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Prospect Press: Prospects To Watch in 2012
Reggie | Thursday February 16th, 2012
Tampa Bay's Matt Moore dominated hitters in 2011. (Icon SMI)
Tampa Bay's Matt Moore dominated hitters in 2011. (Icon SMI)
In 2011, baseball fans saw considerable contributions from young major league prospects like Eric Hosmer, Craig Kimbrel, and Jeremy Hellickson, who all played important roles on their respective teams.

With spring training quickly approaching, a new group of prospects will look to take their talent to the next level.

Below are 14 young prospects (by position) who have not yet logged 130 at-bats or 50 innings at the big league level. Some of these prospects have already seen major league action, while others are still working their ways up through the minor league system but could see big-league time in the near future.

Devin Mesoraco - C, Cincinnati Reds
Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco will open the 2012 season at the big league level, but his playing time could be limited due to the presence of veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan. However, the rookie has enough talent to push himself into the starting lineup everyday at some point this season. The 23-year-old really put himself on the map in 2010 by hitting .302/.377/.587 (average/on-base/slugging) with 26 home runs across three levels (A, Double-A, and Triple-A) and, in 2011, he hit .289/.371/.484 with a .855 OPS in 120 games for Triple-A Louisville, earning a brief call-up to the Reds in late September.

With regular playing time, Mesoraco has the power to hit between 20 and 25 home runs and, with the Reds hoping to win the National League Central this season, he could be an important impact bat in the bottom of the Cincinnati's order.

Anthony Rizzo - 1B, Chicago Cubs
22-year-old Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has been a traveling man over the past two years. He was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the San Diego Padres prior to the 2011 season (as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal) and was then traded from the Padres to the Chicago Cubs during the 2011 off-season. In 93 games last season, the left-handed first baseman hit .331/.404/.652 in the hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League before a June promotion to the majors. In 49 games for the Padres, Rizzo showed typical rookie struggles and hit just .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances.

Even with the trade to Chicago, Rizzo isn't a lock to start for the Cubs on opening day and the club will likely have Bryan LaHair man open as their first baseman. However, the smooth-fielding first baseman should see plenty of big-league action once he gets his swing right at Triple-A. It might take a month or two for Rizzo to get things together, but it won't be long before he brings his great plate approach to Wrigley Field.

Kolten Wong - 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted infielder Kolten Wong in the first round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft after the 21-year-old played three seasons at the University of Hawaii and posted career numbers of .358/.450/.563 with 25 HR and a 1.013 OPS. The second baseman then quickly signed with the Cardinals and spent 47 games with Low-A Quad Cities, hitting .335/.401/.510.

Wong has a solid approach at the plate and above-average power, so he should hit for a high batting average and could develop double-digit home run numbers. His defense is also solid and he has a strong arm for the second base position. Kolten could see major league action as soon as the 2013 season, and Baseball America currently ranks Wong as the sixth-best overall prospect in the St. Louis organization.

Nolan Arenado - 3B, Colorado Rockies
Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado followed up a terrific 2010 minor league season at the Low-A level (.308/.338/.520) with an even better 2011 season at High-A (.298/.349/.487). In addition to a solid batting average and on-base percentage, Arenado finished among the league's top ten in home runs (20) and led the league in RBI with 122.

Even though the Rockies lack depth at third base, Arenado likely won't see big league action during the 2012 season. At 20 years old, and having not played above Double-A, rushing him into major league action won't help the Rockies win more games, but he'll open 2012 at the Double-A level and could see action in Coors Field during the 2013 season. ESPN writer Keith Law currently ranks Arenado as baseball's 26th-best overall prospect prior to the start of the 2012 season.

Manny Machado - SS, Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado is one of the game's best position player prospects, just behind outfielders Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. The 19-year-old shortstop started the 2011 season at low-A Delmarva and finished up at High-A Frederick, where he helped the Keys capture a Carolina League Championship. Not only is Machado skilled at the plate, but he also has very good defensive quickness at the shortstop position. Between two levels of Single-A ball last season, Machado hit a combined .257/.335/.421 with 11 home runs and 50 RBI.

The former 2010 first round pick by the Orioles will likely open the season back in High-A Frederick before receiving a promotion to Double-A Bowie after a few months. There's hope that, at six-foot three and 185 pounds, Machado won't outgrow the shortstop position, but if that does happen, a shift to third base seems likely. Baltimore will take their time with Machado, not only because of his age, but also because the team signed incumbent shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year contract extension during the 2011 season.

Bryce Harper - OF, Washington Nationals
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the highly-touted number one overall pick of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, didn't disappoint in his first professional season of professional baseball, and the 18-year-old outfielder started the season at Low-A Hagerstown before finishing up the year at Double-A Harrisburg. Between two different leagues and 109 total games, the lefthander hit .297/.392/.501 with 17 home runs and a .894 OPS. Harper struggled when he reached the Double-A level in July and hit just .238/.300/.325 in his first 80 at-bats, but in his next 48 at-bats, Harper hit .292/.375/.521 before a right hamstring injury shut him down for the rest of the season.

Much of the talk this off-season among Nationals fans was about the possibility of Harper completely bypassing the Triple-A level and opening the season in Washington. While the idea of Harper in D.C. on opening day might sell a few extra seats, it's more likely that he'll start the season at the Triple-A level. The 19 year-old former catcher is extremely talented but needs to improve his pitch recognition and work on making better reads on balls hit to the outfield. He could see a big league cup of coffee in late September this year, but he will most likely be a full-time player for the Nationals in 2013.

