MLB Prospects: Top 10 American League West Prospects

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterApril 27, 2012

MLB Prospects: Top 10 American League West Prospects

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    With Prospect Pipeline's Top 50 now in place, it's time to take a deeper look at these prospects through a different lens. 

    As I continue to put together prospect scouting reports for every organization, I'll also be ranking prospects by both position and tools. However, today I will deviate from said assessments to offer my thoughts on the top 10 prospects residing in the American League West.

    The AL West houses many of baseball's finest prospects, as all 10 of these players appear in the overall Top 50. Even though I did consider each player's current season when creating this ranking, I'd be foolish to put too much stock into such a small sample. At the same time, when a prospect is producing while showing improvement in specific facets of the game, there's something to be said for such a performance.

    Here is a look at the American League West's top 10 prospects.

10. Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics

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    Position: OF                 

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 215

    DOB: 11/10/1989           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (UT-Arlington)

    2011 Stats:

    High-A: .285/.376/.542, .257 ISO, 130 wRC+ (542 plate appearances)

    2012 Stats:

    Double-A: .264/.386/.361, 5 XBH, 26 TB, 21 K/15 BB (20 G)

    Overview: There is some swing-and-miss with Choice, but no part of any park can hold him, and his defense is far better than one would expect from this kind of power bat. He still chases too many breaking balls, but that should improve in 2012. 

    There is a realistic chance that Choice can stay in center field, and if he can, then he has All-Star potential. While his speed is a 60, he doesn’t necessarily use it very well on the bases.

    The down tool with Choice is his arm, so his value drops considerably if he's forced to move away of center, but by no means is that move imminent or even likely. Choice can take a huge step forward with a big 2012 in the high minors.

    ETA: 2013

9. A.J. Cole, RHP, Oakland Athletics

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    Position: RHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6'4"/180 

    DOB: 1/5/92                       

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (Oviedo HS, FL)

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: 89 IP, 4.04 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 10.92 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9

    2012 Stats:

    High-A: 19.2 IP, 6.41 ERA, 25 H, 17 K/5 BB, .329 BAA (4 G)

    Overview: A key piece of the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, Cole emerged as one of the minors' top power pitchers in 2011. A bulldog on the mound, he relentlessly attacks hitters with a mid-90s fastball that peaks at 98 mph. While he has shown above-average command of his fastball, he doesn’t locate his secondary stuff as well, though his curveball is a hammer that generates swing-and-misses. He does have a changeup, but it’s a work in progress.

    At 6'4", Cole throws everything on a downward plane and has worked hard to make his mechanics more repeatable. He has tremendous natural ability and could develop into a No. 1 starter.

    ETA: 2014

8. James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    Position: LHP                        

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 220

    DOB: 11/6/1988           

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, fourth round (University of Kentucky/Grand Prairie)

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: 56 IP, 2.73 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 12.86 K/9, 4.82 BB/9, 0.16 HR/9 

    Double-A: 39 IP, 1.85 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 11.77 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 0.46 HR/9

    2012 Stats:

    Double-A: 23.1 IP, 3.09 ERA, 31 K/16 BB, .212 BAA (5 G)

    Overview: Drafted 37th overall in the 2009 draft, Paxton and the Blue Jays were unable to agree on a deal before the signing deadline. After the Mariners finally signed him in the spring of 2010, the 6'4" left-hander reached Double-A in his first professional season.

    Paxton’s fastball usually sits in the low 90s, but he has been known to dial it up as needed. He features a plus breaking ball and has the confidence to throw it in any count. His changeup lags behind his other pitches and will need to be developed to neutralize big-league hitters.

    There's a strong chance that Paxton makes his MLB debut at some point in 2012.

    ETA: 2012

7. Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers

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    Position: LHP 

    Height/Weight: 6'0"/178

    DOB: 4/4/1991           

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2008, Venezuela

    2011 Stats:

    Double-A: 88.1 IP, 3.16 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 8.46 K/9, 3.67 BB/9, 0.61 HR/9

    Triple-A: 49 IP, 6.43 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 6.80 K/9, 3.67 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9

    2012 Stats:

    Triple-A: 22.1 IP, 4.03 ERA, 15 K/11 BB, .235 BAA (4 G)

    Overview: Perez’s 2011 season was a perplexing one: He posted excellent numbers at Double-A but then tanked after a promotion to Triple-A.

