Every year, the Arizona Fall League showcases some of the best talent in the Minor Leagues during baseball's offseason. Now some of those stars are coming to Texas.
Five players who made it into the AFL Rising Stars Game will be starting the season in the Texas League, hoping to sustain their brief success in November over an entire season. Others who did not play in the fall will be looking to continue their triumphs from last year, making the jump from Class A Advanced to Double-A that some call the toughest in the Minor Leagues.
Below, MiLB.com takes a look at 10 players to watch during the upcoming Texas League season.
Catcher: Jason Hagerty, San Antonio Missions
Hagerty started out the season by hitting .311 with eight homers in 68 games for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, but struggled upon arriving at Double-A. In 36 contests for San Antonio, he hit just .231 with one longball. The two-time organization all-star plays solid defense, but will still have to post a better performance at the plate this year in order to keep moving through the system.
First base: Jonathan Singleton, Corpus Christi Hooks
Acquired by the Astros in the trade deadline deal that sent Hunter Pence to the Phillies, Singleton started last season slowly, but picked up his pace after the trade. He batted .333 with four homers for Class A Advanced Lancaster, putting up a .917 OPS that was 117 points higher than the one he posted for Clearwater. On the whole, he accumulated 13 homers, 23 doubles and 70 walks, showing the pop and patience that has made him MLB.com's No. 43 prospect
headed into this season.
Second base: Kolten Wong, Springfield Cardinals
Selected by St. Louis with the 22nd overall pick in the June Draft, Wong hit .335 with five longballs and a .911 OPS in 47 games for Class A Quad Cities. Though he checks in at just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, he is a good athlete with the ability to hit for average and play a solid second base. The Cardinals might appear aggressive in starting their No. 6 prospect at Double-A, but there was no reason to hold the University of Hawaii product back.
Third base: Nolan Arenado, Tulsa Drillers
Despite what he calls "simple mechanics," Arenado was one of the most dominant players in the California League last year, batting .298 with 20 homers and a Minor League-leading 122 RBIs. MLB.com's No. 22 prospect then continued to show off his offensive polish in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .388 with six homers and 33 RBIs in 29 games en route to the league's MVP award. His superb defense is not to be overlooked, however, as his 2011 skipper emphasized to MiLB.com earlier this offseason.
"He had a tremendous routine for himself every day, not only to improve but to get ready for games both offensively and defensively," Modesto manager Jerry Weinstein said. "He's probably the best young defender I've ever seen. He'd make a SportsCenter play every night. It was incredible."
Honorable mention: Mike Olt, the Rangers' No. 3 prospect, and Jedd Gyorko, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. Olt overcame an injury-riddled regular season to hit .349 with 13 longballs in the AFL, while Gyorko batted .333 with 25 homers between Class A Advanced and Double-A last year.
Shortstop: Jean Segura, Arkansas Travelers
Like Olt, Segura spent much of 2011 sidelined by injury, and he also recovered in the AFL. The second baseman-turned-shortstop hit .281 with 18 steals in just 44 games at Class A Advanced Inland Empire, then batted .310 and swiped five bags in 23 AFL contests. Ranked as MLB.com's No. 54 prospect, Segura won't hit for much power, but he can put up good average and steals numbers while providing strong defense.
Wil Myers, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Myers had his ups-and-downs in 2011, but not because of injury. Switching from catcher to outfield last year, MLB.com's No. 19 prospect might have put too much focus on his fielding and not enough on his offense -- he hit just .254 with nine homers in 99 games at Double-A one year after batting .315 with 14 dingers. Following along with the theme, he performed much better in the AFL, where he hit .360 with four homers in 23 games. Perhaps the most impressive thing was his approach, however, as he drew 20 walks while striking out just 18 times.
Michael Choice, Midland RockHounds
Selected with the 10th overall pick in 2010, Choice had a monster year for Class A Advanced Stockton, batting .285 with 30 homers and a .918 OPS. The highlight of his season might have been his 47-game on-base streak, a mark that tied for the highest in the California League last year.
Though he batted just .248 through the first 65 games on the schedule, he improved significantly after the All-Star break, hitting .332 through the final 53 contests. He also struck out 52 times in the second half compared to 82 times in the first, a change he credited to a shortened swing.
"I'm just looking for hard contact," Choice told MiLB.com. "You can't try to hit home runs; it doesn't work that way."
Kent Matthes, Tulsa Drillers
Though he was injured for the final five weeks of the season, Matthes still did enough in the eyes of voters to earn the California League MVP. That's because in the 93 games that he was healthy, the University of Alabama product hit .334 with 23 homers, 95 RBIs and a 1.020 OPS.
"He gets into the plane of the pitch early, and he also can hit the ball over the ballpark with power," Weinstein told MiLB.com. "His raw power is tremendous -- well above average. And he's not a big swing-and-miss guy either."
Now at 25 years old, it will be interesting to see how the Rockies handle his development. If he continues to hit like last year, Colorado's No. 20 prospect could skip over Triple-A entirely and head straight to the big leagues.
Left-handed pitcher: Noel Arguelles, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Shoulder surgery kept the Cuban defector out for the entire 2010 season, but Arguelles did not disappoint in his professional debut last year. The Royals' No. 11 prospect compiled a 3.20 ERA in 104 frames for Class A Wilmington, walking just 24 despite his injury-induced hiatus. Arguelles didn't quite have his velocity back to normal, though, which limited him to 64 strikeouts. If he returns to full health this year, he could escalate his prospect status even further with a strong showing at Double-A.
Right-handed pitcher: Jake Odorizzi, Northwest Arkansas Naturals
Among the package of players the Royals received from the Brewers for Zack Greinke, Odorizzi posted a 3.73 ERA in 147 innings between Class A Advanced and Double-A last year. The 22-year-old right-hander used his four-pitch repertoire to strike out 157 batters in that time, walking only 44. The problem was that he stumbled a bit upon his promotion to Northwest Arkansas, putting together a 4.72 ERA in 12 starts with the team. But even though the difficulty of the Double-A jump may have gotten to him last year, look for MLB.com's No. 46 prospect to improve those numbers this season after learning from that experience.
Honorable mention: Chad Bettis, Colorado's No. 4 prospect, and Sonny Gray, Oakland's No. 4 prospect. Bettis commanded an upper-90s fastball as he fanned 184 in 169 2/3 innings last year and was named a Rockies Organization All-Star. Gray, meanwhile, was selected with the 18th overall pick of the Draft and put together an 0.82 ERA in his first taste of pro ball.