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September 2, 2014

Monday Morning Ten Pack

September 2, 2014

by BP Prospect Staff

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Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, Nationals (Low-A Hagerstown)
Two weeks of "you need to go see Reynaldo Lopez pitch" texts finally sent me on a journey to Hagerstown. Surprisingly, Lopez displayed one of the most exuberant pitching performances I have witnessed all season, sitting 94 to 98 mph with life, a biting curveball, and developing changeup. In fact, it is quite interesting how a player of this caliber can be so hidden from the public eye. I wrote a scouting report on him, but wanted to shed some light on the backstory.

Lopez was signed out of the Dominican Republic for $17,000, nothing relative to many international bonuses. From all reports I've received, Lopez routinely sat 88 to 91 mph when he first signed. The Nationals began to make mechanical changes, specifically with how he held his glove on delivery. Lopez dealt with an injury that shut him down in Short-Season Auburn, so he did not have much time to audition for the state-side crowds. Now, fully healthy, he has taken off. He is the definition of a "pop-up" prospect and everyone should remember his name moving forward. This is one of the best pitchers no one is talking about. The journey is still long, but the raw talent is undeniable. —Tucker Blair

Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Double-A New Britain)
It’s been a season of lost development time for Buxton, as he first dealt with a wrist injury that kept him on the shelf for months and then suffered a concussion that ended his year after just 31 games. The consolation is that the 20-year-old will be ready to play in the Arizona Fall League, but the additional plate appearances are far from enough to make up for what Buxton missed. It’s more of a ramp into the offseason. But make no mistake: The status and hype for this toolsy, ultra-athletic prospect were more than warranted entering the season. Buxton has a special look. Whether it’s the way he glides in center field or how the head of the bat effortlessly rips through the hitting zone, the game seems to come naturally to Buxton. It can be mesmerizing. Now, I’m very much on board with Buxton as a .300 hitter in his prime with home run totals in the twenties, but the shine can’t change that this choppy season of development time will stall him. Whether it’s brief will be the question. –Chris Mellen

Bralin Jackson, OF, Rays (Short-Season Hudson Valley)
Jackson caught my eye a few years ago at fall instructs, but the progression thus far in pro ball has been slow. Tampa Bay has brought the 20-year-old along methodically, mainly because his pitch recognition and approach were raw coming out of high school. Jackson can swing the stick, flashing above-average bat speed with some leverage at the point of contact. When I’ve seen Jackson square up an offering, there’s a distinct sound and backspin that points to the ability to do some damage at the plate. The issue is how frequently Jackson actually does square up. He’s routinely way out on his front foot trying to hit secondary stuff and is defensive in the box, especially when hitting with a strike. The club has been wise to bring him along at a reduced pace, but I wonder whether Jackson has enough ability to pick up spin. Growth in this aspect is the key to unlocking his offensive talent. Players like Jackson always intrigue me because it can suddenly click after very subtle signs. It’s a long shot, but worth a slow marinade to see if a legit hitter emerges. –Chris Mellen

Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox (Complex Gulf Coast League)
Even as the team's youngest player, Devers stands out as the best player on the field. Already well built, he doesn't look like a 17-year-old who has only been playing in the country for two months. In the box, he shows plus bat speed from the left side as well as plus control of the barrel. He is already comfortable in the run-producer role, looking to drive the ball with authority in all counts. He can over-swing at times and can get rotational, but it's nothing that can't be chalked up to being a teenager. Once he learns to stay through the ball and use the entire field (something he already shows signs of doing), he has the potential to be a great hitter. Despite his aggressive nature, he has a patient approach at the plate and is comfortable hitting in deep counts. He already shows good power and should eventually have plus in-game power. Defensively, he moves well at third base for a player with a solid lower half, and while he may eventually have to move off the position, he at least has a chance to stay there throughout his twenties. He has a plus arm that plays up nicely on the left side as well. Devers is still quite far from the majors, but he's considerably closer than most of his peers. If he were born in this country, he would be an early draft pick in next year's draft, perhaps in consideration for the first overall selection. He has the potential to be an impact talent. –Jeff Moore

Dante Bichette Jr., 3B, Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
After slugging .271/.352/.410 in the Florida State League, Bichette was finally promoted to Trenton to see how authentic his talents really are. Bichette has an open stance at the plate, which seems to help him keep balance and keep his hips rotating with torque. He is able to push the ball well to the opposite field and displayed strong gap power to right-center in batting practice and in-game. However, his issues stem from his ability to pull his hands in and connect with mid-to-high velocity. He does not have the quick-twitch muscle to manipulate his barrel in this manner, which causes issues for any pitcher who can run a fastball in on his hands. His issues with recognizing spin also prove to be detrimental at the plate, as he opens his stance even more and becomes extremely unbalanced. His feet shuffle too much, causing unnecessary movement in all phases of his swing. Bichette has plus raw power, but his ability to make consistent contact will be tested at Double-A next season, and he will need to make serious adjustments in order to become an impact player with the bat. –Tucker Blair

