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July 11, 2014

2014 Futures Game Preview

Scouting the U.S. Team

by Ron Shah

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Welcome to part two of a two-part series on scouting the players involved in this Sunday's Futures Game showcase of prospect talent. The International roster preview ran on Thursday.

Pitchers

Christian Binford, RHP, Royals (High-A Wilmington)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
Binford entered 2014 as a prospect on the rise in the Royals system, and his performance so far has earned him the chance to represent Kansas City in Minnesota for the Futures Game. Binford is more polish than projection, as neither the fastball nor slider projects to be a plus or better offering. Meanwhile, the changeup is lagging behind and will need to jump an entire grade before he can realistically profile in a rotation. Regardless, it appears Binford will provide the Royals with more than the expected value of a typical 30th round selection.

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Nationals (Low-A Hagerstown)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 7
Giolito possesses enormous risk with unparalleled upside, so a healthy 2014 season has allowed the big-framed righty to catapult himself atop the list of pitching prospects. As far as the tools go, there isn’t much to knock. The 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds Giolito is a power pitcher built like a potential ace with the stuff to match. The fastball and curveball might each develop into true 80-grade offerings, and the changeup is coming along just fine.

Marco Gonzales, LHP, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)*
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
Gonzales fits the mold of what the Cardinals seem to target in the draft: A polished college pitcher ready to move quickly through the minor-league ranks with a plus or better changeup. Gonzales is already contributing to the big-league club despite being just a year removed from being drafted. For that reason, he won’t get to showcase his talents at the Future’s Game.

Hunter Harvey, RHP, Orioles (Low-A Delmarva)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 21
Ever since his professional debut, Harvey's potential-backing performance has led to his rapid ascension of prospect rankings. The righty possesses an excellent pitcher’s frame with incredible intensity and makeup on the mound. He’ll flash two double-plus offerings in the fastball and curveball, but the changeup lags in comparison. If Harvey can develop the third offering, his ceiling is top-of-the-rotation starter.

Daniel Norris, LHP, Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 33

Norris entered 2014 outside of the top 101, but now he’s one of the biggest individual risers, moving all the way up to no. 41 on the mid-season top 50. The athletic southpaw is showing a complete four-pitch mix, including a fastball that can run up to 97 mph on the radar gun. A dominant 2014 campaign has earned Norris a midseason promotion to Double-A, and he’s now quickly closing the gap on Aaron Sanchez as Toronto’s top prospect.

Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 40
Owens continues to go through Double-A lineups with little pushback from opposing batters at the minor-league ranks, but the stuff doesn’t match the strong statistics. Owens possesses just one plus or better offering in his arsenal. The fastball and curveball are mostly average to above-average offerings, and that will limit Owens’ overall ceiling to that of a backend starter. However, he should get to the big leagues soon and, once he arrives, be able to hold his spot in a rotation for a long time.

Braden Shipley, RHP, Diamondbacks (High-A Visalia)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 23
When Shipley was an an amateur, questions lingered around his ability to develop a breaking ball, but there’s been significant progress made since he turned pro. Despite being new to pitching, Shipley can flash three plus or better offerings in any given start, and throw them all for strikes. An excellent athlete, Shipley’s delivery is free and easy, which allows him to effortlessly generate his fastball velocity, and the changeup can flash double-plus.

Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds (Double-A Pensacola)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 10
Cincinnati’s recent success with first round draft picks continues with Stephenson. The athletic righty possesses electric stuff coming out of his drop-and-drive delivery. The fastball can run up into the upper 90s and the curveball is already a present offering that could become a true hammer with 70-grade potential. Stephenson could be a frontline arm, but he’ll need to tighten his fastball command and continue developing his changeup, which can also flash plus, before reaching his potential.

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets (Triple-A Las Vegas)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 9
Despite injuries and an ERA north of 5 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Syndergaard’s stock hasn’t slipped a bit. The impressive build is still there, as is the electric fastball. Syndergaard’s fastball is a true 80-grade offering, hitting triple-digits with movement.

Jake Thompson, RHP, Tigers (High-A Lakeland)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
Taken in the second round of the 2012 draft, Thompson is having a strong season in the Florida State League. Thompson is a big, physical righty, but there is little to no projection remaining in the body. He possesses a four-pitch mix, and each offering could become at least a solid-average offering. Thompson’s slider is his bread-and-butter offering, flashing plus potential.

Catchers

Justin O’Conner, C, Rays (High-A Charlotte)
O’Conner is perhaps the least known player on either roster. He offers plus defense behind the plate, and that’s a skill set that is always in high demand. The catch-and-throw game is as good as it gets, as O’Conner will post pop times that can crack 1.7. The arm is an 80-grade tool and the throws are accurate. The 22-year-old is still raw at the plate, often struggling against spin, but he shows plus raw power.

Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
If he can stick behind the plate, Plawecki could be a better big-league player than his prospect status would indicate. The former first round selection doesn’t possess a plus tool, but he makes the most of his skill set by taking a calm and mature approach to the game. Double-A was a big test for Plawecki’s bat, and he passed with flying colors, hitting .326/.378/.487 with strong contact rates.

