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April 22, 2013

Monday Morning Ten Pack

April 22

by BP Prospect Staff

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Cody Buckel, RHP, Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Buckel’s start has included 16 walks in just six innings over three appearances. It’s early, but the extreme control issues are a troubling sign for a pitcher who issued only 48 free passes in 144 2/3 innings between the High- and Double-A levels last season. Buckel’s overall stuff has been fine; he touched 96 mph during a recent start in Frisco. But a number of scouts have been quick to point out the 20-year-old’s defeated body language on the mound. His mechanics have also been highly inconsistent, with one scout saying, “He’s making a lot of little adjustments on the mound, but every adjustment needs another adjustment.” If the control issues persist, it’ll be interesting to see if the Rangers eventually let Buckel work things out in the bullpen or move him to a more controlled environment in extended spring training. —Jason Cole

Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
The top pitching prospect in the organization got off to a rocky start in Double-A, lasting just 1 inning and 2 1/3 innings in his first two outings. But the right-hander rebounded nicely with six efficient innings, allowing five hits while striking out seven.  Barnes’ heater operated 91-95 mph, with plenty of late life and movement when thrown down in the zone.  The 22-year-old showed how he can use his fastball, reaching for extra velocity when needed, pounding both sides of the plate throughout the outing, and creating the steep, downhill angle that pushes it toward a plus-plus pitch.  Barnes was a strike-throwing machine with the offering, which allowed him to churn through the lineup with relative ease. What stood out more, though, was his trust in an improved changeup. The pitch has become a viable offering and graded as average to solid-average.  The 83-85 mph change showed arm-side fade, and occasional cut when the righty threw it to the glove side.  What kept batters at bay was seamless arm-speed between his fastball, creating deception that had hitters in front when Barnes mixed it in sequences.  This pitch should go a long way to proving he’s on his way to fulfilling a projection as a solid third starter. —Chris Mellen        

Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves (Double-A Mississippi)
A more accomplished defender than hitter, Bethancourt is off to a fantastic start at the plate. The 21-year-old backstop appears to be tapping into some of the raw power that he’ll flash in batting practice, going 15-for-44 (.341) with four doubles and a home run through 12 contests. He hit a punchless .243/.275/.291 with eight extra-base hits in 71 games last season. I got my first in-game look at the Panamanian earlier this week, and he lived up to the billing behind the dish, popping 1.79 while throwing out a runner at second base. I’ll be writing a more in-depth report on Bethancourt––along with fellow Braves prospects J.R. Graham and Alex Wood––in a scouting feature later this week at Baseball Prospectus.—Jason Cole

Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (High A Fort Myers)
Independent of Sano’s impressive .377/.443/.705 line, with five bombs in 16 games, the word that keeps coming up when talking about the 19-year-old third baseman is “improvement.”   There was a different look to Sano in the box during spring training than when I last saw the prospect at Instructs, and scouts have also commented about that difference.  The slugger has been making strides picking up the spin out of opposing pitchers’ hands, which has shown in his body language at the plate and in a smoother weight transfer.  Sano has been less apt to commit early onto his front foot in the early going, allowing the powerful right-handed batter to sit back and explode through pitches to create more consistent hard contact. 

This can be a leading indicator pointing toward  growth with Sano’s hit tool.  My main question after seeing him in the fall was how exactly it was going to translate against more advanced competition.  The big test will come when Sano eventually makes the jump to the Eastern League, but the early look and subsequent chatter from evaluators lend positive signs that progress is being made.  —Chris Mellen

Tyler Anderson, LHP, Rockies (High-A Modesto)
After Anderson was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, the Rockies looked forward to a quick-moving, albeit low-ceiling lefty starter. So far it looks like that is exactly what they have. I witnessed his second start of this season against Rancho Cucamonga and he obviously knew I was in attendance, shutting out the Quakes for 5 1/3, giving up four hits and striking out five. Nothing is sexy about Anderson; his fastball sits 88-90 and just touches the low 90s, but his off-speed, command, and pitchability are what make him a prospect. The change-up was the money pitch for him, showing great arm-side fade, which allowed him to come inside with the fastball. He knows what he is doing on the mound, and that is something that separates himself from the rest of most starters in the California League. Since he is 23 and the Cal League isn’t the best league for pitchers, I could see him making the jump to Double-A in the near future. —Chris Rodriguez

Clint Coulter, C, Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin) 
The 27th overall selection in the 2012 draft, Coulter is that ever-promising prospect type – the offensive-minded catcher (complete with requisite “if” clause…“if he can stick behind the dish”).  For high school backstops with potential impact tools on the offensive side, the first year of full-season ball is of the utmost importance.  A marked improvement behind the plate gives an organization comfort that the prospect can indeed stick as a catcher (lowering the offensive bar for development), while a shaky defensive season paired with offensive progress still affords an organization some hope that even if the prospect needs to shift from behind the plate he could hit enough for the bat to play at a corner.  A rough season behind the plate and in the box, particularly for a first rounder, can cause an org to shift the prospect out from behind the plate more quickly than they otherwise might, for fear that the work needed to bring the prospect up to speed defensively will take too much time away from offensive developmental efforts. 

