2012 32nd Team Of MLB Prospects
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2011.
Every year, we have more scouting reports than we have space for in the Prospect Handbook. Extra reports usually are created because transactions add prospects to a system or because we tinker with the lists and write up more players as we shift them around within an organization.
We provide a Top 30 Prospects list for each of the 30 organizations, and we used to call the leftover reports "The 31st Team." In 2009, we created a bonus supplement for readers who buy the Handbook directly from us, giving them one prospect for each farm system. That essentially became the 31st team, so now we consider the extras as "The 32nd Team."
Last year's 32nd Team included 21 prospects, highlighted by Josh Collmenter, who won 10 games as a Diamondbacks rookie in 2011. Cole Gillespie (Diamondbacks), Luke Hughes (Twins) and Brett Pill (Giants) also saw time in the major leagues. Arizona first-base prospect Yazy Arbelo led the low Class A Midwest League with 31 homers and 62 extra-base hits.
Will the 2012 32nd Team have as many distinguished graduates? It features 15 prospects, listed below in alphabetical order:
Ramon Benjamin, lhp, Marlins
Born: June 14, 1987. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006. Signed by: Sandy Nin.
Benjamin has progressed slowly since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, missing the 2008 season following shoulder surgery. He finally cracked the upper levels of the Marlins system last year, opening 2011 at high Class A Jupiter and finishing at Double-A Jacksonville. Strong and athletic, he's blessed with an explosive fastball, working at 92-94 mph and touching 96. He complements it with a hard slider that has the potential to be a plus pitch and has been effective against both lefties and righties. Benjamin's problem always has been command. While his mechanics have gotten better, he still has a tendency to pull away as he delivers the ball. He needs better direction through to the plate. If he can correct that flaw and start locating his fastball where he wants it, he'll leapfrog a number of relievers ahead of him on Florida's depth chart. That's easier said than done, as his difficulties are longstanding and he'll need more than a tweak or two to straighten him out. Added to the Marlins' 40-man roster in November, Benjamin profiles as a setup man more than a lefty specialist. He'll likely return to Jacksonville to open 2012.
Nick Christiani, rhp, Reds
Born: July 17, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Vanderbilt, 2009 (13th round). Signed by: Joe Katuska.
After an excellent high school career at the same Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) program that produced big leaguers Joe Martinez and Rick Porcello plus former Yankees first-round pick Eric Duncan, Christiani attended Vanderbilt and didn't live up to expectations. One of the top recruits in a class that included Pedro Alvarez, Christiani posted a 4.72 ERA in four years at Vanderbilt. But since joining the Reds as a $10,000 senior sign in the 13th round in the 2009 draft, he has moved quickly as a reliever. Christiani works primarily off a 92-94 sinking fastball and keeps hitters off balance with a solid slider. He never has had a changeup he can trust, which proved to be a problem against lefthanders when he was promoted to Triple-A Louisville last May. Triple-A lefties posted a .978 OPS against him, compared to a .539 OPS by righties at that level. A potential seventh-inning reliever, Christiani will return to Louisville to open 2012 and could help Cincinnati before long.
Dan Cortes, rhp, Nationals
Born: March 4, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-6. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HS—Pomona, Calif., 2005 (7th round). Signed by: Dan Ontiveros (White Sox).
Cortes made Baseball America's overall Top 100 Prospects list before the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but he has been with three organizations since because he hasn't been able to throw enough strikes. Originally drafted by the White Sox, he went to the Royals in a 2006 trade for Mike MacDougal. Kansas City sent him to the Mariners in a 2009 deal for Yuniesky Betancourt, and Seattle nontendered him in December 2011. The Nationals signed him to a minor league contract in January. Cortes has a 94-96 mph fastball and below-average control, so hitters have few comfortable at-bats against him. After using a slider in 2010, he relied more on a hard curveball last year. His curve is a swing-and-miss pitch at times, but when he can't put it in the strike zone, hitters sit on his fastball. Cortes has been criticized in the past for being immature—the Royals traded him after he was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct—but he has grown up since then. Mariners coaches praised his willingness to listen to instruction and his drive in 2011. Washington will give him an opportunity to make its bullpen in spring training.
Jake Goebbert, of, Astros
Born: Sept. 24, 1987. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 200. Drafted: Northwestern, 2009 (13th round). Signed by: Troy Hoerner.
