The 2012 minor league season has lived nearly half its life, and over the course of the last two and a half months, provided us with the sensational sights, sounds, and smells of the player development machine. We follow closely to monitor the progress of the supermen of tomorrow, their triumphs celebrated and their failures analyzed in graphic detail, a highly invasive process in which we so eagerly participate. The storylines are vast highways of entertainment, often too complex to appreciate in proper detail, but tantalizing enough in their abstract form to keep us content with snapshots. The following are snapshots of the first-half, painted with a wide and often clumsy brush, as I lack the time or the tools to document the blow-by-blow accounts of the campaign with an ultra-fine point. However, along those same lines, I’m going to use quotes from one of my favorite movies in order to set the scenes of the season, and hopefully add some insight through the vehicle of entertainment. “Too many things too many things too many things… I wanna go for a walk. Let's go for a walk.” -Amber Waves
“Start down low with a 350 cube, three and a quarter horsepower, 4-speed, 4:10 gears, ten coats of competition orange, hand-rubbed lacquer with a huplane manifold….Full f*ckin' race cams. Whoo!”
It’s only taken half of a season, but Dylan Bundy has quickly emerged as one the top prospects in the game. Seen by many as the best player available in the historically stacked 2011 draft, Bundy fell to the Orioles with the number four overall pick, and has shoved it ever since, using a plus-plus fastball, a nasty cut fastball, a curveball, and a very promising changeup to carve up the competition. In his first 11 starts in the minors, the 19-year-old native of Oklahoma has only allowed 18 hits in 45 innings pitched, sending 58 down on strikes and issuing an anemic 6 walks. “Aces” are the blue diamonds of the game, and it doesn’t take a keen scouting eye or a Rolodex full of industry sources to realize that Bundy has all the necessary characteristics to reach the lofty ceiling.
“The story sucks them in.”
A quality redemption tale is difficult to ignore; it sucks you into the fold with its extreme poles, frustrates you, saddens you, and allows you to participate in the positive affect when said redemption takes place. After stepping away from the game to embark on a personal journey of enlightenment, which took the once star athlete into the depths of drugs, poverty, and a nomadic lifestyle, Evan Gattis eventually found his way, returned to baseball, was drafted in 2010, and exploded into the public sphere as the feel-good story of the 2012 season. The 25-year-old Texan is trying to complete a Hamiltonian narrative, one that Disney will soon purchase and Kurt Russell will land a role in, most likely as a hard-nosed coach with a tender spot. He's on the shelf now with an oblique strain, but before the setback, Gattis annihilated High-A, moved up to Double-A and maintained the offensive punch, and put himself in the queue for a trip to the majors. Regardless of any future success, Gattis’s story reminds us that no matter how far away from our dreams we get, no matter how obstructed the road back, the possibilities of a triumphant return exist if the fire still burns inside us.
“Do these characters have a name?”
“The guy's name is Brock Landers.”
“And his partner is Chest Rockwell.”
“Those are some great names.”
Rougned Odor has one of the best names in baseball, one that suggests ownership of a coarse musk, a signature fragrance for one of the minors’ best second base prospects. Odor—which is actually pronounced Oh-door—stepped up to the full-season level in 2012, showing advanced baseball skills despite being the youngest player at the level. The 18-year-old Venezuelan is currently out with a shoulder injury; when healthy, his combination of polish and instincts make him a legit major league prospect, the type of player that might lack a first-division ceiling, but has the gamer qualities push his raw tools beyond their on-paper ceilings. He’s a name to remember, he’s a name you can’t forget.
“You know, I'm gonna be a great big bright, shining star.”
When I first saw Francisco Lindor in the fall instructional league, I turned to a friend in the industry and said, “He’s a star, right?” Without looking up from his notebook, the scout just said, “Lindor? Yes. He’s a star.” He's a legit five-tool talent, with plus defensive skills at shortstop, including a strong arm, a Velcro glove, and impressive range thanks to his quick reactions and preternatural instincts. At the plate, Lindor has a mature approach and a quick, balanced swing, one capable of sending ropes to all fields against all types of pitching. The sum of his tools is better than the individual grades, and his polish and poise allow everything to play up in game action. Lindor will play the entire 2012 season as an 18-year-old, and so far in full-season action, the precocious Puerto Rican is performing well on both sides of the ball. The combination of skill and sophistication make Lindor one of the top position prospects in the minors, a great, big, bright shining star in the making.
