2011 MiLB Breakout Prospects

Every year numerous prospects burst onto the national scene and make a name for themselves; vaulting up prospect ranking lists in the process and earning praise as the next big thing in Major League Baseball. Last year that list included players like Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Mariners starter Michael Pineda. Which players should you be paying attention to in 2011?

Jason Adam (RHP) – Kansas City Royals
The Royals don't really need another breakout prospect, but Adam is likely to turn plenty of heads this summer. Signed for $800,000 in the fifth round last year, Adam may not make his pro debut until the short-season leagues get underway, but that hasn't stopped him from generating plenty of buzz throughout Arizona. Routinely touching 96 mph with his fastball and showing exceptional mound presence, Adam will likely see full-season ball at some point this year, and he could shoot through an already loaded KC farm system.

Parker Bridwell (RHP) – Baltimore Orioles
Bridwell pitched just 5 2/3 innings in 2010 after joining the Orioles as an over-slot signing out of the tenth round. That limited experience will keep him in extended spring training for a while this year, but that shouldn't tarnish his potential at all. An exceptional athlete with an ideal pitcher's frame, Bridwell works in the 90-92 range consistently and he shows promise with both his breaking ball and change-up. He may not be a star in the making quiet yet, but with the Orioles recent history of developing young pitchers, he's a name you should know now.

Mauricio Cabrera (RHP) – Atlanta Braves
Just a teenager that likely won't see serious game action until the GCL season starts in June, Cabrera is already owns a very physical 6-foot-2, 185 pound frame. International scouts loved the advanced feel he showed for his curveball with one scout tossing a future plus-plus grade on the pitch. His fastball was into the upper-80s at the time of his big money signing last summer, but reports from the fall had him reaching the 90-91 mph range. The Braves are notorious for developing their young pitchers, and Cabrera could be the next in that lineage.

Garin Cecchini (3B) – Boston Red Sox
Yet another 2010 draftee, Cecchini required over $1.3 million to sign with the Red Sox, after many teams considered him too tough of a sign after tearing the ACL in his right knee three months before the draft. Cecchini is a very advanced hitter for his age with a smooth swing, good pitch recognition and contact skills, and plenty of power projection. With his offensive profile and his projection as a defender, Cecchini could be part of the next wave of prospects that helps rebuild the Boston system after off-season trades took several of their top players.

Jarred Cosart (RHP) – Philadelphia Phillies
Despite making just 14 starts with Low-A Lakewood because of nagging arm problems last season, the Phillies pushed Cosart to High-A Clearwater and the Florida State League. Armed with a plus-plus fastball with exceptional late life and a promising power curveball, Cosart has the raw potential to be a number two starter or a shutdown closer. His ability to command his fastball and stay healthy are the only things holding him back from being one of the top pitching prospects in the game.

Kaleb Cowart (3B) – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
A deadline signing for $2.3 million, Cowart drew plenty of attention both as a pitcher and as a hitter during his amateur career. A switch-hitter, Cowart has power from both sides of the plate and he could be a 25-30 home run type at his peak. It could take him some time to adjust to professional grade pitching, but Cowart's ceiling as a heart of the order run producer is impossible to ignore. The Angels will take it easy with him to start the 2011 season, but he could see time with Low-A Cedar Rapids in the near future.

Renato Nunez (3B) – Oakland Athletics
Nunez will receive attention from prospect watchers simply because of the size of his signing bonus, coming in at a whopping $2.2 million. Once he gets underway in the Dominican Summer League in 2011, money may not be the only reason people are talking about him, as Nunez owns one of the most talked about bats in the 2010 international signing class. With projection to hit for average and power at an elite level, Nunez's bat has the raw potential to achieve an All-Star level ceiling. He may not see the United States until after the 2011 season, but if he hits as expected, you may know his name anyway.

Cesar Puello (OF) – New York Mets
Just 20-years old, the often aggressive Mets didn't hesitate to send Puello to High-A to start the 2011 season after a 2010 second half tear in the South Atlantic League left him with a .292/.375/.359 line for the season. A plus-plus runner with excellent athleticism, some scouts also see potential for above-average power down the line. He has a strong arm that could play in right field if he improves his outfield defense. Scouts may differ on his ultimate offensive ceiling – top versus middle of the order bat – but they are unanimous that he could be an impact big leaguer.

Neil Ramirez (RHP) – Texas Rangers
Those who pay close attention to the Rangers have been pointing a finger at Ramirez as a breakout player for over a year now, and it's finally time for him to become a national name. A first round pick in 2007, Ramirez has taken a while to come along, but the 6-foot-3 right-hander shows mid-90s velocity and a hammer curveball. In his first start with High-A Myrtle Beach Ramirez allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out nine batters in just 4 2/3 innings. With that type of dominance and the outstanding stuff he showed throughout the spring, he could be on his way to Double-A in short order.

Zach Wheeler (RHP) – San Francisco Giants
Wheeler was the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft and if it weren't for a pesky finger nail problem that limited him to under 60 innings last summer, he might already be considered one of the top pitching prospects in the minor leagues. Wheeler's best weapon is a downright filthy sinking fastball that sits around 92-94 mph and can get up to 97 when he reaches back for more. He works low in the zone and can be almost impossible to lift, a trait that could be put to the test in the California League this year. His ultimate potential rests as a top of the rotation stud, and it is hard to argue against his chances with the Giants ability to develop starters like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez.

Honorable Mention:
Jorge Alfaro (C) – Texas Rangers, Tyrell Jenkins (RHP) – St. Louis Cardinals, Rafael Ortega (OF) – Colorado Rockies, J.P. Ramirez (OF) – Washington Nationals

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