Goebbert grew up on an Illinois farm before becoming a three-year starter as an outfielder and first baseman at Northwestern. His college career ended in April 2009 when he crashed into a wall during a game against Minnesota in the Metrodome, lacerating a kidney. Astros area scout Troy Hoerner liked Goebbert long before the injury and adamantly pushed for the club to draft him. He was able to play that summer after signing for $100,000 as a 13th-rounder, and he has grinded his way to Triple-A and an Arizona Fall League assignment. Goebbert's strength is his ability to identify pitches, put together quality at-bats and lash line drives to the gaps with a consistent, low-maintenance swing. He has fringy power and may never hit more than 12-15 homers annually, but he has enough juice to keep pitchers honest and hit for a high average. He works counts well and draws some walks. Goebbert is also a fringy runner and thrower—he pitched briefly in college—but gets the most out of his tools. He wouldn't be a factor if he didn't hit lefthanded, but the platoon advantage gives him a chance to become a second-division regular on an outfield corner if he keeps hitting. He might even get that opportunity in Houston as early as midseason.
Mark Haddow, of, White Sox
Born: Dec. 2, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 220. Drafted: UC Santa Barbara, 2011 (24th round). Signed by: Gary Woods.
If Hollywood ever needs a guy who looks like a first-round pick, Haddow is the guy. He has a muscular 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame and a promising combination of power and speed, yet he never really excited scouts in his four years at UC Santa Barbara. Haddow had trouble making contact and never hit more than six homers in a season with the Gauchos. Undrafted as a junior in 2010, he lasted 24 rounds last June and signed for $1,000. He averaged a strikeout per game in his pro debut, but he also hit .312/.375/.528 and helped Great Falls win the Rookie-level Pioneer League championship. Haddow has a big strike zone and struggles to cover it, but he also has plus raw power and can drive the ball to the opposite field. He's a plus runner once he gets going, and he's an average defender with a solid arm in right field. Because he's already 24, he may open his first full pro season at high Class A Winston-Salem.
Brock Kjeldgaard, of/1b, Brewers
Born: Jan. 22, 1986. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 235. Drafted: Indian Hills (Iowa) CC, D/F 2005 (34th round). Signed by: Harvey Kuenn Jr.
A 34th-round pick in 2005, Kjeldgaard signed as a draft-and-follow a year later and spent his first two years in pro ball as a pitcher. After he went 1-3, 5.53 in 33 mound appearances, the Brewers made him a full-time hitter in 2008. He 's essentially a one-tool player, but he has hit 75 homers in 1,702 minor league at-bats and his prodigious raw power gives him a chance to make it to the big leagues. The Canadian played right and even some center field for his country's national team in October, going 13-for-52 (.250) with a pair of home runs to help Canada win the Pan American Games and tie for third in the World Cup. Kjeldgaard is big and freakishly strong, and he can hit balls out of sign when he makes contact. His swing gets too long and he gets overly aggressive, leading to high strikeout totals and making it unlikely he'll hit for a high average. A well below-average runner, he has decent arm strength but is a mediocre defender on the outfield corners. He also has seen time at first base, which is a better fit for him. Kjeldgaard's power tailed off when he reached Double-A for the first time in 2011, so he'll have to prove himself when he returns there this season. He's already 26, so the clock is ticking.
Kyle Lobstein, lhp, Rays
Born: Aug. 12, 1989. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HS—Flagstaff, Ariz., 2008 (2nd round). Signed by: Jayson Durocher.
Lobstein has been an enigma since he signed for $1.5 million as a second-round pick in 2008. The Rays expected him to add velocity as his body matured but that hasn't been the case. His fastball continues to reside at 85-88 mph, though it does have late life and he throws it from a tough angle. His strikeout rate has decreased throughout his pro career, and he has compensated with control and command. He works his fastball down in the strike zone and tries to get hitters to swing at it early in the count. His best pitch is his plus changeup, and he also mixes in a sharp curveball and a cutter that handcuffs opponents at times. Lobstein also has impressed Tampa Bay with his mound presence and his calm approach while on the bump. He has good athleticism and and displays an advanced knowledge of how to pitch. Even if his velocity doesn't pick up, the Rays believe Lobstein can fill a role in the back of a major league rotation. After reaching Double-A Montgomery at the end of last season, he'll return there to open the 2012 campaign.
