Breakout Candidates in 2012: Bats
Every year, guys reach that critical stage in their development when they finally translate their God-given baseball "tools" into on-field performance. They "break out," moving from longterm project status onto the major league depth chart. John Hellweg did it in 2011. Mark Trumbo and Tyler Chatwood did it in 2010. Over the next couple of months, I'm going to profile guys who are the most likely to burst onto the prospect scene in 2012, beginning with the bats.
Travis Witherspoon, CF: .250/.316/.392 with 13 HR and 46 SB in 2011 @ Low A and High A
The Dream: If I could wager on a prospect who's most likely to break out, I'd choose Witherspoon. Tom Kotchman is still using Mike Cameron as a comp, with his unique blend of speed, power and defense, for what Witherspoon's career could look like.
What He Is Now: Witherspoon's tools resemble those of Peter Bourjos and Jeremy Moore, balancing plus speed and athleticism with growing strength. His best present skill is defense: twice I've asked guys in and around the organization about other minor league centerfielders, and their response began with, "well, he's no Travis Witherspoon out there, but..." Witherspoon may not quite be as "historically good" as Fleet Pete, but he's the best of the present Angels' farmhands, and could be a plus defender at the major league level.
Witherspoon uses his plus speed extremely well on the bases, showing strong instincts for timing pitchers and getting good jumps. In 2010, he stole 20 bags without getting caught once. Last year, he swiped 41 bags at an above average 79% success rate.
Witherspoon is still trying to figure out what kind of hitter he can be. His strength and bat speed already give him average power versus minor league competition, and the pop should only increase as his pitch recognition improves. His batted ball data vacillated wildly last year, swinging from a flyball/linedrive power profile in April to an extreme groundball distribution in May, which corresponded with his move to the leadoff spot. He rediscovered his loft later in the year, even winning the Midwest League homerun derby at the allstar break and hitting a bunch of bombs in June and July. I see the vacillation as a positive marker, because while his efforts haven't yet translated into good numbers, he's showing the ability to make adjustments and work with coaching. His approach at the plate is still a work in progress - he has some issues with contact - but he's making an effort to work deeper counts and his walk rate is on the rise.
2012 Forecast: Baseball America reports that the Angels are having him focus on leveling his cut and hitting to the opposite field with the Inland Empire 66'ers in 2012, but he might just blow up the California League and knock 20 bombs while swiping 50 bags.