10 'Sleeper' Hitting Prospects Who Could Have a Breakout 2013 Season
As I mentioned earlier this week when I looked at pitching prospects poised for a breakout campaign in 2013, I love trying to identify under-the-radar, sleeper prospects.
With young hitters, I look at how they fared at a certain age relative to the league they played in. For example, just because an 18-year-old struggled in a Low-A league doesn’t mean that he's hopeless.
Therefore, it’s necessary to look at a player's plate discipline (strikeout and walk rates) and whether it’s reflected in their batting average. So a young player with impressive on-base skills but a lower-than-expected batting average suggests room for improvement. With advanced plate discipline already present, a player is typically more inclined develop favorably as they gain experience.
Having said that, it’s time to look at 10 young hitters who appear poised for a breakout or highly productive 2013 season.
Nick Delmonico, 1B/2B, Baltimore Orioles
2012 Stats (A-): .249/.351/.411, 33 XBH (11 HR), 8 SB, 73 K/47 BB (95 G)
Selected by the Orioles in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, Delmonico began his professional career this season at Low-A Delmarva, where he saw time at both first and second base.
While he currently lacks the power to profile at first base, the 19-year-old left-handed hitter’s offensive skill set would be a premium at second base. He strikes out a bit more than desired and struggles at time to make consistent, hard contact. However, he employs an advanced plate discipline which should allow him to hit for a higher average beginning in 2013.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston Red Sox
2012 Stats (A-): .305/.394/.433, 84 R, 46 XBH (38 2B), 62 RBI, 51 SB, 90 K/61 BB (118 G)
Playing in his first full professional season this year, Cecchini only played in 32 short season games last year after a broken hand (via hit-by-pitch) prematurely ended his professional debut.
Cecchini’s 2012 campaign tends to get overlooked because he doesn’t have typical corner infield power. However, both his plate discipline and hit tool are already advanced, as the left-handed hitter proved this season by roping 38 doubles and drawing 61 walks.
He established himself as an elite base-stealer too, successfully swiping 51 bases in 57 chances.
The combination of his plate discipline, left-handed bat and speed could have him moving quickly next season.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins
2012 Stats (A+): .256/.319/.345, 24 XBH, 13 SB, 64 K/37 BB (123 G)
After an impressive full-season debut last season for Low-A Greensboro, Realmuto turned plenty of heads with his athleticism and cannon behind the plate, as well as overall approach at the plate.
Promoted to High-A Jupiter this season, Realmuto’s OPS dropped by .137 points as he amassed only 24 extra-base hits. However, there is a silver lining: The right-handed hitter’s plate discipline improved, as he walked 37 times compared to 64 strikeouts. Therefore, his struggles were more related to his swing mechanics.
He’ll likely begin the 2013 season back at High-A and seems poised for a breakout campaign at the plate.
Christian Villanueva, 3B, Chicago Cubs
2012 Stats (A+): .279/.353/.427, 39 XBH, 68 RBI, 14 SB, 107 K/34 BB (125 G)
In his age-20 season, and his first at High-A, Villanueva was batting .285/.356/.421 with 30 extra-base hits when the Rangers traded him to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster at the trade deadline.
He struck out more than expected (107 times in 125 games) this season, but the right-handed hitter further established his offensive potential with 39 extra-base hits. Given a full season with this new organization next season, Villanueva should easily eclipse his previous power totals.
Partick Wisdom, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Stats (SS): .282/.373/.465, 27 XBH, 32 RBI, 58 K/31 BB (65 G)
Despite an underwhelming offensive season at St. Mary’s, the Cardinals still made Wisdom a supplemental-first round pick in the 2012 draft. And the 6’2”, 210-pound third baseman quickly showed that his poor college season was a fluke.
Playing in the New York-Penn League (Class-A Short Season), Wisdom was an extra-base machine, tallying 16 doubles, five triples and six home runs in 65 games. Furthermore, the 20-year-old demonstrated impressive plate discipline with 38 walks compared to only 58 strikeouts.
He’ll begin 2013 with a full-season assignment and should quickly prove that he’s more advanced than many organizations believe at the time of the draft.
Clint Coulter, C, Milwaukee Brewers
2012 Stats (Rk): .302/.439/.444, 11 XBH (5 HR), 33 RBI, 40 K/37 BB (49 G)
Although his professional debut in the rookie-level Arizona League could be considered a breakout performance, Coulter seems poised for a huge 2013 season.
As an 18-year-old, Coulter’s approach is mature beyond his years, as evidenced by his 37 walks and 40 strikeouts in 49 games. At 6’3”, 210 pounds, his power will likely develop as he matures. But at the moment, his approach and hit tool give him the potential to be a truly dynamic hitter.
Michael Perez, C, Arizona Diamondbacks
2012 Stats (Rk): .293/.358/.542, 31 XBH (10 HR), 60 RBI, 72 K/20 BB (58 G)
Perez flashed his potential this season as a 19-year-old in the Pioneer League, amassing 31 extra-base hits and 60 RBI in 58 games. However, he only coaxed 20 walks, so there’s room for his plate discipline to improve.
But as a young, left-handed hitting catcher, there’s a lot to be excited about. His approach should improve with more experience—he’s only played in 65 career minor league games—and both his bat and power seem legitimate.
Jace Peterson, SS, San Diego Padres
Low-A: .286/.378/.392, 34 XBH (9 3B), 51 SB, 63 K/62 BB (117 G)
Considering that he was a 22-year-old in the Midwest League (Low-A), Peterson received mix reviews from scouts. While his athleticism is drool-worthy, the his bat still lags behind.
However, with a little more consistency at the plate, Peterson could emerge as a promising top-of-the-order middle infielder—something the Padres need desperately. While he can be streaky at the plate, his plate discipline is both mature and consistent, highlighted by 62 walks and 63 strikeouts in 117 games this season. Plus, his excellent on-base skills cater to his ability as a plus base-stealer.
If he can make a few improvements next season at High-A, Peterson could move quickly through the Padres’ loaded system.
Slade Heathcott, OF, New York Yankees
2012 Stats (Rk, A+): .302/.380/.461, 25 XBH, 19 SB, 70 K/25 BB (65 G)
Heathcott has been slow to develop since the Yankees made his a first-round selection in the 2009 draft. The toolsy outfielder has been hampered by shoulder injuries to his throwing arm and has already gone under the knife on two separate occasions for the issue. He also struggled with alcohol abuse from the time he was drafted, but has since addressed it and received treatment.
Playing in 60 games this season for only the second time in his three-year minor league career, Heathcott finally showcased the ability that made him such a highly regarded prep prospect. Not only did he cut down on strikeouts at High-A Tampa, he flashed developing power.
Assuming that he’s fully healthy headed into the 2013 season, Heathcott could finally enjoy a long-awaited breakout campaign.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres
2012 Stats (A-): .279/.334/.785, 38 XBH (10 HR), 56 RBI, 14 SB, 62 K/23 BB (96 G)
Regarded as an elite defensive catching prospect, there have been ongoing concerns whether he would ever hit enough to ascend the minor league ranks.
Well, in his first full professional season, Hedges quieted his skeptics by posting a .785 OPS in 96 games at Low-A Fort Wayne. Given his age, defensive prowess and offensive progress, he should begin the 2013 season as one of the top overall catching prospects.
While Hedges’ offensive production may lead some people to believe that this was his breakout season, I’m a firm believer he’ll only continue to improve and expect big things from him in 2013.