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Early Prospect Sleepers: Austin, Davis, Herrera, Lino

During the off-season, the one prospect question I never seem to have an answer for in chats is, “give me a sleeper prospect for the upcoming season.” For me, sleeper prospects are discussed throughout the season as a player’s performance is perceived as far more impressive than the prospect chatter surrounding said player.

In 2011, a few sleeper favorites included Rangers Christian Villanueva, Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Jacobs and Nathan Eovaldi who made the jump from unheralded prospects to top-100 performers in a season’s time. However, sleepers in general were few and far between during the 2011 season as so few stones go left unturned with the amount of prospect and rankings information flowing freely on the Internet.

Fortunately, the 2012 season has started with a bang as four bats have really stuck out as sleeper worthy over the first couple of weeks. Surprisingly, a Yankees prospect even makes an appearance, although I guess it’s pretty easy to be overshadowed when teammates include Gary Sanchez, Dante Bichette Jr. and Mason Williams.

With six hits in two games including a two-home run performance and four-hit effort with two doubles, Yankees Tyler Austin mashed his way into this piece as he reminded me a bit of Brandon Jacobs at the same time last season. Austin isn’t as physically imposing as Jacobs, but showed similar power potential with a more compact swing leading to consistent barrel contact. Austin’s big knock is that he truly profiles as a corner outfield prospect so the bat really needs to play at an elite level for him to have significant value. I’m not sold it is, but have seen lesser talents ride age appropriate success to a top-100 ranking.

In Asheville, a pair of Orioles prospects were part of the under card for Dylan Bundy‘s professional debut. Glynn Davis, an outfielder who signed as a free agent for $100,000 displayed tools worthy of a prospect with an additional zero at the end of his check stub. In fact, his tools rival that of Yankees prospect and top-100 performer Mason Williams who signed for 1.45 million. At 20, Davis still needs to develop the baseball skills to maximize his tools, but the foundation is there for a double-digit home run, 30+ steal player with plus range in centerfield.

Teammate Gabriel Lino also impressed as an 18-year old with power potential behind the plate. Lino unleashed aggressive cuts by violently uncoiling from a deep load pre-swing. This style of hitting will leave him susceptible to off-speed pitches, but a scouting contact once told me he’d much rather tone down an aggressive swing than ask a player to do the opposite. With Lino, his ability to combine an unbridled approach with hard, barrel contact makes him an intriguing prospect. His arm and defense lags behind at this juncture, but time is definitely on his side.

Rosell Herrera is responsible for my fondest memory of the 2012 season thus far. During batting practice, his manager challenged the young Dominican to get two hits on two pitches. After taking the first pitch and gesturing to his manager that the pitch was too high, Herrera unloaded a long ball over the right centerfield fence. On the next pitch, Herrera took again. This time, he gestured low-and-away to the coach throwing. One final pitch was thrown to Herrera in which he smacked a second ball over the fence in right center. And while nobody really hit Dylan Bundy, Herrera came the closest lining a changeup to right field for a foul ball. At present, Herrera’s position is still to be determined as shortstop is probably not a long term option. However, with electric bat speed and an improving feel for contact, his bat has the projection to profile elsewhere.