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August 19, 2013

Monday Morning Ten Pack

August 19, 2013

by Jason Parks and BP Prospect Staff

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Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
The top pick in the 2012 draft started his full-season experience by hitting .221 in April, which didn’t raise any red flags because he was only 18 and playing at an advanced level. Because of a work ethic that pushes scouts to label his makeup as elite, Correa has taken huge developmental steps forward throughout the season, and has emerged as one of the premier prospects in the game. Finding comfort at the plate and learning to trust his hands and explode into the ball, Correa is showing the Midwest League his plus potential hit tool and maturing power. Once his timing clicked, the contact grew louder and louder, and the young prospect has produced an OPS near 1.000 in the second half. The glove has also been better than advertised, as the actions are clean and smooth, and several sources said he has the chops to stick at the position for the foreseeable future. Let’s break it down: Correa is still only 18, he’s hitting better than .330 in the Midwest League, he’s hitting lefties to the tune of .450-plus, he can play a premium defensive position, he has natural hitting instincts, the doubles will eventually turn into home runs, and the makeup is applauded by people who aren’t prone to applause. That’s a monster talent, the kind of player who can change the fortunes of a franchise. –Jason Parks

Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)
I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of radio hits in the Chicago market, and I’m usually asked about the positional depth in the Cubs’ org, and which prospect has the highest ceiling. Baez has long been my answer despite the fact that Baseball Prospectus ranked Almora higher on the pre-season and mid-season lists, mostly due to the fact that Baez was viewed by many to be a high-risk player. The tools are very loud, with elite bat speed at the plate and excellent hands in the field, but the aggressiveness and one-speed-at-all-times approach in all phases of the game painted the picture of an immature player, a prospect that might spoil his future before it has a chance to blossom. After an impressive run in the Florida State League, the blossoming we have eagerly anticipated has taken place after a promotion to Double-A, where Baez already has 26 extra-base hits in his first 40 games. Double-A is a test level, a separator level where pretenders are exposed and future major-league players are uncovered. It’s a small sample but a positive developmental step, and Baez is showing that he is not only prepared for the test but talented enough to excel against much older and wiser competition. He could be a star, a role 7 type with a middle-of-the-order bat and left-side chops in the field. Whatever his future role might be, the Cubs have an extremely valuable commodity in Baez.–-Jason Parks

Rookie Davis, RHP, Yankees (Short-Season A Staten Island)
Davis was a 14th round selection (449th overall) in the 2011 first-year player draft, signing with New York for $550,000 too late in the summer for meaningful innings (he logged no official innings in 2011 and just 17 innings in the Gulf Coast Rookie League last summer). Davis has remained largely off of the prospect map due in part to the Yankees’ careful handling of him, and due in part to the fact that his arsenal showed limited development when he was drafted. Two years later, New York is starting to see the potential for a return on its investment.

At 20, Davis is in the midst of completing his first season of Class-A ball with the short-season Staten Island Yankees, and finding a great deal of success through 10 starts thus far. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound righty is an imposing sight on the mound, pairing his intimidating physical presence with a stern visage. The stuff can be mean, as well, highlighted by a tough-to-lift low-90s fastball that can work comfortably at 94 mph on a downhill plane. The breaking ball is still a work in progress, but will flash above-average, and he has made progress with a low- to mid-80s off-speed, as well. Through 38 innings, Davis is averaging nearly a strikeout per inning while maintaining a 1.31 groundout to air-out ratio.

