Top 50 MLB prospects for 2012: Nos. 25 thru 1

Bryce Harper tore it up in the AFL and is poised to challenge for a 25-man-roster spot when the Washington Nationals break camp next spring. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

During the now-concluded Arizona Fall League, we got a chance to look at some of the game’s best prospects from each team. Some maintained their status among the elite, some struggled and others put their names on the map for next year. Considering those performances, along with the regular season, here are the top-50 prospects to watch for in 2012. Numbers 50-26 can be seen here.

25. Manny Banuelos, 20, LHP, Yankees
6-7     3.75 ERA     1.55 WHIP     .266 BAA     125 K/71 BB

Banuelos’ numbers took a hit compared to last year when he had a 2.51 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 85 K/25 BB over 64.2 innings. But he is 20, and already pitching at triple-A, so bumps are to be expected. His command issues were a bit unexpected, however. After allowing 3.5 BB/9 in 2010, the number grew to 4.9 this season as he just looked lost at times. Control problems can be fixed, and Manny should be more comfortable with his second go around at triple-A. He features a mid-90s fastball to go along with a slider and change-up that have plus potential.

24. Nolan Arenado, 20, 3B, Rockies
.298     20 HR     122 RBI     2 SB     .349/.487/.836

Some guys just have a knack for knocking in runs. After leading the minors in RBI this season with 122, Arenado finished second in the AFL with 33. Has power to all fields and should be a high-average hitter. He is one of those rare players who doesn’t take walks, but also doesn’t strike out, as shown by his 47 BB/53 K over 583 plate appearances this season. Just an average defender, his bat is what will get him to Coors Field.

23. Brett Jackson, 23, OF, Cubs
.274     20 HR     58 RBI     21 SB     .379/.490/.869

Instead of playing in the AFL, Jackson was invited to represent Team USA in the 2011 World Cup. The team won the silver, finishing second to Canada as Jackson went 14-35 (.400) with a homerun and four RBI over 10 games. The Cubs first-round draft pick in 2009, Jackson is a five-tool player who does just about everything well, without excelling in one particular area. His speed, arm and glove will allow him to remain a centerfielder in the majors, and he could be a 20 HR/20 SB guy for the Cubs as early as this season.

22. Paul Goldschmidt, 24, 1B, Diamondbacks
.306     30 HR     94 RBI     9 SB     .435/.626/1.061

At 6’-3” and 245 lbs, Goldschmidt is a beast who has been raking in the minors since his pro debut in 2009. Over 315 career games, he owns a 1.026 OPS. In 2010, he struck out 161 times to only 57 walks over 138 games. This season, he struck out 92 times to 82 walks over 103 games, showing a dramatic improvement and dedication to his approach at the plate. That hard work carried over to the big leagues as he hit eight home runs and drove in 26 runs while posting an .808 OPS over 156 at bats. Should definitely make the team out of spring training and be their starting first baseman, as well as their clean-up hitter.

21. Robbie Erlin, 21, LHP, Padres
9-4     2.99 ERA     0.95     WHIP .227     BAA 154     K/16 BB

Erlin is Greg Maddux-like in that he won’t overpower you; rather he’ll break you apart piece by piece until you have no idea what your idea was coming to the plate. His 9.6 K/BB far and away led all starters this season, and his 0.95 WHIP ranked third. He is a tactical bulldog who aggressively attacks hitters with whatever he wants, on any count. Acquired by the Padres, along with Joe Wieland, in the Mike Adams trade. Top-of-the-rotation potential.

20. Manny Machado, 19, SS, Orioles
.257     11 HR     50 RBI     11 SB     .335/.421/.756

Machado draws comparisons to Alex Rodriguez because of his size, power, speed and the position he plays. Missed time and struggled a bit during his first full season as he dislocated his knee cap tagging up on a fly ball. Tons of potential, but at just 19, still needs to improve on his plate discipline. His ceiling is as high as anyone on this list.

19. Jameson Taillon, 20, RHP, Pirates
2-3     3.98 ERA     1.20 WHIP     .249 BAA     97 K/22 BB

Taillon is a 6’-6”, 230-lb horse who has command of four pitches. His fastball and curveball look exactly the same upon release, only there is a 10 mph difference between the two. Both pitches rate as plus, with the fastball reaching 95 mph. His slider is a potential plus pitch as well, and his change-up is still developing, as is the case with most players his age. Could start the season at double-A for the Pirates, but they have been cautious with him so far, so we’ll see.

