Before the 2012 season began I was hard at work on my prospect rankings for each team. I would rank the top 16 prospects and then list about three names afterwards that just missed the cut. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Travis Witherspoon was on my shortlist of about 20 names and was one of the names that completely missed the cut.
Colleague Charlie Nehl and I had a conversation about Witherspoon in the comment section and my answer to why I left him off was “I had Witherspoon on the list I had to narrow down and he was literally #20 for me. The tools haven’t matched the stats yet and he has discipline issues but is a phenomenal athlete.”
Witherspoon was a 12th round pick out of Spartanburg Methodist College in South Carolina and spent his first two seasons, at ages 20 and 21, in rookie ball and hit a combined .275/.330/.438 with 15 doubles, 9 triples, 16 homeruns, and 30 stolen bases in 31 attempts in 556 plate appearances over 134 games. His walk rate was 7.4% while his strikeout rate was 22.6%. Good but not great numbers for a guy out of college in rookie ball. He had some work to do.
Witherspoon moved to A ball in 2011 and ended the season in high-A where he hit a combined .250/.316/.392 with 20 doubles, 4 triples, 13 homeruns, and 46 stolen bases in 57 attempts in 524 plate appearances over 118 games, 102 of which were at the A-ball level. His walk rate slightly improved to 7.8% while his strikeout rate also slightly improved to 22.3%. But as a 22 year old who spent most of the season in A-ball he should have put up better numbers.
Witherspoon would start the 2012 season repeating high-A and he brought with him an approach that was not part of his game prior to this season. In 306 plate appearances over 67 games he improved his walk rate to an outstanding 10.8% and lowered his strikeout rate to 17% while hitting .319/.399/.470 with 10 doubles, 5 triples, 7 homeruns, and 25 stolen bases in 32 attempts. Although he was repeating the hitter-friendly level and was a little old for it he still put up a respectable 139 wRC+ and has solidified himself as a legitimate prospect.
Witherspoon made his Double-A debut last night and started off with a bang going 2-4 with a double and a stolen base and scored three runs in the contest.
Witherspoon already had the tools to be a legitimate prospect but needed to add refinement to his game. He uses the entire field, has plus speed, at least average power with potential for more and could man centerfield in the Majors if the Angels did not already have two Gold Glove caliber players in Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos playing there. Travis Witherspoon has arrived and it is time we all took notice.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt