Four More Breakout Prospects for 2012
Here are four more baseball prospects who could conceivably have big breakout seasons in 2012. For purposes of this exercise, I am ignoring any player who got a Grade B or higher from me in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. The idea is to find guys who are currently under-the-radar but have a chance to jump forward into greater prominence this year.
A.J. Griffin, RHP, Oakland Athletics: Griffin was drafted in the 13th round in 2010 from the University of San Diego. A well-built 6-5, 215 pound right-hander, he has an average fastball in the 88-92 range, but it plays up due to his command and a very effective curveball and changeup. He had an excellent season in 2011 but it was easy to overlook: his numbers were split between four levels. Between Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, Griffin posted a combined 3.47 ERA with an excellent 156/32 K/BB in 161 innings with 145 hits allowed. His performance in Double-A was mixed: a 20/11 K/BB in 32 innings with 39 hits, but overall he had a solid season that deserved more notice than it received. He has a shot as a fourth starter or reliever.
Destin Hood, OF, Washington Nationals: Hood is a 6-1, 225 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born April 3, 1990. A second round pick in 2008 from high school in Mobile, Alabama, Hood is a tools player who struggled with plate discipline in the low minors, but took a big step forward in '11. He hit .276/.364/.445 with 13 homers, 21 steals, and 58 walks in 463 at-bats for High-A Potomac, setting career-bests in most categories. He also dramatically improved his defense and his baserunning. Hood will move to Double-A this year and if he maintains his progress he could be a regular outfielder eventually. He was a raw athlete a year ago, but is much more of a genuine baseball player now.
J.C. Sulbaran, RHP, Cincinnati Reds: Sulbaran was a 30th round draft pick in 2008 from high school in Plantation, Florida. His draft position is deceptive: it cost $500,000 to buy him away from the University of Florida. Sulbaran runs his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s and has made progress with his curve and changeup. He's easy to overlook due to a career 4.89 ERA, including a 4.60 mark in the High-A California League last year, but his component ratios are stronger, especially his K/IP ratio (338 in 309 career innings). His FIP was quite good at 3.12 for Bakersfield. His development has been slowed by mechanical issues and concerns about his maturity, but he's made significant progress and further improvements will result in a breakout.
Christian Villanueva, 3B, Texas Rangers: People who follow Rangers prospects closely are familiar with this guy, but he's still also has a under-the-radar somewhat nationally and deserves more attention than he's received. Signed out of Mexico in 2008, he demonstrated a fine power/speed game in the Sally League last year, hitting 17 homers and stealing 32 bases with an overall .278/.338/.465 line. Scouts like his swing and he has decent plate discipline, plus he's just 20 years old. He also has a very strong glove at third base, although the Rangers are crowded at that position and he may end up playing second base in the long run. Villanueva has an impressive combination of youth, tools, and skills and could break through in a big way this year.