One of the best times of the year for fans who follow prospects comes during the winter, when Baseball America rolls out their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. The lists are not an exact science, and no matter how hard someone tries, the highly volatile nature of prospects means you can never be exactly right.
Now that the minor league season is underway, it's time to check in with some prospects who might thrust themselves into the discussion of the better ones in the minors. This time, we'll look at five under-the-radar hitting prospects who, in the next couple years, could catapult themselves into Baseball America's list of the top 100 prospects in the game. The only qualifications are that they haven't already appeared on a Baseball America top 100 list or among Baseball America's list of the top 10 prospects in their respective organization.
Last time, we looked at five under-the-radar pitching prospects: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/19107-Future-Finds---5-Under-The-Radar-Pitching-Prospects
Onto the hitters:
Danny Carroll, 6'1/175, 1/6/1989, Throws R, Bats R, Organization: Seattle Mariners
The California native was taken in the third round last year by the Mariners and is off to a solid start in his pro career.
Carroll hit .323 in 201 AB in the Arizona League last summer and is currently hitting .339 in the Midwest League. One thing he hasn't done in his young pro career is hit one out of the park. Carroll doesn't project to have much power, but he's expected to hit for a high average, get on base, steal some bases, and score a lot of runs.
Carroll is a very instinctive player for a 19 year old and already has above average pitch recognition, something many players his age don't have.
He's at least a few seasons away, but if all breaks right, he could be something along the lines of a Jacoby Ellsbury type.
Cody Johnson, 6'4/195, 8/18/1988, Throws R, Bats L, Organization: Atlanta Braves
Johnson, a 2006 first rounder for the Braves, has the type of bat that could one day hit 30-40 homers in the big leagues. In 118 minor league games, Johnson has hit 23 homers along with 30 doubles and six triples. He's also shown off speed with 10 steals.
The power is there in a big way, but Johnson simply strikes out too often. In the same 122 games, he's struck out 164 times. He's walked 48 times. Johnson will need to cut down on the strikeouts if he wants to fulfill the lofty promise that he has. Otherwise, he might never get out of the minors. More advanced pitchers will eat him alive if he can't tighten up his plate discipline. Age is on his side – he's still a teenager until the tail end of the minor league season this year.
Andrew Lambo, 6'3/190, 8/11/1988, Throws L, Bats L, Organization: LA Dodgers
Hitting isn't Lambo's problem. It's off-the-field issues that have plagued him and its largely why he lasted until the fourth round in last June's draft.
"He's at his second high school after being kicked out of the first school, and he turned off scouts with his immaturity in numerous interviews this spring," Baseball America noted prior to the 2007 MLB Draft.
Lambo has been problem-free in his pro career so far and his bat hasn't let up either. In 54 games in the Gulf Coast League last year, Lambo hit .343 with a .440 OBP and a .519 slugging percentage. He smacked 15 doubles, legged out a triple, and went yard a handful of times. He also showed good plate discipline, walking 29 times against 34 strikeouts.
Moving up to the pitcher-friendly Midwest League this year, Lambo's plate discipline has slipped, as he's struck out 27 times in 24 games while walking just nine times. The rest of his game remains in tact - he has 9 doubles, a triple, and three home runs. Overall, he's batting .279 with a .344 OBP and a strong .512 SLG %.
As long as Lambo stays out of trouble, there's no reason to think he can't keep maturing as a hitter.
Pablo Sandoval, 5'11/245, 8/11/1986, Throws R, Bats S, Organization: San Francisco Giants
Pablo Sandoval is a bit of a post-hype sleeper. Sandoval came to prominence back in 2006 when he played in the Futures Game, a midseason showcase of some of the best prospects in baseball. He hasn't done anything of note since and consequently has fallen off many prospect lists.
Back in the California League to start 2008, Sandoval is trying to re-enter the prospect scene. After 90 at bats, he's at .444/.495/.867 - good enough for a 1.362 OPS. Those are the kinds of numbers Giants fans have been used to seeing from Barry Bonds. Sandoval has smashed 15 doubles along with one triple and seven homers. He has a respectable 9 walks against 14 strikeouts.
Those kind of numbers are virtually impossible to maintain, so expect Sandoval to come back to earth in the near future. However, he has a chance to be a switch-hitting catcher with power and is well worth watching. He might not be too far away from a promotion to Double A, where we'll get a better idea of his potential.
Mike Stanton, 6'5/205, 11/8/1989, Throws R, Bats R, Organization: Florida Marlins
Not to be confused with long-time reliever Mike Stanton, this Mike Stanton was a second round pick last year by the Marlins. Not surprisingly, with his imposing 6'5/205 frame, Stanton could have been a walk on USC's vaunted football team.
The Marlins should be glad he stuck to baseball. While he's extremely raw, he'll also be 18 years old all season and has plenty of time to develop. Right now, his biggest weakness is strike zone judgment. He's walked 7 times with 34 strikeouts in 93 at bats while playing for Greensboro of the South Atlantic League. At the same time, he's shown potential with 7 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, and a steal so far in 2008. Baseball America's 2008 Prospect Handbook says his ceiling is as high any position player in the Marlins' system – a system that includes Cameron Maybin.
Patience will be required with Stanton, who according to Project Prospect, is the fourth youngest player in Low-A ball. He won't develop quickly and is several years from the majors. The payoff, however, could be huge. He could be one of those boom or bust prospects.