Updates on Hunter Harvey, Aaron Sanchez, Mark Appel and others.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Orioles (Low-A Delmarva)
Given the volatility of young arms, along with the overall nature of the position, it’s easy to be on the conservative side when initially assessing the early stages of their pro careers. After seeing Harvey toward the end of last season, though, it wasn’t a tough call to put a 7 on the future potential. The stuff absolutely screamed “legit.” The heater effortlessly came out of his hand at 92-95 mph, with late life and jump. The feel for the curveball was advanced for a pitcher his age, and though the changeup was inconsistent, the quality arm-side fading action when Harvey did execute lent a big clue that future growth is there. It’s an arsenal of three future plus-to-better pitches.
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Raimel Tapia, Carlos Correa, Julio Urias, Clint Frazier, and other prospects we can't wait to scout this summer.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Rockies (Low-A Asheville)
Internet evaluators have a tendency to overcomplicate the scouting process, focusing too much of their attention on what players will do in the future rather than simplifying the explanations of what they actually can do in the present. We can dream on athletic bodies and cite physical projection to justify our fantasies about future accomplishment, and I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to attaching my name to body-beautiful types regardless of current skill level. But a good rule of thumb—in the particular context of evaluating position players—is that good hitters hit and bad hitters only project to hit.
Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia can hit. He accomplishes this with a combination of balance and bat speed at the plate, allowing him to consistently drive the baseball, but there is an innate component at play here that goes deeper than any breakdown of his setup or swing. He excels at putting the barrel of his bat on the baseball, recognizing the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand and using his excellent hand-eye coordination to finish the connection. This natural ability to hit has been evident at every stop in his professional career, and is likely to continue as he climbs toward the highest level. We can wax poetic—and I have—about his other physical gifts, like plus run, a plus arm, and the potential to stick up the middle with the glove, but the name of the game is bat-to-ball, and Tapia can hit. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. –Jason Parks
The minor leaguers who made a major impression this spring.
LHP Julio Urias (Dodgers)
A 16-year-old pitching in the Midwest League can turn heads, and when that pitcher can pump a fastball in the 91-96 range in each start, backed up by multiple breaking ball looks and a quality changeup, the heads start spinning. I watched two spring starts from the now 17-year-old southpaw, and I came away knowing that this was the most polished young arm I have ever seen.
The prospects team recounts seeing achievers and disappointments this year, among them Addison Russell, Todd McDonald, Henry Owens, and Miguel Sano.
Todd McDonald, OF, Rangers (AZL Rangers)
McDonald is the strangest player I have ever had the privilege to scout; he’s the prospect poster child for the post-minimalist movement. The 17-year-old Australian of Aboriginal descent plays the game with the kind of physical effort than is hard to see and appreciate with the human eye. At the plate, McDonald stands upright, rarely wasting the energy necessary to complete a practice swing or to secure proper footing in the box; rather, McDonald just walks [stress the word: walk] into the box, looks at the pitcher, and practices his ability to remain completely still. Without any lower-half movement, he can square plus velocity by firing his hands and striking the ball. Of course, this assumes he actually decides to remove the bat from his shoulder. McDonald has a very interesting approach at the plate, as his 80-grade #slack might suggest, but it’s the pitch recognitions skills that intrigue me; rarely will McDonald chase a pitch out of the zone, as he would rather not swing and strikeout looking than actually swing the bat and miss the ball. In the field, McDonald plays with the intensity of Quaalude addict watching paint dry in an empty room, but the raw tools suggest he could be an above-average runner if he ever decided to actually run. I have no idea how McDonald will develop on the field, but I guarantee that I will never lose my fascination with his unique blend of bat-to-ball instincts and #slack. –Jason Parks
Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (Double-A New Britain)
Sano brutalized the Florida State League before reality slowed his prospect flow in Double-A, which is where I had the chance to watch him over a four-game series. His raw power is unbelievable, as the 20-year-old is strong enough to launch balls over the fence without the benefit of sweet-spot contact. The swing is leveraged and long, and despite ball/strike recognition skills, he will look for big extension in most counts and will expand his zone and chase. His hit tool could play to average at the end of the day, which would make him a ~.260 type, but enough that the big boy raw can play in games, which could make him a 40-plus home run type. The defensive profile has been a subject of debate since his professional debut, but I thought he showed more than enough at third to project at the position. For his size, he’s a very good athlete with good balance and coordination, and he is at his best coming in on balls. He struggled with some lateral movements, especially when he failed to center himself to the ball and would opt for a more casual Roger Dorn approach to fielding grounders. But I think he possesses the necessary athleticism to handle the demands of the position, and the arm is more than strong enough to bail him out of a few initial mistakes. The total package could be one of the best power hitters in the game, one with enough holes to exploit if you have a plan and can execute it, but also one who will punish you severely if you make a mistake over the plate. He’s a middle-of-the-order threat that can stick at third if he makes it a priority, and given the fact that he’s only 20, he has plenty of time to refine his game before reaching his potential. –Jason Parks
