Blessing’s 2012 Top 50 Prospects Scouted: Prospects 10 thru 1
Going through all my boxscores this season, I watched over 450 different players play across three levels of the minor leagues. I’ve seen guys who are familiar to casual prospect follower, like Byron Buxton and Zach Lee, to guys who are just trying to hang on like Brahiam Maldonado and James Adduci. I’ve seen some good baseball. And I’ve seen some bad baseball. This series of articles is about some of the good I’ve seen this year; the Top 50 Prospects Scouted during the 2012 season.
10. Nick Franklin SS Mariners – Despite seeing the Jackson Generals in action several times during the 2012 season, I got my one and only look at this Mariners second baseman on my birthday of this season. Franklin impressed with a 4 for 4 game, including a homerun in the first inning off Dodgers prospect Matt Magill and a walk in his final plate appearance. After talking to a contact, FanGraphs’ Mike Newman, who had seen Franklin look ugly in every at bat the previous evening, it was easy to label Franklin as a “Jekyll and Hyde” type player during that early June series. The results weren’t the only thing impressive about Franklin’s game that afternoon. Franklin worked counts, fouled off plenty of pitches and hit every ball solidly. Other than fellow Mariners prospect Mike Zunino’s playoff home run, I can’t think of a more impressive display from the 2012 season. Franklin is likely to start 2013 in Triple A Tacoma and is fairly blocked at the big league level. Most, if not all, observers believe Franklin isn’t a viable option defensively at short. For a complete report on Franklin, check out Mike’s piece over at FanGraphs.
9. Billy Hamilton OF Reds – Admittedly, I am not gaga for Reds switch hitting outfielder Billy Hamilton. I don’t see the potential for him to be a good major league hitter. While the speed and base running ability will steal headlines, I have serious doubts regarding his ability to get on base in the big leagues. That may be surprising, considering Hamilton’s On Base Percentage between the California League and the Southern League was .410. I think his performance in the Arizona Fall League was more indicative of the type of patience he’ll have facing better pitching than the pitching he faced in the two full season leagues combined. Watching how the opposition pitched to him in 2012, pitchers were overly concerned with what Hamilton would do once he was on base and pitched to him with fear instead of going right at him with the fastball. Despite my concerns with his bat, Hamilton ranks high on this list because of his speed and base running ability. If he only got on base 30% of the time, he will still probably be able to compile a WAR over four, especially if he can turn that speed into the range he’ll need to cover centerfield. Hamilton will likely start 2013 in Triple A with Louisville and will see big league time, barring injuries. Here is an article on Hamilton’s first game in Double A from earlier this season.
8. Gregory Polanco OF Pirates – Two days after scouting Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, I was treated to an offensive prospect extravaganza in the South Atlantic league, when the West Virginia Power visited the Rome Braves. West Virginia, an affiliate of the Pirates, featured two top 50 prospects, shortstop Alen Hanson and outfielder Gregory Polanco. The left handed hitting Polanco showcased all-around advanced skills on the baseball diamond. A powerful kid, Polanco was able to showcase his impressive power by hitting a ball off the batters eye in center field off Braves left handed pitching prospect Alex Wood. While his swing is a little long, the twenty year old Polanco only struck out 64 times in 437 at bats. In the field, Polanco played a good center field, showcasing an accurate cannon from the outfield, but will likely grow out of that position and slot over to right field at some point. Polanco will likely start 2013 in High A Bradenton. For a complete scouting report, click here.
7. Kyle Crick RHP Giants – My favorite article of 2012 was my article on Kyle Crick. Why? For starters, I’ve received kudos from fans, scouts, and other writers alike for the piece. Most importantly, in a dominating start against Rome, I was able to see what could very well launch Crick into superstardom, while also seeing what could derail him from realizing his full potential. The only players with more potential than Kyle Crick that I saw in 2012 were Byron Buxton and Taijuan Walker, who both appear at the top of this list. You don’t run into many pitchers with true ace potential. There are two pitchers higher on this list that I wouldn’t say have true ace potential. However, unlike Crick, their floors are much higher. Only the aforementioned Walker has a better fastball than Crick. Like all young pitchers, Crick needs to develop his secondary offerings while also finding a consistency and rhythm on the mound. Look for Crick to start 2013 with High A San Jose in the California League. For a complete scouting report, click here.
6. Alen Hanson SS Pirates – In the year of the Shortstop, Switch Hitting Alen Hanson gets the reward for the best shortstop prospect I saw in 2012. One of my great inner debates of the past season was my overall opinion of Hanson. I left State Mutual Stadium in Rome debating which Pirates prospect was better, Gregory Polanco or Alen Hanson. I wrote up Polanco first and proclaimed him to be better. However, after reviewing videotape, reviewing my notes and speaking to a contact, I clearly proclaimed Hanson to be the better prospect. This is an opinion-based business that I’m trying to break into. Taking a lesson from my day job as a real estate property appraiser, an opinion is only as good as the facts and the appraiser giving the opinion. Watching video of Hanson, I saw a kid, especially from the right side of the plate, who was as mechanically sound as they come at 19 with tremendous instincts. From the left side, mechanically, he’s not the same guy. But the instincts, the bat speed, and the lower half strength were all there. In the field, the kid has the potential to be at least average defensively. Right now, the game is too fast for him in the field, rushing through many of his chances. It explains the high error total. Blessed with good speed and a nice arm, Hanson could transition to center if he becomes a liability at short. Like Polanco, Hanson will start 2013 with High A Bradenton. For a complete scouting report, click here.
