April 7, 2014
Monday Morning Ten Pack
Prospects We're Most Excited to See This Year
Raimel Tapia, OF, Rockies (Low-A Asheville)
Internet evaluators have a tendency to overcomplicate the scouting process, focusing too much of their attention on what players will do in the future rather than simplifying the explanations of what they actually can do in the present. We can dream on athletic bodies and cite physical projection to justify our fantasies about future accomplishment, and I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to attaching my name to body-beautiful types regardless of current skill level. But a good rule of thumb—in the particular context of evaluating position players—is that good hitters hit and bad hitters only project to hit.
Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia can hit. He accomplishes this with a combination of balance and bat speed at the plate, allowing him to consistently drive the baseball, but there is an innate component at play here that goes deeper than any breakdown of his setup or swing. He excels at putting the barrel of his bat on the baseball, recognizing the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand and using his excellent hand-eye coordination to finish the connection. This natural ability to hit has been evident at every stop in his professional career, and is likely to continue as he climbs toward the highest level. We can wax poetic—and I have—about his other physical gifts, like plus run, a plus arm, and the potential to stick up the middle with the glove, but the name of the game is bat-to-ball, and Tapia can hit. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. –Jason Parks
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (High A Fort Myers)
I had a chance to get a good look at Buxton during his first Fall Instructional League and came away very impressed with the tools. They were as loud as advertised. However, I thought there would be some early growing pains and a learning curve at the plate before his hit tool started to show against pro arms. I was a bit off. Buxton not only proved to be ahead of the early curve, but spent about half of last season more than holding his own in High-A.
I’m looking forward to getting an opportunity to zone in on the prospect this season as he progresses into the upper levels. It’s a chance to not only compare back to those early notes and learn from that initial assumption, but see the progress of those tools that stood out so much. I’ll also be very interested at how well Buxton controls the strike zone and shows against better secondary stuff. For an age-advanced prospect rapidly moving toward The Show, it’s a strong clue as to whether any potential speed bumps may be coming, and also how quickly things may take in the early stages at the highest level. –Chris Mellen
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)
After scouting Sanchez extensively in 2010 and 2012, I'm eager to see him demonstrate his development and take on advanced hitters this summer. When BP’s own C.J. Wittman noted that Sanchez was sitting 94-98 mph with two potential plus secondary pitches in his season debut, my appetite only further grew. Though frequently compared to current Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard because of their shared draft class, Sanchez has taken longer to develop and show his true high-end potential. When all is said and done, I expect to have scouted Sanchez for 30-40 innings this summer; a sample that should provide a solid view of his future and a level of excitement that few pitching prospects can match. –Mark Anderson
Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
Swihart has come a long way on both sides of the ball the past two seasons, and a placement in the Eastern League will challenge the 22-year-old backstop to keep the developmental momentum. I’m most interested in watching Swihart’s body language at the plate. The catcher went from looking skittish and uncertain during his first pro season to confident and in control of plate appearances last year in High A. When he’s relaxed, his swing unfolds fluidly, especially batting left-handed, and the ball typically travels to both gaps on a line. This part of Swihart’s game is a big clue to how things are going to progress in the upper levels. –Chris Mellen
Clint Frazier, OF, Indians (Low A Lake County)
Frazier is on the short list of my favorite amateur players ever scouted, with perhaps the most beautifully violent swing this side of Javier Baez. Over the years he’s shown me a little bit of everything. I’ve seen him run a sub-6.5 sixty and 4.2 home-to-first from the right side. I’ve seen plus-plus arm strength from the outfield (albeit prior to some elbow issues that stuck with him through his senior year at Loganville and first professional summer). I’ve seen him consistently square up the best of his contemporaries through the high school showcase circuit, and I saw him hit 22-plus home runs during a BP session prior to a high school game. Later that evening I saw him hit a ball so far that the second baseman congratulated him as he rounded the bases. Then he homered again. He’s set to ship to the Midwest League early this summer -- how could I not be excited to see what he has in store for me next? –Nick J. Faleris
