July 5, 2012
Don't You Forget About Me
With the short-season leagues beginning in June, it's a nice reminder that not every prospect is a Bryce Harper or a Mike Trout who will get to the big leagues in no time. For most, it's a slow and steady process with any number of bumps in the road along the way. For many 2011 draftees, the short-season leagues represent their first chance to show up in box scores, so here's an all Don't You Forget About Me team comprised of some high picks from last June who are just now getting their careers going.
Catcher: Tyler Marlette, Mariners
Marlette was a fifth-round selection in 2011, but he fell due to signability rather than talent concerns before ultimately coming to terms on a $650,000 bonus. While Marlette is a touch on the small side, he earns high grades for his defense, and in particular his plus arm, and he's shown the potential for plus power down the road. He's hit .267/.313/.356 in his first 12 games for Pulaski in the Appalachian League while gunning down 42% of opposing base stealers.
First Base: Dan Vogelbach, Cubs
A second-round pick last year who signed for first-round money with a $1.6 million bonus, Vogelbach drew some Prince Fielder comparisons during his high school career in Florida, both for his monstrous power, as well has his physique. At just six feet tall and somewhere around 250 pounds, Vogelbach is the definition of a bat-only prospect, as he's a 20 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and a poor defender. While it's early, he's hit .432/.368/.773 in 10 Arizona League games, and he wouldn't have gotten that kind of bonus without scouts believing that the bat can play.
Second Base: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Second base is the toughest position to fill, as nearly every high school middle infielder begins as a shortstop, but Betts is generally seen as moving to second base down the road, if not center field. A fifth-round pick who received a $750,000 bonus, Betts is small at five-foot-nine, and does not project to add power to his game, but he's a plus runner with a line-drive bat and some work to do defensively. Hitting .268/.293/.286 in 14 games for Lowell in the New York-Penn League, Betts could add to what is some impressive depth for the Red Sox at the lower levels.
Third Base: Travis Harrison, Twins
Normally seen as conservative drafters, the Twins broke the mold when they selected Harrison with the 50th overall pick and signed him to a seven-figure bonus. They have a history of taking it slow with prospects, and Harrison has begin his career with Elizabethton in the Appalachian League and hit .354/.436/.479 in his first 12 games. There are questions as to his ability to stay at third base, but he's a plus hitter with power potential in a system desperate for high-ceiling offensive prospects.
Shortstop: Brandon Martin, Rays
With so many early picks in 2011, the Rays got a small discount on some, including Martin, who signed for $860,000 as the 38th overall selection out of a California high school. While Martin's plus defense has always appealed to scouts, his offense has been a pleasant surprise, including a .275/.327/.549 line in 12 games for Princeton in the Appalachian League this year. Despite a small frame, he has some leverage in his swing for at least gap power, and is starting to be seen as a bit of a sleeper.
Left Field: Larry Greene Phillies
The Phillies top pick in last year's draft at No. 39 overall, Greene was drafted for his prodigious power, as one scout compared Greene's six-foot, 235 pound physique to that of a professional wrestler, and he can put on a show in batting practice. Now we'll see if he can hit, as his ability to do so was the subject of much debate last spring. With a .234 batting average, 17 strikeouts and no home runs in his first 14 games for Williamsport in the New York-Penn League, we still don't have an answer.
Center Field: Bubba Starling, Royals
It's amazing that some seem to be down on Starling before last year's fifth overall pick had even gotten his career started. Nobody in the industry saw Starling as a quick mover, as he was always an extreme athlete who would be learning how to play baseball. With two home runs on Monday in his fourth professional game for Burlington in the Appalachian League, he's showing the raw power to go with the potential for outstanding center field defense, but the swing-and miss in his game will have to be monitored.
Right Field: Brandon Nimmo, Mets
Like Starling, Nimmo offers plenty to dream on, but his reality is far from his ceiling. The 13th overall pick last June, Nimmo is an exceptionally raw product, and it's shown so far in 14 games for Brooklyn in the New York-Penn League, during which he's hit .184/.365/.286. He has a downright pretty swing from the left side and is a fluid, graceful athlete, but he's also the kind of player who might not impress in the stat sheet for three years as he adjusts to professional-level pitching.
Starting Pitcher: Daniel Norris, Blue Jays
Norris was generally seen as the best high school southpaw in last year's draft, but a high price tag scared teams away; the Blue Jays eventually nabbed him in the second round and then signed him for $2 million, well below Norris' initial demands. Norris has a combination of stuff and polish rarely found in a teenager, as his low-90s fastball can reach 95, he can spin a breaking ball and has some feel for a changeup; he throws strikes with all three thanks to a fluid, athletic delivery. He's limited Appalachian League batters to a .167 average in his first three outings, and in a system loaded with young arms, Norris had the potential to stand out.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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