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Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011 Topps Pro Debut: Story Being Written

Twins scouting director Deron Johnson had the opportunity to seen Aaron Hicks play high school many times.

What stood out in Johnson's mind, was Hicks' ease of operation on the field, Johnson told reporters in June 2008, after the Twins selected Hicks 14th overall.

"He plays the game so effortlessly," Johnson told reporters. "For me, he’s one of the best if not the best base stealer in the draft. Very skilled, very instinctual player."

The 18-year-old Hicks played that year in the rookie Gulf Coast League, hitting .318, with four home runs and 12 steals.

But in the three seasons since, Hicks has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations of his first round status, playing 2011 at high-A Fort Myers. There, he hit just .242, with five home runs and 17 steals.

The good thing for the now-22-year-old Hicks, and the other players in 2011 Topps Pro Debut, his story is still being written.

I picked up a pack of Topps Pro Debut recently on a trip to the mall, along with a bunch of dollar vintage cards. (In a weird connection, one of the dollar vintage cards I picked up was Deron Johnson the former major leaguer, though the two Johnsons are not related.)

The cool thing about these cards is the similarities to the CMC set. These are minor league players on their way up. Though the Debut set is obviously more geared toward prospects, than the CMC set was.

But, to the average baseball fan, these players are as unknown as those in the CMC set were 21 years ago. Their futures, whether they will make the majors or stay in the minors, is also unknown.
The player in the pack who's gotten the closest to the major leagues is the Twins' Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez made AAA Rochester for two outings in 2010, and then for all of 2011. In 43 relief appearances at Rochester in 2011, Gutierrez posted an ERA of 4.62.

There were two Rome Braves in the pack, Carlos Perez and Philip Gosselin. Perez stayed in Rome for 2011, his third season, going 4-10 with a 4.82 ERA in 23 starts. Gosselin played 2011 at high-A Lynchburg, hitting .264 with six home runs in his second pro season.

Chris Owings, the 41st overall pick in 2009, moved up to high-A Visalia in 2011. He hit .246, with 11 home runs. Brennan Smith, a 33rd-round pick for the Tigers in 2010, split 2011 between short-season Connecticut and single-A West Michigan. Smith went 5-6 between them, with a 2.56 ERA.

The final two players are depicted the furthest from the majors, in rookie Arizona League. Scott Schebler stayed in rookie ball in 2011. The 26th round pick by the Dodgers in 2010 played this past season at rookie Ogden, hitting .285, with 13 home runs.

Drew Poulk, signed by the Reds as a free agent in 2010, made single-A Dayton for 19 games in a 2011 season that saw him limited to just 43 total games.

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