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September 10, 2012

Monday Morning Ten Pack

Most Memorable Prospect Debuts

by Jason Parks, Bradley Ankrom, Hudson Belinsky and Chris Mellen

The Ten Packs lives! The Ten Packs lives! The light of the season will soon dim, and this weekly romance will retreat into quiet slumber until the dawn of a new season tickles our eager horizons. But until we disappear into that evening cave, please allow us to present some prospect froth for your Monday morning routine.

Or something like that. Just a quick introduction to let you know the Ten Pack will continue on Baseball Prospectus, although the construction will be slightly different. With a host of talented minor league minds currently attached to the site—and several more on their way—finding intelligent opinion will be a luxury we will have in abundance. To take advantage of this talent pool, the Ten Pack will morph into a communal affair, where the eyewitness accounts and first-hand experiences of our minor league staff will enhance the product and hopefully take the Ten Pack to the next level.

You’ve no doubt read both Hudson Belinsky’s and Bradley Ankrom’s contributions at Baseball Prospectus, and with this article, I’d like to offer a very crude introduction to Chris Mellen, who currently writes industry-level scouting reports on Red Sox prospects on SoxProspects.com. He was the number one draft pick for the satellite coverage set to begin in 2013, and we are very excited about his involvement with the site. I’ll deliver a more eloquent and formal introduction for Chris and the additional staff once all of the moves have been finalized. It won’t be long.

Although we won’t be jumping into theme waters very often, to commemorate the debut of the new/old product, here are ten memorable prospect debuts from the 2012 season. We could have gone 30 deep, but the chains of honor and tradition shackle us to the number ten. We are all willingly restrained. Enjoy. —Jason Parks

Clint Coulter, C, Brewers (short-season AZL Brewers)
I’m not even sure if Brewers fans know who this guy is, but everybody soon will. Drafted with the 27th overall pick, Coulter is a physical beast that projects to have a major league quality bat and the chops to stick behind the plate. While his complex league numbers exaggerate the quality of the actual projection, make no mistake about Coulter’s bat: he can hit. He has good hand-eye coordination, a clean, powerful stroke that's conducive for loud contact, and a mature approach for a teenager, giving him multiple dimensions at the plate. His work behind the plate was considered raw coming into pro ball, but with makeup that gets applauded by scouts of opposing teams, his progression at the position has been impressive. Only 19, Coulter will be one of the more interesting catching prospects to keep an eye on going forward.—Jason Parks

Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox (High A Salem)
Barnes’ stuff translated smoothly to the professional ranks in his debut season, while also showing room for more growth. Although the 42 strikeouts and 4 walks in 26 2/3 innings with Greenville screamed “conservative placement” for a first-round pick out of college, it allowed him to push the crispness and depth of his 85-87 mph changeup before making the jump to High A; the offering made strides in 2012, with the potential to become a solid-average-to-better pitch.  Barnes can both over-power and spot up on hitters with his 92-96 mph fastball, generating easy velocity via a loose delivery.  He throws strikes with the pitch, as shown by his 29 walks in 119 2/3 innings across both levels, but at times does leave it in the upper tier of the strike zone too much. The curve presently lacks consistent finish and needs improvement to miss more advanced bats. The arsenal looks ready to take on the next challenge in Double-A to start 2013, and he shows the overall package to project as a third starter at the big league level, with a chance to push that higher if he can further hone the release of the curveball and avoid spurts of opening early when delivering the heater.—Chris Mellen

Addison Russell, SS, Athletics, (Low-A Burlington)
A triumph of the earlier signing deadline (for fans and player development alike), Russell signed quickly with Oakland after the club selected him with the 11th overall pick. The 18-year-old blossomed in rookie ball and didn’t skip a beat after promotions to short-season ball and full-season Low-A. He’s an impressive athlete with a chance to provide offensive value while playing adequate up-the-middle defense.  He possesses a plus arm and a modest combination of range and body control, but a move away from shortstop could be in the cards down the line, depending on how the body matures. There’s a bit more power to come, and the tool could develop league-average utility before it’s all said and done. Overall, 2012 was a resounding success for Russell, whose .369/.432/.594 line over 244 PAs should earn him a spot in a full season league in 2013 and a collection of admirers along the way.—Hudson Belinsky

David Dahl, OF, Rockies (short-season Grand Junction)
Dahl became the third high school outfielder off the board when Colorado made him their first pick, tenth overall, in last June’s Rule 4 draft. He signed quickly enough to play 67 games in the short-season Pioneer League—a circuit typically dominated by more advanced players fresh out of college—earning MVP honors while hitting .379/.423/.625 with nine home runs. Dahl’s contact ability and above-average speed were expected to lead to plenty of extra-base hits, but scouts were surprised at how quickly his over-the-fence power manifested itself. He was successful in just 63 percent of his stolen base attempts, an indication that his technique will need improvement before he is able to become an effective base stealer.—Bradley Ankrom

