The Carolina League houses 8 teams among 2 divisions in Rhode Island, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina. This High-A league is one of 3 of its kind in the minors. Headliners for 2012 include Christian Villanueva, Xander Bogaerts, Anthony Rendon, and Cheslor Cuthbert. The season is in full gear and so are we with our march through each league.
Carolina League – Southern Division
Clayton Cook, RHP – The 2008 9th round pick returns to the Carolina League with the Indians, this time with the Mudcats who were the Kinston Indians in 2011, not the Mudcats that are now the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Got it? Okay, good! Cook looks to build on a season that saw him go 9-9 with a 4.56 ERA and a 106/53 K/BB ratio over 122.1 innings.
Jake Lowery, C – This 2011 fourth rounder lead the NY-Penn league in 3 categories (BB,XBH,Doubles) last season, and is off to a hot start in 2012. He’s a decent defensive catcher and has a little pop. The Indians thought enough of him to skip right over the MWL.
Ronny Rodriguez, SS – Signed by the Indians in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez is moving up the system quickly. He’s about a week a way from turning 19. As with most young Latin players, he needs to work the plate more and draw some walks. With a power/speed combo, he’s someone to keep an eye on could be ranked much higher by the end of the season.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B – The power potential has always been there for the 2007 international free agent signee from Venezuela, but it arrived with .506 slugging % and 23 HRs in 462 at bats in between the MWL and the Carolina League. His K% went up from 25 to 27% from 2010, but he actually saw a slight decrease when he joined the CL. He could be a break out candidate in 2012 and is off to an 8 for 21 start. Keep him in mind.
Tony Wolters, SS/2B – Drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, Wolters is not going to hit for much power, however plays solid defense, hit for average, and provide some speed. With Kipnis and Cabrera in the middle in Cleveland, Wolters, Rodriguez, and Francisco Lindor will have time to develop. Wolters will see time at 2B and SS in 2012.
Cody Buckel, RHP – The 2010 second round pick caught everyone’s attention by going 8-3 with a 2.61 ERA and posting a 120/27 K/BB ratio over 96.2 innings in 2011 in the Sally. He doesn’t turn 20 until June 18th and I think people will be paying closer attention to him this season.
Roman Mendez, RHP – Like Buckel, Mendez took the Sally by force in 2011. Signed as an international free agent in 2007 from the D.R. Mendez was simply outstanding in his 2012 debut Saturday, picking up the win in a 6 inning, 9 K, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 hit gem. This should be a fun young duo to watch this season.
Tomas Telis, C – Was a 2007 Int/FA signing out of Venezuela. May have had the best 2011 season for a catcher that no one talks about. double digits HR/SS and doesn’t strike out much. The flip side to that is, yes, young Latin player that needs to work the count and take a walk. It’s interesting the Rangers paired Telis and Yefry Castillo in the Carolina League. Both should get plenty of at bats between C and DH.
Christian Villanueva, 3B – It’s almost unfair to think about how good the Rangers organization is from top to bottom. The 2009 Int/Fa signee from Guadalajara, Mexico may be the biggest mover on our 360 chart as the season progresses, he’s that good. Great power/speed combo and has a good eye at the plate. He could become a special player.
Players to watch: Yefry Castillo, C; Odubel Herrera, 2B; Teodoro Martinez, OF; and Jake Skole, OF.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP – Picked 39th overall in the 2010 draft, Ranaudo posted a strong 9-6 record with a 3.97 ERA and a 117/46 K/BB ratio over 127 innings in his pro debut last season. The Red Sox still seem to think that he will be a front line starter. We still think he will top out at a mid rotation guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 2012 should start to tell the story.
Xander Bogaerts, SS – Signed in 2009 with the Red Sox out of Aruba, Bogaerts has not disappointed in his 2 season of pro baseball. We regard him as the top prospect in the Red Sox organization. His development in High-A should be worth watching.
Sean Coyle, SS – The 2010 third round pick has great speed and good pop. He strikes out a ton and it’s unclear if he will ever hit over .250. Should be fun to watch along side of Bogaerts up the middle. Break out candidate.
Jackie Bradley, OF – Many felt that Bradley had slid to the Red Sox at #40 in the 1st round of the 2011 draft, including Bradley. He was seriously thinking of returning South Carolina for 1 more year, but Boston’s over-slot money talked him out of it. He’s a plus defender with a developing bat.
Brandon Jacobs, OF – This 10th round pick in the 2009 draft gained more attention with a breakout 2011 season. He’s still a raw project, but he’s getting noticed and will be worth following this season.
