2012 National League – Hitters

OF Chase Larrson– Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves continue to be a perennial prospect factory churning out homegrown talent at an amazing rate. Even with the continued growth of OF Jason Heyward, 1B Freddie Freeman and the emergence of dominant closer Craig Kimbrel in 2011, the Braves were a playoff contender, but missed the post-season on the last day of the regular season. However, Atlanta remains bountiful with young studs lead by pitching ace Julio Teheran and short stop Andrelton Simmons; and the organization may have yet another future star in outfielder Chase Larsson. Drafted by Kansas City in 2006 out of Vancouver, BC (CA), Larsson decided to forgo the offer for Division II Cameron University (OK). In 2011, he was voted Canadian Network Baseball POY after posting a .1000 SLG%, .1530 OPS and hitting 29 home runs while batting .432 with 84 RBI. The Braves saw enough and drafted Larsson in the 9th round and assigned him to Appy League Danville. The 6’4 220 lb power hitter batted .250 with 8 home runs and 27 RBI, but more impressive was his 31 walks to 36 strikeouts in 250 PA’s. Larsson possesses a good glove, surprising speed and committed only four errors playing all three outfield positions. Larsson should continue his rise with a push to Lo-A Rome where his overall game can help the Braves continue their tradition of developing successful homegrown talent.
C Austin Barnes – Miami Marlins
Finishing last in 2011, the Marlins entered the off-season carefully surveying the current landscape of the NL East. What team owner Jeff Loria saw was an aging Phillies club, the Mets off the field finances in peril, and the Braves regrouping from a stunning September collapse. Loria decided to go for broke landing high profile manager Ozzie Guillen from the White Sox and spending $191M in free agency on short stop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell, and veteran hurler Mark Buehrle. Loria also expressed a reinvestment into a minor league system that ranks near the bottom of the league. After landing catcher JT Realmuto in 2010, the Marlins feel he has already surpassed Kyle Skipworth as their future catcher. Well, Austin Barnes might make that discussion more interesting. A product of Arizona State, Barnes debuted in Class-A Short Season after being taken in the 9th round in 2011 and posted a solid .288/.369/.361 slash line. Barnes is a great athlete with raw power, game speed (6 SB) and possesses superior plate discipline by drawing more walks (25) than strikeouts (22). Most impressive, he didn’t start catching till after high school; yet scouts believe his defense behind the plate is already the best in the system. Miami may push Barnes to Lo-A Greensboro and won’t hesitate to advance him to Hi-A Jupiter by season’s end.
C Alberto Cordero – NY Mets

The New York Mets head into 2012 with a projected payroll of $106M and a line-up that boasts six position players and three starting pitchers all from within their own farm system. That’s quite impressive dedication for a team that lives and breathes under the pressure of the most dominant sports media market in the world. Owner Fred Wilpon always stressed importance in the draft which is evident with 1st rounder’s Matt Harvey (’10) and Brandon Nimmo (’11). International signees Jeurys Familia (’07) and Cesar Puello (’07) help fill out the Mets overall top 10 prospect rankings; and a strong 2012 can help catcher Alberto Cordero add strength to a rather thin position in the organization. A 2008 free agent out of Venezuela, Cordero, a career .282 hitter, knows how to work out of pitch counts, but doesn’t possess much power. He strikes out at a near 3:1 ratio; but shows off a good line-drive stroke that will garner more home runs as he develops more muscle on his 5’10 185lb frame. His defense is the best in the system and shows great pop times to second base. Cordero’s overall skill-set positions him as the top catcher in the system and he could see a start in Hi-A St Lucie with a late season promotion to AA Binghamton.
OF Billy Burns  – Washington Nationals

