Not every top prospect is Evan Longoria or Buster Posey, phenoms who immediately did what was expected of them at the big league level. Many are like Alex Gordon, the Royals' leftfielder who was the No. 2 pick in the stacked 2005 draft (which also included Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Upton, to name a few) but needed five seasons to deliver on his early expectations. In an attempt to find this year's Gordon, who hit .303 with 23 homers in 2011, SI spoke with a quartet of scouts who this spring have already seen these five formerly highly rated hitters and has scored them on a Gordometer, with four "Gordons" being best.
MATT WIETERS, COrioles
Wieters was Baseball America's No. 1 prospect in 2009. While the 25-year-old is defensively precocious and hit 22 home runs last year (his third in the majors), his .262 average and .778 OPS still fell short of expectations. Even so, says a scout, "the offense is coming. What he's doing better is handling the ball inside. The gold standard for offensive catchers is Brian McCann. Two years ago Wieters was nowhere close, but now he's closing in on him." The scout predicts an average near .300, with 25 home runs and nearly 100 RBIs. As this year's Alex Gordon, he says, "Wieters is a very good choice."
DEXTER FOWLER, CFRockies
The speedy 6'4" Fowler's problems—and .262 average and 15 home runs in 405 major league games—have stemmed from his being rushed to the majors from Double A in 2008 and from a serious lack of strength. But the 25-year-old Fowler, whose plate discipline is already strong (.363 OBP in '11), gained 12 pounds in off-season workouts, and the switch-hitter looks more seasoned at both sides of the plate. "He's come up with a little leg kick that really seems to help him," a scout says.
PEDRO ALVAREZ, 3BPirates
Alvarez, one scout says, still has the "off-the-charts raw power" that made him the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, but the lefthanded hitter must temper his desire to pull the ball, which has contributed to a .230 average through 169 big league games. "It's gotta feel great to hit 'em nine miles," says the scout. "But they go out in leftfield too, just like they do in right." The scout says he has seen signs of a more disciplined approach and that Alvarez, 25, could hit .275 this year with 25 homers.
MATT LAPORTA, 1BIndians
LaPorta was Cleveland's prize in the 2008 trade that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee, but the 27-year-old has struggled to live up to that billing. He retains power from the right side, but injuries and difficulty adjusting to big league pitching have hampered him. "He might have hit his ceiling early," a scout says. LaPorta's long swing has generated a .701 OPS in 269 games in the majors. "He would have to just go off in spring training even to make the team," the scout says. "He probably needs a change of scenery."
COLBY RASMUS, CFBlue Jays
"He's a frustrating player with tremendous physical tools," says a scout of Rasmus, 25, who continues to possess the all-around skills that made him a 2005 first-rounder but has had trouble properly refining them. St. Louis dealt him to Toronto last July, and he continued to scuffle, hitting a cumulative .225 with a .688 OPS. "If he couldn't learn in St. Louis from Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, I'm not sure he ever will," says the scout, who predicts a .265 average and 15--20 homers in 2012.
RON VESELY/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (WIETERS)
JOHN BIEVER (FOWLER)
JASON O. WATSON/US PRESSWIRE (LAPORTA)
MARK CUNNINGHAM/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (RASMUS)
SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (ALVAREZ)
ROB TRINGALI/GETTY IMAGES (GORDON)