10 sleeper hitters

January 3, 2011

It's easy to become enchanted with talents who rise rapidly; prospects who stall quickly lose backing. I generally cut hitters who have battled injuries some slack. Eric Hosmer and Devin Mesoraco are two recent examples of guys who surfaced as elite prospects after healthy seasons.

The players below may not have as much upside as Hosmer or Mesoraco. I don't expect any of them to become superstars, but based on what I've seen from them first hand and/or glowing reports I've gotten on them, I think all of the guys below have shots at turning into average or better big leaguers.

1. Nick Weglarz - Weglarz is one of the best hitters in the minors but two injury-plagued seasons have allowed a lot of people to discount his abilities. Built like Jim Thome, Weglarz is patient and powerful. Though he struggled with making contact during his first full season (2007), he has since surfaced as a reliable contact hitter.

Weglarz played through a broken leg for a good chunk of 2009 -- it was misdiagnosed and he's a badass. He sprained his thumb last August and ended up needing surgery before returning in November to play in the Venezuelan Winter League. Though he's going to outgrow the outfield, Weglarz takes quality at-bats and has enough power to be valuable even at first base or as a DH. He's a good bet to be an above-average MLB hitter. You're probably missing a .900 OPS bat if you decide to write him off as a guy with too much of an injury history.

2. Reese Havens - After a studly junior year at South Carolina, Havens was slowed by a quadriceps injury in 2009. He then got a late start to 2010 because of an oblique injury, which became a problem again in June and ended his season. Given how important the core is for all physical activities, Havens' injury is a bit of a concern. But if he can regain his health, he could quickly surface as one of the top second basemen in the big leagues. He has crazy power to go along with above-average patience. Guys with as much athleticism and power as Havens don't come around often.

3. Travis d'Arnaud - d'Arnaud missed a month early last season with a tweaked back then had surgery to repair a herniated disk in August. Back injuries are concerning for any athlete. If d'Arnaud can get back to full strength and stay healthy, he's an above-average defensive catcher and excellent contact hitter with some pop. He could surface as an above-average big leaguer three or four years from now.

4. James Darnell - Darnell missed most of May and half of June after playing with a cyst in his hand. He isn't a wizard with the glove, but I think he's a respectable defensive third baseman. Patient, powerful and able to make regular contact, he's going to hit enough to reach the big leagues. If he proves himself as a solid defensive third baseman, he could surface as an average or better big leaguer.

5. Hector Gomez - Gomez doesn't walk or excel at making contact. But he's an above-average defensive shortstop with a cannon of an arm and a surprising amount of power. Gomez missed more than three months last season with lower back stiffness. He has also missed time over the past two years with a broken leg and an elbow injury (required Tommy John). Still just 22 years old and rawer than someone who played his first season in 2006 should be, Gomez is too talented to lose sight of. Keep a close watch on him this upcoming season, as he's a plus runner with the talent to surface as an above-average big league shortstop.

6. Fernando Martinez - There may be an easy solution to Martinez's injury problems: stop letting him play the outfield. Martinez has plenty of bat speed, amazingly strong wrists, good balance through his swing and a lower body that stays synchronized well with his upper body. He's not patient but he is a 22-year-old who has flashed the ability to hit the crap out of the ball in Triple-A. Martinez isn't a terrible contact hitter either. Arthritic knees aren't supposed to plague guys Martinez's age. He's not a center fielder and he probably shouldn't even be tried at a corner. Stick him at first base and let him hit. He's really good at that.

7. Drew Cumberland - I really liked Cumberland when I first saw him in 2009. He's a very good contact hitter with enough thump for an up-the-middle defender. He has good speed and solid range to either side, though his footwork has hurt his throwing ability in the past. His season was cut short last July when he sliced his knee sliding into a concrete wall. Though he doesn't hit for a lot of power, I see Cumberland as a potential average big league second baseman.

8. Charlie Blackmon - Blackmon missed nearly the first two months of the 2010 season with lingering hamstring issues -- strained his left hamstring twice in spring training. He's an above-average contact hitter with gap power. Athletic, with enough leaping ability to dunk a basketball flat footed, Blackmon is fast and can hold his own in center field. He hasn't received a lot of prospect hype but he's a good bet to become at least a No. 4 outfielder, and I wouldn't be surprised if he emerges as an average regular.

9. Josh Donaldson - I was in attendance last August when Donaldson sprained his knee sliding into second base to break up a double play. He missed the remainer of the month but made it back in time to earn a September call-up. While I think he can hit enough to earn big league at-bats elsewhere on the diamond, Donaldson's value lies in his defense. He's not an elite defensive catcher, but he may be able to get the job done. If he can continue to be a solid defender behind the plate, Donaldson could quickly surface as an average or better big leaguer. A lot of people are completely sleeping on him. Don't be one of them.

10. Donovan Tate - Tate embarrassed himself by breaking his jaw in an ATV accident before he played a regular season game in the Padres organization. A sprained left shoulder kept him off the diamond until the AZL season began last summer. His season was then cut short by a stomach virus, though he re-emerged in instructs. Big, strong and fast, Tate has great bat speed and athleticism. There's still a chance that he won't be able hit the ball regularly enough to be much of a hitter in pro ball, but given his raw ability, he's well worth keeping an eye on.


Follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamWFoster. You can find video and detailed reports of all of baseball's elite prospects in our Digital Prospect Guide.