Prospect #1: RHP Trevor Bauer
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Selected with the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer was seen by many as the most major league ready arm in the class, a pitcher that could ascend to the highest level in short order. Unfortunately known more for his torque-heavy delivery and idiosyncratic warm-up/cool-down routines than his arsenal, Bauer might have the deepest collection of pitches in the minors, a treasure chest of above-average offerings that he creates and crafts like a scientist on the mound; the 21-year-old righty has multiple fastballs thrown with varying velocity and movement, multiple breaking balls (including a plus slider and a plus curve), multiple change-of-pace offerings (including a plus changeup and a trapdoor splitter), not to mention pitches that are unique creations that observations fail to properly identify. His approach and commitment to pitching is as focused as you will find in the game and, despite some early professional struggles with command and control, the total package has a chance to be special. Assuming good health, Bauer will be a number three starter at worst, and if refinement occurs and efficiency improves, he could pitch atop a major league rotation in the very near future.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: The great irony of Trevor Bauer is that he is viewed as the ultimate baseball rat; he doesn’t breathe oxygen, he actually breathes pitching. From his long-toss routine, to his stretches, to his relentless pursuit of biomechanical-related scholarship, to his home-brewed arsenal, Bauer is consumed by his craft. But one of the knocks on Bauer has been that he often looks more like a thrower than a pitcher, showing an impressive arsenal, but lacking the feel to execute with efficiency. A few scouts suggested that his current inefficiency stems from his laboratory approach to pitching; his need to tinker with his deep arsenal to the point that he forgets his main objective is to coerce outs. These particular sources weren’t sour on his command profile, as they felt he could throw strikes if he made throwing strikes his objective, but they did mention that the poster boy for pitchability was struggling with his pitchability. If it’s really as simple as too much tinkering and not enough touch, Bauer is going to be just fine. He has a ton of toys and he’s still trying to figure out which ones belong in the toy box and which ones belong on the field. The minor leagues are the perfect environment for experimentation, so it’s hard to fault Bauer for striving to examine and refine this particular aspect of his game. However, with a little more focus towards efficiency and strike-throwing, Bauer could be at the major league level, bringing his unique brand of baseball to the biggest stage, and getting the results that could make him a star.

Prospect #2: RHP Archie Bradley
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: The seventh overall selection in the 2011 draft, Archie Bradley was seen as one of the top amateur arms in the class, and many observers are now suggesting that the Oklahoma native could emerge as one of the best arms in the minors. A two-sport athlete with a commitment to Oklahoma to play quarterback, Bradley has all the necessary physical attributes to excel on the baseball field. With great size and strength, the 6’4’’ 225 lb. 19-year-old brings an explosive fastball to the table, one that works downhill in the 93-97 range, having touched over 100 mph as an amateur. His power curve is an executioner pitch, thrown with impressive velocity and achieving a very late and heavy break. Scouts have not been shy about throwing a future 7 on the offering, saying it could miss bats at any level of professional baseball right now. His changeup wasn’t a featured pitch in his high school arsenal so it's behind the other offerings, but his repeatable delivery and consistent arm-slot give the pitch major league projection. As often as people like to project arms as legit number one starters, very rarely is this projection built on a solid foundation. In Bradley’s case, the projection is warranted, as he has the size, the strength, the delivery, and the arsenal to encourage such lofty praise.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Bradley could be special, but he’s not a finished product by any means, and so far in his full-season debut, his control has been shaky. At times, Bradley will lose his delivery and lose his line to the plate, limiting his ability to find the zone with his fastball; when he opens early, he tends to (over)throw across his body and he finishes off to the first-base side. Given the fact that his stuff is basically unhittable, throwing strikes would allow him to dominate. If you consider that at this time last year Bradley was in high school and now he’s in a full-season professional league, and if the only thing to nitpick is his control, things are progressing quite well. Once the minor kinks in the delivery are ironed out and the changeup grows into its promise, the baseball world will belong to Bradley. His fastball and curveball share a name with Jules’s wallet in Pulp Fiction, and will absolutely crush when he can find command over his whole arsenal. There are only a handful of pitchers in the minors that can stand next to Bradley when it comes to potential, and when the developmental music stops, the Diamondbacks could be looking at a legit top-of-the-rotation starter.

