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Prospect Sleepers: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

During my 2011-12 Top 15 prospects lists (in other words, prior to the 2012 season) I added a 16th player to each list by identifying a sleeper, or potential breakout star. Looking back more than a year later, I am still quite pleased with the picks – although I had more than a few misses with my collection of hits. Prospecting writing is, after all, about trying to be right more often than you’re wrong.

Below, you’ll find a review of some of my best picks, as well as my worst choices. Next week, I’ll role out a new group of sleeper prospects for 2013 – chosen by both myself and some of the smartest talent evaluators, scouts and front office members from around Major League Baseball.

The Good

1. Jeff Ames, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 13th

Ames, 22, has been brought along slowly by the ultra-conservative Rays organization. A hard-thrower with above-average control, the right-handed pitcher has spent his first two seasons in short-season ball trying to improve his secondary offerings. With his slider now flashing plus potential, the club remains optimistic that he’ll stick in the starting rotation. He posted a 7.12 ERA (3.04 FIP) during his debut but that number dropped to 2.10 (2.62 FIP) in 2012. Ames will move up to full-season ball in 2013 and has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter if he reaches his potential.

2. Humberto Arteaga, SS, Kansas City Royals, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 18th

A defensive specialist at shortstop, Arteaga made strides at the plate in 2012 by increasing his contact rate. Although he’s still super-aggressive (3.4% walk rate), the Venezuela native reduced his strikeout rate from 17.0 to 11.8 K%. FanGraphs’ own Mike Newman ranked Arteaga as the 10th best shortstop he saw in 2012 and was impressed with his quick hands, which should help him hit for solid gap power as he matures. The young infielder will move up to full-season ball in 2013.

3. Carter Capps, RHP, Seattle Mariners, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 6th

A 2011 supplemental third round draft pick, Capps is an example of excellent scouting. He’s dominated pro ball since signing and reached the majors in his first full season. The North Carolina native has a lot of supporters in the Mariners organization, and deservedly so. With his power stuff, he has the ceiling of a high-leverage reliever and should spend most — if not all — of 2013 in the majors.

4. Tyler Collins, OF, Detroit Tigers, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 7th

The left-handed hitting outfielder does a little bit of everything but falls under the “tweener” category with not enough range for center field and not enough power for the corner outfield. If a team is OK without the prototypical power, though, Collins could be a solid big-league contributor thanks to his ability to hit for a high average and make consistent contact with gap power. He’ll move up to double-A to begin the 2013 season and Detroit’s limit minor league depth could help him reach the majors by the end of the year.

5. Zach Davies, RHP, Baltimore Orioles, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 13th

With the likes of pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in the Orioles system, it’s easy to understand how a player like Davies can get overlooked. He held his own in low-A ball while making his pro debut in 2012. Currently more of a pitch-to-contact guy, the Arizona native has a lot of room to fill out his slender frame. Davies doesn’t have a huge ceiling he could develop into a useful fourth starter or swing man.

6. Alen Hanson, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 3rd

Hanson showed potential in 2011 at the rookie ball level when he displayed good control of the strike zone while flashing both speed and gap power. The middle infielder then saw his power increase even further in 2012 while also hitting more than .300. He stole 35 bases but showed his rawness on the base paths when he got nabbed 19 times. He also has to add polish in the field if he’s going to stick at shortstop. Hanson, 20, will likely open 2013 in high-A ball but could reach double-A by the end of the year.

7. Navery Moore, RHP, Atlanta Braves, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 10th

Moore is hardly a household name at this point but he solidified himself as a player to watch in the Braves system after a solid 2012 season. The Vanderbilt alum made 11 starts in the first half of the season but just two in the latter half after he moved to the bullpen – the role he fulfilled in college. Moore’s ultimate role remains up in the air but he flashes above-average velocity on his heater. The development of his breaking stuff will help determine his future.

8. Michael Perez, C, Arizona Diamondbacks, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 11th

Arizona’s 2012 first round draft pick Stryker Trahan — an offensive-minded catcher — impressed Mike Newman this spring but Perez is a talented backstop in his own right. And he’s a step ahead of his 18-year-old organization-mate. The 20-year-old Puerto Rican backstop flashes a solid offensive game with a left-handed swing that allowed him to hit .293 with 10 home runs in 2012. He needs to tighten his plate discipline if he’s going to continue to hit for average but he should get plenty of experience as the starting catcher at the low-A level in 2013.

9. Domingo Tapia, RHP, New York Mets, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 9th

The Mets organization boasts a good group of power arms and Tapia can dial his heater up into the mid-to-upper 90s. What’s just as impressive, though, is his ability to generate a significant downward plane on his pitches, which creates above-average ground-ball rates. Tapia flashes a potentially-plus changeup but his breaking ball is below average and will ultimately help dictate his future ceiling.

10. Jose Vinicio, SS, Boston Red Sox, FANGRAPHS 2012-13 Rank: 20th

Mike Newman ranked Vinicio as the eighth best shortstop prospect that he watched play in 2012, noting the switch-hitter’s above-average hit tool, speed and defense. Still just 19, the slender Dominican Republic native is oozing potential and just needs to eat a few double cheeseburgers, while also adding some patience at the plate. He’ll be challenged by the bigger, stronger pitchers in the Carolina League (A+).

The Bad

1. Pin-Chieh Chen, CF, Chicago Cubs:

I looked at Chen as a player that possessed the floor of a fourth outfielder and the ceiling of a regular center-fielder. For the first time in his career, the Taiwan native appeared in full-season ball in 2012 but saw all three categories in his triple-slash line take a dive. It wasn’t all bad, though, as the 21-year-old Chen stole more than 30 bases, showed a respectable BB/K rate of 0.79 and improved his range in center field.

2. Alberth Martinez, OF, San Diego Padres:

A good defensive outfielder, the onus was on Martinez in 2012 to prove that he could offer something at the plate, too. Unfortunately, after hitting just .129 in 20 low-A ball games he was sent back to short-season ball for the duration of the season. Unfortunately, his wRC+ of 85 in the Northwest League was nothing to write home about and he enters 2013 with a huge question mark over his head.

3. Jordan Scott, OF, Houston Astros:

Scott, 21, hit .337 in 60 short-season games in 2011 but saw his average drop more than 100 points when he moved up to full-season ball last year. The left-handed hitting outfielder managed just 16 extra base hits in 110 games, which resulted in a slugging percentage of .280. If we’re looking for positives, we need to point to his increased walk rate (11.9 BB%) and respectable BB/K rate of 0.70.

4. Josh Smoker, LHP, Washington Nationals:

I was correct in thinking the Nationals would feature a breakout reliever in 2012, rising from the ashes of past draft glory, but I got the name wrong by choosing Smoker over Christian Garcia. Both pitchers struggled with injuries in 2012 but the former appeared in just six games. He showed breakout potential in 2011 after moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen but right now Smoker is just broken.

5. Isaias Tejeda, C, New York:

As I’ve said before, if you’re going to unearth a sleeper in the Yankees system you have to dig more than half way to China to find someone the plethora of hardcore fans aren’t all over like Carson Cistulli on a bottle of wine. Tejeda seemed like a perfect player: a catcher potentially poised to emerge as an offensive-minded breakout. He posted a .971 OPS in rookie ball in 2011 but then dipped to .575 in the New York Penn League last season. The catching depth in the minor league system remains deep and Tejeda, 21, is close to getting lost in the shuffle.