Fernando Tatis Jr, just promoted to Double-A, has generated significant – and deserved – attention for his record-setting season as an 18-year-old in Low-A. He paced Fort Wayne to the playoffs, and will now join a Double-A club that will also be in the playoffs. Tatis Jr. has great body language and always seems to be at the center of a conversation with teammates or coaches in the dugout. He stands out on the field for his long build and legs and has projection through the upper half and shoulders. He clocked in at 4.25 to first base, just at above average for a right-handed batter, which will tick down a bit as he fills out. What won’t tick down is his effort, as he runs hard with energy and perceptive baserunning instincts (e.g. anticipating passed-balls, taking an extra base).
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Notes and video on Brendan McKay, Keston Hiura, Zack Collins, and more.
Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP, Tampa Bay Rays (short-season Hudson Valley) In the leadup to the 2017 draft, McKay was on the short list of players receiving consideration to be selected first overall by the Twins. The Rays ultimately snagged him at pick four and are giving him the opportunity to both hit and pitch for the foreseeable future. Early results suggest he is presently more advanced on the mound. Through his first two professional starts (five innings), the left-hander has yet to allow a run and has compiled seven strikeouts. The athletic 21-year-old’s most impressive offering is his potentially plus curveball. It displays 11-5 action and should generate swings and misses at the major-league level. His fastball initially sits 90-94 before dropping to the upper 80s by the end of an outing. Despite the lack of elite velocity, the pitch flashes plus due to its movement and his ability to command it on both sides of the plate. His final pitch is a sparingly used and inconsistent changeup. McKay’s floor is a middle reliever, and he should become a mid-rotation starter once he learns how to sustain velocity deeper into games and gains confidence in his changeup.
Kevin Maitan, Michael Kopech, Jesus Luzardo, and more.
Kevin Maitan, SS, Atlanta Braves (short-season Danville) I saw the Braves $8 million investment two games recently. It was a reminder in patience, projection, and rawness, as the (listed) 6-foot-2, 190-pound (more like 205) 17-year-old has a ways to go to get to his ceiling. Maitan played shortstop in both games but will move, the hope being to third. He is already filled out, and the body will require some maintenance, especially into his mid-late 20s. While his footwork is good, his hands and arm do not portend well for the left side of the infield. At present it’s a 45 arm and a 45 glove at third base, so he could stick there, particularly if the bat profiles. Also he’s not a runner: 4.55 home to first (as a left-hander).
Adrian Morejon, Leody Taveras, Mike Matuella, and more.
Leody Taveras, CF, Texas Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
We ranked Taveras 30th on our midseason list off a combination of internal looks and industry reports. This was my first look at Taveras and as the person whose name has to go on these lists...WELP, he should have been higher. The funny thing is I figured this out before he took an at-bat in the first game of my long weekend look at him in Lakewood. I hit brutal traffic on the Garden State—as one does—and didn't get to the Shore in time for batting practice. So literally the first time I laid eyes on Taveras was in the on-deck circle in the top of the first. It's a great baseball body and you could see the premium bat speed with a donut on the lumber. The overall stat line for the three games won't wow you, but he has an advanced approach for his age, and I think given the loft in the swing and the plus-plus whip, he will eventually show good game power. He had no problem squaring Sixto Sanchez’s fastball for example. The swing looks better from the left side than the right side at present. He's a bit more tentative against southpaws, but given more reps I don't see it as a huge issue in the future. He's a sure shot center fielder with requisite flair out there too (I suspect he knows exactly how good he is). He's a plus runner with a solid arm too, so there’s a better chance for a major league floor here than you'd expect from an 18-year-old hitting .250 in the Sally. And there is all-star level upside if the bat continues to develop. Amend your lists accordingly. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Eyes on Yency Almonte, Tanner Houck, Freicer Perez and more.