The early returns on Coulter have been mixed, with the former Arizona State commit still showing clunky actions as a receiver and heavy feet, limiting side-to-side fluidity.  He is still allowing pitches to carry his glove (meaning the glove moves to meet the pitch and then continues on the pitch’s trajectory, rather than holding at the point of reception), too often giving away strikes at the margins.  His pure arm strength remains ahead of his footwork and accuracy, though his release is cleaner than it was this time last year.  Offensively, he has seen his hot and cold runs over the first couple weeks, but it’s hard to read too much into any of it considering the havoc weather has played with the Timber Rattlers’ schedule (11 games have been postponed due to inclement weather).  He is still showing good leverage and putting charges into balls out over the plate, and we are already seeing the power potential begin to manifest in game (as evidenced by an early-season moon shot off the scoreboard beyond the left-center field fence in Appleton).  All in all, this is a story that will play out over the course of the season, and one that warrants periodic examination in this space.  Steady progress is the goal, and counting these first few weeks as the first data point of many is not too shabby a starting point for the young slugger.  —Nick Faleris

Chris Stratton, RHP, Giants (Low-A Augusta)
A first-round pick of the Giants last year, Stratton’s professional debut was cut short when he suffered a concussion after being struck in the head by a batting practice line drive. His injury forced him out for the remainder of the season and the Giants’ Instructional League, causing him to slide a little under the radar as members of his draft class posted impressive numbers and made names for themselves during his absence. With a blazing start to the 2013 season, Stratton may not fly under the radar much longer. Stratton has a 1.08 ERA in three starts at Low-A and he could be forcing the typically slow-moving Giants to promote him to High-A in the first half. Stratton’s total package isn’t sexy, featuring two plus pitches in his fastball and slider, two average pitches in his curveball and changeup, and plus command projection. What Stratton does well is sequence pitches, change sight lines and avoid the fat part of the bat. As a member of a Giants organization that has an apparent knack for successfully developing highly drafted pitching prospects, Stratton’s future could be as bright as the start to his first full season.  —Mark Anderson

Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids):
It is tough to imagine a better start to the 2013 season for the Twins’ top prospect than we’ve seen.  Further, as tough as it is to believe, Buxton’s gaudy stats (a .415/.523/.642 slash line) don’t fully capture his performance.  He was often guilty of expanding the zone during his stint in short-season ball last summer, split between the complex league and Appy League. It has been a whole new Buxton in the Midwest League.  The talented center fielder has upped his aggressiveness early in the count, punishing early count fastballs.  He will still struggle to properly identify quality secondaries, but until the league adjusts and starts feeding him off-speed early on it isn’t going to be an issue.  Buxton is also giving away fewer at bats; even when down in the count he has been able to shorten up and get the ball in play, rather than checking out mentally, flailing at a two-strike pitch out of the zone, and looking ahead to the next at-bat.  Defensively, he remains a similar player to the physically gifted but underdeveloped talent we saw last summer – great speed but indirect routes and periodic misplaced first steps off the bat.  Likewise, there remains big upside but a lot of work to be done on the bases, with Buxton’s struggles with jumps a clear indicator of his limited exposure to more advanced pitchers and their ability to disrupt baserunners’ timing.  While the holes in his game remain evident, the fact that Buxton is so clearly undeveloped in so many aspects of his game actually makes his torrid start that much more impressive.  While the future holds potential pitfalls aplenty, it’s hard to look at the returns from these first two-plus weeks and not think this could be a very, very loud summer for the second overall pick in last year’s draft. —Nick Faleris

Delino DeShields Jr, 2B, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
DeShields is short (5’ 9”) but not small (listed at a very real 205 lbs.). You would think those dimensions would slow him down, but you would be very wrong. DeShields is a true 80 runner and uses it to it to his full advantage. On Friday night, he scored easily from first base on a hit that would have sent most runners only to third. He also shows a great ability to work the count and track pitches, which should produce a solid OBP at the highest level. Pair OBP with some good bat speed and some average pop for the position, and he could be a first-division bat at some point. Unfortunately, DeShields was disappointing at second base all night. He showed a below-average arm and his actions are not as pretty as you would hope. Chalk it up to a bad game, but he has work to do. He is going to hit, especially in the Cal League, and as long as he does that he will continue to move closer to reaching the show.  —Chris Rodriguez

Stephen Piscoty, 3B, Cardinals (High-A Palm Beach)
Going into the weekend series between Bradenton and Palm Beach the only thing I knew about Piscotty was what I had read. He was an accomplished NCAA hitter for Stanford and won a batting title in the Cape Cod League back in 2011. It didn't take long for him to make an impression on me in person. Like a punch in the face I noticed him as soon as I saw the players on the field in pregame. He has a very projectable body standing 6'3" and 210 lbs. In the first four AB's I saw Thursday he showed he could work the count to get his pitch. He wouldn't panic and expand the zone when falling behind. And he is willing to jump on a first pitch if he likes it. In his first AB, facing Charlie Morton, he showed a very disciplined approach, laying off Morton's off-speed stuff. He worked a 2-2 count and then let his quick hands fly. He stayed balanced, kept his hands inside the ball, and ripped a fastball off the left-center wall for an RBI double. At this point he had my full attention. The next time up he fell behind 0-2 but stayed within himself and was able to handle a very good off-speed pitch down and away and slap it into right field for a single. In his third AB he jumped all over a first-pitch fastball, driving it over Gregory Polanco's head and off the top of the center field wall for another double. The bat seems to be legit with plenty of gap power; however, he'll need to start depositing some these balls over the fence to justify his corner outfield position. He started as a third baseman but after he committed 22 errors at the hot corner in just 36 games the Cardinals decided to move him to right field. Unfortunately he didn't get a lot of action out there while I was watching, but he did show decent instincts and an above-average arm. Friday night he showed off that arm, firing a strike for an assist at home plate to cut down a run. It's a small sample, but not many kids have made a first impression like that on me. —Chris King 

Related Content:  Prospects,  Matt Barnes,  Cody Buckel,  Byron Buxton

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