Revisiting the Top 60: 51-55

With the minor league season completed, RC is busy putting together this year's Top 60 prospect list, which should be released in mid-December. First, however, it is useful to take a look back at last year's Top 60 prospects. Who took a step forward? Who took a step back? Who should have been ranked higher? Today we take a look at prospects 51-55 on last year's list.

55. Jamar Walton, OF

2009 Club: Wilmington Blue Rocks

AB: 314
BA: .255
OBP: .317
SLG: .331
HR: 4
2B: 10
3B: 1
BB: 26
SO: 76
SB: 7
CS: 8

After a big second half for the Burlington Bees in 2008, many were expecting something of a breakout year for Walton. Unfortunately, that never quite materialized, and the 23-year-old outfielder made little progress at the plate. Like many young Blue Rock hitters, Walton fell victim to a large home/road split, hitting just .234/.289/.273 at home and .275/.343/.388 away from Frawley Stadium. Walton hit just four home runs (all on the road) and had just 15 extra base hits on the year – numbers that simply won't play for a corner outfielder, Carolina League or not.

Reflection on 2008 Ranking
Walton's been a regular on our list for the last few years, but that run is likely to come to a close. He is still a good player to have in the organization, because a player with his athletic gifts could conceivably break out at any time. However, he just hasn't yet shown enough at the plate to remain on the Top 60. Walton will be 24 next season, and he seems unlikely to move up into a starting role at Double-A.

54. Nick Van Stratten, OF

2009 Club: Burlington Bees, Wilmington Blue Rocks

Stats (combined)
AB: 394
BA: .307
OBP: .385
SLG: .431
HR: 4
2B: 27
3B: 5
BB: 41
SO: 51
SB: 20
CS: 8

It was another excellent offensive season for Van Stratten, who enjoyed his first complete year in full season ball. Indeed, while injuries have always been a problem for the Winnetonka grad, Van Stratten missed significant time just once this year, missing a few weeks in mid-April/early May with an injured thumb. He celebrated his return to the lineup in style, however, as he went 4-for-6 with seven RBIs in his first game off the DL. After hitting .318/.393/.447 in 69 games with the Bees, Van Stratten was promoted to Wilmington in July. He got off to a rough start, hitting just .158 in his first 11 games, but he finished strong while hitting .337 for the Blue Rocks over his last 31 games.

Reflection on 2008 Ranking
Van Stratten is just a good baseball player. His tools don't really jump out at anyone, but he's hit everywhere he's gone. Defensively, he doesn't always run the best routes on routine fly balls, but he's been pretty steady out there, and his hustle allows him to make the occasionally spectacular catch. After proving that he can stay healthy enough to play nearly an entire season, we anticipate Van Stratten will move up considerably on this year's Top 60.

53. Chris McConnell, SS

2009 Club: NW Arkansas Naturals

AB: 194
BA: .219
OBP: .280
SLG: .272
HR: 0
2B: 7
3B: 1
BB: 14
SO: 40
SB: 6
CS: 5

This year was another step back for McConnell, who essentially lost his starting role while continuing to struggle at the plate. A broken finger suffered in late June didn't help matters, and he spent July on the disabled list before rehabbing in the AZL. He returned to the Naturals in mid-August but played sparingly thereafter. Defense has always been McConnell's calling card, and it is encouraging that he committed just five errors in 59 games after committing 28 last year for the Blue Rocks. Still, he must hit better if he ever hopes to advance beyond Double-A.

Reflection on 2008 Ranking
After hitting better than .330 during his first two seasons in rookie ball, McConnell was identified by multiple publications as one of the Royals' top infield prospects. Unfortunately, his bat simply hasn't developed as hoped, and he's running out of time as a prospect. McConnell's best shot of breaking into the big leagues was as a utility infielder, but it now seems doubtful that he'll even hit enough to fill that role.

52. Carlos Fortuna, P

2009 Club: Burlington Royals

G: 13
IP: 50.2
ERA: 4.09
W: 3
L: 6
SV: 1
SO: 43
BB: 25
H: 50
HR: 7
AVG: .259

This season was a nice step forward for Fortuna, who was 2-2 with a 5.82 ERA in his professional debut last season in Arizona. Considered one of the best young power arms in the system, the young Dominican right-hander put up solid numbers in his first crack at Appy League hitters, holding the league to a .259 batting average against. When we saw him in August, he was working consistently at 91-92 mph with his fastball, occasionally reaching 94. More important, however, was the emergence of a good slurvy breaking ball, which was something he lacked last year in the AZL.

Reflection on 2008 Ranking
We wrote last year that if Fortuna's curveball comes along as hoped, he could become one of the more intriguing arms in the system. That certainly appears to be the case, and he now possesses two potentially plus offerings. The lack of a third pitch right now probably causes him to project better as a power reliever down the road, but he's a tremendous talent worth paying close attention to. He should jump considerably on this year's Top 60.

51. Hilton Richardson, OF

2009 Club: Idaho Falls Chukars, Burlington Bees

Stats (combined)
AB: 192
BA: .292
OBP: .366
SLG: .401
HR: 1
2B: 14
3B: 2
BB: 20
SO: 54
SB: 22
CS: 1

The Royals always knew Hilton Richardson's bat would take a lot of time to develop, but his sheer athleticism prompted the club to select him in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. After showing good progress in the Appy League last year, the 20-year-old outfielder took a big step forward this year, hitting .313/.392/.428 with 20 stolen bases (in 21 attempts) for the Idaho Falls Chukars. He finished the season in the Midwest League after Bees' outfielder Nick Francis was suspended for 50 games, and it's a safe bet that he'll return there to start next season.

Reflection on 2008 Ranking
We've always loved Richardson's athleticism, but this was the first season where everything seemed to come together for him. In a system short on legitimate outfield prospects, Richardson figures to be one of the best. We expect that he'll probably struggle a bit in full season ball next year, but his 2009 season, along with his tremendous potential, will undoubtedly elevate him on this year's Top 60 list.

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