10 names to know in the Midwest League
Moustakas, Vitters, Ahrens, Aumont among players to watch
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
The Midwest League, for many organizations, is the first full stop on the way to the big leagues. For the players on this list, 2008 is their first full season of pro ball. They'll learn what it feels like to prepare to play every day for an entire season and what it feels like to hit the proverbial wall.
There are a lot of expectations on the players listed below, with the weight of large first-round bonuses raising the stakes. Some will find the transition to be a smooth one. Some will get promoted before the year is out. Others will find that the pro game is pretty gosh darn hard. Whatever the case, if you want to see first-round talent, the Midwest League should be your first stop.
1. Kevin Ahrens, 3B
Lansing Lugnuts (Blue Jays)
Having elite teenage hitters in Lansing is becoming a habit. The Blue Jays took Ahrens from his Houston-area high school with the No. 16 overall pick, the first of seven picks Toronto had over the first two rounds. Ahrens could be joined in the Lugnuts infield by fellow early draftees Justin Jackson and John Tolisano to make for a very exciting time in Lansing. None of them may have the immediate success Travis Snider did a year ago, though Ahrens may be the one who comes closest. He's a switch-hitter with power from both sides who's making a very nice transition to third from shortstop. Guys don't get compared to Chipper Jones for no reason, and Ahrens could wear those expectations well.
2. Phillippe Aumont, RHP
Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners)
The Quebec native was taken No. 11 overall in last June's Draft and the big (he's 6-foot-7) right-hander is all projection. Without a high school team to play on, he hasn't pitched all that much. One thing is certain: his stuff is down-right nasty and he's sure to make Midwest League hitters mutter as they return to the dugout time and time again. The only thing he needs is experience to refine his repertoire and improve his overall command. The sky is the limit, and some feel he may end up being the best pitcher from the 2007 Draft. Head to Wisconsin so you can say you saw him way back when.
3. Blake Beavan and Michael Main, RHP
Clinton LumberKings (Rangers)
The Texas Rangers had two first-round picks in the 2007 draft, spaced seven selections apart, and used both of them to take high school right-handers with electric arms. Beavan is 6-foot-7 and could be the next in the line of Texas-raised flamethrowers. Main isn't as big, but he can throw nearly as hard and is tremendously athletic -- some scouts liked him as an outfielder. Both should be lighting up radar guns and learning the nuances of professional pitching for the LumberKings in 2008.
4. Mat Latos and Jordan Walden, RHP
Fort Wayne Wizards (Padres) and Cedar Rapids Kernels (Angels)
OK, this is a bit of a stretch, putting these two in one entry. But they are the last of a dying breed -- draft-and-follows from the 2006 draft, the last year the draft-and-follow strategy was allowed. Both Latos and Walden were drafted in '06, then went off to junior college before signing at the last minute -- for first-round bonuses -- with the teams that drafted them. Both have exciting power arsenals that could lead to front-of-the-rotation kind of stuff. All they need is experience, and they'll start getting that this year in the Midwest League.
5. Devin Mesoraco, C
Dayton Dragons (Reds)
Throughout the Draft season, the buzz coming from Groundhog country got louder and louder. Mesoraco, the catcher from Punxsutawney, began the spring as a so-so prospect, then exploded by showing five tools from behind the plate. His pro debut was less than thrilling, but rest assured he'll learn from that experience and take it into his first full season. Dayton's Fifth Third Field is reason enough to make a journey there, but watching this kid hit, hit for power and show off a cannon of an arm should provide even more incentive.
6. Mike Moustakas, SS
Burlington Bees (Royals)
Moustakas rose up Draft charts and was taken No. 2 overall by Kansas City after setting a California high school record for home runs. He's got absolutely ridiculous power and should be a terrific overall hitter to boot. The Royals are letting him stay at shortstop just so he can acclimate himself to the pro game -- he signed at the last minute last summer and barely got his feet wet -- but he'll likely move over to third in the future. No matter, it's his bat that will make you want to make the trip to Iowa.
7. Jarrod Parker, RHP
South Bend Silver Hawks (Diamondbacks)
He was sort of the Mesoraco of pitching in last year's Draft class in terms of jumping on the elite prospect scene late with electrifying stuff all spring. Also like Mesoraco, he played in a region that's not exactly a baseball hotbed (Indiana). He could throw as many as four quality pitches, and like the other arms on this list, he's got more than enough fastball to get radar guns excited.
8. Ben Revere, OF
Beloit Snappers (Twins)
The Kentucky high school standout was a bit of a surprise as a first-round pick, but the Twins tend to know what their doing in terms of evaluating talent. He certainly arched more than a few eyebrows with his debut in the Gulf Coast League. The outfielder hit .325 in the Gulf Coast League and stole 21 bases in 30 tries. Consistent contact and speed are this center fielder's game, and watching him go all out for Beloit should be a treat.
9. Chris Withrow, RHP
Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers)
Last year, in the team's inaugural season, Loons fans were treated to Dodgers first-round pick Clayton Kershaw. Withrow doesn't quite have the polish Kershaw had, but the fellow Texas first-rounder (the Dodgers took him No. 20 overall last June) has plenty of stuff worth watching. He's got a nice, smooth delivery (his dad made it to Double-A in the White Sox organization and served as his pitching coach in high school), with a fastball and curve. He's got a high ceiling, and it should be fun watching how close he can come to reaching it in his first full season.
10. Josh Vitters, 3B
Peoria Chiefs (Cubs)
He started the spring as the top high school bat in the Draft class and did nothing to lose that standing (fellow Midwest Leaguer Mike Moustakas may have passed him, but that was no fault of Vitters'). His brief pro debut should be forgotten and opinions should start forming this season. He'll hit, and hit for power, competing with the guy taken one spot ahead of him in the Draft (again, Moustakas) for the top young power bat in the circuit.