For prospect hounds, today is the real Opening Day, as 10 full-season minor leagues begin play. Although fans and fantasy players alike are reviewing the 30 big league rosters, those mining for gold in the minors have 120 to review. With that in mind, here are four surprisingly high and low assignments for some of the top prospects in the game.
Simon Castro, RHP, Padres, Double-A San Antonio: The top pitching prospect in the San Diego system dominated at Low-A last year, but a two-level jump was unexpected. The good news is that he has the fastball velocity (up to 95 mph) and command to succeed here, but one wonders whether this is designed merely to keep him out of the high-octane environment of the California League.
Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals, Double-A Northwest Arkansas: This one is defendable but certainly open to debate. On one hand, he's 23 years old, and it's time to get his career going. On the other hand, after not signing with the Nationals out of the 2008 draft and signing late last year, the only pitching experience he has in the past 20 months is three indy league starts and a handful of appearances in last year's Arizona Fall League. Expect some bumps in the road.
Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers, Double-A Chattanooga: Although Gordon earned co-MVP honors in the Low Class A Midwest League last year (.301 batting average/.362 on-base percentage/.394 slugging percentage, 73 steals), the one thing that stood out about his game was how he was athletic enough to put up big numbers despite being considerably raw. That combination could catch up to him against this level of competition.
Brett Lawrie, 2B, Brewers, Double-A Huntsville -- Lawrie got a taste of Southern League pitching last year in preparation for the World Cup, in which he played for Team Canada. In 13 games for Huntsville at the end of last year, the 20-year-old hit .269 with one extra-base hit in 13 games. Because he's Canadian, he has less playing experience than most his age, and with a .274/.348/.454 line at Low-A Wisconsin last year, he was good but hardly out of his league.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins, Low-A Beloit: The Twins top prospect and 2008 first-round pick spent the majority of 2009 with the Snappers, and was arguably the top prospect on the circuit, despite an unimpressive line of .251/.353/.382. Still, rarely do players of this magnitude repeat a level, although the Twins are notoriously conservative in their development.
Ryan Kalish, OF, Red Sox, Double-A Portland: Kalish struggled upon his initial exposure to Eastern League pitching but was among the league's top bats during the second half of last year, slugging .571 after Aug. 1. It's hard to say what he has left to prove here.
Buster Posey, C, Giants, Triple-A Fresno: The signing of Bengie Molina was a curious one, as Posey hit .321/.391/.511 last year at Triple-A, so it's not as if there's work to be done offensively. Yes, his defense is a bit unrefined, but his bat is the kind of thing the Giants need at the big leagues now.
Drew Storen, RHP, Nationals, Double-A Harrisburg: Maybe the Nationals just wanted him to get used to saving wins for uber-righty Stephen Strasburg, but after 12 1/3 scoreless innings for the Senators last year as part of a dominant pro debut, is there any other point to putting him back in the Eastern League?
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.