Prospect #1: RHP Dylan Bundy
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: The fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy was seen by many, including Kevin Goldstein, as the best player available in the entire class, which, if you haven’t noticed, has a chance of being historically incredibl. Bundy is the rare high school draftee that arrives on the scene with a combination of now stuff and slick polish. The 19-year-old native of Oklahoma has elite upside, with all the characteristics necessary to profile as an ace. His body is strong and mature, and his delivery is clean and repeatable. His fastball can work comfortably in the mid-90s and has touched triple digits. It’s a lively offering that Bundy shows preternatural command over, not only in the ability to locate the pitch but to change speeds and vary the movement (2/4/cut). The curveball projects to be a plus offering, and those who have seen it in person rave about its shape. High school arms don’t usually enter professional ball with plus changeups for a reason, but Bundy already has a changeup that grades out at that level, and some think it could be a 7 pitch at maturity.  It’s very uncommon to find a pitcher with this combination of stuff, polish, and pitchability, and barring an unforeseen injury, Bundy looks like a future ace at the major league level. How many arms can boast that ceiling? This is a special arm.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: We don’t know yet. Not passing the buck, but we haven’t been given a long enough look so far in 2012; Bundy is pitching with too much efficiency and having too much success, and the sample size is too small to really get a good picture of what (if any) holes exist in the skill set. It’s hard to breakdown how he will use pitch sequence multiple times through an order, or how he will respond when he doesn’t have his best stuff, or how he will respond to failure because he’s only thrown 13 innings and has crushed the competition like a major leaguer on a rehab assignment. In those 13 innings, Bundy has dropped 21 hitters on strikes, walked one, and has allowed a grand total of zero hits. The reality is that Bundy might not face a serious test until he reaches Double-A, and even then the test might be an easy one for him to pass. I’m not trying to overhype just to overhype, but there are some people in the industry who think Bundy has the necessary ingredients to pitch at the major league level this season. I can appreciate the excitement, but the developmental process is more than just finding success at your particular minor league assignment, and Bundy still has a lot to learn as a pitcher and as a person. This is going to be fun to watch over the season, and, with more looks and more innings, we will be able to paint a better picture.

Prospect #2: SS Manny Machado
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Selected with the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, Machado is considered by many to be the best shortstop prospect in the minors. His bat could be special, as both his hit and power tools project to be above-average; the diamonds of the skill set are his hands, which are fast and strong, helping to generate top-shelf bat speed and excellent bat control. He has the necessary tools to stick at shortstop, with a strong arm and good actions, but his size has a chance to limit his range, which has prompted some in the industry to speculate about a move to third base down the line. At shortstop, he has the potential to be a superstar, with at least average defense and well-above-average offensive production for the position. His value takes a hit if he has to shift to the hot corner, but let’s not pretend that a player that can hit for average and power and play solid defense at third lacks value. Wherever he ends up, Machado is going to be an above-average major leaguer.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Machado has a good approach at the plate, and he shows advanced pitch recognition skills, allowing him to track and attack. It’s encouraging to see a young hitter force a pitcher to throw the kitchen sink at him, then to shorten up and battle until a mistake is made. While not a passive hitter, Machado has a particular taste and he’s patient enough to wait until it’s served. But as he climbs the ladder, Machado will be facing much better pitchers, ones that can exploit his willingness to wait. The best hitters are the ones that can hit the best pitches, not just the mistakes that they coerce from unrefined arms. Machado is currently playing at Double-A, where arms have more command over their fastballs, better secondary arsenals, and a better feel for sequence. This type of arm is going to be a major challenge for a hitter like Machado, who has all the requisite skills to mash, but is still trying to learn what he can hit and what he can’t hit and when he can or can’t hit it. This is all a part of the developmental process, and given the fact that Machado has already graduated to such an advanced level at such a young age, any nitpick is minor.

Prospect #3: 2B Jonathan Schoop
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Signed out of Curacao in 2008, Schoop exploded onto the prospect landscape in 2011, showing a promising hit tool and plus power projection; he has good size and strength, and he can generate excellent bat speed and shows the ability to drive the baseball with authority. Defensively, Schoop could end up at several spots on the diamond, with more than enough arm and reactions for third base, and enough athleticism at the present for second. As a 20-year-old at the Double-A level, Schoop is way ahead of the developmental curve, and facing more advanced pitching (even in the face of setback) will benefit the young infielder immensely. Schoop has the offensive potential to profile as a first-division starter, but he’s anything but a finished product at this stage of the process.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Schoop has a good swing, with fluid mechanics and a good coverage area. It’s not particularly lengthy despite having some leverage, and he shows the ability to make contact. What could go wrong in 2012 is being hit with better secondary pitches being thrown in more advanced sequences. Schoop has struggled with quality off-speed offerings in the past, able to keep the bat on the ball, but rolling over it and producing weak contact. This will only continue against more advanced competition, arms that are more astute at keeping hitters off-balance, uncomfortable, and guessing. It will take adjustment from Schoop, and it might take a year or more at the level to take that developmental step.

