Andrew Chafin, LHP, 22
Chafin was a supplemental 1st round pick in 2011 out of Kent State but didn't really start his professional career until 2012. He began the 2012 season at Visalia on fire and was almost unhittable for the first month or so. But then he ran into a prolonged stretch of wildness before eventually being pulled from the starting rotation around the All Star break. He spent several weeks in the bullpen where he seemed to regain his confidence and was eventually returned to the rotation to finish the season. He wasn't as dominant down the stretch as he was at the beginning of the season but he did start to resemble his prior form and was effective again at season's end. He is a power lefty with a fastball/slider repertoire and posted a K/9 of 11.0 and a K/BB of 2.2 in spite of his high walk totals. If/when he gets his control more in order he has a great chance to be a high upside starting pitcher with top of rotation potential. We'll be watching his BB totals closely in 2013 . His stuff is good enough that he doesn't need to show Cliff Lee-type control to be an outstanding pitcher. I'm looking for Chafin to have the kind of year that will possibly vault him into my Top 5.
Alfredo Marte, OF, 23
Marte burst onto the scene in 2012 with an outstanding AA season at Mobile where he hit .294 with 20 homers and an .886 OPS. Marte has been languishing in the minors for a number years since being signed in 2006 out of the Dominican Republic. He was considered a 5-tool player early on but a shoulder injury slowed his progress considerably. In 2011 he was suspended for 50 games for PEDs and was in danger of disappearing from the prospect scene altogether. But a strong 2012 changed all that as he started developing his power stroke and with adequate outfield to good outfield defense he shot up the prospect list. Now suddenly his name is getting known in mainstream circles as he finds himself competing for a Major League roster spot with the injuries to Eaton and Ross. He has responded some in Spring Training this past week with 3 home runs in a 5-game stretch. Marte might be good enough to man a regular corner outfield spot someday which is why he's one to watch. This is a crucial year in his development as he'll obviously spend a lot of time in Reno where he'll be expected to post fairly big numbers and perhaps get the occasional call-up to the big club where he'll have a chance to earn his stripes.
Fidel Pena, C/2B, 21
Pena is a very intriguing prospect with an interesting skill set in that he plays both catcher and second base, ala Craig Biggio. Pena missed the entire second half of last year just as he was starting to make his mark as a legitimate prospect. Pena is actually built somewhat like Biggio as he doesn't exactly have the stoutest body-type for the catcher position. His best season to date was 2011 when he repeated at Missoula and posted an .822 OPS. His first-half in 2012 at South Bend wasn't exactly noteworthy but his catching prowess was getting noticed as he was throwing out nearly half of attempted base-stealers. Unfortunately his .679 OPS in 72 games wasn't enough to get evaluators too excited yet. Defense is his calling card at the moment and he only committed one error in 40 games split between catcher and second base all of last year before getting hurt. If his hit tool can start to play up he could race up the prospect list and add his name to the club's suddenly deep pool of catching and middle infield prospects.
Keon Broxton, OF, 23
Broxton makes the list because even though he hasn't had that breakout season that his talent suggests he has, his second half in 2012 says he's getting close. After an abysmal April in 2012 Broxton had a very fine year at Visalia with 19 home runs, 21 stolen bases and a .769 OPS. Granted that's the kind of year he should be posting at AA given his age, but Broxton was getting dangerously close to be dismissed as a legitimate prospect heading into 2012. The question is, can he continue progressing with a major step up in class to the AA level this year, which is exactly why I consider him one to watch. Broxton has all the natural tools to be an outstanding player. Some players just develop a little later than others and that's what we're hoping for Broxton. A huge year for the talented outfielder.
Jake Lamb, INF, 22
Lamb was taken in the 6th round of the 2012 draft out of Washington where he had become a solid defender and high average hitter, but short on power. Scouting reports said his college swing had turned him into an inside out slap hitter, robbing him of what some thought was a natural power stroke. The Dbacks sent him to Missoula where they worked on returning him to his old swing and the results were dramatic. Lamb had a great year hitting .329 with 9 homers, 22 doubles, 5 triples and a .922 OPS, while playing excellent defense at third base. Lamb played a lot of SS in college and he could probably move to second base if needed. Scouts are raving about him and I wouldn't be surprised if he went to Visalia and tore it up on is way to a promotion to AA. He's one to watch because by the end of the year he could be challenging for a spot in our Top 10. I don't want to overstate my enthusiasm for Lamb, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that he could challenge Davidson as the team's heir apparent at 3B in the not-too-distant future.