Infielders

Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket)*
As the old baseball adage goes, hitters hit, and that’s all Betts has done in 2014 while showing positional flexibility to boot. Despite his small 5-foot-9, 160 pound build, Betts is a plus athlete with instincts that play in all three phases of the game.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Triple-A Iowa)
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 3

Just a year removed from going second overall in the 2013 draft, Bryant is already forcing the issue on a potential callup. As you already know, Bryant possesses right-handed power potential unmatched by anyone presently in the minor leagues. His defensive home will likely be in right field rather than the hot corner, but the transition is on the backburner for now. Ultimately, the transition to the outfield will be meaningless and perhaps irrelevant when he’s hitting 35 home runs at the big-league level.

J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies (High-A Clearwater)
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 36
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
Very few prospects in the game can offer average, let alone plus, defense at shortstop in the present or the future. But Crawford possesses all the ingredients to be a sure shortstop offering plus defense in the big leagues for a very long time. The upside is in the bat, as Crawford’s hit tool could reach plus thanks to his athleticism and mature at the plate. The 19-year-old posted a 1:1 K: BB ratio in the South Atlantic League before forcing a midseason promotion to High-A.

Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 13

Gallo’s stock continues to soar and it will continue all the way to Arlington as long as the true 80-grade raw power continues to show up in live game action. That hasn’t been an issue thus far in 2014, as Gallo’s approach has significantly approved in comparison to 2013, allowing him to make just enough contact to send moonshots out of ballparks. Much like Bryant, Gallo’s defensive home might ultimately be in right field, but there’s a chance he can stick at third base for now.

Micah Johnson, 2B, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
While Johnson is posting strong statistics in the minor-league ranks, the tools don’t match the performance. Johnson is an excellent overall athlete, but needs to be able to consistently convert his raw athleticism into baseball athleticism. Johnson puts pressure on the defense with his legs, as he’s a double-plus runner from the left side. The 23-year-old doesn’t offer much else in the way of tools, but he should be able to carve out a role thanks to his speed and bat-to-ball skills.

Peter O’Brien, 1B, Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
While O’Brien possesses big raw power, it is difficult to see the overall profile finding a spot on a roster at the highest level. It all starts with the lack of a defensive home, as O’Brien will be limited to first base and designated hitting. He is a catcher in name only, lacking tools to be even a part-time catcher, which would significantly raise his prospect stock. The approach is unrefined and he’ll hack at the plate, hindering his power potential.

D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners (Double-A Jackson)
Peterson entered the pro ranks as a polished college bat that could get to the big leagues quickly, but the timetable slowed after the 22-year-old suffered a broken jaw that would subsequently put an end to his 2013 season in late August. Nevertheless, Peterson recently earned a promotion to Double-A, and he can still hit the baseball a long way with natural hitting ability. However, Peterson may ultimately need to move to first base because of his limited range at the hot corner.

Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 19
Seager possesses strong bloodlines and might be the better talent between he and brother Kyle. He could be a plus hitter with plus power, but will need to make a few adjustments to get there. He shows good hands and a strong arm at shortstop, but he is a below-average runner with an enormous frame, which leads me to believe he’ll be a third baseman sooner rather than later.

Outfielders

Josh Bell, OF, Pirates (Low-A Bradenton)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 39
Bell is a physically mature player with a big, strong body. He uses his strength and above-average bat speed to create his raw power from both sides of the plate. He is very aggressive at the plate, however, and can get beat inside. The body and fringe-average speed will limit Bell to an outfield corner, but his plus arm should allow him to profile in the mold of a classic right fielder.

James Ramsey, OF, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
Ramsey has moved quickly since entering pro ball, even getting the slightest taste of Triple-A action before the end of 2013. But the profile is more solid-average than flashy, meaning the 24-year-old is well behind Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty on the organizational depth chart. However, he could be contributing to the big-league club in the near future.

Hunter Renfroe, RF, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 44
Speaking of classic right field profiles, Hunter Renfroe is exactly that, showing loud tools across the board. He possesses a plus arm and is capable of playing an adequate right field. Renfroe’s calling card is his double-plus raw power that he can tap into with a swing that is short to the baseball. But the polish isn’t there yet, as Renfroe still has adjustments to make with his swing path and must still improve his pitch selection. He will finally be forced to make those adjustments in Double-A, where he will see a higher quantity and better quality of breaking balls.

Michael Taylor, OF, Nationals (Double-A Harrisburg)
Scouting Report (most recent)
Link
Taylor is yet another outfielder on the U.S. roster who can be labeled as a toolshed. The 23-year-old shows plus tools across the board, but there are large questions regarding his hitting ability. Taylor’s swing features plenty of feast or famine due to inconsistency when firing through the zone. If he can figure it out, Taylor could be a dynamic center fielder with an exciting speed-power combination.

Jesse Winker, LF, Reds (Double-A Pensacola)
2014 Mid-Season Ranking No. 42

Scouts label Winker a professional hitter with a mature, patient approach that will only help him find success as he moves up the minor-league ranks. But the tools will limit Winker’s ceiling, because his below-average speed and throwing arm have him destined for left field. He does make the most of his limited athleticism, however, and the importance of hitting cannot be overstated.

*Selected but will not play due to major-league promotion

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

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