Mark Appel gets his first pro win, plus updates on Jonathan Singleton, Kyle Hendricks, Alex Jackson, and others.
Mark Appel, RHP, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
Mark Appel earned his first win as a professional during his seventh appearance, his fifth as a member of the Quad City River Bandits in the Low-A Midwest League. Appel worked five innings, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out a pair. Neither of the two runs he allowed was earned, as batters had difficulty squaring the ball up against him. He came out firing against the powerful (though Buxtonless) Cedar Rapids Kernels, throwing almost exclusively 98 mph fastballs in the first inning. The velocity continued to sit at 96-98 in both the second and third innings before settling in around 93-96, while still touching 98, in innings four and five. The arm action continues to be easy, repeatable, and clean, and he threw downhill while working the bottom half of the zone pretty well, as evidenced by his 12-to-2 groundout-to-fly out ratio. With an approach typical of college pitchers, Appel started the game by trying to get hitters swinging outside, and looked much better an inning or two later when he started to trust his fastball to establish the inner half. His slider continues to be a swing-and-miss pitch thrown at 85-86 mph, while he also showed a polished changeup in the same velocity range. The slider at its best is a plus-plus pitch with sharp two-plane break that makes it nearly unhittable, although he will need to work at making it a plus-plus pitch more consistently. His changeup works well as a perfect slow-ball complement to his fastball, given how well he maintains his arm action, though my only minor complaint with the pitch is that I wish there were a little more speed differential between it and his breaking ball. As Appel continues to gain confidence in his fastball while honing the consistency of his slider, he's going to be a strikeout pitcher at the highest level. His cool, poised demeanor on the mound also serves him well, and in this game he clearly recognized the importance of pitching to contact to make the most of his limited pitch count after a long college season. The Astros have no need to rush Appel, even though they could, so don't be surprised to see him spend most, if not all, of 2014 in Double- and Triple-A. ––Patrick Ebert and Chris Wimmers
A look around the minors at Kris Bryant, Amir Garrett, Albert Almora, Devin Williams, and more.
Devin Williams, RHP, Brewers (Rookie AZL Brewers) Milwaukee’s top selection (54th overall) in this year’s draft, Williams is already making adjustments and showing improvement with the complex-league Brewers. The early reports on Williams this summer had him working 90-92 mph, struggling with control, and featuring a violent delivery that included a head jerk and hard fall-off toward first base. While those mechanical aspects were still present at times when I saw him July 27th, they were much more under control. As a result, the 18-year-old righty sat between 92-94 mph and touched 96, relying heavily on his fastball while tossing four no-hit innings. Williams finished his outing by throwing 44 consecutive heaters and pounded the lower portion of the zone. His secondary stuff showed on the raw side, though he did flash some feel for a lively mid-80schangeup. More thrower than pitcher at present, Williams provides a nice package to dream on. His athletic 6-foot-3 frame has some projection, and his fastball could be a monster pitch at full maturity. I’m looking forward to seeing how the secondaries develop, and he’ll certainly be worth another look at instructs. –Jason Cole
A tour of the minors, with looks at Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, Dorssys Paulino, Sergio Alcantara, and more.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox (High-A Salem) A fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft, Betts was a multi-sport athlete with good feel for baseball, an ideal talent to bring into the professional fold. In a limited look, his plus athleticism was obvious, as he showed easy plus speed on times to first and when on base. His swing had bat speed and was short to the ball, and rarely did it fail to find some contact, showing off his natural bat-to-ball ability. The pop isn’t empty but more line-drive than over-the-fence, and with his wheels, could produce solid extra-base hit numbers. In the field, the glove wasn’t flashy but the range was above average, and the overall defensive profile could give him some left-side versatility if he’s eventually pushed into a utility role. While Betts doesn’t look to be a top prospect with a first-division ceiling, he does have the type of feel for the game and athletic talent to develop into an interesting player, one with bat-to-ball skills at the plate and some leather in the field. He’s fun to watch. Big motor in a little frame. –Jason Parks
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox (Double-A Portland) After taking the Carolina League by storm, the 22-year-old left-handed hitter has continued his hot hitting in the Eastern League, posting a .331/.424/.468 line in 33 games at the level. Cecchini’s grinding, patient approach at the plate has served him well during his transition to facing higher quality arms. A typical plate appearance by the third base prospect sees him methodically work the count for an offering he can attack. Cecchini’s secondary skills have certainly shown to be up to the initial task, and early signs point toward these traits continuing to have the necessary impact within his game to carry the player to the big leagues.