18. Gary Brown, 23, OF, Giants
.336     14 HR     80 RBI     53 SB     .407/.519/.925

Brown is an exceptional athlete with plus/plus speed who should be a major threat on the base paths in the major leagues. Has gap-to-gap power which leads to a ton of extra base hits. He is also a solid defender with a good enough arm and plenty of range to play centerfield. Has a very good approach at the plate as he struck out 77 times while walking 46 times over 638 plate appearances. The Giants need offense, and Brown could provide a spark at the top of the order for them.

17. Taijuan Walker, 19, RHP, Mariners
6-5     2.89 ERA     1.12 WHIP     .202 BAA     113 K/39 BB

Walker was the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year as he proved no match for class-A hitters during his first full season of pro ball. He used his mid-90s fastball and hammer curve to average 10.5 K/9 and held opponents to a .202 batting average. The change-up is always the last pitch to develop for young pitchers, but Walker’s already looks like a future plus offering. At 6’-4” and 200 lbs, he should be a workhorse in the future. Should start the season at double-A.

16. Wil Myers, 20, OF, Royals
.254     8 HR     49 RBI     9 SB     .353/.393/.745

The numbers above don’t look like they belong to one of the top prospects in the game. But Myers battled injuries and might have lost some confidence along the way. After hitting .315 with 14 HR, 83 RBI and a .934 OPS as a 19-year-old, he took a step back this season. He made up for it in the AFL and put his name back among the elite by hitting .360/5 2B/5 3B/5 HR/18 RBI. He also drew a league high 20 walks, finishing with a line of .481/.674/1.156. Myers has an advanced batting eye and across-the-board talent. Projects to a high-average, top-of-the-order hitter who can get on base in many ways.

15. Shelby Miller, 21, RHP, Cardinals
11-6     2.77 ERA     1.18 WHIP     .219 BAA     170 K/53 BB

Miller has one of the best fastballs in the minors, often reaching 99 mph with great movement. His curve and change-up are both above average, and he has good control of all three. What sets him apart is his competitiveness and mound presence. Very aggressive on the mound, he isn’t afraid to attack hitters inside and out, up and down. Was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team policy so there could be some character issues. Dave Duncan is one of the best in the business, so whatever the case, Miller is in good hands.

14. Miguel Sano, 18, 3B, Twins
.292     20 HR     59 RBI     5 SB     .352/.637/.988

Sano’s 162 game projection of .292/44 2B/17 3B/49 HR/145 RBI/13 SB are insane considering he is just 18 years old, the youngest player on this list. Standing at 6’-3” and 210 lbs, there is still room to grow, which is even scarier. Has extremely quick wrists that allow him to catch up to anything thrown to him and uses his raw power to all fields. Still needs to work on his strike-zone judgment, but again, he is 18 years old. Defensively, he might have to move to the outfield. Offensively, he could be Vladimir Guerrero 2.0.

13. Jarrod Parker, 23, RHP, Diamondbacks
11-8     3.79 ERA     1.28 WHIP     .236 BAA     112 K/ 55 BB

Parker has overcome Tommy John surgery to remain one of the best prospects in the game. His fastball still touches 98 mph, and his Frisbee slider is a wipe out pitch. His change-up and curve are both above average, and he has control of all four pitches. He made his major-league debut September 7 against the Dodgers, going 5.2 scoreless innings, giving up four hits. He also worked out of the bullpen for the Diamondbacks during the postseason.

Trevor Bauer could work his way into Arizona's rotation by the end of the season. (Steve Cummings/

12. Trevor Bauer, 20, RHP, Diamondbacks
1-2     5.96 ERA     1.52 WHIP     .257 BAA     43 K/12 BB

The numbers above look pretty bad, but that is the result when you give up 10 earned runs in 1.2 innings like Bauer did this season. The only number you really need to know is 15.1 — Bauer struck out 43 batters over 25.2 innings pitched, good for a 15.1 K/9 ratio. Bauer was the third pick in this year’s draft after putting together one of the most dominating seasons ever by a pitcher. He went 13-2 with an NCAA leading 1.25 ERA and 203 strikeouts over 136.2 innings for UCLA. He primarily throws just two pitches, a fastball and curve, but he throws so many variations of them that hitters never know what is coming, nor can they pick it up from his unorthodox delivery. Should start the season at double-A, with a real shot to make the majors by year’s end.

