Top 50 Prospects to be unveiled tonight

Top 50 Prospects to be unveiled tonight

In 2010, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward topped the charts before erupting onto the Major League scene out of Spring Training. A year before, Rays left-hander David Price led the way at No. 1 before establishing himself as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Who will be next? It's almost time to learn who projects as 2011's biggest and brightest young talent with the unveiling of the annual MLB.com Top 50 prospect list.

This year's edition will be revealed on MLB Network at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday during a special Top 50 Countdown program. The show, hosted by Matt Yallof, will feature analysis from MLB.com senior writer Jonathan Mayo and former Indians general manager John Hart. The show will be streamed simultaneously on MLB.com. And you can chat with Mayo about the list on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on MLB.com.

The annual breakdown of the best and brightest young players in the game features only those who would receive rookie status in 2011. That's why you won't see players like Nats phenom Stephen Strasburg included. Compiled from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors, the ranked list is based on analysis of players' skill sets, high upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams.

Top prospects Bryce Harper (Nationals), Mike Trout (Angels) and Dustin Ackley (Mariners) figure to be featured prominently on the list, but who will slot where and who could fill in around them remains to be seen. Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown are among the players named in the top half of the 2010 list who retain their eligibility this season. Jennings, who ranked No. 6 entering last year, is the highest ranked player still eligible for 2011.

In the past, pitchers have commonly made up a strong portion of the list, as 20 of last season's Top 50 were hurlers. Fifteen of those were of the right-handed variety. Will the prominence of pitchers continue this season, or will position players prove to dominate the talent pool?

No matter the year, there's always at least a handful of prospects who narrowly miss the cut. It remains to be seen if any of last year's near-misses make the list in 2011. Trout, for example, came in at No. 57 before his torrid 2010 season. Braves prospect Freddie Freeman, who landed at No. 59, also could find himself on the list as he's slated to take over starting first-base duties this season.

Predicting the success of prospects is an inexact science, but in recent years, the rankings have foreshadowed impressive rookie performances. Last season's Rookie of the Year winners, Buster Posey and Neftali Feliz, both sat in the Top 10 before last season, at No. 4 and No. 7, respectively. In addition to Heyward, Strasburg (No. 2) and Marlins right fielder Mike Stanton (No. 3), both made a considerable splash in the Majors. While it'll be difficult to match last season's strong rookie class, there are likely several players on the Top 50 list who could make a quick impact in 2011.

The top 10 players from the 2009 preseason list have all seen significant time in the Majors, with several establishing themselves as strong everyday players. Which players are most likely to join that group this season? Only time will tell, but history shows the Top 50 list is a good place to start.

Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at BStephens27. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.