In his Padres debut, 18-year-old Anderson Espinoza displayed the precocious ability and projection that has driven his status as a nationally-celebrated prospect. Espinoza came out in the first inning with a toned-down fastball, working smoothly between 91 and 94. He lasted three innings, but in the latter two he worked 93-96, touching 97 twice, with natural though inconsistent running action and some sink. At higher velocities, the fastball run can be downright explosive. Espinoza works from a high 3/4 release point with a good arm action and an overall mechanical package that exudes premium fluidity and athleticism. His command and feel sometimes evaded him on this muggy night, and he impressed by remaining composed.
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Notes on Yadier Alvarez, Dillon Tate, Matt Thaiss, and more.
Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Complex Level AZL)
Alvarez was arguably the highest-profile international free agent last summer, signing with the Dodgers for $16 million out of Cuba. Los Angeles has decided to take their time developing him, with the 20-year-old working through some command issues in the Arizona League. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, though his lean, athletic, frame makes him look a bit taller.
The velocity is easy—almost effortless—with reports of him touching triple-digits this spring. He works primarily at 93-97 with the fastball, rushing it up to 98 a few times the night I saw him. He seems to be experimenting a bit, working almost in phases—occasionally sitting 91-93 for an entire at bat, and then 94-96 against the next hitter. While his four-seamer is pretty straight, he generates excellent downhill plane when he gets on top of it. He also works in a sharp slider with a similarly large velocity band to the fastball, ranging from softer, slurvy offerings at 82, to power-sliders which might even be classified as cutters, as hard as 90 mph. His changeup is a work in progress; he struggles to replicate the same arm speed as his fastball, but he throws it hard enough (85-89 MPH) to get away with some mistakes at this level. The development of his off-speed pitch will likely be the difference between him throwing every fifth day and being a high-leverage reliever at the big league level.
I was sitting on an Appalachian League game last week. The teams and players involved don't really matter for the purposes of this story. There were runners on first and second, two out. The batter lined a ball into short left field. Even with the head start, this was clearly a station-to-station to situation. The manager, coaching third, immediately pointed to the base. The throw came in about shoulder high to the catcher who came out from behind the plate to take it. And Fin, right?
Notes on Andrew Benintendi, Tyler Glasnow, and others.
Edwin Rios, 3B/1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
When you go to a lot of minor league baseball games, like the lot of us here on the prospect team do, you watch a lot of unremarkable baseball. You watch a good bit of bad baseball too, and through it all you build up a callous to even the more generally well-executed plays you see because you’ve seen those plays get executed generally well by numerous players along the way. But every now and again a player does something that, to cop some of KRS-One’s flow, brings your fist to your face like “Ohhhh sh*t!” Rios did that last Thursday with a towering eighth-inning home run—his second of the game—that was among the more majestic balls I’ve seen struck in person.
A sixth-rounder last summer out of Florida International, Rios is a chip-on-his-shoulder player after going undrafted out of high school. He added a bunch of bulk during his college days, which culminated in an 18-homer outburst in his draft season and a tag for likely movement across the diamond from his third-base home. The Dodgers have hedged since signing him, working him out at the hot corner in about two-thirds of his starts in the field. The frame is large and hulking, and his movements, while fluid, take some time. He showed decent reactions and mobility to the ground in my one look at him over there, with smooth hands and plenty of arm for the position as well. But the lateral agility and quickness you look for in a third baseman isn’t there, and it’ll be an uphill battle for him to stick.
Notes on Alex Jackson, Kyle Lewis, Rafael Devers, and more.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox (High-A Salem)
Devers is young for the Carolina League, and he’s taken some lumps as a 19-year-old against much older competition. His frame, raw power, and arm-strength give him the raw ingredients of a quality corner infielder, though there’s plenty of projection required to see him as one. A left-handed hitter, his lightning-quick bat-speed can’t be taught, and with the strength in his frame, he has plenty of raw power when he squares his pitch. How much he will get to his power—and whether he’ll maintain the mobility to stick at the hot corner—are the two largest questions regarding Devers’ future. He swings aggressively, but relatively speaking his total strikeout numbers aren’t particularly high. That said, scouts see more holes in his present pure hitting ability than the stat-line shows, especially against the type of quality left-handed pitching he’ll see at higher levels. Defensively, Devers has a very strong arm across the infield, though he holds a 6-foot, (generously listed) 200-pound frame with thickness in his lower half, which takes away from his lateral agility. Some evaluators have felt that he profiles more safely at first base.
Notes on Miguel Diaz, Joe Musgrove, Dalton Pompey, and more.
Miguel Diaz, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 for $85,000, Diaz has steadily climbed the developmental ladder and has done nothing but impress. Throwing from a high-three-quarters slot, Diaz uses a slight twist at max leg lift to start his coil. He possesses a lightning-fast arm that gets through a small circle in the back of his motion and gets out front well. At times he will post his front leg which prevents him from finishing with authority.
Diaz’s fastball is electric, sitting 92-95 and touching 97 when needed. In this outing, he started off slowly in the 92-94 range with slightly below-average command to both sides of the plate. Once he started getting in trouble the big-time velocity made its appearance, blowing several hitters away at the top of the zone with 97 mph heaters. It comes out easy and gets on hitters quickly.
