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June 16, 2014

Monday Morning Ten Pack

June 16, 2014

by BP Prospect Staff

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Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
Shoulder ailments have cast a shadow over what was to be Walker’s first full year at the major-league level, but the Mariners‘ top prospect made a strong statement on Saturday, indicating his arrival in Seattle might not be far away. Walker put together his longest start of the season since resuming in-game action at the end of May, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning on route to a final line of 6.2 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 3 BB, and 7 SO. Walker threw 57 of his 94 pitches for strikes and in particular worked his fastball well to both sides of the plate. Walker could be ready to join the big club by the end of the month, once Mariners brass is comfortable he is capable of taking the ball every fifth day without issue. He’ll get Colorado Springs with his next start, with evaluative eyes watching on to see how he responds to his longest outing of the season to date. Back-to-back solid outings where he is able to turn over the lineup two or three times would be a strong indication the shoulder is ready to once again begin challenging major-league bats. —Nick J. Faleris

Dilson Herrera, 2B, Mets (High-A St. Lucie)
Earlier in the year, I wrote that Herrera had a noticeable bat wrap that limited his bat-to-ball skills from achieving their true in-game ceiling. A month later, he has made great strides in limiting that wrap and shortening his stroke. He’s still not a big power producer, but his swing has gone from that of an athlete swinging a bat to a true hitter. He’s much more direct to the ball and is making more consistent contact, a major step forward for a contact/speed type hitter. He’s still a right-side infielder, which limits his ceiling, but his hit tool has taken a step forward, which gives him a better chance of sticking as an everyday player than I had originally thought a few months ago. —Jeff Moore

Jorge Flores, 2B, Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)
It’s not often that 5-foot-5 players force a mid-season promotion, but Flores did just that after standing out in the Florida State League for both his defensive skills at second base and his bat-to-ball skills at the plate. Flores will never be mistaken for a power hitter, but he understands his game and makes the most out of it. He doesn’t strike out much and puts the ball on the ground and uses his plus speed to its full effect. Where his game has its most value, however, is in the field. He is a burst of energy in and out of the dugout and is a plus-plus defender at second base. Despite his size, he can make all of the necessary throws from the keystone and has more than enough range to man the position. His ability to handle the charge play is picturesque. He might never hit enough to warrant everyday playing time, though he’s doing his best to dispel that reputation. Regardless, his glove and speed can be a real asset. —Jeff Moore

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals (Low-A Hagerstown)
Lucas Giolito is one of those pitchers who can alter a franchise. He has two elite offerings which could work in the majors very soon. The fastball is a true weapon sitting 93-96 and topping out at 97-98. The ball has natural arm-side run up to 95, but straightens out at higher velocity. It shows boring action and late life that is hard to pick up out of hand. The velocity and movement are heightened due to his extreme plane The curveball is one of the best strikeout pitches I have seen in a minor-league game—a true hammer, and Giolito has pure confidence in it. Both the fastball and curveball need minor refinement in terms of consistency and command, but they will be weapons in the majors. The changeup is further away, and I do not view it as a true weapon by itself. However, it works with the rest of the arsenal and Giolito shows ability to nearly replicate the pitch out of his hand like a fastball. Throughout the outing, Giolito displayed his athleticism on the mound, showing excellent PFP skills and an ability to become an extra fielder. His arsenal was impressive, but I was nearly as impressed by the makeup on the mound. He gave up a home run on a 96 mph fastball to Carlos Asuaje in the second, and then decided that was enough for the day and dominated the rest of the outing. While Giolito is a high-risk talent, the ceiling is undeniable. If the change up can consistently hit solid-average, he could be the best pitcher in the minors. —Tucker Blair

Video: http://youtu.be/ESzF32nRYik

Manuel Margot, OF, Red Sox (Low-A Greenville)
This was my first time laying eyes on Margot this season. Usually, I reserve my thoughts on a player until I see an extended version of his game. But Margot was extremely impressive, displaying a quick bat and smooth path through the zone. The athleticism is truly impressive, exuberant in all phases of his game. At the plate, he shows fast-twitch movement, starting with plus bat speed and quick-flicking wrists. I generally fall in love with a quick and smooth swing with minimal movement. Margot has that, with a tick of leverage that allows for him to hit for modest power. He's more of a gap-to-gap hitter, but the power is a bit surprising. In center field, Margot displayed tremendous range and made a few plays that required extreme instincts and a high burst of speed. While Margot may not be a household name, he does all the little things well. That alone makes him worth putting eyes on again at some point this season. —Tucker Blair