Yency Almonte, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Double-A Hartford)
Despite being delayed for a year, Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford is a nice little stadium with a lot to recommend. There is a very legitimate jerk chicken sandwich hidden away in the right field upper deck, it’s about eight minutes door-to-door from my favorite bar in the area, and oh yeah, pretty much every night you had a decent chance of seeing a future major-league arm starting for the Yard Goats. Almonte may be the best pitching prospect of the group. He’s a lean righty with simple mechanics and an easy 95 whenever he wants it. Usually for starting pitchers at this level, I’ll run the gun for a few innings and then check back in to see where they are in the sixth or seventh inning. Usually I end up writing something like “93-95 early, 91-93 late,” but Almonte maintains and even builds velocity throughout his outings. He found more 95-96 late in the start I saw, and he commands the heater well to all four quadrants. The advanced command covers for limited movement, although he will show some arm-side run from his three-quarters slot. He used a fastball-heavy approach—didn’t need much else—but both the slider and change flashed above-average. The slide piece is the more advanced secondary at present—despite some issues with the feel for it early in the outing. It’s a mid-80s offering with hard, late tilt. He pulled the string on a few nice cambios, but the pitch was too firm too often. Ryan Castellani has the better raw stuff on the Yard Goats staff, but that’s usually only the case for the first 50 pitches or so. Almonte’s ability to measure out his arsenal and superior pitchability makes him the better long term bet for me, and a potential 101 name come this offseason. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Richard Urena, Thomas Hatch, Cal Quantrill and more.
Richard Urena, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)
As I watched the Eastern League All-Star game, I couldn’t help but think that Urena has more talent than most of the players actually selected for the event. Unfortunately, he wasn’t at the game due to his inconsistent performance in the field (nine errors) and at the plate (slashing .246/.291/.372 through 370 plate appearances). He has been of the more frustrating players to evaluate this year. Three Eyewitness Reports have been published on him since July 22, 2016, and the hit tool grades range from 45 to 60. The reason for this high variance is likely his overly aggressive approach. He rarely walks and is prone to chasing bad pitches, which leads to excessive weak contact. Nonetheless, he will have stretches like the first two games of this past Portland series (5-10 combined) when he consistently drives the ball and looks like a plus hitter. The 21-year-old switch-hitter does have a loose, contact-oriented swing and above-average bat speed. He is capable of squaring up any pitch and uses the whole field. All things considered, I feel most comfortable giving his hit tool a 50. His power grades as below-average although it’s better from the left side and he should continue to bulk up. In addition, he is a good athlete and possesses the arm strength and range to develop into an above-average shortstop. The errors typically result from a lack of focus. These mistakes will hopefully dissipate as he continues to mature. Troy Tulowitzki is not getting any younger, so Urena should eventually have an opportunity to become the Jays’ starting shortstop. But he has a long way to go. —Erich Rothmann
The team goes deep on guys they'd have put on the list or ranked higher if they had final say.
Bo Bichette, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
Bichette jumped from off of our Top 101 in the offseason to No. 29 in the midseason, so it’s not as if we don’t like him. And the concerns about him are legitimate. He isn’t a shortstop, there is a decent amount of swing-and-miss in the game, and he was only in Low-A. That said, this kid is something special. While Bichette isn’t going to stick at the six, I believe his final home will still be on the dirt. His footwork will look at little clunky at short at times, but he’ll show solid lateral movement and an average arm, which makes it a profile I can envision working well at second.
Grant Holmes, Walker Buehler, Heliot Ramos, and more.
Grant Holmes, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Double-A Midland)
If A.J. Puk is all raw potential in the Oakland A’s system, then Grant Holmes is a prime example of a prospect with a little more finesse, but a bit lower of a ceiling. A short right-hander, Holmes has a traditional over-head wind-up into a high-three-quarters arm slot with a fairly short stride, which is more striking when he’s throwing out of the stretch. There are no real obvious flaws in his delivery outside of the short stride, as he repeats his release point fairly well, and doesn’t have an excess of moving parts. In this outing, Holmes showed a fastball between 89-93 mph, and he was able to create some good movement on the pitch. His curveball was his best offspeed, coming in anywhere from 78-85 MPH, with variation in depth and sweep, and he was able to locate the pitch for both swings and misses and called strikes. Holmes’ changeup is his weakest pitch, sometimes showing good arm-side drop, but more often spinning into the zone in the mid-80s. Over the 70-pitch mark, Holmes began losing command, giving up hits on balls left high in the zone. Because of the simplicity of his delivery—and the fact that his velocity does look to be coming mainly from the arm—it seems unlikely that a move to the bullpen would do all that much for Holmes’ velocity, though shorter outings might help his command. —Kate Morrison
Jason Groome, LHP, Boston Red Sox (short-season Lowell) Leading up to the 2016 amateur draft, Jason Groome was considered to be a possible 1-1 selection. However, he ended up falling to Boston at 12th overall due to concerns about signability and maturity. He eventually agreed to a $3.65 million bonus and his work ethic has impressed the Red Sox. He began the year in Single-A Greenville, but struggled mightily in his first start and left with a lat injury. His next start was not until June 19th for Lowell, which lasted only 2 1/3 innings due to rain. Boston’s top pitching prospect should return to Greenville once he proves that he can pitch deeper into games.
