After posting a .789 OPS with a career-high 144 hits, 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases between High- and Double-A in 2011, Avisail Garcia, 21, was promoted to the major leagues at the end of August just in time for the Tigers’ late-season surge.
The 6’4”, 240-pound outfielder ultimately appeared in 23 games over the final month—often as a defensive replacement late in games—and batted .319/.373/.319 with three RBI in 47 at-bats.
More importantly, Garcia’s hot bat carried over into the postseason, as he’s currently batting .286/.318/.333 with four RBI in 10 games. Furthermore, he’s 3-for-4 off the bench as a pinch hitter this October.
Considering his unexpected success, Garcia has seemingly impressed to the point where he’ll at least have a spot on the Opening Day roster as a platoon outfielder. However, after handling himself so well since debuting, and especially in the postseason, he may receive the nod as the team’s everyday right fielder.
But besides Garcia, what other highly regarded rookies are worth following closely in 2013? Here’s my quick take on a few specific players.
At 21, Hamilton emerged as the best leadoff prospect in the minors this season by batting .311/.410/.420 in 132 games between High and Double-A. A switch hitter, his success was a result of a vastly improved approach and contact rate. After leading the minor leagues with 103 stolen bases last year, Hamilton ultimately shattered Vince Coleman’s 1983 record this season by swiping 155 bags in 132 games.
The Reds recently announced that they were finally moving him from shortstop to center field, where’s he’s played exclusively this fall in the AFL. It’s doubtful that he’ll break camp with the club despite the position change, though it should accelerate his arrival in the major leagues.
One of the best pitchers in the minor leagues in 2012, Fernandez absolutely dominated opposing hitters while splitting the season between Low and High-A in his age-19 season. Overall, the 6’3”, 215-pound right-hander finished his full-season debut with a 14-1 record, 1.75 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 158/35 K/BB in 134 innings.
Fernandez commands three present above-average offerings, with his fastball and slider grading as plus pitches. Given his age and lack of professional experience, the right-hander’s mound presence and pitchability is outstanding, and could have him in the major leagues in late-2013 after presumably opening the year in Double-A.
The third-overall selection in the 2012 draft, Zunino, 21, absolutely raked in his professional debut, and was bumped three levels from Short-Season to Double-A to finish the year. However, the aggressive promotion couldn’t didn’t slow him down, as the 6’2”, 220-pound backstop ultimately batted .360/.447/.689 with 27 extra-base hits (13 home runs), 43 RBI and 33/23 K/BB in 44 games.
While both Zunino’s receiving and catch-and-throw skill set shows big league readiness, his blocking is raw and will need considerable refinement. But given his potential as a middle-of-the-order run-producer, there’s a strong chance his bat will always outweigh any defensive concern.
The fifth-overall draft pick last June, Zimmer is still relatively new to pitching after making a full-time transition to the mound as a college junior; it’s also one of the reasons he received consideration as the No. 1 overall pick headed into the draft.
At 6’3”, 215 pounds, the right-hander has front-line starter upside thanks to a four-pitch mix highlighted by a plus fastball and curveball. His slider and changeup lag behind his other offerings, though both should be average to above-average pitches by the time he reaches the major leagues.
Zimmer (in his age-20 season) was impressive in his professional debut, as he reached Low-A and registered a 2.04 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 1.57 GO/AO with 42/8 K/BB in 39.2 innings. Both his mechanics and arm action are clean and repeatable, although he did undergo season-ending elbow surgery to remove loss bodies. He’s expected to be healthy by spring training, but it’ll still be interesting to track his recovery this offseason.
One of the key prospects acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, Lee has ranked as a top-50 overall prospect despite his struggles at the plate since reaching Double-A in late 2011. The 21-year-old shortstop batted .261/.336/.360 with 29 extra-base hits, 37 stolen bases and 102/51 K/BB in 116 games.
Expected to hit for average at the top of the Rays’ lineup, Lee made a slight mechanical adjustment to his swing and returned to his 2011 form before an oblique injury ended his season in August.
Regarded as one of the better defensive shortstops in the minors, his plus speed lends to his excellent range while his arm is more than enough for the position. If he shows more plate discipline and cuts down on the strikeouts, Lee has the potential to reach the major leagues in 2013 with no one ahead of him on the organizational depth chart—definitely not Tim Beckham