Derek Dietrich will be the top prospect in Charlotte's lineup in 2012 via www.milb.com
Catcher - Luke Bailey, Mayobanex Acosta
While Bailey struggled with injuries -- he played in just 74 games -- and performance -- he hit just .223/.294/.385 -- the Rays were aggressive in promoting him from the GCL to the Midwest Legaue from 2010 to 2011, and I think they'll continue that this year. There were some silver linings in Bailey's performance with the Hot Rods: The power was good, as he had 17 doubles, a triple, and seven home runs out of 55 hits. And he had weirdly extreme reverse splits as a right-handed hitter: Against lefties, he hit .125/.171/.181, but he hit .263/.342/.469 against righties. If he can repeat that vs. RHP line, or even improve upon it, while bringing with vs. LHP up from "hideously awful" to "below average," then he'll start to more closely resemble his pedigree, as he was thought of as the top high school catcher in the 2009 draft class before Tommy John surgery. Defensively, Bailey was strong, throwing out 40% of attempted basestealers. Mayo Acosta will probably ride the shuttle between Charlotte and Montgomery.
First Base - Phil Wunderlich
He doesn't have a typical 1B body at 6-0/225, but he's able to pack good power into that frame. Last year with the Hot Rods, he tied for the team lead in doubles with 34 and was second with 17 home runs. The Florida State League historically suppresses power, but his should still be able to show through. Overall as a prospect, however, his power doesn't quite measure up to where the top 1B prospects are, and his pure hit tool is a little short. After a .330 batting average in his debut with Princeton, he managed only .263 as below-average plate discipline/patience (just 34 walks in 132 games) held him back.
Second Base - Hector Guevara
Let Guevara serve as a bit of an enthusiasm-dampener for Oscar Hernandez. Guevara was the last heralded player to come through the Rays' VSL complex, hitting .330/.374/.534 in 2009 as a 17-year-old (though to put Hernandez's nutso season into context, Oscar's OPS was more than .300 points higher than Guevara's). But he's followed it up with two mainly disappointing seasons stateside, hitting .251/.308/.363 with Princeton and .248/.291/.372 last year. Expected to hit for good power, he's hit just five home runs since his eight in Venezuela, although injuries limited him to 69 games in 2011.
Shortstop - Derek DietrichAs the top prospect, Dietrich will be expected to anchor the Charlotte lineup although he may not stick around for the whole year. While Tim Beckham and Hak-Ju Lee are entrenched at SS in Durham and Montgomery, Dietrich is likely to move off the position, and if Dietrich hits well enough to be promoted, he'd be a logical choice to play 3B with the Biscuits. It was surprising that he wasn't promoted last season, as an advanced college hitter in the Midwest League. He finished third in the league with 22 home runs and a .277/.346/.502 line. He walked 38 times and struck out 128, but he also got hit 15 times and that's no fluke. At Georgia Tech, he got plunked 16 and 21 times in his sophomore and junior seasons. Maybe Sean Rodriguez can coach him to bring out his full getting-hit-by-balls-thrown-at-high-velocity potential.
Third Base - Robby Price, Julio Cedeno
If Stone Crabs fans liked Tyler Bortnick last year, they'll like this year's version: Robby Price. The son a college coach, Price hit .283 but managed a .426 OBP thanks to 86 walks drawn. He's more familiar with 2B, but played a majority of his games at the hot corner last year, and is likely to be penciled in there again in 2012. He doesn't have Bortnick's speed (16 stolen bases) and didn't hit for as much power, but he does a good job of working the count and getting on base. Obviously the key is whether or not he'll able to maintain his OBP as he faces pitching more willing to challenge him, but in a free-swinging Hot Rods lineup last year, Price was a welcome change. And if you're disappointed with Bortnick 2.0, wait 'til version 3.0 in 2013 in the form of Taylor Motter.
Outfield - Cody Rogers, Todd Glaesmann, Kevin Kiermaier
Rogers, a junior-college draftee in 2009, had to repeat Bowling Green because injuries cost him most of the 2010 season. He's toolsy, though, and those showed through in 2011 with 18 doubles, 11 triples, and 12 home runs in 122 games. He only hit .244, and his 43-111 walk-strikeout ratio isn't great, but he was strong against right-handers and may at least have a future as a platooner: He hit .268/.349/.447 vs. RHP but just .180/.239/.289 vs. LHP. He plays good defense and also stole 28 bases. Glaesmann got just under $1 million to sign in 2009, but his performance hasn't come close to matching his big tools. He's 6-4/220 with plus athleticism, but he hasn't been able to turn that into production with just a .232/.296/.361 career line. Limited by injuries to 74 games, the 2011 season wasn't pretty. He walked 19 times but struck out 95, and only managed four home runs. He did steal 12 bases and was only caught once, but something needs to click with the bat. Kiermaier surprised in his debut, hitting for an .811 OPS in Princeton as a 31st rounder, but struggled with the Hot Rods to a .241/.316/.338 line.
Possible Opening Day Lineup:
CF Cody Rogers
3B Robby Price
SS Derek Dietrich
1B Phil Wunderlich
RF Todd Glaesmann
C Luke Bailey
2B Hector Guevara
DH Julio Cedeno
LF Kevin Kiermaier