Few posts received as little fanfare last year as my 2012 Phenom Obsessions. For the most part, people just do not care. I understand this. I am alone in some of my interests. Raw tools, regardless of whether or not they project into an actual career always get my attention. I like to follow these players when they are younger, because while in the minor leagues I can ignore their MLB affiliation. When they hit the big leagues, it’s more difficult to cheer for them, especially if they have Mets, or something equally unsettling across their chests. I could have skipped this all together this season, but considering Bryce Harper’s 2-HR effort on Opening Day yesterday I decided I have a lot more insight than I originally gave myself credit for. With that in mind, a quick recap of last year’s list:
- Bryce Harper
- Brett Lawrie
- Eric Hosmer
- Addison Reed
- Mike Moustakas
- Dustin Ackley
- Mike Trout
- Yoenis Cespedes
- Gerrit Cole
- Bubba Starling
There are a couple of eyesores up there. Hosmer, Ackley and Reed, but I was in early on Cespedes–remember that. Considering the MLB experience of those on this list after last season, the only members still eligible will be Cole and Starling. Let’s see if they make this year’s cut:
1. Yasiel Puig–22 yrs old, LA Dodgers AA Affiliate. Puig is a Cuban defector who the Dodgers handed a 42 million dollar contract to and is about to start his first season in American professional baseball. After impressing briefly at the end of last season, Puig lit up the Cactus League (.526 BA) and some thought he deserved a spot with the Dodgers before he was ultimately sent to AA. But, let’s get to the important details. Puig is 6’3″, 245 pounds and in terms of physical tools has people comparing him to Bo Jackson. That is all.
2. Wil Myers–22 yrs old, Tampa Bay Rays AAA Affiliate. After Kansas City promoted their first crop of homegrown talent (Gordon/Moustakas/Hosmer), Myers became the centerpiece of a still loaded system. In 2012 between two levels Myers hit .317 with 37 homers. In the off season, my beloved Royals sent Myers to Tampa Bay as the centerpiece in a deal to obtain James Shields and Wade Davis. Not only does Tampa produce players, they poach the best from other organizations.
3. Dylan Bundy–20 years old, Baltimore Orioles AA Affiliate. I would have bet I had Bundy on the list last year, and I debated him in all 3 of the top spots. Bundy has simply been overpowering in his short professional career. At three levels last year he combined for a 2.08 ERA and struck out 119 in 103 and 2/3 innings. Opposing batters hit .186. Bundy appeared in a couple of games for Baltimore last year and depending on how this season goes for the Orioles, Bundy’s remaining Minor League career could be brief.
4. Gerrit Cole–22 yrs old, Pittsburgh Pirates AAA Affiliate. To get it out of the way early, Cole can hit 100 on the radar gun and has a prototypical power arsenal. The Pirates top pick in 2011, Cole appears ready to join the rotation, but Pittsburgh is holding him back for some AAA seasoning and probably to delay his ML service time from starting. Expect a 2013 debut, though, Cole was 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA over three levels last season and struck out 136 in 132+ innings.
5. Zack Wheeler–22 yrs old, New York Mets AAA Affiliate. I like Matt Harvey better, but Harvey probably got just enough big league action last year to be left off the list. Wheeler came from the Giants system and is another power pitcher who can tough 97 mph and has a nasty curve ball. He’ll probably need a 3rd pitch to develop into a front line starter, but in combination with Harvey he has people talking Gooden/Darling circa 1984. Better than comparing them to Wilson/Pulsipher and Isiringhausen, I suppose.
6. Bubba Starling–20 yrs old, Kansas City Royals A Affiliate. Starling was a multi-sport prep star, had offers to play D-I QB, throws 95 mph, runs like the wind–basically everything I look for. He’s had a slow start to his career, missing out on his 2011 season by signing late and still has just 200 professional at-bats. He did hit 10 homers in those 200 at-bats though, and had an .856 OPS. Make or break year for Bubba.
7. Oscar Taveras–20 years old, St. Luis Cardinals AAA Affiliate. If we were ranking on MLB potential alone, Taveras might be at the top of this list. His association with the Cardinals, even on a Minor League level, is just hard for me to overlook. A Domincan outfielder with huge offensive potential, Taveras will be in St. Louis sometime in 2013. When a guy hits .321 with 23 homers and a .953 OPS, there isn’t much more for him to prove in Minor League Baseball.
8. Anthony Rendon 22 yrs old, Washington Nationals AAA Affiliate. Rendon got off to a hot start in Nationals camp, making people wonder whether he had a chance to make the Nationals this season. But, as a 3B Rendon is still blocked by Ryan Zimmerman and with only 300 professional at-bats, it’s likely Rendon needs more time. Rendon doesn’t have many gaudy stats to throw around, but he was one of the best college hitters in recent memory at Rice and is the remaining jewel of Washington’s farm system.
9. Travis D’Arnaud 24 yrs old, New York Mets AAA Affiliate. D’Arnaud was a Phillies prospect who was traded away in the Roy Halladay deal and then was sent to the Mets for R.A. Dickey. Strange to see a big-time prospect moved around like this, but D’Arnaud broke out in 2011 and had good numbers last season before being felled by a knee injury. There is always a shortage of good catchers and catchers who can hit are even more rare. If D’Arnaud gets anywhere near last year’s .333/.595/.975 line, the Mets will have trouble keeping him in the minors.
10. Albert Almora, 18 yrs old, Chicago Cubs, A Affiliate. Almora was the sixth pick in last year’s draft. Started his pro career off by hitting .321 across two levels in 140 at-bats. Almora is clearly a long way from Chicago, but he projects as an elite defensive outfielder with polished hitting tools. I’m very curious about whether or not Theo Epstein is going to be able to turn around the Cubs. If he’s still around when Almora makes his MLB debut, he’s probably headed in the right direction.