Updates on Byron Buxton, Francisco Lindor, and others around the minor leagues.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
After a scorching start to the season (1.194 OPS in April), Buxton has cooled (somewhat) in his second month in full-season ball, but thanks to game heroics and flashes of his future brilliance, Buxton’s stock has never been higher. Equipped with eye-splitting tools, including elite speed and easy plus raw power, the 19-year-old is well on his way to being the top prospect in the minors. Buxton recently hit a walk-off grand slam that one scout source in attendance said traveled an estimated 450 feet and was launched off a 98 mph fastball. Perfect Game’s Justin Hlubek captured the event on video, and if you have a change of pants handy, please click this link and drift into a euphoric state. --Jason Parks
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas)
If Ventura’s physical characteristics read 6’3’’ rather than 5’11’’, the combination of stuff and results would make him one of the premier pitching prospects in the game. Everybody knows about the fastball, as it can hit triple digits in bursts and routinely works in the plus-plus range, but the legitimacy is found in the developmental progression of the secondary arsenal, which includes a plus curveball and a changeup that some think could end up being very special. Because of questions about his ability to handle a starter’s workload, Ventura gets put into the bullpen box, where he profiles as an elite closer. While that’s quite the enticing alternative, the organization is adamant that they always have and will continue to view the 21-year-old righty as a starter, and a very special one at that. Not every slight Dominican righty is going to be the next Pedro, but most slight Dominican righties aren’t in Ventura’s class of talent, and if his body is up to the challenge, the Royals might have the top of the rotation arm they’ve been trying to develop since forever. –Jason Parks
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Jason Cole catches up with the Angels' top prospect.
Angels prospect Kaleb Cowart opened this season as the fourth-youngest player in the Double-A Texas League, and he’s currently experiencing the growing pains that often come with being a youngster in the upper levels. However, although the 20-year-old third baseman is hitting just .204/.271/.317 through 38 games, he has the highest ceiling of any position player in the Angels’ system.
The Padres call up the Texas League's most dominant starter.
The Situation: With Clayton Richard becoming the latest Padres starter to land on the DL, the club is calling up Smith from Double-A San Antonio. He’ll join the rotation and make his big-league debut against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Background: San Diego’s 14th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Smith was selected out of the University of Oklahoma after beginning his collegiate career at Texas JUCO power Howard College. The right-hander’s velocity has jumped a tick since his college days, and his command continues to improve. Following a solid full-season debut at High-A Lake Elsinore last season, Smith has been the Texas League’s most dominant starter in the early going this year. Through six starts, he has yielded just four earned runs on 17 hits in 31.1 innings, walking six and striking out 37. The Texan did not rank in Baseball Prospectus’ top 10 Padres prospects over the offseason, though he certainly would if they were re-ranked today.
Jason offers notes from a recent trip to Mississippi, on which he saw J.R. Graham and Taijuan Walker, among other prospects.
Always in search of high-ceiling talent, I recently made the trek to Mississippi to watch two of the Double-A Southern League’s more loaded teams: the Mississippi Braves (Atlanta) and the Jackson Generals (Seattle). The three-game look provided a glimpse of some of the game’s top overall prospects. Without further ado, here are the scouting notes and videos...
The Padres summon a southpaw prospect to bring some relief to their overtaxed staff.
The Situation: With a piecemeal starting rotation and an overtaxed bullpen, the Padres are in desperate need of arms at the big-league level. Erlin, whom Baseball Prospectus ranked as San Diego’s sixth-best prospect in January, is likely slated for a long relief role in the short term, as long men Thad Weber and Anthony Bass were forced to throw a combined 7.2 innings over the previous two nights. Weber was optioned to Triple-A, clearing the roster space for Erlin’s call-up.
Background: Selected by Texas in the third round of the 2009 draft, the California high school product tore through the lower levels and reached Double-A in May 2011. Erlin was dealt to the Padres at the deadline later that summer, going to San Diego with RHP Joe Wieland in exchange for setup man RHP Mike Adams. Although Erlin pitched well in 11 starts for Double-A San Antonio last season, he was sidelined due to inflammation and tendonitis in his elbow. The injury didn’t require surgery, and he finished with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to Wednesday’s call-up, Erlin had made three starts for Triple-A Tucson, yielding seven runs in 13.1 innings.