Notes on Alex Verdugo, Braden Shipley, Forrest Wall, and more.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa)
A left-hander with the arm to pitch his way into the draft, the speed to handle center, and enough power to slug .464 in the Texas League this season, Verdugo can claim as much talent as any other prospect. He has a unique set-up deep in the box, with an open stance that suggests his front leg might be a conscientious objector to baseball. He keeps his weight all the way up and back, makes a soft timing toe-tap to square his stance as the pitcher delivers, then takes a flat stride to initiate his swing. The process is… interesting, but the end result is fine, with enough quickness and control to meet balls in the zone. If he pays any penalty for balance and timing complications, it might be in power but not in contact. He fared well last week against Luke Weaver, who struck out nine with a quality fastball/changeup combo. In fact, Verdugo had one swing-and-miss on thirty-nine pitches observed across two days. Although his strikeout rate has steadily increased as he moves up levels (from almost nothing to merely above average), it seems to be the result of selectivity: His walk rate has climbed and he gets good marks for pitch recognition. His negligible platoon split, often a liability for lefties, is another mark in his favor.
Notes on Ryan McMahon, Franklyn Kilome, Eloy Jimenez, and more.
Franklyn Kilome, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
In my first viewing of Kilome in April, he hit 94 early but tanked down into the 89-91 range in the fourth, where he was forced from the game before recording an out. The breaking ball and command weren’t there, but despite everything else he threw some decent changes. The Phillies wisely gave him a couple weeks off after that one, and in his next start, Kilome sat a consistent 91-94, topping out at 97, with much-improved command and a plus-potential curveball. Fast-forward another month to my third look this past Thursday, where Kilome was dominant for two innings, working mostly off a fastball sitting 92-97 that he was able to manipulate well—before the fastball command completely imploded in the fourth and on, just as I was noting how much he’d improved it.
Had I written Kilome—currently our 95th-ranked prospect overall—up in April, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Had he been on a low pitch or batter count in my third look—as many prized prospects now are—I’d probably be using this space to write him up as better than that 95th ranking. But only in looking at the whole picture do you get the full story on Kilome: A maddeningly inconsistent arm with command that comes and goes, flashing all of the individual pieces for number 2 upside, yet less impressive as an overall package than his opposing number on Thursday, Rangers sleeper Erik Swanson, who sat 93-96, touched 98, and showed some feel for a change and slider.
We made you wait an extra day, so we put in an extra writeup.
Eric Lauer, LHP, Kent State (2016 Draft Class) Lauer and the Kent State Flashes entered the MAC Tournament as the heavy favorites, however a loss to Western Michigan ended their run at post season play. Lauer started for the Flashes on Wednesday, going the distance with a complete-game shutout. He showed advanced pitchability throughout the game, and the stuff to match. While Lauer doesn’t currently have a pure out-pitch, his arsenal is still adequate. His fastball sat 93, hitting 94 a few times with a deceptive look from the left side, with some cutting action on it. His curveball will be an above-average pitch, showing 1-7 break across multiple planes at 76 mph. His slider is much improved since I last saw him in April; it usually sits 85-86 topping at 87 mph. His changeup also looked improved, and he threw it with much more confidence this game, featuring horizontal arm-side fade and a touch of tumble as it fell late at times.
Lauer won't be an ace, or even a number two in all likelihood, but what he is missing in ceiling he makes up for in floor. Even as someone who hates the term “high-floor player,” Lauer looks the part to be a fast-rising mid-to-back-end starter. He is as polished as anyone in the class currently, and if any of his off-speed pitches can improve into the plus range, his ceiling becomes even higher. His endurance has never been questioned, as his last two outings have been a no hitter at Bowling Green, and this shutout. His velocity held through all nine innings on Wednesday, and he maintained his delivery well. His delivery is extremely clean, but has a quirk with his left leg that needs to be timed correctly in order to hit his spots. But out of all of his outings that I have seen, he’s only lost his timing in a few. I would look for Lauer to go anywhere in the 25-40 range, but losing out on his ability to prove himself against post season competition is unfortunate. —Grant Jones
Notes on Trent Clark, Harrison Bader, A.J. Puk, and more.
Trent Clark, CF, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
The Brewers first-round selection in the 2015 draft was recently promoted to Low-A Wisconsin and has already shown advanced hitting ability. Clark has a physical frame with plenty of strength through the chest and lower half. As he continues to fill out he will profile better in a corner with the bat to match.
Notes on Cody Reed (the other one), Jason Groome, Dominic Smith, and more.
Cody Reed, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Low-A Kane County)
Following his selection in the second round of the 2014 draft, Reed put together an impressive start to his professional career. The left-hander has a big, wide frame and attacks the strike zone from a low three-quarters slot. His delivery is unique and while it’s not how you would draw it up, he repeats it well and it works for him. Reed cranks down into his back leg with a slight twist before exploding into a flexed front leg with blocking of his front hip. The delivery also has deception which helps his fastball play up.