Top 5 Overachieving MLB Prospects of 2012

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I’ll be the first to admit it: Sometimes it’s hard not to get wrapped up in a specific prospect’s performance. So when I see a player like C.J. Cron hit 27 home runs with 122 RBI but walk only 17 times in the California League, I’m forced to temper all excitement.

Every year there are prospects like Cron who post gaudy offensive statistics as an older player in a younger league. While such performances frequently are a result of overachievement, they also can be highly deceptive.

Here’s a breakdown of five of the greatest overachievers throughout the minor leagues this season.

Cory Spangenberg, 2B, San Diego Padres

2012 Stats (A+): .271/.324/.352, 21 XBH, 27 SB, 72 K/26 BB (98 G)

The No. 10 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Spangenberg batted .316/.419/.418 and reached Low-A in his professional debut last season. Considered to have one of the more advanced bats in the 2011 draft class, the Padres expected the left-handed hitter to move quickly through their system.

However, Spangenberg offered only mediocre production this season at High-A, as his strikeout and walk rates moved in divergent directions. With a quick, compact swing, it’s surprising that the 21-year-old posted a paltry 8.2 percent line-drive rate, which was well below the 14.2 percent California League average.

Leon Landry, OF, Seattle Mariners

2012 Stats (A+): .341/.371/.584, 65 XBH (18 3B), 74 RBI, 27 SB, 66 K/19 BB (104 G)

Landry posted a .667 OPS and stole 28 bases in his full-season debut last season at Low-A Great Lakes, and was in the midst of a breakout campaign (.917 OPS, 20 SB in 80 games) at High-A when the Dodgers traded him to Seattle for Brandon League at the deadline.

Despite playing for a new organization, Landry stayed in the hitter-friendly California League where he only built upon his first-half production.

Did he have an impressive season? Yes. But the left-handed hitter’s .372 BABIP is unsustainable considering that he walked only 19 times in 104 games this season, and posted a .281 BABIP in 2011.

Thomas Neal, OF, Cleveland Indians

2012 Stats (AA): .314/.400/.467, 37 XBH (12 HR), 11 SB, 71 K/46 BB (117 G)

MLB: .154/.154/.231, RBI, 3 K (4 G)

In his first full season with the Indians, Neal—a once highly regarded outfield prospect in the Giants’ system–enjoyed his best statistical season to date at or above Double-A. Now 25 years old, his performance ultimately earned him a call-up by the Indians on Sept. 1.

Traditionally, Neal has been strikeout-prone during his six minor league seasons, so his 71/46 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season was a surprise and should be attributed to his age relative to the level. So, expect the jump from Double-A to the major leagues to be a challenge.

George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

2012 Stats (A+, AA): .305/.386/.531, 55 XBH (24 HR), 86 RBI, 31 SB, 154 K/62 BB (126 G)

In his first full professional season, Springer proved to be one of the more toolsy outfield prospects in the game, and was ranked as the No. 47 prospect in my Midseason Top 50 Update. Although it was his age-22 season, the right-handed hitter’s 24 home runs and 31 stolen bases were among the best power-speed numbers in the game.

Despite fanning 154 times (26.7 K percent) in 126 games, Springer still managed to post a .305 batting average between High-A and Double-A thanks to a combined .393 BABIP.

Jarrett Parker, OF, San Francisco Giants

2012 Stats (A+): .249/.367/.446, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 27 SB, 173 K/69 BB (120 G)

Playing for High-A San Jose for the second straight season, Parker, 23, once again flashed his power-speed potential by launching 15 home runs and stealing 27 bases. He also posted an .813 OPS thanks to an improved line-drive rate (20.3 percent) and on-base skills (14.2 BB percent).

However, that’s what expected from a 23-year-old repeating an A-ball league. That’s why Parker’s 35.5 percent strikeout rate—up from 25.2 percent in 2011—is a serious concern, and his .391 BABIP suggests a further regression in 2013.

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