Daniel Palka, 1B, Diamondbacks (Low-A South Bend)
The Midwest League is certainly not a hitter’s paradise, as only three players made it above 20 home runs for the 2014 campaign. Palka was one of them, popping 22. The 22-year-old isn't particularly athletic and is a fringy fielder at first base right now. At the plate, the left-handed hitter has an incredibly deep load, bringing his hands down below his back hip. He struggles with velocity, especially anything above the belt, as his hands have to travel a long way to catch up. His bat doesn't stay in the zone for very long, and the bat speed is below average, so pitchers may exploit his swing holes with relative ease at higher levels. Palka struggles to make consistent contact and his home runs in my viewings have come on off-speed offerings or fringe fastballs down in the zone, but there is plus raw pop in his bat. Even though he's posted nice minor-league numbers while being old for his levels, the Diamondbacks' farmhand will likely end up as a bench bat or Quad-A masher. –Jordan Gorosh

John Aiello, SS, Germantown Academy (Lansdale, PA)
Overshadowed by high-profile players like Daz Cameron and Brendan Rodgers, Aiello proved himself to be one of the premier players in the summer tournament circuit, with solid showings at the Tournament of Stars, Area Code Games, and Perfect Game All-American Classic. Aiello, a switch-hitter, showed a very smooth stroke from both sides of the plate in batting practice, though I heard prior to the viewing that he was much better from the right side. His setup and stance are reminiscent of Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, and give him good balance. The raw physical tools (he's 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds), bat speed to spare, and mature approach at the plate give him a chance to become an above-average hitter in the long run. Power potential is certainly there, but its development is currently in its infancy; I have a feeling he won’t develop over-the-fence pop until he’s more filled out and gets consistent playing time, maybe even seasons into his professional career. At shortstop, Aiello showed a nice arm and progressing glove, but not much range. He’s going to get even bigger, which would make a move to third base seemingly inevitable, but he could become an above-average defender at the hot corner with time. Overall, I believe Aiello to be one of the top infield talents in the 2015 draft class and he could easily go in the first round with a solid spring. –Chris Rodriguez

Christian Villanueva, 3B, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)
After a season in which he slashed .261/.317/.469 as a 22-year-old at Double-A, Villanueva ranked ninth on a loaded Cubs Top 10 Prospects list this offseason and started the year with the Iowa Cubs in the Pacific Coast League. A mixture of poor performance (.656 OPS) and the promotion of Kris Bryant led to a mid-June demotion back to the Southern League, where the now 23-year-old regressed in almost every statistical category. Defense has never been a question for Villanueva, as he possesses a plus-plus glove at the hot corner, armed with quick feet, soft hands, excellent balance and coordination, true third-base instincts, and a plus arm to boot. On the other hand, questions have revolved around the utility of the stick at the higher levels, a concern that was exacerbated with a poor statistical showing this season. The raw ingredients are impressive at the plate, as the Mexico native utilizes a tip-and-rip loading mechanism with above-average bat speed and plenty of lower-half utilization throughout, resulting in plus raw power and solid contact when squared. His path to the ball can get loopy at times, though, and his control of the barrel often suffers as a result. Paired with questionable pitch-recognition skills and an aggressive approach, Villanueva will always have some swing-and-miss in his game. Though the on-the-field development stalled this year, Villanueva still possesses major-league upside with double-plus defense, a below-average hit tool (.240 to .250 batting average), and average power output with the potential to hit 15 to 20 bombs annually, potentially occupying a Matt Dominguez–type role, with the ability to provide plenty of value in his cost-controlled years and beyond. The current logjam of Cubs position prospects diminishes the chance that this occurs on the north side of Chicago. –Ethan Purser

Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Cubs (Low-A Kane County)
Sometimes "best shape of his life" stories happen in the minors as well. The formerly stocky third baseman entered 2014 just inside the Cubs' Top 10 as a testament to his pitch recognition and ability to drive balls hard into the gaps. Candelario showed up in much better shape and ready for a test in the Florida State League, but he floundered to start the year. It earned him a demotion to Kane County to build confidence and figure things out. Candelario is a different-looking hitter at the plate this year: He’s dipping the back shoulder a lot and trying to reach back for power that isn’t natural to his game. In the field he hasn’t gained any range with the lost weight. His reactions are slow. He can get to the balls hit at him, and flashes a strong arm, but overall he hasn’t been impressive at the hot corner. It’s been a major step backward for the young switch-hitter. That said, the 21-year-old is enjoying moderate success in Low-A, so there’s time to get back on track, especially if he can tone the swing down. –Mauricio Rubio

Aaron Brown, OF, Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
The first thing that stands out about Brown are his forearms. They’re thick and allow him to extend with force. Brown flashes above-average raw during batting practice, though his swing showed a little flat during game action. The left-handed hitter still seemed to be feeling things out in regards to hitting with wood, as the bat control wasn’t very tight. There was some loop in his swing that led to his bat speed playing down against pitches on the inner third. I am also a bit mixed on the 22-year-old in center field. The 6-foot-2 frame is filled out, but Brown's actions are clunky at times. His reads were on the slow side, but he did make up for it on a couple of occasions with strong closing speed. Long term, I do see him as a corner outfielder in extended action. The overall package is interesting, as Brown also has pitching to fall back on. From my initial look, he is raw as a position player and has some rough edges to iron out in the near term. The tools are worth giving a chance to click now that he’s focusing on hitting full time, but it will be a project. –Chris Mellen

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leagues,  High School

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