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
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A tour around the minors, including looks at Oscar Taveras, Xander Bogaerts, Luiz Gohara, and Joey Gallo
Oscar Taveras, CF, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
Taveras celebrated his 21st birthday on Wednesday by going 2-for-5 with a home run. His week ended on a sour note, however, as he was lifted from Sunday’s contest after appearing to aggravate his ankle injury, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The top prospect initially injured his ankle while sliding into second base on May 12th. He returned to the Redbirds’ lineup on June 8th. When I saw Taveras in Round Rock last week, his ankle certainly didn’t look healthy––he was limping all over the field (shown in this video).
While Taveras’ ailing ankle rendered him unable to run on the basepaths and in center field––and, despite the clear #want, left me wondering why he was attempting to play through an obvious injury––the other aspects of his game looked sharp. The Dominican Republic native displayed his gargantuan strength by fighting off a fastball and sending it off the wall to the opposite field on Friday. Taveras is a highly aggressive hitter who’s looking to tackle anything within his large hitting zone. But his elite hand-eye coordination and plate coverage (in addition to his strength and bat speed) enables him to make consistent loud contact. As a scout told me this weekend, “That’s what a future all-star hitter looks like.” –Jason Cole
A trip around the minors, with looks at Julio Urias, Martin Perez, Mark Sappington, Jose Dominguez, and others.
Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes) At the end of the day, the minor-league story of the year might be the prospect propulsion of 16-year-old Julio Urias, a left-handed pitcher recently signed out of Mexico. The Dodgers decided to send the precocious arm to the Midwest League to begin his professional career, a move that had an initial scent of novelty, but the reality is far from a stunt. Urias is a special talent, with a preternatural feel for his craft and the type of stuff that could one day play at the top of a major-league rotation. Listed at 5’11’’, the southpaw is actually closer to 6’1’’, with a projectable frame and a present fastball that routinely touches 95 mph on the gun. From an easy, repeatable delivery, Urias works 91-93 with the heater and has two secondary pitches that he can drop for strikes in any situation. While it’s easy to get excited about a would-be high school sophomore pitching in a full-season league, the real excitement comes from the reality that Urias is a very legit talent on the fast track to prospect fame. It’s remarkable for a 16-year-old to get outs at the full-season level, much less miss more than a bat an inning. That’s just insanity. I’m drinking the Boing! when it comes to Urias. I’m all in. –Jason Parks
Jose Dominguez, RHP, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque) A pop-up prospect in the Dodgers system, Dominguez has raced to Triple-A on the strength of his 80-grade fastball that is routinely reaching 100-101 mph. The 22-year-old righty is something of a late bloomer. After signing in 2007, he pitched three years in the Dominican Summer League and didn’t reach full-season ball until 2012. He also served a 50-game PED suspension in 2010 followed by a 25-game ban last year.
Updates on Miguel Sano, Michael Ynoa, Albert Almora, and more.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (Double-A New Britain) Sano has been getting column inches since his amateur days, and thanks to a breakout spring, the press love shall continue. We all know that Sano has some of the best raw power in the minors, with plenty of strength built into a leveraged swing with loft. He was born to hit the ball a long way, and so far in 2013 he’s put 16 balls into Florida State League seats. The 20-year-old takes the headlining spot in this week’s Ten Pack because of his upcoming promotion to the Double-A level, where the precocious talent will face his biggest professional challenge. The swing has some length, and his willingness to expand his zone makes him vulnerable to quality secondary offerings and pitchers with a plan. Double-A arms are better equipped to exploit such weaknesses, and if Sano is slow to make the adjustment (shortening up, looking to go the other way, not selling out for power), his on-the-field production could take a step back before it inevitably takes another step forward. —Jason Parks
Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox (High A Salem) The 20-year-old left-handed starter has made a smooth transition in taking the next step up the ranks, racking up 68 strikeouts in 56 innings while only allowing 38 hits thus far into the season. The big thing that has jumped out when scouting Owens is the development of his changeup. Showing as a below average offering last season, with varying arm speed and lacking finish, the pitch flashed much improved consistency and fading action in his last outing. Owens also created better deception via arm speed in sync to that of his fastball. While the 6-foot-6 lefty’s change is pushing toward becoming an above average weapon at his disposal, there is still work to do in enhancing the command of the 89-93 mph heater. Owens is inconsistent utilizing his large frame to stay on top of his offerings, and he is often unable to find the balance between over-throwing and releasing early. The young arm has ample development in front of him in reaching a ceiling of a mid-rotational starter, but the progress with his overall game is a good sign things are moving forward. —Chris Mellen
The BP Prospect Staff has been working overtime to keep you up-to-date on the upcoming draft. Find out more about BP's ongoing coverage and what to look out for this week.
