At the beginning of the week, I wrote about several of baseball’s top prospects who are likely to be called up when the rosters expand on September 1. Additionally, to enhance my brief scouting reports, I including a self-made GIF of each player, highlighting either their most impressive tool or pitch.
In response to all the positive feedback I've received for the initial article, I thought everyone would enjoy something more along those lines.
So, here is a look at 10 of the top breakout prospects of the 2012 season. While players like Nick Castellanos, Wil Myers and Zack Wheeler are technically enjoying “breakout” campaigns, I decided to focus on players who have skyrocketed up their organizational depth chart—players who will likely receive a top-100 ranking after the season.
For a few players, their breakout season has featured a rapid (and at times unexpected) ascent to the major leagues. For other prospects, however, their strong season has merited a promotion to a higher minor league level.
Alen Hanson, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 Stats (A-): .315/.385/.537, 60 XBH (16 HR), 61 RBI, 32 SB, 99 K/51 BB (117 G)
Despite being undersized at 5’11”, 152 pounds, Hanson is an exceptional athlete with projectable baseball skills. He has insanely quick feet and plus speed that, in turn, give him exceptional range at both shortstop and second base.
His slightly below-average arm is his weakest tool, so while he’s currently manning shortstop in Low-A, he may be second base-bound once he’s promoted to a more advanced level.
An aggressive switch-hitter with a short and direct bat path from both sides of the plate, Hanson has some serious little-man pop, as he projects to tally plenty of doubles and triples as well as a surprising number of home runs.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 Stats (A-): .328/.393/.520, 136 H, 45 XBH (15 HR), 81 RBI, 40 SB, 62 K/43 BB (109 G)
An extremely toolsy and athletic player, the 6’4” outfielder has enjoyed an all-around impressive season. His baseball skills have finally caught up to his athleticism, which makes his ceiling even higher than originally projected. Unfortunately, the left-handed hitter was placed on the disabled list on August 18 after spraining his ankle.
Tyler Austin, OF, New York Yankees
2012 Stats (A-, A+): .326/.406/.570, 51 XBH (16 HR), 68 RBI, 21 SB, 86 K/46 BB (96 G)
Tyler Austin, a 6’2”, 200-pound outfielder, has gone from a sleeper to arguably a top-50 prospect this season thanks to a strong first half at Low-A. His consistent power has been unexpected, and his stolen base total a pleasant surprise.
Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics
2012 Stats (AA, AAA): 8-6, 138.1 IP, 2.60 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 (22 GS)
MLB: 1-0, 17 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 (3 GS)
Drawing little consideration as a legitimate pitching prospect headed into the 2012 season, Straily has emerged as one of baseball’s top young arms thanks to continued dominance at both Double and Triple-A. With a three-pitch mix of above-average to plus offerings—as you can see, his changeup grades out as an easy plus—the right-hander has carved his way into the major leagues and should receive several more starts over the remainder of the season.
Tony Cingrani, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
2012 Stats (A+, AA): 10-4, 138.1 IP, 1.56 ERA, .193 BAA, 160 K/42 BB (24 GS)
Armed with a plus fastball-changeup combination, many believed Cingrani’s success would fade as he reached higher levels. Well, that hasn’t been the case, as the 23-year-old southpaw has continued to dominate despite the early-season promotion to Triple-A.
The closer at Rice prior to his selection in the third round of the 2013 draft, the left-hander has adjusted well to his new role as a starter.
Miles Head, 3B/1B, Oakland Athletics
2012 Stats (A+, AA): .336/.395/.604, 62 XBH (23 HR), 82 RBI, 116 K/36 BB (112 G)
Acquired this offseason in the trade that sent Andrew Bailey to Boston, Head has been one of top hitters in the minor leagues this season as the A’s try to find him a natural position on the infield. He absolutely destroyed High-A pitching to begin the year, and he received a promotion to Double-A towards the end of the June.
The bulky right-handed hitter recently returned from a brief stint on the disabled list after he was hit by an errant pitch in the head in late July.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
2012 Stats (A-, A+): .292/.374/.483, 53 XBH (16 HR), 99 RBI, 14 SB, 100 K/63 BB (123 G)
Over the course of the 2012 season, Cowart has gone from a prospect with concerns about his plate discipline and overall rawness to arguably the top prospect in the Angels’ system—he’s even garnered consideration as a top-50 prospect given his success as both Low and High-A. Everything about his game has drastically improved as he now has a chance to shine in a depleted Angels system.
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Stats (AA, AAA): 8-6, 109 IP, 2.97 ERA, .203 BAA, 104 K/42 BB (20 GS)
MLB: 4.2 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 (5 G)
With a sinker that reaches the upper 90s, it’s no surprise that Rosenthal has ascended through the Cardinals’ system so quickly. He was promoted from Double-A to the major league bullpen in July and is now starting at Triple-A Memphis.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Chicago Cubs
2012 Stats (R, SS): .329/.411/.671, 37 XBH (16 HR), 57 RBI, 40 K, 28 BB (52 G)
You may best remember Vogelbach for his power displays at both the 2009 and 2010 Power Showcase with blasts of 502 and 508 feet, respectively. Sure, his 6’0", 250-pound frame appears better suited for a career in softball, but the left-handed hitter’s double-plus raw power is undeniable.
However, Vogelbach isn’t strictly a power hitter. With a compact and fluid swing, he drives the ball to all fields and could have an above-average hit tool by the time he reaches the major leagues. Furthermore, he’s a patient hitter who already has an advanced feel for the strike zone given his age.
Matt Davidson, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks
2012 Stats (AA): .267/.372/.480, 50 XBH (22 HR), 70 RBI, 117 K/63 BB (124 G)
A right-handed hitter with strong arms and quick wrists, Davidson has the ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields. Despite his high strikeout totals, he actually possesses fairly advanced plate discipline that should help him retain a decent batting average at higher levels.
His pitch recognition still needs to improve, but the fact he’s rebounded from an early second-half slump is highly encouraging.