With the offseason in full swing and free agents already relocating to different area codes, the younger unproven players are working hard to show their respective major league clubs that they are prepared for a role on the major league roster in the 2011 season.
After Giants rookie Buster Posey played a significant part in the San Francisco’s World Series Championship this past year, these rookies hope to prove that they can make just as much of an impact for their team just as quickly. Although it is common that most prospects do not reach their potential or make the impact their clubs hoped for, these minor leaguers have the possibility to make some impact in the big leagues, whether at the beginning of the season or after the All-Star break.
With the 2011 season already on the minds of prospects across the nation, here are 10 prospects that you should look out for at the beginning of spring training.
1. Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners)
Ackley, the number two overall pick in 2009, is one of the highest rated prospects in baseball by Baseball America and was recently named MVP of the Arizona Fall League. He got off to a terrible start in his first season in the minors, but tore up Arizona, batting .424 with a .518 on-base-percentage.
Coming out of the University of North Carolina, Ackley was an outfielder and eventually made the switch to first base. Eventually, he made a second switch to second base and has some defensive progress to make, particularly his footwork on his double plays and positioning when fielding.
Offensively, however, his potential is slowly coming to fruition, and he has the potential to make an immediate impact for Seattle, even if he doesn’t hit .300 in his first year. His ability to hit line drives, draw walks, and see a lot of pitches will likely earn him a spot on the roster sooner rather than later.
With the Mariners not likely to compete for a playoff spot, and with no mainstay at second base on the roster, Ackley's patient approach and speed will likely get him a look somewhere at the top of their lineup.
2. Jesus Montero (New York Yankees)
Montero is a prospect who most fans will recognize, as he was the centerpiece for the rumored Cliff Lee trade to the Yankees during the season. The Yankees have other promising catchers like Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez, but the one with the best offensive potential is Montero. In 123 games, Montero hit .289 with 21 homers, 75 runs batted in, and a .353 on-base percentage, but after the All-Star break, batted .351 with 14 homers.
The challenge for Montero is on the defensive end. He still has trouble shifting behind the plate and keeping his body nimble. More importantly, he must stay in shape and keep himself motivated. If he can handle the running game, however, the Yankees can continue to work with him on passed balls at the major league level.
With Posada moving to DH for the majority of the season, Montero and Cervelli could play most of the time behind the plate in 2011. Once Posada retires, Montero could move into the DH spot and split time behind the plate with Romine, who is the superior defensive catcher.
3. Hank Conger (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Conger has made major strides with his defense in the Angels organization, throwing out 30 percent of base stealers and allowing only three passed balls. A true switch-hitter, Conger’s strength is against left-handed pitching. His walk to strikeout ratio was almost 1:1 this past season, and he knows the strike zone well for a young player.
Defensively, Conger has some work to do. His 14 errors (11 throwing errors) this past season will likely not get him full-time duties behind the plate when the season begins, but he has showed the mobility and arm strength to limit passed balls and stolen bases.
With Mike Scioscia guiding him, no stalwart at catcher to impede his path to the majors, and his improved patience, Conger has the potential to be a surprisingly solid catcher in the majors immediately.
4. Mike Moustakas (Kansas City Royals)
A former No. 2 overall pick, out of Chatsworth Highschool, Moustakas hit 21 homers and 76 RBIs along with a .347 average and an on-base percentage of about .400 this past season. After being promoted to Triple-A, he continued his hot-hitting by batting nearly.300 with 15 homers and 58 RBI. With the Royals still in rebuilding mode, he could quickly step in at third base next year and become a nice addition to a lineup that includes first round picks Billy Butler and left-fielder Alex Gordon.
Moustakas prides himself on making solid contact, not striking out, and walking at an above average rate. He has the potential to be a middle of the lineup 30 home run hitter while also hitting for a .285 average. His power numbers have been stunted somewhat because he played in a pitcher’s park during the 2009 season. There is little question, however, that Moustakas has the power to make an impact on the major league level this year.
5. Kyle Drabek (Toronto Blue Jays)
Drabek is one of the many young talented pitchers the Blue Jays will have on their roster in 2011. After Tommy John surgery, Drabek quickly bounced back and has not shown any lingering issues as of yet. His short stint in the majors this past season gave fans that haven’t seen him a quick look as to how good he can be.
Likely a future No. 2 starter, Drabek has one of the best curveballs in the minors, and his movement and command of it is what makes him dangerous. The pure definition of a 12-6 curveball, it will likely be his out pitch all year.
The issue for Drabek is his lack of movement on his four-seam fastball. If he can generate movement on the fastball and keep his strikeout to walk ratio down, he could easily become a top candidate for Rookie of the Year.
