In our daily email chain, the writers of TYA and I had a hard time deciding what to call this. After all, we did a similar thread the other day about sleeper prospects. But this is a bit different. For that thread, we were talking about prospects we thought might fly under the radar and make some noise without a lot of pre-existing fanfare. This one is a little more focused. After the jump, we’ll be discussing prospects we had on our top 20 lists we think can move up those rankings by way of a strong season in 2012.
Mike Eder: Slade Heathcott
Heathcott fell to the Yankees’ 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft because of health issues and what was called character issues. 2011 was finally the year that Slade Heathcott would blossom into a star. He started to hit for power, he started to cut down on strikeouts, the walks came in at a steady rate, and the contact was there. A day after the intense story of his teenage years was published in mid-May, Heathcott got suspended for a fight on the field. Then he started missing time in June, and yet again his shoulder issues showed up. 2011 was yet another tough season for the 20 year old.
As Eric wrote in the most overrated prospects, the next few years will be a make or break season for the youngster. Now 21, the lefty will start the season in high A ball. After an impressive 2011 start, Heathcott needs to work on staying on the field. With power, contact, and his patience growing, his biggest flaw has been two things he can’t control, his upbringing and his health. If any position player will be promoted to AA quickly, it’ll be Heathcott, who’s talent is only limited to his playing time. A year from now, I expect Heathcott either off most prospect lists or in the top 5.
Eric Schultz: Jose Campos
In one sense, Jose Campos has already broken out, since he put together an impressive season for Seattle’s short-season Northwest League affiliate in 2011 at the tender age of 18. In 81 innings, the big righty posted a 2.38 FIP, striking out 85 batters and walking just 13. He drew raves for the command and movement of his mid-90′s fastball, and the potential that his inconsistent secondary offerings demonstrated. With his performance and impressive scouting reports, Campos drew some top 100 consideration, but ultimately was not deemed worthy of inclusion by the mainstream prospect pundits. Campos’ performance was somewhat under the radar in 2011 due to the wealth of pitching talent in the Mariner organization, from King Felix and Michael Pineda in the majors to prospects like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton.
All this could change in a big way in 2012 when Campos suits up for the Charleston Riverdogs this spring. It will be his first crack at full-season ball, which will be a big test of his stamina, poise, and command. Campos will face more advanced hitting than he ever has, and will need to maintain his mechanics, velocity, and focus over a long season. If he is able to continue the success that he had in 2011 in Charleston while maintaining his command and developing his secondary offerings, he could experience a meteoric rise up the prospect lists. Top 100 would be a certainty, and top 50 could be possible if he shows substantial progress with his secondary offerings. We currently have him as the #5 prospect in the Yankee system, but ascension to #1 or #2 is not difficult to envision if everything goes right for Campos this season.
Domenic Lanza: Angelo Gumbs
Prospects with flashy tools and unparalleled athleticism often find themselves on the fast track into my heart. Those that are able to couple such glamor with results and other positive indicators are enough to make me swoon. Angelo Gumbs is such a prospect, and I would not be surprised to see him garnering praise this time next year a la Mason Williams … who may well be, dare I say, a slightly less athletic, less powerful version of Gumbs.
At face value, Gumbs’ 2011 production may be categorized as somewhat lacking. In prospecting, though, one must always dig deeper. The future center fielder was the youngest regular in the New York-Penn League this past season, checking in as nearly two months younger than Cito Culver (the second youngest). It’s also worth noting that he is nearly fourteen months younger than Williams – and this, at an age where physical and emotional maturity is of the utmost importance. In terms of tools, Gumbs has plus speed, plus bat speed, plus range at second (and likely plus-plus range in center), solid arm strength, and (possibly) future average power. He has a larger frame and more physicality than either Culver or Williams, and more natural loft in his swing (which often portends over-the-fence power). While he may not hit more than 10 or 15 home runs a year, he would not need to to have a ton of value.
As a little nota bene – I do think he has the tools to stay at second base, where he could likewise be a tremendous player.
Brad Vietrogoski: Ravel Santana
The same ankle injury that caused EJ to label Ravel Santana overrated is what’s causing me to pick him as my breakout candidate for 2012. Even with the injury, he popped up on many top 10 and top 20 Yankee prospect lists and even made it to the fringe of some of the bigger top 100s, and any list he didn’t show up on was almost certainly due to the injury and not his makeup as a player. That’s because people recognize that Santana is a legit 5-tool prospect. Based strictly on tools, Santana might very well be a better prospect than Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott right now. And he didn’t just keep his tools in the bag last season, he showcased all of them over the course of the 41 games he did play on his way to a .423 wOBA and the #2 ranking in the entire GCL behind Dante Bichette, Jr.
Santana is a 19-year-old who can hit for average (.296), hit for power (.568 SLG, .272 ISO), run the bases (10 SB), and use his incredible speed and cannon arm to play elite-level defense at a premium position (center field). He also posted a decent BB rate last year as a player who most scouts agree needs to improve his approach at the plate, so all the ingredients for greatness are clearly there. He hasn’t played in a full-season league yet, and likely won’t this year, but that didn’t stop people from placing Williams and Bichette in their top 10s. If Santana can show that he’s overcome the ankle injury and put together another 5-tool season at Staten Island this year, there likely won’t be a top Yankee prospects list out there next year that doesn’t have him well within the top 10, if not top 5.
E.J. Fagan: J.R. Murphy
J.R. Murphy is a great bet for a breakout this year. His 2011 season was notable because scouts started saying good things about his defense. Murphy, in part due to Yankee depth at the position, was always a threat to move to 3rd base before 2011. Now, no one seems to doubt that he’s a decent candidate to stick behind the dish, and possibly play pretty good defense. He’s smaller and more athletic than Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez were, but still possesses some of their hitting talent. He hit .297/.343/.457 before being promoted to High-A, where an injury ended his season early. If he repeats that Low-A batting line at the higher level, and continues to play decent defense, Murphy will quickly shoot up prospect lists. He could even see some time at Double-A, putting him on track for a 2014 debut.
Matt Imbrogno: Dante Bichette, Jr.
The Dante Bichette, Jr. pick was widely panned in 2011 and I’m really in no position to argue otherwise. Bichette did a lot, though, to dispel some of the criticism. He hit the cover off of the ball in the GCL and was apparently pretty impressive at third. That defense is what’s going to be key as far as DJB is concerned as 2012 rolls along. He has already shown that he can be coached, as he made adjustments to his swing as soon as he started his professional career. If Bichette can stay at third, I can see him moving into the organization’s top 5 prospects by next season. This may sound a bit out there, but this is where Bichette’s tennis background will come in handy. I’m not tennis pro or analyst, but it seems that the same things that make a great tennis player–lateral movement, quick reactions, a strong shoulder–make a great third baseman.
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