This year, BaseballNewsHound.com is offering readers comprehensive scouting data on the Top 222 Prospects in Major League Baseball– almost double amount we’ve ranked in the past. Earlier this month we ranked the top 101 pitching prospects for 2012 and posted scouting reports grouped by prospect tier. To complete this year’s installment of our preseason prospect rankings we’ve posted rankings and scouting data on the top 121 Hitting prospects below.
To more effectively rank prospects, we’ve accounted for the inherent positional value gap between hitters and pitchers by publishing separate spreadsheets for each group of individuals. The player’s included in our rankings must have:
1) Less than 150 career at bats(non-pitchers), 50 innings pitched (starting pitchers) and 30 innings pitched (relievers) in the Major Leagues;
2) Must be under contract with one of the 30 Major League Baseball Organizations
Links to each segment of our Top MLB Prospects for 2012 are provided below:
1. Mike Trout
2. Bryce Harper
Tier 2 (Grade A) (2/17/11)
6. Wil Myers
8. Gary Brown
9. Matt Szczur
10. Bubba Starling
11. Devin Mesoraco
12. Leonys Martin
13. Travis d’Arnaud
2. Yu Darvish
3. Jacob Turner
4. Gerrit Cole
5. Trevor Bauer
Tier 2 (Grade A) 1/28/11
9. Zack Wheeler
10. Julio Teheran
Drafted 25th overall out of Millville high school (New Jersey) in ’09, Angels’ phenom Mike Trout needed less than two seasons to tear through the minor leagues and establish himself as a future superstar. Since making his debut in the Arizona League in 2009, Trout has posted a ridiculous .338/.422/.508 triple-slash line and has packed his trophy case with a metric ton of accolades. He’s been selected to nine league All-Star teams and two Future’s Games, and was honored as an AFL Rising Star in 2011. After his .918 OPS and phenomenal all-around play earned him the J.G. Taylor Spink Award following 2010, Trout encored with an even better performance last season and took home Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award. He managed to force himself into the Angels’ lineup last summer, and held his own under a media magnifying glass.
When Trout inked his contract with the Angels back in June 2009, his $1.2 million dollar signing bonus seemed to be a relative bargain– at least in comparison to the big-money figures his fellow top picks– Strasburg, Ackley, Harper, Rendon, Starling etc…– inked over the past three years. Trout has proven to be far more than a value pick however, and even more than a top prospect. He’s established his place among the game’s elite young players. In the mold of a young Johnny Damon, Trout is blessed with premier speed, remarkable hand-eye coordination and a surplus of baseball athleticism. What separates him from other toolsy prospects is his feel for the game. His fundamentals and enthusiasm are exactly what winning teams seek in their young players.
Of all of his tools, Trouts speed stands out the most. He’s capable of sub 6.4-second 60-yard dash times; meaning his legs easily rate at the top of the 20-80 scouting scale. Unlike most young burners however, he puts his blinding speed to good use on the basepaths and in the outfield. A true quick-twitch athlete, he gets great jumps and reads pitchers well, allowing him to post a career stolen base success rate of 80%. He uses his wheels to rack up extra bases, and his range makes him an asset in center field, where he glides to both gaps.
Trout’s work at the plate combines the swing and pitch recognition of a lead-off hitter and the power of a middle-of-the-order run producer. His hitting skills and pitch recognition are polished, and he works the count with veteran savvy. He has immense bat control and his swing is balanced, allowing him to square-up pitches and make adjustments smoothly. He employs an efficient, compact stroke and uses his great hand and core strength to crack line drives to all fields. Skilled at finding the barrel, he’s difficult to beat and he’s a line-drive machine. Though he’s not blessed with premium bat speed, he has the hitting prowess and physical tools to rack up extra-base hits and belt 15-20 homerun in his peak seasons.
