Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Keep in mind that this is not a traditional top prospect list because it focuses entirely on 2012 contributions. I rank guys according to advanced metrics which, for position players, include batting runs above average, positional adjustment, defense, and a replacement level calculation that scales the total to "Wins Above Replacement" (though the concept of replacement level doesn't really apply to minor leaguers). I use a standard "runs allowed based" WAR formula for pitchers.
4) Travis Witherspoon, 23, CF - 3.9 WAR, +8 bat, +10 glove. 268/.350/.418 with 13 HR and 34 SB.
Witherspoon was on his way to fulfilling my preseason prediction (ok, it was more like, "this might happen") that he hit 20 homeruns and steal 50 bases in the Cal League, but went off the tracks when the Angels promoted him to Arkansas in late June. First, he struggled a bit. Then he got hurt. Then he struggled some more, and wound up with a .202/.286/.351 slash line through 235 PA's with the Travs. He wasn't toothless in AA, knocking 6 HR's and walking at a 10% clip, but his k-rate spiked 6 points to 23% and his BABIP collapsed from .374 to .243 on the back of a sub-10% linedrive rate. What's a little weird about that is that he still hit the ball on the ground over half the time, so hypothetically he shouldn't have been such an easy out with his speed. Maybe, as this guy argues, a lot of it was plain old bad luck.
The lion's share of Witherspoon's projected value to a big league club is tied up in his legs, both on the basepaths and, especially, in centerfield. In an organization lacking Mike Trout and Pete Bourjos, Witherspoon would get a lot more attention for his glove work, and have more immediate bench value as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. The +10 runs that I credited his glove probably low-balls his overall defensive contributions. But, in the absence of advanced metrics, I wanted to be conservative. Here's a reminder of what he looks like in the field:
Witherspoon is strong and has very good bat speed, showing the ability to turn on fastballs. He isn't helpless against breaking balls - in the video below, his big game-action rip is against what looks like a pretty good slider (2:32) - but his swing gets long and is often ‘kinked,' so his bat control isn't great and there's still a lot of swing and miss to his game. Baseball America mentioned in last year's prospect handbook that the Angels wanted Witherspoon to level out his cut and focus more on going to the opposite field, and Witherspoon responded by hitting the ball on the ground a well-above-average 54% of the time in 2012. Despite the coached-from-on-high small ball emphasis, his power shows up in bursts, and is frankly pretty exciting. Last summer, Tom Kotchman was still using the Mike Cameron comp when I asked him about Withersoon. Check out HR's with the Travs here and here. Like all of the Halos' prospects this year, he sucked in the AFL (Maybe, after Trout's lackluster tour there, that's just the thing to do?). The following video gives a great snapshot of Witherspoon's swing, but forward to 2:22 if you get sick of the batting practice and just want to see his more aggressive in-game cuts.