Donald Lutz, 1b, Reds
Born: Feb. 6, 1989. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 236. Signed: Germany, 2007. Signed by:Jim Stoeckel.
It took Lutz four pro seasons to establish himself as a bona fide prospect, but considering his background that's not surprising. He grew up in Germany after his American father and German mother split up. He has played for Germany in multiple international tournaments and hit three homers (including one against Cuba) in the 2011 World Cup. Signed in 2007 after he stood out at an invitation-only MLB showcase in Italy, Lutz had to catch up with more experienced competition in pro ball. After spending three years in Rookie ball, he emerged as one of the best lefthanded power prospects in the Reds system by drilling 20 homers at low Class A Dayton in 2011. He batted .340/.396/.543 in the second half of the season. Lutz has plus raw power, thanks to his pretty swing and quick hands, through he has a loopy setup and doesn't make consistent contact. He has solid arm strength but below-average speed, so first base is his best defensive option. He has worked hard to make significant strides with the glove. Cincinnati is eager to see how Lutz will handle high Class A pitching in 2012 after protecting him on its 40-man roster in November.
David Martinez, rhp, Astros
Born: Aug. 4, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Signed: Venezuela, 2005. Signed by: Andres Reiner/Jesus Aristimuno.
For much of the 2011 season, Martinez was the definition of an organizational player. He needed four years to get out of the Rookie-year Venezuelan Summer League, and he made his full-season debut last year as a 23-year-old in low Class A. His focus waxed and waned as pitched in long relief, relying on an 88-92 mph sinker. As attrition hit the Lexington pitching staff, Martinez got more high-leverage outings. He converted a pair of saves in July, and his velocity spiked in late-inning situations, with his fastball sitting at 93-96 mph at times while retaining its solid sink. He kept pitching well and finished the season by making four starts. Martinez's secondary pitches are a slider and changeup. His slider has inconsistent break but he usually throws it for strikes. His changeup has the potential to become an average pitch, as he controls it well and it has sink similar to his fastball. Martinez's jump in velocity got the Astros' attention, and they plan on using him in high Class A Lancaster's rotation to start the 2012 season in order to give him some innings. His ability to sink the ball should allow him to survive in one of the minors' toughest pitching environments. He still projects as a reliever in the long term.
Gustavo Nunez, ss, Pirates
Born: Feb. 8, 1988. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 168. Signed: Dominican Republic, 2007. Signed by: Julian German/Ramon Perez (Tigers)
The Pirates selected Nunez from the Tigers in the major league phases of the Rule 5 draft in December, with the idea that he'll compete for their utility-infield job in spring training. Nunez's defensive skills are unquestioned, as he's good enough with the glove to become an everyday shortstop. He has an outstanding arm, plus range and quick feet, allowing him to make the routine plays as well as some spectacular ones. Nunez also has above-average speed, though he has yet to learn how to utilize it as a basestealer. He failed in 13 of his 31 steal attempts last year and has succeeded at only a 66-percent clip as a pro. The biggest question about Nunez always has been his bat, and he hit just .215/.252/.289 after getting promoted to Double-A last June. An ankle injury ended his season in mid-August. A switch-hitter, he lacks plate discipline and strength, so it's hard to project him contributing much offense at the major league level. Pittsburgh is thin on middle-infield prospects and will give him every chance to stick with the big league club. Rule 5 guidelines mandate that he has to clear waivers and be offered back to Detroit before he can be sent to the minors in 2012.
Jose Quintana, lhp, White Sox
Born: Jan. 24, 1989. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 170. Signed: Colombia, 2006. Signed by: (Mets).
The White Sox system is so thin that they signed Quintana and fellow lefthander Donnie Veal as minor league free agents this offseason and added both to the 40-man roster. Quintana originally signed out of Colombia with the Mets in 2006 but drew his release a year later before hooking up with the Yankees in 2008. He went 10-2, 2.91 as a swingman at high Class A Tampa in 2011, in what was his first extended taste of full-season ball. Though Quintana has averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro, he's more notable for his ability to repeat his high three-quarters delivery and throw strikes than for his stuff. He has a pedestrian 88-91 mph fastball with minimal movement, forcing him to rely too much on his solid curveball. He telegraphs his changeup, often throwing it with too much velocity and not enough movement. He's another project for White Sox roving pitching instructor Kirk Champion, and Quintana figures to start the season at Double-A Birmingham after getting some time in big league camp.