Trout’s fringey arm strength will never be a weapon, but the extra work he’s put in to his throwing mechanics have allow him to make the most of what he has. Many evaluators had previously predicted a move to left field– and that still may be the case with Peter Bourjos donning an Angels uniform– but Trout’s polished route-running, immense body control and NFL-safety range have quieted his doubters. In fact, he’s looking more and more like a future Gold Glove award winner. He tracks down fly-balls with direct angles and uses his legs and leaping ability to make the most difficult plays.
After getting his feet wet in the Majors last season, Trout looks more than ready to assume an everyday job with the Angels. Los Angeles’ relaxed player development time-table may keep him from opening 2012 with the big club, but he certainly has nothing left to prove in the minors. If all goes according to plan, Trout should be a threat to post batting averages near .300 annually, with the plate discipline to keep his on-base percentage on the better side of .360. His combination of hitting skills, baserunning speed, defense and power give him the opportunity be a true star and the face of the Angels’ franchise moving forward.
The 2010 MLB Draft’s top overall pick, Harper followed his extraordinary amateur career with an inspiring debut in professional baseball. Last season, as an eighteen-year-old facing much older competition, Harper hit .297/.392/.5o1 through 109 games in the South Atlantic and Eastern Leagues. The 2010 Golden Spikes Award winner, Harper needed little time to adjust to the pros. After signing with Nationals, Harper proved himself against advanced competition in the Arizona Fall League before mashing big league pitching during his first spring training. Though he opposed the Nationals’ decision to open his pro career in class-A, he accepted the assignment after only minor fanfare. He overcame a slow start to April with a hot streak of video game stat-lines that lasted until the beginning of the summer. He was selected to play in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game, and later won the South Atlantic League Most Outstanding Major League Prospect Award. His season was cut-short by a nasty hamstring injury, but he recovered just fine and once again tore apart AFL pitching last fall.
Harper is a true five-tool phenom with strengths in every facet of the game. His most obvious strength isn’t his lack of weakness however, it’s his– well– strength. The (barely) nineteen-year-old is built like a freight train, yet he has the athletic coordination and speed of an NFL running back. Blessed with a wide frame and thick bone structure, Harper has loaded his build with power muscle while keeping fit and chiseled. His swing combines his well-coached fundamentals, brute strength, long levers and phenomenal coordination, and he generates whirlwind bat speed. He uses his core and legs to takes fierce cuts, and his monster hand strength keeps his swing firm and sharp. Despite the incredible amount of torque he generates, he manages to stay balanced and fairly centered, adding easy loft and carry and affording him plus contact skills.
Harper’s swing and approach are built for power, but his sound mechanics, fundamentals and tireless work ethic should make him a plus hitter as well. His strikeout totals are in line with a slugger’s profile, but not excessive, and he tempers his fierce, aggressive swing with advanced pitch recognition and a surprising willingness to work the count. Just as he did in high school and junior college– throughout his whole baseball life really– he sacrifices his free time to the batting cage and the gym. A prescription for contact lenses have improved his reaction time, and his repeatable, fluid swing mechanics should allow him to maintain high on-base percentages and carry his monster offensive output to the big leagues.
A catcher in high school, the Nationals moved Bryce to the outfield as soon as he put on a big league uniform. His competitive, baseball-obsessed style clashed a bit with the move to a less-involved defensive position, but he’s put in the work to become a future plus defender. His size fits right field the best long-term, but his above-average speed, body control and cannon arm strength could certainly stick in center as well. He should evolve into an impact-level fielder, and his arm strength– capable of mid 90′s heat on the mound– is already helping him rack up outfield assists. He’s new to the outfield, but his route-running and angles to fly balls are already solid.
Harper’s present power and hitting skills are astonishing– especially for his age. As he grows, adds experience and hones his game, he should become one of the premier sluggers of his generation. He’s fiercely competitive and driven, giving him the mental fortitude to survive the hype surrounding his success. At the plate, Harper’s profile resembles that of Larry Walker or Jason Giambi, though the rest of his game is much more complete. Prospects like Harper are exceedingly rare, and he’s without a valid comparison. The Nationals will try their best to protect him in the minors until next summer at the very least. But if he continues where he left off in 2011, there’s an outside shot that he could force his way into an everyday job with the big club this spring.