Braden Shipley, RHP, Diamondbacks (Low A South Bend)
I was pleasantly surprised to learn Shipley, the 15th overall selection in last year’s First Year Player Draft, would be starting his season at Low-A South Bend. The Nevada product boasts electric raw stuff that continues to refine as he builds off of his sound mechanical foundation and highly athletic actions indicative of his status as a converted infielder. He’s a frontline arm in the making, already capable of wielding three plus-or-better offerings, and could overwhelm Low-A bats off the strength of his plus fastball and plus-plus changeup alone. It would not be shock to see Shipley pushed to High-A, or even Double-A, before we get too deep into the summer, particularly if the Midwest League bats aren’t capable of forcing him to spot his pitches with precision—one of the areas in which he will need to devote his attention in order to continue to develop. Here’s hoping he sticks around the Midwest long enough for me to get a peak. –Nick J. Faleris
Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers (High-A Rancho)
After hearing all the buzz about Urias last season, my expectations were sky high when I saw him recently. My initial thoughts upon first sighting: he throws 96? No way. (In fact, a pitcher for the Quakes said he clocked him up to 98 last season). The arm action was too easy; the delivery was repeatable; it all seemed too natural for a 17-year-old. He flashed a 70 grade changeup that features excellent arm speed and big vertical sink. His last sequence of the night was a thing of beauty: 92 mph on the corner; 82 mph changeup swung on and missed; 80 mph curveball to ring the batter up. Urias worked out of multiple jams, showing poise beyond his years. I'm assuming he'll be in Rancho for the majority of the season, logging innings and building on his success. Don't count out a trip to Double-A late in the season. He's a premier starting pitcher, primed for stardom. Remember Fernandomania? –Chris Rodriguez
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates (High-A Bradenton)
The 6-foot-7 Glasnow shot up prospect lists last year faster than one of his mid-90s fastballs. He was a strikeout machine in his first taste of full season ball, carving up South Atlantic League opponents at a rate of 13.3 punchouts per nine. When I first saw him in the GCL back in 2012, he was pretty much a fastball-only kid who would overpower rookie ball hitters with velocity alone. At times he would flash a plus curve, and his changeup was nothing more than a show-me pitch. Since then, his arsenal has grown as he's started to mature as pitcher. His curveball is now his second legit plus offering. While his changup is still a work in progress, it is on pace to grade out as an average pitch in the near future. The command is a cause for concern and entering High-A he's going to need to show improvement. Glasnow will begin the season on the DL with a lower back issue, but now that he’s equipped with a rounded three-pitch arsenal—to go with an imposing frame that allows him to work with a steep downhill plane—he is in position to be a possible top 10 prospect. –Chris King
Reese McGuire, C, Pirates (Low-A West Virginia):
Few things are as visually stimulating on a baseball field as legitimate defensive chops behind the plate, and based on reports from writers and scouts alike, McGuire projects to have impact tools in this area of the game. While already possessing a Howitzer for an arm, the athletically gifted backstop will spend this season fine-tuning his overall receiving skills. Given a few minor improvements, he should further solidify his name as one of the top defensive catchers in the minors. Reports on the bat are mainly optimistic, with some painting a verbal picture of a perennial all-star candidate due to his top-shelf defense and an offensive game that blends natural hitting skills with average power output. This will be the most intriguing part of his game to monitor during his first trip through the Sally League, as a solid season at the plate should catapult his name to the top half of prospect lists. —Ethan Purser
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
The former No. 1 overall draft pick is the rare breed of player whom possesses superstar tools to go along with superstar intangibles. That lethal combination could propel Correa to the game's top prospect in 2014. But the intrigue is still there, keeping Correa away from the "boring prospect" label that would place him in the Stephen Strasburg division. While Correa's tools may cause me sleepless nights after exposure, I'm not ruling out the possibility that it is the elite makeup that impresses me most. Identifying makeup is one of the most difficult tasks for any given talent evaluator, including myself, but being able to observe how Correa's makeup plays on the field and impacts those around him will only help me improve as a talent evaluator in that area.—Ron Shah
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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