We've almost reached the halfway point of the 2012 campaign, so let's take a quick look at which prospects have improved their stock the most this season. The Orioles' Dylan Bundy has emerged as arguably the top pitching prospect in the game, as the flame-throwing phenom did not allow an earned run in his first 30 professional innings. Meanwhile, Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton recently swiped his 100th base of the season, putting Vince Coleman's minor-league record of 145 in serious jeopardy. Jackie Bradley of the Red Sox and Oscar Taveras of the Cardinals have been scorching over the first half of the season as well, planting themselves firmly on the prospect map. And Wil Myers of the Royals looks the part of an everyday corner outfielder once a spot opens in Kansas City.
Let's look at some more prospects that have helped or hurt their cause in this week's Minor League Barometer.
Rymer Liriano, OF, SD – After a slow start, Liriano has really turned up the heat for the Padres. In fact, the 21-year-old was so hot in June for High-A Lake Elsinore that he parlayed it into a promotion to Double-A. Liriano slashed .298/.360/.443 with five home runs, 41 RBI and 22 steals in 74 games at High-A. This after spending all April hitting below the Mendoza line. He's 3-for-10 (.300) through his first three games for the Missions. With Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso in the majors, Liriano is arguably the top prospect in the San Diego organization.
Anthony Cingrani, P, CIN – All eyes on speedster Billy Hamilton, it's easy for other Reds prospects to get lost in the shuffle. Don't let the lack of publicity fool you, though; Cingrani has been another breakout star of the 2012 campaign. Tony, as his friends call him, began the year with a 1.11 ERA and 71:13 K:BB ratio through 56.2 innings at High-A Bakersfield. After toying with High-A batters, Cingrani took the leap to Double-A and has had similar success. He fanned an absurd 15 batters in eight innings June 27, then struck out another nine in his last start July 2. He did not allow a run in either of those starts. Through 36 innings for Double-A Pensacola, Cingrani has a 1.75 ERA and 47:12 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .190 against him. Cingrani turns 23 on July 5, and a September debut is certainly not out of the question for the 6-foot-4, 200, lefty.
Matt Szczur, OF, CHC – Szczur emerged as a viable keeper option in 2011, but struggled at the start of the 2012 campaign at High-A. A two-sport star athlete at Villanova, he decided to focus on baseball instead of football. Szczur has returned from a recent minor knee injury with a bang, compiling a line of .400/.500/.600 over his last 10 contests with one home run, 10 RBI and seven stolen bases. Szczur's plate discipline has been superb this year, as he has almost as many walks (33) as strikeouts (39). Overall, Szczur is hitting .289/.386/.409 with two home runs, 23 RBI and 26 stolen bases through 59 games. The future leadoff hitter gives the Cubbies some hope along with Triple-A sensation Brett Jackson and recently promoted first-baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Starling Marte, OF, PIT – Marte could be getting the call shortly due to the struggles of some Pittsburgh outfielders not named Andrew McCutchen. The 23-year-old Marte has been crushing the ball over his last 10 contests, batting .457/.490/.870 with four home runs, 16 RBI and one stolen base for Triple-A Indianapolis. Marte hit at least .309 in each of the last three full seasons for the Pirates and possesses an intriguing combination of power and speed. Manager Clint Hurdle will also not bring him up to ride the pine, meaning that the toolsy Marte will become an everyday outfielder for the Bucs once he is promoted.
Jimmy Nelson, P, MIL – Nelson was recently placed on the disabled list with shoulder fatigue. The 23-year-old was having a standout campaign in 2012, posting a 2.21 ERA and 77:25 K:BB ratio in 81.1 innings for High-A Brevard County before being promoted to Double-A in mid June. Nelson was wild upon his promotion, though, posting a 9:14 K:BB ratio, certainly a red flag that something was not right. The Brewers do not seem overly concerned at this point, but monitor the situation. The groundball hurler was having a resurgent season before the injury.
