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December 4, 2012

Minor League Update

The Five Dominican Winter League Prospects Most Likely to Make an Impact in the Majors in 2013

by Jason Martinez

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Limited action again on the Caribbean Winter League schedules, so I'll take this time to tell you about the five Dominican Winter League prospects most likely to make an impact in the majors next season. No surprises here. These are pretty big names in the prospect world, and all but one spent time in the majors last season. All five maintain rookie status, however, and don't necessarily have clear paths to regular playing time in the majors. So how will this quintet make an impact?

Starling Marte, OF, Pirates (.874 OPS, 8 SB in 24 games for Escogido): Of the five players on this list, Marte easily has the best shot at a starting job on Opening Day. A fantasy baseball stud who can put up numbers in several categories, he can hit for average, steal bases, hit homers and triples, and could very likely be the Pirates' leadoff hitter. So he has to be a lock for 150+ games in the Bucs' outfield, right? Not necessarily. As a young player who hasn't exhibited much plate discipline throughout his minor league career, and during his brief big league stint (8 BB, 50 K), he could be prone to extended slumps as major league pitchers continue to attack his weaknesses.

If he can make adjustments throughout the season, he can stick in the majors. And if he sticks in the majors, he could hit .270 with 90 runs, 15-20 homers, 25 doubles, 10 triples, and 25 stolen bases as a rookie.

Mike Olt, 1B/3B/OF (.814 OPS in 18 games for Licey): Texas' loss of free agent Mike Napoli leaves the team short on right-handed power and Olt could have an opportunity to help fill the void. He won't get many starts at his natural position of third base unless Adrian Beltre gets hurt but he could see significant time at first base, a corner outfield spot, and as the designated hitter against lefties. With rumors that there could be teams interested in Michael Young, who'd have to approve any trade, the 24 year-old Olt could also be the beneficiary of the designated hitter at-bats available against right-handed pitching if Young is moved.

In 95 Double-A games before his call-up, he hit .288 with 28 homers in 354 at-bats. If he can get 300 at-bats in the majors next year, I wouldn't be surprised if he hit 15 homers and knocked in 45 runs.

Jurickson Profar, SS/2B, Rangers (.501 OPS in 15 games with Licey): Finding enough at-bats for Olt and Profar might not appear feasible without the Rangers making a trade this offseason. This is major league baseball, though, where players tend to get hurt very often. Odds are that both players get regular at-bats in place of an injured player at some point in the season. But if this Profar kid is as good as everyone says he is, maybe it won't take an injury for him to get a shot. The Rangers could move Ian Kinsler to the outfield to open up second base. That might be the easiest possible solution. Or maybe they do something really bold like trading shortstop Elvis Andrus. Regardless, I'd expect the switch-hitting rookie to have 300+ at-bats of major league experience by the time we get to September and the Rangers are fighting for the division title. 

Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals (.864 OPS in 31 games with Cibaenas): The 20 year-old Taveras doesn't have the clearest path to the big leagues either, at least not until 2014 when Carlos Beltran hits free agency. But Beltran will turn 36 early next season and while he's played nearly every game for the past two seasons, I don't know if anyone is ready to predict that he'll go three consecutive seasons without missing significant time due to injury. Matt Holliday is a durable oufielder who played 157 games last season but he'll turn 33 in January. Jon Jay is a very solid center fielder and he's in the prime of his career at 28 years old. But he's nowhere near the hitter Taveras can be.

I'm having a hard time envisioning a Cardinals' lineup without Taveras beyond mid-season. If health doesn't become an issue with their outfield trio, the pressure will be on Jay to avoid any prolonged slumps that might tempt the Cardinals to start the Taveras era. 

Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves (5.03 ERA in 5 starts with Licey): Last week's trade of Tommy Hanson lessened the chances that Teheran is dealt this offseason and increased the chances that he spends a good portion of the season in the majors. He's only one season removed from being listed as the #5 prospect in baseball after dominating the Triple-A International League as a 20 year-old in 2011. Because he wasn't nearly as good at the same level in 2011, there are questions about his big league future. Jason Parks wrote about Teheran's struggles back in July, reminding readers that he was still very young and his future was still very bright. 

A Spring Training showdown between Teheran and Randall Delgado for the #5 spot in the rotation is on the horizon. Teheran has superior talent and a higher ceiling but Delgado has 24 big league starts under his belt and might be the safer choice. If the good Teheran shows up in 2013—and that's a very big IF—he should win the spot and stay in the rotation for good.

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