do so. Also keep in mind that all of the grades are shorthand for my opinion about a player. The full opinion is in the book.