It’s near impossible to have a Washington Nationals conversation without mentioning Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No two players in baseball have created as large a buzz and drawn more attention to their organizations future than these two future All-Stars. But it’s not only Strasburg and Harper who have DC buzzing, quite a few of the Nationals draft choices are starting to produce results after aggressive drafts have provided the team with plenty of depth. But once the Strasburg/Harper show hits Nationals Park for good, a new set of prospects will be ready to take their turn in the spotlight. OF Billy Burns could be a big part of that charge. Drafted in 2008 by Atlanta, this speedy OF decided to forgo the Braves offer and attend Mercer University (GA) where he was a three year starter with a career .344 batting avg. and 70 stolen bases. The Nationals took notice of his great speed, flawless glove and superior plate discipline and took Burns in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft. Burns debuted for Short Season Auburn and batted .262 with 13 stolen bases and played errorless defense in CF. This thin-framed OF might be a long way from matching the hype produced by Harper and Strasburg, but Burns’ prototypical centerfielder skills could see a 2012 start in Lo-A Hagerstown; and a step closer to him Nationals first ever true 4-tool centerfielder.
3B Harold Martinez – Philadelphia Phillies   After an abrupt ending to another magical playoff run, the 2011 Phillies headed into the off-season with uncertainty about their franchise. The Philadelphia roster ranks first in average age at 30 yrs old and sits third behind only the Yankees and Red Sox in payroll at $168.1M. This is a sure fire recipe for a tough rebuilding process and GM Ruben Amaro stated that his focus is on bringing youth to Philly. For the sake of winning now, trades have stripped the farm system of blue-chip prospects like 1B Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart; but the Phillies talent pool is extremely deep and 3B Harold Martinez could help fill a 3B void rather quickly. Drafted in 2011, Martinez was a power-hitting prospect during an up-and-down career at the University of Miami. The 6’3 210 lb righty had a solid debut with Class-A Short Season Williamsport batting .256 with 2 home runs and 31 RBI. Known for his off-the-charts makeup and work ethic, Martinez displays a pure-power swing that scouts say has very few holes if he doesn’t rush his plate approach. Martinez doesn’t receive enough credit for his defense even though he committed nine errors in his rookie season. With Martinez’ bat projection, defensive skill and superior make-up, Ruben Amaro may be looking at another blue-chipper who could start 2012 season with Lo-A Lakewood.
INF Chris McFarland – Milwaukee Brewers

The 2011 Milwaukee Brewers were the poster boys for the cliché often heard in the sports world: “A victim of their own success.” They won the National League Central on the backs of pitchers Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum and All-Star sluggers Prince Fielder and reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun. But the Brewers success came with a heavy price. Trades that brought in Greinke and Marcum also gutted the blue chip depth of their system. The likes of Brett Lawrie, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar now gone and Milwaukee has to look to a thin core of hitters to hold down the fort while GM Doug Melvin restores the system; and Melvin may have found a lot of hope with 2011 draftee Chris McFarland. Drafted in 2011 out of Lufkin HS in the 18thround, Milwaukee lured the stocky built third baseman out of a commitment to the University of Rice for a reported $315,000. McFarland brings incredible bat speed, big time power and polished plate discipline to an organization lacking in superior infielders. The 6’0 200lb McFarland is a skilled defender all over the diamond splitting time in the outfield as well as at shortstop, third base and second. With a possible debut in the Pioneer League, this 5-tool talent could easily supplant Scooter Gennett as the Brewers top infielder; and even unseat Rickie Weeks in Milwaukee by 2015.
RF  Amaury Capellan – St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off a season of an extreme high, yet several lows. They surprised many by winning the 2011 World Series for the 11th time in their history. On the other hand, they lost both Albert Pujols to free agency and HOF manager Tony LaRussa to an abrupt retirement. Cardinals scouting director Jeff Luhnow also exited to become the Astros new General Manager after nine seasons with the St. Louis. Luhnow is responsible for supplying the system with plenty of supreme talent and 2009 international signee Amaury Capellan is hoping to become another one of Luhnow’s success stories. A high profile signee out of the Dominican Republic, Capellan struggled in his 2010 DSL debut batting .148 in 135 at-bats. He repeated the DSL in 2011 and broke out with a .305/.411/.481 slash line. Capellan brings to the table a canon arm and solid glove to right field. He also carries projectable power potential and possesses superior plate discipline drawing 58 walks next to only 63 strikeouts in two seasons. With a lot of room to grow, the 5’10 190 lb could become the next great outfield prospect next to fellow 19 yr old Oscar Taveras. Capellan could see an assignment to Appy League Johnson City to start 2012.
OF Pin-Chieh Chen – Chicago Cubs

With the Cubs entering 2012 under the guidance of former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, Chen fits perfectly into the Cubs plans after a complete administrative overhaul and eyes on building the system from within. Chen posted his best numbers as a pro in 2011 with a slash line of .301/.363/.424 and 20 stolen bases while repeating Class-A Short Season Boise. His overall skills sit near or at the top of a long line of international talent inside the Cubs system. Chen has grazed comparisons to Ichiro due to his slash-and-dash hitting style. He uses superior hand-eye coordination to square up on pitches and shows promise of becoming one of the Cubs most gifted hitting OF prospects. Chen, a converted second baseman, moved to the outfield after the 2010 season and while he needs improvement closing in on fly balls, Chen has solid arm strength and displayed errorless ball while playing all three outfield positions in 2011. He knows how to draw walks and possesses great speed both in the outfield and on the base paths. Chen will be challenged in 2012 with a promotion to Lo-A Peoria. The Cubs will patiently watch Chen develop into their lead-off hitter of the future.
1B Chase Davidson – Houston Astros

