As the 2012 regular season approaches you’re going to read a lot about the potential top rookie contributors. Many of those lists, if not all, will contain the likes of Mike Trout (Angels), Matt Moore (Tampa Bay), and Bryce Harper (Washington) – and understandably so. However, as with every other year, teams will receive key contributions from other prospect graduates, many of whom will fly under the radar.
Let’s have a look a few names to key an eye on:
Simon Castro, RHP, Chicago AL: At one time Castro was one of the best prospects in San Diego’s system. He’s fallen on hard times but can still tease the upper 90s with his fastball. He has a big, strong frame perfect for providing lots of innings as a starter but he could really see his value jump with a move to the bullpen. He has the necessary stuff to dominate in a high-leverage role if he can improve his command. Castro possesses a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a wipe-out slider. Chicago has very poor pitching depth in the upper levels of the minor league system so Castro should receive a pretty significant opportunity to establish himself as a big league pitcher.
Evan Crawford, LHP, Toronto: The Blue Jays bullpen has undergone a significant makeover since the end of 2011 but the left-handed depth remains questionable. The club brought in veteran Darren Oliver but he’s 41 years old. The second lefty should be Luis Perez who had a nice rookie season. He has decent stuff but also struggles with his command and control; he’ll look to avoid the sophomore curse. Crawford, originally taken out of Auburn University in 2008, has really taken off since being moved to the bullpen. He has a good fastball for a southpaw and a decent breaking ball but he’s also a ground-ball machine. Crawford’s ground-ball rate was 53% in 2011 at double-A but had been above 60% the previous two seasons. The lefty chews up left-handed batters and holds his own against right-handers. He won’t win any awards at the big league level but he has a chance to be quite valuable.
Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Texas: Since this time last year the Rangers organization has solidified the back-end of its bullpen with addition of veteran relievers Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, and Koji Uehara. The remainder of the bullpen is rather thin on experience and the relocation of Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation does not help. Scheppers is an interesting player and could potentially have a huge impact in the Rangers bullpen thanks to his high-90s heat and plus curveball. The downside is that the right-hander needs to stay healthy, something he hasn’t been able to do since… high school? After appearing in just 28 games in 2011 during the regular season, Scheppers pitched in the Venezuela Winter League and posted a 0.69 ERA in 14 games. He induced a high number of ground-ball outs and struck out 16 batters… but he also walked 13. The former first round draft pick has the potential to eventually become a dominating closer at the big league level but he needs to show improved control.
Ryan Flaherty, IF, Baltimore: You don’t often see Rule 5 picks play key roles at the big league level. However, Flaherty is not your typical Rule 5 selection. He’s likely big-league ready and Baltimore’s lack of depth could provide him with plenty of playing time on the left side of the infield at the hot corner. He can also play second base and both corner outfield positions. Flaherty may not hit for a high average but he has good left-handed pop and takes his fair share of walks. He could end up being a poor man’s Dan Uggla as a Rule 5 pick that goes on to have a solid career at the big league level and makes his previous organization regret letting him go for virtually nothing in return.
Darin Mastroianni, CF, Minnesota: Mastroianni may have gotten a bit of a raw deal while playing in Toronto. His family members openly criticized the organization when he was passed over for promotions for other outfield prospects so the change of scenery could work wonders for the speedy outfielder. He can play all three outfield positions and originally played second base when he entered pro ball. Mastroianni needs to do a better job of driving the ball but he understands that he needs to work his game around his biggest asset, his speed. He has versatility that could be useful off the bench.