Players to watch: Christian Vazquez, C; Travis Shaw, 3B; Felix Sanchez, OF.
Matthew Heidenreich, RHP – Was selected by the White Sox in the 4th round of the 2009 draft. His command can be an issue at times and is looking more like a set up guy than a true starting pitcher. However, with the White Sox not being super deep, he’s going to get extra opportunities to try to impress.
Trayce Thompson, OF – The 2009 2nd round picked didn’t really impress in 2009 and 2010. However, some of that changed after hitting 24 HRs in 2011. His batting average as awful and his K rate was extremely high. The 21-year-old remains a good talent and will get time to work out some mechanical issues in the Carolina League.
Player to watch: Miguel Gonzalez, C.
Carolina League – Northern Division
Mikel Wright, RHP – Drafted in the third round in 2011, Wright is a power pitcher with mid 90’s gas. He can crank it up to 97 mph in shorter stints and may be headed to the pen before too long. Additional muscle weight added to his 6’5″ frame and the development of his secondary pitches could buy him some more time as a starter.
Ronnie Welty, OF – The 20th round pick in 2008, Welty regressed with some injuries in 2011, but looks to get back on track in 2012 and is flashing some power. He’s 6-17 with 2 triples and 2 HRs on the young season. A potential break out candidate.
Trent Mummey, OF – The 2010 fourth round pick has no plus tools. He has some speed and makes decent contact, but will be tested to improve his pitch recognition in the Carolina League. Very good defender. Looking like a 4th or 5th outfielder potential.
J.R. Graham, RHP – Power fastball from this 2011 fourth round pick. He needs to develop his secondary pitches and without a quality breaking pitch he’s going to be hard pressed to be more than a set up type bullpen pitcher.
Aaron Northcraft, RHP – Decent 2011 season for this 2009 tenth round pick. Doesn’t have over powering stuff for a big pitcher, but is very deceptive with his off speed stuff. Could be a quality middle reliever.
Nick Ahmed, SS – Picked in the second round of the 2011 draft, Ahmed has some speed but no plus tools and lacks the range to play SS long term. Could develop into a nice utility infielder for the Braves.
Tommy La Stella, 2B – After being picked in the eighth round of the 2011 draft, La Stella went on to post a triple slash of.328/.401/.543 in the Sally last season. He’s off to a good start in 2012 and has a legit shot at sticking at 2B.
Edward Salcedo, 3B – One of the highest ceilings in the Braves organization, this 2010 signee from the DR is going to find his way into a major league lineup. What’s not clear is if it will be at 3B, 1B, or the OF.
Matt Lipka, OF – The 2010 first round pick for the Braves has been viewed as a disappointment so far. He’s making the transition to CF where his speed plays. He’s got 40 SB potential and could still end up as a lead off guy in the majors.
Players to watch: Dimasther Delgado, LHP; Robby Hefflinger, OF.
Matt Purke, LHP – Once viewed as a top first round pick, Purke fell to the Nationals in the third round of the 2011 draft. A series of injuries have got in his way. He looked pretty rough in the Arizona Fall League and will try to get off on the right foot in 2012.
David Freitas, C – The 15th round pick in the 2010 draft has impressed in his 2 seasons. He has the ability to get on base and has flashed some pop. He’s an interesting catching prospect to follow in 2012.
Anthony Rendon, 3B – The 6th overall pick in the 2011 draft has a premium bat and plays excellent defense – when he plays. For the same reason that saw him fall out of the #1 overall spot, has kept him out of action in 2012 since the first game. He hurt his ankle rounding 3rd and it could be a few weeks before he gets back into play. Elite talent, fragile player.
Michael Taylor, OF – Drafted by the Nationals in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, Taylor has shown both speed and power mixed in with the inability not to chase every pitch. He looks to take another step forward in his development in 2012.
Yordano Ventura, RHP – Signed out of the DR by the Royals in 2007, Ventura keeps climbing the ladder. He was a little rough around the edges in 2011, but still posted good numbers in the MWL. Big League fastball that can approach 100 mph, with secondary pitches that keep improving. Possible breakout candidate.
Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B – Signed by the Royals as an Int/FA in 2009, Cuthbert hit .267 with 13 doubles and 8 HR in 300 AB, to go along with some injuries in 2011. He will be 19 for the full 2012 season and could really climb the ranks if healthy.
Player to watch: Whit Merrifield, OF.
There you have the Carolina League. We’re punching through the leagues now as the games are being played with players on hot streaks and pitches shutting teams down. We’ll move onto the final leagues over the next week as we’re also finalizing the update to the 360.
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