In 2011, the Houston Astros suffered 106 losses and the worst season in their 49 year history. With a move to the American League West in 2013, their philosophy of drafting athletically raw toolsy hitters won’t change. 2010 ‘Under the Radar Breakout Player of the Year’ J.D. Martinez is one of the few recent home grown draftees that have made a successful rise to the major leagues. However, the move to the AL ushers in the designated hitter; and adds opportunity for prospects who may otherwise be on the outside looking in; which brings me to 1B Chase Davidson. The 41st round draft choice in 2011 out of Georgia, Davidson has been described as an ‘all-power-all-the-time’ prospect once drawing Jim Thome comparisons as a high school senior. Davidson debuted with Appy League Greenville batting .327 w/ 11 home runs and 44 RBI’s in 188 plate appearances. The 6’5 220lb also showed good plate discipline with an impressive 2:1 walk/strikeout ratio. With Houston dealing both Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn to the Phillies for prospects, Jonathan Singleton immediately became Houston’s top prospect and first baseman of the future. This may also be the deal that shifts Davidson into discussion of Houston’s first true designated hitter prospect.
SS  Drew Maggi – Pittsburgh Pirates 

The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates produced a winning product on the field, Jay Bell was their All-Star shortstop winning a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger award and receiving MVP votes. Since then, the Pirates have seen a total of 21 players man the shortstop position; none of which have posted a season even the most dedicated Bucco’s fan could possibly remember. The pitcher heavy draft philosophy has produced a bevy of talent that includes P Gerritt Cole and James Taillon. This leaves top OF prospects Josh Bell and soon-to-be major leaguer Starling Marte as the organizations top hitting prospects. It’s a step in the right direction, but continues to leave a gaping hole up the middle of the infield. Hopefully Arizona State alum Drew Maggi can help fill that gap. The 6’0 190lb Maggi was a 15th round selection in 2010 and got off to a poor debut at Short Season State College batting just .156 in 76 at-bats. In 2011, he was aggressively pushed to West Virginia holding his own batting .267 and drew nearly as many walks as strikeouts. The switch-hitting Maggi’s stats may not scream ‘special’, but his bulldog-like intensity and gamer-style passion give him the ability to play well above his skill-set. This helps put Maggi in position to become a Pirates fan favorite and top SS prospect. Maggi should start 2012 with the Bradenton Marauders of the Hi-A Florida State League.  
2B Brodie Greene – Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds 2011 season left fans and the organization scratching their heads. Only a year removed from their first division title since 1995, the Reds finished 17 games behind division winner Milwaukee and eventual World Series champion St. Louis. Cincinnati narrowed the cause to their pitching; however the Reds enter 2012 much improved after a December 17, 2011 trade that sent top hitting prospects Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and reliever Brad Boxberger to San Diego for pitching ace Mat Latos. Even though the Reds sent three of their top 10 prospects packing, the farm system is still ripe with prospects like catcher Devin Mesoraco and short stop Billy Hamilton. But a gritty middle infielder hoping to work his way into the newly shifted prospect map is 2B Brodie Greene. A full-time outfielder at Texas A&M, Greene was taken in the 4th rd in 2010 and aggressively assigned him to Hi-A Lynchburg where he batted .269 in 70 games, but most impressive was his superior defensive versatility playing everywhere but first, third and catcher. The 6’1 195 pounder played the majority of 2011 at second base and short stop while adding power and plus speed to his polished plate arsenal hitting 14 home runs and stealing 36 bases with new Reds Hi-A affiliate Bakersfield. With makeup off the charts, this blue-collar leader could start 2012 for AA Carolina and a solid season could place him a step closer to being short stop Zack Cozart’s double play partner in Great American Ballpark.
C/INF Fidel Pena – Arizona DiamondbacksWith the 4th lowest payroll in the entire NL at $69.9M, the Arizona Diamondbacks surprised many by capturing the 2011 NL West crown. The collective works of a front-office many eventually saw Kevin Towers settle into the GM fold where he seemed to do no wrong with what was left before him. He not only reworked a struggling bullpen, he also saw plenty of youngsters step up and contribute at the major league level when it was most necessary. This puts the Diamondbacks in prime position to repeat as division champions while being patient with a pitcher heavy system that ranks near the top of the prospect heap. On the flip side lies a system lacking a true middle infield star that offers enough defensive tools, with enough bat, to make a difference. Fidel Pena can provide that. Pena was an International signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 as a 17 year old second baseman and showed an advanced approach with his bat; all while playing every defensive position but both outfield corners. In filling the role as super-utility, Pena’s bat continued to grow while the organization decided to shift him to catcher where he produced errorless defense in 2011 for Pioneer League Missoula. 2012 could see Pena produce more pop, speed and better plate discipline with a possible assignment to Short Season Yakima.CF Leon Landry  – LA Dodgers

