Nevin Ashley, C, Rays (Double-A Montgomery)
A sixth-round pick in 2006, Ashley had garnered a reputation as a good organizational catcher who offers little with the bat, but who boasted well above-average defensive skills as well as excellent leadership skills. A career .262/.359/.379 hitter entering the year, Ashley began to make some noise with a .366/.405/.648 showing in the Arizona Fall League last year. He continues to build on that performance, going 12-for-21 in his last six games to up his Double-A line to .339/.397/.500 while playing errorless defense and gunning down six of 13 potential basestealers. This is not to blow up the guy; he's not going to suddenly show up on anybody's Top 11 lists, but scouts see real progress here, upgrading him to a future big leaguer, albeit of the backup variety. With the constant shortage of catching in the minors, even that's a nice find.
Bryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee State
A toolsy outfielder who should go in the middle of the first round next month, Brentz certainly didn't hurt himself with a weekend that including nine hits, a pair of home runs, and nine RBI. Currently batting .366/.461/.696 for the Blue Raiders with 15 home runs in 161 at-bats, Brentz has a long history of performance—including 28 home runs as a sophomore. The only thing holding him back right now is a six-foot, 185-pound frame that left one scouting director saying, "he's just not what big-league power hitters look like." One gets the feeling that he's more likely to be an outlier in either direction; a true draft steal who got overlooked for some perceived physical shortcomings, or further proof of just how different the college and pro games are.
Tyler Chatwood, RHP, Angels (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Last year, Midwest League scouts had a hard time wrapping their heads around Chatwood, the Angels' top pick in 2008 (second-round). He limited hitters to just a .237 batting average while showcasing a fastball that got up to 95 mph and a plus curve, but his command was shaky at best, and his officially listed height of an even six feet seemed generous. Still, all Chatwood can do is prove the scouts wrong, and he's doing that so far this year, as in his last three starts he's fired 16
Wilmer Flores, SS, Mets (Low-A Savannah)
Breakout confirmed? The Mets expected Flores to take a big step forward this year after getting a feel for full-season baseball in 2009, but the advancements so far have been nothing less than staggering, as Flores is 19-for-36 in his last eight games to lift his season averages to .364/.419/.589. The key to everything has been in his approach—his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is way down—and scouts are universal in their belief that this is all very real. The continuing thickening of his frame leaves almost no chance of staying at shortstop, but the bat is starting to move into that special category, as Flores is still the same age as many potential high school draftees next month.
Nick Franklin, SS, Mariners (Low-A Clinton)
While Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the talk of the Midwest League when it comes to position players, Franklin isn't far behind. A first-round pick in 2009 out of a Florida high school, Franklin was seen as a plus defender at short with enough bat to play every day, and while the defensive reputation hasn't changed, offensively, he's been nothing short of a revelation. A 6-for-11 weekend that included three home runs raised his season averages to .318/.346/.597, the scouts are raving about every aspect of his games, and I'll give our readers an in-person report when I see him a week from today.
Alex Gordon, OF, Royals (Triple-A Omaha)
While he remains a mystery wrapped around an enigma, Gordon is at least responding well to both his position switch and his Triple-A demotion, going 7-for-12 over the weekend with two doubles and a pair of home runs, giving him a .364/.517/.795 line in 12 games for the O-Royals. Reports have him looking perfectly fine in left field as well, and while it's far too early to call this a successful reclamation project, it's at least a step in the right direction.
Ian Krol, LHP, Athletics (Low-A Kane County)
The Athletics might have gotten away with one when they nabbed Krol in the seventh-round of last year's draft and signed him for $925,000. A potential first-round pick last spring, Krol was kicked off his high school team in Illinois following an alcohol-related incident, and limited to throwing in a scout league in Wisconsin where his stuff was a bit under expectations, as he rarely hit 90 mph with his fastball. Refined, cleaner mechanics now have him rarely under 90 these days, as he's sitting at 91-92 mph with a good curve and surprisingly polished changeup for a teenager. He's fired six shutout innings in three of his last four starts to lower his ERA to 2.37, and in a league loaded with multi-million dollar studs from last year's draft, Krol rates just a tick or two behind for a much better price.
Jordan Pacheco, C, Rockies (High-A Modesto)
A ninth-round pick in 2007, Pacheco didn't begin catching until turning pro, and while his defense is still rough around the edges, the boy can hit. Obviously, the Cal League can inflate offensive numbers, but after a 9-for-15 weekend, Pacheco's .408/.474/.600 line is good in any environment, and he's made excellent progress in cutting down the running game by throwing out 11 of 26 (42 percent) opposing basestealers. The Rockies have as many good catching prospects as any team in baseball, a remarkable achievement when there are plenty of teams looking for just one.
Bruce Pugh, RHP, Twins (High-A Fort Myers)
I wrote about Pugh a couple of times last year after seeing him in person. A 19th-round pick in 2008, I hadn't heard of Pugh the first time I saw him take the mound, and neither had the scouts in attendance. Then he grabbed everyone's attention by parking his fastball at 94 mph and showing off a decent breaking ball. After striking out 99 over 85 innings last year, mostly in relief, Pugh has moved to starting in the Florida State League, and if anything, he's getting better, including Friday night's start of seven one-hit innings with ten strikeouts.
Eric Surkamp, LHP, Giants (High-A San Jose)
Surkamp is one of those low-velocity/high-polish types who are hard to project, but there's no questioning that's he's excellent at what he does, as a two-hit shutout on Sunday lowered his ERA to 2.05. He sits at 88-90 mph with his fastball, has a plus curve ball and good change, but it's his ability to change speeds, hit his spots effectively, and keep hitters off balance that makes him so good. This is not a future All-Star, but it is a future big leaguer, and likely a back-end rotation starter at that.