Burch Smith, RHP, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)
Smith has been perhaps the most impressive pitcher in the Texas League this month, posting a 1.38 ERA with 31 strikeouts and just four walks over 26 innings. The 23-year-old has flashed plus command of a dominant fastball that sits between 93-96 mph and reaches up to 98. Although Smith doesn’t create much downhill plane and doesn’t have a ton of fastball life, he has a highly deceptive delivery and hides the ball extremely well. The deception enables his big velocity to play up a tick and induce a number of late swings.
When I saw Smith in action early last week, he also showed a potential average changeup and fringy curveball. The Texan may profile as a late-inning reliever due to the dominant fastball and lack of a plus secondary pitch. But some scouts believe he can stick in a starting role, and his ability to hold plus velocity and command his arsenal with deception could give him a chance. —Jason Cole
Looking at the early-season returns on shortstops who might stick at the position.
In part one of the series, we checked in on the pure shortstops in the minors, the players who stand above the rest with the leather and project to stay at position all the way up the chain. The criterion for inclusion in this particular series was a placement on the Baseball Prospectus 101, a team top 10 list, or a mention as an “On the Rise” candidate for the individual team prospect ranking series, so the pool of talent is by no means the entire ocean. By breaking down these featured prospects, the goal is to highlight the extreme depth at the position in the minors, while also shedding some light on the early season developments of the talent in question.
Part 2 will focus on the players housed in the tier below the pure leather wizards in the minors, but ones who still have the quality to stick around at the position despite some whispers to the contrary. It needs to be remembered just how difficult it is to profile as a shortstop at the highest level, as only a select few can stand above the crowded field of highly skilled individuals and wear the badge of the position. The “Pure Enough” tier features prospects known more for their offensive potential than their defensive heroics, but we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss their skill at the position just because the profile lacks the cloak of the magus. These combo prospects have some of the highest ceilings in the minors, with impact potential bats and the actions and arms to make plays at a premium position on the diamond.
There are 80-grade runners and then there’s Billy Hamilton. Almost to a person, Hamilton was dubbed the fastest player the BP Prospect Team and industry scouts had seen in their careers. In his past two minor-leagues seasons, Hamilton has stolen 258 bases across three levels. In 2012 he broke a long-standing minor-league record and ended the season with 155 steals in just 132 games. As if the stolen base totals weren’t enough evidence of Hamilton’s blinding speed, scouts routinely report home-to-first times in the 3.40-3.45 second range; blowing the 20-80 scale out of the water. Hamilton is an elite runner in every respect. He gets up to top speed in just a few quick steps, sustains his speed well while running the bases and has shown good closing speed in the outfield. Hamilton’s speed is a game-changing tool that will carry him to the big leagues, and the second he steps on a big league field he will be the fastest player in the history of the game.
It was an interesting night in the Dominican Winter League. This kid named Miguel Sano went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He must be terrible, right? Wait a minute. I'll search the internet and find some info on him. Oh, never mind. He hit 28 homers in Lo-A ball as a 19 year-old and those prospect geeks here at Baseball Prospectus are supposedly ranking him in the Top 25 of their upcoming Top 101 Prospects List. Must’ve been an off night. I also noticed that this guy named Manny had four hits in his game. Figured he must be in this top 101, too. He wasn’t. It turns out he's an older guy that debuted in the majors way before the invention of prospect ranking.
Jason and his team embark on a massive offseason prospect. Here's what to expect and how to get the most out of it.
It’s that time of year again, when the failures of all but one team are forgiven and the dreams of a better tomorrow supplant the stinging agony of defeat. Please allow me to sell you hope, packaged in promise, tied with a bow of unlimited possibilities. I know of a player who can solve all your problems and keep your sleep patterns regulated, and if you buy a subscription to Baseball Prospectus, you can read about that player. I’m a prospect prognosticator: the Zoloft salesmen of baseball. How may I comfort you?
In all seriousness, prospect rankings aren’t about selling hope or compartmentalizing a future joy to lessen the ennui of the offseason months; rather, prospect rankings are pop-up art shows, galleries of photographs that capture a particular moment in time. Not to lessen the appeal or diminish the importance of the work, but snapshots don’t have lungs and they don’t crawl to land and progress over time. Rankings throw a net over a designated slice of the calendar, and then shine a bright light on the apprehended prospects. But the ebb and flow of player development has a chance to wash away any static snapshot when the mood sees fit, and the player who was cast in a starring role is quickly reduced to the fringes of the spectrum. The hope that was sold in the fall often confronts the reality that exists in the spring, and by the following fall, hope has officially transformed to helplessness.