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September 16, 2013

Monday Morning Ten Pack

Prospects Who Exceeded Our Expectations

by Jason Parks and BP Prospect Staff

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Raul Adalberto Mondesi, shortstop, Royals (Low-A Lexington)
Coming into the season, Mondesi the Younger was an invisible prospect to many, having failed to capture more national attention despite being ranked third on the Baseball Prospectus Royals’ Top 10 list and 58th overall in baseball on the pre-season 101. His most familiar quality at the time was a bloodline and a short-season resume, but after the then-17-year-old jumped to the full-season level and flashed his high-ceiling tools, he became a featured player on prospects lists all over the internet. The equivalent of a junior in high school, Mondesi had 27 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in the Sally League, while showing off his legit left-side chops on defense. Mondesi has a chance to blossom into one of the best prospects in the game, as the hit tool has projection (clean stroke; can make hard contact and drive velocity) and the glove is more than capable of sticking at shortstop. Factor in his extreme youth, natural ease and feel for the game, and tool-based ceiling, and Mondesi might be one of the most exciting prospects in the minors. He exceeded all my expectations in 2013 and my expectations were high, and with another step forward, the aforementioned prospect prophecy might be a truth and not just a tease. –Jason Parks

Lucas Sims, pitcher, Braves (Low-A Rome)
Sims is a stud, but I didn’t see him developing into this level of stud this early in the developmental process. A first-round pick in 2012, Sims has been on the prospect radar for a while, but the 19-year-old righty really blossomed in 2013, logging over 116 innings in the Sally League and missing 134 bats. He’s not an imposing figure on the mound, but the stuff casts a bigger shadow than his 6’2’’ frame. He’s comfortable working his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s with late tailing action, dropping a true upper-70s hammer with heavy vertical action, and a 82-86 mph changeup with late sink. Because of his impressive performance in 2013, Sims is sailing up prospect lists, and if his final six starts of the season are a harbinger of his next step forward (34 IP, 46 K, 23 H, 5 ER), the Braves might have something special on their hands. –Jason Parks

Tyler Glasnow, pitcher, Pirates (Low-A West Virginia)
We had Glasnow ranked eighth in the Pirates system coming into the year, and at the time, I thought that was aggressive. At the time, the lanky righty had 38 innings on his short-season resume, and a lot of questions about the utility of the curveball, the spike in velocity on the fastball, and the overall command profile. You can make a case that Glasnow had the best season of any pitching prospect in the minors, jumping up to the full-season level, making 24 starts, logging 111 innings, and missing an obscene 164 bats. The velocity spike carried over and the pitch became a true weapon, working 92-95 mph and touching 96. The curveball continued to improve, showing plus potential in the 75-79 range with big depth. The fastball command and changeup aren’t draped in gold and placed on the mantle yet, but Glasnow made developmental progress throughout the season, and both could end up grading out as average. Over the course of a year, Glasnow went from a relatively unknown name in a crowded Pirates system to a top 50 prospect in the minor leagues. His performance in 2013 was phenomenal and exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. Can he repeat the feat in 2014? –Jason Parks

Robert Stephenson, pitcher, Reds (Double-A Pensacola)
We ranked Stephenson only 78th in the minors coming into the 2013 season, and I felt it necessary to drop the following endnote on the young arm: Robert Stephenson will be at least 30 spots higher in 2014. Maybe he should be that high now. Love the arm; love the approach.” This is good lesson for me heading into the 2014 prospect list season; an example of a good evaluation that I lacked the fortitude to stand behind with my feet firmly planted. Stephenson won’t be 30 spots higher…he will be at least 50 spots higher, a testament to his outstanding performance in 2013, one that pushed him all the way to the Double-A level. An excellent athlete, Stephenson pitches with the intensity of a top-of-the-rotation arm, complete with a plus-plus fastball that works in the mid-90s and tickles the gun with elite readings, a hammer curveball that is bat-missing weapon, and an ever-improving changeup that should develop into at least a solid-average offering. The profile is sexy and the production echoed that in 2013, and even though he exceeded expectations on the field, we should have seen this coming. –Jason Parks

Maikel Franco, third base, Phillies (Double-A Reading)
I didn’t write a glowing report on Franco after a four-game look earlier this summer, and he rewarded my pessimism by continuing to punish baseballs like they personally wronged his family. I’m still quite hesitant to accept his Double-A performance as a preview of his future major-league success, but there is no denying that Franco’s eruption in 2013 was more explosive and more consistent than anybody could have predicted. He just showed a natural feel for driving the baseball and making hard contact, and that is evident in his 70 extra-base hits across two levels. I think his load and trigger are not only noisy but add length to the swing, which gives him coverage issues and opens him up to secondary exploitation. But his hand-eye coordination is so good that he can recover from bad guesses, and his bat speed is so good that he can catch up to the ball despite the early extension and length. His body isn’t very impressive and his defensive profile at third is fringe at best, but the bat will carry him to the majors and has the potential to make him an offensive weapon once he gets there. –Jason Parks

Jose Rondon, SS, Angels (Rookie Orem)
In last week’s Ten Pack, I profiled the disappointing season of Angels top prospect Kaleb Cowart at Double-A Arkansas. I’ll flip the script this week––much to the delight of frustrated Angels fans, I’m sure––by highlighting the 19-year-old Rondon, who was among the more intriguing up-the-middle youngsters I saw this year. A bargain $70,000 signing out of Venezuela in 2011, Rondon recently finished off an impressive campaign at rookie-level Orem, hitting .293/.359/.399 with 22 doubles, two triples, and a home run. He also drew 30 walks while striking out just 31 times in 68 games.

