Even a limited look at the Cuban super prospect makes it clear why he's garnered so much attention.
Yoan Moncada’s journey from Cuba to Fort Myers has simultaneously been well documented and, as with so many Cuban defectors, shrouded in mystery. I, on the other hand, had only to forego a Friday night of debauchery*, respond to a 5 a.m. alarm clock, and make the cross-state trip through Alligator Alley in order to see the Red Sox newest acquisition in action for the first time.
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Eyes on Dalton Pompey, Josh Bell, Raul Mondesi and others.
This group includes players with near MLB-ready skill sets who are in the AFL to put the finishing touches on their profile as they get ready to compete for a big-league job in 2015.
RHP Francellis Montas (White Sox)
He's been a starter for almost his entire career, and if the White Sox are hell-bent on developing him into a major-league starter then he's still a long way off. But if they are willing to shift him to the bullpen his stuff is ready. He sat 97-99 and touched 100 mph several times in his start against Salt River. His 89-92 mph slider has obvious power and the 87-90 mph changeup is a solid change of pace. He lacks the command to be a starter in the short term and there is very little deception to the delivery. The White Sox have pushed their prospects as aggressively as any organization, and if they are willing to move him to the bullpen then Montas' stuff should be ready for the South Side on opening day this year. When he gets hit, he'll get hit hard, but he should be able to blow away a significant number of hitters, too, and has a three-true-outcomes type of profile.
A look at the prospectiest prospects at this year's AFL, including Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, and Archie Bradley.
These players are well known for their loud tools. This section is mean to serve as an update on these prospects and their current location along the developmental timeline.
OF Byron Buxton (Twins)
The 2014 season wasn't Byron Buxton's year. He spent time on the disabled list with multiple wrist injuries and a concussion sustained in an outfield collision in his first game at Double-A. He went to the AFL looking to make up for lost time. While his AFL season was also cut short after he dislocated the middle finger on his left hand, he first proved that his elite tools were intact. More importantly, his potential impact to the Twins remains practically unchanged, other than a year delay in his timeline. The Twins enter the offseason with a murky outfield picture, but Buxton’s lost developmental year inhibits his ability to take advantage of the opportunity—though a premium athlete like Buxton could hold his own while taking his lumps and learning hard lessons at the major-league level. He was already expected to open 2015 in the minors, at least for financial reasons, but his loss of development time may necessitate spending the entire 2015 season there. The tools he showcased in the AFL were as advertised: plus-plus bat speed with a loose swing with a quick-twitch trigger; an 80 runner in center with a plus arm and plus accuracy. One of the highlights of the AFL was his stolen base off of Rays C Justin O'Connor, who popped a 1.84 attempting but couldn’t throw Buxton out. The takeaway from his brief AFL stint is that in spite of the injuries the tools remain intact—it's just a question of how well they'll play at the highest level of competition.
Twenty big-league scouts and our own Jeff Moore watched Jozzen Cuesta and Misael Siverio try out in Florida last week.
There are innumerable adjustments players must make when defecting from Cuba in search of their major-league dream, but on Friday morning, on the back fields in the shadows of Roger Dean Stadium in south Florida, the weather was not one of them. The balmy heat and stifling humidity couldn’t have been much different from what Jozzen Cuesta and Misael Siverio were used to back in their native Cuba. The setting, however, was different, with more than 20 scouts in attendance who were eager to see the newest free agent talent but, after two hours, slightly disappointed by the pedestrian performances they saw.
Will the Astros salvage the first-overall pick they did sign?
Take a moment to forget about the Brady Aiken mess and think about last year’s first overall selection. Mark Appel was supposed to be on the fast track. You aren’t supposed to struggle if you’re the first overall selection, and the 6-foot-5 right-handed starter with a prototype body had the look of a player who would move quickly, stopping only briefly in Lancaster and Corpus Christi to humble inferior hitters with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball. If you’ve been paying attention to his season, you know this hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
What has happened
First, appendicitis in January sidelined him for most of the spring. Regardless, the Astros aggressively sent him to Lancaster to begin the season. I was able to catch an early start of his, on April 10th, and was impressed with the raw stuff he brought to the table. Then 22, Appel showed a fastball that touched 98 mph, and paired it with a sharp, bat-missing slider (scouting report). Immediately after this start, on April 14th, Appel’s velocity dipped and only touched 91 mph. As has been well documented, the Astros installed a tandem or “piggyback” pitching rotation, where two “starters” would pitch back to back in the same game. Also, some pitchers would be subjected to only three days of rest, which happened to Appel in these two starts. This obviously took a toll on Appel, and there were rumors of shoulder soreness after the second start. He was sent to extended spring training to get some rest and have proper time to build stamina for the season. After returning, he had the worst start of his season on May 31st, surrendering 10 earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. Five days later, he was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right thumb and scratched from his next start. After getting the standard four days of rest (and sometimes more), he continued to struggle. Recently, the Astros made it public that Appel had a right wrist issue and received a cortisone shot. It’s unclear whether the thumb tendinitis is connected. I took in his start on July 10th with intentions of pin-pointing his problems.
