Always in search of high-ceiling talent, I recently made the trek to Mississippi to watch two of the Double-A Southern League’s more loaded teams: the Mississippi Braves (Atlanta) and the Jackson Generals (Seattle). The three-game look provided a glimpse of some of the game’s top overall prospects. Without further ado, here are the scouting notes and videos…
J.R. Graham | RHP | Braves (Mississippi)
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/64290703
In a Nutshell: Coming off a highly impressive performance in big-league camp, Graham is continuing to succeed in the regular season. He’s pounding the strike zone with his power sinker and has issued five walks with 19 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings thus far.
Notes: Smallish frame at 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, but strong and well-built; three-quarters arm slot, maybe slightly higher; some effort in the delivery, but not in his arm action; repeated well; plus fastball command profile; easy velocity; sat 93-96 mph throughout the start; got 97-98 for strikeouts when needed; didn’t have to overthrow or sacrifice delivery/control to get there; held velocity; hit 97 on final pitch of start; fastball has definite plus life, darting and sinking to the arm side; gets extreme life on two-seamer at 93-94; easy 7 FB; despite lack of height, attacks lower portion of zone and creates downward plane; extremely heavy fastball when down; flattens and becomes hittable when left up in zone, which happened once; pounded lower outside corner to righties; ran fastball in on occasion; slider worked in upper-80s, reaching 91; short-ish break but late depth can miss bats; 6 offering; changeup is close to average; lively and located well at 87-89; aggressive demeanor on mound; attacks hitters the same way; it’s easy to look at the demeanor and body and slot him at the back end of a bullpen, but Graham showed three pitches, maintained velocity, worked downhill, and commanded his arsenal; legit chance to stick in starting role, though the stuff, command, and mind are mature enough that he should be a factor out of the Atlanta bullpen down the stretch this season; either a late-inning reliever or number-two or -three starter.
Video Interview: One day after Graham’s impressive outing, I caught up with him for an in-depth video interview about his start to the season, his experience in big-league camp, and his overall mindset on the mound. He’s also out of breath while answering the first few questions due to some extreme #want––we began the interview immediately after he finished a 20-minute squat session.
Christian Bethancourt | C | Braves (Mississippi)
Result: 7 AB, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 K
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/64344626
In a Nutshell: Best known for his plus-plus arm and overall defensive profile, the 21-year-old Panamanian is off to a fast start at the plate, going 15-for-44 (.341) with four doubles and a home run. He’s currently dealing with a strained hamstring but should be returning to the M-Braves’ lineup this week.
Notes: Strong 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame with good athleticism and agility behind the plate; flashed 80-grade arm on an accurate 1.79 pop to nail a runner at second base; quick release with good footwork and elite arm strength; room to improve receiving skills, but overall well advanced for his age; slight glove drift at times; seriously impressive defensive profile; played with energy and intensity, which is nice to see because it had been a concern for some scouts in the past; much less refined offensively; slightly open stance; highly aggressive approach; looking to swing at anything near the zone; can turn with authority on the inner half; pulls off the ball a bit; puts bat to ball with consistency, but light contact with pitches on the outer half; below-average to fringy-at-best hit tool; shows good raw power in batting practice; may hit .240 with 10-15 home runs and an elite glove behind the plate, though he has the pure offensive talent to do more.
Taijuan Walker | RHP | Mariners (Jackson)
Result: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 K
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/64351272
In a Nutshell: Baseball Prospectus’ top prospect in the Seattle system, Walker has front-line potential and the body and pure stuff to match. His command still needs refinement; he has surrendered just 15 hits but walked 18 over 29 Double-A innings this season.
Notes: Ideal starter’s frame; strong at 6-foot-4; high three-quarters slot; very good athlete; good delivery, but some rigidity to arm action in back at times; gets excellent extension with long arms, enabling big velocity to play up a tick; sat comfortably at 92-94 mph, up to 95-96, touching 97 when needed; creates steep downhill plane when working down with fastball; fastball is a 7 offering, but present command is fringy and causes it to play down right now; cutter at 87-93 mph has bite with some late tilt; at least a 6 present pitch and may become a 7; commands it well; can add and subtract from curveball at 72-77 mph; potential 6 offering, but not there yet; inconsistent; feel for curve came and went throughout outing; can get under the ball, causing it to float; doesn’t always finish on the curve; late bite with depth at all velocities when he’s on top of it; 12-to-6 action at times; a little more two-plane life when he amps up; showed ability to bury it in the dirt with two strikes; changeup is well below average; may be a splitter candidate down the line; he seems to pick off a runner every time I see him; ultra-quick feet; the pure stuff is very good, but there are command and secondary consistency issues to iron out; despite being in Double-A, he’s not particularly close to the majors yet; important to remember that he’s still only 20; front-line potential, but I may have a few more questions than most about whether he can get there.