    For a prospect receiving this kind of ranking, Perez has iffy fastball command, but his overall stuff is too good to rank him any lower.  His heater reaches the mid-90s thanks to a quick, whippy arm, and he has arguably one of the finest breaking balls in the minors in the form of a heavy, downer curveball. When it’s on, it can easily grade as a double-plus pitch. He also has an average to above-average changeup that shows quality fade and should sufficiently handle right-handed hitters.

    The young left-hander has elite stuff, and with more than a full season in the high minors under his belt, he has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation arm. But reaching such a ceiling will require improved fastball command and a more consistent delivery, although the latter is greatly improved relative to what it was as a teenager. 

    ETA: 2013

6. Jarrod Parker, RHP, Oakland Athletics

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    Position: RHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 195

    DOB: 11/24/1988            

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2007, first round (Norwell HS, IN)

    2011 Stats:

    Double-A: 130.2 IP, 3.79 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 7.71 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, 0.48 HR/9

    MLB: 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 5.42 xFIP, 1.59 K/9, 1.59 BB/9

    2012 Stats:

    Triple-A: 20.2 IP, 2.18 ERA, 21 K/6 BB, 2.47 GB/FB (4 G)

    MLB: 6.1 IP, ER, 5 K, BB (1 G)

    Overview: Selected in the first round of the 2007 draft out of Norwell HS in Indiana, Parker missed the entire 2010 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, he regained his form over the course of the 2011 season and ultimately finished 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA and 7.7 K/9 over 131 innings at Double-A Mobile.

    Parker has a classic mix of fastball, breaker and changeup, all of which grade as at least solid-average offerings. His fastball can touch 97 mph, but he typically works in the 91-96 mph range with his four-seamer. He throws a heavy sinker about two ticks off of the four-seamer, but it digs well and even gets some swings-and-misses. 

    Parker’s bender is a slider in the mid-80s with tight break and good shape as well as solid command.  His change is behind, but it’s going to be an above-average offering for him and is definitely a pitch that will play in Oakland to both sides of the plate.

    ETA: 2012

5. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    Position: LHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 200

    DOB: 11/28/1989           

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted/Signed: 2011, first round (Virginia)

    2012 Stats:

    Double-A: 21.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, 26 K/11 BB, .122 BAA (4 G)

    Overview: The top left-hander in the ultra-talented 2011 draft class, Hultzen was also the most polished—and still is. He already demonstrates advanced command of three pitches: a low-90s fastball, slider (his out pitch) and changeup, and is effective against right- and left-handed hitters.

    After excelling in the Arizona Fall League, there was speculation that Hultzen might break camp in the Mariners’ rotation. However, he will begin the season at either Double or Triple-A with an imminent 2012 MLB debut. The Mariners hope that the left-hander can one day be the perfect No. 2 behind Taijuan Walker.

    ETA: 2012

4. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners

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    Position: RHP                       

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 210 lbs. 

    DOB: 8/13/1992           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, first round (Yucaipa HS, CA)

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: 96.2 IP, 2.89 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 10.52 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 0.37 HR/9

    2012 Stats:

    Double-A: 16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 10 H, 21 K/5 BB, .175 BAA (3 G)

    Overview: Walker was lights-out last season at Low-A Clinton until he reached the 100-inning limit imposed by the Mariners. The right-hander has a big-time fastball with late-life that touches the upper-90s, and he showed improved command of it in 2011. He also throws a circle change and an over-the-top curveball that could be a double-plus with improved command.

    Walker’s raw athleticism distinguishes him from the other pitching prospects in the game and only makes his potential that much greater. He is the Mariners' future ace with one of the highest ceilings of any pitching prospect on this list. 