“It sounds like your bosses at the stereo store are saying the same thing.”
“YOU HAVE TO GET A NEW LOOK!”
Selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft and given a well-above-slot bonus to sign, Stetson Allie was often mentioned in the same breath as fellow draftee Jameson Taillon when it came to ultimate potential. Although very raw, Allie possesses elite arm strength, allowing fastballs to sit in the upper-90s and touch over 100 mph. His hard slider had wipeout potential, so if total package didn’t come together, Allie had the electric two-pitch mix to become a frontline closer. After a disappointing rookie campaign started a slide down the developmental shaft that couldn’t be slowed, the Pirates announced that the once promising arm would try his hand as a position player in 2012. As an amateur, the 6’2’’ 220 lbs. Allie showed impressive power potential, and his 80-grade arm played nicely at third base making him a legit prospect at the position. It remains to be seen if this transition will be successful for both Allie and the Pirates, but a new look was needed, as the old look just wasn’t going to work for either party.
“This here's the future. Videotape tells the truth.”
“Wait a minute. You come into my house, my party, to tell me about the future? That the future is tape, videotape, and not film? That it's amateurs and not professionals? I'm a filmmaker, which is why I will *never* make a movie on tape.”
On April 26th, the Up and In: the Baseball Prospectus podcast jumped into the mainstream pool when the internet meme #want was awarded its own segment on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. As the majority of viewers looked on with confusion and disdain, host Steve Berthiaume served as a noble ambassador for #want, thrusting the nebulous catchphrase into the collective consciousness of the television audience. The little podcast that could received some national love, which not only further bloated the already bloated egos of the two hosts, but also gave structural support to those that already found the esoteric memes and insider jokes to be annoying and amateurish.
“I'm the ultimate Latin Lover. There ain't no Latin Lover like me.”
In 2011, a relatively unknown talent hit .386 in the pitcher friendly Midwest league. Although only a teenager, observers were cautious with their praise for Oscar Taveras, fearing the violence found in the swing would limit his success at the higher levels. In 2012, Taveras became the ultimate Latin Lover, skipping straight to Double-A and proving that the offensive prowess displayed in the lower levels was legitimate. The 19-year-old might have the best pure bat in the minors, a torque-heavy brand of violence that will scare children and pitchers alike. Taveras has batting champion potential, and some scouts think he could eventually hit 25+ bombs a season. That’s a rare offensive package to find.
“Aren't you gonna take your skates off?”
“I never take my skates off”.
Billy Hamilton never takes his skates off, swiping bases at a criminal clip, with over 70+ stolen bases so far in the season, well on his way to surpassing last season’s historic total of 103. He’s the Usain Bolt of baseball, with 100 grade speed on the 20/80 scale, which allows him to outrun his own shadow. It’s scary to think that he’s still unrefined as a base runner, relying more on pure speed than instincts and technique. When all the components come together, Hamilton has a chance to be the most catalytic player in baseball, a Vince Coleman of the modern era.
“You got the touch, you got the power.”
After struggling with adjustment and injury in 2011, many prognosticators jumped off the Wil Myers bandwagon, fearing that the small sample of struggle was a precursor of future events. Foolish. The 21-year-old rewarded those that backed his play by taking a monstrous step forward in 2012, destroying the Texas League to the tune of .343/.414/.731, before moving on to Triple-A, where his offensive output hasn’t diminished any. The power potential that many questioned the potential of has finally arrived with a vengeance, as Myers’s easy stroke is sending balls over the fence at an impressive clip. The young hitter projects to hit for both average and power, a middle-of-the-order masher with All-Star games in his future. “It's in the blood, it's in the will, it's in the mighty hands of steel.”
“Have you seen that Star Wars movie?”
“Yeah, I've seen it four times.”
“You know, people tell me I kind of look like Han Solo.”
