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January 2, 2013

Minor League Update

Ten AL Prospects Who Could Start the Season in the Majors

by Jason Martinez

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With the new year upon us, we can now officially say that Spring Training starts 'next month'. The Spring Training version of the Minor League Update will be highly-focused on prospects who are getting a chance to showcase their talents in big league games and have a pretty decent shot at making a 25-man roster.

Some unknown minor leaguers will come out of nowhere to challenge for bullpen or bench jobs. Some of the very best prospects -- Travis d'Arnaud and Wil Myers are just two examples -- will technically have a chance to win spots, according to their organization, although the intention will be to keep them in Triple-A so their arbitration and free agency clock are pushed back a year. Then there are those prospects that will be competing for big league jobs and actually have a legitimate chance to break camp with the big league club, regardless of big league service time. Here's a look at ten of those prospects competing for jobs on American League teams. The NL version will be out tomorrow.

  • Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Out of the handful of pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the Rays' rotation, Archer has the most upside by far and also flashed signs of dominance in his four big league starts in 2012 (3.88 ERA, 23.2 IP, 17 H, 8 BB, 31 K). Alex Cobb is the safe pick to win the job but the Rays would be ecstatic if the 24 year-old Archer proves consistent enough to take the job and run with it.  
     
  • Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians: The trade to Cleveland likely improves Bauer's chances of winning a rotation spot now that he doesn't have to compete with fellow prospects Pat Corbin and Tyler Skaggs for what was just one available spot. Instead, his main competition right now will come from Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, and Corey Kluber, although there's a chance no job is up for grabs at all if Carlos Carrasco is fully recovered and strong enough to start the season after returning from Tommy John surgery. 
     
  • Carter Capps, RHP, Seattle Mariners: We know about Seattle's crop of impressive young starting pitching prospects closing in on the majors, but the bullpen shouldn't be overlooked. Tom Wilhelmsen did an outstanding job during his first year as the closer and lefties Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge, and Oliver Perez each did solid work out of the 'pen. The guys bridging the gap to Wilhelmsen are undetermined, however, although hard-throwing Stephen Pryor is a strong candidate and veterans Shawn Kelley and Josh Kinney are also in the mix. But don't count out Capps, who throws even harder than Pryor, and posted a 3.96 ERA with 11 walks and 28 strikeouts in 25 innings after an early August call-up. Ideally, both Capps and Pryor could fill high-leverage roles where their upper 90's fastballs, along with Wilhelmsen's, will give opponents fits in the late innings. 
     
  • Chia-Jen Lo, RHP, Houston Astros: Signed out of Taiwan back in 2008, Lo was on the fast track until Tommy John surgery robbed him of most of the past three seasons. The 26 year-old finally made it back in mid-2012 and put up impressive numbers between the GCL and Cal League, then followed it up with a solid Arizona Fall League campaign. Next stop is big league camp, where he'll have a chance to win a bullpen job. 
     
  • Mike Olt, IF/OF, Texas Rangers: 3-for-4, 2B, 3 RBI. The trade of Michael Young opens up some at-bats, although the Rangers have several options to fill out the designated hitter spot in the lineup. Veterans like A.J. Pierzynski, Nelson Cruz, and Adrian Beltre could get at-bats there so they can avoid the normal wear and tear from playing defense over a full season. Olt, however, is the one option I can see getting regular at-bats because he currently doesn't have anywhere to play and might have enough bat to have value as a designated hitter. The 24 year-old was only 5-for-33 without a homer in his late-season stint with the Rangers but he's a highly-regarded right-handed hitting prospect who had a .977 OPS 95 Double-A games. 
     
  • Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers: If remaining free agent starters Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum, and Joe Saunders go off the board and neither of them land in Texas, Perez's chances to make the team will remain high. His numbers in the upper minors aren't pretty, but Perez is only 21 years old and still has great stuff and profiles as a future #2 or 3 starter. Could he hold down the #5 spot until Colby Lewis returns from elbow surgery around mid-season? If the Rangers fail to address the spot between now and the start of Spring Training, that gives you a pretty good indication that they think he can.
     
  • Jurickson Profar, IF, Texas Rangers: There has been some talk of Ian Kinsler potentially moving over to first base to make room for Profar at second base. It makes sense since it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the 19 year-old Profar is so impressive in the spring that the Rangers have no other choice but to give him a starting job. How impressive is Profar? Well, you can count on seeing his name somewhere near the top, if not the very top, of BP's soon-to-be-released Top 101 prospects list. 
     
  • Bruce Rondon, RHP, Detroit Tigers: With Rafael Soriano and Brian Wilson still available on the free agent market and the Tigers without a proven closer in their bullpen, it seems like a matter of time before a deal gets done with one of those veterans. For now, all is quiet on the closer front and the Tigers have let it be known that they believe in Rondon and might be willing to start the season with him as their man in the 9th inning. The 22 year-old Venezuelan has a fastball that can exceed 100 MPH and improving control, along with what could be a nice supporting cast of veterans from Latin America in Detroit's bullpen. 
     
  • Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics: One of the fastest rising prospect I can ever recall, Straily went from being a very little known pitcher in Double-A to Triple-A to the majors to a top 100 prospect in less than a year. Between the three levels, the 24 year-old struck out 222 batters in 191.1 innings. Based on that workload and his solid numbers in seven big league starts (3.89 ERA, 39.1 IP, 36 H, 16 BB, 32 K), Straily should be ready to handle a full year in the majors.
     
  • Michael Tonkin, RHP, Minnestota Twins: It seems like every spring, some reliever who spent the previous season in Double-A or Hi-A gets an invite to big league camp, then impresses enough to stick around until the end before just losing out for the last bullpen spot. Tonkin could be one of those guys in 2013. The 6'7" right-hander has the heavy mid-90's fastball and wicked breaking ball, success in the low minors last season (2.08 ERA, 20 BB, 97 K in 69.1 IP between Lo-A and Hi-A), and a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League (14.2 IP, 4 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 7 K). On another team, his odds would be long to make the jump from A-ball. On the Twins, it could happen.

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