5 Minor League Hitters to Watch in 2012

With the first minor league full-squad workout having been held today, it is a good time to take a look at some of the better bats in the Rays' system and see who bears monitoring in 2012. Whether it is because they are poised for a breakout or making their professional debut, here are some of the hitters to keep a close eye on this season.

This continues our series of 2012 Previews that began earlier this week with 5 Minor League Pitchers to Watch in 2012.

OF Mikie Mahtook (DNP): The Louisiana native will make his Rays' debut this season after turning some heads during the Arizona Fall League last year. The 22-year-old hit .338 (23-for-68) with 3 HR, 14 RBI and 5 SB in 18 games during AFL play, and put to rest some questions about how his bat would translate at the next level. The toolsy outfielder, who helped LSU win the College World Series Championship in 2009, has to some degree, already proven that he can hit top-notch pitching, as some of the best young arms in the game were in Arizona last fall.

Mahtook should start 2012 at High-A Charlotte and will be getting at least a look in center field. His plus arm would make a him a premium defender in right however, and regardless of where he plays (both in the field and in the organization), he should find success and projects to move through the system rather quickly.

3B Tyler Goeddel (DNP): Another 2011 first-rounder who did not play in the system last season, Goeddel and his hit tool have many scouts salivating. He has a multitude of other tools as well, including a plus arm and the speed to eventually move to centerfield. Highly projectable at 6'4" and 180 lbs., Goeddel spent this off-season working on gaining weight after he lost nearly 15 pounds due to a bout of mono last spring as a senior in high school.

The 19-year-old native of Hillsborough, CA, whose brother, Eric, is a pitcher in the Mets system, has been splitting time between third base and shortstop so far at Instructs and the Winter Development Program. However, with a multitude of shortstops at the same level in the system, he seems likely to start his career as the third-sacker at Princeton. No one would be surprised if he hits right away and he could very easily become one of the system's top bats in short order.

SS Derek Dietrich (Low-A Bowling Green): Hitting 22 HR and driving in 81 (which was first and fourth respectively in the Rays' system), put Dietrich firmly on the prospect radar last season. Drafted out of Georgia Tech in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, Dietrich slugged .502 for Bowling Green last season and was named the Best Power Hitter in the Rays farm system by Baseball America earlier this year. The ability to make consistent contact as he moves up in the system (128 K's in 480 at bats in 2011), remains a concern. But in a system that is relatively devoid of power hitters, Dietrich is an intriguing talent.

There are whispers that he will move to the hot corner this year and his power and arm will play well there. He had 25 errors at shortstop last season and with so many talented players at the position both ahead of and behind him in the system, third base seems like the spot on the diamond that offers him the greatest chance of advancing to the majors at this point. He should be at High-A Charlotte this season and if he can hit .277 again while cutting down on his strikeouts some, we could be looking at the system's best hitter come next season.

C Oscar Hernandez (Rookie VSL Rays): After last season's ridiculous numbers in the Venezuelan Summer League, Oscar Hernandez has become almost a mythic figure in the Rays' blogosphere. With precious few scouting reports available and the knowledge that the VSL Rays play in a tiny ballpark, everyone wants to know: Is this kid legit?

That question will be answered soon, as Hernandez figures to play in a stateside rookie league in 2012. The 18-year-old won the the VSL Triple Crown by hitting .402 with 21 HR and 66 RBI in 69 games and 239 at bats. Pretty ridiculous numbers by any standard, Hernandez was a man among boys in Venezuela last season, but will face much better pitching in the United States. Still, he was so much better than anyone else in the VSL last year that it is hard to imagine that there isn't quite a bit of talent present. We will soon see if Hernandez's season last year was a sign of a star in the making or just the product of being the only big fish in an otherwise very weak pool of talent.

1B Jeff Malm (Short-Season A Hudson Valley): Malm was a very highly regarded hitter when he was drafted by the Rays in the 5th round of the 2009 June Amateur Draft. In fact, Baseball America ranked him as the top high school first baseman in that draft and according to the National Federation of High School Sports, Malm is the all-time career high school hits leader with 277. Until last season at Hudson Valley though, he had shown very little at the plate.

The 21-year-old left-handed first baseman had a .257/.382/.462 slash line in 73 games and 249 at bats last year for Hudson Valley and figures to get his first crack at full-season ball this season. His respectable year was largely due to a hot month of July when he hit .314 with 9 HR and 27 RBI and he has already shown the tendency to go into prolonged slumps. He showed enough last year to inspire hope that he is close to figuring it all out and given his age and talent, a full season at Bowling Green may be just what he needs to finally deliver on the promise he showed as an amateur.

John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.


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