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July 11, 2013

Minor League Update

USA Futures Game Roster Edition

by Zach Mortimer

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Pitchers:

Jesse Biddle, LHP, Phillies (Double-A Reading): 93.1 IP, 66 H, 32 ER, 46 BB, 102 K, 3.09 ERA, 17 GS, 3-8

Biddle uses a four-pitch mix (fastball/curveball/slider/changeup). Biddle’s fastball works in the low 90s but can touch the mid 90s when needed. His best pitch is the curveball, a big breaker with depth at 72-75 mph that has plus potential. When I saw him, he flashed a good changeup at 74-77 that had solid-average potential, but he was inconsistent with it and did not trust it completely. Lastly, Biddle threw an average slider at 80-82, which could be a usable pitch, but was not going to create many swings and misses. Biddle has taken strides to get himself into fantastic shape after questions about what his body would eventually look like hurt him on draft day. For me, Biddle is an excellent number-four starter that will be able to log innings; some that really like him could see him in a number-three role.

Archie Bradley, RHP, Diamondbacks (Double-A Mobile): 104.2 IP, 83 H, 24 ER, 44 BB, 115 K, 1.79 ERA, 18 GS, 8-4

Bradley has vaulted to the top of the list of pitching prospects. He features an upper-90s fastball, a plus-plus curveball, and a solid-average changeup. Bradley also has a prototypical frame for pitching that he combines with excellent athleticism. If Bradley did not sign with the Diamondbacks, he was headed to Oklahoma to play quarterback. The compilation of all of that leads me to believe that Bradley could pitch as a top-of-the-rotation starter in the near future.

Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies (High-A Modesto): 103.1 IP, 65 H, 25 ER, 39 BB, 102 K, 2.18 ERA, 18 GS, 8-3

Butler has leaped onto prospect lists with an excellent beginning of the 2013 season. He features a fastball that can touch 97 with plus-plus life, a potential plus slider, and a potential plus changeup with good sink. The stuff leads most scouts to believe that, at a minimum, Butler will be a ground-ball machine, mid-rotation starter.

A.J. Cole, RHP, Nationals (High-A Potomac): 91.1 IP, 94 H, 45 ER, 22 BB, 99 K, 4.43 ERA, 17 GS, 5-3

A.J. Cole has had an interesting development path thus far. He burst onto the scene in 2010 after being selected as a fourth-round draft pick and signing for well over slot ($2,000,000). Cole was acquired by the Athletics from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal in the 2011/2012 offseason. He then struggled mightily in High-A and was later demoted to Low-A as a member of the Athletics organization. The Athletics then sent Cole back to Washington as part of a three-way trade headlined by Michael Morse, who went to Seattle. Cole features a fastball that works at 93-97, a curveball that flashes plus but lacks consistency, and a changeup that should develop into a usable pitch at the major-league level but that also is very inconsistent. Cole has a chance to be front-of-the-rotation starter, but he still needs to develop his secondary offerings.

Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants (High-A San Jose): 29.2 IP, 21 H, 4 ER, 19 BB, 44 K, 1.21 ERA, 7 GS, 1-1

Crick has missed time in the 2013 season with an oblique injury. However, after returning to the mound, he has missed plenty of bats in the hitter-friendly California League. Crick’s fastball works in the mid 90s and can touch higher, his curveball has easy plus potential with two-plane break, and he also uses solid-average cutter. Crick’s flaws include a changeup that is very inconsistent and mechanical issues that cause him to lose his release point, subsequently resulting in below-average command. Crick has the potential to be a front-end starter, but he still has plenty to work on.

Taylor Guerrieri*, RHP, Rays (Low-A Bowling Green): 65.0 IP, 53 H, 15 ER, 11 BB, 50 K, 2.08 ERA, 13 GS, 6-2

Guerrieri offers an easy plus fastball that works at 91-94 and can touch higher when needed with plus life. His curveball is a present plus pitch with the potential to develop into a plus-plus offering. The changeup is a little behind, but should develop into an average pitch. Guerrieri has plus pitchability and a plus command profile, which should allow him to reach and even surpass his suggested ceiling: a high-end third starter.

Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Brewers (Triple-A Nashville): 101.1 IP, 90 H, 34 ER, 38 BB, 101 K, 3.02 ERA, 18 GS, 6-7

Nelson is an intriguing prospect for the Brewers. He offers a fastball that can touch 96 and throws a low-90s sinker that induces a lot of ground balls. The slider works at 84-86 with solid-average potential, and he throws a changeup that is very fringy due to a lack of consistency. Nelson has some funk in his delivery, which causes some to believe he will be better utilized in a late-inning relief role instead of as a back-end starter.

Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland): 91.0 IP, 63 H, 27 ER, 32 BB, 94 K, 2.67 ERA, 16 GS, 8-2

Ranaudo has struggled with injuries and lack of consistency thus far in his minor-league career. However, in 2013, he has seemingly put it all together. Ranaudo’s plus fastball and curveball, mixed with a potential solid-average changeup, make the Red Sox believe he is back to what they thought he could be. As long as he is able to stay healthy, Ranaudo profiles as a number-two or –three starter.

C.J. Riefenhauser, LHP, Rays (Triple-A Durham): 58.1 IP, 29 H, 4 ER, 13 BB, 54 K, 0.62 ERA, 37 appearances, 4-0

Riefenhauser profiles best as a middle-innings reliever. He is not one of the biggest names in the Futures Game, but he has a major-league future.

Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets (Double-A Binghamton): 81.2 IP, 78 H, 25 ER, 20 BB, 87 K, 2.76 ERA, 15 GS, 5-3

Syndergaard was acquired by the Mets from the Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade. He features a plus-plus fastball with good plane and life, a curveball that has greatly improved and has the potential to be a second plus pitch with hard downward action, and a changeup that he throws at 83-86 with some fade. Overall, Syndergaard profiles as a potential second or third starter, and he will have fans in Toronto very upset they sold on him if Dickey is not able to right the ship.

Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma): 100.0 IP, 69 H, 24 ER, 35 BB, 112 K, 2.16 ERA, 17 GS, 6-7

Walker has a fastball that can touch 97 with good life and plane, a potential plus-plus cutter that touches 93 with late bite, a mid-70s, big-breaking curveball that has a plus ceiling but that currently plays down due to a lack of command, and a changeup that is currently well below average and may have to be scrapped. Walker has a large athletic frame and profiles as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter. Some suggest that if he is not able to improve the changeup, he will tinker with a split.

Catchers:

Austin Hedges, C, Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore): .267/.352/.430, 26 R, 17 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 21 RBI, 21 BB, 31 K, 2 SB, 4 CS

Hedges is regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in recent memory. On draft day, some scouts believed he had the ability to catch in the big leagues right away. Offensively, he has taken steps forward, making hard contact and driving balls to the gap. His offensive ceiling may only be a 5-grade hit tool with slightly below-average power, but the elite defensive profile should make up for his offensive deficiencies.

James McCann, C, Tigers (Double-A Erie): .287/.328/.372, 30 R, 15 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR, 37 RBI, 17 BB, 51 K, 3 SB, 2 CS

McCann will have to carve out a big-league future with his defense. He does not offer much in the way of power, and he is a bottom-of-the-scale runner and a fringy hitter at best. The jury is still out on how good of a receiver McCann is; those who like him believe his glove is good enough to keep him on the roster as a backup catcher. However, some feel it won’t be enough keep him on a major-league roster. McCann has excellent makeup and a strong baseball IQ, so he will do his best to reach his ceiling as a backup catcher.

