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March 31, 2014

Monday Morning Ten Pack

10 Prospects Who Turned Heads in Spring Training

by Jason Parks

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LHP Julio Urias (Dodgers)
A 16-year-old pitching in the Midwest League can turn heads, and when that pitcher can pump a fastball in the 91-96 range in each start, backed up by multiple breaking ball looks and a quality changeup, the heads start spinning. I watched two spring starts from the now 17-year-old southpaw, and I came away knowing that this was the most polished young arm I have ever seen.

From a smooth and repeatable delivery, Urias worked his fastball in the 91-95 range, touching 96 in his first backfield outing. The feel for command was very strong, as was his situational understanding; he would pitch backwards against hitters with fastball appetites, manipulating his breaking ball to drop for strikes or to force chase swings. The slider was his money pitch this spring, showing a curveball break in the low-80s and true slider tilt in the 85 mph range. Along with the fastball, the slider gives Urias a true plus offering that he can execute whenever he needs it, and when the changeup is working, he has a full major league quality arsenal at his disposal. Urias needs to log innings and stay healthy, but his combination of present stuff and polish could push him to the major league level before his 19th birthday. Prepare the marketing campaign.

C Jorge Alfaro (Rangers)
Alfaro is starting to blossom into the player his tool-based profile suggested was possible, with a near-elite combination of impact ability on all sides of the ball. Alfaro is a physical beast, with grown-man size and strength and the speed of a middle infielder; he’s routinely clocked in the 4.1 range from home to first, and his second gear confirms his standing as a plus runner. His receiving skills have taken a step forward behind the plate, as the hands are softer with less stabbing action toward the ball, and the overall focus is more about the pitcher and less about his own aggressiveness in controlling the running game.

The arm is a true weapon, an 80-grade tool, and his footwork allows the arm to play to its full potential, often popping in the sub 1.8 range on his throws to second. The bat is maturing as well, with a torque-heavy swing that he shows more control over now than in previous years, and a power stroke capable of putting him in the middle of a major league lineup if he reaches his potential. His approach still needs refinement, but if he can put himself in more favorable conditions and continue to punish fastballs, Alfaro could quickly emerge as a top-tier prospect in the game, and the future face of the Texas Rangers franchise.

OF Raimel Tapia (Rockies)
We ranked Tapia no. 97 on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101, and after watching the 20-year-old in workouts and game action this spring, it’s clear to me that we were too low on the Dominican outfielder. Tapia has impact potential on all sides of the ball, with plus speed, plus glove potential in center, a strong arm, and the type of stick that could carry a player without any additional physical attributes. The setup is a little peculiar, with a Jim Thome-esque bat point toward the pitcher before loading his hands high in a wide, balanced stance. The hands have a calm drift into a lower swing position, and once he triggers, it becomes clear to even novice eyes that the bat speed and stroke are of high quality.

I see a plus hit tool and solid-average power potential, although the power could arrive much later, as Tapia’s body is underdeveloped at present and he still needs to add strength to his skinny, narrow frame. Tapia is going to emerge as a nationally recognized prospect in 2014, and with a strong full-season debut, he has all the necessary characteristics to jump into the top 50 prospects in the game by the end of the season.

SS Tim Anderson (White Sox)
I’m quite smitten with Tim Anderson. If I worked for a team, he would rank high on any must-acquire list I compiled, and I would stick my neck out to stand up for the choice. It starts with his hands at the plate, as they are incredibly quick and controlled, and he attacks the ball at the plate, showing excellent contact ability and loud pop.

In the field, he’s clearly athletic but not especially smooth at shortstop, with some stiffness in his fielding actions despite the fast-twitch athletic profile. Through repetition and more experience, Anderson could make shortstop work, but I saw him as a better long-term fit at second base, with a plus arm for the position and the type of coordination and reaction ability to develop into a plus defender at the keystone. Anderson is still finding his way and is in need of refinement in all aspects of his on-field performance, but this is a future role 6 player at the highest level, a first-division talent regardless of his future defensive home.

LHP Sean Manaea (Royals)
With so many questions surrounding the health of Manaea, most outlets avoided going too high on the former supplemental first-round pick on off-season lists, but strong reports from instructional league action placed the 22-year-old at no. 78 on the BP 101. After an even stronger spring, that aggressive placement seems too conservative.

A healthy Manaea is a future no. 2/3 starter at the major-league level, with the body and delivery to log innings, the stuff to keep bats off the barrel, and the pitchability and command to keep hitters off-balance multiple times through a lineup. In multiple viewings this spring, the fastball worked 91-94, with surgical command at times to both sides of the plate. In addition to the velocity and command, the fastball is very difficult to pick up and track out of the hand, giving it ghost-ball qualities that allow the 60-grade pitch to play up beyond its paper grade. Mix in a slurvy slider and a bottom-heavy changeup that Manaea can command, and you have a pitcher who should carve up the minors on his fast-track to the majors.

