It's worth remembering that one bad year does not mean a player is no longer a prospect. There are few better examples of that than the No. 1 player on this list, Brandon Allen. Back in 2006 Allen hit .213/.257/.380 for low Class A Kannapolis. As a first baseman whose best position may be as a DH, that would seem to be a death sentence. Instead, here he is, three years later, on the cusp of the big leagues.
These are the hottest prospects in baseball right now, with stats taken from games of July 17-23. (Contributing: Ben Badler, Dan Budreika, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Matt Forman, Conor Glassey, Jim Shonerd.)
Team: Triple-A Reno (Pacific Coast)Age: 23Why He's Here: .385/.500/1.000 (10-for-26), 5 HR, 1 2B, 10 RBIs, 8 R, 6 BB, 3 SO, 3-for-3 SB
The Scoop: Making a positive first impression on a new employer is always important. No need to tell that to Allen, though, as the Diamondbacks' newly acquired first baseman smacked five home runs on the week.
Allen needed time to adjust to pro ball after the White Sox made him a fifth-round pick in 2004, but he broke out last year, hitting 29 home runs between high Class A and Double-A, and he has continued that trend into 2009. Allen is up to 15 home runs for the season, having hit eight before being traded and seven already in 12 games with Reno. He hit three homers in four games against Sacramento, one of the PCL's better pitching staffs, then homered in back-to-back games against Portland, including a two-homer game on Wednesday.
Allen's hit tool has been coming around as well. A .256 lifetime hitter coming into the season, he's hitting .296 in 338 at-bats between stops at Double-A and Triple-A this year. He has registered hits in 11 of his 12 games since joining the Aces, and his strikeout rate has fallen markedly, as he has fanned only 65 times in 88 games this year, down from his career rate of more than a strikeout per game entering the year.
Team: High Class A Lake Elsinore (California)Age: 22Why He's Here: .400/.471/.833 (12-for-30), 3 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBIs, 6 R, 4 BB, 8 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Darnell still ranks first in the Midwest League in on-base percentage (.468) and third in slugging (.518), but he didn't accumulate enough plate appearances with Fort Wayne to lay claim to those titles. No worry. In all likelihood he would have begun the season in the Cal League were it not for Logan Forsythe, whose promotion to Double-A paved the way for Darnell's bump to Elsinore. The '08 second-rounder continues to hit and hit for power, as evidenced by his one four-hit and two three-hit games on the week, including a two-homer outburst at Inland Empire on Sunday. Defensively speaking, Darnell has not been as steady. His fielding percentage at the hot corner sits at .897 on the year -- that's 26 errors in 105 games.
Team: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)Age: 19Why He's Here: .435/.462/.783 (10-for-23), 2 HR, 2 2B, 5 RBIs, 7 R, 0 BB, 8 SO
The Scoop: Stanton needed time to make the transition to Double-A. He hit just .202 in his first 27 games with Jacksonville in what was the first really protracted slump of his career. That's over now. Stanton is on an eight-game hitting streak and has upped his line with the Suns to .252/.337/.476 in 147 at-bats. The second of his two home runs on the week came off a newly-minted Mariner Dan Cortes of West Tenn, against whom Stanton crushed a two-run shot in the fifth inning that upped his home run totals to 20 on the season and eight already in Double-A.
Team: High Class A San Jose (California)Age: 21Why He's Here: .400/.471/.767 (12-for-30), 2 HR, 5 2B, 7 RBIs, 10 R, 3 BB, 6 SO, 3-for-3 SB
The Scoop: The No. 1 prospect on this list a week ago, Neal has been on fire of late. Over the past two weeks he has gone 22 for 53 with eight doubles, one triple and three home runs. On the season he's up to .350/.435/.625, while leading the Cal League in average and doubles (32). His slugging percentage ranks third best in all of the minors' full-season leagues. While the Cal League is a hitter's paradise, Neal has hit well at home and on the road and against righties and lefties.