Michael Wacha, RHP, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
With impressive size, a solid arsenal, and good on-the-field production, Wacha looked like a top 10 selection heading into the 2012 draft. After a surprising slip to the Cardinals with the number 19 pick, Wacha wasted little time making other teams look foolish for his fall, as the 6’6’’ right-hander arrived on the scene with a better arsenal than his college resume suggested. Working mostly in two-inning bursts to manage his already heavy workload, Wacha toyed with the competition at the lower levels of the minors, starting in the Gulf Coast League before finding himself at Double-A. Using his height well, Wacha is able to create a steep plane to the plate, pumping fastballs in the 93-94 mph range and reaching back for 97. His curveball seemed to enjoy the professional stage, as most reports suggested the 12-to-6 breaker was a major league plus pitch. His 84 mph changeup also flashed plus, giving Wacha the potential for three above-average pitches, to go along with his impressive feel for command and control. In a small sample of 20 innings, Wacha has sent 40 hitters down on strikes, only walking four. He’s legit. This could be one of the bigger steals of the 2012 draft, and he could be pitching in a major league rotation at some point in 2013.—Jason Parks

Courtney Hawkins, OF, White Sox (High-A Winston-Salem)
The list of 18-year olds to play in the Advanced Class-A Carolina League this year begins and ends with Hawkins, Chicago’s first-round pick out of a Corpus Christi high school. Scouts don’t question Hawkins’ raw power, which was considered among the best in this year’s draft class, but there are concerns about how much contact he’ll be able to make against advanced pitching. Hawkins was clocked as high as 96 off of the mound in high school and, though he spent most of his debut in center field, Hawkins’ average speed and above-average throwing arm profile better in right. He’ll likely spend all of 2013 back in the Carolina League at the age of 19, and could be ready to step in when Alex Rios’ contract expires after the 2014 season.—Bradley Ankrom

Lewis Brinson, OF, Rangers (short-season AZL Rangers)
A few months ago, I wrote an article about raw athletes trying to develop into baseball players, most notably the players who have the physical gifts but lack instincts or feel for the game. At the time, Lewis Brinson was seen by many as this type of player: crazy raw tools with a heavy emphasis on the raw. Whether the misdiagnosed feel was a product of the showcase circuit or just small samples doesn't matter, as Brinson showed up to professional ball looking very much like a baseball player. A true five-tool talent, Brinson has plus run, plus projections at a premium defensive position, plus raw power [potential], and the hit tool that was supposed to be woefully underdeveloped was much better than expected. Brinson has a lot of work to do, as the swing has a lot of miss, but he also created a lot of hard contact, leading the AZL in extra-base hits with 36. Not bad for an 18-year-old that many thought was a first-round reach based on his lack of feel for the game.—Jason Parks

Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (Short-season Ogden)
The eighteenth overall pick in the 2012 Draft hit the ground running after signing, hitting .309/.383/.520 over 46 games in the Pioneer League.  Seager’s an athletic player, who shows smooth reactions and the type of ability to make things look easy on the diamond.  His quick, strong hands enable him to generate plenty of bat speed through the hitting zone, and combined with the leverage he creates in his swing, Seager drives balls hard into both gaps with backspin.  He has a power ceiling that approaches plus, especially if he begins filling out his lean, wiry frame into his early-to-mid-twenties.  A glimpse of the in-game power began to show after settling in, belting 7 of his 8 home runs in the month of August.  Los Angeles elected to keep him at shortstop to begin his pro career, but Seager is very likely to end up at third base; he has an arm for the hot corner to go along with the feet and instincts to become above-average at the position. The next step in his development will be a placement in full-season ball, where he’ll be pushed to make more adjustments over the grind of the long season.—Chris Mellen

Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Rays (Short-Season Hudson Valley)
Another organization may have challenged Guerrieri in a full-season league to start his career, but the Rays take their time when developing pitchers. Guerrieri dominated in a dozen New York Penn League starts; in 52 innings he fanned 45 batters, walked just 5, and didn’t allow a single home run. He’s quite advanced for a 19-year-old, with excellent command of two pitches: a low-90s fastball with some vertical life and the other an excellent curveball with heavy late break. The development of a third pitch will be critical to Guerrieri’s development and ceiling; he showed a changeup this year, but it was obvious out of his hand and was more of a show-me pitch than a weapon. He figures to begin 2013 in Low-A, where he should rack up some innings and experience, and if he can develop an average third offering, he could pitch in the middle of a rotation for a long time.—Hudson Belinsky

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals (Double-A Harrisburg)
It’s funny how much can change in a short amount of time. It wasn’t long ago that Anthony Rendon was considered a safe bet to be 1:1 in the draft, and a no doubt future first-division talent. Thanks to ankles made of glass and particleboard, Rendon’s ascent to his projection has been delayed, suppressed, and basically forgotten. Making his professional debut in 2012, Rendon helped remind people of his existence, but injuries once again limited his progress, and after only 43 games across four levels, Rendon is still a man hiding behind a forgotten myth. The good news is that the scouts still salivate over his swing, and when I saw him in short-season ball I saw a major league quality hitter playing against children. He needs to stay healthy and he needs to get at-bats, but the swing is still sexy and the future still looks promising.—Jason Parks 

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor League Baseball

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