A look at Lucas Giolito in Lakewood brought back memories from 2012.
Lakewood is not what you expect when you think of minor-league towns. Just off a main road not far from a recently rebuilt Jersey Shore, Lakewood is not small town America. It’s overcrowded New Jersey, within commuting distance of our nation's biggest city, a place where it's go big or go home. It's not the kind of place you expect to see perspective-altering performances from 19-year-old kids in A-ball.
In-person looks at several Triple-A assets of the Reds, Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees.
Erik Johnson, RHP, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte) Large-framed right-hander with high waist and strong trunk and legs; body a little soft but strong and durable. High-3/4 delivery; stays closed and has some natural deception; hides ball; stabs behind back but recovers well; repeats delivery fairly well. Creates velocity more with muscle than arm speed. Pitches with good plane; commanding mound presence.
Sinker/Cutter mold. FB 87-90 heavy with sink; topped out at 90 (five times). Average fastball in general; fringe-average velo and command. Reluctant to pitch inside; better FB command to glove side. Cutter 83-85; above-average pitch; 10-4 movement with some depth; commands well and can throw for strikes but doesn’t miss many bats; suffers from “cutteritis”—was overly reliant on cutter to detriment of his other pitches. CB 72-73; shallow and soft 11-5 breaker; doesn’t miss bats and doesn’t invite batters to chase; soft “show me” pitch thrown as a surprise for strikes in FB counts. CH 78-80; rarely used and showed very little confidence in; flashed some drop in warmups but was firm and up in the game. Fairly quick to the plate (typically 1.30–1.40 range). Big, strong, durable kid who keeps the ball down but gets by on soft contact and groundballs; doesn’t miss enough bats. No. 5 starter.
With three looks at the Blue Jays pitching prospect this year, Chris is able to draw some lines.
Over the course of a season, I like to get multiple looks at a starting pitcher prospect as a baseline for establishing developmental trends and gauging progression. Similar to when sitting on a position player prospect for a series or stretch of games, there can be variability from look to look in regards to what you see. It’s possible, for instance, that in an isolated appearance a pitcher is working on one particular pitch or certain aspect of his game that doesn’t reveal the full scope of his arsenal. Or, the arm just doesn’t have it, for whatever reason, on a given night. It’s important when building the book to be able to reference reports from various points in time to compare, contrast, and look for clues that assist with making projections.
Eyes on Ben Lively, Ryan Wright, and Matt Anderson, along with the Cubs' high-profile international signings from last summer.
Ben Lively, RHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
Broad shoulders, thick legs, muscular build; 6-foot-4, about 210; body to log innings; repeatable delivery; gets downhill well; hides the ball behind his torso and snaps it on the hitter with a quick arm; plenty of deception; three-quarters; fastball 88-92; runs it and cuts it; true ghostball; explodes on the hitter; if I didn’t have gun readings I’d guess 95-plus based on the swings; hitters weren’t comfortable all night; third time through the lineup was still pumping the fastball and jamming guys; gets 92 with runners on; amped up after striking out a batter to escape a jam; good control with it, pounded the zone for the most part (got squeezed) but the command was hit or miss; up the zone and challenged guys often; he won most battles, but going forward he needs the get the ball down.
Curveball 71-76; lacked bite early; loopy and hangs over the plate; tightened it up and it flashed late; much better around 74-76 mph, and had some two-plane break; dropped it in for some first-pitch strikes; scout said he had a hammer his last appearance, but didn’t see an above-average CB on this night ; SL 82-84 mph; sweepy break; not much bite; lengthened it with two strikes; used it vs. lefties and righties; commanded it well; better against righties; pounded the outside corner and just off the plate; CH around 85; some dive and tumble; thrown only a handful of times; used it right after his FB to keep the hitters off balance.
Brandon Nimmo, CF, Mets (St. Lucie)
Well built for 21, yet has a frame that will support more weight. Classic left-handed stance, quiet hands with a slight knee bend; swing is short and quick with a slight uppercut; generates natural backspin on the ball, which helps project above-average future power. He doesn't know how to drive the ball yet, but when he does the power will come and the doubles will turn into home runs. Extremely patient approach at the plate; absolutely will not expand the strike zone, even in RBI situations. Plus runner underway but not an explosive first step. Should be able to stay in center field for the foreseeable future.