Team: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)Age: 21Why He's Here: .429/.692/.500 (6-for-14), 1 2B, 6 RBIs, 5 R, 12 BB, 1 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Pitches to hit were few and far between for Morrison, which wasn't altogether surprising since he's been the one batting cleanup behind Stanton in the Jacksonville order. Even given that, drawing 12 walks in a week (none of them intentional, either) is a pretty impressive feat of plate discipline. Morrison needed a little time to get back in form after a right wrist fracture sidelined him for two months, but he's been heating up in July, batting .311/.500/.525 in 61 at-bats.
Team: Double-A Trenton (Eastern)Age: 19Why He's Here: .360/.429/.680 (9-for-25), 2 HR, 2 2B, 9 RBIs, 3 R, 3 BB, 2 SO
The Scoop: On the season Montero is hitting .334/.391/.552 in 317 at-bats, with 15 home runs, 63 RBIs and a 28-to-43 walk-to-strikeout ratio. His production stands on its own merits, but just consider the supporting evidence: He's 19, he has caught in 53 of his 84 games played and he has compiled huge numbers in two pitcher-friendly leagues, the Florida State and now the Eastern. If he's got another month in him like the ones that have come before, you may be looking at our Minor League Player of the Year.
Team: Double-A Springfield (Texas)Age: 22Why He's Here: 1-1, 0.00, 14 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 14 SO
The Scoop: Lynn is one of the biggest men in the minor leagues at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. He won't overpower hitters with mid-90s velocity, but his fastball regularly checks in in the low 90s with good command, thanks in part to a clean delivery. This week Lynn breezed through his starts against Northwest Arkansas and Tulsa, showing why the Cardinals made him their supplemental first-round pick out of Mississippi one year ago.
Team: Double-A New Britain (Eastern)Age: 20Why He's Here: 2-0, 2.03, 13 1/3 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 15 SO
The Scoop: After spending parts of four long, tumultuous seasons in the high Class A Florida State League, Guerra was finally given a shot at Double-A in early July. It feels like he's been around forever, yet he's still young for Double-A at age 20, and he has gone 3-0, 3.52 in his first four starts with New Britain. Guerra has regained some his velocity, which had declined last year as he battled inconsistencies with his delivery after coming over from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade. He struck out 12 over seven shutout innings against Portland on Thursday night, and has fanned 23 in 23 innings for the Rock Cats.
Team: Double-A Connecticut (Eastern)Age: 19Why He's Here: 1-0, 1.29, 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 SO
The Scoop: From a strictly pitching standpoint, this wasn't Bumgarner's most dominating game. However, he also went 2 for 3 with a go-ahead grand slam, nearly winning the game single-handedly. It was Bumgarner's first professional home run, and he has allowed just eight as a pitcher in 40 career starts. On the year the 6-foot-4 left-hander is 10-2, 1.54 with 75 strikeouts and 24 walks over 94 innings. He's striking out a tick over 20 percent of the batters he faces, an impressive feat given that he doesn't turn 20 until Aug. 1.
Team: High Class A Lancaster (California)Age: 22Why He's Here: .348/.348/1.217 (8-for-23), 6 HR, 1 3B, 10 RBIs, 9 R, 5 BB, 10 SO
The Scoop: A seventh-round pick last year out of Arizona, Gaston didn't show many signs of future success when he hit .193/.292/.285 in his debut at short-season Tri-City. But the Astros promoted him aggressively to high Class A Lancaster this season, and he has responded with a breakout year. Thanks to a pair of two-home run games this week, Gaston took over the minor league lead in home runs with 27. He also leads the minors in triples (14), extra-base hits (64), runs scored (88), total bases (243) and slugging percentage (.673). Lancaster is a fabulous place to hit, and Gaston's true ability rests somewhere between his .339/.422/.790 line at home and his less overheated .274/.370/.549 performance on the road.
Team: High Class A Wilmington (Carolina)Age: 20Why He's Here: 2-0, 0.66, 13 2/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 12 SO
The Scoop: Duffy is making a strong argument for being the Royals' top pitching prospect, and he didn't need the Daniel Cortes trade to clear the spot. As a young lefty with a plus fastball (he sat at 92.5 mph during his Futures Game appearance), solid command and a feel for pitching, Duffy has been one of the Carolina League's best starters all season. He seems to have righted himself from a late June swoon that saw him give up 16 earned runs in four outings -- he has allowed 19 earned runs in his other 14 starts.