Jarred Cosart, P, HOU – Inconsistency has plagued Cosart throughout his minor-league career. The Phillies became increasingly frustrated with the 22-year-old's lack of improvement, jettisoning him to the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade. At times, Cosart looks like an ace; for example, he has not allowed a run in his last two starts, a span of 13 innings. Yet on other occasions, he looks lost. A pitcher who gets a bevy of grounders (2.00 GO:AO ratio), Cosart surrendered two home runs in a start June 9. While anyone can have a bad outing, Cosart had a recent string of five straight starts of allowing at least four runs. He has also been wild this season, notching a 54:31 K:BB ratio in 69 innings at Double-A. Cosart has a live arm, but perhaps it's what's in between his ears that will be most important in his ascension to the show.
David Holmberg, P, AZ – Holmberg, 20, dominated High-A to the tune of a 2.99 ERA and 86:14 K:BB ratio in 78.1 innings. Opposing batters hit just .214 against him. However, he has struggled a bit since being promoted to Double-A, allowing five earned runs in two of his first four starts en route to a 5.25 ERA. On the plus side, Holmberg's control has remained stellar, as he notched a 20:4 K:BB ratio over that span. He is young for this level, and there is no reason to rush him due to the young arms in front of him. Holmberg could even end up as a nice trade chip if Wade Miley, Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs become mainstays in the Diamondbacks rotation. He has also been snake-bitten by the home-run ball this season, so Holmberg will need to do a better job at keeping the ball down at the higher levels if he is to succeed.
Travis d'Arnaud, C, TOR – Arguably the top catching prospect in the minors, d'Arnaud tore his posterior cruciate ligament at the end of June and will be out 6-8 weeks. He had been knocking on the door for a promotion to the bigs, even with the power presence of J.P. Arencibia. The 23-year-old was slashing .333/.380/.595 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 67 games for Triple-A Las Vegas. Although he remains in play for the 2013 campaign, it would be surprising to see the Jays rush him back for a September call-up, particularly if they continue to fade in the tough AL East.
Jeurys Familia, P, NYM – Familia is supposed to be part of the Mets new Big Three of pitching prospects. Instead of Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson and Bill Pulsipher, the Mets hope to trot out Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Familia. While the former two have been doing their part, Familia has floundered in 2012. The 6-4, 230, righty has a bloated 5.28 ERA through 75 innings with Triple-A Buffalo. The most disturbing part of the 22-year-old's line is his strikeout-to-walk ratio; Familia has a 67:52 K:BB ratio in 2012. With control clearly an issue, New York will continue to tinker with Familia's mechanics to get him back on track.
Christian Bethancourt, C, ATL – Perhaps the most difficult position to learn as a young prospect is catcher. The learning curve is steep, and, particularly in the National League, catching prospects who provide any hitting at all are a bonus. The focus is on calling effective games first. Stellar hitters like Brian McCann, Buster Posey and Yadier Molina are not the norm. Bethancourt is a 20-year-old catcher who is learning the nuances of the catching position while also attempting to refine his hitting stroke. With players of this kind, it is less about the numbers and more about the progression and improvement. From a fantasy perspective, though, this is not very helpful. Already at Double-A, Bethancourt's hitting numbers do not impress. He is batting .253/.276/.281 with no homers and 14 RBI through 49 games. It's still all about projection and potential with Bethancourt, but he is far away from making an impact, if any.
Zack Cox, 3B, STL – Cox was never known as an incredibly patient hitter, but he certainly was not below average in this category entering 2012. Then again, he had not seen much resistance up until this season, hitting .306 in 2011 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI. This season has been a different story, as the 23-year-old is hitting .252 with an awful .298 on-base percentage. He has also hit just five home runs in 70 games, obviously not monster numbers for a corner infielder. With David Freese blocking his path at third as well, Cox will either bide his time in Triple-A, or become trade bait.
Dante Bichette Jr., 3B, NYY – Bichette hasn't exactly hit the ground running for the Bombers in 2012. The 19-year-old is batting just .216/.256/.351 over his last 10 contests for Low-A Charleston. On the year, Bichette is slashing .254/.328/.325 with just one home run and 28 RBI. Not surprisingly for a young hitter, he has fanned 60 times on the year, even though his plate discipline does appear to be decent at such an early age. The Yanks also expect his power stroke will come around as he fills out. He's going to get a ton of publicity due to his last name and the team that he plays for, though, so there is a solid chance he will be overvalued as a prospect.
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