This time last year, the buzz about the Florida State League was all about the plethora of pitching prospects headed to the league. Among the notables were Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, Carlos Martinez, Jed Bradley, Jesse Biddle and Brody Colvin, plus a rehabbing Jacob Turner.
In 2012, pitching is still expected to be strong, especially considering the league's power-suppressing reputation. That said, the headliners on the FSL circuit this year -- Miguel Sano, Javier Baez, Gary Sanchez and others -- will bring an offensive jolt to a league where pitchers managed a 3.85 ERA a year ago.
Mashing Miguel: This year, the FSL is loaded with potential impact bats, but perhaps no prospect in the Minor Leagues has more power than Fort Myers Miracle third baseman Miguel Sano, evidenced by the 48 homers he's hit in 195 games over the past two seasons. Rated as the 12th best prospect in the Minor Leagues by MLB.com, the Dominican masher could one day be an elite MLB slugger, but at 19 years old, he's still a long way from Minnesota, and questions remain about how he'll profile in the Major Leagues.
For one, his approach at the plate needs work. Sano walked in an impressive 14.5 percent of his plate appearances last year at Class A Beloit, but he also struck out 144 times in 129 games. Plenty of young power hitters strike out as youngsters -- and as an 18-year-old in the Midwest League, Sano was certainly that -- but the third baseman will need to cut down on his swings and misses if his power is going to actualize beyond the lower minors.
Beyond that, questions persist about Sano's ultimate position. He's fairly agile for his size and has a plus arm, but as his long 6-foot-3 frame fills out, his fundamentals will need strengthening if he's going to remain a viable option at the hot corner.
Sano spent Spring Training working with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and impressed Twins manager Ron Gardenhire with his progress as a callup from Minor League camp in a late March Spring Training game.
Daytona late in the year. He hit just .188 in 23 games, striking out in almost 25 percent of his plate appearances.
It was a small sample, and Baez alleviated some concerns by impressing at the Arizona Fall League. Still, the shortstop's plate approach needs refinement. The FSL will provide an interesting look at how Baez might fare against more refined pitching. In particular, his matchups against MLB.com Top 100 hurlers like Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino will provide an insightful barometer for Baez's improvement.
Back to the Start: As a 21-year-old prospect fresh out of Florida State back in 1995, Doug Mientkiewicz made his professional debut as a member of the Fort Myers Miracle. It seems fitting, then, that Mientkiewicz will return to Fort Myers this year to make his managerial debut as he takes the helm for the Twins' Class A Advanced affiliate.
The 38-year-old was a hitting coach with the Ogden Raptors in the Dodgers' system last year. This year, he'll replace Jake Mauer, brother of Twins catcher Joe Mauer, as the former Miracle manager moves to Class A Cedar Rapids.
Mientkiewicz hit .275 with 43 home runs over seven seasons as a Twin, winning a Gold Glove award in 2001.
Anything You Can Do: A year ago, Dominican exports Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco made the West Virginia Power a must-see squad for Minor League fans as each emerged as bona fide positional prospects. This year, the pair brings its talents to Bradenton, looking to prove their respective breakthroughs weren't flukes.
Hanson enters the year as the 54th best prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com, while Polanco slides in at No. 65. Hanson batted .309 with a .909 OPS and Polanco hit .325 with a .910 OPS with the Power, and both figure to be among the FSL's best hitters this summer.
Home Improvement: Speaking of the Marauders, the team's park, McKechnie Field, underwent $10 million in renovations over the offseason, adding 2,000 seats, upgrading the Fan Plaza behind the main grandstand and constructing a 19,000 square-foot wooden boardwalk behind the outfield wall. The boardwalk features a Tiki Bar in right-center field and a Boardwalk Barbeque Area with an all-you-can-eat menu for up to 200 guests.
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Florida State League.
- Last season's championship: Lakeland Flying Tigers defeated Jupiter Hammerheads 3-2 Coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: Tampa Yankees, 2009-10
- Last perfect game: Chris Corrigan, Palm Beach Cardinals vs. Charlotte Knights, Aug. 29 Coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Trevor May (208), Clearwater Threshers, 2011
- Last three-homer game: Marcell Ozuna, Jupiter Hammerheads, June 10, Coverage »
- Last cycle: Brett Jackson, Daytona vs. Lakeland, June 14, 2010 Coverage »