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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Looking at the top shortstop prospects who are likely to remain prospects but unlikely to remain shortstops.
In the first two installments of this series, we took a detailed look at the progress of the top shortstops in the minors; specifically, the shortstops who either possessed the pure skill to stick at the position all the way up the chain or possessed enough of that desired purity to make an interesting argument for their long-term projection at the position. For the third and final section, we will take a closer look at the shortstops who feature a less-than-pure skill set and will most likely be playing another position at the highest level.
It needs to be said that not all shortstops are created equal, and just because there is a 6 next to your name on the lineup doesn’t mean you possess the aforementioned pure defensive qualities of the players evaluated in previous articles. Organizational need and passable [read: suspect but playable] skills can often win the day, and without trusted eyes on the prize, a good bat can often influence how we view a good glove. It’s realistic to assume that a few prospects featured in this part of the series might end up playing some shortstop at the major-league level, and suggesting otherwise isn’t an assault on their status; rather, projecting a player to stay at the position at the highest level is highly uncommon, which should elevate those in that category without diminishing those who fall a little short. These are the prospects for whom industry opinion reaches volumes louder than a whisper when it comes to their ultimate defensive roles.
The 5th installment of the Fringe Average Podcast. Mike learns an important lesson about saftey goggles, while Jason goes out with the popular girl, only to find out, it isn't as glamorous as he anticipated.
The Situation: In need of an impact arm in the late innings, the Tigers called up a legit intimidator out of the bullpen in Bruce Rondon, who should add a much-needed bat misser to the relief equation.
Background: Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2007, Rondon’s developmental progress has been slow and steady since moving to the bullpen full time in 2010. The following season was the big step forward, as the big-bodied pitcher was unhittable in the Midwest League, missing 61 bats in 40 innings of relief. His biggest hurdle was command, as he allowed more walks than hits. The command improved in 2012, and the fastball continued to miss barrels at a high clip as he climbed the professional ladder. Before the start of the 2013 season, Rondon was ranked as the no. 3 prospect in the Tigers org, and barely missed inclusion on the BP 101. After a hot start to the season, the opportunity for major league advancement opened up and the 22-year-old is ready to walk through the door, which should turn into a permanent role at the highest level.
Looking at the early-season returns on shortstops who might stick at the position.
In part one of the series, we checked in on the pure shortstops in the minors, the players who stand above the rest with the leather and project to stay at position all the way up the chain. The criterion for inclusion in this particular series was a placement on the Baseball Prospectus 101, a team top 10 list, or a mention as an “On the Rise” candidate for the individual team prospect ranking series, so the pool of talent is by no means the entire ocean. By breaking down these featured prospects, the goal is to highlight the extreme depth at the position in the minors, while also shedding some light on the early season developments of the talent in question.
Part 2 will focus on the players housed in the tier below the pure leather wizards in the minors, but ones who still have the quality to stick around at the position despite some whispers to the contrary. It needs to be remembered just how difficult it is to profile as a shortstop at the highest level, as only a select few can stand above the crowded field of highly skilled individuals and wear the badge of the position. The “Pure Enough” tier features prospects known more for their offensive potential than their defensive heroics, but we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss their skill at the position just because the profile lacks the cloak of the magus. These combo prospects have some of the highest ceilings in the minors, with impact potential bats and the actions and arms to make plays at a premium position on the diamond.
Looking at the early-season performances at one of the minors' deepest positions.
While it’s premature to suggest the 2013 crop of minor-league shortstops will usher in a Golden Era for the position, the class of talent might be the deepest at the position we’ve seen in a long time. Heading into the season, 13 shortstops cracked the Baseball Prospectus 101, including seven within the top 35. Going even deeper, more than 25 shortstops were included on individual teams’ top 10 lists, with several more featured as “On the Rise” candidates for the season.
Unlike in previous seasons, the current class is lousy with legitimacy, meaning the bulk of the crop has a good chance to remain at the position going forward. Just looking back a few seasons, some of the 101-worthy shortstop prospects included names likes Grant Green, and Wilmer Flores, and Christian Colon, and Miguel Sano, guys who aren’t what I would consider pure shortstops, or even worthy of the distinction “pure enough.”
Bubba Starling has started slow. Is there legitimate cause for concern?
Throughout the 2013 season, we will be providing updates on the developmental ups and downs of the top prospects in the game, with a heavy focus on scouting reports and, when applicable, eyewitness takes. Knowing why a prospect is thriving, surviving, or dying is more important than just providing you with the status, free from explanation. With an unbalanced playing field in unbalanced environments, players will rise and fall for a variety of reasons, and cutting away the costume that can obscure the realities of a situation is the task we will willingly burden ourselves with.
As the minor-league season starts to find its legs, our eyes turn to daily box scores and Twitter blasts, hoping to see the stars of tomorrow flashing that promise on the smaller stages of today. We look for patterns in order to establish momentum or regression, and we cross our fingers that the slow starts are merely small sample sizes playing the villain and the fast starts are not only sustainable but the opening salvo of a monumental climb up the prospect ranks and the corporate ladder.