Prospect #4: C Gabriel Lino
Background with Player: Industry sources
Who: Signed out of Venezuela in 2009, the big-bodied 18-year-old catcher started turning heads last summer in the Gulf Coast League, where he showed patience and power at the plate, and above-average defensive tools behind it. Scouts speak of his mature approach to hitting, which is to say that he has a plan at the plate. Along with the plan comes power potential, and a swing that is easy and efficient, one that can produce loud contact. The footwork behind the plate is still raw, and was described as a bit clumsy at times, but the arm is incredibly strong and his game-calling has received high marks. Lino is far from a refined product, but he’s set to shoot up prospect lists this season, and if you value catchers with plus-plus arms and power potential, this is a player worth keeping an eye on.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: I’ve never seen Lino in person, so I had to turn to my sources, and the reports I received were all very positive and all mentioned his strong arm, his mature approach and legit pop; they also lauded the way his hands work and his ability to generate bat speed. But at least two sources noted his struggles against breaking balls, suggesting he stays timed to the fastball regardless of the sequence or situation. I dug deeper looking for holes, finding question makes about his receiving skills and footwork, but having those concerned immediately countered by tales of his strong arm and mature game calling skills. He can and will be exploited at the full-season level if he struggles with breaking balls, but that’s not exactly a unique means of exploitation against a young hitter, and given that one of his strengths is the ability to make adjustments, both at the plate and behind it, Lino’s in a good position to cover the holes in his game.  This is a very interesting prospect, with quality tools on both sides of the ball, and he’s performing well in game action as an 18-year-old in a full-season league. He’s still unrefined and has a long way to go, but Lino could emerge as a very bright spot in a system that is woefully thin when it comes to high-ceiling Latin American talent.

Prospect #5: RHP Parker Bridwell
Background with Player: My eyes; industry sources
Who: Ninth round selection in the 2010 draft, Parker Bridwell looks the part of a projectable power pitcher, standing 6’4’’ and weighing 190 lbs., with long arms and legs, and a lively fastball that resides in the low-90s and can touch higher. Add to the mix his Texas roots, and Bridwell is basically my prototypical dream. Unfortunately, the Bridwell dream is closer to fantasy than reality, as the 20-year-old has yet to find his footing in full-season ball, struggling in five starts last season in Low-A Delmarva, and again so far this season, where the stuff has been less-than-electric and hittable. When he’s on, the big Texan lives on his heavy fastball that he can spot low in the zone, usually in the upper-80s-low-90s, and can miss bats with a curve that will flash above-average potential. He has physical projection, he has some feel for the mound, and his present stuff gives you a taste of what he might have at maturity. Lacks a top-shelf ceiling, but some talent evaluators envision the pitcher as an innings-eating workhorse at the major league level.

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Better stated: What is going wrong in 2012. Bridwell is struggling so far this season, finding the barrels of bats instead of avoiding them. During his brief 14 innings, Bridwell has struggled with his mechanics, losing his delivery at times and offering softer, flatter fastballs to the hitter. Pitchers at this stage of the game are often working on their deliveries and trying to find consistency, so the process can get bumpy before it gets smooth. Bridwell’s secondary pitches are also underdeveloped, with a curve that will feature excellent depth one sequence and look slurvy and loose on the next, and a changeup that has the potential to show good fading action, but is still deliberate out of the hand. With the mechanics in flux and a secondary arsenal that is currently below-average, the production on the field is likely to reflect these deficiencies. Statistically speaking, Bridwell might not have a pretty season, but if the on-the-field struggles lead to developmental steps forward, the setbacks will prove to be well worth it. I’ve seen this kid pitch and it’s easy to like the size, the fastball, the potential of the curve, and the poise and presence on the mound, but it’s also easy to see his weaknesses. The end result could be an innings-chewer and a solid-average arsenal, but he’s a long way from a result that promising. Quality prospect, though.