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
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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.
A tour through the minors, with write-ups on Christian Yelich, Trevor Story, Kyle Crick, Luis Sardinas, and others.
Luis Sardinas, SS, Rangers (High-A Myrtle Beach) A popular name in recent trade rumors, Sardinas is an attractive target for most teams because of his pure defensive qualities at a premium position. The tools are even louder than fellow J2 classmate Jurickson Profar, as Sardinas has superior speed, similar hit tool potential, and a superior glove. The 20-year-old Venezuelan has struggled to stay on the field because of injury, but when he's healthy and decides to turn on the effort, Sardinas can flash first-division potential, an impact defender with plus plus speed and natural bat-to-ball ability. —Jason Parks
Braulio Ortiz, RHP, White Sox (High-A Winston Salem)
It has been a big season for the big Dominican arm, making the jump from the DSL to full-season ball, and after a stellar run in Low-A, the 21-year-old now finds himself in the Carolina League. Even though he has made a few starts, Ortiz profiles as a power arm in the 'pen, riding an impressive mid-90s fastball and missing more than a bat per inning. The command is loose and the secondary arsenal needs refinement, but Ortiz is on the fast-track, and looks like a prospect to keep an eye on going forward. —Jason Parks
Eyes on Nolan Sanburn, D.J. Peterson, Dorssys Paulino, Andrew Aplin and others.
Nolan Sanburn, RHP, Athletics (Low-A Beloit) After seeing the start to his season delayed as a result of a shoulder injury suffered in spring training, Sanburn made his Midwest League debut this week after four brief innings in the Arizona Complex League. Sanburn’s debut for the Low-A Beloit Snappers went well, with the former Arkansas Razorback throwing two hitless innings while walking and striking out two. He sat a comfortable 90-92 mph with his fastball, moving it around the zone and touching 94 twice. Sanburn also mixed in two distinct breakers in the form of a hard 83-84 mph slider with tilt and a downer upper-70s curve with good bite. Sanburn also throws a straight change with some late dip, but did not utilize it in-game. The plan is still to eventually shift Sanburn over to a starter role, but for now the A’s will look to build up his arm strength and help him get innings under his belt. --Nick J. Faleris
D.J. Peterson, 1B, Mariners (Short-season Everett)
Peterson was arguably the most advanced bat of the 2013 draft class, and he has begun to put his lumber to work through his first 21 games with the short-season Everett AquaSox. Over 93 plate appearances, Peterson is hitting .286/.344/.536 with eight walks and 15 strikeouts, while launching five home runs and six doubles in his short pro career. The former Lobo boasts a tight bat path and good extension through contact, as well as balance at the plate and an ability to utilize a full-field approach. Peterson likely won’t see his first true test until he reaches High-A (potentially later this summer) or Double-A (most likely next year), where the caliber of pitching is more likely to match up with his advanced approach. --Nick J. Faleris
OF Micker Zapata (White Sox) Zapata was one of the standout talents on the field during MLB’s International Showcase in the Dominican Republic back in January, as the power potential was on full display. At the end of the day, it’s most likely a corner profile, but the power could make him a middle-of-the-order masher, as some scouts have put plus-plus grades on the tool. Given the lack of high-end talent in the White Sox system, Zapata found himself a top five prospect in the system the day he signed for $1.6M. Obviously he’s raw, and this will be true of most of the talent found in the July 2nd talent window, but Zapata shows good bat-to-ball ability, and could develop into more than just an all-or-nothing power hitter. Kudos to the White Sox. This is going to be a very good prospect. –Jason Parks
RHP Marcos Diplan (Rangers)
Despite a market reputation as a baseball factory, the Dominican Republic doesn’t produce a lot of quality major-league starters, a reality with numerous explanations [possible explanations]. A lack of pitchability is often seen as the biggest villain. Diplan stands out for his impressive raw stuff and his advanced pitchability for his age, attributes that help offset his diminutive size and the reputation of the region for producing more relief arms than impact starters. When I saw Diplan back in January, the right-hander pounded the zone with a low-90s fastball (touched 93) delivered from a lower slot. He showed feel for both a fading 80 mph changeup and a low-70s curveball, brought into game action with the swagger of a much more physically imposing arm. He was the best arm I saw at the Dominican Showcase, and it wasn’t even close. –Jason Parks
