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Will Colby Rasmus continue to be dogged by off-field issues?

In two-plus years as the general manager of the Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos has shown a penchant for buying low on other teams’ undervalued players. He did it with Yunel Escobar, who delivered a 3.7 WARP season last year. He did it with Brett Lawrie, who emerged as one of baseball’s top prospects, and then batted a remarkable .293/.373/.580 in 171 plate appearances in 2011. Most recently, he did it with Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson last summer, though the returns on those two investments are thus far unclear.

Once viewed as a potential star center fielder, the 25-year-old Rasmus has a much greater role to play in the Jays’ future than Johnson. Rasmus was a 2.3 WARP player—mostly thanks to a .276/.361/.498 triple-slash, because his fielding was 18.8 runs below average—in 2010, and he was expected to blossom into one of the National League’s best players. 

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Addison Reed is joined by the cast of Real Genius, who collectively probably have a higher upside than Chicago's actual system.

Prospect #1: C Chris Knight
Background with Player: Video analysis.
Who: Catcher Chris Knight, the former top pick in the draft who many consider the best prospect in recent memory, has let his off-field issues and indiscretions affect his on-field focus. As a result, his overall production hasn’t lived up to his enormous ceiling. His raw tools are so electric that boredom has become an intrinsic byproduct; the developmental staff takes the brunt of Knight’s ennui, which usually forces the former prodigy to seek attention through histrionics. When he’s on point, there isn’t a prospect that can match his combination of tools and feel for the game.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Professor Jerry Hathaway, director of player development and de facto mentor to the future star, has been adamant that Chris Knight won’t graduate to the majors until he finishes what he started in the minors. Knight lacks the motivation to achieve for the reductive sake of achievement, so the extra pressure being applied to the promising backstop will either propel the prospect to the heights his tools suggest are possible, or the immature talent will withdraw from the forced responsibility, and instead choose to live in the frenzied moments of his own arrested development.

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Before diving into his prognostications, our resident prospect guru begins an open dialogue about prospect evaluation.

As November ages into December, the baseball season continues its transition from full throttle to dead air before thrusting forward again with the push of free agency, the Winter Meetings, and the countdown to report dates for pitchers and catchers. As many in the industry work to contextualize the previous campaign (while simultaneously setting up sales pitches for the eventualities of tomorrow), I find myself already bored with the conjecture and rumor of the winter. What shall I do until my eyes can once again open and focus on live play? Oh, how I already long for thee.

In the coming months, I plan on revisiting a series I started last offseason, where I take the top five prospects in each system and explore the weaknesses in their skill set that could lead to setbacks or stumbles in the 2012 season. We in the prospect prognostication field tend to paint pretty pictures of young talent, choosing to package the dream instead of the reality. Not that hope requires a big marketing push, but focusing on the conceptual world of peak potential is so much easier and palatable than focusing on the negatives.

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After cooking in the Arizona sun, the Professor was able to digest the fact that Ronald Guzman is the best hitting prospect he has seen.

Every year around the end of September, I spend eight to 10 days in Arizona toasting my skin until it achieves a bright red hue. I feed at mass-consumption chain restaurants, food with a fat content specifically designed to induce depression and lethargy. I listen to kids scream in a hotel lobby until my reproductive equipment schedules its own vasectomy. I fall asleep while seated in an upright position, like an 80-year-old overweight narcoleptic. And I watch instructional league baseball.

The Fall Instructional League, or FIL, is a developmental league that starts soon after the minor-league season ends, mostly for players with immature skill sets who are in need of specific instruction, refinement, and education. It’s a place where young players set to continue (or begin) their stateside experience can learn the ways of the force, a place where their road to the majors often begins. It’s Professional Baseball 101 for most participants, a starting point.

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While you will burn your neck and suffer heat stroke watching prospects develop in the Arizona League, there is a small oasis of potential stars that makes the pilgrimage worth it.

It’s hard to sell complex league baseball to the masses: The talent is immature, the names are merely names, the jerseys are often vague and free of personal identification, the environment is isolated and empty, and the theater of the event is off-off-off-off Broadway. But I’m going to give it a try.

What will it take to get you to walk away with a piece of Arizona League baseball in your hand? Financing is available for those who qualify, and if you wilt under the weight of my smile, I might be able to throw in a refrigerator magnet, or a flavored lolly for the little ones. Let me know if I can be of any assistance. I think you would look great with some AZL action in your life. It makes you attractive to the sex of your choosing. Don’t be shy. Here at Baseball Prospectus, we offer the best package. Don’t be fooled. You can’t match our guarantees. Look around, and let me know if you have any questions. My door is as open as my saccharine smile. Let’s make a deal.

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Just because many third basemen are failed shortstops does not mean there isn't an abundant supply of talent at the hot corner.

Leader of the Pack (Present): Anthony Rendon (Nationals)
The case for: Even though he has yet to play a professional game, Rendon’s combination of tools and polish make him the face of the position. At the plate, the native Texan (another plus attribute) is able to generate tremendous bat speed; his hands and hips work at near elite levels, and his raw strength is above average. Rendon’s hit tool projects to be plus-plus (70 grade)—which should allow him to become a perennial .300 hitter—with the overall approach to work counts, set up favorable hitting counts, and reach base at a high clip. His power potential ranges from average to plus, with a swing that some believe is better suited for gap-to-gap power, rather than a swing with the necessary loft and backspin to produce 25-plus homers per season without selling out his approach.

In the field, Rendon projects as an above-average defender at third, with both the leather and arm grading out as plus tools, and the instincts necessary to bring the physical package together. Speed isn’t a part of Rendon’s game, but his feet aren’t heavy, and he shows good first-step quickness and reactions. Despite not being a physical force, Rendon has all the attributes necessary to become an All-Star talent at the hot corner, with the ability to hit for average, reach base, hit for some power, and play above-average defense. It remains to be seen if Rendon ends up at third base for the Nationals, but that’s a byproduct of organizational depth, not a developmental deficiency in Rendon’s skill set.

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#TheLegend is alive and well in a crop of talented youngsters who don the tools of ignorance.

Leader of the Pack (Present):Devin Mesoraco (Reds)
The Case For: Mesoraco is showing a middle-of-the-order bat from a premium defensive position, which basically makes him one of the most valuable prospects in the minors. At the plate, the soon-to-be 23-year-old has plus power, with a leveraged swing and plus-plus raw strength. Seriously, Mesoraco is an incredibly strong man. He can sell out a bit when looking for the power stroke, but his contact ability hasn’t suffered this season; in fact, he is barreling the ball like a plus-plus hitter. The hit tool itself is sound, meaning I think he can hit for average, but I don’t foresee a .300 hitter at the major-league level. Mesoraco is aggressive at the plate, and he likes to take cuts, but he isn’t immune to working the count in his favor or taking the free pass, which adds another dimension to his offensive game.

Behind the plate, Mesoraco is slowly improving, but he’s never going to be a special defender. His arm is in the 60/65 range, and his release and accuracy make him a good weapon in controlling the running game. With enough athleticism to become a solid-average defender, and the ability to stick in the middle of a batting order, Mesoraco is the current Leader of the Pack among his catching brethren, and given the value attached to his position on the field, you can make a case that Mesoraco is one of the top-tier talents in the minors. He’s ready for the next challenge.

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One prospect dominates the present and future of lefty pitching, while another southpaw is falling off the wagon.

For this series, I will be shuttling you through the minor leagues to discover the best talents at each position and ranking them in tiers according to skill, current and future ability, and whether the player in question is from Texas. Need to catch up on how I’m doing the rankings and the top right-handed pitchers? Take a look at Part I.


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