A tour through the minors, with write-ups on Christian Yelich, Trevor Story, Kyle Crick, Luis Sardinas, and others.
Luis Sardinas, SS, Rangers (High-A Myrtle Beach) A popular name in recent trade rumors, Sardinas is an attractive target for most teams because of his pure defensive qualities at a premium position. The tools are even louder than fellow J2 classmate Jurickson Profar, as Sardinas has superior speed, similar hit tool potential, and a superior glove. The 20-year-old Venezuelan has struggled to stay on the field because of injury, but when he's healthy and decides to turn on the effort, Sardinas can flash first-division potential, an impact defender with plus plus speed and natural bat-to-ball ability. —Jason Parks
Braulio Ortiz, RHP, White Sox (High-A Winston Salem)
It has been a big season for the big Dominican arm, making the jump from the DSL to full-season ball, and after a stellar run in Low-A, the 21-year-old now finds himself in the Carolina League. Even though he has made a few starts, Ortiz profiles as a power arm in the 'pen, riding an impressive mid-90s fastball and missing more than a bat per inning. The command is loose and the secondary arsenal needs refinement, but Ortiz is on the fast-track, and looks like a prospect to keep an eye on going forward. —Jason Parks
Eyes on Nolan Sanburn, D.J. Peterson, Dorssys Paulino, Andrew Aplin and others.
Nolan Sanburn, RHP, Athletics (Low-A Beloit) After seeing the start to his season delayed as a result of a shoulder injury suffered in spring training, Sanburn made his Midwest League debut this week after four brief innings in the Arizona Complex League. Sanburn’s debut for the Low-A Beloit Snappers went well, with the former Arkansas Razorback throwing two hitless innings while walking and striking out two. He sat a comfortable 90-92 mph with his fastball, moving it around the zone and touching 94 twice. Sanburn also mixed in two distinct breakers in the form of a hard 83-84 mph slider with tilt and a downer upper-70s curve with good bite. Sanburn also throws a straight change with some late dip, but did not utilize it in-game. The plan is still to eventually shift Sanburn over to a starter role, but for now the A’s will look to build up his arm strength and help him get innings under his belt. --Nick J. Faleris
D.J. Peterson, 1B, Mariners (Short-season Everett)
Peterson was arguably the most advanced bat of the 2013 draft class, and he has begun to put his lumber to work through his first 21 games with the short-season Everett AquaSox. Over 93 plate appearances, Peterson is hitting .286/.344/.536 with eight walks and 15 strikeouts, while launching five home runs and six doubles in his short pro career. The former Lobo boasts a tight bat path and good extension through contact, as well as balance at the plate and an ability to utilize a full-field approach. Peterson likely won’t see his first true test until he reaches High-A (potentially later this summer) or Double-A (most likely next year), where the caliber of pitching is more likely to match up with his advanced approach. --Nick J. Faleris
OF Micker Zapata (White Sox) Zapata was one of the standout talents on the field during MLB’s International Showcase in the Dominican Republic back in January, as the power potential was on full display. At the end of the day, it’s most likely a corner profile, but the power could make him a middle-of-the-order masher, as some scouts have put plus-plus grades on the tool. Given the lack of high-end talent in the White Sox system, Zapata found himself a top five prospect in the system the day he signed for $1.6M. Obviously he’s raw, and this will be true of most of the talent found in the July 2nd talent window, but Zapata shows good bat-to-ball ability, and could develop into more than just an all-or-nothing power hitter. Kudos to the White Sox. This is going to be a very good prospect. –Jason Parks
RHP Marcos Diplan (Rangers)
Despite a market reputation as a baseball factory, the Dominican Republic doesn’t produce a lot of quality major-league starters, a reality with numerous explanations [possible explanations]. A lack of pitchability is often seen as the biggest villain. Diplan stands out for his impressive raw stuff and his advanced pitchability for his age, attributes that help offset his diminutive size and the reputation of the region for producing more relief arms than impact starters. When I saw Diplan back in January, the right-hander pounded the zone with a low-90s fastball (touched 93) delivered from a lower slot. He showed feel for both a fading 80 mph changeup and a low-70s curveball, brought into game action with the swagger of a much more physically imposing arm. He was the best arm I saw at the Dominican Showcase, and it wasn’t even close. –Jason Parks
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