5. Tyler Skaggs LHP DBacks – I never wrote much in depth about my take on Tyler Skaggs outside of this blurb previewing the Futures game. When I went and saw Skaggs, I was there to learn from FanGraphs Mike Newman about scouting. So I took no video, wrote only a few notes, and discussed Skaggs at length with Mike. Feeling like the scouting report on Skaggs was Mike’s baby to nurture, I didn’t feel like an in-depth scouting report stating a similar position to his needed to be written. My observations were pretty spot-on with what has been out there. Skaggs’ curve is a filthy, knee buckling, 12 to 6 breaking monster that leaves hitters mumbling curse words as they walk back to the dugout. His fastball is average, although on this evening he had little command of the pitch. His changeup needs work. So how does a two pitch pitcher end up this high on the list? Even with the lack of a three or four pitch repertoire, Skaggs can neutralize hitters and potentially could dominate as an all-star performer. I’d like to see him experiment with a cutter as well. With a plethora of starting pitchers, Skaggs is likely to start 2013 with Triple A Reno. To read FanGraphs Mike Newman’s scouting report on Tyler Skaggs, click here.
4. Danny Hultzen LHP Mariners – I expected Danny Hultzen to be better. In saying that, I acknowledge that Danny Hultzen fully has the potential of being a very good starter. Three pitches that are 55 or higher on the 20-80 scouting scale make Hultzen one of the easier guys on this list to project. I scouted Hultzen’s June 3rd start against the Chattanooga Lookouts. While his overall command was lacking, giving up 3 walks in 5 2/3rds innings, he proved to be too much for the Lookouts to overcome. What stood out most was his changeup, a plus pitch, that had good speed differential from his fastball and fantastic sink. In fact, it’s one of the best changeups I have scouted; far and away better than any other change up during the 2012 season. Most of my disappointment was with his fastball. I expected it to be refined, but it lacked command. While it wasn’t as bothersome to his linescore in Double A, it was still a red flag. I wasn’t surprised when he struggled in Triple A, especially with his walk rate. I expect, in the long run, Hultzen will be fine. While he may not have the “Ace” upside that some were projecting going into the season, he still has more than enough potential to be considered a solid number two starter at some point. I expect Hultzen to repeat at Triple A Tacoma to start 2013.
3. Mike Zunino C Mariners – After dominating the Northwest league, the best catching prospect in baseball, made a late season tour around the Southern League. I was lucky enough to catch game three and four of the Southern League North division playoff series between Zunino’s Jackson Generals and the Chattanooga Lookouts. In game one, Zunino swung and missed a bunch. Game two, Zunino was a pitcher’s nightmare. Game 1 left me with some questions about Zunino’s ability to catch up to MLB fastballs despite displaying a quick bat. The opposition was able to beat him up in the zone with the fastball. Down a few strikes, Zunino was also prone to chasing pitches. In game two, those high fastballs weren’t beating Zunino anymore. Still prone to chasing pitches low in the zone, Zunino showcased his incredible power tool by taking a ninth inning pitch and hitting it to the moon. A devastating shot that only the stadium netting could contain from landing over the freeway. Zunino will likely start 2012 in Triple A Tacoma. For a complete scouting report, click here.
2. Byron Buxton OF Twins – The only non-Mariners prospect in the top four, Byron Buxton was worth an overnight trip to see play in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Prior to Batting Practice, several members of the E-Twins were in a circle, soft tossing baseballs back, forth, left and right. The object of the game is to use one’s eyes to track the baseball, exercising one’s hand and eye coordination. In this exercise, Buxton exhibited superior hand/eye coordination. So much so that he was able to make attempts at catching baseballs that his teammates were unable to see without moving their heads or bodies. As a hitter, Buxton’s hand/eye coordination was evident. While he hasn’t learned yet how to elevate the ball off the bat, everything he hit during batting practice and the game was struck solidly. A terrific athlete, anything less that superstardom would be disappointing. Buxton will likely start 2013 in class A Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League.
1. Taijuan Walker RHP Mariners – The easiest ranking on the list. In the several drafts it took to compile this list, Taijuan Walker was number one on each and every one of them. The number of prospects who would rank ahead of walker, had I seen them, is very small. I’m talking about the Jurickson Profar’s and Dylan Bundy’s of the world. It would be an elite few. A strong, athletic kid, Walker dazzled in two starts, one in early May and another in September. The maturation of his secondary stuff from when I scouted him in May to September was amazing. There was talk that the dog days of summer took something off of his fastball but I did not observe a velocity drop of any kind. I thought he commanded the pitch much better in September than he did in May. Going into his twenty year old season, it’s likely he’ll start in Triple A Tacoma. For a complete scouting report, click here.