Davis is still learning to command his fastball, and will at times have difficulty putting hitters away due to his tendency to catch too much of the plate. The result can be elevated pitch counts early on – something he will need to address in order to stay afloat in full-season ball next year, where he could see his innings nearly double. Overall, 2013 has been a successful campaign for the former Sneads Ferry High standout, and he’ll be an interesting follow through fall instructs and spring training as he continues to build his innings, and his arsenal. –Nick J. Faleris

Dillon Maples, RHP, Cubs (Short-Season A Boise)
The oft-maligned 2011 bonus baby has just enjoyed perhaps his best month of professional baseball, following a mid-July demotion to short-season Boise. After a rocky three-walk performance in his Northwest League debut – a relief outing in which he recorded no outs – Maples has rattled off six solid starts, totaling 28 innings, 30 strikeouts, 21 hits, six walks, and just three runs. This past week, Maples put together his most impressive outing yet against Eugene, the Padres’ Northwest League affiliate.

Maples breezed through six innings, striking out nine, walking two, hitting one batter, and allowing just one hit – a single to lead off the third inning, subsequently erased by a 6-3 double-play. Maples faced just two over the minimum and, perhaps most impressive, did not record an out in the air. Coming off what could have been a demoralizing set of struggles in the Midwest League, the Cubs have to be encouraged by the vigor with which Maples has attacked Northwest League competition while enjoying his first real taste of dominance at the pro ranks.

Though it seems like Maples has been around forever, the former UNC commit has logged 74 professional innings due to his late signing in 2011 and elbow troubles last summer that limited him to 10 innings. While his velocity has been inconsistent throughout 2013 – alternating between the upper 80s and lower 90s – Maples has had no issue missing bats, and has made positive strides in both control and command since his demotion, drastically cutting down on his free passes and doing a better job overall of commanding the ball to the bottom-U. There is still a long road ahead of the young righty, but recent signs point to Maples taking a developmental step forward. He’ll look to finish 2013 on a high note, and to carry that momentum into a second shot at the Midwest League in 2014. –Nick J. Faleris

Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds (Triple-A Louisville)
When talking or writing about Hamilton things tend to focus on the speed. It’s an elite tool. But what about the bat? Hamilton’s quick wrists are his best assets. The 22-year-old’s hands enable him to generate plus bat speed and smoothly get his swing started with little wasted movement. I was impressed with the quickness of the outfielder’s stroke and his ability to produce backspin recently. Hamilton also showed that he’s capable of pulling his hands in to clear offerings out, along with utilizing them to stay inside of the ball and drive pitches the other way. Two signs, for me, that the prospect has the hitting skills to consistently hit in the majors.

“Consistently” is the key word to focus in on. Hamilton can struggle with his balance, which causes the switch hitter to lunge out to the ball with some frequency. As a lefty, this shows with his hips opening up early and subsequently the head of the bat reaching for the ball. It leads to too much weak contact from Hamilton. While there’s drive behind the ball due to the aforementioned backspin created, it isn’t going to translate into much over-the-fence power. As a result, experienced pitchers are also going to challenge the prospect in the zone often. If Hamilton can execute more consistently with his weight back, I see .280 batting averages within reach as a peak. However, he’s likely to always be on the streaky side due to the maintenance in the swing mechanics. Speed “never goes into a slump,” but Hamilton will need to put the ball into play harder, more frequently, to fully take advantage of it.—Chris Mellen

Jackie Bradley, OF, Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket)
While in the big leagues in April, Bradley struggled with his timing, and often chopped or carved offerings. There was too much pull in his offensive game as well. Bradley’s at his best when he’s hitting foul line to foul line. The left-handed hitter is more than capable of driving balls into both gaps, while demonstrating the offensive approach and plate discipline to maintain .280-.295 batting averages in The Show. In my most recent chance to see him, I was reminded of what will be the key for him to hit consistently; handling offerings on the outer third. Bradley can, at times, roll over or swing over pitches away because he’s getting his foot down too early and pulling off the ball. This plagued him at the beginning of the year. In this instance, Bradley stayed back and kept his shoulders square to the pitcher. The result was a hard liner to left field for a double. It may seem like something small or isolated, but it highlights why I think Bradley is going to hit, and hit well, in the bigs. He knows how to adjust. Once the outfielder gets his next extended chance, look for more of this kind of hitting, and for him to get a foothold as an everyday player. –Chris Mellen

