No. 44: Aaron Westlake, 1B
Aaron Westlake was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt. He signed relatively quickly, and was able to split time between Class A-Rookie League and Class A-Short Season in 2011, posting moderate numbers in limited at bats. He was sent to Class A-West Michigan in 2012, where he spent the entirety of the season, playing the vast majority of the season at 1B, while also getting some playing time at DH and 1 game at 3B (don't read anything into that). Personally, I was rather disappointed in his performance in 2012, which is partially why he's so low on my rankings list, especially since he was a recent high draft pick. He showed an ability to command the strike zone pretty well, but he also struck out a lot, something I attribute to a lack of bat speed. He also flashed his plus to plus-plus raw power, combining for 46 XBH, but that tool didn't really translate to the field in the form of big home run numbers. Westlake was sent with the Tigers contingent to the Arizona Fall League after the 2012 season, where he struggled to make consistent contact, again probably due to his bat speed vs increased velocity, but did show out somewhat in terms of his power, contributing 5 XBH in only 70 or so at bats (which still isn't great).
Westlake's calling card is, was, and always will be his plus to plus-plus raw power. He has the ability to hit the ball out of the ball park to all fields, and this was shown somewhat in 2012, although he didn't hit as many bombs as I would have expected him to. The problem with Westlake's bat is that he has a long swing, something that is almost expected from a purely power-hitting prospect, but this gets him into trouble vs. increased velocity. He struggles to catch up to such increased velocity, making him susceptible at the plate, and not allowing that power to play as much as I would like it to. He does show a pretty good command of the strike zone as well as the willingness to take a walk, which is nice, but he will still always post high strikeout totals and never have an impressive batting average, again due to the long swing and lack of bat speed. It was said that Westlake was a pretty solid defender coming out of college, but the 1st baseman I saw at West Michigan in 2012 was not a very good one. He has marginal range at best, and struggles with picking throws low in the dirt. He's "capable", in the sense that he's not a total black hole at 1B, but the lack of above-average D further limits his ceiling, especially if the bat doesn't develop enough for his power to play. He was experimented with a bit at 3B in college and in the pros, but that's an experiment that needs to go away. He's also a well below-average runner, but that's almost to be expected from someone who is 6'4" 240, unless his name is Avisail Garcia.
Westlake's ceiling hinges almost entirely on his power and bat. If he is able to improve his hitting ability to at least average level, this will allow his impressive raw power to play in games. His power alone gives him 30+ HR potential, but keep in mind, he's not going to hit that many home runs without improving his bat. As an example, Brennan Boesch has plus (potentially plus-plus) raw power, but he has so many holes in his swing that his power doesn't really play in game situations. Westlake should head right to Class Advanced A-Lakeland in 2013, seeing as Dean Green (who you will meet in the coming weeks) should go to Double A-Erie. Westlake is an interesting prospect in that if his bat comes around even slightly, he could rocket through the system, carried by his power. Obviously, as a 1B/DH prospect, he's rather blocked at the major league level by both Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, but he could become a very valuable trade chip in 2013-2014, especially if that bat improves.