OF, Kelvin De Leon: There might not be another prospect in the Yankee farm system right now who needs a breakout season more than the slugging right-hander. He has always had good tools - solid speed, above average arm strength, and plus big league power potential - but his inability to hit let alone lay off of good breaking pitches is really stunting his growth as a player.
He hit a career-low .221 with the Charleston RiverDogs in 2011 a year after hitting just. .236 for the Staten Island Yankees, and his whopping 147 strikeouts in Charleston are a very worrisome problem going forward since conventional wisdom suggests that the breaking balls are only going to get better as he moves up. Now 21 years old, the 2012 season is going to be a make or break year for him most likely or else he could become a quick afterthought in the organization.
C, Kyle Higashioka: 'Higgy' isn't in the same place as De Leon in regards to needing a breakout season to have any long-term future with the organization because his plus defensive game and power potential should at least keep him in potential reserve role discussions down the road, but he does need to finally post the kind of production most scouts believe he's capable of acheiving.
He has great strike zone discipline and he has a knack for putting the ball in play, and the kind of power where he could be a real big run producer, but his offensive numbers haven't come close to matching his natural skill-set and he needs to shake off the .231 and .225 batting averages he has posted over the past two seasons or else he will get overrun by the likes of J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez, Isaias Tejeda, and Greg Bird coming up behind him at the catcher's position.
OF, Melky Mesa: It may be a little rough to put Mesa into this category considering it was just one year ago that he was coming off of a Florida State League Hitter of the Year campaign where he clubbed 19 home runs and stole 30 bases, but the soon to be 25-year old will be entering his seventh professional season in 2012 and he needs another productive year to have any shot of becoming a starting outfielder candidate for the big league team, even in the short-term.
Like De Leon, Mesa toiled in the lower minor league levels struggling with good breaking pitches but to his credit he made marked improvements in that area of his game in his career-year in 2010. Injuries were a big factor in preventing him from having another strong season last year, but the fact is his window of opportunities is rapidly closing. Now a member of the 40-man roster, he needs another strong breakout season to keep his spot in the organization going forward.
1B, Reymond Nunez: Though he isn't in quite the same dire straits as fellow Dominican native Kelvin De Leon, Nunez, now 21 years old, is at a career crossroads of his own. Like De Leon he has incredible power to all fields that could make him a big-time force going forward, but while his susceptibility to better breaking pitches isn't nearly as bad as De Leon's, he too needs to prove he can handle them better in the immediate future.
He tackled the New York Penn League better than De Leon, hitting a respectable .272 with 20 doubles for Staten Island in 2011, but he struck out 80 times in just 69 games and he is going to see a lot more offspeed pitchers once he gets into the long-season leagues this upcoming season. Some nagging injuries in 2010, including a bad hamstring injury, hindered his progress somewhat but now he needs to make up for lost time with a strong 2012 campaign to get into legitimate prospect discussions.
3B, Bradley Suttle: Mesa being 25 years old at the Double-A level is a problem from an an age standpoint and that speaks volumes when considering Suttle will play the 2012 season as a 26-year old. He has always had the top-shelf ceiling talent-wise and two shoulder surgeries have certainly hampered his development over the years, but he picked a bad time to have a down year last season after hitting a career-low .215 with Double-A Trenton.
Ultra-patient at the plate, almost to a fault, he has to get back to his aggressive hitting style of attacking strikes earlier in the count that employed in the second-half of the 2010 season that was a key factor in the Tampa Yankees winning the Florida State League Championship. He has the type of talent to quickly resurrect his once top prospect status, but time is out -- he needs to break out in the worst way in 2012.
Five Needing Breakout Seasons
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