Team: Double-A Binghamton (Eastern)Age: 22Why He's Here: .385/.467/.692 (10-for-26), 2 HR, 2 2B, 6 RBIs, 6 R, 4 BB, 4 SO
The Scoop: Davis has clubbed more home runs this season (12) and compiled a higher slugging percentage (.486) than any of the other four first-round first basemen from the '08 draft. That's a group that includes Yonder Alonso, Justin Smoak, David Cooper and Allan Dykstra. To be fair, Smoak began the year in Double-A and has moved up to Triple-A, unlike Davis, who started in high Class A, but then Smoak has enjoyed much friendlier hitting environments along the way.
• At this point, does another seven scoreless innings by Reds LHP Travis Wood start to lose its impact? It was the sixth time in Wood's past nine starts that he didn't allow a run. Pitching at Double-A Carolina, Wood, 22, is working on a 14-inning scoreless streak that would seem impressive if not for the 22-inning scoreless streak he had in June. He also has a nine-game winning streak, which makes sense, seeing as he has allowed more than two earned runs only once all season.
• Just call Double-A Portland RHP Junichi Tazawa Mr. Consistency, because that's exactly what he has been this season. Last week was no different, as Tazawa pitched 11 combined innings in two outings, allowing just one run on eight hits while striking out nine. In 18 starts Tazawa has gone fewer than five innings and allowed more than two earned runs twice each. Boston signed the 23-year-old from Japan in the offseason with a three-year, $3.3 million deal, and he hasn't disappointed in his first season of American baseball.
• Though it doesn't often happen, one of Tazawa's Red Sox teammates out-pitched him this week. Double-A Portland LHP Felix Doubront, 21, tossed a seven-inning, complete game shutout on Wednesday, allowing four hits while striking out 10. It was Doubront's longest outing of the season and just the fourth time all season that he did not walk a batter. On the year Doubront is 6-2, 3.42 and has struck out 77 in 79 innings pitched.
• An '08 fourth-round pick from Elon, Mariners RHP Steven Hensley had his pro debut last year abbreviated by an elbow injury. The 22-year-old appeared completely healthy this spring when he didn't allow an earned run through his first 19 2/3 Midwest League innings. But that was low Class A. Pushed to Double-A at the beginning of May, Hensley was rocked for 12 runs in 15 innings there, a showing that earned him a demotion to high Class A High Desert, where lately he's been one of the California League's finest pitchers. Last week he went 2-0, 2.40, allowing eight hits and only one walk in 15 innings, while striking out 16. Throw out one ugly start on July 6 and Hensley has been golden in five of his last six times out: 4-0, 1.75, 36 IP, 22 H, 3 HR, 4 BB, 40 SO. Did we mention two of those starts were made at home in High Desert?
• You won't find low Class A Savannah SS Wilmer Flores' (Mets) name among the South Atlantic League leaders, not with the way he started. But the 17-year-old Venezuelan batted .391/.444/.565 (9 for 23) on the week, with a home run, a double, six runs scored and five RBIs. His season has been trending up, as he has now hit .300 or better in July and August -- a combined 53 for 173 (.306) --and has raised his season line to .286/.325/.368 through 85 games. While Flores possesses very little speed and hasn't hit for a ton of game power, his bat control remains impressive. He has just 42 whiffs on the year, and since July he has fanned in just 10 percent of his at-bats.
• Futures Game standout CF Tyson Gillies (Mariners) was nearly as hot as the weather he played in this week. The July 23 box score for the high Class A High Desert game in Bakersfield listed the game-time temperature as 108 degrees. Gillies, 20, hit .536 on the week (15 for 28). While all of his hits were singles, he also stole five bases.
• High Class A Modesto RHP Cory Riordan (Rockies), 23, pitched well in two starts on the week. The sixth-rounder out of Fordham in '07 went 1-1, 1.59 with 19 strikeouts and two walks over 17 innings.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Rangers: Yes, he's still one of the best prospects in baseball, but Smoak is batting just .167/.263/.258 since being promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City earlier this month. Smoak, 22, went 3 for 6 last Wednesday night, but those three singles only pushed him up to 6 for 30 with two extra-base hits and one walk in the previous seven days.
