CBSSports.com's Top 100 prospect list is out, casting light on players that will eventually become household names. But until that happens, these prospects need to tap into their potential and prove they can hack it at the big league level.
Below is a list of top prospects that could make an impact on the majors in 2011. Before getting into the list, "impact" is defined as those who are projected to break camp with the team and play an important role with the club. Others, such as Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Brandon Belt, all will have an impact once the hit the majors -- but that's likely to come in the summer months, and are listed at the end of the article.
No. 3. Domonic Brown, PHI
Age (all ages as of April 1, 2011): 23
Brown is battling for the starting right field job and although Ben Francisco is proving to be a stiffer challenger than thought, Brown will still get ample opportunites in the majors. There's some thought he could return to Triple-A, but he has nothing left to prove at that level and progression will only come with playing time in the bigs. Philly may have to swallow hard and deal with the growing pains, but the payoff will eventually be huge.
No. 6. Jeremy Hellickson, TB
Hellickson could step in and replace Matt Garza without batting an eye, as the youngster is fully prepared to pitch in the cauldron that is the AL East. Hellickson will turn 24 on April 8, but already has 36 1/3 innings of major league experience under his belt. He walked just eight (plus two intentional) plus whiffing 33, which is an impressive debut but only underscores just how ready he is for prime time.
No. 9. Aroldis Chapman, CIN
Chapman won't be closing in Cincinnati, but will put pressure on Francisco Cordero as the setup man. We all saw what Chapman could do last season and he should continue to baffle hitters. The Reds considered making him a starter but opted to keep him in the bullpen which may unfortunately preclude a move to the rotation. It is difficult for teams justify moving young players that succeed in the 'pen back to the rotation.
No. 16. Kyle Drabek, TOR
Of all the names on this list, Drabek has the most tenuous hold on a roster spot but the team seems excited about his potential and wouldn't rule out a run at 200 innings. He shouldn't have too much trouble cracking the rotation and even if he starts in Triple-A, it won't be for long. One can't project Drabek to replace the man he was traded for (Roy Halladay), but he should eventually anchor the rotation.
No. 19. Freddie Freeman, ATL
As mentioned in the Top 100 list, Freeman lacks the ceiling of other first baseman such as No. 18's Brandon Belt, but is ready for the majors now and is locked in at first base. He figures to have a couple All-Star appearances in his future but not much beyond that. He should settle in as a valuable first baseman over his first six years, largely thanks to being under team control.
No. 29. Mike Minor, ATL
Minor doesn't have the ceiling of other top pitching prospects (similar to Freeman and first base), but he's also ready for the majors and was noticeably effective in the majors last season before he tired and lost velocity at the end of the season. If Minor can withstand the rigors of a full 162-game season, he should be an excellent No. 4-5 starter for the Braves, with the potential of more.
No. 33. Chris Sale, CHW
Sale is similar to Chapman in that he could start, but the White Sox have opted to keep Sale in the bullpen. He could vulture a few saves, but Matt Thornton is still expected to be the closer. That opens the door for Sale to play an important role in the late innings. He may be asked to switch to the rotation for 2012.
No. 66. Matt Dominguez, FLA
Dominguez can't quite hit, but boy, he can sure pick it. Already compared to Mike Lowell at the tender age of 21, Dominguez is expected to open the year at third for the Marlins. It appears Florida understands Dominguez will be a non-factor on offense and is willing to take that risk. But why start the service clock of an impact player when he could use more seasoning? Dominguez will never be a great hitter, but an extra year in the minors could go a long way. Read more from Scott Miller.
No. 71. J.P. Arencibia, TOR
Arencibia had quite an introduction to Toronto, but quickly faded after inconsistent playing time. Now finally handed to the keys to the starting job, there appears to be no question that Arencibia can hit. Catching, however, is another matter. The Jays have a couple other catchers in the system that could supplant Arencibia before long, which would shift the 25-year-old to first base or DH.
No. 85. Craig Kimbrel, ATL
Kimbrel is the favorite to open the year as closer, although he may share time with Jonny Venters. Kimbrel posted a ridiculous strikeout rate last year and could quickly rise up the ranks of top closers. Carlos Marmol has proven that walking a ton of batters is OK as a closer as long as you strike out players, bit still, Kimbrel could stand to improve in that area.
No. 86. Danny Espinosa, WAS
A converted second baseman, Espinosa will start alongside Ian Desmond for the Nationals. He showed intriguing power in his 112-plate appearance look in 2010, but probably showed more power than he will produce over a longer season. The bright side? His .214 batting average was an anomaly. The jury is still out on just how good he can be at the major-league level and it appears likely he will eventually settle in as the top infield option off the bench, although he'll get every chance to prove he can be more.
No. 95. Jake McGee, TB
McGee has to be considered the odds-on favorite to emerge as long-term closer of Tampa, but will start off setting up whoever wins the gig -- likely Kyle Farnsworth (cringe). McGee has excellent stuff and could have played well in the rotation, but the Rays moved him given his injury and durability issues. He's just as good a bet as Chapman, Sale and Kimbrel on this list to have a nice, long career as closer.
ON THE BUBBLE:
No. 4 Jesus Montero, NYY catcher... No. 8 Dustin Ackley, SEA second baseman... No. 14 Zack Britton, BAL starter... No. 18 Brandon Belt, SF first baseman/left fielder... No. 37 Kyle Gibson, MIN starter... No. 52 Simon Castro, SD starter... No. 57 Yonder Alonso, CIN first baseman/left fielder... No. 74 Chris Carter, OAK first baseman... No. 79 Hank Conger, LAA catcher... No. 82 Zach Stewart, TOR starter... No. 92 Jordan Walden, Angels reliever... No. 96 Brent Morel, CHW third baseman... No. 99 Jeremy Jeffress, KC reliever.