Raul Adalberto Mondesi, shortstop, Royals (Low-A Lexington) Coming into the season, Mondesi the Younger was an invisible prospect to many, having failed to capture more national attention despite being ranked third on the Baseball Prospectus Royals’ Top 10 list and 58th overall in baseball on the pre-season 101. His most familiar quality at the time was a bloodline and a short-season resume, but after the then-17-year-old jumped to the full-season level and flashed his high-ceiling tools, he became a featured player on prospects lists all over the internet. The equivalent of a junior in high school, Mondesi had 27 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in the Sally League, while showing off his legit left-side chops on defense. Mondesi has a chance to blossom into one of the best prospects in the game, as the hit tool has projection (clean stroke; can make hard contact and drive velocity) and the glove is more than capable of sticking at shortstop. Factor in his extreme youth, natural ease and feel for the game, and tool-based ceiling, and Mondesi might be one of the most exciting prospects in the minors. He exceeded all my expectations in 2013 and my expectations were high, and with another step forward, the aforementioned prospect prophecy might be a truth and not just a tease. –Jason Parks
Lucas Sims, pitcher, Braves (Low-A Rome)
Sims is a stud, but I didn’t see him developing into this level of stud this early in the developmental process. A first-round pick in 2012, Sims has been on the prospect radar for a while, but the 19-year-old righty really blossomed in 2013, logging over 116 innings in the Sally League and missing 134 bats. He’s not an imposing figure on the mound, but the stuff casts a bigger shadow than his 6’2’’ frame. He’s comfortable working his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s with late tailing action, dropping a true upper-70s hammer with heavy vertical action, and a 82-86 mph changeup with late sink. Because of his impressive performance in 2013, Sims is sailing up prospect lists, and if his final six starts of the season are a harbinger of his next step forward (34 IP, 46 K, 23 H, 5 ER), the Braves might have something special on their hands. –Jason Parks
Reviewing the disappointing seasons of Bubba Starling, Trevor Bauer, Gary Sanchez, Francisco Lindor, and others.
This week's theme: prospects who disappointed in 2013.
Gary Sanchez, catcher, Yankees (Double-A Trenton) We ranked Sanchez 47th in baseball coming into the season, and 26th overall in the mid-season update, but the latter had more to do with the promotion and attrition of his contemporaries than with his rising star. Sanchez is a frustrating prospect, one who possesses a high ceiling that comes at a high risk, and his performance in 2013 gave us a taste of both outcomes. The 20-year-old has the type of impact potential in the stick to warrant the high-6 OFP grade, but the makeup continues to produce mixed response, and despite owning some defensive skills, the overall projection behind the plate is cloudy. While it’s true that Sanchez is still extremely young and attempting to develop into a dual-threat player, the red flags in his game could limit his promise, both in the field and at the plate. He’s still a top 100 prospect in the game—and you can make a case for continued inclusion in the top 50—but his stock has slipped. —Jason Parks
On Tuesday this time! Updates on some of the most intriguing AFL players, including Byron Buxton, Taylor Lindsey, Andrew Heaney, and more.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (High-A Ft. Myers)
The top prospect in the land continues his assault on the baseball world, hitting for average and showing good pop with a mature approach, in addition to his top-shelf defense in center and elite speed on the bases. It’s a performance trend that started in the Midwest League and has continued after his promotion to the Florida State League. Simply put, Buxton is a superhero, showing all would-be contemporaries and spectators that they are mere mortals and insufficient next to his special baseball powers. The 19-year-old cape-wearing man from mythology is set to play with the Glendale Desert Dogs in the AFL, and if you haven’t put eyes on this exceptional prize, do whatever it takes to make your way to Camelback Ranch this fall. *Lycra Spandex costumes are optional. –Jason Parks
Trevor May, RHP, Twins (Double-A New Britain)
Earlier this summer I was able to sit on a May start, and at the time I wasn’t overly impressed despite a positive on-the-field outcome. May is a big, strong horse of a pitcher, with a well-rounded arsenal that includes a meaty fastball and multiple secondary offerings that flash above-average, but his delivery minimizes the natural advantage of height, and as a result of his drop-and-drive approach his plus velocity often arrives flat-planed and edible. The command comes and goes, but when he’s on and staying over his offerings, May looks the part of a no. 4 starter, one capable of logging innings and keeping his team in the game. He’ll be pitching for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League and will get to wear the same uniform as Byron Buxton, so I expect May to take a step forward this fall and carry it into his 2014 campaign, where the big righty will likely have the opportunity to pitch at the highest level. –Jason Parks
A tour around the minors, including looks at Austin Meadows, Michael Feliz, Steven Matz, and Reese McGuire.