11. Danny Hultzen, 21, RHP, Mariners
1-0     1.40 ERA      1.09 WHIP     .216 BAA     18 K/5 BB

Hultzen, the second-overall pick in this year’s draft, made his pro debut in the AFL. Over five starts, he was the most impressive pitcher there as he led the league in ERA and held opponents to a .216 average. He mixes a plus-mid-90s fastball with late sink and a deceptive change-up that sits in the 82-85 mph range to keep hitters off balance. The change-up also rates as plus while his slider is above-average and still developing. He has advanced command off all three pitches, but what sets him apart from the rest is his poise and instincts on the mound. He is ultra-aggressive on the hill, not afraid to go in and out at will, and will throw any pitch in any count.

10. Gerrit Cole, 20, RHP, Pirates
2-0     3.00 ERA     0.93 WHIP     .182 BAA     16 K/4 BB

Cole made his pro debut at the AFL and looked every bit the part of a first-overall draft pick. Has three plus pitches in his arsenal, including a four-seam fastball that can hit triple-digits with movement and a two-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90s. As good as those pitches are, his best is his change-up. Hitters gearing up for a 98 mph fastball, then having to adjust to an 86 mph off-speed pitch, which looks the same from the delivery, is simply unfair. His slider is also an above average-offering and getting better. At 6’-4” and 220 lbs, Cole intimidates hitters with his aggressive style and fearlessness on the mound. Roger Clemens comes to mind when watching him pitch.

9. Jesus Montero, 21, C, Yankees
.288     18 HR     67 RBI     .348/.467/.814

Montero is one of the purest hitters on this list. He will hit for a high average and has incredible power to all fields. He hit .328 with 4 HR, 12 RBI and a .996 OPS over 18 games for the Yankees, giving fans a preview of what’s to come. Defensively, not so much. He isn’t very agile behind the plate and allows far too many passed balls. Will most likely be forced to move to left field or DH, especially once Gary Sanchez comes around. Still, the offensive potential has a ton of upside and he could be the front runner for AL Rookie of the Year.

8. Drew Pomeranz, 23, LHP, Rockies
4-3     1.78 ERA     1.05 WHIP     .189 BAA     119 K/38 BB

Pomeranz is a power lefty whose fastball sits in the mid-90s and his curveball is lethal, considered one of the best in the minors. His change-up is still developing, but he can get by right now with his two pitches because of his command. He held opponents to a .189 average while averaging 10.6 K/9, showing his ability to miss bats. He maintained his control during his major-league debut as he struck out 13, while walking just five over 18.1 innings. The fifth-overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Indians was acquired by the Rockies in a trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. Should earn a rotation spot out of spring training and be a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

7. Christian Yelich, 19, OF, Marlins
.312     15 HR     77 RBI     32 SB     .388/.484/.871

Will Clark with speed? Yeah, I’ll take that. The Marlins Minor League Player of the Year is just scratching the surface of his potential. Offensively, Yelich is scary good for a teenager. At 6’-4’, the already powerful Yelich is just going to get even more so. And when he does, 30 HR/30 SB seasons will follow. Has a strong enough arm and plenty of range to hold down a corner outfield spot. The Marlins brought up Mike Stanton at age 20, and Miguel Cabrera at age 19, so they aren’t afraid to call on someone they deem ready. Yelich could join them by reaching the majors before turning 21.

6. Jurickson Profar, 18, SS, Rangers
.286     12 HR     65 RBI     23 SB     .390/.493/.883

Profar is an elite, defensive shortstop. I say that because that is what he was most known for before the season started. Then he went out and destroyed opposing pitchers. The power he generates from his 5’-11”, 165-lb frame is ridiculous as he had 37 doubles and eight triples to go along with his 12 home runs. Those doubles will turn into home runs as his body fills out. Even with his elite defense, plus speed and raw power, the most impressive thing about the 18-year-old is his approach at the plate. Over 518 plate appearances this season, he walked 65 times while only striking out 63 times. There doesn’t seem to be a chink in his armor right now, and with Elvis Andrus locked in at shortstop for the Rangers, Ian Kinsler just got that much more expendable when his contract expires after next season.

5. Tyler Skaggs, 20, LHP, Diamondbacks
9-6     2.96 ERA     1.11 WHIP     .218 BAA     198 K/49 BB

Skaggs is the third D-Backs pitcher in the top 13, giving Arizona fans a glimpse to the kind of long term success this team is in store for. The 6’-4” lefty has one of the filthiest curveballs in the minors and he uses it to wipe hitters out. His fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his change-up is coming along nicely. Has an aggressive disposition on the mound, attacking hitters inside and out, not afraid to challenge. Got better as the season went on, showing the ability to be a workhorse at the next level. The Diamondbacks are suddenly deep in the rotation and can be patient with Skaggs, allowing him to work out some minor tweaks before unleashing him on National League hitters. Will be a fan favorite from day one.

4. Julio Teheran, 20, RHP, Braves
15-3     2.55 ERA     1.18 WHIP     .232 BAA     122 K/48 BB

The Braves are known for their pitching and Teheran is the next great one. Dominated triple-A all season long, finishing among the leaders in many categories. With his Johan Santana-like change-up, and a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, Teheran oozes potential. Has great mound presence and command of all of his pitches. Got a taste of big-league hitting this season, going 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 19.2 innings with 10 K/8 BB. Should make the team out of spring training, but at just 20 years old, fans can expect some bumps along the way. Future ace down the line.

3. Matt Moore, 22, LHP, Rays
12-3     1.92 ERA     0.95 WHIP     .181 BAA     210 K/46 BB

Moore would have led the minors in strikeouts for the third consecutive season had the Rays not given him a September call-up. Still, he put together arguably the best season by anyone in the minors this season. He ranked in the top five in almost every conceivable pitching category, and even tossed a no-hitter for good measure. He continued his success at the major-league level by going 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 9.1 innings with 15 K/3BB, including striking out 11 Yankees over five innings. His fastball is a plus-plus pitch, hitting the upper 90s with great movement. His slider and change should develop into plus pitches, and his command is pinpoint. Has already earned himself a spot in the deep and talented Rays rotation.

2. Mike Trout, 20, OF, Angels
.326     11 HR     38 RBI     33 SB     .414/.544/.958

Trout was named the Minor League Player of the Year this season.  His overall game is unmatched among the top prospects on this list. Blessed with supreme speed, he has been clocked at 3.66 seconds to first — 4.0 seconds is considered elite. Has swiped 102 bases over 266 minor-league games. His speed, range and instincts in the outfield will make him a perennial Gold Glove candidate. Has a career .930 OPS, mostly from the leadoff spot, showing the power/speed capabilities he has. Struggled a bit during his major-league debut, hitting .220 with 5 HR, 16 RBI, 4 SB and a .672 OPS over 40 games, but showed flashes of the player he is going to be.

1. Bryce Harper, 19, OF, Nationals
.297     17 HR     58 RBI     26 SB     .392/.501/.894

After living up to everyone’s expectations as the youngest player at both levels he played at, Harper struggled the first week at the AFL. He started 2-for-28 (.071) and had just one RBI through the first eight games. But great players adjust, and Harper flipped the switch that very few possess. He went on a tear the last 20 games and finished among the leaders in almost every offensive category, hitting .333 with 6 HR, 26 RBI, 4 SB and a 1.034 OPS. Will most likely start the season at double-A, but don’t count him out making the major-league team with another strong spring.

Breakdown of list:

Twenty-six of the 30 major league teams are represented; the Brewers, Indians, Dodgers and White Sox are the only teams left off the list.

The Padres and Diamondbacks lead the way with four players, followed by the Blue Jays, Pirates, Reds, Rangers, Mariners and Yankees with three each.

Positional breakdown:

Right handed pitchers — 16
Left handed pitchers — 7
Catchers — 4
First Base — 3
Second Base — 1
Shortstops — 4
Third Base — 4
Outfield — 11

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