Seeing prospects in person is my passion. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit parks in five different leagues — collecting information and video on 200 legitimate prospects or more. The lists released over the next few weeks will highlight the best prospects I’ve seen in person at each position during the 2012 season. The rankings will be adjusted based on projected position at the major league level, not present position (in italics if ranking includes position shift). After writing the first three lists, I realized there’s really no way to keep statistical information out of the equation completely and focus on scouting/projection alone. This has caused me to hedge my bets a bit on high ceiling talents and focus more on the complete player. Additionally, understand this is not meant to be a complete list of the best prospects at each position across all of Minor League Baseball, but the best of what I’ve seen.
1. Danny Hultzen, Seattle Mariners
Hultzen’s 7.95 BB/9 in Triple-A ranks as the most surprising stat of 2012 for me. When I first scouted Hultzen in 2011, he was dominant and profiled as the best left-handed pitching prospect I’d ever seen in person. A second look in 2012 was less impressive as Hultzen’s fastball was missing a couple of MPH from the year previous. And while I appreciated the fact the Mariners organization tweaked his primary breaking pitch to allow for a distinct velocity separation from his changeup, the pitch simply wasn’t as good as the hard slider seen the previous year. Even so, he still has three Major League quality pitches including a changeup which could be a real weapon. Regardless of the walk rate, Hultzen is still the safest pitcher to project on this list and his ceiling isn’t to shabby either.
2. Tyler Skaggs, Arizona Diamondbacks
After seeing Skaggs in person, I didn’t completely understand what the excitement was about. Was he a very good pitching prospect? Sure, but not the dominant arm his ranking a consensus top-20 prospect would indicate. However, a 90-92 MPH fastball and plus curveball is a great starting point to work from. Don’t believe me? Ask Gio Gonzalez. This isn’t to say Skaggs will prove to be as good as the Nationals 21-game winner, only that his arsenal projected much better on paper after researching potential comps.
3. Onelki Garcia, Los Angeles Dodgers
Garcia is responsible for the most dominant performance I saw in 2012 after Dylan Bundy‘s debut. Against the Jackson Generals, a team featuring Mike Zunino, Brad Miller and other highly ranked prospects, Garcia shredded the competition. Across three innings, the Cuban lefty struck out seven behind a 91-93 MPH fastball and plus curve. The temptation to rank Garcia even higher was there, but his delivery had too much effort to ignore. Plus, his back story of defection and missed time forces me to consider how quickly Garcia might be able to manage a starter workload.
4. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers
2012 marked another head scratching season for Rangers Martin Perez as his second go around in Triple-A proved less fruitful than the year previous. 38 Major League innings yielded slightly better results in terms of strikeout-to-walk ratio, but his so-so showing leaves him fighting for a spot on the Rangers 2013 staff. And while he continues to frustrate, Perez continues to carry a starter profile due to secondary pitches which are inconsistent, but impressive at times. Add to this a fastball which averaged 92 MPH in 2012 and the industry will continue to wait patiently to see if things come together for him.
5. Henry Owens, Boston Red Sox
Owens’ 2012 was a mixed bag of lofty strikeout totals and too many base runners as a member of the Greenville drive. In his final start, Owens utilized a 91-94 MPH fastball and big, slow curve in five scoreless innings pitched. Additionally, his feel for a changeup and run on his fastball showed more feel than I was expecting in person. Owens has the potential to take off in 2013, but memories of current Red Sox prospect Drake Britton should temper the enthusiasm a bit.
6. Chris Reed, Los Angeles Dodgers
Reed eased into his Southern League Playoff start gaining momentum throughout the appearance. In the first inning, I wondered how he had been a first round pick? By the third inning, Reed was consistently 91-93 with his fastball and a sometimes wipe out slider. Pair this with considerable deception in his delivery and what’s left is a versatile left-handed pitcher who has the potential to fill a number of roles on a Major League team.
7. Alex Wood, Atlanta Braves
Alex Wood isn’t entirely dissimilar to Reed in that he’s a lefty with a 91-93 MPH fastball and deception. Prospect followers might think I’m crazy for liking him more than Gilmartin, but the ceiling is higher for me if things break right. In addition to his velocity, Wood also throws a changeup and curveball which can be solid offerings that play up to due the “funk” in his delivery. With J.R. Graham and now Alex Wood, the Braves organization has added two top arms outside of the first round which whould make an impact at the Major League level.
8. Sean Gilmartin, Atlanta Braves
2011 first round pick Sean Gilmartin keeps moving right along through the Braves system, finishing the season in Triple-A. On the verge of breaking through in Atlanta, the left-hander has been pushed quickly achieving a decent amount of success along the way. With an upper-80’s fastball, above average curveball and potentially plus changeup, Gilmartin has the ability to stick at the back end of a Major League rotation for a number of years. However, it most likely is not as an impact guy.
9. Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
Ranking Cingrani as the 9th best left-hander seen this season is bound to be controversial given his phenomenal success at the Double-A level, followed by a brief, but dominant stint in Cincinnati. However, I failed to see a well-rounded arsenal in person forcing me to question whether his future lies in a big league bullpen. In person, Cingrani’s fastball was “effectively wild” and his slider a solid, but inconsistent breaking pitch. Cingrani’s deception allows his arsenal to play up, allowing for a back end starter ceiling. Regardless of the outcome, Cingrani has already proved to be an absolute steal in the 3rd round for the Reds organization.
10. Brett Mooneyham, Washington Nationals
Another 3rd round pick (2012), Brett Mooneyham presented as a solid, but unspectacular pitching prospect. With a 90-92 MPH fastball and decent secondary offerings, he’s a good bet to surface as at least a bullpen option in Washington at some point. However, JD Sussman and Eno Sarris have seen him much worse than I, supporting his college reputation for being wildly inconsistent. Don’t mistake Mooneyham ranking only one spot behind Cingrani as an indication of their being nearly equivalent talents. Instead, view Mooneyham as the beginning of a definitive third tier.
11. Aaron Miller, Los Angeles Dodgers
Miller projects as a durable lefty whose stuff falls a bit short. The potential is there for him to become a spot starter/bullpen type, but little room to become much more. In person, With an 88-91 MPH fastball and so-so off speed, Miller is the definition of “fringe”. For his arsenal to really play well, plus command needs to be present and it’s not. At best, it profiles at average. At present, consider it to be below. Miller wasn’t particularly memorable, but deserves a mention due to his being a former first round pick. Now 25, the clock is ticking for him to surface in Los Angeles.
12. Kevin Matthews, Texas Rangers
Matthews was a bit of a mess when I saw him late in the season in Greenville. To start the game, his body language spoke to a shell-shocked pitcher, throwing and praying the ball would find the strike zone and not be hammered. As he settled into the appearance, he gained confidence and velocity improved. Mathews’ fastball was 87-89, touching 91 on occasion. His curveball was slurvy and all of Matthews pitches were negatively affected by an inconsistent release point. Righting Matthews mechanics will be quite a project for the Rangers organization.