This year's Top 10 outfielder prospect list has every kind of outfielder imaginable. There's the speedy future leadoff hitter. There's the middle-of-the-order guy with the big bat. And no outfield list would be complete without a healthy dose of multitooled athletes. Several of these exciting prospects should see time in the big leagues in 2012.
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals: Harper might play all of the 2012 season at age 19, but it would be a mistake to think that's a reason he won't be in Washington this year. All signs point to him getting every chance to make the Opening Day roster, and why not? Harper has already shown an ability to make adjustments. He started out slowly after his double-jump to Double-A last summer, but was just heating up when he got shut down by a minor hamstring injury. No matter, Harper simply went to the Arizona Fall League and raked there. His plus power shows up in games consistently, and he didn't strike out quite as much as some thought he would. Harper gets on base, is an aggressive baserunner and is improving in the outfield, where his plus arm works very well. He could be ready to take the nation's capital by storm on Opening Day.
2. Mike Trout, Angels: It's amazing how quickly expectations can change. Coming out of the New Jersey high school ranks, it was unclear just what Trout would do in his first full season. When that 2010 campaign was a huge success, Trout became the top prospect in the game and the bar was raised. He surpassed that bar as a teenager in Double-A last year, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases and showing more extra-base pop. Yet Trout's lack of prolonged success in the big leagues left some a touch disappointed. It would be a mistake to put too much stock in that, as Trout's ceiling as a game-changer on both sides of the ball is still very, very high.
3. Bubba Starling, Royals: As top athletes go, there are few in baseball better than Starling. Kansas City signed him away from a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Nebraska, and Starling has all five tools in his toolbox. He has plus speed that should allow him to both steal bases and play an outstanding center field. Starling's strong throwing arm is a plus defensively as well. He has excellent raw power and has shown enough pure hitting skills to indicate he'll tap into that power consistently and hit for average as well. It might take Starling a little time to put it all together, but the payoff could be huge.
4. Wil Myers, Royals: Struggles in Double-A in 2011, compounded by a knee injury, dampened Myers' star a bit. His play in the Arizona Fall League, though, helped bring him back to the top of the young hitters' list, as the now 21-year-old regained his confidence at the plate. Myers' plus bat speed should allow him to hit for average and power, and he's an on-base machine. Last year was his first in the outfield after a move from behind the plate, and he should fit the mold of a right fielder when all is said and done. Even if Myers goes back to Double-A to start the season, he could be ready for Kansas City in a year's time.
5. Brett Jackson, Cubs: It's hard to imagine a 20-20 player being undervalued, but because none of Jackson's individual tools grade out as plus, he might fit that bill. Jackson hit better after he was promoted to Triple-A in 2011 -- always a good sign. His strikeout rate concerns some, but he also draws walks and his power-speed combination should play just fine at the highest level. Jackson can play all three outfield spots, something that should allow him to reach Chicago at some point in 2012.
Top 10 Outfield prospects
|1.||Bryce Harper, WAS||1.||Mike Trout, LAA|
|2.||Mike Trout, LAA||2.||Bryce Harper, WAS|
|3.||Bubba Starling, KC||3.||Domonic Brown, PHI|
|4.||Wil Myers, KC||4.||Desmond Jennings, TB|
|5.||Brett Jackson, CHC||5.||Aaron Hicks, MIN|
|6.||Christian Yelich, MIA||6.||Brett Jackson, CHC|
|7.||Starling Marte, PIT||7.||Guillermo Pimentel, SEA|
|8.||Gary Brown, SF||8.||Reymond Fuentes, SD|
|9.||Anthony Gose, TOR||9.||Ben Revere, MIN|
|10.||Jake Marisnick, TOR||10.||Engel Beltre, TEX|
6. Christian Yelich, Marlins: At age 19, Yelich finished in the top 10 in a host of offensive categories in the South Atlantic League, including finishing third in the batting race. He has a very good approach at the plate from the left side that should allow him to hit for average. Yelich's power was a question mark, but it started showing up in games more in 2011, and there could be more in the tank. His speed makes him a basestealing threat and a solid outfielder, where he's worked hard to improve his game. Yelich won a title in 2011 and will move up a level in '12, but he could jump on the fast track this season.
7. Starling Marte, Pirates: The Bucs may have Andrew McCutchen patrolling center now in Pittsburgh, but they could have a good problem on their hands in another year. Marte has always shown an ability to hit for average, and he proved he can do it at a higher level, winning the Double-A Eastern League batting title in 2011. He started to grow into his power as well, and there could be more there. Marte still needs to work on his pitch recognition and plate discipline, which could make him an even more dangerous all-around hitter. With more work, he'll be a good basestealer, and he is an excellent defensive outfielder. Marte will be in Triple-A to start the season, just a phone call away.
8. Gary Brown, Giants: Many felt Brown should have been promoted midseason in 2011, but there's nothing wrong with not rushing things. Brown finished in the California League's top five in several offensive categories, including stolen bases and batting average. His plus-plus speed makes him a perfect future leadoff hitter, especially as he gains a better understanding of what he needs to do atop a lineup. It also helps make Brown a plus defensive center fielder. Brown even has a little power to boot. He'll move up to Double-A to start the year, but don't be surprised to see him in San Francisco before the year is over.
9. Anthony Gose, Blue Jays: Gose had a huge first full campaign with his new organization, leading the Eastern League with 70 steals, while becoming more proficient on that front. He drew more walks and showed more power, though he's still striking out too much for a leadoff hitter. Better plate discipline should lead to a better average. Gose is already an excellent defensive outfielder with one of the best arms in the Minors. He's not far from being ready for Toronto's center field, with a stop at Triple-A Las Vegas up next.
10. Jake Marisnick, Blue Jays: Marisnick started to use his considerable tools consistently in 2011, finishing second in the Midwest League batting race and fourth in OPS. Marisnick's plentiful tools should allow him to hit for average and more power as he matures. He's an excellent baserunner who should also continue to be a threat on the basepaths. Marisnick can play center field now, but an outfield with Gose in center and Marisnick in right should have Blue Jays fans excited. He should move up to Dunedin to start the 2012 season, but Double-A New Hampshire could be in his not-too-distant future.
To be eligible for the list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service. Not all international players qualify for these rankings. Prospect Watch follows the guidelines laid out by the new CBA: Players who are at least 23 years old and played in leagues deemed to be professional (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Cuba) are not eligible.