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Florida JR C Mike Zunino
College sluggers tend to be among the best known draft prospects each year, so listing the reasons why Zunino is one of the 2012 draft’s top prospects is little more than academic at this point: we know that he has huge power (25-35 HR upside) that is already showing up against big-time college pitching, plus arm strength with above-average accuracy, and leadership qualities not seen since the likes of [insert the leader of your favorite team and/or political party] . Concerns with Zunino are three-fold: 1) his approach leaves a little something to be desired, 2) his swing, while shortened somewhat in 2012, still can get too long at times, leaving him exposed against good breaking balls, and 3) he’s a catcher, so all inherent risks that come with the position (injury, developmental stagnation, etc.) apply. One comp (obligatory comps are evil and irresponsible and spread obfuscate rather than illuminate) for Zunino that I particularly like: former state of Florida college catcher (Hurricanes, not Gators) Charles Johnson. Sticking with the Florida theme, fellow Gator (I had not idea this guy went to Florida when I thought up this comp, how about that?) Mike Stanley makes for an interesting historical comp of some merit, though I doubt we’ll see the same kind of patience from Zunino that Stanley exhibited as a pro. So, realistically I think a reasonable floor is something like Johnson or former Royal Mike MacFarlane (defense, leadership, .180ish ISO, .330ish wOBA – again, we’re talking floor, so take the power projection with a grain of salt), with the upside of Stanley or Phil Nevin (minus the position switch), and the middle ground of a modern guy like Chris Iannetta. He’s not the prospect that Matt Wieters (love that guy) was back in 2008, but I think the comparison between Zunino and Wieters makes a heck of a lot more sense than the silly Buster Posey comp I’ve seen thrown out (though, to be fair, it is often dismissed fairly quickly by the “expert”) around the internet. I could see a few years for Zunino like Wieters’ 2011 age-25 season (.262/.328/.450 with 22 homers) before his career is out., and that could still be underselling his long-term power. You’d really like to see a “can’t miss” college bat with better command of the strike zone (see concern 1 above) as Zunino’s combined BB/K ratio over the past two seasons is just 47 to 72 (park/schedule adjusted), but in a draft with so many question marks at the top, the Florida catcher’s power, defense, and leadership make him a premium pro prospect.
OF Byron Buxton (Appling County HS, Georgia)
Buxton has been covered at length already, so I’ll try to keep this brief. When I told my dad that I had recently compared (via a scout friend) a high school hitter to Mike Schmidt on the site, the long-time Phillies fan looked at me like I was crazy. Again, I don’t think 500+ homers is in Buxton’s future — I’m going out on a big limb with that prediction, I know — but the swing setup (wide base, backed way off from the plate) and bat speed are not entirely dissimilar. The beautiful thing about a prospect like Buxton is that he doesn’t have to hit like a future Hall of Famer to have a legitimately great big league career. This is hardly an original thought, but, man, athletic center fielders with plus range and plus speed are a ton of fun; not only do they offer elite upside, but their defensive upside and speed (never slumps!) give them a much higher floor than almost any other prospect archetype. Just writing this up makes me want to go back and revise the list to push down the one-dimensional first basemen who are all challenged with the slimmest margins for error going forward. Buxton could “not hit” as a pro (there are limits to this, of course: we’re talking “not hit” like not hit like a clear-cut big leaguer, and not not hit like what would happen if I ever got 600 minor league plate appearances…”not hit” requires a certain baseline competence), and still play a meaningful role on a big league club. Buxton’s speed, arm, range, athleticism, and body are all in that hard to fathom top 5% of all baseball players on the planet. If you really believe in his bat — I think he’ll hit, but am less sure of his ultimate power output — then you take him first overall and don’t look back. His remaining tools are all so strong that he’s safely ensconced in this draft’s top ten even if certain scouting departments are less sure about his offensive future.
SS Carlos Correa (Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
Correa represents my mea culpa for underrating Manny Machado in 2010. Their scouting reports read very, very similar, and are best summed up by the abundance of “above-average” and “plus” sprinkled throughout. Correa can throw with the best of them, and his foot speed, bat speed, approach, and range are all well above-average. He’ll need plenty of at bats against quality pitching, so his drafting team will have to be patient, but his experience against high velocity arms is encouraging.
C Stryker Trahan (Acadiana HS, Louisiana)
We covered Trahan the other day (“if Swihart could run…”), but the beauty of his swing bears highlighting once again. I’m no scout, but I like watching hitters hit. It seems to me that the best hitters, especially when at their very best, let the ball get deep in the zone before unleashing the full fury of their barrel through the zone. There are times when it is best to open up early and jump on a fastball, but for the most part I like to see hitters stay back as long as possible, give themselves time to recognize the pitch type and location, and then use the whole field with each swing. You need a discerning eye and quick hands to pull off such a trick with any consistency, and Trahan has both in spades. He’s a really good ballplayer who happens to have tantalizing athletic gifts, and not just a great athlete getting by.
SS CJ Hinojosa (Klein Collins HS, Texas)
At his best, Hinojosa swings the bat with some of the most fluid yet chaotic yet silky smooth violence you’d ever like to see – his level swing and crazy bat speed epitomize the old John Wooten quote “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Defensively, I think he’ll stick up the middle fairly easily, but he’s one of those “tweener” types for some. Tweener is normally a pejorative turn, but in this case I’d say that the two things that Hinojosa is between are average or better shortstop and potential Gold Glove winning third baseman. His strong commitment to Texas and a season-ending shoulder injury should push him down the board, but I’d take him in the first if I thought he could be convinced to sign.