Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ten Midwest League players to watch

After shoveling through popcorn buckets, digesting whale-sized sandwiches and finding mantel space for those retro sports stars featured on bobbleheads, it's time to gaze at the field.

And when the Captains are playing this season, you might notice some of baseball's top prospects roaming the Classic Park turf and dirt.

The Captains open their 11th season Thursday against Lansing at Classic Park. This marks the franchise's fourth in the Midwest League, a 16-team circuit stretching from Eastlake to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Here are 10 Midwest League players worth following this season: 

Carlos Correa, Quad Cities - Any list involving Midwest League prospects must start with Correa. The shortstop, after all, was the first overall pick in last year's draft. The 19-year-old Correa is regarded as the Houston Astros' top prospect. He's the centerpieces of a massive rebuilding project.

Byron Buxton, Cedar Rapids - Buxton, an athletic center fielder, was selected No. 2 overall by the Minnesota Twins last year. The Twins have $6 million invested into Buxton, a 19-year-old many scouts view as possessing a higher ceiling than Correa. Cedar Rapids visits Classic Park for a three-game series July 17-19. Quad Cities visits the following three days. The six-day homestand might worth delaying a vacation to witness.

Taylor Guerrieri, Bowling Green - Guerrieri's name appeared in a recent Sports Illustrated story about the Tampa Bay Rays' successful pitching development methods. The Rays will likely demonstrate patience with Guerrieri, whose Bowling Green team visits Classic Park from May 28-30 and Aug. 10-12. There's no need to rush the 20-year-old Guerrieri, a 2011 first-round draft pick. Tampa Bay's big-league rotation is young and filled with electric arms.

Robert Stephenson, Dayton - What's with the Reds finding pitchers who can unleash 100 mph fastballs? Stephenson's reached triple digits last summer. Expect the 2011 first-round draft pick to lower the 4.19 ERA he produced in eight 2012 starts with the Dragons. Dayton visits Classic Park from April 16-18 and Aug. 21-23. It wouldn't be a surprise if Stephenson, 20, isn't around for Dayton's second trip to Lake County.

Dorssys Paulino, Lake County - Paulino, the youngest player in Captains history, cracked seven homers in 56 games last season. He will begin the season at shortstop, a loaded position in the Indians' farm system. The 18-year-old Paulino is the son of former major-league reliever Jesus Sanchez. He might be in Lake County the entire season.

Gabby Guerrero, Clinton - Another player with a big-league bloodline. Guerrero's uncle, Vladimir Guerrero, is headed to the Hall of Fame. Gabby, 19, is headed to his first season with a full-season team after hitting 15 homers between the Seattle Mariners' Dominican Summer League and Arizona League affiliates last season. Gabby, like his uncle, is a corner outfielder. The LumberKings visit Classic Park from April 25-27.

Michael Ynoa, Beloit - The 6-foot-7, 210-pound right-hander was part of an intense international bidding process in 2008. The Athletics landed him for a franchise-record $4.25 million signing bonus. His career has stalled because of injuries in 2009 and 2011. This marks his first full-season assignment. Age still works in Ynoa's favor. He's just 21 years old.

Lance McCullers Jr., Quad Cities - The Astros have $12.3 million in bonus money committed to five players beginning the season in Quad Cities. The total is astounding considering their big-league payroll is $27.3 million, according to the Associated Press. McCullers, a 6-foot-1 right-hander, is the son of former major-league pitcher Lance McCullers Sr. The Astros selected McCullers in the first round of last year's draft and signed him for $2.5 million.

Lendy Castillo, Kane County - The Midwest League's version of a ringer. The Chicago Cubs selected Castillo, a 23-year-old right-hander, in the 2011 Rule 5 Draft. He spent the entire 2012 season in their organization and even worked 16 major-league innings. There's no way he signed an apartment lease last season. He also pitched in the Arizona, Florida State and Southern Leagues. He could be elsewhere when the Cougars visit Lake County for the first time later this month.

Corey Seager, Great Lakes - In one of the rare moments when the Los Angeles Dodgers pondered offense before pitching, they used their 2012 first-round pick on Seager, who dominated North Carolina high school competition last season. Seager doesn't turn 19 until later this month. He hit .309 with eight homers and 33 RBI in 46 games with rookie Ogden last season. He struck out just 33 times in 175 at-bats, demonstrating the discipline worthy of a $2.35 million signing bonus.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy


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