As one of the Minors' two full-season Class A leagues, nearly half the prospects in baseball will pass through the South Atlantic League at some point. Because the players are so young -- last year's league MVP, Jurickson Profar
of Hickory, turned 19 six weeks ago -- projecting which Sally League players will become the Major League stars of the future is an inexact science. With that said, here's a look at some notable names that are likely to appear in South Atlantic League ballparks in 2012. Some are phenoms who have yet to play a professional inning and others are less-heralded prospects who had fine seasons in 2011, but all will have the chance to make their own futures on the field this summer.
Catcher: Kevan Smith, Kannapolis Intimidators
This 6-foot-4 backstop had a wildly successful 2011 playing for three different teams. Smith shared the Big East batting crown with a .396 average at the University of Pittsburgh and didn't slow down after the White Sox made him their seventh-round selection. He hit .396/.482/.740 with seven homers in 26 games for Bristol in the Appalachian League, then headed west to help Great Falls claim its second Pioneer League title. Smith hit .478 with a pair of homers and eight RBIs in five playoff games and was 7-for-9 in the two games of the Finals. At .355, Smith posted the top batting average in the White Sox organization by 22 points and enters 2012 as the system's No. 15 prospect.
Honorable mention: Will Swanner, Asheville Tourists. Though injuries limited Swanner to just 61 Pioneer League games over the past two seasons, Swanner jacked 17 home runs. Look for the Rockies' No. 15 prospect to take advantage of the sluggers' mecca that is Asheville's McCormick Field.
First base: Alex Dickerson, West Virginia Power
The Pirates' third-round pick in last June's Draft, Dickerson (ranked 14th among Bucs prospects) was the Big Ten's Triple Crown-winner in 2010 with a .419 average, 24 home runs and 75 RBIs in 55 games at Indiana. Though he went deep just three times in 41 games with State College last summer, the left-handed hitter batted .313/.393/.493 in his pro debut with the Spikes. Dickerson closed out the New York-Penn League season with a .385 stretch in his final 14 games and will be looking to pick up where he left off with West Virginia.
Second base: Claudio Custodio, Charleston RiverDogs
Playing as a 19-year-old last summer, the Dominican-born Custodio led the Gulf Coast League in runs scored (46) and stolen bases (26) in 39 games for the champion Yankees. Custodio also ranked fourth in the league with a .433 on-base percentage and seventh with a .325 batting average. Listed at 5-feet-10 and 155 pounds, Custodio doesn't have much power, but with his baserunning skills -- he was caught stealing just twice last year -- he'll be an ideal table-setter for a potent RiverDogs lineup. With just those 39 stateside games under his belt, he's already the Yankees' No. 14 prospect.
Third base: Brandon Drury, Rome Braves
After a rough pro debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2010, Drury broke out in 2011 to lead the Appalachian League with 92 hits in 63 games and finished out the season on an 18-game hitting streak. The Oregon native was named the circuit's co-Player of the Year after finishing second with a .347 average and 23 doubles to go along with eight homers and 54 RBIs. Drury, a 13th-round pick in 2010 who now ranks as the Braves' 15th-best prospect, is not an easy batter to walk -- he drew just six in 278 plate appearances last season, and one of those was intentional.
Shortstop: Daniel Muno, Savannah Sand Gnats
Muno had a sublime professional debut on Coney Island last summer, leading the New York-Penn League in batting (.355), on-base percentage (.466) and doubles (23) for the Brooklyn Cyclones. A switch-hitter out of Fresno State, Muno ranked third in the league in walks (43), runs (45) and slugging percentage (.514) as well despite hitting just a pair of homers. A top-notch leadoff man, the 22-year-old heads to full-season baseball riding a 12-game hitting streak from last season. MLB.com ranks him as the Mets' No. 17 prospect.
Honorable mention: Trevor Story, Asheville Tourists. Story, the 45th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, had a solid debut with Casper last summer, batting .268/.364/.436 with six homers as an 18-year-old.
Josh Bell, West Virginia Power
Already the Minors' No. 69 prospect before facing a pitch as a pro, the switch-hitting Bell was a successful gamble for the Pirates. Though arguably the best high school hitter available in last June's Draft, Bell seemed headed to the University of Texas before the Bucs took him in the second round and persuaded him to turn pro with a $5 million signing bonus. As a senior at Dallas Jesuit High School, Bell hit .552 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 147 at-bats. He struck out just five times and has power from both sides of the plate.
Brandon Nimmo, Savannah Sand Gnats
The 13th overall pick in last June's Draft, Nimmo is an untested talent with enormous upside -- MLB.com ranks him as the Mets' No. 4 prospect. He did not play baseball in high school because his home state of Wyoming does not offer interscholastic baseball, but did play American Legion ball as well as high school football and track. In 10 games for the GCL Mets and Kingsport Mets last summer, Nimmo went 8-for-38 (.211) with a pair of homers, and he drew a walk and scored in his sole Grapefruit League appearance with the Mets this spring. As young and raw as Nimmo is -- he turned 19 last week -- he may not appear in Savannah until later in the season (if at all). But he'll be a player to watch when he does arrive.
Mason Williams, Charleston RiverDogs
After a five-game preview with the GCL Yankees in 2010, Williams was everything the Bombers could have hoped for last season at Staten Island. The 2010 fourth-round pick led the New York-Penn League in hits and stolen bases on his way to earning a host of All-Star nods, including the Topps/MiLB Short-Season/Rookie squad. He enters the 2012 season as the No. 73 prospect in baseball and drew raves from Yanks manager Joe Girardi in his brief Grapefruit League tenure this spring. Williams has all the tools to become a top-notch Major League outfielder.
Right-handed pitcher: Dylan Bundy, Delmarva Shorebirds
The 19-year-old Bundy was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 Draft and will make his pro debut with the Shorebirds as the top prospect in the South Atlantic League (and No. 10 in the Minors). The younger brother of fellow Orioles farmhand Robert Bundy, Dylan struck out 322 over 151 innings in his junior and senior high school seasons. He posted a 0.20 ERA as a senior. His four-pitch mix includes a plus fastball, curveball and slider as well as a changeup, and his smooth mechanics have scouts drooling.
Left-handed pitcher: Will Lamb, Hickory Crawdads
Hickory fans got a brief preview of Lamb's prowess at the end of last season, as he allowed one earned run while fanning 20 over 18 2/3 frames in four starts for the Crawdads. A second-round pick out of Clemson -- where he also played the outfield -- last June, the 6-foot-6 Lamb fanned 10 batters per nine innings in his first pro season. Using his height well and relying on a fastball/slider combination, Lamb's future as a starter may require the development of a third pitch. Even without one, he's the Rangers' No. 14 prospect, and he'll be an imposing presence in the Sally League this spring.