Signed by the Yankees out of Venezuela back in 2006 for $1.6 million, Jesus Montero has developed in to one of the most brilliant young hitters in pro ball. His quiet confidence, huge raw power and impressive hitting skills have drawn rave reviews from scouts, and he’s been one of the most sought after prospects in baseball throughout the past few seasons. After hearing his named discussed heavily at recent trade deadlines, Montero was finally traded this offseason. Though the Yankees received an exciting pair of young, Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, in return, the Yankees will sorely miss Montero’s star-powered bat. Following the trade, Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters that Montero was tough to let go and the best player he’d ever traded.
Thus far into his pro career, Montero appears to be worthy of the media attention and hype his talent has drawn. Despite the Yankees’ intent to pace his timetable, Montero made his MLB debut at the ripe old age of twenty-one when rosters expanded last September. While dunked in a New York pressure cooker, Montero put together a .328/.406/.590 triple-slash line through 61 at bats, and managed to outperform the loftiest expectations. Though he only played in eighteen regular season games, he convinced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to give him a spot on the postseason roster. When he collected two hits and drove in Mark Texeira in Game Five of last fall’s ALDS, he became the second youngest hitter in franchise history– behind Mickey Mantle– to put together a multi-hit game in the playoffs.
Montero’s raw power is his calling card. The ball jumps off of his bat, and his swing adds natural loft, giving his drives enormous carry. He’s flat-footed and his swing mechanics are a bit unorthodox– he leans forward and shifts more weight to ball of his front foot– but he makes his style work. His mechanics are similar to those of Frank Thomas– though more rotational– and he’s able to drive pitches in locations that other hitters can’t touch. His swing takes a near-ideal path to the ball and he uses his powerful core and back to whip the bat through the zone. His hands are strong and loose, and he hits the ball with authority to all fields; showing immense opposite-field power. Once he gets more comfortable hitting righties and tightens-up his thick-set body, he’ll be a threat to hit thirty homeruns and plenty of doubles annually.
Montero is a tick behind Bryce Harper in terms of power, but he has the potential to become the better hitter. His swing quick, smooth and balanced, and he takes a short, controlled stride. He gets great extension on low-and-away pitches, and he enjoys excellent plate coverage. Montero is a ballplayer, and he’s blessed with a remarkable feel for hitting. His plate discipline drew some criticism earlier in his career, as he’s an aggressive hitter, but his polished pitch recognition and sharp plate vision have swiftly quieted those critics. He has a knack for making hard contact, but doesn’t sell out for power, and he’s adept at driving offspeed pitches to the opposite field. His platoon splits do leave a lot to be desired, as he mashes lefties (1.039 OPS vs LHP in ’11) and is only a pedestrian hitter against righthanders (.728 OPS vs. RHP). His swing gives him superior bat control however, and combined with his batting eye and feel for hitting, he shouldn’t have trouble learning to hit righthanders with more experience.
Defensively, Montero would have been best served using his development time in the corner infield rather than at catcher. By insisting he catch professionally, the Yankees have suppressed his offensive output and have kept him from learning a position he could take to the big leagues. He’s not a catcher, period. He’s tall (6’4″) and broad-shouldered. Even after cutting fifteen pounds of weight last offseason, he’s downright hulking. After allowing fifteen passed balls in 2010, he allowed seven last season, but the improvement can be partly attributed to Scranton’s pitching staff of strike-throwers. He’s sluggish behind the plate, and his large frame makes it difficult for him to block pitches. His makeup is a plus and his hands are fairly soft, but pitchers are uncomfortable throwing to him. His plus arm is an asset but it’s effectiveness is reduced by the extra time and effort it takes him to uncoil and react to base-stealers. He might be able to stick at catcher a little bit longer, but to maximize his growth as a hitter, the Mariners should use his move him to third or first base.