I put eyes to Rondon at extended spring training in May and was immediately impressed by the prospect’s mature all-around look. He couples his quick bat with a sound approach at the plate, giving him some gap-to-gap projection with on-base ability. In the field, he flashed an advanced glove with natural actions, smooth hands, and a solid-average arm from shortstop; it was the most advanced teenaged shortstop I saw this year. There’s some concern from scouts that Rondon may ultimately outgrow the position, though that’s far from a certainty, and his instincts will work in his favor.

Rondon’s overall tools are more solid than elite, but when mixed with his polish, he becomes a potential big-league regular (role 5) up the middle. After the shortstop checked in at no. 9 on BP’s top 10 Angels prospects list entering this season, it’s safe to say he’s poised to make a healthy jump up the rankings. –Jason Cole

Video of Rondon

Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals (Low-A Lexington)
The 20-year-old Almonte was featured in last week’s “What Scouts Are Saying” series, with a scout confirming that “the scouting backs up the stats.” Given Almonte’s age and level, his stats alone were plenty impressive. The Dominican Republic native made 25 starts at Low-A Lexington this season, posting a 3.10 ERA while fanning 132 and walking 36 in 130 2/3 innings. The scout also commented that Almonte “has command much better than you’d expect from a guy a year removed from the Dominican Summer League.”

That combination of stuff and overall feel makes Almonte one of the game’s more impressive lower-level pitching prospects; he’s not simply a young fireballer who overpowers on pure velocity. Listed at 6’2”, 180 pounds, the right-hander has a loose arm with athleticism and a relatively clean, simple delivery. He’ll attack hitters with a four-pitch mix, including two present plus offerings in his fastball––which remained a consistent 92-93 mph, touching mid-90s all season––and highly deceptive changeup. Almonte’s changeup is a potential knockout pitch, and he already uses it as a weapon to both left- and right-handed hitters. His curveball––along with the occasional slider––is less consistent at present but flashes solid-average. Almonte has the pure upside of a no. 2 or 3 starter, and there aren’t many pitchers with the stuff/polish combo at his age and level. With a year of full-season success on his resume, he’ll jump into the top tier of Royals prospects after ranking no. 9 on BP’s list prior to this season. –Jason Cole

Mookie Betts, INF, Red Sox (High A Salem)
I had seen quite a bit of Betts in Lowell during 2012 and the infielder made noticeable progress over the course of the season, especially in terms of getting comfortable at the plate. However, there was still a lot of weak contact being produced and my initial thoughts heading into 2013 were that things could be on the up-and-down side for 20-year-old in his first taste of full-season baseball. His talent was beginning to show, but the experience and polish were lagging, with bigger potential steps forward likely to be at least a year or so away. All Betts did in 2013, though, was go out and hit. The right-handed hitter tore into South Atlantic League pitching to the tune of .296/.418/.477 before a mid-season promotion to the Carolina League. He quieted fears that he would hit resistance from the jump in competition with a .341 average and .551 slugging percentage in 51 games.

What totally blows away any expectation I had entering the season is the spike in Betts’ power. When I had seen the prospect in short-season, the quick hands and bat control stuck out. He was more than capable of getting the bat on the ball, but the drive behind it was on the empty side. This year when I caught him in Greenville, Betts flashed more power into the left-center gap. His loose hands pulled inside the ball more easily, and there was quite a bit more backspin created. It’s still important to be a bit cautious; to project as a regular, Betts will have to continue to prove the bat is capable of producing consistent hard contact against higher-quality upper-minors. But this year is a big stride forward for the prospect, and one that I didn’t see coming. –Chris Mellen

Steven Matz, LHP, Mets (Low-A Savannah)
Given Matz’s injury history and limited body of work, the left-handed starter was more of an uncertainty entering the season. The raw stuff had been loud, as the Mets made the 22-year-old their second-round pick back in 2009. But, after missing the 2010 and 2011 seasons from reconstructive surgery, he gave the Mets only a brief, 29-inning glimpse of that stuff returning before he was shut down again with soreness in the same elbow. It’s not hard to see why just pitching through a full season was more than a reasonable expectation, which Matz ended up surpassing this year. The lefty fired 106 1/3 innings in 21 starts, while limiting opposing hitters to 86 hits and racking up 121 strikeouts. On the surface, it would appear that the once-promising stuff had returned to form.

Reports confirmed that the stuff is on an upward curve and that Matz is also beginning to put his injury woes into the past. His fastball was consistently clocked at 93-96 mph, with late tail and the type of explosion to beat opposing hitters. The lefty also cuts the pitch to produce two different looks depending on the situation or point in the sequence. Matz’s curveball and changeup received high marks. Each of his four pitches has a chance to play at above-average consistently, with the current feel displayed for his arsenal being a key strength. Matz’s stock is elevating quickly, and don’t be surprised to see the buzz beginning to swell around him this offseason. There’s still a good amount of risk here and expectations will be much higher in 2014, but things are trending in the right direction. –Chris Mellen

Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants (High-A San Jose)
From a pure stuff standpoint, Crick is an elite prospect. In his final start this season (at a time when many pitching prospects are fatigued) he sat comfortably in the 93-96 mph range with his fastball, topping out at 98. His upper-80s changeup gives him a second present plus pitch, featuring plus life to the arm side as he maintains his arm speed well with it. Both of his breaking balls are works in progress; his curveball is a potential third plus pitch, and his slider flashes bite as well. But in his start against Inland Empire in game two of the California League championship series he had posture issues in his delivery that frequently caused his arm stroke to be late. He was able to get through the order once without allowing a run primarily with the fastball, but the second time through the order his command issues caught up to him and he didn’t make it out of the fourth inning. The upside is tantalizing, but two years into his pro career Crick is not a finished product and has several developmental leaps separating him from the front of a big-league rotation. –Todd Gold

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Scouting,  Detroit Tigers,  Minor Leaguers

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