July 23, 2012
Monday Morning Ten Pack
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (Low-A Peoria)
Baez went off again on Saturday, with a triple and his 10th home run of the year in just 45 games. Even with an 0-for-4 on Sunday, he's hitting .333/.388/.608 in his roughly two months of Midwest League action. That has led to some understandably excited Cubs fans wanting to move him up, but that's just not how it works. Baez still needs to refine his approach and improve his ability to recognize and hit breaking balls, but the decision isn't all about him. It's also about the fact that prospects don't develop in a vacuum. You might want to see Baez move up, but the Cubs have a shortstop they like at High-A in Arismendy Alcantara, and one at Double-A in Junior Lake. Both of them need at-bats too. The needs of a whole organization have to be considered before a prospect is promoted.
Jarred Cosart, RHP, Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
Cosart had one of those teasing starts on Saturday, firing 7 2/3 shutout innings, and he's pitched scoreless baseball in three of his last five starts to lower his Texas League ERA to 3.52. That said, he remains one of those pitchers who baffles scouts as to why he's not better. With upper-90s heat and a devastating breaking ball, Cosart has the potential to be an impact arm, but in 87 innings, he's allowed 83 hits, walked 38 batters, and struck out 68. Those aren't dominant numbers, and scouts continually lament his lack of feel, which could ultimately mean a move to the bullpen.
David Dahl, OF, Rockies (Rookie-level Grand Junction)
Getting excited about rookie-level numbers is always a dangerous thing, especially in high-octane environments like the Pioneer League. Dahl has certainly put up the numbers, adding two hits in each of his three games over the weekend to raise his season line to .342/.402/.561 in 29 Pioneer League games, but even more encouragingly, the scouting reports are just as impressive. He's a six-foot-two athletic outfielder with an ultra-smooth swing and the potential for average power to go with plus speed and arm strength, and scouts are already dreaming on a 20/20 future with the hope that he can improve his outfield play to stay up the middle. Even in a corner, he could provide plenty of excitement.
Delino DeShields, 2B, Astros (Low-A Lexington)
Remember when it was totally cool that Billy Hamilton was going to steal 100 bases? DeShields is on his way to that this year, but nobody is paying attention, because, you know, Billy Hamilton. With an 8-for-13 weekend that included four more stolen bases, DeShields now has 71 swipes to go with a .301/.405/.437 line that is one of the better bounceback seasons in the minors. The 2010 first-round pick remains a thoroughbred-level athlete with top-of-the-line speed, but this is the year when his athleticism has begun to transition into skill, as he's shown a bit of power with eight home runs and a much-improved approach. He's regained the prospect status he lost last year, and despite all of the changes since his selection, he's back to being among the top position prospects in the system.
Nathan Karns, RHP, Nationals (High-A Potomac)
If it wasn't for Dan Straily, Karns would be the biggest surprise pitcher in the game. A 12th-round pick in 2009, Karns didn't make his professional debut until last season due to shoulder surgery, but he's been among the most dominant pitchers in the minors this year. With six no-hit innings on Saturday, Karns now has a 1.95 ERA over 97 innings split between Low- and High-A. His peripherals are even better, as he's allowed just 49 hits while striking out 122. His stuff has impressed as well, with a 91-96-mph fastball and nasty power breaker. At 24, he's behind the curve developmentally because of his delayed start, but when the scouting reports support the numbers, you don't worry so much about the past.
Max Kepler, OF, Twins (Rookie-level Elizabethton)
When the Twins set a European bonus record by signing Kepler for $800,000 three years ago, it was a complete athlete bet. He's six-foot-four, graceful and strong, and few players at any level look better in a uniform, but it was going to take time for him to learn how to play the game. His middling numbers during his first few seasons were actually quite impressive considering where he came from, and while he's playing short-season ball for the third straight year, Kepler is still just 19 years old and making very real progress. With four more hits over the weekend, including his fourth home run of the year, Kepler is hitting .306/.440/.519 in 29 games and showing an outstanding approach with surprising contact abilities. His ceiling remains through the roof, and his chances of reaching it are rapidly improving.
Juan Lagares, OF, Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
Lagares made some noise last year when he hit .349 between two levels, but as an outfielder without much in the way of power or patience, he had to keep hitting to maintain his prospect status. He didn't do it during the first half of the season, as he headed into the All-Star break with an uninspiring .273/.331/.362 line, but he's looked like the Lagares of old since. After three multi-hit games over the weekend, he's hitting .340/.381/.479 in 97 July plate appearances. He's far from perfect, but he's improved both his physical conditioning and his defense this year, to the point where he still fits better in a corner but can at least hold his own in center. It's hard to see him becoming an everyday guy with his skill set, but he does look like the kind of player who could have a career.
Blake Snell, LHP, Rays (Rookie-level Princeton)
Sometimes it takes a bit of extra time for Rays prospects to come to the forefront, since the organization is notoriously conservative in player development. A supplemental first-round pick in 2011 out of a Washington high school, Snell's campaign didn't begin until the short-season league got going in June, but he's been a dominant force, lowering his ERA to 0.84 with five shutout innings on Saturday. He's allowed just 17 hits over 32 1/3 innings while striking out 36. A tall, skinny lefty with a bit of effort in his delivery, Snell's fastball has above-average velocity, but it plays up due to incredible sink that has led to one of the best groundball ratios in the league. Like many 19-year-olds in Rookie ball, he will need to refine his solid-but-unspectacular breaking ball and changeup, but in another organization with a full-season assignment, he'd be a name more people would be talking about.
Donavan Tate, OF, Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
The third overall pick of the 2009 draft remains an enigma, and this year is no different. Forced up to High-A after an ugly showing in the Midwest League, Tate went 5-for-11 with five walks over the weekend, and suddenly he's hitting .304/.455/.362 in 21 games for the Storm. He still strikes out far too often, but he also has shown a deep understanding of the strike zone. He's hitting for a higher average than at any point in his career, but the power has been completely sapped from his game, as he's yet to go deep in 69 California at-bats and just three of his 21 hits have gone for extra bases. It's like he's changing into something different, but nobody is sure what. But with those tools and the pressure of a $6.25 million bonus, he'll get plenty of chances to help us figure it all out.
Allen Webster, RHP, Dodgers (Double-A Chattanooga)
It's been a strange season for Webster. He entered the year as one of the best pitching prospects in the system, but not without some concerns, as he had a rough go of it during the second half of the season at Double-A. On the surface, he's struggling again, with a season line that includes a 4.06 ERA and more than a hit per inning, but in reality, there have been three parts to his year. After putting up a 7.49 ERA in his first seven starts, Webster spent three weeks in the bullpen trying to straighten things out. Since his return to the rotation, he's put up a 2.11 ERA in nine starts, including a season-high 10 strikeouts over six innings on Friday. What was going wrong is a bit of a mystery, as Webster has always had the stuff for things to go right: a heavy 93-95 mph fastball, an easy plus changeup, and a decent slider.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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