Michael Feliz, RHP, Astros (Short-Season Tri-City) I haven’t been overly impressed with the talent in the New York-Penn League this summer, and it doesn’t take a gifted mind to add up all the prospects with legitimate major-league projections. Both at the fields and on the phones, I’ve been asking around about the names to know, and the arm that has received the most love is Astros’ right-hander Michael Feliz. Armed with an unforgiving fastball that works comfortably in the 94-96 mph range and can touch 98 with late life, Feliz is hard to touch, much less square for hard contact. His low-80s slider has some flash to it, and several sources said you don’t have to squint to see a future plus offering.
The changeup is immature, but the Dominican arm won’t turn 20 until late September, giving him a very long developmental road left on which to figure it out. It’s worth noting that Feliz was originally signed as a free agent by the Athletics in the 2010 offseason, but his professional contract was voided and his $800k bonus stripped when he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Scooped up a few months later by the Astros for half the price, Feliz served his time, has remained clean in the face of rigorous testing, and has really blossomed as a prospect in 2013. The development of the changeup and the refinement of the command will decide his long-term fate, but the easy cheese that explodes from his intimating 6’4’’ frame is going to play, and in a league that lacks much impact potential, Feliz stands out as a player to pay attention to. –Jason Parks
A look at Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Billy Hamilton and others in a tour of the minors.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities) The top pick in the 2012 draft started his full-season experience by hitting .221 in April, which didn’t raise any red flags because he was only 18 and playing at an advanced level. Because of a work ethic that pushes scouts to label his makeup as elite, Correa has taken huge developmental steps forward throughout the season, and has emerged as one of the premier prospects in the game. Finding comfort at the plate and learning to trust his hands and explode into the ball, Correa is showing the Midwest League his plus potential hit tool and maturing power. Once his timing clicked, the contact grew louder and louder, and the young prospect has produced an OPS near 1.000 in the second half. The glove has also been better than advertised, as the actions are clean and smooth, and several sources said he has the chops to stick at the position for the foreseeable future. Let’s break it down: Correa is still only 18, he’s hitting better than .330 in the Midwest League, he’s hitting lefties to the tune of .450-plus, he can play a premium defensive position, he has natural hitting instincts, the doubles will eventually turn into home runs, and the makeup is applauded by people who aren’t prone to applause. That’s a monster talent, the kind of player who can change the fortunes of a franchise. –Jason Parks
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee) I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of radio hits in the Chicago market, and I’m usually asked about the positional depth in the Cubs’ org, and which prospect has the highest ceiling. Baez has long been my answer despite the fact that Baseball Prospectus ranked Almora higher on the pre-season and mid-season lists, mostly due to the fact that Baez was viewed by many to be a high-risk player. The tools are very loud, with elite bat speed at the plate and excellent hands in the field, but the aggressiveness and one-speed-at-all-times approach in all phases of the game painted the picture of an immature player, a prospect that might spoil his future before it has a chance to blossom. After an impressive run in the Florida State League, the blossoming we have eagerly anticipated has taken place after a promotion to Double-A, where Baez already has 26 extra-base hits in his first 40 games. Double-A is a test level, a separator level where pretenders are exposed and future major-league players are uncovered. It’s a small sample but a positive developmental step, and Baez is showing that he is not only prepared for the test but talented enough to excel against much older and wiser competition. He could be a star, a role 7 type with a middle-of-the-order bat and left-side chops in the field. Whatever his future role might be, the Cubs have an extremely valuable commodity in Baez.–-Jason Parks
Mark Appel gets his first pro win, plus updates on Jonathan Singleton, Kyle Hendricks, Alex Jackson, and others.
