Two bright, young players are struggling. Should we worry about each one to an equal extent?
Last weekend the Twins and Orioles met in Baltimore for a three-game set. Of the various subplots to come from the series—including the O's losing two more one-run games—the one with the most long-term impact could be the continued struggles of Manny Machado and Aaron Hicks, two young, gifted players with the potential to have long, glamorous careers but who are currently playing below their expectations.
Although technically no longer a rookie, Machado remains the youngest everyday player in the American League. His play last season—as a 20-year-old inserted into a postseason race—obscured this fact, save for a rough postseason. However, Machado's 6-for-30 start to the new year is bringing it back into focus. He's almost unfathomably young and that makes him a difficult player to evaluate during times of extreme play. Think of it as the Mike Trout corollary: highly skilled youth are capable of what their numbers say they are until they aren't.
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The situation: The Twins wanted the 23-year-old Aaron Hicks to win a starting job in the major leagues this season. In the offseason, they traded away Denard Span and Ben Revere, re-tooling their farm system but also leaving a void in center field. Hicks, fresh off a bounce-back season at Double-A New Britain, came into spring training with the same attitude the Twins did. He batted .370/.407/.644 while clubbing 4 home runs in the spring, all but cementing his place at the major-league level. While the general consensus was that Hicks could use some more play in the minors, his great spring as well as an empty spot gave the Twins enough reason to stick him in center field on Opening Day.
Background: Hicks took the scenic route to reach his final destination in Minnesota, spending time in the Gulf Coast League, two seasons in the Midwest League, a season in the Florida State League, and finally a season in the Eastern League. Drafted in the first round out of high school in the 2008 draft, he profiled as a toolsy outfielder with a rocket arm who could move to the mound eventually if he did not hit enough in the early going. He signed quickly and got an early test in the Gulf Coast League and hit well, showing good patience at the plate for an 18-year-old. After his inaugural season, Hicks took the logical next step to Single-A Beloit where he struggled in what was his first full season of professional baseball. After repeating the level and producing better results, Hicks struggled again in High-A Fort Meyers, leaving some doubters ready to claim he was a lost cause. The Twins did not believe so, of course, and pushed him to Double-A where he put those tools to use more often, finally showing game power. Going into the 2013 season, Hicks was ranked third in the Twins farm system and 46th in the Top 101 prospects list, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Notes on prospects who are having their struggles at the plate in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.
There were no games on Monday night, so to change things up a bit, I'll take some time to let you know which notable position player prospects are struggling at the plate in the Caribbean Winter Leagues. None of these guys are going to be released by their organization because they're hitting under .200 in December, but there has to be at least a little concern that one of their top minor leaguers isn't hitting in a league devoid of many top pitching prospects. Sure, there are some crafty veterans in these leagues that can be tough on an inexperienced hitter. And many of these young prospects have been playing in games for ten months straight. Fatigue has likely set in. However, there are just as many prospects, if not more, excelling under the same circumstances and the same environment.
Profiling five former top prospects in the AL who have to make a move this season or risk being busts.
Following the development of baseball prospects can be a heart-wrenching addiction. The can’t-miss wunderkinds miss, the overlooked organizational soldiers earn major-league roles out of nowhere, and players you’ve grown fond of slowly fade out of the top 10s, top 20s, and top 100s as the years pass.
The five players highlighted below were all, at one time or another, considered potential major-league stars. Ineffectiveness, failure to make adjustments, and injuries have contributed to their collective fall from grace, and all five now face a make-or-break summer that will either re-establish them as prospects or push them into non-prospect territory.
After a miserable 2011 at the major-league level, will Minnesota at least see some happiness on the farm?
Prospect #1: 3B Miguel Sano Background with Player: Industry sources Who: Sano, who has soul-crushing power from the right-side, stands in very elite company when it comes to his raw slugging ability; scouts line up to throw 80s of the future of the tool. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 for a robust $3.15 million, Sano might only have a short-season résumé, but the 18-year-old should be considered one of the top offensive prospects in the game.
In the field, Sano has very little chance of sticking on the left side of the infield. He has good athleticism for his present size and a strong arm, but the teenager is already a very large man and all signs point to him getter even larger during the maturation process. This will push his glove to right field or first base, though he has enough offensive potential to have value regardless of where or how he plays on the field.