Eyes on Dalton Pompey, Josh Bell, Raul Mondesi and others.
This group includes players with near MLB-ready skill sets who are in the AFL to put the finishing touches on their profile as they get ready to compete for a big-league job in 2015.
RHP Francellis Montas (White Sox)
He's been a starter for almost his entire career, and if the White Sox are hell-bent on developing him into a major-league starter then he's still a long way off. But if they are willing to shift him to the bullpen his stuff is ready. He sat 97-99 and touched 100 mph several times in his start against Salt River. His 89-92 mph slider has obvious power and the 87-90 mph changeup is a solid change of pace. He lacks the command to be a starter in the short term and there is very little deception to the delivery. The White Sox have pushed their prospects as aggressively as any organization, and if they are willing to move him to the bullpen then Montas' stuff should be ready for the South Side on opening day this year. When he gets hit, he'll get hit hard, but he should be able to blow away a significant number of hitters, too, and has a three-true-outcomes type of profile.
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A look at the prospectiest prospects at this year's AFL, including Byron Buxton, Addison Russell, and Archie Bradley.
These players are well known for their loud tools. This section is mean to serve as an update on these prospects and their current location along the developmental timeline.
OF Byron Buxton (Twins)
The 2014 season wasn't Byron Buxton's year. He spent time on the disabled list with multiple wrist injuries and a concussion sustained in an outfield collision in his first game at Double-A. He went to the AFL looking to make up for lost time. While his AFL season was also cut short after he dislocated the middle finger on his left hand, he first proved that his elite tools were intact. More importantly, his potential impact to the Twins remains practically unchanged, other than a year delay in his timeline. The Twins enter the offseason with a murky outfield picture, but Buxton’s lost developmental year inhibits his ability to take advantage of the opportunity—though a premium athlete like Buxton could hold his own while taking his lumps and learning hard lessons at the major-league level. He was already expected to open 2015 in the minors, at least for financial reasons, but his loss of development time may necessitate spending the entire 2015 season there. The tools he showcased in the AFL were as advertised: plus-plus bat speed with a loose swing with a quick-twitch trigger; an 80 runner in center with a plus arm and plus accuracy. One of the highlights of the AFL was his stolen base off of Rays C Justin O'Connor, who popped a 1.84 attempting but couldn’t throw Buxton out. The takeaway from his brief AFL stint is that in spite of the injuries the tools remain intact—it's just a question of how well they'll play at the highest level of competition.
Aaron Judge has long arms. Hitters with long arms have swing-and-miss issues. Do two sentences make a destiny?
Few things scare scouts off a hitter more than high strikeout totals. We’re trained to look past the numbers and to see just the player, rather than be swayed by, for example, gaudy numbers in an extreme hitting environment or against inferior competition—or the reverse. But high strikeout totals are one number that can set off scouts’ alarms. Even the most successful minor-league hitters can, and usually will, struggle when they get to the majors if they have extreme swing-and-miss issues. As George Springer showed this year, a hitter with extreme strikeout tendencies can still be productive; that production might just come with a painfully low batting average.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how predetermined biases about a player can affect the evaluation process, especially with prospects for whom expectations play a large part. In the case of Yankees outfield prospect Aaron Judge, however, even if we can strip away all of the background information, forget about his success in college and forget that he was selected in the Yankees in the first round, we can’t ignore that he is a tremendously large human being. I mean, he’s just massive.
We know certain things that are generally pretty true about tall hitters. They typically hit for more power than their shorter counterparts, and at the same time, they generally swing and miss more. Part of that is due to the aforementioned propensity for power (as powerful swings tend to bring whiffs), but part is due to physics. Taller hitters have longer arms, and long arms make for long swings. The longer a swing, the more holes in it.
What are we talking about when we talk about disappointment?
"(A box score) doesn't tell how big you are, what church you attend, what color you are, or how your father voted in the last election. It just tells what kind of baseball player you were on that particular day." –Branch Rickey
If only it were still that simple. Back when Rickey was making personnel decisions for major-league organizations, and those last three traits were actually factors in how people were judged, it was a lot easier to evaluate a ballplayer without knowing too much about him. But with phones and tablets now as essential to the scouting toolbox as a stopwatch, with three different prospect rankings appearing on players’ Baseball-Reference pages, with signing bonuses public (and publicy debated), with the conversation about some players’ draft stock now rivaling the lifespan and intrigue of a presidential primary, that’s no longer the case.
Colin Moran is not a bad baseball player. The University of North Carolina doesn’t recruit bad baseball players. Bad baseball players don’t get popped sixth overall in the major-league draft. And bad baseball players don’t hit .296 between High- and Double-A, as Moran did in 2014, his first full year among the professional ranks.
Yet to hear many evaluators talk—to hear me at certain points during this season—you might think Moran is just terrible. Throughout a season of sitting behind home plate, I saw no player inspire more head shakes, shoulder shrugs and eye rolling than Moran. "How was this guy the sixth-best amateur player in the country last year,” I heard from more than one scout. I wasn't terribly kind in my initial write-up of Moran, saying "I came away feeling very underwhelmed with the player."
The prospect team tackles the year's disappointments, including Aaron Sanchez, Mark Appel, and Luke Jackson.