Mark Appel, RHP, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
Mark Appel earned his first win as a professional during his seventh appearance, his fifth as a member of the Quad City River Bandits in the Low-A Midwest League. Appel worked five innings, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out a pair. Neither of the two runs he allowed was earned, as batters had difficulty squaring the ball up against him. He came out firing against the powerful (though Buxtonless) Cedar Rapids Kernels, throwing almost exclusively 98 mph fastballs in the first inning. The velocity continued to sit at 96-98 in both the second and third innings before settling in around 93-96, while still touching 98, in innings four and five. The arm action continues to be easy, repeatable, and clean, and he threw downhill while working the bottom half of the zone pretty well, as evidenced by his 12-to-2 groundout-to-fly out ratio. With an approach typical of college pitchers, Appel started the game by trying to get hitters swinging outside, and looked much better an inning or two later when he started to trust his fastball to establish the inner half. His slider continues to be a swing-and-miss pitch thrown at 85-86 mph, while he also showed a polished changeup in the same velocity range. The slider at its best is a plus-plus pitch with sharp two-plane break that makes it nearly unhittable, although he will need to work at making it a plus-plus pitch more consistently. His changeup works well as a perfect slow-ball complement to his fastball, given how well he maintains his arm action, though my only minor complaint with the pitch is that I wish there were a little more speed differential between it and his breaking ball. As Appel continues to gain confidence in his fastball while honing the consistency of his slider, he's going to be a strikeout pitcher at the highest level. His cool, poised demeanor on the mound also serves him well, and in this game he clearly recognized the importance of pitching to contact to make the most of his limited pitch count after a long college season. The Astros have no need to rush Appel, even though they could, so don't be surprised to see him spend most, if not all, of 2014 in Double- and Triple-A. ––Patrick Ebert and Chris Wimmers
A look around the minors at Kris Bryant, Amir Garrett, Albert Almora, Devin Williams, and more.
Devin Williams, RHP, Brewers (Rookie AZL Brewers) Milwaukee’s top selection (54th overall) in this year’s draft, Williams is already making adjustments and showing improvement with the complex-league Brewers. The early reports on Williams this summer had him working 90-92 mph, struggling with control, and featuring a violent delivery that included a head jerk and hard fall-off toward first base. While those mechanical aspects were still present at times when I saw him July 27th, they were much more under control. As a result, the 18-year-old righty sat between 92-94 mph and touched 96, relying heavily on his fastball while tossing four no-hit innings. Williams finished his outing by throwing 44 consecutive heaters and pounded the lower portion of the zone. His secondary stuff showed on the raw side, though he did flash some feel for a lively mid-80schangeup. More thrower than pitcher at present, Williams provides a nice package to dream on. His athletic 6-foot-3 frame has some projection, and his fastball could be a monster pitch at full maturity. I’m looking forward to seeing how the secondaries develop, and he’ll certainly be worth another look at instructs. –Jason Cole
A tour of the minors, with looks at Mookie Betts, Garin Cecchini, Dorssys Paulino, Sergio Alcantara, and more.
Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox (High-A Salem) A fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft, Betts was a multi-sport athlete with good feel for baseball, an ideal talent to bring into the professional fold. In a limited look, his plus athleticism was obvious, as he showed easy plus speed on times to first and when on base. His swing had bat speed and was short to the ball, and rarely did it fail to find some contact, showing off his natural bat-to-ball ability. The pop isn’t empty but more line-drive than over-the-fence, and with his wheels, could produce solid extra-base hit numbers. In the field, the glove wasn’t flashy but the range was above average, and the overall defensive profile could give him some left-side versatility if he’s eventually pushed into a utility role. While Betts doesn’t look to be a top prospect with a first-division ceiling, he does have the type of feel for the game and athletic talent to develop into an interesting player, one with bat-to-ball skills at the plate and some leather in the field. He’s fun to watch. Big motor in a little frame. –Jason Parks
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox (Double-A Portland) After taking the Carolina League by storm, the 22-year-old left-handed hitter has continued his hot hitting in the Eastern League, posting a .331/.424/.468 line in 33 games at the level. Cecchini’s grinding, patient approach at the plate has served him well during his transition to facing higher quality arms. A typical plate appearance by the third base prospect sees him methodically work the count for an offering he can attack. Cecchini’s secondary skills have certainly shown to be up to the initial task, and early signs point toward these traits continuing to have the necessary impact within his game to carry the player to the big leagues.