As ever, the International League is stocked with dozens of players who appear to be on the cusp of beginning significant big league careers. Some of these guys have ranked among the top prospects in the game since turning pro and have recently reached a new level in their maturation process.
Here's a look at the top 10 prospects in the International League heading into the 2011 season.
Chris Archer, RHP -- Durham Bulls
Archer came to the Rays organization in the offseason deal that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs, and now fans in Durham are likely in for a treat. MLB.com's No. 47 prospect has a mid-90s fastball, a tricky slider that dives out of the zone and a changeup he's generally been able to locate thus far, and his 8-2, 1.80 numbers in his first crack at Double-A ball helped make him the Cubs' Pitcher of the Year in 2010.
, OF -- Lehigh Valley IronPigs
Brown entered the spring with a shot at winning a job with the Phillies, but a fractured hamate in early March nixed that. As it stands, the toolsy outfielder will likely join the IronPigs by the beginning of May and, depending on his performance and what happens in the Majors, MLB.com's No. 4 prospect
could be in the big leagues by midsummer.
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B -- Columbus Clippers
An All-Star in every league he's played in since starting with short-season Mahoning Valley in 2008, Chisenhall makes his International League debut this year. After a monster spring (.500 batting average, five extra-base hits in 12 games), some were surprised to see MLB.com's No. 36 prospect cut from the big club. He's only 22, though, and the Indians probably want to see him show consistency in Triple-A at-bats over a solid stretch of the season.
Kyle Gibson, RHP -- Rochester Red Wings
Gibson catapulted himself from the Class A Advanced Florida State League, through the Double-A Eastern League and into the IL last year, and Twins fans could see MLB.com's No. 40 prospect make a difference in the Twin Cities at some point this season. For now, the 23-year-old righty with excellent control is scheduled to start the Red Wings' home opener against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Jose Iglesias, SS -- Pawtucket Red Sox
A Cuban-born defensive wunderkind who made his Stateside pro debut last season, Iglesias hit better than he was expected to and was as good as promised with the leather. He was also an Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Showcase participant in November and had a decent camp with Boston in March. MLB.com's No. 42 prospect will spend the bulk of the season with the PawSox and has a good shot to be Boston's everyday shortstop in 2012.
Desmond Jennings, OF -- Durham Bulls
After injuries slowed Jennings in three of the past four seasons, the outfielder with leadoff makeup has been healthy this spring and seems destined to get in a solid chunk of time at the Triple-A levels at the beginning of the 2011 campaign. It may not be long before the Rays can use him in the Majors, but MLB.com's No. 11 prospect is likely going to be wherever he can get in the most at-bats.
Jason Kipnis, 2B -- Columbus Clippers
Joining Chisenhall on the defending league-champion Clippers, Kipnis will look to pick up where he left off in his Triple-A debut stretch during last summer's playoffs. He played his first Triple-A tilt in Game 1 of the Governors' Cup and cycled in the Game 4 clincher. He was a single shy of a second cycle in the next contest he played in, the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game. He'll probably be the Clippers' everyday second baseman.
Devin Mesoraco, C -- Louisville Bats
Praised by Reds manager Dusty Baker for his work ethic during a strong spring, Mesoraco comes back to Louisville after a 14-game stint in Triple-A last year. If he performs as well as he's expected to, he's a legitimate contender for the Cincinnati backstop job in 2012. MLB.com's No. 45 prospect strikes out plenty, but he can also be counted on for solid power numbers.
Mike Minor, LHP -- Gwinnett Braves
After narrowly losing the Braves' fifth starting job to Brandon Beachy, Minor will continue to develop with the G-Braves when Jair Jurrjens recovers from an oblique injury and returns to the Atlanta rotation. MLB.com's No. 21 prospect was dominant in the IL last year, and nothing suggests he won't have the same success this season. He struggled with a 5.98 ERA over 40 2/3 innings in the Majors last year, but an injury to an Atlanta starter or a few troublesome outings by Beachy would likely give him his chance at redemption.
Jesus Montero, C -- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Montero clubbed 21 dingers and hit .289 while catching for the Baby Bombers over 123 IL games last year, and he's back to wreak some more havoc. There was plenty of speculation that he'd serve as Russell Martin's backup with the Yankees, but his return to Triple-A gives MLB.com's No. 9 prospect the opportunity to continue to grow and hone his defensive skills as an everyday player.