In-person evaluations of Robert Stephenson, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, Henry Owens, Chris Withrow, and Taijuan Walker.
When I stepped away from the second chair and into Kevin Goldstein’s vacated spot on the stage, I decided that the spine of my prospect architecture would be eyewitness scouting evaluations. The goal was not to portray myself or other members of the prospect team as industry-level scouts; being a fabulist wouldn’t benefit the product or the public paying for that product. The goal was to offer evaluations from a more personal point of view, reports that originated at the fields instead of on the phones or the search engines. I put together a team of talent evaluators I felt had the chops to sit in the stands and document the action on the field in an authentic manner. I wanted to hire the type of talent that would one day receive the bait from the private sector, joining up with the industry that I learn from on a daily basis. That team is in place.
Going forward, Baseball Prospectus will publish a weekly series featuring eyewitness evaluations from the staff, complete with scouting grades, detailed notes and (in many cases) video. These reports will attach to the player cards and offer a wealth of information throughout the season; with multiple looks from multiple sources, you will be able to track a prospect’s progression through the developmental process. As the games continue and we populate the minor-league stadiums around the country, the reports will start to pile up, and hopefully the season will conclude with a healthy reservoir of reports for you to pick through, compare, contrast, dissect and disagree with. I can’t think of a better means to study the minor-league process than with a collection of scouting reports from quality eyes, provided over the course of a season, and if everything continues as planned, for the duration of the players’ prospect journeys.
Checking in on Oscar Taveras, Miguel Sano, Gabriel Guerrero, and others.
Michael Wacha, RHP, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
The Cardinals’ top pick in the 2012 draft, Wacha received an aggressive assignment to Triple-A Memphis despite logging just 21 pro innings last summer. He is proving plenty apt for the challenge, posting a 1.99 ERA while yielding just 27 hits in 40 2/3 innings. Regarded as a polished arm as an amateur at Texas A&M, Wacha has made some quick strides as a pro. The progression hasn’t really changed his projection as a no. 3 starter, but he’s perhaps closer to realizing that potential than initially thought.
The 21-year-old righty has shown lots of polish early this season, pounding the strike zone with a three-pitch mix that includes a 90-95 mph fastball. He generates a steep downhill plane from his 6-foot-6 frame. His secondary pitches play well off the fastball––particularly his deceptive low-80s changeup, which is already a plus offering. Wacha’s curveball has been a key development since college; it’s presently average to solid-average and should become a third plus in the near future.
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Brandon Workman, RHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
The 24-year-old has come out of the gate in 2013 showing improved fastball command, with the forward progress translating into less hard contact against and the missing of more bats. Workman has always thrown strikes since turning pro, but the increase in quality strikes has allowed him to efficiently churn through lineups in the Eastern League during the first month of the year. The latest outing saw him heavily feature his 91-94 mph fastball. Workman pounded the lower tier of the strike zone, along with generating more than a handful of swings and misses with the offering. While the right-hander didn’t have his best feel for either the 75-78 mph curveball or 86-89 mph cutter, he used them enough to further enhance the heater.
I’ve felt that Workman’s ultimate role lies in the bullpen, but there’s also been some improvement with loosening up the delivery and becoming less jerky with the arm action. The pitcher does still expend some extra energy, and longer frames do take their toll on him. I still see a seventh- or eighth-inning-reliever role as the best fit long-term, but more of a chance he can stick around as a starter for the near future. The growth of the fastball command is a good sign that Workman is taking steps toward getting closer to the majors, and should help boost his case for getting a crack at Triple-A as a starter. –Chris Mellen
Burch Smith, RHP, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)
Smith has been perhaps the most impressive pitcher in the Texas League this month, posting a 1.38 ERA with 31 strikeouts and just four walks over 26 innings. The 23-year-old has flashed plus command of a dominant fastball that sits between 93-96 mph and reaches up to 98. Although Smith doesn’t create much downhill plane and doesn’t have a ton of fastball life, he has a highly deceptive delivery and hides the ball extremely well. The deception enables his big velocity to play up a tick and induce a number of late swings.