Alberto Tirado, RHP, Blue Jays (Short-season Vancouver)
Tirado entered 2014 the no. 3 prospect in Toronto's system and no. 76 on our Top 101, fueled by strong reports on his stuff. It was noted, though that his command needed work and the delivery was inconsistent. Fast forward to the end of this season and those highlighted areas are exactly what came to the surface. We need to remember Tirado is only 19 and developmental paths are often jagged when isolating short-term sections. I’m labeling Tirado's 2014 a “disappointment” more because his present weaknesses were too much for the strengths to overcome than due to a long-term decline in forecast. Still, some of the initial shine has diminished and warts were exposed. We now have concrete areas of focus when evaluating Tirado next season. –Chris Mellen
Austin Hedges, C, Padres (Double A San Antonio)
Hedges was the top-ranked catcher in the minors entering 2014, and he maintained that title when the midseason Top 50 rolled out in July. While the Junipero Serra (San Juan Capistrano, CA) prep product continues to outstrip his contemporaries on the defensive side of the ball, Hedges ran into a buzzsaw on the offensive side in the form of Texas League pitching.
The Mariners' top pick talks about transitioning from catcher to outfield--and from prep baseball to the pros.
Those who sit in this Loge Level openly admit to having an unprofessional bias favoring pitchers and catchers. That mindset really finds itself challenged when the realization hits that a talented prospect can work on either end of the battery but instead heads in a different direction. Twins no. 1 pick Nick Gordon was the top high school bat grabbed in the 2014 draft, but don’t overlook that he once touched 94 on the mound. Then there’s Alex Jackson, who was up next at sixth overall to the Mariners, and left the prep ranks as the nation's top catcher. A pitcher and a catcher are now a shortstop and an outfielder? How can this be? I guess we’ll get over it—after all, the brats and dogs are really unforgettable at the stand at the top of aisle 105, and this always seems to distract us.
Having a chance to speak with Jackson in June 2013 at the Perfect Game National Showcase, and then again this past Sunday night as part of the SiriusXM show MLB Roundtrip with Baseball Prospectus presented by Perfect Game, provided a unique perspective into this prospect’s development. First of all, the move that I sarcastically scolded above was a move that did not come as a huge surprise. He ran a 6.83 60 at the showcase and threw 98 mph from the outfield as well, proving as a catcher that he was truly athletic enough to move. But heading into his senior year at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo HS, he was all in on wearing the gear.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Rays (Durham, AAA): 6 IP, 3 H, R, 6 BB, 6 K. The once highly touted southpaw has never quite put it all together, struggling with command and at times control thanks to poor mechanics that he's never been able to iron out. Now 25 and having repeated Triple-A for a second straight season, he hasn't made the progress the Rays were hoping for for when they received him from the Royals last offseason. At this point, he's not much more than organizational depth.
The Dodgers, and Kershaw, put some space between them and their competition; the Cardinals are building a cushion; a Twin struck out more than 10 batters; and baseball happened in all other corners of this great nation of ours.
The Dodgers came to AT&T Park for a three-game showdown with a two-game lead in the West. A sweep would bump Los Angeles from the top of the standings. Any other outcome would keep the Giants in second place.
Ten prospects who surprised the scouting staff in 2014.
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Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Henry Owens and Rio Ruiz.
Austin Barnes, 2B, Marlins (Jacksonville, AA): 3-7, 2 R, 2B, HR, K. I love players who have strong K:BB rates, and I love players with positional versatility, so it’s no wonder that Barnes has become one of my favorite prospects. His tools don’t jump out at you and his ceiling isn’t terribly high, but there is some pop in his bat and he controls the strike zone incredibly well, walking more often this season than he struck out. He was blocked within the Marlins organization as a catcher (which is the only reason he started back in the Florida State League to begin with), so after a mid-season promotion, he’s seen time at both second and third base as well as behind the plate. He’s got just enough power to keep pitchers honest, good bat control, and positional flexibility that includes being able to catch, which is a combination that will have significant value on a major-league roster.
Duane Underwood, RHP, Cubs (Kane County, A-): 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K. Right now, Underwood features a mid-90s fastball and not a whole lot else, but there’s a lot there to dream on. He’s got good size, but he needs to take major steps forward with the command of his fastball and the development of his secondary pitches. He’s still a high-risk prospect because of the gap between his present abilities and his ceiling, but as a potential mid-rotation starter, he’s a guy the Cubs will be patient with.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Corey Seager and Adalberto Mejia.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Cubs (Kane County, A-): 2-4. As if it weren’t tough enough to make a name for oneself in the Cubs system, Candelario laid an egg in the Florida State League to begin the year, then rebounded only slightly after being demoted back to Kane Country, performing on par with his previous stint in the league. The good news is that he’s only 20, so there’s plenty of time to take another hack at the FSL and move quickly, but the obstacles in between him and Wrigley seem a lot less surmountable than they did at this time last year, and Candelario didn’t make things any easier on himself with a disappointing season.
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (Chattanooga, AA): 2-4, HR, 2 K. Will he stick at shortstop or shift over to third base? That’s really the only question left for Seager, who has hit at every level and gives no indication that he will stop any time soon. It’s not just the home-run totals that are impressive, but the doubles power as well, which indicates a more balanced approach and the potential for even more power down the road.