I'm coming to you weekly now with The Kids Are Alright. This week you can add more names to your fantasy shopping list: a shortstop (possible second baseman) in San Francisco's Joe Panik, an outfielder in Oakland's Michael Choice, and a third baseman in Colorado's Nolan Arenado.
This week's edition also includes a little extra reading. I've interviewed all three of these guys for my weekly feature on the California League with milb.com so I included those pieces for you as well.
Joe Panik, SS, SF - Panik is the second best position prospect behind outfielder Gary Brown (who will appear in a later edition of this column). Panik won the Northwest League Most Valuable Player in 2011 when he hit .341 and had 54 RBIs for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. He followed up that performance by hitting .323 in his first Arizona Fall League tour. The Giants expected big things from him in 2012 and he fell a little flat in advanced-A San Jose and again in the AFL. He hit .297 in San Jose and .205 in the AFL. Keep in mind that Panik had over 600 at-bats in 2012, by far his longest season.
Panik has proven himself as a good contact hitter and he has above-average plate discipline. He's had a solid walks-to-strikeouts ratio at every level. He has the tools to stick at shortstop but may end up at second base due to average arm strength, although he has above-average accuracy on his throws. Like former Giants power hitting shortstop Rich Aurilia, Panik was a standout at St. John's University in New York. Unlike Aurilia, Panik won't blossom into a power hitter. He's a guy who will likely hit .300 and be a solid #2 hitter as an everyday second baseman.
Marco Scutaro just signed a two-year extension and the Giants seem committed to Brandon Crawford at shortstop, so that gives Panik until 2015 to complete Double-A and Triple-A and make the Giants opening day roster as their second baseman. Double-A Richmond is the proving ground for Giants prospects so 2013 is a key year for Panik.
For more about Panik's 2012 season, read the piece I wrote about him here:
Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL - Arenado started his career with a ton of power promise and not much else. Over the last three years he's become a much more balanced player with improved defensive ability at third base and good plate discipline. He won the AFL MVP in 2011 with a .388 average and posted big numbers in the Cal League the same year. 2012 was a down year for him with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs in Double-A Tulsa.
Arenado was a high school prospect and thus pretty raw when the Rockies selected him in the second round of the 2009 Draft. It took a ramped-up conditioning program to mold Arenado into a top prospect. Arenado has been a vastly improved player since he lost about 20 pounds before the 2011 season. His power potential and great defensive tools at third base -- arm strength and accuracy -- give him a chance to be a heart-of-the-order hitter in Colorado.
Right now the Rockies' third base situation is a platoon with Jordan Pacheco, a converted catcher, and Chris Nelson, both serviceable hitters but also former prospects who never really panned out. Colorado has D.J. LeMahieu and Rosell Herrera as potential third baseman, but LeMahieu played more second base in 2012 and Herrera's quite a ways behind everyone as he just wrapped up his year playing for Tri-City in the short-season rookie Northwest League. Should the Rockies want to move away from a platoon at third, Arenado would be the ideal starting third baseman in 2014. That requires him to have a better 2013 season in Triple-A Colorado Springs.
This piece I did on Arenado in 2011 delves more into his defensive development:
Michael Choice, OF, OAK - Choice is the most advanced of this group of prospects and is one of the most advanced power hitters I've seen in my travels covering the California League. He was a top-10 pick for the A's in 2010 and Oakland wasted no time by putting him at the Advanced-A level in his first shot at pro ball. The results said it all: 30 home runs and 82 RBIs. Unfortunately, Choice has the other hallmark of a power hitter: massive strikeouts. He improved upon that a little this past year in Double-A Midland and had a good power year going (10 home runs, 58 RBIs) until he was hit by a pitch on July 21st and broke his wrist. The injury ended his season.
Choice is the A's second highest rated position player behind 2012 first rounder Addison Reed. He has tremendous bat speed and strength and will hit for power to all fields. Another of his drawbacks, his so-so arm strength, might force him to move to another outfield position down the line. The A's will keep an eye on Choice in Triple-A Sacramento, less than two hours north of Oakland.
Oakland is top-heavy on outfield prospects, especially in center field. Grant Green, Aaron Shipman, Bobby Crocker, and Vicmal de la Cruz are all prospects to watch. Green has moved around the diamond a lot over the last two seasons and might end up as the A's second baseman this spring. That said, Choice is head and shoulders above all the aforementioned players. It's hard to tell what the A's will do on any given day; they just sent A.J. Cole back to Washington in a three-way deal.
As for Choice and where he fits into Oakland, center is a likely destination for him. The A's love Yoenis Cespedes in left. Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick are nice, but expendable when you have a prospect like Choice. If Michael Taylor ever gets it together, a Cespedes-Choice-Taylor combo would make for a monster power hitting outfield and would be a foil for the future one-two punch of Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen. Seattle and Oakland's divisional rivalry would be fun to watch.
For more on Choice, read the piece I did on him in June 2011:
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