Over the next nine days I will profile the nine players that I encourage you to pay attention to during the '09 season. These players were not included on BBTiA's Top 25 Prospects list, and they all played in the Arizona Rookie League and above during the '08 season. I excluded all players that were not stateside in '08, but I will focus on the Dominican Summer League prospects before the minor league season begins.
The prospects that will be profiled might not be the biggest names, or have the highest ceilings, but they are the players that I think have a chance to take big steps forward during the '09 season. Who is on your list?
On my list so far:
Cristian Santana has the highest ceiling of any player not currently on BBTiA's prospect list, and despite his struggles, might have one of the highest ceilings of any position prospect in the system. His enormous raw power in combination with his athleticism and baseball IQ point to a player with the tools to be a superstar; unfortunately, even the most favorable scouting reports and projections can't completely mask poor on-the-field results. In '08, regardless of the fact that he was a 19-year-old in full-season ball, Santana took a step back.
As previously mentioned, Santana's power potential is ridiculous. The stout 6' 0," 180-pound Dominican has tremendous raw strength and ultra-quick hands that can punish a baseball if he happens to be lucky enough to connect with it. His approach at the plate isn't horrific, but his pitch recognition is below average and resulted in a 36.9 percent strikeout rate in '08. Again, Santana was only 19 years old and playing in full-season ball despite having only 33 games of professional experience, but those results raise huge warning signs about his future.
In addition to his power, Santana is also an above-average athlete with a strong arm and sound defensive fundamentals. A torn labrum in his right arm put Santana on the shelf for the entire '06 season and has slowed down his development behind the plate thanks to periods of swelling and weakness associated with the shoulder. As a result, Santana saw limited action behind the dish during the '08 season, spending most of his time in either left field or as a designated hitter. If 100 percent healthy (which he should be in '09), Santana's defensive skill set should make him an above-average defensive catcher. Thanks to the injuries (shoulder, thumb) and the lack of experience behind the plate, Santana is still quite raw, but should continue to show improvement if given steady playing time.
Look for Santana to repeat the Low A level in '09, with a chance to reach High-A Bakersfield if everything clicks. The natural talent is so extreme that despite the poor results, Santana should still be considered a top position prospect in this system. If he can continue to refine his approach at the plate, and clean up his swing mechanics, Santana could be a player that absolutely explodes.