One of the joys of having a beautiful minor league ballpark in our area is the opportunity to watch future stars come into town with their Eastern League team before they develop into bona fide major leaguers. In the recent past, the Senators have squared off against Justin Verlander, Ryan Howard, Joe Mauer, Andrew McCutchen, and Matt Wieters before they became Cy Young winners, MVPs, and All-Stars.
So, who can we look forward to seeing in 2013? Here’s my personal Top 20 players I can’t wait to watch.
20. Kenny Giles RP (REA) – The reliever has been compared to current Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon in both demeaner and with his live arm which regularly touches triple digits. A reliable second pitch and command are just two of the things this young flamethrower needs to work on, but it will be fun watching him light up the radar gun in the meantime.
19. Adam Duvall 3B (RIC) – Don’t come to the park to watch Duvall play third base, instead come to watch him mash the ball over the fence. The Louisville product has slugged 56 home runs over the last two seasons at both levels of A ball in the San Francisco system and breaking balls at Double-A should provide a good test for his ceiling.
18. Jack Leathersich RP (BIN) – Leathersich’s 5’11” frame isn’t imposing on the mound until he unleashes his low-to-mid 90s tailing fastball or better yet a wicked breaking ball. The southpaw racks up strikeouts at an impressive rate and he’ll get that chance in the back-end of the Binghamton bullpen.
17. Jake DeGrom SP (BIN) – Those in the know always say the second year after Tommy John surgery is when a pitcher finally feels like himself. If that’s the case, everyone should be on high alert for DeGrom who was excellent last season with a sub 1.00 WHIP as he leveraged his 6’4″ frame into generating sink on his fastball.
16. Slade Heathcott OF (TRE) – The biggest issue for Heathcott has never been on the field, instead it has been a history of injuries and a troubled past. So if the Yankee outfielder can stay healthy and above the fray, the sky is the limit with his skillset. He’d run through a brick wall to catch a ball and that’s both the problem and why you should pay to see him.
15. Matt Skole CI (HAR) – Perhaps no one in the history of the Senators is more poised to take advantage of the outgoing jet stream to right field of Metro Bank Park than Skole. The Georgia Tech product brings a massive amount of raw power with him, but his stock has risen with his ability to use the entire field and his growing patience at the plate. On paper, the Senators appear to be a loaded offensive team this season and Skole will find himself in a position to produce runs during many, many at-bats.
14. Kevin Pillar OF (NH) – Ask scouts about Pillar and most will probably tell you about his middling skillset or average physical tools. But the kid can rake…flat out rake. Pillar set the DII record with a 54-game hitting streak as a college junior and has continued his assault through his first three professional seasons where he has hit .347, .322, and .323. And oh by the way, he also stole 51 bases in 60 attempts last season even though despite average speed.
13. Jesus Aguilar 1B (AKR) – Aguilar actually played at MBP last August as he logged 20 games with the Aeros at the end of the season. But by the time Akron visits Harrisburg in late June, odds are great that Aguilar will feel more comfortable in his surroundings and tap into his raw power at the plate.
12. Tyler Collins OF (ERI) – Collins didn’t miss a beat at Hi-A Lakeland in his first professional season as his OPS finished at .800 thanks to a good eye (that resulted in 58 walks) and gap power (that resulted in a 35 doubles). Collins is a hard-nosed grinder that can play any of the three outfield positions. It will be interesting to see how he handles lefties at the much more difficult Double-A.
11. Joe Panik SS (RIC) – Two years removed from hitting .398 his senior year at St. John’s, Panik has continued raking his first two professional seasons. He is a throwback in every sense of the word as his low strikeout totals and perpetually dirty uniform can attest to.
10. Jesse Biddle SP (REA) – The hometown #1 ranked prospect for the Phillies finds himself as the ace of the Reading staff this season. The southpaw won’t throw it by you (as he sits between 88-92 mph with his fastball), but he has a sweeping curve that is rated the best in the system.
9. Matt Barnes SP (POR) – Barnes is the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system and the righthander brings heat in the mid-to-upper 90s with ease. Last season, Barnes seemingly ran out of gas in the second half as his ERA ballooned from a sub 1.00 at the All-Star Break to 2.86 by September. Considering the Sea Dogs’ lone visit to Metro Bank Park is in the middle of August, we’ll see if Barnes can excel for a whole season.
8. Nate Karns SP (HAR) – Two seasons removed from suffering a torn labrum, Karns appears to be on the fast track to the Nationals pitching staff. The big Texan keeps hitters off-balance with a heavy fastball backed up by an outstanding curve ball. Karns dominated both levels of A-ball last year (Hagerstown and Potomac), so it will be interesting to see how he performs and how fast Washington moves him up the system.
7. Tyler Austin OF (TRE) – Austin is one of those guys you could watch all day in the batter’s box. By no means is Austin a physical specimen, but he does possess quick hands, great balance, a short swing, and a decent eye that makes him one of the best young hitters in the minor leagues.
6. Miguel Sano 3B (NB) – One of the subjects of the excellent documentary Pelotero, Sano has all the tools to perhaps be the next Miguel Cabrera or Giancarlo Stanton. But Sano needs to lay off off-speed pitches out of the strike zone and reduce his pull happy tendencies to fulfill his promise. Only 19 years old, Sano is already a man among boys as he’s filled out at 6’5″ / 230 pounds.
5. Kevin Gausman SP (BOW) – What will be more fun…watching Gausman toy with opposing hitters or watching him scarf down four powdered donuts between each inning? His teammate Dylan Bundy justifiably gets most of the press, but Gausman also has a chance to be a Cy Young candidate down the line. His intelligence, command, and devastating changeup reminds me of a young Matt Cain or Cole Hamels.
4. Alex Meyer SP (NB) – In the Nationals’ organization before this off-season’s trade for Denard Span, Meyer is a guy I was looking forward to covering this year but in a Senators jersey. His 6’9″ frame allows Meyer to leverage quite the downward angle on both his two- and four-seam fastballs along with a nasty slider.
3. Xander Bogaerts SS (POR) – Bogaerts has many in the Red Sox organization remembering Hanley Ramirez’ time in their system and the comparison is apt. Simply put, Bogaerts is the best offensive prospect in the Eastern League and he proved last year that the jump to Double-A wouldn’t slow him down. In 23 games at Portland, the Aruba native batted .326 with 10 doubles and five home runs.
2. Jameson Taillon SP (ALT) – Drafted second overall in the 2010 draft right after Bryce Harper, Taillon has the opportunity to be a top-line power pitcher in the vein of Verlander or Strasburg. When he’s on, Taillon is virtually unhittable with a high 90s fastball and a late-breaking curveball. The future for Buccos fans looks mighty bright with Taillon and fellow Pirates’ pitching prospect Gerrit Cole being the real deal.
1. Dylan Bundy SP (BOW) – Late last season it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Bundy might be placed on the Orioles playoff roster for their first appearance since 1997. The Baltimore brain trust decided it was in his best interest to pull the plug on his first professional season. It definitely wasn’t because he wasn’t ready, because he was and still remains. Catch him early in the season (like the opening homestand) because it’s only a matter of time until he’s in Norfolk and then Camden Yards.