Future Faces of the AL West; Top Prospects from around the Division
The trucks are en-route to Spring Training destinations, the 40-man rosters are beginning to form, and it's almost time for catchers and pitchers to officially report.
Today I wanted to take a quick look at the top faces on each AL West farm. Some organizations are riddled with blue-chip prospects from the Rangers new youth to the arms of Seattle. But then some are still building their farm, Houston, or have given up completely, Anaheim. BaseballAmerica recently ranked the Angels farm system 30th among the 30 Major League teams.
I'm going to highlight the #1 prospect for each team, the "It Guy." The one that they are all hanging their hopes on developing, and then I'll given you some other top notch prospects, for those reading who want a more obscure name to impress your buddies.
Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, Texas Rangers
BaseballAmerica, ESPN, and MLB.com ALL have Profar ranked as the current #1 prospect in all of baseball. This doesn't even mention a good handful of others who have the same rank. Profar is the future for the Rangers organization, the question isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when he gets to display his talents.
Profar, a switch-hitting middle infielder is only 19 years old. He was the two-way star of the 2004 Curacao Little League World Series team. Signed by the Rangers at 16 because they wanted to make him a shortstop, not a pitcher. In his Major League debut last year, Profar parked a Home Run in his first at-bat. He is this year's Mike Trout, the question is where will the Rangers start him off in 2013? AAA Round Rock to continue developing, kid is still a teenager or go-ahead and begin his Major League time.
Other top Ranger prospects: 3B/1B/RF Mike Olt, LHP Martin Perez, OF Leonys "Cohiba" Martin, RHP Cody Buckel. Cohiba and Olt, like Profar are likely to contribute significantly in 2013. Perez is still young and trying to find a niche, while Buckel exploded through the farm in 2012.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
In a pitching rich farm, Walker is still the prized possession. Ever since the departure of Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Jesus Montero, Walker has been the talked about piece, so much so that he nearly netted them slugging OF Justin Upton. Another Top 5 prospect in baseball, Walker is widely considered the #2 right-handed pitcher (only trailing Baltimore's Dylan Bundy).
Walker, like Profar above, hasn't even turned 21 years old yet. His 6'4" frame is the biggest asset that pushes his ceiling, funny as it may be, up to fellow Mariner Felix Hernandez atmosphere. He has steadily moved up the farm each year in the organization, though struggling a little in AA-Jackson in 2012, I expect to see Walker spend the bulk of 2013 in AAA-Tacoma. He might start off in Jackson, and he likely could log some innings in the Majors this year as well.
Other top Mariner prospects: LHP Danny Hultzen, C Mike Zunino, LHP James Paxton, SS Nick Franklin. Hultzen, another Top 10 pitching talent, could very well be the best Left-Handed tossing prospect. Zunino, argument can easily be made for top catching prospect. And M's fans are having dreams of Ackley-Franklin holding down the middle infield for years to come.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
A couple years ago the Astros had one of the worst farm systems and an incredibly under-achieving Major League team, that will always be a recipe for years of suffering. Luckily for the newest member of the AL West, they organization has made a re-commitment to building the farm, and that conversation should always start with Singleton.
Singleton, acquired from Philadelphia in the 2011 trade that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies has been Houston's prized piece since then. Though he will begin the 2013 season by serving a 50-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, this doesn't hurt his stock at all. Suspended for marijuana use, not PEDs. At 6'2", 235 lbs., Astro fans should be quick to tie their future hopes onto this first baseman who could remind them of slugging infielders like Bagwell and Berkman. 2012 was a plus-plus year for Singleton at AA Corpus Christi and after the suspension if he can continue to development, he'll be in Houston for the start of 2014.
Other top Astro prospects: SS Carlos Correa, RHP Jarrod Cosart, 2B Delino DeShields Jr, OF Jarrod Cosart. This will be the last year of Singleton as the top Astro prospect, regardless of his year, because the conversation will always begin with Correa starting in 2014. DeShields has Major League speed potential and an obvious pedigree. Cosart would become a top of the rotation staple for the Astros starting as early as Opening Day 2013.
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
A farm system known for kicking out Major League arms like Willy Wonka kicks out chocolate bars, surprisingly has an offensive weapon at the top of it's farm. This is a good trend that the A's will need to see more of if they want to win more AL West Division titles, as they still hurt for offensive weapons. We know they have pitching, and don't worry A's fans, there is more top pitching talent on the way, but the offense needs to see more "Choice"s to be successful.
Choice, the 10th overall pick in the 2010 draft, has wasted no time making a name for himself in the A's farm. His 2011 season in high-A Vancouver resulted in a 30 HR-28 Double season, though 2012 saw some minor injury setbacks, I fully expect to see more 2011 Choice in 2013. A product of the University of Texas-Arlington, Choice has the five-tools to play any and all three outfield positions, where the A's continue to develop his at will be dependent upon both his success and other outfield prospects (see Grant Green).
Other top Athletics prospects: RHP Dan Straily, RHP A.J. Cole, OF Grant Green, SS Addison Russell. The A's rookie arms were a huge key to the 2012 AL West Division title, Straily and Cole will quickly fit into the future of keeping their pitching a major strength. Green, as mentioned above, needs a solid 2013 season for the A's offensive hopes and Russell is beginning to look like a lock for the future SS duties.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
In 2012 the Angels farm system was way below average and that included Mike Trout (Major Leagues) and Jean Segura (traded to Milwaukee). In fact Top 10 prospect RHP Tyler Skaggs is a former Angel prospect. Add all that up and it's easy to see why they are ranked #30. However right now, it's obvious the Angels don't care about that in the least bit...notice the contracts given to Pujols, Wilson, and now Hamilton.
Kaleb Cowart stands alone from my assessment of the Angels farm. Cowart is a very, very solid "hot box" prospect. His 6'3" frame might turn him into more of a first baseman than a third baseman, but still early on that prediction. In 2012 between both Low-A and High-A ball in 2012, Cowart notched 103 RBI in 135 games. Still at least three years away, since he has yet to play an inning above High-A ball, Cowart bodes well for the Angels farm.
Other top Angel prospects: 1B C.J. Cron. When writing about honorable mentions, I didn't just pick four prospects from each team, I did limit it to no-more than four. And in the current state of the Angels farm, Cron is the only other player that deserves to be mentioned.