The Eastern League may have started out with rosters a little thin, but that changed in a hurry as teams began promoting around mid-season. At the end of the season, the EL was loaded with prospects that have serious big-league futures. As a result of those changes throughout the year, there are some serious changes from the Pre-Season All-Prospect Team.
Catcher: Sebastian Valle (Reading) – I have always been a big fan of Valle’s ability, even though there are warts on his game. He is an extremely aggressive hitter but he made that work in his first test against advanced pitching, hitting .261 with 13 doubles and 13 home runs in 83 games. His defense has continued to be solid behind the dish and there are scouts that believe he will have enough offense to play every day in the big leagues. (Pre-Season Pick: Sebastian Valle)
First Base: Darin Ruf (Reading) – I could have easily stuck with my pre-season pick of Chun Chen but it was hard to refrain from acknowledging the amazing season Ruf turned in. As I stated in my recent scouting report on Ruf, there’s not much of a big league future here, but then again, there isn’t a huge one with Chen either. Ruf finished his Double-A season with 32 doubles, 38 home runs and a .317 average. The Phillies recently purchased his contract and he will get chance to prove folks like me wrong with a big-league opportunity. (Pre-Season Pick: Chun-Hsui Chen)
Second Base: Cesar Hernandez (Reading) – I promise this isn’t going to be a team full of Phillies prospects. I promise. That said, my pre-season pick didn’t spend much time at the keystone and Hernandez turned in a strong season before being promoted to Triple-A. On the heels of a .304/.345/.436 line with just enough tools to have a chance to succeed Chase Utley at second base in Philadelphia. I also gave consideration to New York’s David Adams, but ultimately gave the edge to the younger, higher upside player. (Pre-Season Pick: Jonathan Schoop)
Third Base: Manny Machado (Bowie) – Okay, I admit I’m cheating a bit here. I couldn’t keep either of Machado or Bogaerts off this roster and with Machado moving to third base in the big leagues, that’s all the justification I needed! Machado has star-level tools and plenty of game ability. He can contribute in every facet of the game and has the bat to support third base long term if the Orioles opt to go that direction. With his days as a prospect likely coming to an end later this month, this will be my farewell to Machado in terms of ranking him as a prospect. (Pre-Season Pick: Kolbrin Vitek)
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts (Portland) – It made my day when Bogaerts arrived in Portland to close out the 2012 season. I made it a point to see several games throughout the final weeks of the season, with the express intent on focusing on Bogaerts. He didn’t disappoint with loud offensive tools and surprisingly solid defense at shortstop. With a .326/.351/.598 line in 23 games, Bogaerts showed enough that his big-league timetable may have been accelerated to the end of 2013. (Pre-Season Pick: Manny Machado)
Outfield: Oswaldo Arcia (New Britain), Nick Castellanos (Erie), Aaron Hicks (New Britain) – If you had suggested to me that Nick Castellanos would be an outfielder in Double-A by the end of the year, I probably would have scoffed a little and suggested that was more likely in 2013. Then he hit .400 in the Florida State League and continued hitting early in the EL. The team shoved him to right field on the off chance his hitting kept up and he could help down the stretch and now they seem committed to the move for the near future. Castellanos can flat out rake and I have no reservations suggesting he is one of the top twenty prospects in baseball. There’s never been any doubt Minnesota’s Oswaldo Arcia could hit, but injuries had gotten in the way in recent years, preventing him from raking. That ended in 2012 as he hit .328/.398/.557 in 69 Double-A games after a strong showing in the FSL as well. Arcia is limited to a corner and probably fits best in right field because of his arm. He could reach Minnesota next year and has a chance to hit in the middle of the lineup. Arcia’s teammate Aaron Hicks has been teasing scouts for years with his tools, including up-the-middle defense, an 80-grade arm, and potential for both power and speed. The Twins pushed Hicks to New Britain in spite of a poor Florida State League showing in 2011 and he didn’t disappoint with his best full-season performance. Hicks flipped the switch with his approach this year, going from passive to patient and hitting .286/.384/.460 in 129 games. (Pre-Season Pick: Bryce Brentz, Gary Brown, Robbie Grossman)
Pitcher: Gerrit Cole (Altoona), Michael Kickham (Richmond), Zack Wheeler (Binghampton) – Gerrit Cole is one of the top pitching prospects in the game and easily ranks among the top ten in all of baseball. Though it is a daunting label, he has all the ingredients – including three pitches with 70-plus potential – to develop into a legit ace. Cole’s season wasn’t always the dominating success his raw stuff suggests but it was a very, very strong debut season and he is in line to reach Pittsburgh next summer. Former Giants teammates Michael Kickham and Zack Wheeler both turned in strong showings this year, as Wheeler returned to the roster after making the pre-season version. Wheeler has the stuff to be a number two starter and front the Mets rotation with right-hander Matt Harvey long term. Kickham may be a bit of an unknown on the national prospect scene, but the physical lefty has the low-90s fastball and solid-average slider to pitch in the back two spots of a big league rotation. Control is not his strong suit but with swing-and-miss stuff from the left side and the Giants propensity for developing pitchers, I wouldn’t hesitate jumping on the Kickham bandwagon. (Pre-Season Pick: Drew Hutchison, Trevor May, Zack Wheeler)