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July 1, 2013
Monday Morning Ten Pack
Futures Game Edition
Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals (Low-A Lexington)
I’ve been on the Almonte bandwagon since his easy delivery first caught my eye during a fall instructional league game on the backfields in Arizona. I’m a sucker for an easy delivery and an effortless release, and Almonte won my heart that day by pumping a low-90s fastball for strikes and flashing a changeup that was already a near-plus offering. Fast-forward to his full-season debut, and the bandwagon is starting to look like a bus depot, as the 20-year-old continues to take steps forward with the arsenal and the production, working a fastball in the 92-97 range, flashing multiple breaking-ball looks including a bat-missing curve, and throwing a nasty changeup. Almonte’s inclusion on the Futures Game roster was a win for the young Dominican arm, a win for the Royals’ amateur scouting and player development teams, and a win for every wannabe scout that finds arousal in easy arm action and heavily pronated changeups. —Jason Parks
Addison Russell, SS, Athletics (High-A, Stockton)
Russell was challenged with an assignment to High-A Stockton despite logging just 244 plate appearances last year between the Arizona Complex League and Low-A Burlington. After a slow start to the 2013 season, he has broken out in a big way in June, triple-slashing .337/.372/.640 over 21 games and 94 plate appearances while showing solid actions at the six-spot.
The potential exists for a legit 6-plus hit/6 power offensive profile and his hands and arm are both plus or better. Built at a sturdy 6-foot, 195 pounds (listed), Russell relies on above-average athleticism and a solid first step to cover adequate ground at short, and the total defensive profile could be above average through the start of his MLB career. Should he be required to shift one notch down the defensive spectrum at some point, he could be an impact glove at the hot corner. —Nick J. Faleris
Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
Wong made one of the most significant jumps on Baseball Prospectus’ recently released mid-season top 50 prospects list, moving up to No. 34 from his pre-season No. 90 ranking. The 22-year-old Hawaiian has done that by hitting .316/.369/.467 through 73 Triple-A games. With the performance, Wong’s ceiling as a solid-average regular hasn’t really changed. The likelihood of him reaching that potential is on the rise, however, and he looks nearly big-league ready. Between Wong and current second baseman Matt Carpenter, who’s hitting .317/.394/.464 in St. Louis, the Cardinals have yet another first-world baseball problem. Regardless, Wong will find his way to the big leagues at some point––perhaps later this summer.
The lefty-hitting Wong has a quick bat and a standout plate approach that’s best described as selectively aggressive. While he works counts and doesn’t often expand the zone, he’s always looking to attack strikes. Wong can use the whole field and shows a little pull-side pop from his 5-foot-9 frame. From a pure tools standpoint, he’s not the sexiest talent in the Futures Game infield and, like Carpenter and many other Cardinals regulars, won’t be in the majors. But Wong’s highly mature approach to hitting is fun to watch, and he can hold his own against big stuff. See Wong in action here. —Jason Cole
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
Walker made an appearance at last year’s Futures Game in Kansas City, tossing a scoreless inning while flashing his typical plus-plus velocity and presenting it to hitters on a steep downward angle. Pure stuff and physical tools have never been issues for the 20-year-old righty. His suspect feel for command, on the other hand, has led some scouts (in addition to me) to question whether he can reach his front-line ceiling.
Walker is still very young––a fact that’s easy to forget for a prospect at the upper levels––and his command appears to be taking legitimate steps in the right direction, leading to his recent Triple-A promotion. Prior to the move, the Mariners’ top prospect issued only one total walk in his last three Double-A starts (1 BB, 28 K in 20 IP). He followed those performances by working six shutout innings in his Triple-A debut, throwing 64 percent of his pitches for strikes. If his command continues to progress in the PCL, it’ll no doubt be an exciting development for both the Seattle organization and its fans. Check out video of Walker here. —Jason Cole
Castellanos’ place on the United States Futures Game roster remains uncertain, as he awaits the announcement of fan voting results completed Sunday night. The reigning Futures Game MVP, Castellanos used last year’s performance to spring himself up prospect lists and rank as one of the elite position players in the minor leagues. After starting the season with a modest .259/.311/.444 line in April, Castellanos has exploded to raise his season slash line to a daunting .303/.379/.492 with 26 doubles, 11 home runs, and nearly as many walks as strikeouts over the last two months.
Castellanos’ prowess as a hitter has rarely come into question and he reaffirmed his status as an elite hitting prospect in a recent two-game viewing. His defense, on the other hand, has been a hot topic over the last two seasons. After moving to the outfield following the 2012 Futures Game, Castellanos has struggled to settle in defensively. At times, he looks like a potential average defender in left field, while at others he still looks lost. In the same two-game viewing, Castellanos managed the full range of defensive showings, making many routine plays but showing uncertainty and crudeness as well. For Tigers fans dying to see improved offense from left field, any chance Castellanos gets to play in the 2013 Futures Game could serve as a springboard to the big leagues down the stretch. —Mark Anderson
Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks (Double-A Mobile)
Through the first half of the 2013 season, Bradley has established himself as the top arm in the minor leagues, pitching embarrassingly well through five starts in the hitters’ haven known as the California League before an early-season promotion to Double-A Mobile. Since arriving in the Southern League, Bradley has carved to the tune of 11 starts, 66.2 innings pitched, and 67 strikeouts with just 47 hits and 29 walks allowed. Southern League bats have managed a meager .198 batting average against the former Sooner State standout, though Bradley saw a slight regression in his control over the last couple of starts in May and first couple of starts in June.
