Leo: 2012 International League – Big Bats & Smooth Gloves
The 2012 International League season could be deemed “The Year of the Shortstop” because of the surplus of IL talent at that position. The Clippers are ticketed to have Juan Diaz at short, but the signing of Cristian Guzman should add some depth at that position for the Tribe. Elsewhere, shortstop Tyler Pastornicky is probably headed right to Atlanta after a small sample in Gwinnett and Tampa’s top shortstop prospect Huk-Ju Lee may get a little more seasoning in Double-A instead of suiting up for Durham. Even if Clippers fans don’t see those guys at Huntington Park this year, there are plenty of good young position players to keep an eye on.
Bryce Harper (OF) (19 years old) – Syracuse Chiefs (Nationals)
He’s considered the top prospect in all of baseball and will either start in Double-A or Triple-A. There is a pretty good bet that at some point in 2012, he’ll wear the Syracuse uniform. Harper signed for $9.9 million in 2010 as the first overall selection. He played 72 games in Low-A before jumping straight to Double-A in the second half of the season. Harper is considered to have the best of everything: arm strength, power, bat speed, etc. He bats left-handed, but throws right and can play all three outfield spots. He is a better than average base runner as well. Syracuse visits Huntington Park from May 15-18 and if Harper is in the lineup, there will be a buzz about his arrival.
Tim Beckham (SS) (22 years old) – Durham Bulls (Rays)
Beckham was the #1 overall pick out of Griffin High School (GA) in the 2008 draft. He signed for a Rays record $6.1 million and has been under the microscope ever since. The right-handed hitting infielder is coming off a season in which he tied a career best 12 HRs and compiled 70 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A. He only played 24 games with the Bulls last year, batting .255 and his OBP dropped from .339 to .282 when he was promoted. Beckham hasn’t been the superstar that he was projected to be when drafted, but is considered to be one of the top prospects in the Rays system. The 2012 season will be crucial for his stock as a major league option in St. Petersburg.
Will Middlebrooks (3B) (23 years old) – Pawtucket Red Sox (Red Sox)
Middlebrooks is considered to be the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system and he lived up to the hype in 2011, hitting .302 with 18 HR, 80 RBI, with a .345 OBP in Double-A. He appeared in the futures game and was considered to be the top hitting prospect in the Eastern League. Middlebrooks made a cameo in Triple-A, playing 16 games, but went just 9-for-56 (.161) in the International League. The 6’4” right-hander was a fifth round pick out of Texarkana, TX in 2007 and is considered to be the future of Fenway at the hot corner.
Joe Benson (OF) (24 years old) – Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Benson skipped over Triple-A last year, playing in 21 games with Minnesota after 400 AB in Double-A. He’s sitting behind Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Ben Revere, Rene Tosoni, and Trevor Plouffe on the Twins depth chart so it looks like he’ll get his first taste of Triple-A in April. Benson, a second round pick in 2006, has survived his share of injuries to post a .265 career average and a .359 OB. He’s arm and range in the outfield will keep him on the short list for a call-up, but he’ll need to hit in Rochester to stay on the radar.
Brian Dozier (SS) (24 years old) – Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Dozier is the reigning Twins Minor League Player of the Year and will make his Triple-A debut this season. He led the Twins system with a .399 OBP and 24 stolen bases, batting .318 in 78 games in the Eastern League. Dozier, a 2009 draft pick (8th round), was a collegiate star at Southern Miss. He will hit near the top of the
Red Wings lineup.
Starling Marte (OF) (23 years old) – Indianapolis Indians (Pirates)
Marte won the Eastern League batting title last season, hitting .332, and was rewarded with a spot on the Pirates 40-man roster. He has all the tools, from a great arm to tremendous range in center field, he’ll be challenged offensive and defensively by playing at Indy’s Victory Field, the league’s largest park. The Pirates are hoping Marte shows better plate discipline after daring only 22 walks and adds more power after he homered only 12 times in 536 ABs last season. It’s safe to say the Dominican Republican signee from 2007 will be an in Dean Treanor’s lineup almost every day.
Freddy Galvis (SS) (22 years old) – Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies)
The Clippers got a sneak peek at Galvis during the Governors’ Cup playoffs, but they’ll see more of his this season. The Venezuelan infielder was signed by the Phillies at 16 years old and he’s now considered one of the five best players in their minor league system. He was named the Phillies Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 and his glove is as good as it gets. The switch-hitter stands only 5’9” and uses his compact strike zone to his advantage, posting a .326 OBP in Double-A. Ryne Sandberg’s job will be improving Galvis’ bunting skills and perfecting his ability to get on base.
Didi Gregorius (SS) (22 years old) – Louisville Bats (Reds)
With Zach Cozart moving up to Cincinnati, Gregorius could take the shortstop reins in Louisville. He signed in 2007 out of Curacao and helped the Dutch national team win the World Cup last year. The left-handed hitter reached Double-A last season for the first time, playing in 36 games. He is a career .273 hitter with excellent range and arm strength. Gregorius has no power and needs to get smoother with his glove, so it’s possible he is sent to Double-A for the early stages of the season.
Neftali Soto (1B) (23 years old) – Louisville Bats (Reds)
Soto has been on a roller-coaster ride since getting scooped up in the third round of the 2007 draft. He’s played four different positions, struggled defensively, and suffered a broken wrist last season. The good news for Soto is the trade of Yonder Alonso this offseason, which leaves one less player ahead of him on the depth chart. The 6’2”, 200lb. right-hander tied for the home run crown in the Southern League last season, smashing 30 bombs. He appeared in four games with Louisville at the end of the season, going 7-for-17 and he’ll be playing for manager David Bell for the second straight season since Bell was promoted from Double-A.
L.J. Hoes (OF) (22 years old) – Norfolk Tides (Orioles)
Hoes hit .305 over 95 games with Double-A Bowie last year and played LF, 2B, and 3B. He was a third round pick in 2008 and has slowly climbed the ladder despite a lack of offensive power. With only 16 HRs over four seasons, the outfield may not be the place Baltimore sees as Hoes’ future. He managed to steal 16 bases and generate a .379 OBP in Double-A, so it’ll be interesting to see where Tides skipper Ron Johnson placed him in the lineup and on the field.
Austin Romine (CA) (21 years old) – Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees (Yankees)
Romine was the big winner when Jesus Montero was dealt to Seattle over the offseason. He moves up quickly on a depth chart that also dropped Jorge Posada, who announced his retirement. Currently Francisco Cervelli is the only one standing in front of Romine as Russell Martin’s counterpart in the Bronx. He is considered to be a asset defensively, but needs to improve his caught stealing numbers. Romine lacks consistent offense, which will also be a point of focus with former catcher Dave Miley as his manager in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Keep checking back for more previews of the 2012 season!