Prospect ranking season is here. Top 10 lists will be arriving shortly and in preparation for that, we present an intro series looking at some of the players who deserve mentioning but probably will not be appearing on their teams’ Top 10 lists. The series is back for a second year.
The Graduate: Mark DiFelice, RHP
I first stumbled upon DiFelice in ’01 while I was researching potential Rule 5 draft picks. He was in double-A and had posted solid statistical numbers, but further research explained why he was not highly regarded by the Rockies organization (i.e. his modest repertoire). I followed DiFelice over the next eight years (wow, I’m getting old) and was extremely happy when he reached the Majors in ’08. I was even happier for him in ’09 when he became a full-time MLB relief pitcher. DiFelice tosses in a variety of pitches from time-to-time, but he’s a right-hander who relies almost exclusively on a low-80s cutter (throwing it about 82% of the time). It will be fun to see how long DiFelice can keep getting MLB batters out with the one pitch.
The Riser: Josh Butler, RHP
A former Tampa Bay prospect, Butler left college with a fair bit of promise but injuries bit into his career. Finally healthy in ’09, the right-hander pitched at five levels and even made three big league appearances. At high-A, Butler pitched 51 innings, allowed 44 hits and posted a walk rate of 4.06 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 5.65 K/9. In double-A, he allowed 37 hits in 41 innings and posted a walk rate of 2.85 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.24 K/9. In 118.1 combined minor league innings, Butler allowed just four homers thanks in part to a 53% ground-ball rate. He throws a fastball that sits around 90 mph, as well as a curveball, change-up and slider.
The Tumbler: Lorenzo Cain, OF
Cain, 23, had made some real progress between 2006-08, but injuries and ineffectiveness in ’09 erased some of that success. The speedy outfielder stole just three bases (in six attempts) and hit .214/.277/.338 in 145 double-A at-bats. Cain, a right-handed hitter, batted just .182 versus southpaws in ’09. He’ll get a do-over in ’10 and he’s still young enough to realize his potential… Cutting down on the strikeouts (24.1%) would help.
The ’10 Sleeper: Logan Schafer, OF
Schafer had a very solid year for the organization in his first full season in the Majors. A good defender, he improved with the bat and hit .313/.369/.446 in 457 high-A at-bats, and he also received a seven-game trial in double-A. The left-handed batter did well against southpaws with a line of .339/.394/.487 on the season. Schafer posted a 0.72 BB/K rate in high-A and showed modest power with an ISO rate of .133. He has some speed but stole just 16 bases in 24 attempts.
Bonus: Efrain Nieves, LHP
Highlighted as a potential breakout candidate for ’09 during the ’08 minor league review, Nieves made some modest improvements. The southpaw posted a 5.70 ERA in low-A ball and allowed 116 hits in 94.2 innings, but his FIP was just 3.71. He showed OK control for his age with a walk rate of 3.33 BB/9, and he also compiled a strikeout rate of 8.18 K/9. Nieves, who turns 20 on Nov. 15, has a lot of work to do still, but his season was not as bad as it looks on the surface.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.