Although the American League East is a hard place to begin your career, Drabek has the talent to be a 15-win, below 3.50 E.R.A. pitcher.
6. Desmond Jennings (Tampa Bay Rays)
Jennings is the most likely prospect to get the most playing time next year. With Carl Crawford likely leaving via free agency, Jennings could provide the Rays lineup with Crawford-type potential. A balanced hitter with a quick stroke, Jennings is a pure gap-to-gap hitter. He consistently stays behind the ball and drives it to the opposite field and is very adept at making solid contact.
On inside pitches, Jennings pulls with his front side and bottom hand to open up and reach the pitch. This could quickly give him trouble if fastballs are located in on his hands. With some minor adjustments to cover all areas of the strike zone, however, Jennings should be the lead candidate for Rookie of the Year.
7. Michael Pineda (Seattle Mariners)
Pineda is one of the tallest prospects in the minors, and he should be able to take advantage of that height by releasing the ball closer to the plate. Pineda usually throws in the mid-90s and can approach 100+ mph when he goes full throttle. By throwing a fastball that fast from a high release point, this pitch should generate a lot of swinging strikes.
Pineda's slider needs some work, however, as it should have more horizontal movement. It's rare that you find a young prospect like Pineda capable of throwing 66 percent strikes in AAA. If Pineda fails to meet expectations, a big reason could be struggles against left-handed hitters.
His elbow injury that ended his 2009 season may also become a major concern, but he seems to have calmed any present worries. Despite the concerns, Pineda’s strikeout potential does not come around and will likely get him a spot on the big league roster to open the season.
8. Kyle Gibson (Minnesota Twins)
Gibson was a highly-ranked college starter on every team's draft board, but during his final season with Missouri, the 6-foot-6 stud right-hander began feeling pain in his right forearm and slipped to the Twins at the 22nd overall pick. Some feared this issue would soon lead to elbow problems and ultimately feared Tommy John surgery. Gibson was officially diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right forearm.
Gibson mixes off-speed pitches (sliders and changeups) with a solid fastball with a lot of deception. His slider is almost identical to his the fastball until it’s already over the plate. His fastball is nothing spectacular, as it stays in the low 90s, but he uses both sides of the plate.
The impressive thing about Gibson is the fact that he maintained his 3.21 ERA and excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio despite pitching through an injury and playing in a hitter’s park this past season. The young right-hander is probably a name you’ll recognize at the All-Star break, as he could provide the Twins with No. 2 starter potential.
9. Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays)
Moore is a name that even Rays’ followers may not recognize. His arsenal of pitches, however, is impressive and he gets more swings and misses than most minor league pitchers. His 90-94 mph fastball is already major league ready as is his curveball, which has a very late break.
Moore’s problem lies with his ability to control the strike zone, especially when throwing his curveball. If he can locate his curve on a consistent basis and improve his control, he could provide the Rays with a dominant late inning reliever this year and eventually possible front-line starter. The fact that he gets strikeouts at a high rate will likely get him a look in a Tampa Bay bullpen that is likely to lose closer Rafael Soriano.
10. Tanner Scheppers (Texas Rangers)
Scheppers has an arm that can consistently generate strikeouts and that will undoubtedly earn him a spot either as a starter or in the bullpen for the Rangers in 2011. With Cliff Lee possibly departing via free agency and Neftali Feliz possibly shifting from the closing role to the rotation, there should be a spot for the young fire-baller.
Consistently in the mid-to-upper 90s and even reaching 99 mph in relief appearances, Scheppers has a power slider to accompany his electric slider. His curveball could be of more use if Texas management decides to use him in the rotation. Scheppers’ health is still a concern after a muscular issue was misdiagnosed as a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder before the 2008 draft. If his health holds up, he could be a viable replacement for Lee this upcoming season.
Jared Goedert (Cleveland Indians)
Selected in the ninth round of the 2009 draft, Goedert will likely have a clear path to the majors this season. This past season, Goedert led the Indians minor league system in walk percentage and on-base percentage. A doubles hitter, Goedert has a consistent swing and stroke that help generate his power. His plate discipline and ability to hit well with two strikes is what gives him the opportunity to be an above average regular in the middle of the infield.
Fielding is the one area where Goedert must progress since he was recently moved to second base. His defensive success will be determined by his improvement on his footwork and ability to turn the double play, even though he has an above average arm.
Goedert’s potential offensive production and the rebuilding effort in Cleveland will give him a chance to make an impact this upcoming season possibly to the tune of 15 home runs and 65 RBIs.