|Super Sleeper of 2012. Image thanks to BeGreen90 on flickr|
This time of year it seems as though the en vogue thing to do is to pick a prospect that few expect to have a good season and predict that they will do just that, placing themselves right on the prospect radar. Yes, it is time to pick a sleeper pick. Admittedly I am a bit late on this one, as everyone and their mother has already chosen Matt Tracy as their this year top 20 next year top 10 prospect. Ten days ago, before all of the ruckus about him, he probably would have been my choice as well. At this point, however, I would not label him a sleeper because so many people know about him, and most are expecting a big season from him. His sleeper status has taken a hit by what he has gained in notoriety. Others, such as Ben Gamel, Nik Turley, Tim Norton, Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott have also gotten a lot of press.
For my pick, I am going to try to think even further outside the box for what I call my yankees super sleeper prospect. This kid wasn't even on my radar by the end of the season, as is evidenced by his absence on my Top 50 Prospects, but the more I read about him this offseason, the more I regretted that choice. He's already moved up to my top 30-35 (a rough estimate). Another season with improvement like last year and this guy will be on everyone's map, likely a top 20 selection. This pick will surprise even the most knowledgeable of prospect gurus, but then again that is what makes this guy a sleeper. My super sleeper of 2012 is...
Drum roll.... Daniel Lopez!
Now here's what you need to know about Daniel Lopez. Daniel just turned 20 this January, and he'll likely be starting off next season in Staten Island, unless something goes horribly wrong with one of the golden boy prospects that will start the season at Charleston. Then again he played 3 games at the end of 2011 in Charleston, and performed well, so it will be interesting to see what management decides to do with him. He's 6'2, weighing in at 175 lbs according to milb.com. He's from Santiago, Dominican Republic, and he throws and hits right handed.
The main tool that Lopez carries with him is his speed. This is why the Yankees signed him back in 2009. He sported a 60 yard dash of 6.2, and his game will continue to be built around that lightning speed. Since being drafted, Lopez has worked tirelessly to increase his strength and has seen his power numbers increase each season as a result. Thus far, the increase in strength and power has not effected his speed, if anything the opposite if you go by stolen bases. Let's make one thing clear though, Lopez will never be accused of being a power hitter.
His stats won't necessarily jump out at you, but the trends are important to consider. As a 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League, he hit .259/.394/.370 in 18 games. He had 2 triples, no homeruns, and 2 stolen bases in 54 at bats. Limited sample size, but the patience is what jumps out at me in his first professional season. In 2010, he improved upon his average and slugging with a .293/.382/.385 triple slash in 70 games. This time he hit 10 doubles, 6 triples, and 1 homerun, stealing 17 bases and being caught stealing 10 times. Not the best rate, but at least he was more aggressive, and his power numbers were better, even if slightly. Lopez's true breakout season, at least thus far in his career, was in 2011 at the age of 19. He started again in the DSL, but only lasted 11 games as he tore through the pitching to the tune of a .424 average. At this point he was promoted to the GCL Yankees, where he continued his torrid play. At the end of the season he got to play 3 games in Charleston. He played extremely well in those 3 games, but alas small sample sizes prevent me from drawing any conclusions from that data. All in all, 2011 saw him hit for a triple slash of .327/.413/.490 over 61 games across three levels. He increased his power numbers with 11 doubles, 7 triples, and 3 homeruns. He stole 27 bases and was caught just 3 times. His OPS was .904.
Reports would indicate he is a strong defender with an average arm and excellent speed and route taking.
Better yet, as gaudy as these numbers may seem, he flew almost completely under the radar in 2011 because of a star studded class of players in the GCL. Reports indicate that Lopez is an extremely hard worker, and spends countless hours lifting and in the cages. So far, this hard work has payed real dividends, and given his athleticism I will not be among those in the blogosphere who ignore this kid.
As far as his projection goes, his speed, patience, and still young age will allow him to have a high floor. I believe he will be on a 25 man roster at some point in his career, and barring injury I am relatively confident about that. His ceiling is that of a 15 HR, 50 SB center fielder, although the 15 homeruns seems pretty generous at this point. Remember though, he has a projectable frame at 6'2 and still has lots of room to fill out at just 175 lbs. We are talking about ceiling here, which means that maximum potential he could ever reach, so I'm allowed to be lofty. He's gotten progressively better every season in every way, getting more powerful, hitting for a higher average, becoming more patient, and reading pitchers better. I see no reason why this trend will not continue as long as he continues to put the work in during the offseason. I understand that getting excited over GCL numbers presents a ton of problems, however this is why he is a sleeper.
Thus, Daniel Lopez is my super sleeper pick for 2012.