SS Franchy Cordero (Padres)
In off-season discussions for the Padres top 10 list, Cordero’s name came up quite a bit, with several sources pushing for his inclusion in the rankings. Because I wasn’t given enough love as a child and have a cold, empty heart, I didn’t include Cordero on the top 10, instead listing him as a prospect on the rise, which already looks incredibly foolish and short-sighted. The 19-year-old shortstop is an incredibly talented offensive threat, with well above-average hands at the plate and the type of projectable power rarely seen in a middle infielder. I could watch his swing for hours: the way he keeps his hands in a good, low hitting position regardless of the pitch and the way he stays balanced as his hips explode and he throws the bat into the zone.

Cordero can play shortstop for now, but after watching him in the field during numerous workouts and five-plus games this spring, I project a move off the position down the line, with third base or right field looking like strong possibilities given his athleticism and arm strength. Regardless of his position, the bat will carry him a long way, and if he shines in his full-season debut in 2014, he could emerge as a top 101 prospect in the game at this time next season.

IF Javier Baez (Cubs)
Baez has the best bat speed of any prospect in the minors—and some of the best bat speed you will ever see—and that was on full display this spring, in workouts, under the bright lights against major league competition, and on the backfields. His game is noisy and violent, but lethal talent comes with a dangerous edge, and Baez was built to devastate and destroy without apology. He needs a steady diet of upper-minors off-speed stuff to help refine his offensive appetite, along with more repetition in the field, where he isn’t as confident as he is at the plate, but it won’t be long until the 21-year-old forces the issue and climbs to the major-league level, where he should eventually become one of the most feared hitters in the game.

LHP Ricardo Sanchez (Angels)
After a strong pre-J2 buzz and an impressive post-signing instructional league campaign, 16-year-old Ricardo Sanchez was very much on the prospect radar coming into the spring, which made him a must-see on the backfields. In a limited look, it was clear that Sanchez is both raw and legit, with the type of arm speed you can’t teach even if the location ability is still underdeveloped at present.

Short but sturdy, the southpaw worked the fastball in the 89-92 range and hit 93 and 94 on a few occasions, showing cutting action. The secondary arsenal was poorly executed in the outing I saw, but he has a good delivery to work with and shows good feel for craft despite the rough edges. Sanchez will pitch the entire 2014 season as a 17-year-old, most likely at the complex level, and is likely to climb prospect lists as he proceeds through the developmental process. Forced comps are counterproductive, but the similarities between Sanchez and fellow Venezuelan southpaw Martin Perez are appropriate.

IF/OF Samir Duenez (Royals)
Signed out of Venezuela in 2012, Duenez had a strong stateside debut in 2013 at the complex level but is still an unknown entity to most. His anonymity won’t last. The 17-year-old is a natural hitter, with fantastically fast hands and an ease about putting his barrel on the ball, regardless of the pitch type or location. The power is going to arrive, as I see a plus bat in the making, the type of hitter who doesn’t have to sell out for the long ball but allows it to flow through his hard contact.

The defensive profile is a question mark, as Duenez played first base both in his professional debut and when I saw him in multiple looks on the backfields, but I don’t think he’s necessarily locked into that position in the long term. Despite a mature body, Duenez runs well for his size, clocking times in the 4.25-4.3 range home-to-first, and he showed good athleticism and coordination in infield drills and game action. I can see left field being a possibility, but at the end of the day, Duenez will make his bones with his bat, and based on what I saw, he has the plus bat speed and natural feel for hitting to stand out regardless of where he plays in the field.

IF Josh Van Meter (Padres)
On the backfields with thumpers like Franchy Cordero, Gabriel Quintana, and Hunter Renfroe, it’s hard for a 5’11’’, 165 lbs. second baseman to stand out. But Van Meter forced the issue by barreling the majority of the balls I saw him receive in game action, which amounted to over 20 at-bats over the course of the spring. The 19-year-old infielder was solid on all routine defensive plays I saw him make, showing good leather and actions and a strong arm, but it was his work at the plate that put his name on this list.

With a balanced setup and swing, Van Meter simply strokes the ball to all fields, hitting line drives against good pitching, bad pitching, and everything in between. You can label him a gamer because of his immature size in relation to his teammates, or the fact that he always seems to be around the ball, but the proper label for Van Meter is a hitter, because all this kid did in camp was make hard contact with the baseball. It’s difficult to project his outcome, as I didn’t see enough in the field to grade him above-average (only routine plays) and didn’t see a lot of projectable power at the plate (in batting practice or game action), but what I did see was a hit tool that can play. Instead of scouting for what a player can’t do on a field, I want to highlight an attribute that can eventually make the former fifth-round pick a major-league-caliber talent: he can f*cking hit.

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

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