Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
Though he was last year's Texas League MVP, Adams still hasn't gotten a lot of love, as he was a 23rd round pick out of a small school in Pennsylvania and he looks more like a cleanup hitter for a 16-inch softball team than a professional baseball one. He gained more support from scouts with an impressive spring, and while he went 0-for-3 on Sunday, he's still off to one of the hotter starts around: after going deep in Thursday's opener, he hit another on Friday and just missed a third, and after initially getting an off day on Saturday, he ended up providing a pinch-hit three-run shot in the ninth inning. No prospect is going to make anybody forget Albert Pujols, but Adams could make the loss a little less painful for Cardinals fans in 2013, if not earlier.
Jed Bradley, LHP, Brewers (High-A Brevard County)
The Brewers made Bradley the 15th overall pick in 2011 based purely on upside. While good at Georgia Tech, he never quite lived up to expectations, but athletic 6-foot-4 lefties who sit in the low-to-mid 90s don't exactly grow on trees. The good version of Bradley showed up in his pro debut on Saturday, as he struck out seven over 6 1/3 shutout innings while allowing three hits and a walk. The knock against Bradley is still his lack of consistency, so on Saturday, he was still just showing off the ceiling for now.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles (Low-A Delmarva)
Some considered Bundy the best talent in the 2011 draft, and in his pro debut on Friday night, last year's fourth overall pick showed why. First inning: K, K, K. Second inning: 3-1, F9, K. Third inning: K, 6-3, K. Nine batters, six strikeouts, and just one ball out of the infield while touching 98 with a fastball that sat at 94-96, and occasionally showcasing his plus secondary offerings. Get excited Baltimore. He's looking to be every bit as good as the hype.
Tony Cingrani, LHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
A third-round pick out of Rice last year, Cingrani was a budget-minded senior sign who had a sterling debut in the Pioneer League, putting up a 1.75 ERA in 13 games with an eye-popping 80 strikeouts against just six walks in 51 1/3 innings. Even with numbers like that, scouts wondered if he wasn't a reliever; while he threw in the low 90s and had a plus slider, he didn't exactly make it look easy and his changeup was merely solid at best. Making his season debut on Sunday, Cingrani continued to dominate at a much higher level and in one of baseball's top hitting parks, firing six one-hit innings while striking out five and walking one. He's going to have to prove it at every level, but so far, so good.
Chevez Clarke, OF, Angels (Low-A Quad Cities)
A first-round pick in 2010, Clarke hit .216/.294/.389 in his debut. As a pure athlete still trying to turn into a baseball player, he returned to the complex leagues last year, and with little change, as he hit .226/.285/.400. At some point, whether it's deserved or not, you have to move players–especially those of the first-round variety–up the ladder to see what you have. Clarke has always had tools with both raw power and speed that rate a tick above average. It's early, and we've learned nothing from Clarke's 4-for-11 starts with four stolen bases, but he's 20 years old and a compact athlete and to act like he's got everything suddenly figured is just as foolish as writing him off.
Jerad Eickhoff, RHP, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
Look folks, as much as I try, I can't know everyone. Right now there are 30 teams with four full-season affiliates, or roughly 3,000 minor league players. Heading into Saturday night, all I knew was that Eickhoff was a later pick (15th round) by the Rangers last June who had some size and arm strength. In his season debut he fired five one-hit innings while striking out seven, and the 21-year-old is doing it with power stuff. His best pitch is a 92-95 mph fastball, and he complements it with an upper 80s cutter, decent change and curveball that flashes plus. He's the opening weekend's pop-up guy and worth keeping an eye on.
Brad Miller, SS, Mariners (High-A High Desert)
If you are looking for this year's guy to put up huge numbers in the Cal League, Miller is your man. Opening the year with a four-game series at home in Lancaster, Miller went 9-for-18 with two doubles, two triples and four home runs to give him 27 total bases in 18 at-bats, thus guaranteeing him a good April, and he's the perfect combination to keep it up as he's a genuinely good hitter in a great park to put up numbers. A second-round pick last June, Miller doesn't run especially well and has enough defensive issues for most to project a move to second base down the road. While his swing is a bit unorthodox, he has a history of results with it. Massive numbers are just going to be par for the course, but he is a good prospect.
James Paxton, LHP, Mariners (Double-A Jackson)
Coming into 2011, Paxton was a power lefty who had potential but also had two problems: he basically missed a year by not signing with the Blue Jays out of the 2010 draft, and he wasn't getting his pro career started until the age of 22. Coming into 2012, after a season in which he had a 2.37 ERA and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, he was a guy scouts were excited about, but he still needed to prove he was for real. That began on Friday night, when he started the year with ten more strikeouts in just 5 2/3 shutout innings during which he gave up just two hits. The more he pitches, the more he looks like one of the better left-handed prospects in the game, and the more the Seattle rotation of the future looks like a potential monster.
Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox (Low-A Greenville)
When the Red Sox signed Swihart to a $2.5 million bonus as a 2011 first-round pick, it was for his bat. He was relatively new to catching, yet athletic enough to figure things out, but any defensive value from him was going to require patience, if it was going to come at all. His first three professional games have shown everything good and bad about him: he's gone 5-for-10 with four walks, while in his two games at catcher, he's been charged with a passed ball and allowed five straight successful stolen base attempts. We have a long history of prospects likes this; for the overwhelming majority of them, the bat stayed too far ahead of the glove for the position where he was drafted to matter. Don't be surprised if that happens with Swihart.
Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Triple-A Salt Lake)
Trout has been going off in his first taste of Triple-A baseball, going 8-for-16 with three walks in his first four games for the Bees, but what is really more important to follow here: Trout's line, or that of Vernon Wells? I'd argue the latter. Mike Trout is not getting to the big leagues unless the Angels can play him every day. Barring an injury, that's not going to happen unless somebody plays poorly. Considering the current structure of the Angels outfield, Wells is the most likely player to fit that profile. It makes what Trout is doing exciting, but in many ways insignificant. I should have spent this paragraph telling you what Vernon Wells is doing, because that's what matters more. He was 2-for-13.