Name: Mike Bianucci
DOB: June 26, 1986
Acquired: 2008 Amateur Draft, 8th round
Throughout his three-year career at Auburn University, Mike Bianucci made himself known as one of the premiere power hitters in the SEC, if not the entire country. In 148 career games, he batted .335 with 35 home runs as the Tigers' leading slugger.
The Rangers liked Bianucci's bat enough to select him in the eighth round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but they still wanted to see more.
The club decided to follow Bianucci as he participated in the Cape Cod League that summer. The Virginia native performed well with the wood bat, hitting .282 with a team-high five home runs in just 78 at-bats. He showed some discipline [11 walks, 12 strikeouts] and speed [6 steals in 10 attempts] as well.
Bianucci's performance was strong enough to earn a $175,000 signing bonus from the Rangers. Upon signing, he went to short-season Spokane, where he batted .316 with 11 doubles, four homers and 21 RBI in just 31 games before having his season cut short with a broken wrist.
Many players suffer a temporary loss of power while coming off a broken wrist, but that certainly wasn't the case for Bianucci in 2009, his first full season.
Starting with Single-A Hickory, the 23-year-old dominated the generally pitcher-friendly South Atlantic League. In 72 games, Bianucci batted .331 with 21 doubles and 15 round-trippers, giving him a 1.001 OPS. Had he qualified to be among the final Sally League stat leaders, he would've placed first in batting average, second in on-base percentage, and first in slugging percentage.
Once Bianucci clearly proved to be too advantaged for Low-A pitching, he earned a promotion to High-A Bakersfield. The outfielder still showed his staggering power–launching 15 home runs in 50 games–but he also had his share of struggles at the plate.
Bianucci's batting average dipped to just .232 with the Blaze, and he struck out in over one-third of his official at-bats [69 in 198]. Some of the issues may have been due to mental and physical fatigue at the end of his first full season, but regardless, he will have to make more consistent contact when camp breaks in 2010.
Even with the late-season struggles in Bakersfield, Bianucci finished his first full season by leading the Rangers' organization with 30 home runs and a .561 slugging percentage.
Also See: Rangers Prospect Videos: Instructs and More (October 12, 2009)
Sizing up the outfield prospects (October 1, 2009)
Bianucci working on timing (March 26, 2009)
Rangers minor league notes (March 20, 2009)
Rangers minor league notes (March 17, 2009)
Batting and Power: Bianucci is a bit of an enigma at the plate. Nobody doubts his power potential–he was one of the premiere power hitters in the SEC before launching 30 home runs in his first professional season. He is extremely strong and has definite plus power potential, but plenty of questions remain. After hitting .316 in 114 at-bats with short-season Spokane and .331 in 260 at-bats at Single-A Hickory, his average dipped to just .232 with High-A Bakersfield.
The slugger clearly has some issues to iron out. After the promotion to Bakersfield, he had a tendency to let bad at-bats get into his head and carry throughout the game, particularly when it came to chasing offspeed stuff out of the zone. But when he's going well, Bianucci shows a strong feel for the strike zone. Some of his late-season Cal League struggles may have been attributed to mental and physical fatigue in his first full season.
Base Running and Speed: While Bianucci isn't a burner, he's not exactly a base clogger either. The outfielder runs pretty well given his thick 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame, and he probably rates out at about average overall. Bianucci isn't a major stolen base threat, but he is both quick and athletic and he can use his legs to his advantage on the basepaths.
Defense: Bianucci has experience playing both corner spots in the outfield. With Hickory, he spent all of his time in right field. At Bakersfield, he was mostly a left fielder and designated hitter. Down the line, Bianucci is probably best suited for the LF/DH role he played with the Blaze. His arm is good enough for left field [about average overall] and he is certainly athletic enough to handle a corner spot. However, despite the decent tools, Bianucci was a below-average defender last season because he often struggled with reads and jumps.
Projection: Bianucci proved to be a bit raw during his time with Bakersfield, but he absolutely has the potential to become an impact bat at the big league level. If he doesn't make more consistent contact, he could be a prospect that never gets above the Double-A level, but he could also blossom into a starting LF/DH that hits 30 home runs a season in the Majors. Only time will tell Bianucci's future, and his performance against Texas League pitching should ultimately show whether he can be one of the system's top prospects.
2010 Outlook: Because of Bianucci's inconsistency at the plate in 50 Cal League games last season, he will likely begin the 2010 campaign at High-A Bakersfield. Still, the 23-year-old has massive power potential, and he should make enough improvements to land at Double-A Frisco around the All-Star break. He will likely have to make more consistent contact with the Blaze before the Rangers give him a crack at upper-level pitching.