Prospect #3: LHP Tyler Skaggs
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: A supplemental first-round selection in the 2009 draft, Skaggs is a pitcher that just keeps getting better. Armed with a plus fastball that will work in the low-90s and can touch higher, an up-and-down curveball that might be a 7 pitch, and a changeup that will flash above-average, thanks to its deception from the fastball and fading action to the arm-side, Skaggs has the stuff to miss bats. Only 20 years old, Skaggs has a very good feel for throwing strikes, and his poise and presence on the mound elicit praise from observers. I’ve always been impressed by Skaggs, and it’s not a difficult chore to appreciate a 6’4’’ 195 lb. lefty with three potential plus pitches and strike-throwing ability. He projects as a number two starter in the majors, and his floor is probably that of a solid-average innings chewer, so the future is bright even if he fails to achieve his ultimate projection.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Skaggs has very good control and improving in-zone command, but his out-of-zone command is still a work in progress and might limit his effectiveness at the highest level. I’ll explain. Skaggs can locate the zone with all of his offerings, but against top-shelf hitters, you have to expand the zone in order to win those battles. Being able to locate out of the zone becomes just as important, especially when you are able to get ahead in the count and want to coerce swings that will result in poor contact or misses. Skaggs’s curveball doesn’t offer much horizontal expansion of the zone, but he has shown the ability to drop it for strikes and in the dirt, making it a dual threat offering. He struggles when he’s trying to throw the fastball out of the zone, which, if you think about it, is like having command over a pitch that appears to lack control. Unless you have crazy “stuff,” you can’t survive at the major league level by just throwing strikes. Command is the ability to throw quality strikes, but command is also the ability to throw quality balls. It sounds silly, but the ability to throw quality balls is one of the bones in the skeleton of success at the major league level. Skaggs is a fantastic pitcher, with three above-average offerings, sharp control, and improving command. He still throws a lot of strikes, and his out-of-zone command could use some refinement. Once he puts all the pieces together, he will emerge as a steady rotation arm for the Diamondbacks, a team with an impressive amount of rotation treasure ascending to the majors.

Prospect #4: 3B Matt Davidson
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: A supplemental first-round selection in the 2009 draft, Davidson continues to improve as a player, both at the plate and in the field. With the stick, Davidson is starting to shine, showing a quick and efficient path to the ball, generating excellent bat speed and game power. His approach continues to refine, with more walks and less swing-and-miss. His glove and range aren’t things of beauty, but his footwork at the hot corner looks better, and his arm was always strong enough for the position. It’s hard to tell what the final package will look like because his defensive home is still a subject of much debate, but the bat has a chance to lessen the intensity of the positional dispute. Davidson has great hands and impressive strength, and he has all the necessary characteristics to hit for both average and power. Scouts I spoke with put high-5s and low 6s on his hit tool, and a few scouts put high 6s on his power potential. That’s a monster bat if he develops to those heights, the type of bat that finds a home in a lineup regardless of where the glove plays on the field.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: The reviews of the hot corner defense are mixed, with some seeing an average future defender, while others think a return to first base is inevitable. I mentioned the bat and how promising the projections are, but what happens if the bat is merely good and not great? The defensive argument takes on greater significance if the bat is solid rather than special, and if his future home on the diamond isn’t at third, his value is greatly diminished. Can Davidson stay at third? Can the bat find value at first if he can’t stay at third? These are the big questions surrounding Davidson right now, so these are the questions I asked my sources. I wasn’t able to find consensus, but the bat received so much love that my concerns over the glove were comforted, like a nice glass of single-malt by a freshly stocked fire in the company of Tom Verducci. If Matt Davidson keeps working hard and making progress, he will find a way to make the limited range work at third, and if the bat stays the course, he is on the way to an above-average future at the plate. That’s a first-division talent if everything hits, but the downside is a tweener if either the glove or bat fall short.

Prospect #5: SS Chris Owings
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: A supplemental first-round selection in the 2009 draft, Owings is the rare shortstop prospect in the low-minors that actually projects to remain at the position at the highest level. Owings isn’t a physical specimen, standing only 5’9’’ and weighing 180 lbs., but he is a plus athlete, with quickness and good strength for his size. At the plate Owings shows impressive bat speed, which allows for more thunder in the bat than you would expect, leading some to project average power at maturity. His defensive profile is solid-average to plus, with excellent instincts, a good glove, and a strong arm. Like with his bat, his glove has been error-prone at times, but the sources I spoke with believe in his work ethic and his baseball tools, and believe he has what it takes to refine during the developmental process. Owings could be a first-division shortstop, with a good defensive skill set, a bat capable of some contact and pop, and enough speed to swipe 15-20 bags a year. That’s a fantastic all-around player.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Owings’s approach has shown some improvement this season, but it still receives poor marks from scouts, some of whom have concerns about his ability to recognize and hit quality secondary stuff. The bat speed is very impressive, as Owings can barrel plus velocity on the inner black, but when he guesses wrong, his inability to recover/adjust leads to a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. He’s only 20 years old and repeating the California League, but pitchers at that level already have a recipe to miss his bat, so unless he takes big steps forward with the overall approach, he won’t survive against more advanced arms. His swing has some leverage but it’s not crazy long, and his hands work well and he shows some bat control, but he likes to swing early and often and his recognition skills after he loses the count are suspect. It’s a bad combination. He can refine these skills, which will enhance his offensive tools and allow his bat to offer above-average production for the position. With his defensive chops, a plus bat could make him a very valuable player at the major league level, possibly a two-hole hitter. Unfortunately, his approach at the plate could retard the offensive potential and turn a promising future major leaguer into a player that isn’t likely to escape the minors.