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.
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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.
Notes and video featuring A.J. Puk, Bo Bichette, and a big-money J2 signing from 2016.
A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics (High-A Stockton)
The sixth-overall pick a year ago, Puk is a long, large human being. He’s a mature 6-foot-7 with strength and elasticity, though he lacks for great athleticism. The physicality poses challenges for his ability to repeat his delivery, and he attempts to simplify by pitching exclusively out of the stretch. His timing was all over the place in this start, however, and there were frequent balance issues that resulted in him yanking his head and neck down rather violently as he fell offline. The arm slot wandered around three-quarters, with huge extension out front but just a lot of length to his release point. I don’t love the fine command projection, though the stuff can pair with moderate control and be enough.
A second-generation impaler continues to impale, a first-round pick continues to confound in the Cal League, and more.
Eric Lauer, LHP, San Diego Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
The last of San Diego’s three first-rounders last June, Lauer wore the tag of polished, “safe” collegiate southpaw heading into the draft, and he’s acquitted himself accordingly in the first calendar year of his professional career. He’s got good size, and while his is not a quick-twitch athleticism, he is classically “pitcher athletic”: he’s extremely fluid and consistent in his delivery, with strong balance and quality timing. The arm swing is not traditional, with a stab and mild wrist wrap at the back of a deep, closed-off turn. But while he’s long to is higher three-quarter slot as a result, he’s also quite loose, and the result is a clean, flowing delivery that he repeats very well.
Brendan Rodgers chugs right along through the Cal League, Mitch Keller does the same in the FSL, and don't look now but Brent Honeywell is staring you down while you read this.
Brendan Rodgers, SS, Colorado Rockies (High-A Lancaster)
Rodgers’ start to the season was delayed by a couple weeks on account of a sprained wrist, but he’s certainly doing his part to make up for lost time, throwing up an only-partially-Lancaster-aided .400/.427/.614 line through his first 17 games. He’s not the type that immediately jumps off the diamond as an elite physical specimen with supreme athleticism, but you watch him play for a few innings and you get it pretty quickly. He’s a smooth mover, with lo-fi grace in the field and a keen sense for measuring out his strides when ranging east or west. He’s not the quickest shortstop you’ll see—the run tool looks to be somewhere around average—but he controls his body well and shows solid actions fielding on the run to convert transfers into accurate, strong throws.
Alex Jackson is re-establishing himself as a prospect now that he's in Atlanta, and Walker Buehler is hitting triple-digits.
Alex Jackson, C, Atlanta Braves (High-A Florida)
Jackson is an athletic, thick-boned man-child. Listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds (though looks closer to 225 pounds) with wide shoulders, he is a good target behind the plate. Jackson receives very well with minor flinches that will be ironed out with time, and that is “very well” without considering he has played outfield exclusively as a pro. Moreover, having played the outfield since being drafted sixth-overall in 2014, he has plenty mobility for a catcher. He blocks most balls in the dirt, his throws are accurate and on-line with carry through the target. He commands the field with his quiet confidence and presence, and has a feel for game calling. The Braves scouted this conversion nicely.
Zack Collins, C, Chicago White Sox (High-A Winston-Salem)
Collins may be one of the pickiest hitters in the minors right now, as evidenced by his.212/.384/.379 slash line. At the plate, Collins is an extremely patient hitter with above-average plate discipline and pitch recognition. He has a mild bat wrap, but it doesn’t seem to impede his balanced, smooth swing. There’s unquestionably plus power in the bat. Right now, though, too many of Collins’ deep counts are ending with strikeouts, and he’s pounding plenty of balls into the ground with a low-line drive rate to go along with it. He has to work on making consistent contact more often.
Behind the plate, Collins seems like a logical game caller; he has soft hands and can handle balls in the dirt well. He’s not afraid to be a bit frisky either; I saw him throw behind a runner at second early in game action and behind a runner at third later in the evening, with above-average release and accuracy. He’s been more consistent with his pop times and throws velocity-wise this season, and the numbers back that up. The book on Collins in 2016 was that you could run on him, but he has certainly changed that perception in 2017. In a diverse and interesting White Sox system, Collins is certainly a name to watch.There is tangible progress in his defense that could go a ways towards combatting a pre-season scouting consensus that he was unlikely to last at the position. —Victor Filoromo
Yadier Alvarez, Triston McKenzie, and other players who aren't skinny pitchers.
Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Alvarez looks more filled-out than his listed 175 pounds would imply, with long levers, and a lazy, controlled physicality that produces strong balance and extremely fluid movements. The arm action is on the deeper side, but clean and consistent to a higher-three-quarters slot that leverages his length effectively to create a strong angle of attack. He’ll lose his back-side a bit when he pushes off, and the overall timing and execution of the delivery isn’t there yet pitch to pitch. But it’s a lot of frame to grow into and harness, and he just turned 21. This is exactly the combination of body control and delivery elegance that makes you unduly comfortable as an evaluator in projecting hard on future gains.
Notes and video on Juan Soto, Cal Quantrill, and more.
Sandy Alcantara, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
Yet again, the St. Louis Cardinals have a Double-A pitcher with the ability to throw serious gas at a young age, seemingly out of nowhere—so out of nowhere that he was unsigned at age 17, for a mere $125,000.
Alcantara has a tall and slight-but-not-skinny build, and it’s difficult to imagine him adding much more in the way of muscle mass without overwhelming his frame, though he has added about 20 good pounds since last season. The velocity is real, but not too much of it comes out of the legs, but rather the arm—a concern, but not an overwhelming one. Despite some violence in the delivery, Alcantara was able to deliver strikes, helped by the aforementioned velocity. He sat in the mid-to-upper 90s, hitting 100 in both the second and sixth innings, with good life that makes the pitch even more difficult to hit, though he is prone to missing arm-side. Alcantara also throws a changeup and a curveball, with the change being the more developed pitch, though he can show some arm deceleration when throwing it. Additionally, while the change has around a 10-mph difference from the fastball, Alcantara will need to consistently add movement to it, or hitters will sit on it like a “normal” fastball. The curve has some nice break on it, but it’s his weakest pitch, and he only used it as a change-of-pace offering, not showing the ability to throw it for strikes.
The Prospect Team lays out which teams they're eyeing in 2017.
Charlotte Knights (White Sox Triple-A) The possibility of a Giovanni Soto-Geovany Soto battery would qualify as the most interesting storyline to watch in Charlotte most years. After an offseason focused on the future, homophony takes a backseat to a 2017 Opening Day roster that suddenly boasts three of our top 30 prospects. The highest ranked among them is YoanMoncada, who’ll hope that some of first year manager Mark Grudzielanek’s contact ability rubs off on him before he ascends to the South Side for good. Charlotte’s pitching staff is particularly rich, fronted by Lucas Giolito. He’s attempting to restore a top-of-the-rotation projection by finding some mechanical consistency and a few missing ticks on his once-and-future 80-grade heater. Joining Giolito in the rotation are Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer, each of whom face questions about ability to pitch every fifth day because of less-than-ideal size and inconsistent command. If the rotation doesn’t work out, I hope Lopez and Fulmer don’t mind setup roles, because the White Sox spent their 2016 first rounder on Zack Burdi. His triple-digit cheese and wipeout slider will end games in Charlotte for the time being, and could do so in the majors in short order if the Sox continue their rebuild by stripping the current bullpen. The Knights roster may well be typically barren come mid-summer, especially on offense. Until the calls come, they’ll run out one of the best collections of talent on a Triple-A roster in some time. —Greg Wellemeyer