Ryan Huck, 1B, Oakland Athletics (SS-A Vermont)
It’s rare that a 27th round pick stands out as one of the most interesting prospects in a short-season All-Star game, but Huck did just that in last week’s New York-Penn League exhibition contest. A hulking 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, Huck looks the part of a classic slugger. He has very real power to the middle of the field and rarely pulls on the ball. His swing can get a little long at times but he has some feel for squaring the ball and should hit through the middle minors. While he wasn’t in the NYPL Home Run Derby before the game –he should have been – Huck hit the most impressive blast of the night to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. Huck is limited to first base defensively and his bat speed isn’t electric, leaving an open question about his ability to hit at the highest level, but regardless he should be a quality organizational power bat. –Mark Anderson

Simon Mercedes, RHP, Boston Red Sox (SS-A Lowell)
Major League Baseball may have refused to approve one contract for Mercedes when he originally agreed to terms with the Giants in 2011, but after a one-year suspension, the Red Sox were able to sign him for $800,000; double the Giants original bonus. In his last two outings, both of which I was in the stands for, Mercedes has fanned 16 batters in 10 1/3 innings while walking two and allowing only five hits. His recent performance is the culmination of a season that has seen him shake off the rust and really begin developing into a fine pitching prospect. Mercedes’ stuff stands up to the impressive statistics, as he was hitting 96 mph regularly and sitting in the 93-94 mph range throughout his starts. His curveball is a go-to secondary pitch that can miss bats at its best, and he will show a splitter with some potential. There’s a lot of development remaining for Mercedes, but he’s a name to watch in a strong Red Sox system. –Mark Anderson

Deivi Grullon, C, Phillies (GCL Phillies)
Grullon is an exciting player to watch behind the dish, mainly because he possesses a cannon for an arm. Overall he is pretty polished as a defender for a 17-year-old. While watching him play this summer for the GCL Phillies I've had a bird’s-eye view of his defensive mechanics behind the plate. He has quick feet and moves well. Pitching in this league can be difficult to catch at times, but Grullon has handled it exceptionally well. He has been as close to a brick wall behind the plate as you'll see at this level. His receiving skills seem to come naturally. He has strong wrists which allow him to keep his glove still when catching the ball and also frame pitches smoothly. From my seat directly above the catcher I get to see just how consistently he fools umpires into calling strikes that are out of the zone. His arm is a laser, an accurate laser at that. It's easily a plus-plus tool. It gets him in trouble sometimes as he can get overly aggressive with it, but that's nothing some coaching and maturity won’t cure. His bat is still a work in progress, but he's made steady improvements through this season. With only 18 K's in 34 games this season, Grullon has been consistent with his bat-to-ball approach and flashes some power, mostly gap to gap. If his bat can continue to improve, Grullon is a name that will start to rapidly rise up prospect lists. –Chris King

Rowdy Tellez, 1B, GCL Blue Jays
Tellez was drafted in the 30th round this year and paid $850,00 to sign. The key to Tellez's game is raw power. He is a big kid (6'4" 220), but it's not the most muscular body you'll ever see. He was regarded as the top power bat in this year’s draft and there is no denying that he has it coming out of his ears. Defensively at first base he is decent. There isn't much range over there, but the position isn't eating him up and he does a nice job scooping throws. He has some pre-swing movement with his hands and was consistently off balance while finishing his swing. His hips were flying open and he was constantly trying pull every pitch, resulting in weak pop outs and balls hit straight into the ground. He has good bat speed, but the swing gets long, and he lacks pitch recognition. If Tellez can make some adjustments to his approach and swing while somehow finding a way to get his power to cross over from BP to live game action, he will be dangerous. Tellez has a lot to prove, and will for a while to justify the money he was given. The power he possesses is enough to keep from writing him off. He has made improvements and some of his problems with the swing can be fixed. –Chris King

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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