Yency Almonte, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Double-A Hartford)
Despite being delayed for a year, Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford is a nice little stadium with a lot to recommend. There is a very legitimate jerk chicken sandwich hidden away in the right field upper deck, it’s about eight minutes door-to-door from my favorite bar in the area, and oh yeah, pretty much every night you had a decent chance of seeing a future major-league arm starting for the Yard Goats. Almonte may be the best pitching prospect of the group. He’s a lean righty with simple mechanics and an easy 95 whenever he wants it. Usually for starting pitchers at this level, I’ll run the gun for a few innings and then check back in to see where they are in the sixth or seventh inning. Usually I end up writing something like “93-95 early, 91-93 late,” but Almonte maintains and even builds velocity throughout his outings. He found more 95-96 late in the start I saw, and he commands the heater well to all four quadrants. The advanced command covers for limited movement, although he will show some arm-side run from his three-quarters slot. He used a fastball-heavy approach—didn’t need much else—but both the slider and change flashed above-average. The slide piece is the more advanced secondary at present—despite some issues with the feel for it early in the outing. It’s a mid-80s offering with hard, late tilt. He pulled the string on a few nice cambios, but the pitch was too firm too often. Ryan Castellani has the better raw stuff on the Yard Goats staff, but that’s usually only the case for the first 50 pitches or so. Almonte’s ability to measure out his arsenal and superior pitchability makes him the better long term bet for me, and a potential 101 name come this offseason. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Tanner Houck, RHP, Boston Red Sox (short-season Lowell) The 2017 first-round pick made his first two professional starts this past week in Lowell. During his one-inning debut (26 pitches), he surrendered two runs while striking out two batters and walking one. His fastball’s velocity ranged from 94-97 mph with sinking action. The potentially plus or better fastball was a major reason why he was drafted in the first round, but his sweepy slider (83-86 mph) also generated a few swing and misses. During his second start against rehabbing Dallas Keuchel (he is still good, by the way), the 21-year-old gave up just one run in 1 1/3 innings (33 pitches) yet his stuff took a step back. The fastball only sat 90-92, and he struggled to throw strikes despite displaying above-average control at the University of Missouri. His slider again flashed above-average but was more inconsistent. His changeup was the clear third pitch in both outings.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, he definitely possesses a starter’s frame with some remaining projection. However, he may ultimately be forced to move to the bullpen due his delivery. He throws from a low-three-quarters arm slot with a high leg kick and his back elbow pointed up. The counterarguments are that the lower arm slot contributes to his effectiveness and many scouts were also torn about Chris Sale’s similar delivery. I’m not saying Houck is the next Chris Sale but am a bit less concerned about his mechanics after watching Sale dominate for the Red Sox. The more likely reason he does not end up in the rotation could be failing to develop an adequate changeup. If all goes as planned, I think he will become a mid-rotation starter. —Erich Rothmann