Brad Miller | SS | Mariners (Jackson)
Result: 7 AB, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 K
Scouting video: https://vimeo.com/64330170
In a Nutshell: Often labeled as a “gamer,” Miller wears his socks high and leaves his batting gloves in the dugout. The former second-round pick out of Clemson has experienced nothing but success in pro ball, and he’s hitting .278/.356/.478 so far this year.
Notes: Lefty hitter/righty thrower with athletic 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame; little noise in load and swing; direct and quick to the ball; can turn on it with pop; mature all-around approach; I’ve seen him go the other way in the past, but was a little pull-happy in this look; above-average runner who’s quick out of the box; consistent 4.1-ish times to first; solid-average hit tool with discipline paired with fringe-average to average power; won’t dazzle at shortstop, but should have just enough range to be adequate there; quick feet; hands looked okay in two games; glove would play up at second; may profile best as a second baseman or high-level utility player; it’s early, but his polished skillset should enable him to compete for a big-league job next spring.
Aaron Northcraft | RHP | Braves (Mississippi)
Result: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/65095226
In a Nutshell: A member of Atlanta’s 40-man roster, the 22-year-old Northcraft has made a gradual ascent up the minor-league ranks and has been tough to hit in Double-A. Through 21 innings, he has allowed 13 hits, walked eight, fanned 20, and induced more than three ground outs per air out.
Notes: Big righty who’s listed at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds; brings hands overhead in windup; drop-and-drive delivery with arm slot that’s just a shade below three-quarters; lost release point on occasion, but was able to lock back in each time; flashed three pitches to both lefties and righties; added and subtracted with fastball; anywhere from 87-94 mph; sat 89-91, touching 92-93 when needed; held velocity; up to 94 for a strikeout in seventh inning; fastball features good sink and arm-side life; pounded lower portion of zone; side-to-side fastball misses were a bigger issue than up-down; effective frisbee slider with late depth at 78-80 mph; commanded it well in and out of the zone; inconsistent 81-83 mph changeup presently fringy with average potential; a little sink and fade on it; has a chance to become a back-end starter; perhaps more likely a power sinker/slider reliever with some deception.
Edward Salcedo | 3B | Braves (Mississippi)
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/64336466
In a Nutshell: The 21-year-old Salcedo has a strong 6-foot-3 frame to go along with some intriguing tools, but the Braves are still waiting for him to put the full package together. He’s off to an iffy .247/.319/.365 start through 22 Double-A games.
Notes: Good bat speed and strong upper half produce plus raw power to the pull side; showed a selective approach in three-game look, but had trouble squaring pitches in the zone; bat speed showed better in BP than games; sloppy footwork at third base; good hands helped make up for footwork/instinctual mistakes; easy plus arm; moved around well enough; kind of a low-energy player in this look; will flash tools at you, including the power and arm strength, but they play down in games.
Carson Smith | RHP | Mariners (Jackson)
Result: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 2 BB (1 IBB), 1 K
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/65175626
In a Nutshell: Selected in the eighth round of the 2011 draft, the Texas State product has transitioned from college starter to minor-league closer. Coming off a strong campaign at High-A High Desert, Smith is off to an erratic start in Double-A, though he is missing bats and inducing ground balls.
Notes: Worked solely from stretch; high-effort slinger from low three-quarters slot; delivery is on the stiff side; fastball sat 91-93 mph with plus arm-side life and good sink; slider is a plus pitch; 82-88 mph; can manipulate velocity and break with it, giving hitters multiple looks; solid depth overall; flattened on occasion; didn’t show a third pitch in this look; present below-average command, particularly with the fastball; two big-league pitches, but stuff played down due to command issues; could have a mid-relief or seventh-inning future, though the delivery may make consistency difficult.
Alex Wood | LHP | Braves (Mississippi)
Result: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
Scouting Video: https://vimeo.com/65171135
In a Nutshell: A second-round pick in 2012, Wood skipped straight to Double-A out of camp this spring. He has responded to the aggressive promotion by surrendering just two runs over his first 27 innings, walking five and striking out 31. The lefty looks like a no-doubt MLB-quality arm; the question is whether he can start.
Notes: Tall, long-armed lefty with good deception in funky mechanics; arm slot slightly lower than three-quarters; arm stab in back; has cleaned up delivery a bit since college; despite funk, maintained direction to the plate and repeated well; fastball sat 92-93 mph, topping 94 in early innings; held velocity through all seven frames; commanded it well; attacked lower portion of zone and reached both corners; good late wiggle and weight to offering; can really pitch with the fastball; easy plus with plus FB command profile; change should be a plus pitch with further seasoning; 84-86 mph; hard but thrown with deceptive arm action and featured good life; command inconsistent and cut it at times; breaking ball at 80-81 mph; slurvy but featured tight rotation; has improved and showed average potential; useful as a chase pitch darting down and in on righties; had trouble showing it for strikes; better chance to start than I’d initially thought, but mid-to-late inning relief remains the safest bet; breaking ball quality and ability to repeat mechanics over the long haul will determine his ultimate role.