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SAL Prospects: Expect Starling to shine04/06/2013 6:00 AM ET
By Sam Dykstra / Special to MLB.com
Here's a ranking of the 10 prospects we're most excited to see light up the South Atlantic League in 2013:
No. 1: Bubba Starling (OF, Lexington Legends): The long-awaited full-season debut for the Royals' top prospect (No. 26 overall) is upon us. Starling, the fifth pick in the 2011 Draft, will bring his entire toolbag to a Lexington squad that should already be stacked with talent. His defensive prowess is enough to catch the eye, but he stands to make a jump with the bat in 2013. The 20-year-old outfielder put up solid numbers at the plate and on the basepaths with Rookie-level Burlington last season -- .275/.371/.385, 10 homers, 33 RBIs and 10 steals in 53 games -- but if he can mature as expected with his hitting approach, he'll continue to be the talk of the league.
No. 2: David Dahl (OF, Asheville Tourists): The 10th pick in last June's Draft was an instant success in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where he won MVP honors after batting .379 with a 1.048 OPS and 41 extra-base hits (22 doubles, 10 triples, nine homers) for Grand Junction. Imagine how those numbers will translate to a full season. OK, they'll probably take a dip in a larger sample against better competition, but Dahl certainly possesses enough skills to produce eye-popping numbers. Like Starling, he might be most fun to watch in center field, where he possesses an above-average glove and a cannon of an arm.
No. 3: Chris Stratton (RHP, Augusta GreenJackets): After posting a combined 5.25 ERA in his first two years at Mississippi State, Stratton took a sizable jump forward in his final season with the Bulldogs, posting an 11-2 record with a 2.38 ERA, 127 strikeouts and just 25 walks in 109 2/3 innings in the SEC. The Giants liked what they saw and took the 6-foot-3 right-hander with the 20th pick in the Draft. Now in Augusta, Stratton brings a solid four-pitch mix that should keep SAL batters guessing when he's on the mound.
No. 4: Lucas Sims (RHP, Rome Braves): The Braves took Sims one selection after the Giants picked Stratton last year, and the 18-year-old finds himself one spot below his Augusta counterpart here. But don't get us wrong, there's just as much to like about the Georgia native in his return to the Peach State. The lanky right-hander's strengths lie in his fastball and curve that have the chance to be dominant.
No. 5: Brandon Nimmo (OF, Savannah Sand Gnats): Similar to Royals fans and Starling, Mets fans have been anxiously anticipating Nimmo's first full season in the Minors. A 19-year-old center fielder from Wyoming, Nimmo's skills are solid across the board, but he has room to grow in terms of power and average. (He batted .248 with 20 doubles, two triples and six homers for Class A Short-Season Brooklyn in 2012.) If he can continue to show a mature approach at the plate -- his had a .372 OBP with the Cyclones -- the other categories could follow in due time.
No. 6: Roman Quinn (SS, Lakewood BlueClaws): If you want to impress your friends and predict the most likely player to next reach 100 stolen bases in the Minors, you could do much worse than mention the Phillies' No. 5 prospect. Quinn, whom scouts rate at an 8 for speed on a 2-8 scale, swiped 30 bags in 66 games with Williamsport in his rookie campaign. The BlueClaws might want to keep the green light on for the 19-year-old shortstop whenever he reaches base, which could happen quite a bit. Quinn has the skill set necessary to repeat his .281/.370/.408 NYPL line in the South Atlantic League.
No. 7: Raul Mondesi (SS, Lexington Legends): For the time being, he is perhaps best known as the son of a two-time Gold Glover with the same name. The younger Mondesi, however, has plenty of time to make a name for himself as he makes his full-season debut. Entering the season at 17, his glove and arm from the shortstop position will stand out. He batted .290 with a .733 OPS as the Pioneer League's youngest player. If he can reproduce such numbers against SAL pitchers, the youthful switch-hitter should continue to climb the ladder quickly.
No. 8: Joey Gallo (3B, Hickory Crawdads): After being taken 39th overall in the 2012 Draft, Gallo proceeded to put up impressive stats in the Arizona League. The Las Vegas native's 18 home runs were an AZL record, not to mention his .293 average, 1.169 OPS and 43 RBIs in 43 games. After a promotion to Class A Short-Season Spokane, he finished the year with 22 blasts in 59 games. Without a doubt, Gallo is the early favorite to lead the South Atlantic League in homers. Not bad for a guy who could've been drafted as a pitcher.
No. 9: Mauricio Cabrera (RHP, Rome Braves): With Sims and Cabrera, the R-Braves have the most exciting rotation duo in the circuit. The latter's fastball is downright electric, reaching 97 mph at its top speed. The 19-year-old's curveball and changeup need more time to develop, leading some to think his future might be in the bullpen. But he should be effective as Rome's No. 2 starter.
No. 10: Hansel Robles (RHP, Savannah Sand Gnats): For a reason to watch the Mets' No. 13 prospect, look no further than the way he ended the 2012 season for Brooklyn. Robles didn't allow a single earned run in his last 36 innings for the Cyclones, meaning he's entering his first season with the Sand Gnats on an offseason-stalled hot streak. The 5-foot-11 right-hander will rely on a solid fastball, while his slider and changeup continue to develop. If Robles can keep the walks low again -- he issued 10 in 72 2/3 innings a year ago -- he shouldn't have trouble finding success, albeit perhaps not at the same level as last year.