Here's a ranking of the 10 prospects we're most excited to see light up the Carolina League in 2013:
No. 1. Francisco Lindor (SS, Carolina Mudcats): Lindor's proficiency with the leather is well-known, making him the seeming heir apparent in a line of elite shortstop prospects that have come along in recent years, from Starlin Castro to Andrelton Simmons to Jurickson Profar and so on.
Like Profar, Lindor is a switch-hitter, though one whose offensive game is still in development. For Class A Lake County last year, the top Indians prospect hit .257/.352/.355, showing a touch of power potential with 24 doubles and speed with 27 steals. Even if his hitting doesn't advance much more, though, his glove, which is arguably Major League-ready right now, will keep him advancing through the Cleveland system.
No. 2. Kyle Zimmer (RHP, Wilmington Blue Rocks): Zimmer comes to Wilmington with the potential to be the best starting pitcher in the league, after being taken fifth overall in last year's Draft out of the University of San Francisco.
After a prolific three-year career with the Dons, in which he amassed a 3.45 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 185 1/3 innings, good for fifth all-time at the school, he made quick work of the Rookie-level Arizona League and Class A Midwest League.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander made just three starts for the AZL Royals before moving on to make six for the Kane County Cougars. In all, he went 3-3 with a 2.04 ERA and 42 strikeouts against eight walks in 39 2/3 innings in his debut last year.
No. 3. Courtney Hawkins (OF, Winston-Salem Dash): The 6-foot-3, 220-pound outfielder taken 13th overall last year out of Mary Carroll High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, is loaded with the potential to be Chicago's best power prospect in some time.
He flashed it last year, too, hitting .284 and slugging .480 with eight homers and 15 doubles in 59 games between three levels. The 19-year-old already has his first Carolina League homer out of the way, as well, after smacking one during a five-game stint with the Dash at the end of last season.
No. 4. A.J. Cole (RHP, Potomac Nationals): Cole returns to the Nationals system after a year with Oakland, having been traded back to the franchise that picked him in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft.
His introduction to the Class A Advanced level in the A's system wasn't a pretty one, with a 7.82 ERA over eight starts sending him back to Class A. But that was in the California League, which is no normal run-scoring environment, and it was a small sample size, just 38 innings.
He was dominant back in the Midwest League, and he'll get the chance to put that crooked ERA behind him once and for all in the Carolina League.
No. 5. Henry Owens (LHP, Salem Red Sox): Owens, a lanky, 6-foot-6 left-hander, is, first and foremost, a strikeout machine. The 20-year-old California native fanned 130 batters in 101 2/3 innings last year, good for a 11.51 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate.
He also walked 47 (4.16 per nine), though, and recorded a 4.87 ERA in 23 appearances for Class A Greenville. So control, and cutting back on the 10 home runs he allowed last year, will be what the No. 5 Boston prospect has to work on in the Carolina League. But with that punchout-heavy stuff, it's easy to believe in Owens.
No. 6. Luis Sardinas (SS, Myrtle Beach Pelicans): Sardinas, like Lindor, sports a flashy glove. The 19-year-old Venezuelan, signed as an international free agent by Texas in 2009, was ranked the No. 3 Rangers prospect by MLB.com, behind just Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. Needless to say, he's in good company.
Sardinas has also shown an impressive ability to hit for average, batting .309 in 40 combined Arizona League games from 2010-11. Last year, with Class A Hickory, he hit .291/.346/.356 and stole 32 bases in 41 tries, good for a 78-percent success rate. With a little progression, he'll profile as a prototypical top-of-the-order middle infielder.
No. 7. Garin Cecchini (3B, Salem Red Sox): Brother of 2012 Mets first-rounder Gavin, Cecchini has shown an advanced feel for hitting in his first two seasons in the Boston system. A 2010 fourth-rounder in his own right, the Louisiana native, who will turn 22 later this month, hit .298/.398/.500 in his first year with Class A Short-Season Lowell and then followed that up with a .305/.394/.433 line for Class A Greenville last season.
Perhaps more impressively, Cecchini stole 51 bases last season while being caught just six times, for an almost absurd 89.5-percent success rate. Between his ability to make contact, get on base and steal, he won't need to hit for much power to be a valuable every day player. If he shows more of that in the Carolina League this year, watch out.
No. 8. Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP, Frederick Keys): Rodriguez, a Venezuelan lefty, is an interesting arm in part because of his youth. Just 19 last season (he'll turn 20 on Sunday), he held his own in the full-season Class A South Atlantic League.
He registered a 3.70 ERA in 107 innings for Delmarva, striking out 73 and flashing strong control, with just 30 walks (2.52 per nine innings). In fact, in all of his professional experience, dating back to his time in 2010 in the Dominican Summer League, he's recorded just a 3.09 walks-per-nine mark in 221 1/3 innings of work. That control will be his calling card as the No. 3 Baltimore prospect anchors the Frederick rotation in 2013.
No. 9. Tyler Naquin (OF, Carolina Mudcats): Naquin comes along with a first-round pedigree as well, as Cleveland took the outfielder 15th overall in last year's Draft out of Texas A&M University.
Ranked the team's No. 6 prospect, Naquin was solid in his first pro experience last year in the New York-Penn League, hitting .270/.379/.380 in 36 games for Mahoning Valley. He also had a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio (17-to-26) and brings an advanced bat to a Carolina lineup that will boast a lot of talent.
No. 10. Tony Wolters (C, Carolina Mudcats): Wolters makes an appearance on this list thanks in part to an offseason position switch that enhances his potential value. With shortstops like Lindor and Dorssys Paulino ahead of him on the depth chart in the system, Wolters has moved to catching.
The 20-year-old will return to the Carolina League to work primarily on his defense. If he can build a little bit on the .260/.320/.404 line he put up in 125 games for the Mudcats last year and show he can handle the new position, the 2010 third-rounder could prove to have a nice future ahead of him behind the backstop for the Indians.