Who is this Alen Hanson guy and where did he come from? Hanson was an international free agent in 2009, and after a season in the Dominican Summer League, made his stateside debut in 2011, showing legit offensive tools in game action. The 19-year-old Dominican made the jump to full-season ball in 2012, and his prospect status made the jump with him, as the middle-infielder continues to impress with the stick, showing the ability to barrel balls to all fields. The defensive skills aren’t as sexy, and most assume Hanson is destined for the keystone at the higher levels, but the bat has the type of life to survive at the offensive-minded position. Hanson isn’t a toolshed, but he has exceptional hands and coordination, allowing him to make consistent hard contact to all fields. He might be a pop-up prospect, but he has the baseball skills to stay on the radar going forward.
“See this system here? This is Hi-Fi… high fidelity. What that means is that it's the highest quality fidelity.”
Rangers’ shortstop Jurickson Profar possesses the highest quality fidelity, making him the top positional talent in the minors. Already viewed as a stud thanks to his above-average collection of tools and his wizard-like instincts for the game, the 19-year-old Profar made the jump from really good prospect to elite prospect, skipping over High-A and rising above his contemporaries at the Double-A level. In the field, Profar profiles as a plus defensive shortstop, with a well above-average arm, good range, and so much feel he might be able to handle the position blindfolded. With the stick, Profar can do damage from both sides of the plate, showing an advanced hit tool, at least average power potential, and a mature approach that allows for on-base ability and good hitting environments. The kid can really do it all.
“You don't know what I can do! You don't know what I can do, what I'm gonna do, or what I'm gonna be! I'm good! I have good things and you don't know about! I'm gonna be something!”
Tony Cingrani was selected in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft, viewed by many as a future reliever, a role he had previously excelled in. Armed with an extremely lively plus fastball, Cingrani could push the pitch into the upper-90s in bursts, and with a fringy breaking ball, a fast-track approach out of the bullpen seemed likely. A funny thing happened along the way to the ‘pen, as Cingrani was pushed into the rotation, where his command has been sharp, his changeup has been a bat-missing out-pitch, and his fastball has been equally as impressive as it was in bursts. The slider is still a fringy offering, but the big lefty knows how to disguise his weaknesses while enhancing his strengths, and some sources now suggest starting is a legitimate option. Cingrani’s profile might be a better fit in the bullpen, where the big lefty could deliver near elite velocity with feel and touch. But some think the 22-year-old can bring more to the table if allowed to try, and so far in 2012, the Reds look very good for giving Cingrani that opportunity.
“I got a feeling that behind those jeans is something wonderful just waiting to get out.”
As it turns out, we are selling jeans here, as recent Cuban defector and multi-millionaire Jorge Soler can now attest. Based on the aesthetic quality of his jeans, the Cubs gave the 20-year-old outfielder a nine-year deal worth an estimated $30M. The high-ceiling talent has enormous offensive potential, with easy plus power to all-fields, and the skill-set to excel in an outfield corner, with good athleticism and a very strong arm. The total package is an all-star at the major league level, but Soler isn’t a finished product and will face numerous obstacles on the journey to that projection.
“He's my 17-year-old piece of gold.”
In the infancy of spring training, news broke that the Texas Rangers had signed Dominican outfielder Jairo Beras for a whopping $4.5M. The industry erupted with strong feelings and fingers directed at the signing, shouting that the international talent was ineligible to sign before the July 2nd window because his birthdate on file suggested he was only 16. Operating with available information, the Rangers felt confident that Beras was 17-years-old and therefore eligible to sign. MLB stepped in and have been investigating the situation thoroughly since the news first broke. Beras is considered by many to be the best power hitting prospect available in the Latin American market in several years, with impressive size and strength, and raw power that receives an 80 grade on the 20/80 scale. The process is still ongoing, with the Rangers hoping to secure a premium talent, a reward for their due diligence with the player over the years. General consensus seems to want the signing voided and the player returned to the open market, where a year-long suspension is a possible punitive measure for the birth record discrepancy.
“Want to hear a poem I wrote? "I love you, you love me. Going down the sugar tree. We'll go down the sugar tree, and see lots of bees: playing, playing. But the bees won't sting, because you love me." That's it.”