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April 6, 2012

Future Shock

Surprising Minor League Assignments

by Kevin Goldstein

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With Opening Day upon us, roster decisions have been made, and while most players continue to take the standard route up the minor league ladder, there are plenty of prospects either making a double jump, or being left behind to repeat a level. Last week's player of the year watch had three teenagers-- Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and Seattle righty Taijuan Walker--who are all beginning the year in Double-A; here are ten more players beginning the year somewhere other than where many expected.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Diamondbacks
The third overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer made a serious run at opening the season in the Arizona rotation. When he fell just short, the Diamondbacks assigned him to Double-A. That said more about the environment at Triple-A Reno than it said about Bauer's talent, however. Last year, Reno home games featured an average of 14.5 runs and a composite batting average of .315; instead of exposing Bauer to that environment, Arizona will let him dominate Southern League hitters until he's called up, which won't take long.

Sean Gilmartin, LHP, Braves
While Gilmartin was certainly one of the most polished players in the 2011 draft, it's still quite rare to see a player drafted towards the end of the first round (28th overall) begin his first full season at Double-A. Gilmartin doesn't have a ceiling beyond a number four starter in the big leagues, but he's awfully close to that right now. While he'll never blow hitters away with his 87-92 mph fastball, his ability to throw strikes and keep hitters off balance with a plus changeup should play just fine at the upper levels. Mike Minor reached the big leagues in his first full season, and the Braves don't think Gilmartin will take much longer than that.

Matt Harvey, RHP, Mets
The Mets first-round pick in 2010, Harvey's full-season debut was a tale of two halves. He has a 2.37 ERA and nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings in the Florida State League, but he scuffled at times in the second-half at Double-A Binghamton, putting up a 4.53 ERA in 14 outings. Still seen as either the best or second-best prospect in the system (in tandem with Zack Wheeler), the Mets have expedited things with Harvey, who will be the opening day starter for Triple-A Buffalo. Heading into the year, a September look was the most optimistic projection for Harvey, and now it might be the baseline.

Taylor Lindsey, 2B, Angels
A supplemental first-round pick in 2010, the 20-year-old Lindsey is coming off a .362/.394/.593 line in a hitting-friendly Pioneer League, and the Angels are doing something very rare with a 20-year-old high school draftee: skipping Low-A to send him to the California League. Lindsey had eight hits in his first ten at-bats for the big league squad this spring, and continued to lace line drives all over the field in minor league camp, leaving scouts drooling on his pure hitting potential. Despite the jump, he could put up big numbers for High-A Inland Empire, and he'll have to as a second baseman who can't play on the left side.

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles
While Machado is unquestionably one of the top position prospects in the game, the Orioles surprised many by placing the 19-year-old at Double-A to begin the year. Limited to just 101 games last year due to a knee injury, Machado had a big first half, but when the Orioles promoted him to High-A Frederick once he returned to health, he hit just .245/.308/.384 in the Carolina League, so he's hardly solved that level of pitching and now will be challenged by the upper levels. The Orioles hope his talent will shine through, but expect some bumps in the road.

Wil Myers, OF, Royals
Having Myers repeat Double-A makes sense in that he's only 21-year-old and coming off a .254/.353/.393 line during an injury-plagued campaign. At the same time, it's not very common to see a system's top hitting prospect repeat a level, especially after being one of the best performers in the Arizona Fall League. However, there is suddenly no timetable for him in the big leagues, as with the recent Alex Gordon extension, there is no opening for a corner outfield job in Kansas City until Jeff Francoeur's deal expires after 2013. This is the next step in the Royals transformation: going from having the best system in the game to a big league roster that actually leaves some prospects blocked, and Myers is the first victim.

Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox
When the Red Sox selected Owens with the 36th overall pick in the draft and gave him a bonus of just over $1.5 million, it was all about projection. It's hard not to get excited about a six-foot-seven southpaw with a silky-smooth delivery, but Owens still has just average velocity; some thought he would be best served by some time in extended spring training before the short-season leagues begin. The Red Sox are a team known for aggressive assignments, and they've proven it again by putting Owens in the rotation at Low-A Greenville. He should succeed based on his plus changeup and ability to throw strikes, but it still could be another two years before we have a true sense for how good he can become.

Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, Cardinals
The roster at Double-A Springfield will open the year with a trio of players skipping High-A, and while Oscar Taveras and second baseman Kolten Wong will get the early headlines, it's the placement of Rosenthal that is the real eye opener. As a 21st-round pick in 2009, Rosenthal began his career with little buzz, and while his 4.11 ERA last year might not seem worthy of the big move, the 21-year-old struck out 133 batters over 120.1 innings while walking just 39. With a 91-94 mph fastball that can touch 96, Rosenthal has a power arm, but his success in the Texas League will be defined by his ability to hone his merely average-at-best curveball/changeup combination.

Keyvius Sampson, RHP, Padres
A fourth-round pick in 2009, Sampson whiffed 143 batters over 118 innings last year while limiting Midwest League hitters to a .192 batting average, but as a six-foot righty who still needs to improve his curveball, he wasn't the most obvious of candidates for a two-level jump. He gets most of his strikeouts from a 91-95 mph fastball that features plenty of life, as well as a plus changeup, but a rotation job at Double-A San Antonio should force him to mix his pitches better and deepen his arsenal. Scouts are mixed as to whether Sampson will start or relieve long-term, and we're suddenly much closer to finding out.

Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees
Sanchez was one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, at just 19 years old during the entire 2012 season, yet he slugged .485 for Charleston last year to go with 17 home runs, despite getting off to a very slow start that included an early season suspension for his behavior. We can't know if having him repeat the level is designed to send him a message about his work ethic or his need to make significant improvements behind the plate, but the good news is he's suddenly in line for some very big numbers, as opposed to playing every day in the pitching-friendly Florida State League.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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