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. Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles
The best pitching prospect in the game, Dylan Bundy capped off a meteoric rise to Baltimore with 1 2/3 September innings out of the Orioles bullpen. Having seen his professional debut, I was blown away by his ability to bump 98 MPH without much effort. Add to this secondary offerings which sharpened by the inning and the result was the most dominant pitching performance I’ve ever seen in person. After receiving flack over the years for not being overwhelmed by other top flight arms, seeing Bundy really validated for me what a dominant pitching prospect should be. An extreme nitpick would cause one to question his muscular frame and room for growth physically, but that development has helped him advance so quickly to this point.
2. Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
“Did Taijuan Walker under perform his stuff?” It’s a question I receive at least weekly now that prospect followers have had a chance to reflect on his underwhelming surface numbers in 2012. Fact is, a 4.04 FIP at 19 in Double-A when legitimate hitting prospects are three years Walker’s senior is extremely impressive. Having seen his final start of the 2012 season, I was pleased to see his stuff was even better than my first look in early June. Walker’s velocity was 94-96 MPH and his mid-70’s curveball continued to be a “fall off the table” breaking pitch. Add to this a changeup which continues to develop and what’s left is the second best pitching prospect in baseball behind the aforementioned Dylan Bundy.
3. Trevor Bauer, Arizona Diamondbacks
In 2012, Bauer posted gaudy Double-A numbers before late season struggles in Triple-A and at the big league level dinged his value in the eyes of prospect followers. My favorite quote of 2012 was a quote regarding Bauer in which a scout commented, “Bauer will have outings where he looks like a young Kerry Wood and strikes out 15, but he’ll also be chased in the second on occasion as well. He just kind of throws the fastball up there. It also makes me wonder how he’ll fare a second time through the league.” I’m not sure what there is to add other than this particular scout deserves a raise. And while one can’t help but be impressed by a prospect like Bauer due to a deep arsenal, his fastball had little movement which is a bit concerning considering his propensity to pitch up in the zone.
4. Kyle Crick, San Francisco Giants
My look at Kyle Crick was admittedly a bad one. In a late season start, he sat 92-95 throughout with both an inconsistent slider and changeup. At his worst, I saw a mid-rotation workhorse with the potential to throw 200+ innings per season. At his best, contacts have seen “electric stuff” from the young right-hander including an upper-90’s fastball and upper-80’s wipe out slider. In his second full season, Crick is positioned to shoot up prospect rankings as he continues to develop consistency. I can think of no better prospect in the Giants system at this point.
5. Taylor Guerrieri, Tampa Bay Rays
Another pitcher I did not see at his best due to a minor injury, Taylor Guerrieri still presented as a talented prospect. At 91-93 MPH with an above average curveball, the stuff was solid overall — Especially his impressive fastball command. However, fellow prospect brethren JD Sussman saw Guerrieri as a special pitcher with more velocity and better secondary offerings than I witnessed in person. A scout in attendance also mentioned seeing Guerrieri up to 98 previously as well. Due to this additional information, I’m willing to give Guerrieri the benefit of the doubt resulting in the aggressive ranking. Plus, my gut tells me he has a slightly better chance to remain a starter long term than the 6th-9th ranked prospects on this list who have similarly lethal stuff when going well.
6. Allen Webster, Boston Red Sox
Capable of competing with any pitching prospect in baseball for four innings, Webster’s stuff has fallen off a cliff the two times I’ve scouted him forcing me to question whether or not he’s a starter in the end. Early in games, Webster presents with four usable pitches including a fastball with sink. 2012 saw him add velocity as well working full innings at 94-96 MPH, touching 98, albeit with a bit too much effort for comfort. It’s difficult to not become enamored with his ground ball heavy arsenal and envision Webster as a rotation stalwart. However, Webster is going to have to add size to a frame which is more video game wizard than pitching prospect. And with his slim frame, I’m just not sure how much he will be able to add.
7. Nathan Eovaldi, Florida Marlins
The fact Eovaldi is a personal favorite of mine goes to show just how deep this list of pitchers actually is. At his best, I’ve witnessed Eovaldi work full innings at 95-97 MPH, touching 98 with a touch of sink down in the zone. His slider is a quality pitch at times, but little feel for a changeup really clouds his projection. The fact his career FIP stands at 4.18 through 150+ innings gives me hope for a bright future as a quality third starter, but a third pitch sure would help the upside projection. Fortunately for Eovaldi, his new home in Florida will afford him on-the-job training without having to be concerned about playing the up-and-down prospect yo-yo game.
8. Alex Meyer, Washington Nationals
When I first watched Alex Meyer on television as a pitcher for the University of Kentucky, I was blown away by what appeared to be a dominant fastball/slider combination. Seeing him take the mound for Hagerstown was a must — Especially after lucking into the start due to a rain out. Unfortunately, Meyer disappointed showing less velocity (93-96 MPH, touching 97) and inconsistent slider. However, the change was a pleasant surprise. I left the park thinking Meyer had a late inning reliever projection, but he spent the rest of the season dominating minor league hitters. Having finished 2012 with a 139/45 K/BB ratio in 129 innings pitched, I’m willing to take a wait and see approach…for now.
9. Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros
Watching Lance McCullers Jr. in person served as a reminder of why seeing prospects in person is so important for me. For whatever reason, I learned more about McCullers Jr. than other prospects in the 2012 draft — Especially the knocks on him as a prospect. Big fastball. One secondary offering. Reliever projection. In person, the Astros pitcher worked his fastball at 92-94 MPH, touching 96. He mixed in a so-so slider and changeup which was much better than I was expecting. I worry the stuff plays a little flat at this point, but he obviously has plenty of time to work out the kinks.
10. Matt Magill, Los Angeles Dodgers
I saw Magill while sitting with a veteran scout who said, “Magill has more stuff than Kevin Slowey.” And while I can hear the whistling of thousands of index fingers twirling in the air in unison, that’s a pretty impressive feat considering Magill was a 31st round pick. With an 89-92 MPH fastball and slider which flashed plus, Magill has the ceiling of a number four starter with the floor of an excellent ROOGY. Prospect followers will want to point to the lofty strikeout totals as an indicator he has more in the tank, but his slider is a real out pitch against minor league hitters and just won’t be as effective against big league hitters.
11. Brad Peacock, Oakland Athletics
One of the biggest misses of my 2012 season in scouting was not being out front on Peacock’s struggles. In Arizona, I saw a “blah” pitching prospect with a flat, 88-92 MPH fastball and average-ish secondary offerings. At the time, I was overly concerned about brief looks and held back a few more incendiary observations and this was one of them. The pitcher I saw in Arizona was a middle reliever/swing man in the mold of Reds J.J. Hoover — Maybe even with less stuff. Readers who have been with me for awhile might remember my using the “Hoover Line” at one time to identify the perfectly average pitching prospect.
12. Kevin Comer, Houston Astros
When seeing Comer in person, I was shocked at how pedestrian his stuff was considering his being a high pick of the Blue Jays and later being involved in a trade to the Astros. At 88-90 MPH, Comer spotted a fringe fastball relatively well. Additionally, he threw a loopy curve for strikes, but the pitch lacked any real downward bite. In three innings, he wound up being hit pretty hard including a long home run to Alex Hudak, a 2012 NDFA. Comer’s arsenal is one I’ve seen many times before. Only those pitchers are generally not generally first round picks or highly touted guys.