Alex Glenn, OF, 22
Glenn was the team's 12th round choice in the 2012 draft and he started his pro career in the Arizona Summer League where he played solidly with a .796 OPS. But it was his promotion to Missoula where he really showed what he's capable of when he he was inserted into the middle of the Osprey lineup for three weeks during their playoff push. All he did was hit .300 with 6 home runs, 17 RBI and a 1.073 OPS in 17 games, including a playoff-saving walk-off home run on the next-to-last day of the season. Glenn has a natural power-hitter's stroke and has decent enough speed to play a solid corner outfield defense. He'll likely be bumped up to Visalia where he'll be given every opportunity to make his mark as a potential future Major League outfielder. The strikeout totals were higher than one would like, as they are with most power hitters, but he warrants watching in 2013 based on what he showed in 2012 playing in playoff pressure conditions.
Andrew Velazquez, SS/2B, 18
Velazquez is a plus middle infield defender taken in the 7th round of the 2012 draft out of high school in New York. He started out in the Arizona Summer League where he was playing as well as any middle infielder in the league posting loads of extra base hits and dominating on the basepaths. He played mostly second base as the team's 2nd round pick Jose Munoz was manning SS. Through his first 25 games Velazquez was sporting a +.900 OPS based on a high OBP and lots of doubles and triples. He sprained his ankle legging out an inside-the-park home run in July and was never really the same the rest of the year after sitting out several weeks. He was eventually promoted to Missoula where he joined the team during their playoff push but he wasn't an impact player during that stretch, though he did take over the SS job due to team needs. Velazquez is only 5-8 but scouts rave about his natural defensive abilities and his extraordinary speed and base-stealing acumen. He will be just 18 this year and probably manning one of the middle infield spots for South Bend, which would be a very advanced posting for his age. He warrants watching whether he can perform at that level at his age, and if he can he'll be shooting up the prospect list.
Felipe Perez, RHP, 18
Perez was snagged by the Diamondbacks as a late-summer undrafted free agent signing just before he was about to enroll at UCLA as one of their top pitching recruits. UCLA was none too pleased about that development as they thought he was a lock to join the team after he went undrafted due to the fact that everyone knew he was heading to college. He signed so late that he didn't even pitch for any of the Dbacks minor league teams last year and 2013 will be his first professional test. I honestly don't know a lot about him but the mere fact he was a top UCLA recruit should speak volumes about the kind of pitcher he may be. So he deserves watching because if he's anything like some of the recent UCLA pitching graduates, then maybe he's a really good one. We really won't know until we see him in action.
Ben Eckels, RHP, 19
Eckels was taken in the 11th round of the 2012 draft out of high school and jumped right into the Arizona Summer League where he had some very noteworthy outings. Eckels is known to have an advanced change-up for such a young pitcher and he struck out 56 batters in 52 innings while managing a 4.13 ERA. I was actually surprised Eckels didn't get bumped up late in the season for a start or two at a higher level but perhaps the team just wanted to be conservative with their young pitcher. High school pitchers with advanced secondary pitches are rare so if Eckels can continue to develop physically and add velocity to his power pitches he could advance quickly.
Daniels Watts, LHP, 23
A late round selection in the 2012 draft (32nd round) the expectations were probably not all that high for Watts. But he changed that quickly by becoming the ace of a dominating Yakima (short season A) pitching staff where he posted a 2.23 ERA and a 3.25 K/BB ratio. Watts was on the older side for that level which is why he deserves watching in 2013 to see if he can deal with a more advanced placing more in line with his age bracket. Visalia is probably his next stop where he'll be challenged with more professional hitters and some unfriendly hitter's parks. His K/9 of just 6.1 in Yakima is one warning sign that the next level will be difficult, but his plus control gives him a chance to overcome that.
Jose Munoz, SS, 19 - Struggled in 1st half but improved greatly in 2nd half.
Nick Ahmed, SS, 23 - Part of Upton deal. Can he surpass others?
Jake Barrett, RHP, 21 - Ran out of gas in 2012. Will he bounce back in year 2?
Gerson Montilla, 2B, 23 - Starting to hit the age/level warning track. But still improving.
Cody Wheeler, LHP, 23 - Good recovery year in 2012 after missing all of 2011 to surgery.
Evan Marzilli, CF, 22 - Speedy, plus defender. Can he do enough to overcome lack of power?
Chuck Taylor, OF, 19 - Another toolsy defensive OF lacking power.