The Southern League is dominated by pitching this season. From top to bottom there are top pitching prospects littering the landscape. On the position player side there is less to be excited about, but shortstop gives plenty of reasons to watch.
Catcher: Christian Bethancourt (Mississippi) – Bethancourt’s defensive abilities are bordering on legendary. I have personally clocked his pop times in the 1.68-1.73 range on numerous occasions, allowing me to buy his defensive potential hook, line and sinker. He has power in his bat and I believe the offense will come, making him a star backstop.
First Base: Not Applicable (Teamless) – There’s just nobody that stands out at first base in the Southern League right now.
Second Base: Scooter Gennett (Huntsville) – The classic little second baseman that can hit, Gennett has hit at every level of the minor leagues and he will look to continue that trend in Huntsville. The Brewers don’t have much in the way of position player prospects, and Gennett doesn’t have star potential, but he’s fun to watch and he may just grind his way to the big leagues.
Third Base: Matt Davidson (Mobile) – Davidson has improved his stock in my eyes over the last two years. He has gone from a questionable third baseman that could move to first to a competent third baseman. He has also gone from a guy whose offense I questioned to a guy I believe can hit enough to play the hot corner every day down the line.
Shortstop: Hak-Ju Lee (Montgomery) – Lee is an elite player for me, and I acknowledge that he doesn’t grade out elite for everyone. He can pick it with the best of them at shortstop, has the arm for the position, has speed that he uses well on the bases and the ability to make consistent contact and hit for average. The only thing missing is power and given all his other skills, I question just how much pop he needs to be a very, very good player.
Outfield: Todd Cunningham (Mississippi), Adam Eaton (Mobile), Blake Smith (Chattanooga) – The outfield is a little thin in the Southern League to start this year. Both Cunningham and Eaton look like fourth outfielders with a slight chance to be more than that. Smith’s tools are flat out phenomenal, but he has a ton of swing and miss in his game and he may never hit enough for his tools to be actualized in game situations.
Pitcher: The Jackson Generals Starting Rotation – When you can run Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen out there on successive days, you have one of the most incredible rotations in the minor leagues. Walker is already highly thought of, but he has a chance to explode onto the scene with a big year in Double-A, making himself one of the truly elite arms in the minor leagues. Paxton and Hultzen both have long shot number two starter ceilings and should settle in as very good mid-rotation starters. All three players could be duking it out for big league time in 2013.
One More You Should Watch: Trevor Bauer (Mobile) – In any other league out there, Bauer would be a guy to watch in the above list. He just can’t match up with the three-fifths of the Jackson rotation I listed above. Bauer has already turned in one exceptional Double-A start this year and he could force his way to the big leagues this year. Some of his methods may be unorthodox, but he’s damn good and he could be a big league number three.
The Sleeper: Francisco Martinez (Jackson) – I have a long history scouting Martinez and I tend to like him more than most scouts I speak with throughout the league. Martinez has plenty of tools, including a projectable hit tool, good pop, soft hands, a plus arm and above-average speed. He’s also very raw, very young and has been pushed aggressively through the minor leagues. He could be a guy that busts out this year and you’d be wise to go check him out and see for yourself.
Where I Could be Most Wrong: Jake Lemmerman (Chattanooga) – It’s tough to say I could really be THAT wrong when Lemmerman might be a solid everyday shortstop if everything comes together. Where I — and many others — could be really wrong is in dropping him significantly in the Dodgers’ rankings after being pushed to Double-A before he was ready in 2011. He could rebound and still be a slick-fielding shortstop with some ability to hit for average and pick up doubles.