Joey Wentz, Jacob Nix, and another update on Scott Kingery.
Joey Wentz, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Low-A Rome)
Velocity concerns have followed Wentz since his pre-draft days that included a dead arm, but if his fastball continues to pop like it did during a recent outing for Rome, sitting low-90s instead of mid-90s won’t be an issue. He was 88-93, touched 94, and consistently sat 90-92. There was the occasional dip to 88-89 as he labored but, again, the liveliness is the thing to pay attention to here.
Wentz’s fastball only features slight arm-side run and the overall movement is minimal, but it’s effective based on extreme plane from a high slot and 6-foot-5 frame. It jumps from the hand and rides hard to both sides of the plate. He can also work up effectively with the pitch, although his command wavered at times and he left it up and arm-side too often. Wentz’s curveball was 77-81 with tight, two-plane break when he spun it well. The break came late and featured above-average depth. It typically came in at 1/5 and was consistently hard and downward with above-average feel. His changeup didn’t match the first two pitches by lacking feel. It was constantly firm out of the hand. He threw one usable, average change with some fade.
Another exciting Padres arm, the Royals have an up the middle prospect, and yes, Gianfranco Wawoe.
Michel Baez, RHP, San Diego Padres (complex-level AZL)
The Padres have signed so much international talent that it can be hard to keep track of everyone. The 20-year-old Baez signed out of Cuba in December 2016 for $3 million with little fanfare, and he gives San Diego another huge arm to dream on. After sitting out game action all of the extended training, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound righty appeared in Arizona last week, blowing away young Mariners hitters with his huge fastball. The pitch explodes on hitters with late running life, generating exceptional plane from his three-quarters arm slot. In the first he was 97-98 mph, with good command to his arm-side. He was 94-96 mph thereafter, mixing in a hard slider with two-plane break. His command of the pitch is inconsistent at present, losing his release point and coming around the baseball to spike it down and away to righties. He rounds out the arsenal with an 85-87 mph change-up that he mostly threw to lefties on the outer edge or off the plate. He threw it with conviction, and is still learning to locate it, but at maturity, I would not be surprised if it is above-average, giving him a mid-rotation arsenal.
Given his extended layoff and long levers, it is not surprising that Baez’s command is still developing. Key will be repeating his delivery to the glove side, as the times he was offline or out of sync were mostly to that target. His arm action is on the longer side with only mild effort, and the big heater gives him some margin for error, particularly in the lower levels. This was a limited look, but the raw stuff and remaining projection should keep him in the rotation into the upper levels, and San Diego has every reason to be patient with him. If he does go to the pen, a future late-inning role is in play. He will likely head to Tri-Cities in the Pioneer League to open the year. —John Eshleman
Most of the team decided to write about the New Hampshire Fish Cats this week.
Omar Estevez, MI, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Signed for $6 million out of Cuba during the Dodgers’ most recent international binge in 2015, Estevez was billed as a relatively advanced bat with questions about his glove. So far across about a half dozen looks he’s presented as exactly the opposite of that. In the box he starts tall and moderately open, with high hands that load quietly and stay above his shoulder line at trigger. This swing path is direct but steep, and coupled with a tendency to step in the bucket, he pulls off and slashes under a lot of balls for weaker fly ball contact. And that’s when he does make contact; the approach is fairly aggressive, and while he’ll square the occasional early-count fastball he struggles a good bit to find breaking stuff. He’s got loose wrists and a reasonably quick bat, but there’s a long way to go for him to start translating anything into consistent at-bats.