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2012 draftees to taste full-season ball04/03/2013 6:00 AM ET
By Ashley Marshall / Special to MLB.com
While college standouts Mike Zunino and Kevin Gausman made the most noise of any 2012 Draftees last year, it's the two prep athletes selected immediately before them who have fans buzzing this year.
Carlos Correa -- still just 18 years old -- and Byron Buxton -- who turned 19 in December -- were the first and second overall picks last June. Both teens started in the Gulf Coast League and advanced to the Rookie-level Appalachian League, and they're expected to begin their full-season journeys in the Class A Midwest League this week.
Here's a look at five top prospects expected to make their full-season debuts this year, as well as two first-round Draft picks who were unable to play in 2012 and therefore will get their first taste of professional baseball when they take the field this spring.
No. 1: Carlos Correa (SS, Astros)
The highest Draft pick from the 2012 class, Correa is projected to be among the prospects making the most noise early in the year.
Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said throughout the spring that he expects Correa to spend a large portion of the year in the Midwest League.
Correa -- ranked second in the organization (and 30th in baseball) -- signed with the Astros almost immediately after being selected, and that allowed him to log 190 at-bats between the team's Gulf Coast League affiliate and the Appalachian League, where he batted .371 in 11 outings for Greeneville.
He has the ability to hit for power and play a prime defensive position, and it's not out of the question that this teenager could reach the Cal League by the end of the year.
No. 2: Byron Buxton (OF, Twins)
Buxton made his Grapefruit League debut on March 27, and he's going to be manning Cedar Rapids' outfield on Opening Day on April 4.
He appeared in 48 regular-season games between the Gulf Coast League and Appalachian League, where he collected another 24 valuable at-bats in Elizabethton's championship run. He finished with a total of 189.
The second overall pick in the Draft, Buxton has power, speed and a strong arm in center field. He hit five homers and stole 11 bases in his rookie year, batting .248 with 10 doubles and four triples between the two levels.
No. 3: Albert Almora (OF, Cubs)
Almora had committed to the University of Miami before Chicago snapped him up sixth overall last summer. The earlier signing deadline gave the right-handed outfielder -- who homered in his short-season debut -- an extra month to dip his toes in the professional baseball water, and that leaves him well prepared to start 2013 in Kane County once he returns from injury.
Almora broke the hamate bone in his left hand in a game in Minor League camp mid-March and is expected to resume baseball activities in the next week or two.
Ranked as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect (No. 39 overall) by MLB.com entering the season, the Florida native hit .321 with two homers and 19 RBIs between the Arizona League and Rookie-level Northwest League in 2012.
Almora is regarded as an excellent defensive center fielder with good speed and surprising power for a 170-pound teen. He should be back in time to play 30 or so games before the Midwest League's All-Star break.
No. 4: Tyler Naquin (OF, Indians)
Naquin was selected by the Indians 15th overall last June, and he signed a week later to get his professional career underway as soon as possible.
Though Naquin was the sixth college player taken in the Draft, he was just the second collegiate position player and the No. 1 outfielder who had not been selected at all out of high school.
Over three seasons with Texas A&M, Naquin hit .348 with seven home runs, 49 doubles, 13 triples and 112 RBIs in 187 games. He was the Big 12 Player of the Year as a sophomore and a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award in his junior year when he hit .380.
In 36 New York-Penn League games in Mahoning Valley, the left-hander hit .270 with 13 RBIs, 11 doubles and two triples. (A small asterisk here, as Naquin actually played with the Carolina Mudcats in their postseason run late last season.)
Naquin should start 2013 with the Lake County Captains in the Midwest League or perhaps back at Carolina a level higher.
No. 5: D.J. Davis (OF, Blue Jays)
Toronto's top non-pitching prospect has speed to burn, and he'll look to rip through his first full season in Lansing or Dunedin.
The 18-year-old Mississippi native was the 17th overall pick in June's Draft, and he hit .250 with five homers and 25 stolen bases in 60 games across three levels.
The son of former Blue Jay Wayne Davis, the center fielder projects as a leadoff hitter down the road. For now, Toronto's No. 4 prospect will spend 2013 refining his approach at the plate and cutting down on his strikeouts. Though his power is something that will likely develop as he grows and matures, the threat he poses on the basepaths is ready right now.
Matt Smoral (LHP, Blue Jays)
Ranked seventh among Toronto's top prospects, Smoral will make his professional debut in Class A Lansing later this month.
At 6-foot-8 tall and 220 pounds, the Ohio native already cuts an imposing figure on the mound. Then add in the fact that Smoral is a left-hander (and the fact that he has a three-quarter delivery) and it's possible he could fly through the Midwest League.
Selected 50th overall in June's Draft, Smoral did not pitch last season as he was rehabbing a stress fracture in his right foot that needed season-ending surgery.
Victor Roache (OF, Brewers)
Roache was selected by the Brewers 28th overall in the 2012 Draft. The outfielder missed most of last year with a broken wrist, and his absence from Wisconsin's Opening Day roster means he'll start the year in extended spring training to ensure his hamstring strain is fully healed.
Roache hit 30 homers as a sophomore at Georgia Southern University, so the power is for real. What could determine how quickly he rises through the system is the rate at which his defense improves and whether he has enough plate discipline to hit with a respectable average.