Everyone, including me, seems to agree that Rays right-hander Chris Archer has a high ceiling. He shows flashes of that ceiling with a fastball that touches 97 mph and a slider that was rated best in the Rays' farm system by Baseball America. He is also a very intelligent guy whose bio mentions that he is "an avid reader" and "would be pursuing a career in psychology if not playing ball."
In his current line of work, Archer, who has an athletic, 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, tends to be erratic. Not only is his control inconsistent, but he tends to follow excellent starts with rough ones, mostly due to a high walk rate (5.2 per nine in 591 2/3 career minor-league innings through 2011). In a recent outing for Triple-A Durham, he limited the bases on balls to two in six innings and struck out six batters, but he was also hit hard: two doubles, a triple, and a long homer, plus some pretty loud outs. Archer's fastball generally sat at 92-93 until his final inning of work. With a reliever warming in the bullpen—whom Archer no doubt saw—he aired it out, dialing his fastball up to 96-97 several times and finishing his night with his only 1-2-3 inning. A scout who watched the performance called Archer "a head-scratcher." He said that Archer is "athletic, and he's got too good an arm to disregard. In the future, he likely goes to the bullpen. That would help him simplify what he does. I see too many good swings against his fastball, and his curve and slider morph together sometimes. I also—and this is more of a gut feeling—have concerns about his toughness." Another head-scratcher regarding Archer: despite his prospect status—Baseball America ranks him as the Rays' top minor-league pitcher—the 23 year old was traded twice in the first five years of his minor-league career. —Adam Sobsey
The Marlins knew they were getting a physically mature pitcher when they selected Jose Fernandez with the 14th pick of last June's draft, but it's doubtful they expected him to dominate in his full-season debut. Fernandez's mid-90s fastball and sharp curve have helped him lead the South Atlantic League in strikeouts (45) and WHIP (0.889) while also placing near the top in wins, ERA, and innings pitched. Though he won't turn 20 until the end of July, it's clear that he's more advanced than the hitters he's facing every five days. An American League scout opines,"They're letting him throw 40 curveballs a game, and he's dominating. He has a limited number of bullets, and they're being wasted right now. He needs to be promoted until he's challenged."
While Miami has been aggressive in its promotions of hitters (see Skipworth, Kyle), the club hasn't been quite as hasty with its young arms. A recent exception would be Brad Hand, who spent time at four levels (including the big leagues) last summer. The scout sees no reason to be squeamish about fast-tracking Fernandez. "This isn't a 17-year-old kid you're projecting. Fernandez is already physically mature, and he needs to be pushed." —Bradley Ankrom
Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley looked like a potential single-digit pick heading into last spring, but a slump at South Carolina and a season-ending wrist injury dropped him to the 40th-overall selection, where he signed for $1.1 million. That's looked like a bargain so far, as Bradley has put up some of the most impressive numbers in the minors at High-A Salem, batting .379/.504/.582 in 28 games with 24 walks against just 98 at-bats. “What I like is how he is playing his tools into skills,” said a National League scout. “He knows what his sandbox is, and he knows how to play in it. What I mean by that is that he knows what it's going to take for him to advance; he needs to get on base and be an aggressive and intelligent baserunner, and he's doing just that.” The scout added that he saw Bradley as an everyday center fielder on a championship-level club but worried about the outside shot of him not staying up the middle. “He has great range in center field right now, but he's only a 50+ runner so he can't lose a step or he might end up a tweener.”
Now playing with Bradley at Salem is 2011 first-round pick Matt Barnes. After five dominating starts for Low-A Greenville, Barnes struck out 12 in his Carolina League debut to take over the minor-league lead with 54 strikeouts, and the NL scout's report was every bit as impressive as his numbers. “Has he been promoted again?” the scout joked when first asked about Barnes. “He has that combination of power stuff with touch and feel, and that's just hard to find,” he added. “He has maintainable velocity with command to both sides of the plate and that kind of mound presence I love where it almost looks like he's bored.” Still, no prospect is perfect, and even Barnes has something to work on. “It's hard to find faults with him, but his breaking ball is a little bit loose, and that's correctable,” the scout said. “I have him as at least a No. 3 starter with a good shot at ending up a No. 2.”
The Rangers have one of the most impressive systems in baseball, and one of their most talked about young hitters is second baseman Rougned Odor. After holding his own in the college-heavy Northwest League last year, Odor is spending his age-18 season in a full-season league at Low-A Hickory and batting .268/.306/.446 in 27 games. However, one American League scout isn't sold on him as a top prospect. “It's all going to come down to how much he hits, because that's where his value will lie,” explained the scout. “He can run, but not in a way that is going to impact the game. He's going to be just an OK defender, so now he has to be a 70 hitter, and I'm not ready to say that yet. I think he's a bit overrated.”—Kevin Goldstein
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