10. Greg Veloz – The second baseman took big strides with his stick in 2008 as he showed a more refined up the middle approach and the discipline to hit the other way. He shortened up his stroke and has the bat speed to put balls in play at a good clip with added pop that he previously lacked. Strikeouts are still a pain point for Veloz as he struck out nearly 20 percent of time he stepped to the plate, but his eye is developing enough that he projects as an average big league hitter who adds another dimension with his speed.
9. Kirk Nieuwenhuis – Nieuwenhuis soundly transitioned to professional ball as he hit .277 with Brooklyn last summer, demonstrating a smooth swing with gap and extra-base power. Despite striking out 70 times in 285 at-bats, he is very patient at the plate, knows how to work deep into counts and then put balls in play. His swing and plate coverage should allow to him for average as he works his way up and hit enough to warrant becoming a reliable fourth outfield option at the big league level.
8. Matt Bouchard – Bouchard still needs to tighten up his swing a bit, but his stance, balance and up the middle approach give him the ability to make contact and crisp line drives to both power alleys. Leg and abdomen injuries have so far prevented much of his offensive skills from coming to fruition, but there is support within the organization to keep Bouchard moving up the ladder and put him in a position to succeed. To date, health—or lack thereof—has been the only deterrent to his advancement. A full season of at-bats will offer a much clearer projection of how Bouchard will be utilized over the long term.
7. Shawn Bowman – Bowman just skirted into the list of power hitters, but the crux of his offense relies on his very strong contact skills. His strikeouts to walk ratio was very poor in 2008 as he attacked the zone with determination to compensate for lost time, but Bowman has strike zone intelligence and the ability to hit all pitches. The way the ball jumps off his bat and the consistency with which he can hit to all fields has made believers out of scouts since the early days of his career. Now it is a matter of Bowman showing it in his expected return to Double-A.
6. Josh Thole – Thole's bat finally awoke last season after many seasons of little production, raising his stock in the process. He has shown the discipline to not expand his strike zone throughout his career, but 2008 was the first time he hit his way on base with complimentary power. He does not just run into opposite field hits as he owns a natural up the middle to left-center swing and the ability to drive breaking balls by staying back on them. Thole's emergence has led to a non-roster invite to Spring Training, but there are still wavering beliefs about his ability to hit consistently at the big league level. He will need to show he can keep the momentum going during a pivotal season with Binghamton in 2009.
5. Lucas Duda -- The big first baseman's combination of power and patience will keep him a formidable first base option. Strikeouts and left-handed pitching are the two biggest hurdles left as he moves up to Double-A. He fanned 129 times in 133 games last season and hit .187 [28-for-150] against southpaws, but otherwise boasts very good gap power and the ability to go the other way. His 66 walks led the Florida State League and are an example of his excellent patience and unwillingness to expand his strike zone. A solid improvement against left-handed pitching should get Duda's batting average back closer to .300.
4. Zach Lutz – To the organization's dismay, injuries have prevented Lutz from racking up enough at-bats to advance beyond the New York-Penn League. In his very small samples, Lutz has shown gap power and a consistent opposite field stroke that allow him to hit pitchers from both sides with proficiency. It his Lutz' skills with the bat that should carry him to the big leagues, but first he must land on a long-season roster and show the same patience and effectiveness that he has so far. Seventy-four at-bats over two seasons does not offer much to feel confident about, but scouts like his approach and his knowledge of hitting.
3. Wilmer Flores – Flores tore through the Appalachian League with prodigious power and the tools to project as a consistent on-base threat. The biggest question about Flores' hitting at the highest level is whether or not his emerging power will cap his batting average at a lower than expected number. Flores still has many challenges to face during his time in the system, but his bat will carry him a long way.
2. Reese Havens – Havens lost the opportunity to show off his smooth swing—arguably the best swing in the entire system—as his rookie season was diced up injuries, but scouts believe it will be his bat that will carry him to the big leagues. His weight transfer, bat speed and finish are near flawless. The uncertainty of Havens' game resides almost entirely on the defensive side of the field, but while he tackles those issues, Havens could rise up the rankings and depth chart thanks to his bat.
1. Fernando Martinez – The quality of Martinez' swing and approach finally shined during the last two months of the 2008 season and observers finally got a glimpse of his special, advanced skills with the bat. He has remarkable strength in his lower half, the hand and arm strength to make driving the ball look like easy, and the balance to drive the ball from line to line. Timing in his swing and injuries threw wrenches in his productivity, but Fernando's picturesque swing and plate coverage make him the most capable and valuable hitter in the system.
Top Ten Hitters for Average
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