Parker Bridwell, RHP, Orioles (Short-season Aberdeen)
The start of short-season play means plenty of new names showing up in box scores, and not just this year's draftees. After signing for a well over-slot bonus of $625,000 last year as a ninth-round pick, Bridwell had a couple of warm-up appearances at Low-A before starting Aberdeen's season opener, where he put up the first big line of the year, striking out nine over five shutout innings. With a near-perfect pitching frame, a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, and a much-improved slider/changeup combination, next year's Low-A rotation featuring Bridwell and Dylan Bundy is lining up as one to watch.
Drew Hutchinson, RHP, Blue Jays (Low-A Lansing)
A 15th-round pick in 2009 who took $400,000 to sign, Hutchinson finished last year with an impressive late-season run for Lansing, and he's built on it this year; with 10 strikeouts over six two-hit innings on Sunday, he's now fired 24 scoreless innings with 35 whiffs over his last four starts to lower his ERA to 2.63 in 14 outings. He's not the sexiest pitcher on a scouting level, but there are no weaknesses in his game: His low-90s fastball, sharp slider, and surprisingly advanced changeup are all average to plus pitches that play up due to very good command and control. The Jays have the most intriguing team in the Midwest League this year, and Hutchinson is just one of many young arms in the system that deserves notice.
Rey Navarro, 2B, Royals (High-A Wilmington)
A third-round pick in 2007 out of Puerto Rico, Navarro spent three years in the Diamondbacks system as one of those toolsy guys who never quite put things together before arriving in Kansas City last year for reliever Carlos Rosa. Well, things are finally get put together; he's been Wilmington's top hitter for most of the year, with a 5-for-12 weekend that included three home runs, raising his season line to .283/.333/.484. Now a second baseman, where he's much more comfortable than shortstop, Navarro has gap to average power to go with average to plus speed. The only real ding against him is an overly aggressive approach that leads to far too many quick at-bats. Even the best system in baseball can have a sleeper, and Navarro is just that.
Joe Panik, SS, Giants (Short-season Salem-Keizer)
While nobody accepts wagers on the major-league baseball draft, one has to imagine that they could have gotten some seriously long odds on anyone buy North Carolina's Levi Michael being the first college shortstop selected. Yes, the Giants pulled a late-season surprise with Panik, who many saw as more of a supplemental first-round pick at best. Despite outstanding fundamentals, scouts question whether Panik can stick at shortstop long-term due to a lack of athleticism and arm strength. However, there was universal praise for both his approach and hitting mechanics from the left side. He spent the weekend going 7-for-12 with a home run in his first three professional games, but we’ll have to wait and see on his defense.
David Perez, RHP, Rangers (Short-season Spokane)
Perez had created considerable hype despite not pitching in the United States until Friday night. A 1.41 ERA, 68 strikeouts and just eight walks in 70 innings in addition to tales of plus-plus velocity from a 17-year-old can do that. He struck out seven of the first nine batters he faced in his stateside debut before losing his release point and struggling, but this 6-foot-5 teenager delivered 91-97 heat on Friday with a good curveball and missed plenty of bats against much older competition. In other words, the hype is justified.
Kyle Seager, 2B, Mariners (Double-A Jackson)
The Jackson Generals were off on Sunday, but I'm still not convinced that Seager didn't hit a double somewhere, for someone. With a 7-for-10 showing with four doubles in his last four games, this 23-year-old continues to prove that last year's huge season in High Desert was not totally a product of the environment; after 66 Double-A games, he's up to .312/.381/.459 with 25 two-baggers in 266 at-bats, tying him for sixth in the minor leagues. The big question is what happens with him now that Dustin Ackley is the big-league second baseman. Seager can hit, but he doesn't have the power for third base or the range for shortstop, so all he can do for now is keep smacking doubles.
Alfredo Silverio, OF, Dodgers (Double-A Jacksonville)
I threw Silverio at number 20 at the end of this year's Dodgers prospect list because of one scout. I didn't plan on including him, but this scout has rarely steered me wrong, and he said there was something about his game that gave him reason to be optimistic, at least as a big-league extra outfielder. Of course, now he's in the midst of his best season as a pro. With a monster 10-for-15 weekend that included four doubles and a pair of home runs, he's now hitting .324/.343/.581, ranking fourth in the Southern League in batting, third in slugging, and first in extra-base hits, which have accounted for 40 of his 82 base knocks. While he's played some center field this year, he really only fits there in a pinch, and he'll still need more power to profile well in a corner. His plate discipline still has an enormous red flag, thanks to nine walks over 253 at-bats. It's a mixed bag, but as the scout projected, there's something about his game to be optimistic about.
Ronald Torreyes, 2B, Reds (Low-A Dayton)
Torreyes was the talk of Reds camp this spring, as even big-league manager Dusty Baker was publicly praising the 18-year-old Venezuelan's hitting ability, a rare feat for a player who entered the year with just 24 games of experience in North America after hitting .390/.468/.606 for the Reds’ Venezuelan Summer League affiliate. Expected to begin the year in a short-season league, the Reds surprised many by putting him on the Dayton roster over the weekend, where he went 4-for-8 in his first two games. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds, Torreyes is hardly an imposing physical presence, but he combines excellent bat speed with fantastic hands and an instinctual feel for hard contact. Throw in plus speed and excellent defensive skills, and a player that was expected to be one of the ones to watch in the Pioneer League is going to give us much more information by being challenged at a higher level.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals (Low-A Kane County)
In the second inning of Saturday night's game, Ventura—all 148 pounds of him—unleashed the fastest fastball I've ever seen in person at a minor-league game. Of the seven guns held up in front up me, five registered 99, and two said 100. As far as I'm concerned, that's two independent sources confirming triple digits. I should be super excited, but in the end, I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I just saw. The guy threw 100, comfortably sat at 93-96 mph with plenty of 7s and 8s all night, but he didn't dominate. Hell, he wasn't even that good. In 5
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners (Low-A Clinton)
Walker had another one of those outings on Friday night where everything clicked; he struck out 11 batters over seven innings while allowing just two hits. While he dominated primarily with a mid-90s fastball that touched 97-98 on plenty of occasions, he also flashed a plus power curveball that could turn him into a monster if he can be more consistent with it. One scout put it best by saying, “The thing I like best about him is his birthday,” as the ultra-athletic righty doesn't turn 19 until August. He arguably has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Midwest League, but the amazing thing is there are plenty of nights that he's one of the best pitchers on the circuit right now.