First off, I apologize to the readers for not getting this piece up yesterday. After a weekend away prepping for and finishing second in a team race in Western Massachusetts, I was delinquent with my responsibilities here.
That said, the California League was home to an interesting mix of players this year. It’s always difficult to quickly discern real prospects from California League mirages and that held true this year as well. In many cases, the players picked for this team may not have had the best statistical season at their position, but they are the better prospect. This is as good a place as any to remind all of you that these are not All-Star teams, but rather All-Prospect teams!
Catcher: John Hicks (High Desert) – Hicks is a very nice all around catching prospect. He stands out of his catch-and-throw skills, having gunned down 54% of steal attempts in 2012 after firing out 44% last year. He is a quality receiver and he receives high marks from players and coaches for his ability to control the game and the pitching staff. For all his defensive abilities, Hicks can hold his own with the bat. It is unrealistic to expect numbers like his first two years in pro ball, but he should hit for a solid average with a little pop, more than enough for him to get plenty of big league playing time. (Pre-Season Pick: Andrew Susac)
First Base: CJ Cron (Inland Empire) – The Angels first-round pick last year, Cron had some injury issues after debuting in the Pioneer League but when fully healthy this year he torched the California League. In 129 games for Inland Empire, Cron hit 32 doubles and 27 home runs while driving in 123 runs. He is a bat first prospect and his sudden inability or unwillingness to work counts alarms some scouts. He has to continue to hit like this at every stop on the minor league ladder, but he certainly has a chance to do just that. (Pre-Season Pick: CJ Cron)
Second Base: Taylor Lindsey (Inland Empire) – Late last season Lindsey became the next in what is a seemingly endless line of little second basemen that can hit, even though he’s not as little as some of the other guys in that category. Lindsey it .289/.328/.408 this year which was actually somewhat disappointing considering the offensive environment he was handed. His 26 doubles, six triples and nine home runs suggest that some of the pop he has in his bat is beginning to manifest in games. He’s not going to play anywhere but second base, putting significant pressure on his bat to be better than it was this year. (Pre-Season Pick: Taylor Lindsey)
Third Base: Miles Head (Stockton) – The idea of Miles Head as a third baseman seemed laughable in the pre-season and while the defensive returns weren’t great, when you hit like Head did in the Cal League, some things may be forgiven. In 67 games with Stockton, Head punished the ball to the tune of a .382/.433/.715 line with 23 doubles and 18 home runs. He has big time offensive potential with feel for hitting, a decent and developing approach and tons of raw pop. I still don’t believe third base will be his future position but I’m still a fan because of the potential in the bat. (Pre-Season Pick: Miles Head)
Shortstop: Billy Hamilton (Bakersfield) – Brad Miller may have had a better statistical season and Billy Hamilton may be an overrated prospect because of his sexy stolen base numbers, but Hamilton still warrants inclusion on this team. Hamilton only played 82 games with Bakersfield but he showed an improved feel for hitting and some modest gains with the glove, to go along with 104 stolen bases in 125 attempts. There are still open questions about Hamilton’s ultimate offensive ceiling and his defensive position, but he has continued to improved and is a very solid prospect. (Pre-Season Pick: Billy Hamilton)
Outfield: Joc Pederson (Rancho Cucamonga), Domingo Santana (Lancaster), George Springer (Lancaster) – I expected Domingo Santana and George Springer to stand out enough in the offensive-haven that is the Cal League but I didn’t expect Joc Pederson to suddenly vault himself to serious prospectdom. Santana, playing at just 19-years old in High-A, managed to hit .302/.385/.536 in 119 games. He smoked 26 doubles and 23 home runs and while he showed an improved approach he still showed a ton of swing and miss. Spring showed much of the same, only while adding a touch of speed with 28 stolen bases in 34 attempts. I’ve often been vocal about my belief that Springer was over-hyped because he was a unique player, and I still stick with that belief now. The emergence of Joc Pederson was surprising but not a complete and total shock. He has long been considered a very real prospect just not one that was expected to hit 26 doubles, 18 ome runs and bat .313 in the Cal League as a 20-year old. Pederson is the best position player prospect in the Dodgers system and you should expect to see him shoot up the overall rankings as well. (Pre-Season Pick: Rymer Liriano, Domingo Santana, George Springer)
Pitcher: Andrew Chafin (Visalia), Tony Cingrani (Bakersfield), Tyler Matzek (Modesto) – Cincinnati’s Tony Cingrani may have only made ten starts in the Cal League before heading to Dobule-A and ultimately the big league bullpen, but those ten starts were spectacular. His 1.11 ERA in 56 2/3 innings is impressive enough, but he also allowed just 39 hits and 13 walks while striking out 71. Chafin pitched one inning in rookie ball after signing in 2011 and then jumped all the way to High-A this year. His 4.93 ERA may not be that shiny, but he allowed only 112 hits in 122 1/3 innings with 150 strikeouts. As a left-hander that can reach the mid-90s, Chafin is really nice prospect and should be the next in a long line of Arizona pitching prospects worth watching. Tyler Matzek is one of the most enigmatic prospects in the game, having completely lost control of his impressive stuff at various points in his career. While he is still just 21-years old, Matzek showed flashes of greatness and flashes of terrifying inconsistency in 2012. He still walked 95 batters in 142 1/3 innings but also struck out 153 and allowed only 134 hits. There’s a long way to go and a lot can go wrong before he reaches the big leagues, but I’m not ready to sell on Matzek’s raw potential. (Pre-Season Pick: AJ Cole, Zach Lee, Tyler Matzek)