Spring training has started, and prospects are showing up and getting ready for the season, hoping for a major league roster spot. Or at least a good look, and a place in the high minors. Among the prospects are those from Europe, hoping for their chance to prove themselves.
From my world of baseball comes the list of the top-10 European prospects:
1. Jurickson Profar (Rangers) - Jurickson was signed by the Rangers from Curacao for $1.55 million. He led the Curacao liitle league team to the championship as an 11 year old and got them to the finals as a 12 year old. Many preferred him as a pitcher since his fastball has been clocked at 93. He wants to play shortstop and the Rangers were willing to grant him his wish as a position player. He doesn’t have outstanding range for the position, but he has a good arm and good hands to play it well. His big challenge will be with his bat. He has to show that he can hit enough to play in the major leagues. If he can’t he can always move back to the mound.
2. Max Kepler OF (Twins) - Sometimes, the less you know about a player the better he is. Greg Halman was on this list last year as the top prospect until his challenges to make contact dropped him to number four. Kepler is the same type of athletic player as Halman and the Twins signed him for $800,000. Max is from Germany and with plus speed should have no problem playing defense in the centerfield. He also has some raw power, but at 17 years old it can be difficult to determine how that power will develop. He will not graduate from high school until 2011, so don’t expect to see him in a full season league until he graduates.
3. Alex Liddi 3B (Mariners) - He gets a lot of criticism for the offensive numbers he put up in what was a small ball park in High Desert. He had plenty of teammates that could have put up the same numbers but only Alex hit .345 with 23 homeruns and 104 RBIs, falling just short of the Triple Crown. Alex is from Italy and does have a good stroke that can generate power numbers, so those homeruns are not a mirage. A big key will be whether he can repeat those numbers as he moves up to AA. The good thing is that he is also a good defensive player for third base, so if he doesn’t hit he can help you defensively. Unfortunately, he does not have enough speed to slip into the outfield spot so it will be best for his career if he continues to swat the balls out of the park.
4. Greg Halman OF (Mariners) - He certainly has the tools but he has to learn to make contact. His year got off to a poor start when he struck out nine times in 11 at bats for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. The team needed his bat, but they were able to ride their pitching to advance past the first round for the first time, upsetting the Dominican Republic. Those strikeouts continued in the minor leagues with 191 whiffs and a .210 average. He should have enough range to cover centerfield and the arm to fit in right. His power is tremendous but he has to learn to make contact to take advantage of it. Almost half his hits went for extra bases last year.
5. Bryan Berglund RHP (Marlins) - Bryans’s claim to fame is that he is the first Swedish player drafted in the major leagues, selected in the second round by the Marlins. He was born in Sweden, but when his parents divorced he moved with his mom to California where he played his high school ball. At 6′4″ he has a good pitcher’s frame with a fastball that travels in the low 90s. As he adds muscle the velocity of his fasball should increase, as well as his durability. He also throws a slider and change. Bryan signed too late to play in 2009 so he will make his debut in 2010.
6. Loek Van Mil RHP (Twins) - He should be the first player on this list to make it to the major leauges and when he does he will become the tallest player to ever play in the major leagues. Loek is 7′1″ so it takes a lot of body movement to get consistency in his delivery. Loek is from the Netherlands and missed out closing for them in the Olympics in Beijing because of an arm injury. He appears healthy now with a mid 90s fastball and a wicked slider. Command of those pitchers is his biggest problem. He got a late start to the season in 2009 because of the rehab to the arm injury, but when he started pitching he pitched well enough to be promoted to AA. He should start there in 2010 and if he does well the major leagues awaits.
7. Kenley Jansen RHP (Dodgers) - Myworld watched Kenley when he was catching at the World Baseball Classic and we liked the presence he showed on the field as a catcher. The Dodgers apparently didn’t like him as a catcher and switched him to the mound in 2009. His defense behind the plate was solid but his career minor league average was only .229. Since he can throw a fastball in the mid-90s they thought they should give him a try on the mound and in 2009 he made 12 appearances with a 4.63 ERA. He needs to develop other pitchers besides his fastball, but at 22 he is still young enough to master the other pitchers. Kenley is from Curacao.
8. Mariekson Gregorius SS (Reds) - He was born in Amsterdam and his father pitched for the Amsterdam Pirates, so naturally Mariekson gravitated towards baseball. In the 2009 World Cup he played for the Netherlands while his father and brother pitched for the Netherland Antilles. He’s a stellar defensive player with a rocket for an arm so the big question for Mariekson is his ability to hit as he advances. He has no power, but he hit well in the Pioneer League (.314) and despite his teenage status held his own in High A (.254) filling in at shortstop because of injuries. The Reds are loaded with shortstops, but if Mariekson can hit he will be the one the Reds call on defensively.
9. Juan Carlos Sulbaran RHP (Reds) - Juan made his mark at the Honkball tournament when he almost shutdown Cuba, limiting them to one hit in seven innings. He faced a more experienced Cuban team in the Olympics and didn’t fare as well, giving up two runs in just over four innings. He was also the youngest player on the Netherlands World Baseball Classic team and came in with runners on first and third to face Ivan Rodriguez. That has to be a lot of pressure for a teenager. He struck out Ivan Rodriguez. His first year in the minors he could not quite match those international successes, finishing with a 5.24 ERA and a .265 opponent average. He is not overpowering with a fastball in the low 90s and he has a good curveball that he is still inconsistent with in its command. Once he gains more consistency with the curveball he should lower that ERA.
10. Kai Gonauer C (Mets) - Another German prospect, it was tough to decide between Roger Bernadina and Kai. Kai has a little more potential since his defensive ability as a catcher is much more valuable than Roger’s outfield skills in a crowded Nationals outfield. He is also 23 years old to Bernadina’s 26. The big question with Kai is his ability to hit. He was the catcher for the German National team in the Olympic qualifier in Taiwan and has been playing for the national team since he was 18 years old. His first year in the minors he hit .346 in 45 at bats, but a better reflection of his offensive capabilities was his .243 average last year in 230 at bats. He does show that he can hit for some power with the six homeruns in 2009 and with his defense he might be able to overtake Josh Thole for the Mets catching job. The Mets have given Kai a spring training invite.
Also Andrei Lobanov (Twins) is a relief pitcher from Russia who should be watched.