When I saw Smith in action early last week, he also showed a potential average changeup and fringy curveball. The Texan may profile as a late-inning reliever due to the dominant fastball and lack of a plus secondary pitch. But some scouts believe he can stick in a starting role, and his ability to hold plus velocity and command his arsenal with deception could give him a chance. —Jason Cole
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
Joe Ross, RHP, Padres (Low-A Ft. Wayne)
The former first-round pick dealt with injuries and inconsistency last year in what was a disappointing introduction to full-season ball and the Midwest League. This April, Ross returned to Ft. Wayne and has been nothing short of impressive in his first two starts for the Tincaps, tallying 12 strikeouts and just two walks and two hits over 10 innings. In his Opening Day start against the Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers), Ross showed off low- to mid-90s velocity (peaking at 96 mph) with arm-side life and improved fastball command, working the lower-U (both sides and the knees) and taking advantage of a little extra room the umpire was giving to the glove side.
Ross established himself inside early and often to both lefties and righties, working mostly fastballs the first time through the order and adding a low- to mid-80s slider the second time through. He broke out just a few change-ups—most notably three in one six-pitch strikeout of Dodgers 2012 first rounder Corey Seager in their second meeting (the first resulted in a soft 1-3). Ross still tends to open up his front side prematurely, periodically driving his fastballs high and to the right relative to the target, but overall he’s keeping the ball down, missing bats, and inducing soft contact (the Loons hit just two balls in the air and squared up three through Ross's five innings of work). In limited action thus far there is certainly evidence of growth in stuff and improvement in execution. —Nick J. Faleris
The prospect staff goes through the players they want to get a look at this year.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, Chicago White Sox (High-A Winston-Salem)
My appreciation of Courtney Hawkins is similar to my appreciation of Shiner Bock: it’s from Texas, I’m supposed to love it unconditionally, others love it unconditionally, I recognize some of the qualities that encourage others to love it unconditionally, but it just doesn’t tickle my fancy and I don’t freak out when it’s available. In 2013, my goal is to sit on a Winston-Salem series until the Courtney Hawkins buzz intoxicates me. I enjoy his approach and sturdy physical characteristics, but I’ve yet to witness the major-league flash, the high-end tool utility that separates good amateur prospects from good professional players. I’ve also yet to meet an amateur scout who wouldn’t walk a mile for a cooler full of Courtney Hawkins, and that fact alone makes me feel like I’m the one who is missing out, not the other way around. In 2013, I’m going to find out for sure. –Jason Parks
Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Double-A Bowie)
After I just missed Gausman at both Fall Instructs and spring training, catching the right-hander throw is a high point of interest. My appetite’s been whetted by reports from a couple of contacts: a 93-97 mph explosive fastball with late life, a hard, deep swing-and-miss slider, and a deceptive fading changeup that the 22-year-old shows excellent feel for. I love watching how pitchers with Gausman’s level of stuff go about executing it. Now that he’s in the upper minors, it comes down to pitchability. Does he know how to set a hitter up to utilize the secondary offerings? Can he pitch with his fastball? Or will Gausman just try to blow everyone away? These are aspects of his game that I’ll be looking over closely, while also zoning in deeply at his developmental progress over the course of the season. –Chris Mellen
There are 80-grade runners and then there’s Billy Hamilton. Almost to a person, Hamilton was dubbed the fastest player the BP Prospect Team and industry scouts had seen in their careers. In his past two minor-leagues seasons, Hamilton has stolen 258 bases across three levels. In 2012 he broke a long-standing minor-league record and ended the season with 155 steals in just 132 games. As if the stolen base totals weren’t enough evidence of Hamilton’s blinding speed, scouts routinely report home-to-first times in the 3.40-3.45 second range; blowing the 20-80 scale out of the water. Hamilton is an elite runner in every respect. He gets up to top speed in just a few quick steps, sustains his speed well while running the bases and has shown good closing speed in the outfield. Hamilton’s speed is a game-changing tool that will carry him to the big leagues, and the second he steps on a big league field he will be the fastest player in the history of the game.