With the dust finally settled over the much storied Frank McCourt ownership saga, the Magic Johnson-lead ownership group finds themselves initially cash strapped and needing to look from within their minor league system for help. Topping the prospect list are pitchers Zach Lee, Nate Eovaldi and Allen Webster, but each still have some seasoning to do before they can contribute. Short stop Dee Gordon was one of the few position prospects that made their mark in 2011, yet the Dodgers will have to be patient with many of their deeper prospects. One hitter making the wait worth it is center fielder CF Leon Landry. Drafted out of high school in 2007 by the Reds, Landry decided to commit to the LSU Tigers. After a three-year collegiate career and a ’09 National Championship, the Dodgers drafted Landry in the 3rd round in 2010. All his tools were on display in the Pioneer league with Ogden with his .349/.399/.510 slash line. He took a step back in 2011 with Great Lakes, but the 22 year old is an incredible athlete who can hit the ball out of any part of the park with a smooth left handed stroke. He has great overall game speed with above average defense and his only average to below tool is his arm strength. L.A. could challenge Landry with an assignment to the hitter-friendly Cal League in 2012.
RF Kentrell Hill  – SF Giants

When you first think of the San Francisco Giants, the immediate thought is their pitching. And for the last several seasons the Giants have stayed afloat with a starting rotation that can rival that of any staff in the National League. Yet several injuries and underperformance left the 2011 Giants in a complete state of flux one year removed from a World Series victory. For us prospect junkies though, not only do we see a pitcher rich organization, we also see a system relatively short of deep prospect depth. Help could certainly be on the way after the Giants chose potential 5-tool OF Kentrell Hill. Drafted in the 10th round in 2011, the Arkansas Baptist JC star possesses blazing speed and a canon arm. He posted a mediocre slash line of .256/.316/.360 in only 95 pro at-bats with the AZL Giants, but the 21 year old has the potential to shoot up prospect boards with a raw bat that projects to hit for both power and average. With OF Gary Brown, INF Tommy Joseph and SS Joe Panik making waves, Hill could join the organizations movement to revitalize the system lacking in top tier hitters. He could see a 2012 start in Class-A Short Season for the Salem Keizer Volcanoes of the Northwest League.
OF Franmil Reyes – SD Padres

After an administrative merry-go-round that left Josh Byrnes the last man standing as Padres GM once the dust finally settled, left behind was an inexperienced major league squad and a projected 2012 payroll ranked second lowest in the National League. But, where there’s a negative, there is usually a positive. Byrnes inherited a major league squad with an average age of 27 while taking over a minor league system filled with an absolute treasure trove of young prospects built by former GM Jed Hoyer.   So, help is not that far away and another prospect that could make Byrnes job much easier is Franmil Reyes. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in November ’11 for $700 K, Reyes signed too late to contribute in 2011, but the 6’4 190lb OF displays immense power yet still has to work on better secondary pitch recognition. Reyes shows average speed and arm strength which makes him the prototypical left fielder. Yet at the ripe age of 17, his room for growth leaves GM Byrnes with a prospect that has the tools to become a star. Reyes could see his pro debut with the AZL Padres of the Arizona League.
1B Harold Riggins – Colorado Rockies

Last season in my May 25-31 ‘Under the Radar’ installment, I discussed how Todd Helton took over first base for the Rockies in 1995 and became the face of the Rockies franchise. Along the way Helton also became the team’s all-time leader in several major offensive categories. However, Helton’s contract is ending in 2013 which leaves the organization to find his replacement; all while attempting to replenish an underachieving starting rotation and restore the development of many of their top pitching prospects. The Rockies could certainly look to Jordan Pacheco’s versatility or the pure power of prospect Ben Paulsen to take over at first, but another option making a case could 22 year old slugger Harold Riggins. Originally drafted out of high school by the White Sox in 2008, Riggins decided to honor his commitment to North Carolina State. He batted .310 in 146 career games for the Wolfpack and gave the Rockies enough confidence to draft the 6’3 240lb first baseman in the 7th round in 2011. Riggins debuted with Rookie league Casper showing his power with 8 home runs and batting a respectable .279 in 67 games. Riggins plays above average defense and even though his pure power game racks up strike outs, he’s a great athlete with solid bat control. The Rockies may assign Riggins to Class-A Short Season Tri-City to start 2012 with a possible promotion to Lo-A Asheville by season’s end.

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