Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 10/8/12
Seeing prospects in person is my passion. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit parks in five different leagues — collecting information and video on 200 legitimate prospects or more. The lists released over the next few weeks will highlight the best prospects I’ve seen in person at each position during the 2012 season. The rankings will be adjusted based on projected position at the major league level, not present position (in italics if ranking includes position shift). Additionally, I’ll do my best to rank based on notes/video from the park and avoid adjusting for statistics after the fact. Keep this in mind when working through the lists and understand this is not meant to be a complete list of the best prospects at each position across all of Minor League Baseball, but the best of what I’ve seen.
Previous Rankings:
The Catchers
The First Basemen
1. Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners (SS)
At 21, Franklin combines the defensive skills and offensive performance to profile as the highest floor prospect on this list by a wide margin. Young for Double-A and Triple-A competition, Franklin’s PCL numbers translate to .314/.395/.547 against age-appropriate competition. He’s not an impact talent, but one scout compared him to Adam Kennedy whose career stands at 14 years and counting.
2. Angelo Gumbs, New York Yankees
The most explosive athlete on this list, Gumbs oozes tools and has bat speed to spare. Gumbs has a lower floor than a number of second baseman ranked below him on the list, but nobody else has the potential of being an impact talent either. Amazing to think he was the fourth best position prospect on his own team in Charleston.
3. Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins
At 18, Polanco posted a .312/.383/.509 triple slash line in the Appalachian League and fit in nicely amongst fellow prospects on an Elizabethton team featuring up to eight of the Twins top-12. A switch hitter, Polanco appeared equally strong from both sides of the plate during batting practice and took infield reps at shortstop before sliding across the diamond during the game. I always want to see full season baseball on a prospect’s resume before becoming too excited about a player, but Polanco is off to an explosive start.
4. Henry Rodriguez, Cincinnati Reds
Color me enamored with Rodriguez’ hit tool — the best on this list. He’s undersized and may not provide much in terms of power production, but I saw few better pure hitters in 2012. My only real concern about his offensive game is a walk rate which may leave the 22-year old too batting average dependent. If I were an opposing general manager, I’d be inquiring with Brandon Phillips entrenched in Cincinnati.
5. Drew Robinson, Texas Rangers
I went to Greenville with little knowledge of who Drew Robinson was, but left thinking he was one of the better baseball players scouted all season. His tools aren’t loud, but the 20-year old presents with no real weakness in person. “Statifiles” point to Matt Skole‘s .438 OBP as a 22/23 year old in the South Atlantic League, but Robinson’s was .409 at 33 months Skole’s junior. Add a bit of power and the ability to play both second and third base admirably, and Robinson has a higher floor than anybody on this list not named Franklin.
6. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Mookie or Scooter? Scooter or Mookie? If name value were the name of this game, then the 6th and 7th ranked players on this list would be slam dunks for the top two slots. In all seriousness, Betts has the combination of tools and athleticism I covet in a prospect. For Lowell, Betts presented with the range of a shortstop, but multiple throwing errors made including him on this list an easy decision. I know a .307 slugging percentage is uninspiring, but Betts flashed gap power in game action in addition to above average plate discipline. Combine this with the defensive tools of at least an above average second baseman, and the 19-year old is primed to shoot up the Red Sox prospect ranks with a strong 2013 in Greenville.
7. Scooter Gennett, Milwaukee Brewers
If I had a dollar for every time a scout referred to a diminutive prospect as “a nice little player”, I’d be writing baseball for a living. On the field, Gennett is the poster boy for this sentiment as he does everything relatively well, but has no standout skill or tool to speak of. One concern about the 22-year old is that his OPS his dropped steadily each season as he’s moved up the organizational ladder. Gennett’s inability to play shortstop in a pinch hurts a potential utility profile leaving his big league prospects a bit murky should he not emerge as at least a second division starter.
8. Branden Kaupe, New York Mets
How does one spin a .173 average and .195 slugging percentage into a positive? I have no idea, but I’m willing to give it a try. After being a surprise fourth round pick out of a Hawaii high school, Kaupe posted a .358 OBP in his lower 48 debut at a time when he should have been overwhelmed in all areas offensively. The 18-year old has the bat speed, foot speed and build of a Jose Altuve clone if everything breaks right. Having scouted Altuve at the South Atlantic League level, I’m more willing to give a guy like Kaupe a longer leash than I once was.
9. Tony Renda, Washington Nationals
Another “nice little player”, Renda has foot and bat speed to spare, but showed little pop in his short season debut. A second round pick who probably would have gone lower had the Nationals not shot for the moon by drafting Lucas Giolito, Renda has a big league projection, but little upside to speak of. Like Gennett, Renda not being able to play any shortstop hurts his versatility and negatively impacts his prospect value.
10. Jake Lemmerman, Los Angeles Dodgers (SS)
Is Jake Lemmerman a future big leaguer? I think so, but there’s just not much upside in a utility profile these days. He presents with no glaring weakness, but identifiable strengths are not there either. At 23, I’m a bit concerned his baseball skills will fall short of offsetting Lemmerman’s lack of tools leaving a player with more of an up and down profile in the end.
11. Matt Reynolds, New York Mets (SS)
Speaking of utility profiles, Mets second round pick Matt Reynolds also projects as a jack of all trades type with no stand out tool. I commend New York for trying him at shortstop, but he’s probably not long for the position. Maybe he can function as a third shortstop option on a big league roster, but that’s about it. In Savannah, his contact skills were relatively strong, but Reynolds approach is conducive to less power than his muscular frame would indicate.
12. Kenny Diekroger, Kansas City Royals
Once considered one of the top preps in the country, Diekroger struck out a startling 27% of the time in his Appalachian League debut. I can see him developing into a utility player, but he’s a greater risk to meet that projection than the two players ranked ahead of him in Lemmerman and Reynolds. Based on Diekroger’s Stanford pedigree, he should have dominated short season baseball, not struggled in it.
13. Tyler Greene, Philadelphia Phillies
only 19, Green suffered through a disastrous 2012 batting only .195 with a 122/23 strikeout-to-walk ratio across two levels. In Auburn, New York, I witnessed a Williamsport coach dress down Greene after a lethargic infield/outfield practice only to appear disinterested in the actual game. In general, it’s considered a positive for a young prospect to experience failure at the minor league level. However, it’s only a productive exercise if the player matures and improves from that adversity.
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