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July 14, 2014

Monday Morning Ten Pack

July 14, 2014

by BP Prospect Staff

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Kyle Schwarber, C/LF, Cubs (Low-A Kane County)
I’ve seen the Cubs’ first round draft pick a few times at Low-A. At the plate he sets up in a low crouch with an open stance, his hands even with his shoulders and extended out away from his body. He has a simple load and takes a quick, efficient route to the ball and displays good swing plane for power. I didn’t see power in game but he barreled up a few pitches for hard line drives. His nose is always on the ball as he displays an advanced feel for tracking stuff. He spat on a few good changeups that lesser hitters would’ve swung over and he shows a solid understanding of the strike zone. Behind the plate, Schwarber sets up low in his crouch and stays quiet, creating a comfortable target for the pitcher. His framing skills could use some work, as he stabs at offerings. He has surprising mobility back there with good lateral movement on block attempts. I’ve noticed that he gets loose fundamentally late in games. He has an average arm and I did get a pop time in the 1.9 range but ultimately the catching skills are fringe and can improve. I don’t think the cost is worth delaying the bat. He’s a bat-first left fielder in my mind. —Mauricio Rubio

Francisco Mejia, C, Indians (Short-Season Mahoning Valley)
This first thing that sticks out is the bat speed from both sides of the plate. His hands explode to the point of contact with force. Despite being of smaller stature and not overly filled out, the bat has some thunder in it. Mejia puts the ball in play with a charge as his loose hands enable him to whip the head of the bat with some present lift. I can see the power potentially playing in the solid-average to above-average levels, and my feel says the 19-year-old will surprise with his over-the-fence power as he matures. The approach, patience, and feel for the strike zone are extremely raw, however. There’s going to need to be strong improvement here for the hit tool to play to its potential and keep pace as the level of competition continues to increase. Mejia is ultra-aggressive, and consistently in attack mode. I do not see him developing into the methodical type, but I love the way the young hitter has the mindset to put the ball in play hard at this early age. The next step is to start developing a plan at the plate, which I see as the key to the hit tool growing to producing .280s averages at the highest level.

It doesn’t stop with the bat, as Mejia is a true dual-threat. The prospect shows the foundation behind the dish to be at least an average overall defender, with instinctive reflexes, quick feet, and solid athleticism. He is a raw receiver. The glove hand will drift and stab, while he can get a little lazy getting his body totally down on the ball. He doesn’t get big to smother offerings in the dirt, so there’s work to do to improve his ball control. The big weapon is the arm, as the raw strength is borderline elite. Mejia popped 1.87 seconds on a stolen base attempt where his release was a little slow, but the power made up for it. I see it having a good chance to round to a 7, and being the type who puts a hard stop on an opponent’s running game. —Chris Mellen

Andrew Knapp, C, Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
The Phillies were extremely aggressive with Knapp, assigning him to High-A Clearwater for his first full-season assignment. It did not go well, and Knapp found himself back in Low-A where he probably should have started in the first place. A switch-hitting catcher, Knapp offers good power for his position, but has more power potential from the left side, where his natural uppercut allows for more carry on his fly balls. His swing is flatter from the right side. He’s an aggressive hitter who will expand the strike zone, but he understands how to drive a pitch on the inner half, especially from the left side, where he can offer above-average pull power. Defensively, Knapp has a strong enough arm to keep runners honest, and while he’ll always be known as an offense-first catcher, he’s a capable enough receiver to stay at the position. Knapp is getting back on his feet in Lakewood and should be ready for another attempt at the Florida State League soon. —Jeff Moore

Julio Mateo, RHP, Cardinals (GCL Cardinals)
A 2012 international signee for $125,000, Mateo is in his first stateside assignment and is off to a stellar start. The tall, 18-year-old right-hander has an ideal pitcher’s frame that will need to fill out. He throws with a short three-quarters arm slot and a stab in the back end of his motion. His fastball isn’t electric, sitting mostly in the 87-89 range and hitting 91 a few times, but he throws a ton of strikes and generates poor contact. His only viable off-speed pitch at the moment is a curveball that varies widely in velocity, from 76-81 mph. Some were loopy while others flashed a big, downward break. It’s erratic, but such is typically the case with 18-year-old pitchers. Mateo is very much a work in progress, and he’ll need to add about 30 pounds and hopefully gain a few ticks on his fastball velocity. His changeup is also a ways away. Still, the starting package for an 18-year-old pitching in the country for the first time is interesting. —Jeff Moore

Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
McCullers could pitch in a big-league bullpen right now, thanks to his stuff and bulldog mentality on the mound. The stocky 6-foot-2 righty is likely destined to the bullpen because of a delivery that features effort, with lengthy arm action and a head whack that can get violent. But the Astros didn’t pay $2.5 million bonus for a reliever to fast track, and there’s no reason to do that. There’s a chance McCullers could stick in a rotation, even if the odds aren’t in his favor, and I would give him a long leash to find out. If it doesn’t come together, he will be just fine in the back end of a bullpen, where he will be closing games with a 70-grade two-pitch mix. —Ron Shah