Jason catches up with the Rangers' promising outfield prospect.
Few prospects have created more spring training and early-season buzz than the Texas Rangers’ Lewis Brinson. Selected 29th overall in last summer’s draft, Brinson entered pro ball with the dreaded “raw-athlete-who-lacks-instincts” tag. He quickly squashed that reputation with his debut performance in the rookie Arizona League, hitting .283/.345/.523 with 36 extra-base hits and 14 steals over 54 contests.
An in-depth look at what Darvish does well and what he's doing differently.
Yesterday on Effectively Wild, Sam Miller and I talked about Opening Day and the power of first impressions. By the beginning of April, we’ve been so long without baseball that the first performance by a player or team assumes a significance out of proportion to its actual import. If we’ve spent the offseason dreaming on a player doing well, or fearing that he’ll fail, we’re more liable to take it as confirmation of our hopes or fears if that player performs as we expect on Opening Day than we would be if he did the same thing on, say, August 13th.
Tuesday was Opening Day for Yu Darvish, and we had high hopes. The Rangers ace recorded the second-highest strikeout rate among AL starters last season, but he also had the third-highest walk rate and struggled with mechanical consistency throughout the season. As Doug Thorburndetailed last week, Darvish’s mechanics came together down the stretch, and he also stopped nibbling and started throwing more cutters. With an evolved approach, he ended the year on an eight-start run of 66 strikeouts and 10 walks over 57 1/3 innings. Darvish is hard enough to hit when he can’t throw strikes; with good command and control, he might be as close as pitchers come to unbeatable. Both PECOTAand the Baseball Prospectus staff picked him to be the AL’s second-best pitcher in 2013, and with a weak opponent in the Astros, we expected to see a dominant Darvish last night. He didn’t disappoint.
Jason Cole catches up with the Padres' top prospect and shows him flashing his skills.
While in Arizona this spring, I caught up with Padres top prospect Austin Hedges to discuss the art of catching and his development as a player. The Southern California native was ranked the no. 1 prospect in the San Diego system and no. 19 in baseball by Baseball Prospectus this offseason. And in our recent look at the top glove tools, we named him the top defensive catcher in the minor leagues, citing his “tremendous footwork, a quick transfer from the glove to his throwing hand, a lightning-quick release and an arm that rated as one of the best in the minor leagues,” in addition to his excellent blocking, framing, and game-calling abilities.
Gyorko is splitting time between second and third base to begin the season, but will eventually move to the keystone full-time.
The situation: After hitting .328/.380/.588 with 24 home runs in 92 Triple-A games last season, Gyorko has little more to prove against minor-league pitching. The 24-year-old prospect has made the Padres out of camp and should see regular at-bats from the outset. Ultimately projecting as the club’s everyday second baseman, Gyorko provides more offensive upside than 2012 platoon partners Logan Forsythe and Alexi Amarista.
Background: A 2010 second-round pick out of West Virginia University, Gyorko has hit over .300 in each of his three professional seasons. He has clubbed his way through the minor leagues, hitting a cumulative .319/.385/.529 in 334 career games. Primarily a third baseman through college and the lower levels, Gyorko appeared in 47 games at second last summer and could remain there long-term. Coming into the 2013 season, Gyorko ranked fifth in the Padres farm system, and number 84 overall in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus.
We got a look at the Rangers' prospect-heavy intrasquad game in Surprise.
After minor-league camp’s first pitcher/catcher salvo and before the legitimate backfield games commence in mid-March, teams often schedule prospect-heavy intrasquad games to put eyes on the talent and get the players back in the groove of live action. On the morning of March 10th, the Rangers occupied fields 5 and 6 on the backfields in Surprise; two lower-level minor-league squads on one field, and two upper-minors squads on the other. For a prospect lover, this was like a team-specific Futures Game, only stripped of all the fanfare and pageantry. This is a barebones scouting experience and the notes will reflect that. Jason Cole saddled up to field 5 while I took a seat behind the plate at field 6, where my radar gun almost melted onto my flesh and my phone got so hot that it decided to commit suicide when I asked it to function. Also, Jorge Alfaro hit a home rune and I giggled like a child.