Video: http://youtu.be/198BC3f22M8

Brian Johnson, LHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
After sustaining a face injury on a line drive right after signing, then battling nagging injuries in his first full professional campaign, Johnson has finally showed in 2014 what he is as a pitcher. The reports and returns have been positive. A big development for the left-hander has been the progress of his changeup. The pitch lagged behind his other offerings out of college, but the 23-year-old did show some feel with his change, with the potential to take some steps forward. That potential has come to fruition via improved arm speed, along with more confidence and trust in the pitch during sequences. Johnson relies on spotting his 89-92 mph heater in the lower tier of the strike zone, while strategically elevating and reaching back for a little more velocity. There’s pressure to be fine with his fastball command, which grades as about solid-average, but thus far that’s been a strength for the lefty. The aforementioned improvement with his change has given Johnson another option, along with an average-to-solid-average curveball and average slider, to keep hitters off balance. It’s a four-pitch mix that he knows how to use. The stuff will have to pass the test against a step up in competition, but Johnson is showing he can project to the back end of the rotation. —Chris Mellen

Kennys Vargas, 1B, Twins (Double-A New Britain)
I’ve had the chance to see Vargas over the past three seasons, and my thoughts surrounding the prospect have always focused on “big.” Big body, big swing, and big raw power. The body might be the biggest. I didn’t get that much of a feel for his game outside of his batting practice power a couple of Fall Instructs ago; the first baseman was just kind of there and blah during game action. But when I’ve seen the 23-year-old this season, his ability to cut his swing down in certain situations has stood out. He’ll also go the other way with some frequency, which speaks to a maturing approach. The swing does get a little messy and on the long side with breaking stuff. I still have some questions on how Vargas will handle premium velocity, especially above the thighs. But there’s some intrigue in the bat. After peeling back the layers and getting through the initial impressions, there’s hitting ability, and ultimately that is what you’re looking for. —Chris Mellen

JaCoby Jones, SS, Pirates (Low-A West Virginia)
If you’re into tools, Jones has them by the truckload. The 2013 third round pick had no-doubt first-round tools, but a lack of production in three seasons at LSU forced him down draft boards. The Pirates have understandably played it slow and low with Jones, sending him to the Sally League to begin the season, and he has responded with a .260/.333/.405 line, seven home runs and a 22:73 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 65 games.

Jones is getting a shot to play shortstop in pro ball, and while the transition is a long-term project, he displays good range to both sides due to his plus foot speed. His hands are a bit of question mark and show hesitancy when he is forced to sit back and play grounders on the hop. The arm strength is above average via a short arm action and quick release. While he’s presently displaying an ability to handle the position, I’m not sold that he can stick there long term. Center field would be a more fitting position for his plus speed and long actions, though I’m told the Pirates have a decent player occupying that position currently. At the dish, Jones has a narrow, upright stance and uses a big leg-kick trigger in an attempt to get to his plus raw power consistently. He struggles to cover the outer half with this approach, however, swinging through too many off-speed pitches with a pull-heavy approach. There’s plenty of work to be done on both sides of the ball, and while time isn’t on his side, the 22-year-old has the type of tool kit to be a dynamic player at the major-league level if he can find a way to consistently leverage the impressive athleticism into pure baseball skills. —Ethan Purser

Kyle Schwarber, C, Cubs (Short-season Boise)
The Cubs’ 2014 first round selection completed his first professional series over the weekend with as loud a start to his pro career as fans could possibly hope for. The University of Indiana product went seven for 11 with two home runs, one walk, and one strikeout, producing a staggering .636/.643/1.182 slash line while showcasing his plus-plus raw power and good feel for the barrel. Schwarber has perhaps the most advanced bat in the entire draft class, and could move very quickly through his first few stops as he makes his way toward Wrigley. A promotion to Low-A Kane County should manifest in short order, and Schwarber could find himself in High-A Daytona before season’s end. While the bat is probably ready for Double-A Tennessee, Chicago will likely afford him the opportunity to start smoothing out the edges behind the plate this summer in low-pressure Single-A environments. —Nick J. Faleris

Kep Brown, OF, Wando HS (2015 Draft)
Kep has three very obvious natural gifts on the baseball field. His size (6-foot-5, 215), his speed (6.6 60-yard dash) and his power. His power has always been a prolific display in batting practice and is beginning to show up in game action. Facing the best competition in the country this week at the Perfect Game National Showcase, Brown hit two lasers high off the replica Green Monster at Jet Blue park, with the second double clocking in at over 100 mph off his bat. The swing itself is still a work in progress but has come a very long way. The first double Brown hit was on a high-and-inside pitch which is the one pitch his long arms usually struggle to get to. There is a different sound when this young man squares up a baseball. Even as a amateur the ball comes off his bat with a velocity that would make many professionals jealous. Brown’s makeup is outstanding, his work ethic awesome, his swing improving, and the physical gifts are elite. At the moment Brown’s stock is rising.

His swing in action:

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leaguers

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