The South will be a hot spot for more than one reason this year.
Former first-rounders Brett Jackson, Jarrod Parker, and Tim Beckham are poised to take the Southern League by storm in 2011. They're not alone however, as reigning California League MVP Paul Goldschmidt and batting champion Kyle Seager will provide sparks with their bats. Left-hander Matt Moore will provide the flame, having led the Minors in strikeouts for two years in a row.
Tennessee will be the biggest beneficiary of the prospects, with Jackson, Trey McNutt and Josh Vitters returning to try and help the Smokies win their first league crown since 2004.
Tim Beckham, SS -- Montgomery Biscuits
Some might look at the .256 average and five homers and wonder about the progress of Tim Beckham. The former first overall pick led Class A Advanced Charlotte with 57 RBIs, 68 runs and 62 walks in 2010, and took a significant step forward in the second half, when he hit .285 with 18 extra-base hits. The 21-year-old shortstop also reduced his errors from 43 to 25 while spending more time in the field.
Rubby De La Rosa
, SP -- Chattanooga Lookouts
De La Rosa took a step forward last season, setting personal bests with 22 games and 110 1/3 innings. The 22-year-old right-hander began the year with Great Lakes, going 4-1 with a 3.19 ERA, earning a promotion to Chattanooga. There De La Rosa kicked up his game, posting a 1.41 ERA and limiting Southern League hitters to a .215 average in eight starts for the Lookouts.
Randall Delgado, SP -- Mississippi Braves
Considered one of the Braves' better pitching prospects, Delgado earned Carolina League All-Star honors for Myrtle Beach before his promotion to Mississippi. The 6-foot-3 Panamanian struggled upon reaching Double-A, but still struck out 42 batters in 43 2/3 innings for the M-Braves.
Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Mobile BayBears
The former eight-round pick showed that 2009 was no fluke, leading the California League with 35 homers and second with 108 RBIs, taking home the league's Most Valuable Player award in the process. The power wasn't limited to homers, as the 23-year-old Delaware native led the circuit with 42 two-baggers and batted .315 while also winning the league's Rookie of the Year award as well.
Brett Jackson, OF -- Tennessee Smokies
Jackson is probably hoping his return to Tennessee is a brief one. The Cubs' 2009 first-round pick showed he's a multi-talented hitter, batting .297 with 32 doubles, 14 triples and 12 homers. Jackson scored 103 runs while swiping 30 bases in 128 games between Class A Advanced Daytona and the Smokies. The 22-year-old Californian was named MLB.com's No. 46 prospect heading into the 2011 season.
Trey McNutt, SP -- Tennessee Smokies
McNutt has come a long way since being selected in the 32nd round in 2009. The Alabama native was 10-0 with a 1.97 ERA in 22 starts with Peoria and Daytona. McNutt struggled in a three-game cameo with the Smokies, allowing 12 runs and suffering his only loss of the season. The 21-year-old right-hander was second in the organization with 132 strikeouts.
Matt Moore, SP -- Montgomery Biscuits
Moore was the Minor League leader in strikeouts for the second straight year, becoming the first player since 2005 to eclipse 200 whiffs. Despite a 6-11 record, MLB.com's No. 27 prospect was named to the Florida State League's Postseason All-Star team and named the league's Pitcher of the Week four times. Like many strikeout pitchers, the left-handed Moore struggled with control, walking 61 batters in 144 2/3 innings, but countered that by yielding just seven homers all year.
Jarrod Parker, SP -- Mobile BayBears
After missing last season following 2009 Tommy John surgery, Parker will open 2011 where he last pitched. The 2007 first-rounder is still considered a top-of-the-rotation starter, as evidenced by his inclusion as the No. 29 prospect on MLB.com's Top 50 list despite having not pitched competitively in nearly two years. Parker will look to pick up where he left off with the BayBears, after earning All-Star honors with them in '09.
Kyle Seager, 2B -- Jackson Generals
Seager drew attention to himself with a 32-game hitting streak for High Desert, the longest such streak in the California League. The 23-year-old second baseman, drafted two rounds after Dustin Ackley in 2010, didn't stop there, leading the league with a .345 average and 126 runs scored. Seager, a California League All-Star, showed strong patience at the plate, drawing 71 walks for the Mavericks and was solid in the field, posting a .971 fielding percentage in 100 games at second.
Josh Vitters, 3B -- Tennessee Smokies
The third overall pick in 2007, Vitters earned a promotion to the Southern League after getting off to a fast start with Daytona. The 21-year-old third baseman struggled with Tennessee, batting .223 with seven homers in 63 games. A strong showing with the Smokies would solidify Vitters' standing as the Cubs' third baseman of the future.