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYjBHUjECGY

Pat Connaughton, RHP, Orioles (Short-Season Aberdeen)
The Orioles are allowing Connaughton to leave the club on July 30th to play out his final season with the Notre Dame basketball team. Until then, Connaughton is making a few starts for the Ironbirds. He was hit around quite a bit this Friday, although there were certainly positives to take away from the outing. Connaughton's fastball sat 91-95 and topped out at 96, displaying heavy arm-side run and explosiveness. His mechanics are much smoother since his time with Notre Dame. He keeps his body more compact and uses more drive toward home plate. The curveball and changeup still need lots of refinement. His release points on the curveball were all over the place, often out in front and late. The changeup has some feel, but he will need to replicate the arm speed and lighten up on the grip so the ball does not come in firm. With all that said, Connaughton is a project that simply needs the time to work on his raw game. Once the basketball season is behind him, we might be able to get a better idea of how the righty will be moving forward. —Tucker Blair

Michael Mader, RHP, Marlins (Short-Season Batavia)
Mader was drafted in the third round this year out of Chipola College. While the Batavia team is not filled with a ton of talent, Mader was the most impressive talent on the field in the entire series. He has a power pitcher's frame, with a big butt and a thick bottom half capable of generating sustainable heavy drive. He has a natural three-quarters arm slot and is very fluid with his mechanics. The fastball sat 90-93 and touched 94 mph, displaying adequate arm-side run. The ball is deceptive out of his hand and the Aberdeen lineup struggled to make sufficient contact with this offering. His changeup sits in the 80-83 mph range and shows mild fade. It's a work in progress, but he shows feel for the pitch and it could end up becoming an average offering. His slider is another potential average offering, showing decent tilt. However, he does slow his body and arm down at times on release. Mader was an arm I wasn’t thinking much about, but he was the best player I saw on the Batavia squad. —Tucker Blair

Roberto Osuna, RHP, Blue Jays
Osuna made his much-anticipated return to the mound this past week after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer. Pitching for the Blue Jays' Gulf Coast League team, Osuna was sharp in his only inning of work. He threw about 15 pitches, all fastballs, but it was a very encouraging step for him. When a player comes back from this type of surgery, the velocity isn't always there right away and the same can be said for the control and command. This was not the case for Osuna. His mechanics were sound. He's still sporting the low-effort, smooth delivery he's always had, and showed no rust in this department. He was pumping an easy 95-97 with his fastball while locating to both sides of the plate. He was repeating his delivery and attacking hitters from the first pitch of the game. This type of aggressiveness is another positive in his return. He was neither reluctant nor hesitant when going after hitters. Having said all of this, the thing I came away most impressed with was his body. The hard-throwing Osuna has had some concerns about his thick frame in the past, but he looked very fit, strong and comfortable with his current build. It's obvious he has taken his conditioning seriously during his time off, and to me that speaks volumes about where his head is. He's taking his rehab seriously and seemed to be champing at the bit to get back into game action. With this kind of debut, Osuna will once again be a very popular name in the prospect world much sooner than later, and rightly so. —Chris King

Sam Travis, 1B, Red Sox (Short-Season Lowell)
I’ve had a chance to get a good look at Travis since he signed with Boston, and the first impression has been mixed. The 20-year-old first baseman has looked in line with the speed of the game, demonstrating a feel for the strike zone and a mature approach, but the swing has been inconsistent. It’s a compact stroke where Travis doesn’t over-extended his arms. That’s a good clue that the right-handed hitter can get good wood on the ball and cover the plate, but he’s often tied himself up middle-in, especially with velocity. The lift in the swing has also varied, at times showing some upward plane and then in others chopping down on the ball. I have some questions as to the ability of the hands to consistently stay above the ball and produce good backspin against top line competition. Obviously it’s early in Travis’ transition into the professional ranks, but this is a profile that will work based on offensive production, and the tools have shown on the bland side thus far for me. —Chris Mellen

Kyle Farmer, C, Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
The University of Georgia shortstop, turned catcher by the Dodgers, had an impressive debut in Rookie ball last season and proved to scouts that he was a prospect to keep an eye on. The first thing I noticed was how well Farmer carried his solid six feet and 200 pounds on the field. There’s no doubt being a shortstop in college kept up his agility and allowed for quick footwork behind the dish that I believe will continue to improve with time. The most surprising thing was Farmer's blocking ability: Considering he's playing a relatively new position, he positioned his body superbly and kept almost everything in front of him. The arm strength is apparent, but his arm traveled through a long path to deliver the ball to second base. Still, he registered pop times as low as 1.95 seconds and most settled around 2.0 to 2.1. With the proper adjustments and added time to hone the craft, I think he could be a good defensive catcher down the line.

Farmer possesses strong forearms and wrists, which not only provide him the proper tools to become a solid framer, but also allow him to whip the bat through the zone with good pace. The swing is line drive–oriented with little game power at present, but the strength is there for some gap power once he gets acclimated to the friendly confines of the California League. The overall package is still a work in progress, and the numbers are not there yet, but I think the Dodgers have a future major-league catcher on their hands. —Chris Rodriguez

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