Josh Phegley*, C, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte): .316/.368/.597, 39 R, 18 2B, 1 3B, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 15 BB, 38 K, 1 SB, 1 CS

Phegley is one of the lesser-known prospects in the Futures Game. He has the ability to punish mistakes and has solid-average arm strength behind the plate. Most scouts that I’ve spoken with do not feel Phegley will have enough bat speed to consistently square up quality pitching, and he is at best a fringy receiver. Phegley has enjoyed abundant success in his second tour of the International League. He profiles best as a backup catcher.

Infielders:

C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels (Double-A Arkansas): .287/.332/.437, 34 R, 23 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR, 57 RBI, 14 BB, 42 K, 7 SB, 4 CS

Cron’s raw strength is the one thing that stands out for scouts. He offers plus-plus raw power and uses it in his swing. The question that some note is whether his type of swing will work against advanced pitching. He is limited to first base defensively and is a bottom-of-the-scale runner, which means that while he has a shot to be a regular, the bat will have to reach its ceiling in order for that to happen.

Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, Astros (High-A Lancaster): .288/.388/.398, 55 R, 10 2B, 7 3B, 2 HR, 29 RBI, 41 BB, 64 K, 28 SB, 12 CS

After an excellent 2012, DeShields has taken steps back in 2013. He still shows top-of-the-scale running ability, plus bat speed, and solid tracking ability. Defensively, he is average at best at second base and some have seen him take bad at-bats out to the field with him. He has speed that could allow him to be a top-of-the-order catalyst, but on the base paths, he has struggled to get good jumps, allowing catchers to throw him out stealing. He still has the ability to be a first-division regular, but DeShields’ prospect star has lot a bit of shine.

Matt Davidson, 3B, Diamondbacks (Triple-A Reno): .288/.347/.486, 38 R, 24 2B, 3 3B, 12 HR, 53 RBI, 28 BB, 98 K, 1 SB, 0 CS

Davidson has a classic third-base profile with plus power potential and a plus arm. The hit tool has an average ceiling and may play lower. Davidson is not going to be a star, but he has solid-regular potential with good power from the lower half of the order. He should be able to contribute in the majors in the near future.

Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers (Low-A Hickory): .225/.311/.540, 61 R, 16 2B, 2 3B, 26 HR, 54 RBI, 35 BB, 135 K, 8 SB, 1 CS

I saw Gallo firsthand and was very suspicious of what his overall future was going to look like. He has plenty of swing and miss in his game, but he also has top-of-the-scale raw power. I was encouraged from what I saw from him defensively; he was able to work to both sides and has an easy plus arm. I liked a few intangible things I saw from him: He showed good baseball savvy and played the game hard. Going forward, Gallo is going to have to make enough contact to tap into his raw power, and if he does so, he could be an All-Star-level player.

Addison Russell, SS, Athletics (High-A Stockton): .257/.337/.469, 51 R, 23 2B, 7 3B, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 33 BB, 88 K, 12 SB, 3 CS

The Athletics challenged Russell by promoting him to High-A and having him play a full season there at age 19. At the plate, Russell has the potential to be a plus hitter with plus power. He is only an average runner and some question whether he will have enough range to stay at short. The glove has plus-plus potential and the arm is plus, but the ultimate defensive future is unknown. If Russell is able to stay at short, he has an All-Star-level ceiling.

Joey Terdoslavich*, 1B/3B/OF, Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett): .318/.359/.567, 48 R, 24 2B, 1 3B, 18 HR, 58 RBI, 23 BB, 65 K, 3 SB, 6 CS

Terdoslavich is a switch-hitter with plus raw power. The hit tool will be tested against quality major-league stuff. Defensively, Terdoslavich shows the ability to play all over the diamond, but he is not particularly special at any of the positions. The bat should allow him to have a future in the majors, but it will most likely be as a corner utility man.

Christian Walker, 1B, Orioles (High-A Frederick): .314/.376/.483, 44 R, 22 2B, 0 3B, 11 HR, 53 RBI, 28 BB, 56 K, 2 SB, 3 CS

Walker is a first-base-only prospect who takes professional at-bats. He has a short swing that allows him to make a lot of contact. The problem I have with Walker is that his power may only be below-average, and will not be enough to keep him in the lineup at first base. Walker's body has no physical projection, which leads me to view him as a “what you see is what you get” type of prospect. He may be able to latch on as a second-division first baseman in the right situation, but I’m still very leery of him ever becoming a consistent major-league contributor.

Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis): .299/.354/.459, 52 R, 16 2B, 7 3B, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 26 BB, 46 K, 12 SB, 1 CS

Wong is just a baseball player—that is the best way to describe him. He makes solid contact and has an excellent approach. He has limited power and is not a burner. He has an excellent baseball IQ and will make the most of his tools. Wong is essentially ready for the big leagues, but the opportunity may not present itself unless he is traded or an injury occurs. The ceiling may only be that of a solid regular, but Wong has the look of an everyday player on a winning team.

Outfielders:

Byron Buxton, CF, Twins (High-A Fort Myers): .341/.423/.547, 76 R, 17 2B, 11 3B, 9 HR, 63 RBI, 47 BB, 65 K, 34 SB, 12 CS

The stories that are told about Buxton are almost crazy. The tools are off the charts: He has the potential to be a plus-plus hitter, has easy plus power potential, is an elite-level runner, and is a plus-plus defender in center field. Some scouts have told me that he is the best player they’ve ever scouted.

Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds (Triple-A Louisville): .245/.301/.335, 52 R, 11 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 27 BB, 70 K, 50 SB, 11 CS

Hamilton is biding his time in Triple-A. On the positive side, I’ve heard that Hamilton has improved on his routes to the ball in center and is making a very smooth transition from the infield. At the plate, Hamilton has had his struggles, but he continues to show signs of life. The jury is still out on whether Hamilton is a solid top-of-the-order catalyst or whether he’s just a burner who won’t get on base often enough to impact the game in the way some thought he could.

Brandon Nimmo, CF, Mets (Low-A Savannah): .261/.368/.352, 39 R, 8 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 33 BB, 80 K, 4 SB, 3 CS

Voted in to represent the host organization, Nimmo is still a very raw player. In a perfect world, all of Nimmo’s tools play at average to solid average, but the swing has some flaws that will cause problems for him against quality pitching. Nimmo has tools, but it may take time for him to make the most of them, because the gap between present skills and future potential remains vast.

Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers (Double-A Chattanooga): .299/.388/.522, 60 R, 19 2B, 3 3B, 14 HR, 38 RBI, 41 BB, 74 K, 25 SB, 3 CS

Pederson is an absolute grinder that will get every bit out of his tools. He has the potential to be a plus hitter with solid-average power potential. Only an average runner, Pederson gets good jumps and his baseball IQ allows him to swipe a bag when necessary. Pederson’s overall defensive future is still cloudy— some believe he can stick in center and some don’t—but the development in power should allow his bat to play in left if necessary.

George Springer, CF, Astros (Triple-A Oklahoma City): .314/.416/.623, 66 R, 21 2B, 1 3B, 25 HR, 70 RBI, 49 BB, 109 K, 28 SB, 6 CS

Springer has plus power but will always have a bloated strikeout rate. Some are concerned because of his high rate of swings and misses on pitches inside the strike zone. One promising sign, though, is that Springer has made strides defensively, answering questions about whether he would have to eventually move to a corner. He has a first-division ceiling, but the hit tool may be tested and is cause for concern going forward.

Christian Yelich, LF, Marlins (Double-A Jacksonville): .256/.335/.493, 30 R, 12 2B, 7 3B, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 25 BB, 61 K, 4 SB, 2 CS

Yelich has one of the top hit tools in the minors. He has struggled with injuries thus far in 2013, and has never gotten comfortable at the plate. Yelich has solid-average power potential, and will provide a good amount of over-the-fence power as well as plenty of doubles. Defensively, he will have to play left, and he has a below-average arm. He profiles best as a top-of-the-lineup bat with the potential to hit for a very high average and provide some punch.

Zach Mortimer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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