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. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
I’ll be the first to admit cheating a bit on Correa as I made the 5+ hour trip to Greeneville, Tennessee to see him play only for it to be his off day. For the sake of full disclosure, I saw very little of Correa doing anything baseball related, but what little I did see was enough to make a prospect followers heart skip beats. Learning the Astros were moving from Lexington after the season concluded was a real kick to the groin given the near miss. Even worse was that the closest Midwest League Affiliate, Bowling Green, would not host Quad Cities either. Correa might force me to make the longest in season scouting trip yet.
2. Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers
Had Jean Segura been born in the United States, I have little doubt he would have become a highly recruited tailback due to his athleticism and explosion. He admittedly presented as a bit rough at shortstop which carried over to Milwaukee as he made 10 errors in 44 games. However, he’s still relatively new to the position and has nobody of note pushing for the Brewers shortstop job. Segura has showed very little ability to drive the ball at the big league level, but should develop into a 15 home run, 30 stolen base threat during his peak years.
3. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Few position players presented with a more balanced set of tools/skills than Trevor Story did this season. With average or better tools across the board, Story has few, if any weaknesses even though prospect followers may consider Story an offense first shortstop. And while that may be true to a point, it does undersell his defensive ability. He may wind up the Rockies second baseman of the future due to Troy Tulowitzki, but it won’t be because he can’t play shortstop at the big league level.
4. Brad Miller, Seattle Mariners
Does Miller have a ceiling as high as the fifth and sixth prospects on this list? No, but a .334/.410/.512 line including excellent production at the Double-A level has me believing he’s the shortstop of the future in Seattle. In person, Miller’s range was much better than I was expecting and he showed the ability to make plays deep in the 5/6 hole. This, along with excellent bat control leaves him with a high floor. For me, he has the makings of a three win shortstop with room for a bit more if things break right.
5. Luis Sardinas, Texas Rangers
Sardinas has big tools, but a slew of injuries have limited his playing time at the minor league level. At 19, a stellar season in the South Atlantic League was rewarded with an aggressive placement in the Arizona Fall League where he’s off to a fine start. Sardinas has the ceiling of a plus defender with the potential for two-hole offensive production. If I had no concerns about his injury history and potential for future issues, Sardinas would be in the top-three.
6. Roman Quinn, Philadelphia Phillies
Impact speed is Quinn’s calling card. If I were a betting man, he’d be my pick for the next prospect to surpass 100 stolen bases in a minor league season. Like Reds shortstop turned center fielder Billy Hamilton, the Phillies have challenged the 19-year old to switch hit to maximize his best tool. At present, he’s much stronger from the right side, but Quinn has the athleticism to improve quickly. In defensive drills and game action, Quinn was noticeably rough in terms of footwork, but has the range to stick which is more than can be said for most.
7. Didi Gregorius, Cincinnati Reds
A premium athlete who receives bonus points for being close to MLB ready, Didi Gregorius is a flashy defensive shortstop with a questionable offensive ceiling. At the plate, I like the way Gregorius’ hands work, but his grip-and-rip approach may need to be tempered some. Regardless, defense is Gregorius’ calling card and makes him a valuable commodity on the trade market should the Reds look to upgrade this off-season. Taking it one step further, would Cincinnati look to deal the steady Zack Cozart (2.7 WAR) to free up the shortstop position for Gregorius who’s four years his junior?
8. Jose Vinicio, Boston Red Sox
Injuries shortened Vinicio’s 2012 season, but the 18-year old shortstop projected as a plus defender when he did play. Add to this an average-to-above hit tool, as well as above average-to-plus foot speed and Vinicio becomes one of the more exciting young players in the Red Sox organization. The one thing really holding him back at this time is a serious lack of strength as Vinicio is one of the leanest players I’ve seen on a baseball field. Common sense would say this also negatively affects his durability and may have contributed Vinicio’s injury problems.
9. Niko Goodrum, Minnesota Twins
The last of the big tools shortstops, Niko Goodrum provides the potential for plus defense in a picture perfect 6-foot-3 frame. At present, his glove work needs refinement, but Goodrum ranges into the 5/6 hole as well as any shortstop prospect I’ve seen. Unfortunately, Goodrum’s hitting ability lags behind his defensive skills making a strong offensive projection difficult. In batting practice, Goodrum struggled to make hard, barrel contact on a consistent bases, but did look better in game action. Goodrum’s less likely to reach the big league level than players below him on this list, but I’m willing to take that chance considering the potential pay off should his offense ever come together.
10. Humberto Arteaga, Kansas City Royals
Smooth is the one word I’d use to describe the 18 year old Arteaga as he left a solid overall impression when seeing him in the Appalachian League. At shortstop, he presents as a prospect who can make all of the plays and throws, but does it with little flash or moxy. I have an affinity for shortstops who appear to be gliding to batted balls and Arteaga is one of those guys. At the plate, he displayed quick hands by turning on an inside fastball off of former first rounder Kevin Comer resulting in a laser to left field.
11. Gavin Cecchini, New York Mets
You know it has been a good season for shortstops when the twelfth overall selection in the 2012 draft doesn’t crack my personal top-10. Gavin Cecchini is a nice player, but I’m more apt to take style over substance at the shortstop position which is why bigger tools rank higher on this list. Should Cecchini develop as planned, then he’s a solid all-around shortstop with few glaring weaknesses. While he’s most likely Brooklyn bound in 2013, 200+ plate appearances at the rookie ball level leaves me hoping a more aggressive full season placement is in the cards next spring.
12. Deven Marrero, Boston Red Sox
Another 2012 first round pick, Marrero was steady, but a little “meh” when seeing him in person. Defensively, Marrero had excellent hands, as well as average range and arm strength. he won’t be flashy, but will make the routine plays and surprise with a web gem on occasion. At the plate, he’s a gap-to-gap hitter who appeared more than happy to spray balls the other way. This leaves me questioning his power potential and whether Marrero has 8-10 home runs in him at the big league level.
13. Nick Ahmed, Atlanta Braves
Love the frame, but wonder how much he’ll hit at the upper levels. For me, Ahmed has a higher ceiling than Marrero, but his rougher edges make a big league projection more difficult to project. With Andrelton Simmons and now Ahmed, the Braves have done an excellent job of finding value at shortstop outside of the first round in recent years. And while the aforementioned Marrero does rank higher, Ahmed presents as a steal considering his third round price tag when compared to other higher profile, bigger money prospects on this list.
14. Jose Fernandez, Houston Astros
Truth be told, I had no idea who Fernandez was before seeing him play in Greeneville. But with Carlos Correa not in the lineup, only three players in the starting lineup struck me as prospects and Fernandez was one of them. Fernandez presents as unrefined to some degree in all areas of his game. But at 19, the Dominican infielder has time to add polish. Maybe I just saw him at his absolute best during a multi-hit effort, but I’d be willing to spend a lottery ticket on Fernandez.
15. Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
An excellent athlete, Givens failed to gain any traction as a shortstop prospect for a variety of reasons and is likely to be converted back to the mound where he excelled as a prep player.
16. Cito Culver, New York Yankees
Culver placing last on a list of shortstops behind a guy being converted to pitcher is likely to draw the ire of Yankees fans, but the ranking is not meant to be a dig. When the kindest words one can muster about a former first round pick are, “he knows how to draw a walk”, there’s really not much hope. If these lists were limited to only quality prospects and not every position player who may be of some interest, Culver wouldn’t have received this many words.