Harold Ramirez Is Primed For A Big Role
Fresh off a career year at Double-A and in Venezuela, Harold Ramirez signed a minor league deal with the Marlins that offers major opportunity.
Harold Ramirez, of, Pirates
Born: Sept. 6, 1994. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 175. Signed: Colombia, 2011. Signed by: Rene Gayo/Orlando Covo.
The Pirates made what was their biggest splash ever in Colombia by signing Ramirez for $1.05 million last July. It was the franchise's second-largest bonus ever for a Latin American amateur, trailing only the $2.6 million that went to Mexican righthander Luis Heredia in 2010. Ramirez has the broad shoulders of a power hitter and the ball jumps off his bat. While his build is stocky, he has plus speed and twice stole home in exhibition games against Mexican League teams that visited Colombia last March. Ramirez has outstanding range, which allows him to play center field despite an arm that's a tick or two below average. Because of his arm, he'll have to shift to left field if he slows down as he gets stronger. Ramirez figures to begin his pro career at the Pirates' Dominican academy before making his U.S. debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2013.
Marcus Semien, ss, White Sox
Born: Sept. 17, 1990. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 190. Drafted: California, 2011 (6th round). Signed by: Adam Virchis.
Semien hit just .285 in three seasons at California, but his quality defensive play at shortstop helped the Golden Bears reach the 2011 College World Series. The White Sox drafted him for his glove in the sixth round in June and signed him for $130,000. They aggressively assigned him to low Class A Kannapolis, where he held his own in his pro debut. Semien doesn't have the pure speed and quickness scouts desire in a shortstop, but he makes plays with his keen instincts, sure hands and solid arm strength. He still has to prove he can hit enough to become an everyday player. Semien needs to shorten his swing and tone down his approach. He swings and misses too frequently for a player with no more than gap power, and he gives away too many at-bats. An average runner, he's not a serious basestealing threat. He'll advance to high Class A Winston-Salem for his first full pro season.
Scott Snodgress, lhp, White Sox
Born: Sept. 20, 1989. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Stanford, 2011 (5th round). Signed by: Adam Virchis.
Snodgress got somewhat lost in the shuffle at Stanford, winning just four games in three seasons and spending most of his career as a middle reliever. The White Sox were intrigued by his big frame and strong left arm, selecting him in the fifth round last June and signing him for $141,300. They were pleased with his pro debut, as he recorded a 3.34 ERA and a 68-17 K-BB ratio in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, a notorious hitter's circuit. Snodgress throws harder than most southpaws, working in the low 90s and topping out at 95 mph with his fastball, which features armside run. His curveball is a potential solid offering with sharp bite at times, while his changeup needs plenty of work. He has a funky delivery that adds deception but restricted his ability to throw strikes at Stanford. Snodgress could see high Class A at some point during his first full pro season and has the upside of a No. 3 starter.
Josh Zeid, rhp, Astros
Born: March 24, 1987. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Tulane, 2009 (10th round). Signed by: Mike Stauffer (Phillies).
Zeid was a highly recruited prep player who started his college career at Vanderbilt, where he pitched just 27 innings in two seasons before transferring to Tulane. He had a relatively fresh arm when he signed with the Phillies for $10,000 as a senior in 2009. Philadelphia alternated using him as a starter and reliever before trading him to the Astros last July. In exchange for Hunter Pence, Houston got first baseman/outfielder Jonathan Singleton, righthander Jarred Cosart, outfielder Domingo Santana—three of its top six-rated prospects—and Zeid. He pitched almost exclusively as a reliever after the deal. Zeid's stuff dials back a grade when he starts, but when he comes out of the bullpen, he features a 90-94 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider. He also has a low-80s curveball. Zeid was hit hard after the trade and again in the Arizona Fall League. He needs to locate his fastball because it tends to be straight. When he's going right, he stays tall and operates on a solid downhill plane. With a durable body and arm, he could be a solid middle reliever in the Todd Coffey mold. He likely will begin 2012 at Triple-A Oklahoma City but could win a job in the Houston bullpen during spring training.