Mike Trout - OF, Los Angeles Angels
Depending on who you talk to, most baseball analysts will rank Bryce Harper or Angels outfielder Mike Trout as the number one overall prospect in baseball right now. Regardless of their ranking, both are very young, good prospects. Trout has soared through the Angels' minor league system and has hit .338/.422/.508 with a .930 OPS in 266 professional games. He received his first taste of big league action in July of 2011, but appeared in just 40 games with the big club.

The Angels outfield is crowded and, though Trout is likely the best outfielder on the team, he might struggle to find playing time because of veteran contracts on the roster. He's good enough to compete at the big-league level right now, but he might be better off playing at Triple-A this year in order to secure consistent at-bats.

Wil Myers - OF, Kansas City Royals
Though he battled a knee injury for most of 2011, Royals outfielder Wil Myers still put together a solid offensive season last year. In 99 games at Double-A, the righthanded hitter posted a .254/.353/.393 slash-line with a 12.5 walk percentage, and in his first three years of pro ball, the converted catcher has hit .296/.399/.477 with a .876 OPS.

With the knee injury behind him, Myers returned to top form in the latest Arizona Fall League by hitting .360/.481/.674. He'll probably begin the 2012 campaign back at Double-A before making a late-season push to the Triple-A level. 

Jesus Montero - DH/C, Seattle Mariners
Seattle hitter Jesus Montero was the highest ranked prospect in the New York Yankees organization before a trade sent him to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda this past off-season. The Mariners desperately needed offensive output, and that's what they'll get with the 22-year-old slugger. In his last two seasons at the Triple-A level, Montero hit .289/.351/.493 with 39 home runs and a .843 OPS. Then, in a late season call-up with the Yankees, Montero posted a .996 OPS in 69 plate appearances and earned a spot on the team's postseason roster.

While Jesus is listed as a catcher, he'll likely see most of his playing time at first base and as the club's designated hitter. He should open 2012 with the Mariners and will probably hit near the middle of the batting order, alongside young second baseman Dustin Ackley. Montero currently has 20 to 25 home run power, but he has an even bigger upside for the years to come.

Matt Moore - SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Rays lefthanded starting pitcher Matt Moore frustrated hitters in 2011, and the 22 year-old posted a 12-3 record with a 1.92 ERA and 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9) between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Moore continued that dominant run during a brief big league call-up for the Rays in September, striking out 15 hitters in 9 1/3 innings of work.

The Rays knew they had something special in Moore, and the club signed him to a five-year contract extension during this off-season. Moore will find himself in the 2012 opening day rotation for the Rays, and most likely for several seasons to come. The lefty has a mid-90s fastball and mixes in an outstanding slider and change-up, and if he continues to dominate hitters and average a strikeout per inning, he could be one of the best pitchers in the American League very soon.

Trevor Bauer - SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Bauer wasted little time between the amateur draft and his professional debut last season. After compiling over 136 innings at UCLA during the college season, the righty appeared in 7 professional games (25 2/3 innings) over two minor league levels. In 7 starts, he posted a 1-2 record with a 5.96 ERA and 15.1 K/9.

Bauer finished the 2011 season with Double-A Mobile Bay Bears and, while he'll likely start the 2012 season at the minor league level, he could quickly reach the big leagues. The righthander has six pitches plus a deceptive pitching delivery, and though his fastball averages 92 to 94 miles per hour, it has topped out between 96 and 97. Recently, Bauer discussed his pitching repertoire with MiLB.com.

Shelby Miller - SP, St. Louis Cardinals
21-year-old Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller enters his fourth professional baseball season with high hopes of reaching the big league level by the end of the year. The righty posted an 11-6 record with a 2.77 ERA and 11 K/9 while splitting time between High-A and Double-A.

Miller will start spring training in big league camp and, depending on his performance, he could open the season at the Triple-A level. The Texas native features a good late-sinking mid-90s fastball but, in order to progress to the next level, Miller will need to sharpen his command (his walks per 9 innings stat jumped from 2.8 in 2010 to 3.4 to 2011). If all goes well for Miller in Triple-A, he could be called up in late September.

Julio Teheran - SP/RP, Atlanta Braves
Since signing as a 16-year-old, Braves pitcher Julio Teheran has been one of Atlanta's best pitching prospects, and the now 21 year-old Teheran has put together a 28-17 record with a 2.96 ERA and 8.6 K/9 in four minor league seasons. Julio spent most of 2011 pitching at the Triple-A level, where he posted a 15-3 record (and led the International League in wins) with a 2.55 ERA in 25 games. He also made a few spot starts for Atlanta last season, logging 19 2/3 innings along with a 5.03 ERA.

Atlanta has depth in their starting rotation, so there's no reason for the Braves to rush Teheran to the big-league level. He'll start spring training in the Braves big league camp, but he should start the regular season at Triple-A. Given his power fastball and terrific change-up, Teheran could see an extended look in the bullpen before eventually moving to the starting rotation. He just needs a spot.

Addison Reed - RP, Chicago White Sox
Chicago White Sox pitcher Addison Reed was covered more in-depth in a previous Prospect Press article, but he's still worthy of mention here. While Reed was a starting pitcher in college, he has worked from the bullpen since being drafted in 2010 and will start the 2012 season in the White Sox bullpen, though his exact role there has not yet been determined. He might split ninth inning work with veteran lefthander Matt Thornton this year, and we will eventually see Reed as Chicago's full-time closer.
ReggieReggie is a writer and the co-founder of Baseball Press. He enjoys fantasy baseball and hates when players bunt in baseball.