In most cases, fans are discouraged from putting much stock in winter league performance and/or statistics, but each year there are certain players whose performance merits attention. A handful of players will make up for lost time or build on the successes of the previous season, and it is those players that prospect hounds should focus on as spring training approaches and players look to take the next step in their development.
Still just 21 years old and part of the trade that sent R.A. Dickey north of the border, Becerra spent three years refining his game in short-season ball before finally breaking out with a strong campaign in the South Atlantic League in 2015. While many of his young teammates were replaced by veteran players and faded into the background as the winter league season progressed, Becerra continued to play regularly and piled up a .405/.416/.500 line in 21 games, pounding two home runs and striking out just nine times. Becerra is blessed with impressive physicality, looking the part of an MLB corner outfielder the second he steps off the bus. Along with his frame, Becerra has feel for making contact, above-average raw power, and the defensive game to hang in right field. His winter league performance, despite totaling just 21 games, has him poised to be a breakout candidate in the High-A Florida State League in 2016.
A hulking, right-handed-hitting first baseman, Hoskins is doing everything in his power to remain on the prospect radar in spite of an extremely challenging path to big-league success. Having posted a .904 OPS in the challenging offensive environment of the FSL, Hoskins took to the field in Australia where he continued his trend of pummeling opposing pitchers. Through 47 games in the ABL, Hoskins put up MVP-caliber numbers that included a .304 batting average, 15 doubles, eight home runs, and 15 walks, totaling a .891 OPS that has some within the industry interested in what he can do with Double-A in 2016. Hoskins is limited to first base and he will have to duplicate his A-ball and winter league offensive success in order to be taken seriously as a successor to Ryan Howard in Philadelphia.
It can be difficult to truly improve your prospect stock after posting a 1.47 ERA in 40 Low-A appearances while whiffing 12.8 batters per nine innings, all at the tender age of 20, but Jimenez did just that with his offseason performance in Puerto Rico. Armed with a heavy fastball that works around 94-96 mph and can reach as high as 99 when he needs a little extra, Jimenez can dominate the late innings, something he did very well this winter. In 18 relief appearances, Jimenez posted a 2.60 ERA and allowed less than a hit per inning while striking out 23 batters in 17 1/3 frames. Despite consistently showing an above-average slider and holding a fringy changeup in his back pocket, Jimenez is a pure reliever. But he’s one who could move quickly, and should reach Double-A in 2016 and possibly Detroit as soon as 2017.
Born in Cuba but raised in the United States, Ravelo was a sixth-round pick of the White Sox before heading to the Athletics via trade last offseason. After an injury-plagued 2015 season that only saw Ravelo appear in 59 games across three levels, he showed up in the Venezuelan Winter League and hit for average, slugged, and got on base like he has done throughout his minor-league career. With a .354/.480/.562 line that included 13 doubles, eight home runs, and 41 walks in just 55 games, Ravelo’s offseason performance has reestablished him as an under-the-radar prospect with big-league aspirations. Scouts remain skeptical of Ravelo’s long-term prospects as a hit-tool and on-base oriented first baseman who lacks prototypical power, but with his exceptional on-field performance this winter he is going to draw renewed attention in 2016 as he tries to establish himself in an organization that needs to find inexpensive production.
One of the Rule 5 draft picks most likely to stick with his new club, Rickard’s offseason performance has positioned him well heading into spring training. Rickard was a bit of a breakout prospect for the Rays in 2015, jumping across three levels from High-A all the way to Triple-A with a combined .321/.427/.447 line in 117 games. A plus runner, Rickard uses his speed well in the outfield and on the bases, profiling as a legitimate center-field defender at the game’s highest level, and swiping bases at a high clip. His offensive approach borders on exceptional and his knowledge of the strike zone allows him to wait pitchers out to find a pitch he can handle. Even if he struggles to drive the ball against major-league arms, Rickard has enough secondary skills to help the Orioles as a reserve outfielder. The club should be optimistic that his continued high-level performance (.277/.344/.450 in 50 DWL games) in the offseason may lead to success in Baltimore in 2016.
It’s easy to like Tyler White. As a 33rd-round pick of the Astros out of Western Carolina, little was expected of him. Most would agree he doesn’t necessarily look like the prototypical ball player, but all he’s done is hit as a professional, including a mammoth performance in half a season with Triple-A Fresno (.362/.467/.559). White followed that up with a .297 average in the Dominican Winter League while also poking 10 doubles and seven home runs in just 44 games. On top of that, he managed nearly as many walks (32) as strikeouts (37), further cementing himself as a legitimate hitter with good on-base ability. To say White is limited to first base is an understatement, as he is better suited as a designated hitter, but as long as he continues to hit at the level he has since signing as a late-round pick, he’s going to get a chance in the big leagues.
A key part of the deal that sent Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona, Williams showed off his natural hitting ability with his new club as the assigned him to Low-A to start the 2015 season, then struggled after a promotion to High-A as a 19-year old. Williams is an aggressive hitter with an all-fields hitting approach and above-average raw power that has begun to arrive in game situations. During his offseason in Australia, Williams stroked nine bombs and 12 doubles while hitting .339 and walking 12 times in 46 games after walking only 14 times in 122 games during the 2015 campaign. Williams is growing as an outfielder and should be a quality corner defender, with his overall potential hinging on the development of his approach and in-game power, two things that showed flashes during his strong winter league performance.