Montero is a hard worker and is receptive to coaching. His work ethic and enthusiasm for the game make him a great teammate. He handled the scrutiny that follows hyped Yankees prospects well and he excels under pressure. He’s as close to a sure bet as there is in the prospect world, and he should have a long career as a top-shelf run producer.
Now with the Mariners, Montero is poised to open 2012 as a big league designated hitter. Seattle will probably continue to give him innings behind the plate, but it’s fairly clear he doesn’t belong there long-term. He may be best served starting the year in the Pacific Coast League and working at third base while he’s still young. If he can beat the odds and stick at catcher, Montero has the tools to become the next Jorge Posada. If he moves to first or the outfield, he’s a fairly safe bet to play like Paul Konerko or Carlos Lee, with room to dream on another Miguel Cabrera.
Selected third overall by the Orioles in the 2009 MLB Draft, Machado inked a hefty $5.25 million contract to take over as Baltimore’s most highly-touted shortstop since Cal Ripken Jr. As a shortstop who put together a star-studded amateur career while playing in the South Florida prep circuit, Machado draws comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod comparisons are lofty, considering he’ll retire as one of the best hitters in the game’s history, but Machado has more than enough talent to warrant the hype. He possesses all of the ingredients for a star shortstop– a sweet swing, a cannon arm, above-average speed, soft hands and acrobatic body control.
After signing with the Orioles, Machado was left with enough time to make his highly anticipated pro debut. He began with an impressive seven-game stint in the low-minors, hitting .306/.359/.472 and he even belted his first homerun. His performance more than convinced the Orioles to send him to the South Atlantic League to begin 2011. Playing for the Delmarva Shorebirds, he recovered from a slow April to post an .859 OPS through 145 Sally League at bats. After a knee injury sidelined him for a couple of weeks to begin the summer, Machado returned in time to play in the All-Star Futures Game. Baltimore then sent him to the Carolina League (High Class-A) to play shortstop for the Frederick Keys for the remainder of the season. All and all, Machado more than met expectations with a very promising full-season debut.
Machado’s hitting tools give him top-tier offensive potential and his ceiling is unrivaled among shortstop prospects. He’s a gifted athlete, blessed with balance and body control that serves him well at the plate, as well as in the field. Mechanically, his swing is remarkably quiet and efficient, built for both speed and control. He has great hands and he transfers power from his core and legs seamlessly. His swing is balanced and level, and his hands move in sync with his hips and body. Effortless, compact and repeatable, Machado’s lightning-quick cut affords him extra reaction time to adjust to offspeed and breaking stuff, and he can catch-up to premium heat. His swing mechanics and quiet hands afford him the bat control and plate coverage to hit .300 in the big leagues.
Just eighteen years old, Machado has plenty of time to grow into homerun power. In the batting cage he’s capable of power shows– driving pitches out of the park in all directions. He already shows gap power in games, and he has the frame and batspeed to grow in to solid-average power in the big leagues– a rare trait among middle infielders. His strength, balance and sweet swing allow him to barrel tough pitches in all parts of the zone (and off the plate), giving him the prerequisite for homerun pop. He already generates plus bat speed with ease. Once he grows into his 6’3″ frame, his hitting tools should make him a complete hitter.
Unlike most heavy-hitting shortstop prospects, Machado is projected to remain at shortstop in the big leagues. He’s an advanced fielder, who shows soft, sure hands and nimble footwork. He moves well to his glove and arm sides, and fields with the center of gravity of a much shorter player. He’s blessed with more than enough dexterity for the position, and he’s an aggressive fielder who isn’t afraid to charge hard-hit grounders and choppers. His arm strength rates as plus-plus and his solid-average speed and quick feet will allow him to make all of the plays– and then some– necessary of a big league shortstop.
Though he’s polished for his age, Machado is still a couple of years away from the big leagues. With a future star shortstop on their hands, the Orioles will move him through the minors carefully and develop his power and fielding skills. He profiles as an Edgar Renteria-type ballplayer with a .300 hitter’s bat, solid pop and a reliable glove– though that may prove to be a conservative comparison.