At his best, Bradley builds momentum through a simple step-in, high leg kick, and powerful lower-half drive. His arm can fall out of sync with his core when he doesn’t slide into a consistent apex on the leg kick, leading to erratic releases (though he has done a much better job self-correcting this year than last). The pure stuff is, of course, top rate, and it should be a treat to see him go all out over one inning at the Futures Game with a high likelihood we will see the plus-plus fastball popping in the upper 90s. The plus curve and above-average change should entertain, as well. —Nick J. Faleris
C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels (Double-A Arkansas)
Listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Cron is a large man with easily plus raw power, which should make him an entertaining watch during batting practice at Citi Field. Despite the big raw juice, Cron has only seven Double-A home runs this season. He has surprised scouts more with his feel to hit and .292 average. That comes with an excellent 12 percent strikeout rate for a power guy, but also a very poor three percent walk rate. As a well-below-average runner who’s limited to first base defensively, the 23-year-old will have to hit his way to the majors. Cron has role-5 potential and could reach that ceiling if his game power plays at plus against upper-level pitching. If not, he’s a high-floor type who could fit best as a solid bench bat. You can see video of Cron here. —Jason Cole
With only 11 innings under his belt in 2013 after only tossing seven innings in an injury-shortened 2012 season, Lee may seem an odd candidate to represent the World team at the Futures Game. Lee recently returned from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for the bulk of 2012 and the first part of 2013, and the early returns from scouts have been very positive. Lee’s velocity has returned and he has been consistently sitting in the 92-94 mph range in short spurts this season. Slinging his heater from a very-low-3/4 (almost sidearm) arm slot, Lee gets good life on his fastball and has very good deception from his delivery. At times this season, Lee’s slider has looked like a second plus pitch that can legitimately miss bats. His control and command are still coming around after surgery, but he has shown the ability to throw strikes and locate the fastball in the past. Though he has only seen action in a few innings this season, the Futures Game could serve as a coming out party for Lee, who could find himself pitching high-leverage innings down the stretch for the Indians as they hang around with the Tigers at the top of the American League Central. —Mark Anderson
Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, Houston Astros (High-A Lancaster)
A surprising selection to the Futures Game, DeShields has failed to show the ability of a future first-division player, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a top-of-the-line prospect anymore. The tools are still there—namely, the 80 speed (he jailbroke 3.7 seconds to first), the very good eye at the plate, the ability to track pitches, and the raw bat speed. Unfortunately, he isn’t hitting the ball with the expected authority for the Cal League. It seems his approach can be a problem, because he takes too many strikes and has to slash with two strikes to protect the plate. While his passive approach and knowledge of the strike zone can lead to walks, they also can leave him behind in the count with pitchers that can hit the corners with regularity.
I also have questions about whether he can stick at second base in the future. He’s still clunky with the glove and his feel for the position must improve greatly. Additionally, he’s been seen sulking in the dugout after popping up or grounding out on numerous occasions. Scouts agree that he’s not giving 100 percent on the field on every play. When asked whom they would pick as the best position prospect on the JetHawks, two said CF Andrew Aplin and another said SS Nolan Fontana. There’s still time for DeShields, but he’s going to need to kick up his #want another notch and make the necessary adjustments on the field to produce more positive results. —Chris Rodriguez
Matt Davidson, 3B, Diamondbacks (Triple-A Reno)
After almost 2,400 minor-league plate appearances, Matt Davidson is knocking on the door to The Show, slowly climbing the minor-league ladder since joining the Snakes’ system back in 2009. Davidson has a leveraged swing that generates easy plus power at the expense of some length, and a keen eye and solid approach to help him to grind out at bats. Davidson has some swing-and-miss to his game—primarily on good velocity above the belt—and because his length forces him to get started a little early, he can be susceptible to advanced arms that are capable of quality sequencing and execution. However, he has improved his approach with each level jump, and as a 22-year-old in Triple-A is really learning how to not only work the count, but to work with a purpose toward pitches he can drive.
Defensively, Davidson can still suffer through stiff lower-half actions at third base despite slow-but-steady improvements over the past couple seasons. He has the hands to stick at the five-spot, and more than enough arm to make all the throws. While he will never be an impact defender, continued improvement in his footwork should allow him to produce adequately in the field.
In the end, it’s the bat you’re buying, and the bat has a chance to produce 30-plus bombs annually, depending on his ultimate in-game utility. Because Davidson will more frequently face arms that can exploit his swing at the top level, he will need to continue to grow his approach and show an ability to make adjustments. Even with some strikeouts, a fringe-5 hit/6 power profile could be enough to make him a first-division regular, with a fallback as a second-division third baseman that won’t kill you in the field and can provide solid production out of the six-hole in your lineup. —Nick J. Faleris