5 MLB Prospects Who Could Be the Next Buster Posey

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterOctober 23, 2012

5 MLB Prospects Who Could Be the Next Buster Posey

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    The fifth-overall selection in the 2008 draft, Buster Posey made his big league debut on Sept. 11, 2009, and ultimately batted .118 with two knocks in 17 at-bats.

    After raking at Triple-A to open the 2010 season, he was once again promoted to the major leagues in late May—but this time he was there to stay. In his age-23 season, the right-handed hitter batted .305/.357/.505 with 18 home runs, 67 RBI and 55/30 K/BB in 108 games, as he led the Giants to a World Series title and captured National League Rookie of the Year honors.

    The expectations for Posey were lofty headed into the 2011 season—his first full season in the major leagues. However, he suffered a gruesome leg injury on an all-too-well-remembered collision at the plate with Scott Cousins that subsequently ended his season after only 45 games.

    Thankfully, Posey returned fully healthy for the 2012 season and served as the perpetual driving force for the World Series-bound Giants, batting .336/.408/.549 with 24 home runs, 103 RBI, and 96/69 K/BB in 148 games. This was especially true throughout the second-half of the regular season, as he helped the team run away with the NL West title by batting .385/.456/.646 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 71 games. 

    Although we won’t know with certainty until the conclusion of the postseason, the 25-year-old is seemingly the front-runner for the NL MVP award. 

    Defensive metrics traditionally have never favored Posey, but his agility and athleticism behind the plate is undeniably outstanding. Furthermore, both his receiving and catch-and-throw skills have steadily improved with each season, as he owns a 33-percent caught-stealing rate with only six passed balls in 238 big league games.

    But as we now shift our focus to the minor leagues, I ask you, the reader, this: Are there prospects with Posey-like potential? While my gut tells me no, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least present these five candidates.

5. Clint Coulter, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2012 Stats (Rk): .302/.439/.444, 11 XBH (5 HR), 33 RBI, 40/37 K/BB (49 G)

    One of the more advanced prep hitters in the 2012 draft class, Coulter lasted until the 27th overall pick of the first round before the Brewers scooped him up. At 6’3”, 210 pounds, the 19-year-old possesses physical strength and a compact swing, and should hit for both average and power. What impressed me most was his plate discipline, which was surprisingly advanced given his age.

    However, his defense will have to improve in order to stay at the position, as he threw out 8-of-49 base-stealers (16-percent) and recorded 21 passed balls in 26 games. Coulter shows excellent athleticism and agility behind the plate with a plus arm, but his blocking, receiving and game-calling is a work in progress.

4. Tommy Joseph, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2012 Stats (AA): .257/.317/.399, 35 XBH (11 HR), 48 RBI, 96/34 K/BB (108 G)

    Drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft by the San Francisco Giants, Joseph was traded to Philadelphia for Hunter Pence in the minutes before the 2012 trade deadline.

    After posting a .788 OPS with 22 home runs and 102/29 K/BB in 127 games for High-A San Jose, the right-handed hitter spent his entire age-20 season at Double-A, batting .257/.317/.399 with 11 home runs and 96/34 K/BB in 108 games. Even though he struggles to make consistent contact, he has plus raw power to all fields and his plate discipline is slowly improving.

    The 6’1”, 215-pounder’s defense has always been solid, and he posted a career-best caught-stealing rate (40-percent) with only 11 passed balls in 74 games. If Joseph can improve his plate discipline, then he should be in the major leagues by the end of the 2014 season.

3. Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres

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    2012 Stats (A-): .279/.334/.451, 38 XBH (10 HR), 56 RBI, 14 SB, 62/23 K/BB (96 G)

    Even though he was considered the top defensive catcher in the 2011 draft class, concerns about his signing eligibility pushed him to second round (No. 82 overall) where the Padres selected and signed him for $3 million.

    Despite some skepticism about his bat and whether it would develop, there was a realistic chance that Hedges might reach the major leagues solely for his outstanding defense.

    A surprisingly good athlete at 6’1”, 190 pounds, Hedges possesses plus-receiving and blocking skills with a quick transfer and release, along with a strong arm. Furthermore, he’s drawn rave reviews for his game-calling ability from pitchers and managers alike.

    The right-handed hitter’s bat blossomed in a big way this past season for Low-A Fort Wayne in his full-season debut, as the 19-year-old Hedges amassed 38 extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases in 96 games. And as expected, his defense was excellent, posting a 9.05 range factor per game with 88 assists while throwing out 47-of-149 (32-percent) hopeful base-stealers.

2. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

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    2012 Stats (SS, AA): .360/.447/.689, 27 XBH (13 HR), 43 RBI, 33/23 K/BB (44 G)

    A three-time College World Series champion and the No. 3 overall selection in the 2012 draft, Zunino mashed his way to Double-A in his professional debut, jumping three levels after debuting at Short-Season Everett. 

    The 6’2”, 220-pound catcher ultimately batted .360/.447/.689 with 13 home runs, 43 RBI and 33/23 K/BB in 44 games between the two levels. Although he’s always possessed plus power to all fields, Zunino never showed the ability to hit for average as he did in his debut. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares over the course of a full minor league season.

    His all-around defensive package could use some refinement, though he was unexpectedly impressive this year as a pro, throwing out 12-of-28 baserunners (43-percent) with only nine passed balls in 31 games.

    Zunino will presumably begin the 2013 season at Double-A, and if he continues to mash, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in Seattle come September.

1. Travis d'Arnaud, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2012 Stats (AAA): .333/.380/.595, 39 XBH (16 HR), 52 RBI, 59/19 K/BB (67 G)

    After a breakout campaign as a 22-year-old at Double-A New Hampshire in 2011 in which he posted a .914 OPS with 21 home runs in 114 games, d’Arnaud entered the 2012 season with a legitimate chance to reach the major leagues. 

    Playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League for Triple-A Las Vegas, the 6’2”, 195-pounder was batting .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs and 59/19 K/BB through 67 games when he suffered a season-ending PCL tear in his left knee.

    Despite the injury, d’Arnaud is still the top catching prospect in the game due to his potential to hit for both average and power at a premium position. A mobile catcher with above-average athleticism, his defense has improved with each season, with his caught-stealing rate and passed-ball totals moving in divergent directions.

    He may open the 2013 season at Triple-A, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the first prospects promoted to the major leagues.