Four Breakout Prospects for 2012
Here are four 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.
Mike Kickham, LHP, San Francisco Giants: A sixth round pick in 2010 from Missouri State University, Kickham is a physical 6-4, 220 pound lefty with a low-90s fastball. He also has a slider, curveball, and changeup, with the slider being the best of his secondary pitches. Kickham was bothered by blister problems last spring, and his performance in the '11 South Atlantic League doesn't stand out as anything positive on the surface: he posted a 4.11 ERA with a 5-10 record. However, his component ratios were decent, with a 103/37 K/BB, and his FIP was better than his ERA at 3.48. He ended the season with a 2.23 ERA and a 25/5 K/BB in his last 36 innings. Kickham needs some refinement, but he's got a chance to break out as a back-of-the-rotation starter or as a reliever.
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlanta Braves: Drafted in the 11th round last June from Coastal Carolina University, La Stella is a 5-11, 185 pound left-handed hitter. His pro debut got off to a terrific start with a .328/.401/.543 run in the South Atlantic League after signing, a very successful transition to pro ball. He has an unconventional swing but plenty of bat speed to go with sound strike zone judgment. La Stella isn't a great defender and could end up in left field, but the bat is strong enough for him to qualify as a possible breakthrough guy.
Brenny Paulino, RHP, Detroit Tigers: Paulino is a super-projectable 19-year-old signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. Tall and lean at 6-5, 185, he was successful in the Gulf Coast Rookie League last year with a 2.36 ERA and a 45/18 K/BB in 46 innings with 34 hits allowed. Tigers fans are aware of him, but he hasn't received much national attention yet. That could change, since he already throws 92-95 MPH and more velocity is possible as he fills out. Paulino's curveball and changeup need work and his command within the strike zone remains inconsistent, but the upside here is quite high and he made progress refining it last year.
Donn Roach, RHP, Los Angeles Angels: Roach was a third round pick from the Junior College of Southern Nevada in 2010. A 22-year-old 6-1, 200 pounder, he started in JC ball and was very successful, but the Angels worked him in the bullpen last year at Low-A Cedar Rapids. As a result, he's fallen off many prospect lists. There are still things to like here. Roach posted a 3.45 ERA with a 68/20 K/BB in 70 innings last year with 73 hits allowed, but his FIP was much better than his ERA at 2.43. He is an extreme ground ball pitcher (3.55 GO/AO, just one homer) but his sinker has good velocity in the low-90s. He has a decent slider and a very good splitter that he uses in changeup counts. Roach's delivery is a bit complicated, but he usually throws strikes and the arm strength is here. He may end up returning to starting.