Ten American League Prospects Who Could Start the Season In the Majors
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.
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The guillotine has been serviced, inspected, and is ready to go. Jason kicks off his new series by calling for the head of Rangers lefty Martin Perez.
The Backstory Martin Perez was signed out of Venezuela as an international free agent in the summer of 2007, and it didn’t take long for him to emerge as a prominent figure on the prospect landscape. The precocious talent skipped over the complex league in 2008, jumping instead to the college-heavy Northwest league, where the 17-year-old did more than just stay afloat among the more advanced and experienced talent at that level. I saw Perez in his rookie season, and I was able to do a Spanish language interview with him that fall during the instructional league, and it was already clear that he was a special player. At a very young age, the 6 ft. southpaw had tremendous feel for his craft, and his stuff advanced at a rapid pace, going from a mid-80s fastball that could touch higher as an amateur to a low-90s fastball that could touch higher by the time he was missing bats in Spokane. At the time, his curveball was his best secondary pitch, a big, spike breaker that showed intense vertical depth, and he showed surprising command over the notoriously hard to command pitch with the spike grip. At the time, he looked like a plus offering, and not just based on its potential. His changeup was still in its infancy, but his delivery was already silky smooth and his arm action special, so the pitch had a bright future.
Perez took another step forward in 2009, crushing the opposition in full-season Low-A and making the jump to Double-A to finish the year; the now-18-year-old’s arsenal was flashing plus across the board on a regular basis, and his delivery continued to be slick. Perez started the 2010 season back in Double-A, hoping to take another step forward in his development, a step that would put him on the doorstep of the majors before his 20th birthday. Unfortunately, the season was a series of highs and lows, as Perez missed more than a bat an inning, but he also proved to be hittable and his command abandoned him. Because the stuff remained intact, pundits and prognosticators stayed on the bandwagon, providing necessary context by suggesting Perez was still a teenager facing players many years his senior, and he was still able to miss bats despite taking a step back with his command. He lost a little shine in 2010, but the lofty projections remained and the future was still bright.
Not all hot prospects will be stars, and that's a hard pill to swallow.
Prospects fail to develop for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from poor makeup, to marginal physical talent, to lack of instincts, and some only fail in our own minds, where unrealistic expectations create a world where disappointment is assured. As minor league masochists, joy can be found in the process of constructing our own torture, as we open our hearts to the allure of projection and cathedral ceilings, knowing with an intellectual mind that what we want to see as a diamond will really end up being coal. In a game built on a foundation of failure, the developmental process is the evolutionary doorman of that failure, tasked with keeping the exclusive club populated with only the best of the best, the exceptional and the beautiful over the ordinary and the ugly.
I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately. In my personal life—which I often bring into my professional life—I’ve come upon a developmental roadblock, an imploding relationship that needs to be abandoned, much like a breaking ball that just isn’t good for my arm slot/action anymore. As I transition from the curveball to the slider, I’m going to stumble; learning a new pitch is never easy, especially when you’ve been throwing the curve for so many years. This personal obstruction is a nice companion to the articles I’ve been writing lately, the ones where I take a look at what could go wrong with a prospect based on their present level of refinement. With those pieces, I’m selling the setbacks, preparing readers for the disappointments that are not only possible, but also very likely to occur in some form during the maturation process. As I research those players in search of characteristics in their skill set that are exploitable, introspection forces me to examine the weaknesses in my own skill set, the holes in my game that encouraged failure. With that internal spelunking came perspective, and a somewhat refined approach to expectation management; when the heart hurts, it’s easy to water down the dreams in your head, finding that it's pleasurable to believe in the fairy tale, but not at the expense of your anchor to reality. You can learn a lot from failure.
Gary Sanchez improves both at and behind the plate, Martin Perez continues to be a mystery, and Shelby Miller goes backwards.
Daniel Corcino, RHP, Reds (at Double-A Pensacola)
Corcino draws too many easy comps to Johnny Cueto, as he's short, thick, Dominican, a Red, and has a big arm. But let's talk about him on his own merits, which include eight no-hit innings on Saturday to lower his ERA to 3.34 in 13 Double-A starts. Corcino's best pitch is a fastball that ranges from 92-95 mph, and both his slider and changeup are at least average pitches. There's considerable effort to his delivery, which leads to some control issues, and when he has problems with his location, he tends to miss up. He's a potential No. 3 starter with some refinements, and the 21-year-old has already made plenty of improvements this year.
Taking a look at the Hall of Fame candidacies of the Yankees' odd couple, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner.
The pairing is straight out of the classic Miller Light TV commercial, the most famous Odd Couple of their era in baseball, a poor street tough from a broken home and a child of privilege and wealth, united by their volatility and their indomitable will to win but unable to coexist in each other's company long enough to share the fruits of victory more than once. Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner share space on the new Expansion Era Hall of Fame ballot to be voted upon at the upcoming Winter Meetings, and it's no stretch to suggest that both men, now deceased, could join the ranks of the Cooperstown immortals together.