If you enjoy watching talent at the hot corner, then you should be making every effort to see lots of Carolina League games this year. There’s talent elsewhere on the diamond, but nothing that matches the impressive run of third baseman and future third baseman throughout the league.
Catcher: Evan Gattis (Lynchburg) – Gattis is a great story and that alone makes him worth watching this year. He can hit, has some pop and has shown some flashes of improving his defense to stick at the position. He’s got a ways to go, but he’s fun to watch and talk about right now.
First Base: Jesus Aguilar (Carolina) – Aguilar tore up the Midwest League last year, punishing young pitchers with no regard. He may do that again this year in the Carolina League and that still wouldn’t make him a serious prospect, but it will be fun to watch him pound the ball.
Second Base: Tommy La Stella (Lynchburg) – He could easily be listed as the Carolina League sleeper, but La Stella is a favorite of mine. He has a knack for hitting to go with surprising pop. He’s going to hit this year, just as he did last year, and he’s a grinder that managers love. He’ll never be a top prospect, but I bet he’ll never just fade away either.
Third Base: Anthony Rendon (Potomac) – Already on the DL, Rendon’s injury history is now starting to become alarming. If he’s healthy, he should rake his way through High-A and demonstrate the skills that make him arguably the top third base prospect in the game.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts (Salem) – He won’t be a shortstop for long but Bogaerts will continue to play there this year. His bat is his meal ticket and he has the potential to be an offensive monster that hits for average and power no matter where he plays. He is still exceptionally young and there could be bouts with inconsistency, but he’s worth taking the time to go see in person.
Outfield: Brandon Jacobs (Salem), Matt Lipka (Lynchburg), Michael Taylor (Potomac) – Jacobs was all the rage this off-season after really turning in a good year in the South Atlantic League last year. While he did put up impressive numbers and has some drool-worthy tools, Jacobs is still raw and may not match his numbers from last year. Lipka’s move to the outfield is supposed to take some pressure off of him and unlock his offensive potential. Taylor is a tools monster that the Nationals are extremely high on and even if Rendon is on the DL, Taylor could make Potomac a must see around the league.
Pitcher: Roman Mendez (Myrtle Beach), Matt Purke (Potomac), Yordano Ventura (Wilmington) – Mendez has long been a favorite of mine and he started to show signs of harnessing his mid- to upper-90s fastball last year, meaning Carolina League hitters could be in for a long summer. Purke is currently on the DL in Potomac while he building his arm strength in extended spring training, but he will be fascinating to watch when on the mound, simply because he’s a great unknown at this point. Ventura can dial his fastball into the upper-90s at times and he could give the Royals another exciting prospect if he starts to put things together this year.
One More You Should Watch: Cheslor Cuthbert (Wilmington) – I toyed with listing Cuthbert above instead of Rendon. Cuthbert is a beast, both physically and in the batter’s box. He hit better than expected in the Midwest League last year and he could be poised for a monster season after excellent reports in spring training.
The Sleeper: Edward Salcedo (Lynchburg) – Salcedo is yet another third base prospect with serious potential in this league. The Braves gave him a big bonus a couple of years ago and he’s taken some time to develop. There were signs during the fall instructional league that the game was slowing down for him and he could be in line for a big time breakout.
Where I Could be Most Wrong: Christian Villanueva (Myrtle Beach) – I haven’t completely jumped on the Christian Villanueva hype train yet, but I may regret not doing it. He’s a very talented player, I just haven’t seen him personally at this point and I’m a little skeptical of just how good he projects to be.