Dylan Axelrod, RHP, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
The fact that Axelrod even reached the big leagues is quite an achievement. A 30th-round pick in 2007 by the Padres, Axelrod lasted a year and a half before landing in Indy ball, but all he did was get better. His primary skill is the ability to throw strikes. He pounds the strike zone with an 88-91 mph fastball, has a decent slider, and a somewhat-less-than-decent curve. He has no changeup, but he hits his spots and keeps hitters off balance; while that's the kind of pitcher who should hit a wall, he just hasn't yet. With 7 2/3 shutout innings on Sunday, he now has a 1.08 ERA in four starts for the Knights to go with 26 strikeouts and just four walks. He's already a great scouting find for the White Sox, and has to upgrade that status by becoming a usable arm as a No. 5 starter or middle reliever, which exceeds any expectation ever put on him.
Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Astros (Low-A Lexington)
Houston's first-round pick in 2010, Foltynewicz' full-season debut was far from a rousing success last year, as he earned a return engagement to Lexington after put up an ERA near five and striking out just 88 in 134 innings despite one of the best pure arms in the system. His struggles were not a big surprise, as he was coming from a rural Illinois high school without much exposure to quality competition, but he seams to have learned some lessons; after allowing one run over six four-hit innings on Saturday, he now has a 1.66 ERA after four starts with 23 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. A power righthander who sits in the 92-94 mph range while touching 97, Foltynewicz is showing much improved secondary offerings in his curveball and changeup, and at 20, he's still a very young player in the early stages of development. There's considerable growth potential here, and one poor full-season debut is never enough to write off a first-round pick.
Luke Jackson, RHP, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
Another Sally League repeater, Jackson was the 45th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and like Foltynewicz, he struggled at the level last year, as while he struck out 78 in 75 innings, he finished with a 5.64 ERA, mostly because of command and control issues. With a 92-94 mph fastball that can touch 97, as well as a power breaking ball and good changeup, Jackson has plenty of stuff, and the statistics are starting to catch up. After firing six shutout innings while allowing two hits and striking out seven on Saturday, Jackson has 29 whiffs in 20 2/3 innings while allowing just 12 hits and seven walks. At this rate, he won't need a full second season at Low-A.
Kyle Kubitza, 3B, Braves (Low-A Rome)
On the surface, the 2011 draft for the Braves might be described as boring, as Atlanta did not select a high school player until the 11th round, and the picks beforehand were best defined by their polish than their upside. The third-round pick out of Texas State, Kubitza has a chance to be an exception. A long, wiry-strong athlete, Kubitza has some swing-and-miss in his game, but he has a good approach and plus raw power, and after four more hits over the weekend—including his fourth home run of the season—he's hitting .317/.388/.700 in 15 games, with 12 of his 19 hits going for extra bases. While he has the tools to stick at third, his defense is a work in progress, but progress is the key word, as he's coming just one error in 10 games at the hot corner. There are all sort of things going in the right direction here, and he could end the year at High-A Lynchburg.
Kyle Lotzkar, RHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
The 53rd-overall pick in the 2007 draft, Lotzkar has long had one of the better arms in the Reds system, he's just been so rarely able to show it off, as a series of elbow issues—including a Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2009—have him still short of 200 career innings despite being in his sixth year as a professional. With a power frame and power stuff, including a fastball that still gets into the mid-90s, the 22-year-old still has upside, and after delivering six shutout innings on Saturday while allowing two hits, he has a 1.69 ERA in three starts for the Blaze. Despite having yet to reach Double-A or log more than 66 2/3 innings in a single season, in many ways there is some serious mileage on this arm, and scouts wonder if a move to the bullpen might get him moving quicker before the engine gives out.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket)
Middlebrooks has been a constant feature in this year's reports, but he keeps making it impossible to ignore him. Because of rain on Sunday, his streak of four straight multi-hit games with a home run is intact, and with six bombs in his last eight, he's now hitting .379/.406/.742 on the season. That's the good news. The bad news, at least for Middlebrooks, is that there's just no clear path to Boston at this point. Still, the Red Sox need some good news, and Middlebrooks is just that.
Derek Norris, C, Athletics (Triple-A Sacramento)
Norris walked in 18.2% of his plate appearances in 2011, and then he got traded to Oakland. Perfect, right? And no, I won't use the M-word here. But a funny thing happened between 2011 and Norris heading to the Pacific Coast League: Norris didn't draw a single walk until his 12th game of the season. However, with five hits over the weekend, and walks two and three on Sunday, he's now hitting .333/.348/.583 in 15 games. This might be a good thing in the long run. If anything, Norris was too passive a hitter in the past, looking more for a walk than a pitch to drive. If he can find that delicate balance between disciplined and aggressive, he could take off.
James Paxton, LHP, Mariners (Double-A Jackson)
Your official poster boy for getting too excited about tiny samples. The No. 59 prospect in baseball entering the year, Paxton was a big power lefty coming off a big late-season performance in Double-A during his full-season debut. Command and control issues were some dings against him, but he came out of the gate firing bullets this season, with 17 strikeouts and just one walk over 10 1/3 innings in his first two outings. All of a sudden he looked like a monster who was close to punching his ticket to Seattle. Then he walked eight in his next outing, and on Saturday he had a disastrous start, giving up seven runs before getting out of the third inning while walking five more. The funny thing is, when you add all four starts up, they're not too far over or under expectations like they were individually.
Jean Segura, SS, Angels (Double-A Arkansas)
The Angels had a tough decision concerning Segura's 2012 assignment. Technically, Double-A was the next stop, but at the same time, he played just 44 games at High-A Inland Empire last year due to hamstring issues while also learning his new position, one of the most challenging on the field. Ultimately, he was sent to the Texas League, and after a slow start, he's reeled off a seven-game hitting streak that includes a 5-for-10 weekend that included a double and two triples to raise his season averages to .283/.338/.417. The Angels have precious few position prospects at the upper levels, and playing in the shadow of Mike Trout has left Segura a bit underrated.
Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
A minor elbow injury delayed the start of Yelich's season, but he's quickly making up for lost time since joining the Hammerheads last Sunday. In the eight days since, all he's done is reach base 19 times in seven games, including a 7-for-12 weekend that included a double, triple and two home runs to raise his small sample-size line to a stupid .500/.613/1.000 in his first 32 plate appearances. With an outstanding approach, plus or better hit tool and above-average raw power, Yelich is looking more and more like a future middle-of-the-order force who could be ready for a look in Miami come September of 2013.
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