Potential Sleepers/Breakouts, NL CENTRAL
Sam Freeman, LHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Freeman was a 32nd round pick last year, from the University of Kansas. He was, um, "less than successful" in college, posting a 8.53 ERA with a 20/20 K/BB in 32 innings last year, allowing 45 hits. He was much better as a pro, posting a 3.42 ERA with a 38/13 K/BB in 26 innings between the Appalachian and Florida State Leagues, thanks to a mechanical tweak that greatly improved his command. Freeman, an excellent athlete who was an outfielder in junior college, can hit 94 MPH and has a promising breaking ball. If he maintains his command, he could end up being a very useful asset.
Matt Hague, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
Hague was a ninth round pick last year from Oklahoma State. He hit .321/.384/.470 in his pro debut, 57 games in the Sally League, showing decent plate discipline and a low strikeout rate with a 20/28 BB/K in 215 at-bats. Two questions; how much power at higher levels does he show? And will his defense be good enough at third base? He has a strong arm but limited range may move him to first base, which would increase the pressure on his bat. There's been talk of him in right field as well. I find the bat intriguing, but we'll have to see where it fits.
Chris Hicks, RHP, Houston Astros
Gotta look deep for sleepers in the Houston system, but here is an interesting one. Drafted in the 18th round last year out of Georgia Tech, Hicks pitched poorly in college but was more effective in limited action as a pro, posting a 13/3 K/BB in eight innings for Tri-City in the New York-Penn League, allowing three hits and three runs. Much better than the 8.67 ERA with 23/14 K/BB he put up in 27 college innings. He can hit 95 MPH, has a nasty curveball and slider, and is athletic and projectable. If he continues to improve his command, Hicks could take a big step forward this year.
Cody Scarpetta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
An 11th round pick in 2007 out of high school in Illinois, Scarpetta came to my attention because I like to track the cold-weather Midwest high school pitchers, on the theory that they are overlooked/underdrafted. A finger injury hurt his stock and has slowed him down, but when healthy he shows a 90-94 MPH sinker and a good curveball. He's pitched just 36 pro innings, but with a 2.23 ERA and a 58/16 K/BB. I think Scarpetta is a major sleeper going forward.
Juan Carlos Sulbaran, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Sulbaran was drafted in the 30th round last year out of high school in Florida, but could have gone much higher were it not for a University of Florida scholarship. He signed for $500,000 and hasn't pitched yet, but the scouting reports look intriguing to me: 90-94 MPH fastball, curveball, changeup, reportedly has sharp command and a good feel for pitching. If the scouting reports of above average stuff with control are accurate, how can he not be a sleeper and breakthrough candidate?
Logan Watkins, 2B, Chicago Cubs
I really love RHP Jay Jackson, but I've mentioned him before and figured someone more obscure would be more interesting for you. One option is Logan Watkins, drafted in the 21st round last year out of high school in Goddard, Kansas. Watkins would have gone much higher than the 21st round but teams were scared off by a Wichita State scholarship. The Cubs signed him for $500,000, then he hit .325/.462/.363 in rookie ball. A terrific athlete, Watkins is a left-handed hitter with excellent strike zone judgment, but lacks power right now. It's also unclear where he fits with the glove. . .there has been talk about him as both a center fielder and shortstop. We need more information here, but Watkins certainly bears close watching going forward.