Prospects Who Need To Step Up in 2013
RHP Brenny Paulino
In no way shape or form is this a knock on Paulino's ability. In fact, he's got the type of projectable body, arm action, fastball profile, and developing secondary pitches, in order to be a middle of the rotation guy. The issue here, of course, is health. I know the feeling of shoulder pain well. As a former pitcher myself, my shoulder derailed my playing career, so I do empathize with Paulino in that respect. However, the Tigers have been extremely quiet on the Paulino front for quite some time now, and evidenced by the fact that he's starting in EST again this season, I'm beginning to become a bit worried. In addition, if I had to choose between an elbow injury and a shoulder injury, I'd take the elbow 100 times out of 100.
Paulino is obviously a long time away. He's only pitched two games above rookie ball, two starts where he got shelled in Lakeland. It's not like 20 is some old man, but I'd like to see some forward progress from him this year, as he's only tossed 97 professional innings. Before getting excited about Paulino as a prospect, I want to see him stay healthy for an extended period of time, and throw with the same velocity and command that he was in the summer of 2011. In order to get back on the prospect radar, he's got to stay on the field.
LHP Casey Crosby
Drafted in 2007, Crosby has had his share of injury problems as well. In fact, he had Tommy John surgery that same year, rotator cuff tendinitis in 2009, and then left elbow problems in 2010. In the two years since, he's been relatively healthy, tossing 256 professional innings between AA and AAA ball. Originally, scouts thought that Crosby had #2 starter upside, with his projectable pitcher's body. Add in the fact that he threw 92-95, touching 97-98 at some points, an above average curveball, and projectable changeup.
While he throws almost as hard now, and those other things are still the same, Crosby has yet to take that ‘next step' forward in his command-control profile. In 2011, he walked 5.3/9 IP at AA, and then 4.7/9 at AAA last season. Those types of numbers simply aren't going to get it done. Sure, he's striking out around 8 per 9, but to make it as a starter at the major league level, you can't be striking out 5 per 9 at AAA. The hitters are too good in the majors, their approaches are too refined, and unless you're throwing 102 like Aroldis Chapman, it's difficult to get away with such control issues. These issues were evidenced in his three starts with the big club last year, as he walked 11 in 12 innings. Until Crosby learns to throw strikes at a consistent rate (he walked 6 more in 7 innings this spring), I'm going to be careful about his expectations. He's still just 24, and doesn't have as much mileage on him as many 24 year olds who have been in the minors for 5 seasons have, but it's getting towards ‘put-up-or-shut-up time for him.
OF Daniel Fields
2013 is, however you slice it, a huge season for Daniel Fields. Drafted in 2009 and lauded for his loud tools, Fields has taken a tumble down prospect rankings lists since he's been drafted. Right now, it looks like his best bet to make the majors is as a 4th outfielder type, but even that might be dreaming a bit right now. A prep SS, he was transitioned to the outfield immediately after signing and has taken well to his new position. Right now, he looks like an above-average to plus OF defensively, but his 35-grade arm limits him to CF. The arm could potentially play from LF, but the bat won't hold up there. He also has above-average to plus speed, which is nice, but he needs to make more contact for that to play. Basically, wherever he ends up as a professional hinges on his bat. He showed some good things in an injury-shortened 2012 season, but he needs to continue his improvement at AA in 2013. He has more than enough raw power to play CF, but the contact skills are lacking. Here's to a season of revival for Daniel Fields.
1B Aaron Westlake
2012 was Westlake's first full season as a pro, but he scuffled at Low-A West Michigan as a 23 year old. He "held his own" in a way, but for someone of his age and profile, the season was a disappointment. Lauded coming out of college for his advanced approach at the plate, good contact skills, plus power, and solid defense; Westlake didn't really show any of that last year. He's not terrible at 1B, he's fringy at best there right now. He shows his power for sure, but the problem lies with the hit tool. He struggled to make contact in 2012, and at the time of this writing, he's struggled so far in 2013 as well. For someone taken so highly (3rd round), at an advanced age (he turned 24 in December), he really needs to step it up in 2013. Yeah, it's only his 2nd full pro season, but the clock is ticking, especially for someone whose carrying tool is supposed to be his bat.
Note: Keep in mind, these blurbs are not "indictments" of these prospects. None of are going to be cut if they don't explode in 2013. We just think that these 4 guys especially, among several others that aren't named here, need to at least show significant improvement in 2013 for us to remain high(ish) on them as prospects.