I’ve been on the Almonte bandwagon since his easy delivery first caught my eye during a fall instructional league game on the backfields in Arizona. I’m a sucker for an easy delivery and an effortless release, and Almonte won my heart that day by pumping a low-90s fastball for strikes and flashing a changeup that was already a near-plus offering. Fast-forward to his full-season debut, and the bandwagon is starting to look like a bus depot, as the 20-year-old continues to take steps forward with the arsenal and the production, working a fastball in the 92-97 range, flashing multiple breaking-ball looks including a bat-missing curve, and throwing a nasty changeup. Almonte’s inclusion on the Futures Game roster was a win for the young Dominican arm, a win for the Royals’ amateur scouting and player development teams, and a win for every wannabe scout that finds arousal in easy arm action and heavily pronated changeups. —Jason Parks
A tour around the minors, including looks at Oscar Taveras, Xander Bogaerts, Luiz Gohara, and Joey Gallo
Oscar Taveras, CF, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
Taveras celebrated his 21st birthday on Wednesday by going 2-for-5 with a home run. His week ended on a sour note, however, as he was lifted from Sunday’s contest after appearing to aggravate his ankle injury, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The top prospect initially injured his ankle while sliding into second base on May 12th. He returned to the Redbirds’ lineup on June 8th. When I saw Taveras in Round Rock last week, his ankle certainly didn’t look healthy––he was limping all over the field (shown in this video).
While Taveras’ ailing ankle rendered him unable to run on the basepaths and in center field––and, despite the clear #want, left me wondering why he was attempting to play through an obvious injury––the other aspects of his game looked sharp. The Dominican Republic native displayed his gargantuan strength by fighting off a fastball and sending it off the wall to the opposite field on Friday. Taveras is a highly aggressive hitter who’s looking to tackle anything within his large hitting zone. But his elite hand-eye coordination and plate coverage (in addition to his strength and bat speed) enables him to make consistent loud contact. As a scout told me this weekend, “That’s what a future all-star hitter looks like.” –Jason Cole
A trip around the minors, with looks at Julio Urias, Martin Perez, Mark Sappington, Jose Dominguez, and others.
Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes) At the end of the day, the minor-league story of the year might be the prospect propulsion of 16-year-old Julio Urias, a left-handed pitcher recently signed out of Mexico. The Dodgers decided to send the precocious arm to the Midwest League to begin his professional career, a move that had an initial scent of novelty, but the reality is far from a stunt. Urias is a special talent, with a preternatural feel for his craft and the type of stuff that could one day play at the top of a major-league rotation. Listed at 5’11’’, the southpaw is actually closer to 6’1’’, with a projectable frame and a present fastball that routinely touches 95 mph on the gun. From an easy, repeatable delivery, Urias works 91-93 with the heater and has two secondary pitches that he can drop for strikes in any situation. While it’s easy to get excited about a would-be high school sophomore pitching in a full-season league, the real excitement comes from the reality that Urias is a very legit talent on the fast track to prospect fame. It’s remarkable for a 16-year-old to get outs at the full-season level, much less miss more than a bat an inning. That’s just insanity. I’m drinking the Boing! when it comes to Urias. I’m all in. –Jason Parks
Jose Dominguez, RHP, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque) A pop-up prospect in the Dodgers system, Dominguez has raced to Triple-A on the strength of his 80-grade fastball that is routinely reaching 100-101 mph. The 22-year-old righty is something of a late bloomer. After signing in 2007, he pitched three years in the Dominican Summer League and didn’t reach full-season ball until 2012. He also served a 50-game PED suspension in 2010 followed by a 25-game ban last year.