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PCL outfield packed with promise
Angels' Trout, Cubs' Jackson, Jays' Gose lead league glut
04/02/2012 12:30 AM ET
Mike Trout batted .326 at Double-A and .220 in the Majors last season.
Mike Trout batted .326 at Double-A and .220 in the Majors last season. (Lori Shepler/AP)
The modern-day, star-in-the-making outfielder seems to be changing. He can hit and hit for power, sure, but he can also show off some speed. All but one of MLB.com's Top 10 prospects who played the position in 2011 stole 20-plus bases.

Three of them -- Mike Trout (Angels, 33 steals), Brett Jackson (Cubs, 21) and Anthony Gose (Blue Jays, 70) -- will begin 2012 in the Pacific Coast League, making the green grass beyond the infield in the league's hitter-happy stadiums the most exciting sight line. That is, when they're not burning down the basepaths.

Here are 10 players -- and reasons -- to keep your eyes on the whole field this year.

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud, Las Vegas 51s
The Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect -- and the third-ranked catching prospect in baseball -- will make his Triple-A debut this month. He posted .311/.371/.542 -- all career highs -- at Double-A New Hampshire in 2011 and is expected to hit for average and power going forward. Acquired from the Phillies in the 2009 Roy Halladay trade, d'Arnaud also brings more than his bat. He was rated as the best defensive backstop, according to a poll of Eastern League managers. Toronto's catcher of the future will also enter '12 fully healthy. In his Prospect Q&A with MiLB.com, d'Arnaud said the torn ligaments in his thumb have healed completely.

Honorable mention: Yasmani Grandal, (Tucson Padres) impressed with his bat in big league camp of Spring Training. He's one of the Minors' top six catching prospects and looking to make improvements behind home plate.

First base: Matt Adams, Memphis Redbirds
There are certainly higher-ranked first baseman (read: Rizzo, below), but few who improved their stock as much as the Cardinals' Adams in 2011. St. Louis' No. 8 prospect batted .300 with 32 home runs and 101 RBIs in 115 Texas League games last season and figures to produce similar numbers in the PCL on a team that will also include third-base prospect Matt Carpenter. Why? Adams, who is looking more and more like an able big leaguer in the wake of Albert Pujols' departure from St. Louis, makes the kind of consistent contact that evades many power hitters. (But in his Prospect Q&A with MiLB.com, Adams said he "hated to see Albert go.")

Honorable mention: Anthony Rizzo (Iowa Cubs) batted .364 (12-for-33), smacked two home runs and collected five RBIs in 14 Spring Training games, but was blocked by Bryan LaHair, the PCL's 2011 MVP.

Second base: Charlie Culberson, Fresno Grizzlies
The Giants' sixth-ranked farmhand will be worth watching this year, if only to gauge the difference between hitting in the barren Eastern League and offense-friendly PCL. Culberson, the 51st overall draftee in 2007, batted .259 and clubbed 10 homers at Richmond last season, but will be counted on to produce at a higher level for the Grizzlies. He has settled in at second after struggles in the field at shortstop and third base.

Third base: Josh Vitters, Iowa Cubs
It's been a long road for Vitters -- he has now played for every domestic affiliate in the Cubs system -- but the third overall draftee in 2007 appears headed in the right direction. Don't be surprised if his results in Iowa trump those at Double-A Tennessee: He posted .283/.322/.448 there, but should enjoy the PCL's friendly confines. Being protected in the lineup by the likes of higher-ranked Chicago prospects Rizzo and Jackson (Brett, below) will be a blessing too.

Shortstop: Adeiny Hechavarria, Las Vegas 51s
"Plus-plus" is not a term scouts throw around without thought. That's how some have described the defensive abilities of Hechavarria, however. Acquired by Toronto in April 2010, the Cuban refugee surprised in his first shot at Triple-A in 2011. In 25 games for the 51s, the right-handed hitter batted .389 (42-for-108) with 10 extra-base hits and 11 RBIs.

Outfield

Mike Trout, Salt Lake Bees
Trout will be playing Triple-A ball for the first time, but the first-round draftee in 2009 has already seen action in "The Show." MLB.com's No. 3 prospect followed up his .326/.414/.544 campaign at Double-A Arkansas by struggling in parts of 40 games with the Halos in 2011. The organization is stocked with veteran outfielders and more Minor League time can't hurt Trout, who should lead off and play center for Salt Lake. Expect a .300-plus batting average, plenty of pop and 30 or more steals -- if his next and, likely, final callup doesn't come first.

Brett Jackson, Iowa Cubs
Like a handful of others on this list, Jackson deserves attention now because he may not be in the PCL later. The Cubs' first-round draftee in 2009 reached a new high in his first Triple-A trial last year, posting a .939 OPS in 48 games. His .986 mark in 15 games with the big league team this spring wasn't enough to crack the Cubs' Opening Day roster, but Jackson -- seen by many as a realistic 20-homer, 20-steal threat -- doesn't seem to need too much development. He'll patrol center field to start, but can play all three outfield positions.

Anthony Gose (Las Vegas 51s)
MLB.com's No. 2 Jays prospect matches, or more likely, exceeds the speed and defensive abilities of peers Trout and Jackson -- his throwing arm is that of a power-armed prep pitcher -- but his bat lags far behind. At Double-A New Hampshire in 2011, the twice-traded former second-round draftee collected 43 extra-base hits, but also struck out 154 times in 137 games. If there's one thing to watch in 2012, aside from his attempt at a third 70-steal season, it would be his poor contact rate. Many expect Gose's approach -- and results -- at the plate to actually improve in Las Vegas, where batters typically reign over pitchers.

Honorable mention: Francisco Peguero (Fresno Grizzlies) and Grant Green (Sacramento River Cats) both will take their first swings against Triple-A pitching. Don't be surprised if Peguero bats .300-plus again, while Green, in his first full season in the outfield after transitioning from shortstop, should approach -- or eclipse -- the 20-homer plateau.

Left-handed pitcher: Martin Perez, Round Rock Express
Looking for a candidate to rebound in the PCL? A look at the numbers for the Rangers' Perez shows he typically requires about 15 starts at each level to get comfortable. Fortunately for Round Rock, he got 10 out of the way in 2011, when he compiled a 6.43 ERA and a suspect 37-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Texas' No. 2 prospect will need to be more consistent with his changeup and sharp-breaking curveball to keep PCL sluggers off his low-to-mid-90-mph fastball.

Honorable mention: Mike Montgomery (Omaha Storm Chasers) will get a second chance for the Chasers, for whom he went 5-11 with a 5.32 ERA in 28 games last season.

Right-handed pitcher: Shelby Miller, Memphis Redbirds
If Miller is going to help Adams (first base, above) help Cards fans forget about Pujols, he's also going to leave Redbirds fans remembering his first great moments. St. Louis' first-round draftee in 2009 and back-to-back Minor League Pitcher of the Year mastered the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels in 2011. He compiled a 2.77 ERA in 25 starts and fanned 170 batters in 139 2/3 innings. Don't be surprised to see the power-armed Miller be truly challenged for the first time in his career -- friendly as the confines are, the hitters themselves can be pretty mean -- as MLB.com's No. 5 prospect becomes Memphis' ace.

Honorable mention: Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock (Sacramento River Cats), both in their first season in the A's system, will provide a strong one-two punch for the Cats; Casey Kelly (Tucson Padres) will need to limit his walks in his first Triple-A season; meanwhile, Nathan Eovaldi (Albuquerque Isotopes) and Wily Peralta (Nashville Sounds), as talented as all others in the bunch, were simply squeezed out of their respective MLB rotations so their PCL stays could be short-lived.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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