    ETA: 2014

3. Jesus Montero, C/DH, Seattle Mariners

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    Position: C/DH           

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 225

    DOB: 11/28/1989           

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2006, Venezuela

    2011 Stats:

    Triple-A (Yankees): .288/.348/.467, .179 ISO, 120 w RC+ (504 PA)

    MLB (Yankees): .328/.406/.590 (69 PA)

    2012 Stats:

    MLB: .265/.278/.368, 72 wRC+ (72 PA)

    Overview: Montero flashed his offensive potential in his late-season call-up with the Yankees in 2011.  Now, after an offseason trade to Seattle, Montero’s path to consistent at-bats is clear as he embarks on his first big-league campaign.

    He possesses a middle-of-the-order bat with exceptional power to all fields, and his ability to hit for average should make him the Mariners’ top hitter in 2011. His swing is compact, and he takes a direct path to the ball, so expect plenty of opposite-field extra-base hits, too. 

    His future as a catcher has been heavily scrutinized due to his poor receiving skills and slow release, but it appears that the Mariners will at least give him a chance this season. In the long-term, though, Montero’s bat seems destined for a 1B/DH role.

    ETA: 2012

2. Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers

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    Position: SS                       

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 165 lbs. 

    DOB: 2/20/1993           

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2010, Curacao

    2011 Stats:

    Single-A: .286/.390/.493, 23 SB, .207 ISO, 143 wRC+ (516 PA)

    2012 Stats:

    Double-A: .240/.306/.480, 10 XBH, 4 SB, 15 K/7 BB (19 G)

    Overview: There’s a whole lot to like about the 19-year-old Profar, who is the unanimous top infield prospect in all of baseball. He possesses an above-average bat from both sides of the plate that’s highlighted by an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. He has surprising strength for his size that, when bundled with his quick wrists, could yield 15-25 home run potential.

    Profar also made strides as a base stealer in 2011—his first full season—but his speed is only above average. Beyond his obvious offensive potential, Profar is a stud at shortstop. He is a plus defender with excellent range and soft hands and also possesses a plus arm that will allow him to remain at the position. 

    Due to the Rangers’ current middle infield combo of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, there’s a chance Profar begins his major league career at second base. But that will only be temporary, as the 19-year-old is undoubtedly the team’s shortstop of the future.        

    ETA: 2014

1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Position: OF                       

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 200

    DOB: 8/7/1991            

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted/Signed: 2009, first round (Millville HS, NJ)

    2011 Stats:

    Double-A: .326/.414/.544, 33 SB, .218 ISO, 160 wRC+ (412 PA)

    MLB: .220/.281/.390, .171 ISO, 89 wRC+ (130 PA)

    2012 Stats:

    Triple-A: .403/.467/.623, 21 R, 10 XBH, 48 TB, 6 SB, 16 K/11 BB (20 G)

    Overview: Like Bryce Harper, Trout has all the tools to be a major league superstar. He possesses game-changing speed that grades out as a seven, and plays just as well in the outfield as he does on the base paths.  Despite what we saw in his cup of coffee with the Angels toward the end of the 2011 season, Trout has MLB-ready plate discipline. That’s not to say that he won’t be forced to make adjustments, especially against quality off-speed offerings from right-handers. 

    He has that rare power-speed combo to be a legitimate 30/30 when given an everyday job. His arm is his weakest tool, but is above-average and suitable for center field. The Angels’ outfield is still overcrowded with Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos and Bobby Abreu, so Trout is waiting patiently at Triple-A for his opportunity in 2012.  

    ETA: 2012

10 More Who Just Missed the Cut

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    11. Jean Segura, SS/2B, Los Angeles Angels

    12. Nick Franklin, SS, Seattle Mariners

    13. Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers

    14. Mike Olt, 3B, Texas Rangers

    15. Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels

    16. Brad Peacock, RHP, Oakland Athletics

    17. Garrett Richards, RHP, Los Angeles Angels

    18. Grant Green, OF, Oakland Athletics

    19. Cody Buckel, RHP, Texas Rangers

    20. Sonny Gray, RHP, Oakland Athletics