This edition of The Kids Are Alright features another group of prospects to put on your shopping list if you're in the market for outfielders or pitching: Baltimore outfielder L.J. Hoes, Houston outfielder George Springer, and Atlanta right-hander J.R. Graham. These three youngsters have a common thread that binds them together: they're all potential impact players on teams that will be defined by their youth and home-grown talent.
L.J. Hoes, OF, BAL - A quick overview of Hoes provides the picture of a reliable hitter who can steal bases and will stick in the outfield with good speed and defense and an above-average arm.
Baltimore's minor league hitter of the year in 2012, Hoes is the top pure hitter in the Orioles system. His power hasn't developed as the team has hoped and that holds him back a bit, but Hoes does feature above-average plate discipline and a great walk rate. He's seen time at all three outfield positions in his career and has the tools to play anywhere in the outfield.
He made his Major League debut September 25 and got into two games as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. A disappointing turn in the Arizona Fall League could hold him back coming into 2013, but he could cancel that out with a strong spring. Also, the Orioles have a question mark in left with Nolan Reimold, who underwent season-ending neck surgery in June. Even before the injury, Reimold's lack of power was cause for concern. Left field could be Hoes' job to win in 2013.
Ideally Hoes would be an everyday outfielder, likely in left, who will get his fantasy owners hits and steals, He'll hang in due to his hitting and defensive tools. He's currently the third best position prospect in the system and the top outfielder and is poised to become part of the Orioles renaissance that broke the 15-season losing streak in 2012.
George Springer, OF, HOU - I saw Springer play this summer in the California League and he's as good as billed. He's a legitimate five-tool player with the speed and arm to play center or right. He has power to all fields and is a good base stealer.
The Cal League does inflate power numbers, and Lancaster's home ballpark where Springer played is one of the most hitter-friendly yards in the league (perhaps the entire minors). I've seen many Astros prospects come through Lancaster and either get eaten alive as pitchers or rocket to success as hitters only to see the opposite happen once they move onto Double-A.
That said, Springer will hit. He may not again hit 22 home runs like he did in 433 at-bats in Lancaster, but if his power pans out he could be like a Hunter Pence-type right fielder with better defense. The two players are fairly similar: tall white guys with above-average speed and some power.
Springer finished the year strong, which is indicative of his outstanding work ethic. His commitment to constantly improve is what made him a star at the University of Connecticut and it could see him through to a starting job in the Houston outfield as early as the end of the 2013 season. He will likely return to Double-A Corpus Christi to start the year and move to Triple-A Oklahoma City when he's ready.
The Astros organization is heavier on prospects at the lower levels but there's a bumper crop of good players at the upper levels--Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton, who is ranked one spot ahead of Springer as the #2 prospect in the system. Singleton and Springer could both end up in Houston quickly due to shaky situations at both first and center field--and left for that matter.
For those interested in further reading, here is a piece on Springer from last season for MiLB.com.
J.R. Graham, RHP, ATL - Coincidentally I chose two guys who go by initials for this report. Graham is a fairly special case as a power pitcher in the Atlanta organization who could start or close. He turned to starting full time as soon as he was chosen in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft.
He has a history of pitching in relief as a three-year player at Santa Clara in college, and he was a two-way player up until the 2010 year, playing some third base as well.
Now that Graham has been cemented in the starting rotation, he blazed through the Braves system, landing in Double-A Mississippi at the end of the 2012 season. It's easy to see why: his fastball has movement and sits at 93-95 and can reach 97. He has great command. He throws a sinker and a changeup and flourishes as a groundball pitcher. I have visions of inducing batters to beat the ball into the ground, making him a middle infielder's dream come true.
If you count GIDP for pitchers in your fantasy leagues, Graham is an ideal pick. Don't laugh. I've seen it done before. I've even played with that stat in past fantasy leagues.
Graham is undersized for a power pitcher, at six feet tall. He remains durable with 148 innings pitched last year, his first full year in pro ball. Graham showed he was all business right out of the gate when he led the Appalachian League with a 1.78 ERA in 2011.
Since the Braves' rotation is so loaded currently, Graham is likely to become a number 3 starter. He could sneak into Atlanta by the end of the year as a reliever, but the bullpen is almost as crowded as the rotation especially after the recent addition of Jordan Walden. Graham could form an entirely home grown rotation with Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran (currently the top prospect), Brandon Beachy, and Randall Delgado. Add that combination to closer Craig Kimbrel and the Braves look dangerous once again.
I'm on Twitter. Feel free to harass me there: @chelmrtz
More by Chris: