Possible Sleepers/Breakouts, NL WEST
Matt Downs, UT, San Francisco Giants
Downs was a 36th round pick in 2006, from the University of Alabama. Not overtly toolsy, he's forced his way into prospect status due to his hitting (.310/.371/.492 in his career thus far) and versatility. He also runs well enough to steal 24 bases last year, and is fundamentally sound in most respects. His range is likely too limited for shortstop, but he can play second base, third base, first base, and the outfield corners without hurting you, giving him a chance to be a handy super-utility player. He turns 25 this month, so the clock is ticking on his status as a prospect.
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Eovaldi is not a typical sleeper. . .he ranks 10th in the Baseball America Dodgers prospect list. . .but he hasn't quite broken through into the general baseball consciousness yet, being more familiar to draft fanatics and player development fetishists. But for you non-kinky types, here is a rundown. Eovaldi was drafted in the 11th round last year out of high school in Texas, but would have gone much higher if not for 2007 Tommy John surgery and a Texas A&M scholarship. Eovaldi can hit 96 MPH when things are going well, flashes a good curveball, but needs to refine his changeup. He posted an 11/3 K/BB in his first 11 pro innings, and has the raw ability to vault ahead of other more-heralded moundsmen this spring.
Shane Lindsay, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Lindsay got some notice as a hot prospect a few years ago, but he missed part of 2006 and all of 2007 with a torn labrum, falling off the radar. A broken hand (caused in a bar fight) limited him to 71 innings in A-ball last year, but at least he has his stuff back: 92-96 MPH fastball, and a nasty breaking ball. His changeup is still shaky and his command remains a problem, but you have to pay attention to a guy who has struck out 311 hitters in just 222 career innings.
Wynn Pelzer, RHP, San Diego Padres
A ninth round pick out of the University of South Carolina in 2007, Pelzer went 9-6, 3.19 with a 100/32 K/BB in 118 innings for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League in '08, credible though not terrific performance. But it is better than what he did in college, where he struggled with his command, and scouts point to a 91-94 MPH fastball as a sign of potential. His breaking ball is also quite good, but his changeup and splitter need work, and his command within the strike zone is still wobbly. I saw him pitch in college and was impressed with his arm strength, and I still think he's got significant development potential.
Clay Zavada, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Zavada was originally signed by the Diamondbacks as a 30th round pick in 2006 from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. He pitched well in the Pioneer League, but was released at his own request due to family reasons after the death of his father. He sat out 2007, then came back to the game in 2008, first in the independent Frontier League, then re-signing with Arizona. He posted a 0.51 ERA with a 54/5 K/BB in 35 innings for South Bend, with just SIX hits allowed. Zavada has a decent fastball in the 89-91 range, and both his curveball and changeup have potential. His command is obviously sharp, and if he maintains that at higher levels he could be a very nice LOOGY. At worst he's a great human interest story.