This year, Baseball Prospectus has increased its coverage of amateur baseball and the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Over the past eight months, we’ve produced roughly 70,000 draft-related words, and you can find links to them all right here.
This offseason, Baseball Prospectus also joined forces with Perfect Game USA—the premiere baseball showcase/tournament provider in the world—and our newly forged partnership has provided the Baseball Prospectus readership with access to further MLB draft and amateur baseball content from the insightful team over at PG. Finally, both Baseball Prospectus and Perfect Game will continue to roll out further draft content throughout the week (publishing schedule below), so check in regularly this week to make sure you’re teed up for the draft when it kicks off on Thursday evening.
Of all the prospects in the minors, Baez’s status might have the most volatility, with the skill set to blossom into a superstar and the deficiencies that could terminate the dream before it begins. With elite bat speed and the type of raw power that can find a home in the middle of any major-league lineup, Baez could end up as the top prospect in the game. But his one-speed-fits-all approach on both sides of the ball can be limiting: His aggressive, see-ball-hit-ball mentality at the plate often puts him behind in counts and vulnerable to offerings out of the zone, and his tendency to rush the actions and the throws makes him error prone despite his exquisite hands at shortstop. Baez is warming up and is a good candidate to explode this summer, with a chance to sneak into the top 10 prospects in the game. But the Double-A test is looming on the horizon, and without more nuance to his game and a more refined approach, Baez could take a big step back against better competition. The talent is extreme. The risk is just as extreme. —Jason Parks
Updates on Raul Adalberto Mondesi, Addison Russell, Mason Williams, Robert Stephenson, and others.
Raul Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals (Low-A Lexington)
As much as I enjoy referring to Adalberto Mondesi as Adalberto Mondesi, the young shortstop has expressed his desire to be called by the first name that appears on his birth certificate, which just happens to be the same as his familiar father’s—a former rookie of the year--and his less-than-familiar older brother’s. Hey, if it works, keep working it. Raul Adalberto, which is still a cool sounding name, is one of my favorite prospects to watch, and on a short list of my favorite prospects to monitor and write about. He’s a 17-year-old playing a premium position at a full-season level, so the excitement can exist regardless of the on-the-field outcomes. Context is always a vital part of the evaluation process, as a prospect’s status or sudden rise in status can often put a spotlight on production [itself] at the expense of the specifics surrounding that production. Mondesi has struggled at times this season, and that can lead to overreactions and assumptions that aren’t tethered to the reality of the situation. Mondesi has struggled--no doubt --but he hasn’t been overwhelmed by the level of competition; he belongs at this level despite the poor statistical line. Coming into last night’s game, Mondesi was hitting an anemic .195/.205/.293 in May, which isn’t going to keep his name dripping from the tip of any Pavlovian tongue. But the talent to develop into something very special lives inside of Raul, son of Raul/brother of Raul, and it’s only a matter of time before his positive developmental steps show up on the stat sheet. He hit for the cycle last night. It’s a one-game sample, but bring the context back into the equation. Raul –son of Raul/brother of Raul—is a 17-year-old playing in a full-season league. The fact that he can show glimpses or flashes of brilliance at that level at his age is absolutely remarkable. This isn’t a normal prospect. –Jason Parks
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds (Low-A, Dayton)
Through the first seven weeks of the season, Robert Stephenson has carved up the Midwest League to the tune of 11.6 strikeouts per nine (punching out about one out of every three batters faced) and just 2.4 BB/9, all while holding the opposition to just a .240 batting average. Stephenson was the 27th overall selection in a stacked 2011 draft class, and as impressive as his stuff was out of the scholastic ranks it has bumped up across the board in 2013. His fastball is comfortably sitting mid-90s, climbing to 98 mph on occasion. He pounds the bottom of the zone on a tough downward plane, making him tough to square and helping him to produce a 45 percent groundball rate thus far this spring. His breaker is a hard curve that vacillates between 11-to-5 and 12-to-6 action, working best in the 80-82 mph range. It easily projects to a plus offering, though it plays closer to average right now due to inconsistent execution, which leads to a fair share of hangers. The changeup is still a work in progress, but Stephenson has already shown improvement in his feel for the pitch compared to early April. You can see start-to-start growth in Stephenson's game, particularly in his pitch execution and sequencing, and he's doing the little things, as well, including improving his pacing and set durations from the stretch (which, combined with 1.19-to-1.27 times to the plate makes him difficult to run on). Through 10 starts, Stephenson has made a strong case for being the top arm currently tossing in the Midwest League, and should be included in any discussion regarding the top arms in the minors. --Nick J. Faleris