Texas League fans had a front-row seat last season for the rise of Mike Trout, one of baseball's brightest prospects, as he made the jump from Arkansas to Anaheim.
So who is the next Double-A prospect with the ability to advance quickly? Nolan Arenado is probably one name that most Texas League pitchers will dread facing this summer following his huge Arizona Fall League performance last year.
Arenado, the Rockies' No. 1 prospect, led all of Minor League Baseball with 122 RBIs last season. Only one other batter had more RBIs in baseball last year, Miguel Cabrera, who had 126 in 161 games. Arenado did it in 134.
"My goal is always just getting the runner in," Arenado told MiLB.com.. "I take pride in getting my RBIs and that's what I really want. I've got make sure that I do whatever I can do to help the team win, a sac fly or whatever it is. I've got to get that run in. It doesn't matter how, I just have to put the ball in play."
And so the odds of Arenado not being in town when his Tulsa Drillers host the 2012 All-Star Game on June 28 depend on whether the Rockies have pulled the trigger yet on bringing him up. Arenado figures to anchor a Drillers lineup that will include shortstop Josh Rutledge, the Rockies' No. 16 prospect, and outfielder Kent Matthes (No. 20).
And then there's No. 4 Chad Bettis, who will eventually be the Drillers' ace. He's expected to begin the season on the disabled list with a triceps injury. Bettis, ranked No. 66 overall by MLB.com, went 12-5 with a 3.34 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 27 starts last season for Class A Advanced Modesto.
The Drillers will have 11 returning players on their roster as well, but Arenado should be the main attraction.
"I'm developing a lot more power, but my goal out there isn't to hit more home runs," he said. "I would obviously like to hit more, but I'm not changing my swing. I'm hoping to keep things the same, and then everything will work out from there."
The league's annual All-Star event will also feature a Home Run Derby, which will include six Texas League All-Stars and four local high school hitters. A league champion and a high school champ both will be crowned during the pregame event.
Colon, Royals prospects want more
Christian Colon, the Royals' first-round pick in 2010, is returning to Northwest Arkansas after batting .257 in his first taste of Double-A pitching in 2011. Colon was one of the big names to get drafted two years ago, going No. 4 overall, but he finds himself -- as do some other hyped Royals prospects like Wil Myers and John Lamb -- in a position to prove himself again in '12.
The Naturals, who featured Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in recent seasons, will be home to five of Kansas City's top 10 prospects: Myers (2), Jake Odorizzi (4), Lamb (6), Chris Dwyer (7) and Colon (9), plus Noel Arguelles (11) and Kevin Chapman.
Myers returns after a mediocre summer in which he batted .254 with eight homers in 99 games. The outfielder -- a third-round pick from 2009 -- was named a Rising Star in the AFL and selected to the Futures Game last year, so 2012 appears to be a pivotal opportunity for him.
Odorizzi has been lights-out for much of his career, although his 4.72 ERA in the Texas League last year could have been better. The former Brewers farmhand knows a good showing in Double-A will open the door to the American League.
"My main goal is I want to be able to make an impact on the Major League team sometime this year, whenever that may be," Odorizzi told MiLB.com. "I just want to be able to help the Major League team out. Hopefully, we'll be in contention this year."
Lamb, who appeared in eight games for the Nats last year, had Tommy John surgery last June and is still recovering. Dwyer, a lefty out of Clemson, went 8-10 with a 5.60 ERA in 27 starts for Northwest Arkansas last year, so he'll get another chance to prove himself.
Hitman Gyorko back for more
No. 5 Padres prospect Jedd Gyorko led all Minor Leaguers with 192 hits last season, but that wasn't enough to get a ticket to Triple-A. Gyorko, San Diego's second-round pick in 2010, had a huge season at two levels last tear, batting .333 with 25 homers, 114 RBIs, 12 steals and a .400 on-base percentage for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore and San Antonio.
Most of those numbers came in the hitter-friendly Cal League -- he played 59 games at San Antonio -- so scouts will keep an eye out for his adjustment again. The 23-year-old, who hit .302 with a homer and nine RBIs in 22 Spring Training games this year, enters the season ranked No. 71 overall by MLB.com.
Other notable prospects who should see time in San Antonio include Reymond Fuentes (No. 13 in the Padres' system), Jaff Decker (14) and Edinson Rincon (16), who should make his Double-A debut. Decker, San Diego's top pick in 2008, showed good power with the Missions last season (19 homers, 92 RBIs) but batted .236, the worst mark of his career. The Padres may want to see some additional at-bats in Texas before bumping the outfielder to Triple-A Tucson.
Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Texas League.
- Last season's championship: San Antonio defeats Arkansas, 3-0
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- Last back-to-back champion: San Antonio, 2002-'03
- Last perfect game: Martin Perez, Frisco at Arkansas, April 19, 2011
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- Last no-hitter: Joe Wieland, Frisco at San Antonio, July 29, 2011
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- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Sid Fernandez (209), San Antonio, 1983
- Last cycle: Eric Duncan, Springfield at Arkansas, Aug. 28, 2011
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- Last three-homer game: Tommy Mendonca, Frisco vs. Corpus Christi, July 22, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 30-homer hitter: Tim Wheeler, (33, Tulsa); Matt Adams, (32, Springfield), Michael Bianucci, (30, Frisco), 2011