Also known as shit or get off the pot. Prospects can have what's pretty similar to a shelf life. It lasts longer for some, and like every other aspect of prospect evaluation, it's totally subjective. Whether it's a big signing bonus that came with the promise of big talent, one good tool or skill or a memorable performance, something inside of you is telling you that it's too soon to give up on a player. Just give this player one more year, and his stock will surely improve. These are five players who need to put up or shut up in 2013.
SS Tim Beckham
Some people would argue that Beckham's time as a serious prospect has already ended, and his 2012 season with injuries and a suspension certainly didn't help. He didn't make the D, he didn't make my personal top 10, but before the Bay Community Prospect top 10James Shields trade, he was ranked eighth in the system according to Baseball America. Clearly, there's still some optimism out there for him, but even his most ardent supporters would have to admit it's time for him to break out. He was added to the 40 man roster this off-season and has reached AAA, but he's a bit of a baseball tweener.
Questions to be answered: What kind of player is Tim Beckham? Is he an athletic, up the middle talent that can play a capable ML shortstop, or is his bat going to drive his value? Right now, he's somewhere in between the two, and those players don't seem to be everyday players very often. There's a slim possibility he can remain at shortstop, but it seems more likely that he'll be moving to second or third base. To profile at either position, he'll have to hit much better than he has. With a career ISO of .115, his raw power has clearly not resulted in better in-game production. His career 8.3% walk rate is solid, but he also owns a 21.5% strikeout rate. His pitch recognition has not developed, and that has left him as a subpar contact hitter without the power to make up for it.
LHP Mike Montgomery
Royals fans were probably already throwing in the towel on Montgomery after a second consecutive poor season in 2012, but he'll get a temporary reprieve with a new organization. It's been said that he had disagreements with the organization over pitching philosophy and workout routines, so a fresh start and new perspective from different instructors could help him return to form. He's coming off an absolutely disastrous 2012 campaign that saw him be reassigned from AAA to AA at mid-season, and he didn't show much improvement. Across the two levels, he struck out a career low 16.2% of opponents, but at least his 9.3% walk rate wasn't a career worst. The strikeout rate was most concerning. Control problems were nothing new for Montgomery, but pitchers who can't throw strikes and miss bats usually don't last very long.
Questions to be answered: This would probably be easier to explain what doesn't need to be answered. In an attempt to throw more strikes, his mid 90's fastball slowed down to a high 80's, low 90's offering, and he really didn't end up throwing more strikes. It's always possible for pitchers to adjust when their stuff goes from great to ordinary, but there's been no indication that Montgomery can survive without a great fastball. If he's going to remain a starter, he's going to have to take the next step from pitching a career high 150.2 innings to the 180-200 range as well.
LHP Alex Torres
The good news is that Torres posted a career high 27% strikeout rate in 2012. The bad news is that his control had an unfathomably bad meltdown that resulted in the Rays using him as a reliever in the minors for the first time since they acquired him in 2009. Torres was always a bit wild with a career 13.6% walk rate, but he still managed to be close enough to the plate to be an effective pitcher. Now out of options, Torres will enter 2013 as a complete wild card. With the team's depth in the rotation, it's hard to imagine him starting for the Rays at this point, but a role should be available in the bullpen.
Questions to be answered: Can his winter league performance carry over to 2013? This off-season in Venezuela, Torres was perhaps as good as he's ever been, striking out 78 and walking 24 in 55.1 innings while allowing less than a hit per inning. That walk rate is pretty close to manageable and is certainly an improvement over whatever happened during the regular season. If these adjustments lead to an improved 2013, it won't even matter that he's out of options because he'd be able to stick with the Rays in the majors. His above average fastball and curveball combo should allow him to succeed in the bullpen even if his strike throwing comes and goes.
C Luke Bailey
Bailey's minor league career has been unremarkable at best, but coming out of high school, he was highly regarded among catchers in his class. A lot of factors can go into looking past that though. He's missed a lot of time with various injuries, so if he can stay healthy, maybe he can get locked in and develop. Despite the injuries and the Rays' tendency to move prospects along slowly, Bailey has actually been young for his level throughout his career, and it's just difficult to completely give up on talent like this, even if it's hardly ever shown up in games.
Questions to be answered: Can he be more selective at the plate? With Bailey, it all comes back to his plate approach. The raw power is there, and he's improving behind the plate. His 6.2% walk rate is too low, and his 29.4% strikeout rate is far too high. Maybe he'll never hit for a high average, but if he can just wait for his pitch a little more, he'll have much better results. It's difficult for players to improve their plate approach, but it has been done, and I'm ready to give him another season to see what happens.
1B Jeff Malm
Developing first base prospects can be difficult because all of their value lies in their bat, and not many bats can actually live up to that high standard. In 2011 with Hudson Valley, Malm flashed that kind of potential by leading the league in homers and being patient enough to offset a low batting average. Moving up to the Midwest League in 2012, a lot of that home run power became doubles power. Although he played 22 games in the outfield for Bowling Green, he's not expected to be able to play capable defense away from first base.
tim Can that doubles power become home run power again? That could be tough to accomplish in the Florida State League which usually suppresses power, but he's going to have to work it out. He has the raw power to be a first baseman, but he's not going to hit for much contact, and he's really in for an uphill battle to make the majors. Like Beckham, he's a bit of a tweener. It's questionable that he'll hit enough to play first base, but it's even more questionable that he can play defense at a position where his bat might profile better. He's still worth keeping an eye on though even if he's not a top 30 prospect.