One might believe that in the Class A Advanced California League, it would be difficult to find prospects who could soon make an impact at the Major League level. That wasn't the case last year, when players such as Mike Trout
and Brandon Belt
spent a significant amount of time in the league. Trout was rated by MLB.com as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and is likely to get the call to the Majors sometime this year, while Belt already calls San Francisco home.
This year, the California League again appears to be loaded with high-ceiling prospects. Eight of the 10 teams feature former first-round picks, which speaks to both the spread and depth of upper-echelon prospects in the league.
Below, MiLB.com looks at the players most likely to make a significant impact on the California League before moving on to higher levels:
, 3B -- Modesto Nuts
Arenado posted a robust .520 slugging percentage last season, good for third in the South Atlantic League. His career .306 batting average shows his ability to make contact, and while his walk rate is not high, neither is his strikeout rate. Arenado also showed a marked improvement defensively last season, raising his fielding percentage to .936 from the .899 figure he posted in Rookie ball in 2009.
Michael Choice, OF -- Stockton Ports
Choice was selected by the Athletics with the 10th overall pick in the 2010 Draft and showed why during a brief stint in the Northwest League: in 102 at-bats, the University of Texas-Arlington product hit .284 with seven home runs and a lofty 1.016 OPS. Choice, who turned 21 in November, will look to further prove that he was deserving of his early Draft selection as he enters his first full season of professional baseball.
Nick Franklin, SS -- High Desert Mavericks
Franklin, MLB.com's No. 38 prospect, led the Midwest League with 23 home runs last season and became the first teenager in the league to hit that many long balls since Prince Fielder. The switch-hitting shortstop also managed to swipe 25 bases, making him one of only three Minor Leaguers to have a 20-20 season. Weighing in at only 170 pounds, Franklin will be tasked with proving that his power last year was not an anomaly.
Yasmani Grandal, C -- Bakersfield Blaze
Selected 12th overall in the 2010 Draft, Grandal will begin his first professional season at Class A Advanced Bakersfield. He has had more than his fair share of success as an amateur; he was a member of the USA Baseball national team that won the World Baseball Challenge in 2009, and he held his own in the elite Arizona Fall League this past winter, recording a .394 on-base percentage in eight games.
Tyler Matzek, LHP -- Modesto Nuts
The 11th overall pick in the 2009 Draft didn't disappoint in his first professional season, limiting opposing batters to a .204 average as he put together a 2.92 ERA with a 88 strikeouts over 89 1/3 innings in the South Atlantic League. That strong performance earned him the No. 33 ranking among MLB.com's top prospects. The lefty will look to improve his command -- he walked 62 batters last year, in addition to hitting four and throwing seven wild pitches -- as he moves up to Class A Advanced.
Chris Owings, SS -- Visalia Rawhide
Owings hasn't displayed much pop, but the teenage shortstop's glovework was impressive enough to earn him a spot on the Midwest League's Mid-Season All-Star team in 2010. Though the power may not come this season, the 2009 first-round pick will look to maintain his batting average (.300 in 363 Minor League at-bats) as he advances to the next level. He could benefit from a more patient approach at the plate, as he walked just nine times in 271 plate appearances last year.
Jean Segura, 2B -- Inland Empire 66ers
Segura is well-rounded for a player his age, making him one of the best prospects in the Angels' system. The 21-year-old infielder had his way on the basepaths last year, finishing in the top five in the Midwest League in steals (50) and triples (12). He also showed some power, hitting 10 home runs and racking up 239 total bases. Segura is known as a solid defensive player and has demonstrated good pitch recognition skills in his brief Minor League career.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP -- Visalia Rawhide
The 19-year-old lefty, who came to the Diamondbacks as part of the Dan Haren trade, will look to continue the dominance he displayed last season, when he struck out 102 batters in 98 1/3 innings. The No. 40 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Skaggs excelled joining the Diamondbacks organization, compiling a 1.69 ERA in four starts with the South Bend Silver Hawks.
Jonathan Villar, SS -- Lancaster JetHawks
Villar, who was a piece in the Roy Oswalt trade, struggled at the plate in his first taste of the California League, hitting .225 with three home runs in 129 at-bats last year. The former non-drafted free agent is not known for his skill with the bat, however. The 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is a touted prospect because of his raw athleticism, which helped him steal 45 bases in 60 attempts last year.
Zack Wheeler, RHP -- San Jose Giants
Wheeler got his first taste of professional baseball last season after being selected sixth overall by the Giants in the 2009 Draft. The results were mixed: he recorded a 3.99 ERA in 21 games (13 starts), striking out an impressive 10.7 batters per nine innings but also issuing 5.8 free passes. Wheeler's stuff has proven difficult for hitters to square up -- he limited opposing batters to a .218 average while posting a 2.68 groundout-to-flyout ratio -- but he must harness it in order to reach his potential.