Teams covet young pitching. It's a fact that's proven in the Major League Draft every June. Over the past six seasons, four teams used the No. 1 overall pick on a pitcher. Of the 60 players selected in last June's Draft (counting the supplemental picks), exactly half were pitchers, including the first four picks.
That sort of quality pitching will be on display in the Florida State League this season. Gerrit Cole, the first overall pick last year, will open with Bradenton. He'll be joined by Jameson Taillon, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2010. Another first-rounder, Jed Bradley, will make his pro debut with Brevard County while Carlos Martinez, who struggled in a midseason callup to Palm Beach, will have another go-around with the Cardinals.
Catcher: JR Murphy, Tampa Yankees
Murphy, a second-round pick by the Yankees in 2009, ended the year in Tampa, but failed to show the bat that got him promoted there. The 21-year-old backstop batted .259 with one homer in 23 games for Tampa after batting .297 with 29 extra-base hits in 63 games for Charleston. Murphy will need to continue to work on his defense after catching just five base stealers in 28 attempts with the Yankees.
First base: Mark Canha, Jupiter Hammerheads
One of the stars of the South Atlantic-champion Greensboro Grasshoppers, Canha will make the jump to the Florida State League. After finishing second in the league with 25 homers and earning Marlins Organizational All-Star honors in 2012, the 2010 seventh-round pick will join several of his Grasshoppers' teammates on the Hammerheads.
Second base: Hernan Perez, Lakeland Flying Tigers
Since being signed by the Tigers in 2007, Perez has come along steadily, raising his average each of the past four seasons. The 21-year-old Venezuelan earned Midwest League All-Star honors last year, batting .258 with 24 stolen bases. Perez finished ninth in the league with 130 hits.
Shortstop: Levi Michael, Fort Myers Miracle
A first-round pick by the Twins last June, Levi will make his pro debut after starring at the University of North Carolina for three years. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo called Michael a "good line-drive hitter from both sides of the plate" heading into the Draft.
Third base: Nick Castellanos, Lakeland Flying Tigers
The 44th overall pick by the Tigers in 2010, Castellanos finished fourth in the Midwest League with a .312 average. Despite slugging just seven homers, the 20-year-old third baseman showed solid power, smacking 36 doubles for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Castellanos, the Tigers' top hitting prospect also showed remarkable resiliency, finishing as one of two players to play in 135 games in the Midwest League.
"He's 19 years old and able to hit the ball to all fields," West Michigan manager Ernie Young told MiLB.com in November. "The power will come when he gets stronger and matures more. But he can hit the ball the other way and that's a plus for him."
Jake Marisnick, Dunedin Blue Jays
Marisnick turned heads with his performance in the Midwest League in 2011. A third-round pick by the Blue Jays in 2009, Marisnick batted .320 with 77 RBIs for the Lugnuts. The 21-year-old center fielder showed his versatility, smacking 14 homers while stealing 37 bases. His performance in 2011 made Marisnick one of the Blue Jays' Organizational All-Stars.
Christian Yelich, Jupiter Hammerheads
Yelich, the Marlins' first-rounder in 2010, put an exclamation point on his fine 2011 with a walk-off homer in the first game of the South Atlantic League playoffs, earning a MiLBY with the blast. The California native finished with a .312 average while slugging 15 homers and stealing 32 bases.
"What gets everyone's attention is his ability to play the game and his intangibles," Greensboro manager Andy Haines told MiLB.com. "His speed, his instincts, he's able to steal 32 of 37 bases and just the overall package he brings to the team. I think he has a chance to separate himself [from other first-rounders] with his intangibles."
Mikie Mahtook, Charlotte Stone Crabs
Selected 31st overall by the Rays in June, Mahtook will get a chance to make his pro debut in the Florida State League. The LSU product got a chance to show off his skills in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .338 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Surprise Saguaros, earning a trip to the Rising Stars Game.
Honorable mention: Oswaldo Arcia (Fort Myers Miracle) gets to continue torturing Florida State League pitchers after going deep eight times in 59 games for the Miracle.
Left-handed pitcher: Jesse Biddle, Clearwater Threshers
The Phillies' No. 2 prospect will move up a level after dominating South Atlantic League bats in 2011, posting a 2.98 ERA and limiting batters to a .219 average. The 20-year-old Pennsylvania native fanned 124 batters in 133 innings and only allowed five homers all season long for the Blue Claws.
"We're certainly happy with the way he performed over there," Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper told MiLB.com in December. "He got better with different things. His changeup really improved -- he had used it a little but not much coming out of high school. Again, he's a guy that fought through some tough early games. He didn't get off to a particularly good start. Even during the year he had some rough starts, but overall, he put it all together. He had a good year, especially for his age. He's got some things to work on -- holding runners, fielding his position -- but he took a big stride forward this year."
Honorable mention: Jed Bradley (Brevard County Manatees) is another 2011 draftee making his pro debut in the Florida State League. Bradley got a chance to face pro hitters in the Arizona Fall League, where he was selected to the Rising Stars Game.
Right-handed pitcher: Jameson Taillon, Bradenton Marauders
Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, displayed his potential last season for West Virginia despite pitching limited innings. MLB.com's No. 8 prospect fanned 97 batters in 92 2/3 innings for the Power and limited batters to a .249 average while earning South Atlantic League All-Star honors.
Honorable mention: Gerrit Cole (Bradenton Marauders) will team with Taillon to give the Marauders a potentially devastating 1-2 combo in their rotation; Jacob Turner (Lakeland Flying Tigers) will open the year with Lakeland trying to improve his arm strength. Carlos Martinez (Palm Beach Cardinals) is hoping that his second tour of duty with Palm Beach will be better than his first and cutting down on his walks will go a long way toward that. Brody Colvin (Clearwater Threshers) is another player returning to the league after a tough 2011 in which batters hit. 289 against him.