The highest of high-octane leagues, the California league is torture on pitchers and can make fans believe a hitting prospect is more than they really are. There isn’t a ton of pitching in the league this year with some of the bigger names being skipped to Double-A rather than subjected to the evils of pitching in the Cal League. There is some offensive talent that should provide some fireworks and high scores throughout the year.
Catcher: Andrew Susac (San Jose) – Susac’s draft stock fell last spring because of some injuries at Oregon State, but that shouldn’t dampen his prospect status. He has the potential to be a fine defender behind the plate with solid hitting ability and pop.
First Base: CJ Cron (Inland Empire) – Cron is the son of Erie Seawolves manager Chris Cron and though he’s had some injuries at the start of his career – knee and shoulder – he still projects as a power bat with average and on-base ability. He’s limited to first base but he could put up some gaudy numbers in the Cal League.
Second Base: Taylor Lindsey (Inland Empire) – Lindsey can hit. That’s all you really need to know. He can make easy contact to all fields and he can put a charge in the ball at times, giving him at least the projection for doubles power. He will have to hit at every level to be a prospect, and that is something he should be able to do this year.
Third Base: Miles Head (Stockton) – Almost immediately after acquiring him from the Red Sox, the A’s announced they would be pushing Head across the diamond to third base. It’s a daunting move for a bad-bodied kid that seemed destined to live at first base. He still has a ton of pressure on his bat, but he has the plus-plus power that could make him intriguing down the line.
Shortstop: Billy Hamilton (Bakersfield) – Hamilton stole 100 bases in the Midwest League last year and he has an opportunity in the Cal League to get on base enough to make a run at triple digits again. Hamilton’s value is tied entirely to his batting average which in turn allows him run wild on the bases. Whether he sticks at shortstop is an open question and one worth watching this year.
Outfield: Rymer Liriano (Lake Elsinore), Domingo Santana (Lancaster), George Springer (Lancaster) – Liriano exploded in the Midwest League last year and has the potential to be a superstar caliber player if he can hone his approach at the plate. He could put up some incredible numbers this year. Santana and Springer should form a formidable middle of the order in Lancaster, with Springer having the better chance for immediate success in the league given his college pedigree.
Pitcher: AJ Cole (Stockton), Zach Lee (Rancho Cucamonga), Tyler Matzek (Modesto) – AJ Cole is a guy I have touched on a couple of times on this site and I’m committed to paying more attention to him this year. He has electric stuff and if he can handle the Cal League’s offensive environment he could rocket up prospect lists. Lee is another pitcher that has very good stuff and a huge challenge ahead of him this year. Matzek is intriguing for far different reasons after the Rockies allowed him to work with his former personal pitching coach last year to try and get back on track. The early returns from the spring and his first start have been encouraging and he should be watched by fans to see if he can regain his prospect status.
One More You Should Watch: Cory Spangenberg (Lake Elsinore) – The Padres top pick last summer, Spangenberg could move through High-A quickly given his hitting ability, approach at the plate and blazing speed. He could be a top of the order threat that could reach San Diego next year.
The Sleeper: Angel Sanchez (Rancho Cucamonga) – Signed later than most Latin American prospects, Sanchez surprised people in the Midwest League last summer and he could do the same in the Cal League this year. His ceiling rests in the number three or four starter area and a strong first half could get him a shot in the Double-A Southern League, given his age.
Where I Could be Most Wrong: Telvin Nash (Lancaster) – I can’t argue with the incredible raw power that Nash possesses, but that doesn’t mean I have to jump aboard the bandwagon. I just don’t see the rest of his game playing against top shelf pitching, leaving him as a bit of a minor league slugger. He could adjust and make me look like a fool, but I just don’t see it.