Lars Anderson, 1B, Red Sox: Anderson looked like he was getting on the right track at Double-A Portland, having upped his average to .272 last week, but he fell off the pace this week. The 21-year-old hit .136/.174/.182 (3 for 22) with one double and nine strikeouts. Anderson hasn't homered since June 28 and has had an especially hard time on the road all year, batting only .217/.317/.360 in enemy parks.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals: High Class A Wilmington's Frawley Stadium is a tough park in which to hit. So while the 20-year-old Moustakas isn't hitting there at all (.182/.234/.325 in 154 at-bats), that provides little explanation for his overall line of .244/.283/.401. He still isn't striking out a whole lot (59 times in 352 at-bats), but he has been prone to long slumps this year. He snapped a 33 at-bat hitless streak last Thursday night with a triple, but that most recent slump has cut his batting average by 20 points this month, while his on-base percentage has not been above .310 since early June.
Andrew Brackman, RHP, Yankees: It's hard to find many positives in Brackman's season with low Class A Charleston. Pitching last Wednesday at Greensboro, Brackman labored through 2 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs and five walks. His fastball sat at 88-92 mph with occasional cutting action, touching 93 once out of the strike zone. He flashed a few solid curveballs in the mid-70s, but he often hung the pitch and wasn't able to generate the same bite that it had pre-Tommy John surgery at North Carolina State in 2007. Brackman threw 20 pitches in the first inning, then needed another 35 in the second to escape after allowing seven runs in that frame. He departed after facing just two batters in the third, when eight of his nine pitches were out of the strike zone. The start inflated the 23-year-old's ERA to 6.72 in 19 starts, with Brackman now averaging 6.7 walks per nine innings.
Allen Craig, 1B/LF, Cardinals: Up until this season Craig had been a masher at every level of the minors since the Cardinals drafted him in the eighth round in 2006. With the Cardinals logjammed at third base and Craig not being a defensive stalwart at the position, the organization moved him to left field and first base. His .278/.331/.453 batting line with Triple-A Memphis won't cut it at those positions, especially for someone who is already 25. But Craig went bananas last week, hitting .370/.393/.926 with five home runs in 27 at-bats.
Andy Marte, 3B, Indians: Heading into the season, Marte had already been written off as one of the most disappointing prospects of the decade. Since his stellar campaign for the Braves' Triple-A Richmond affiliate in 2005, Marte has spent the last three seasons serving as a friendly sight for opposing pitchers between Triple-A and the American League. Now 25, Marte is partying like it's 2005, with a .329/.367/.591 batting line in 78 games for Triple-A Columbus. He went 4-for-4 last Wednesday with two home runs, giving him six home runs in his last seven games and 17 on the season. So the question becomes: Has Marte made true improvement, or has he just figured out how to take advantage of Triple-A pitchers' mistakes? The answer isn't clear, as even scouts who have watched Columbus this year aren't sure what to make of Marte at this point.
If it wasn't for injuries, Chris Carpenter would be a household name for Baseball America readers by now. He was a solid high school prospect who spurned the Tigers as a seventh-round pick in 2004 to head to Kent State. But he blew out his elbow as a freshman, missed his sophomore season because of Tommy John surgery and then had a second operation to clear out scar tissue. He fell from being a potential first-round pick to the 18th round as a draft-eligible sophomore in '07. Teams were concerned about his arm, in part because he left the Cape Cod League that summer with a tired arm after only two outings. The Cubs finally brought him to pro ball as a third-round pick last year, and he has shown a 93-94 mph fastball with excellent life. Since being promoted to high Class A Daytona on July 2, Carpenter has allowed only 12 hits and eight walks while striking out 30 in 21 innings. He allowed only one hit while striking out nine in five innings in his last start. But the 23-year-old then had to skip his start scheduled for Thursday night because of elbow soreness, which is another reminder that health will be Carpenter's biggest hurdle in making it to the big leagues.