Burch Smith, RHP, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)
Smith has been perhaps the most impressive pitcher in the Texas League this month, posting a 1.38 ERA with 31 strikeouts and just four walks over 26 innings. The 23-year-old has flashed plus command of a dominant fastball that sits between 93-96 mph and reaches up to 98. Although Smith doesn’t create much downhill plane and doesn’t have a ton of fastball life, he has a highly deceptive delivery and hides the ball extremely well. The deception enables his big velocity to play up a tick and induce a number of late swings.
When I saw Smith in action early last week, he also showed a potential average changeup and fringy curveball. The Texan may profile as a late-inning reliever due to the dominant fastball and lack of a plus secondary pitch. But some scouts believe he can stick in a starting role, and his ability to hold plus velocity and command his arsenal with deception could give him a chance. —Jason Cole
Chris Withrow, RHP, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque)
As a member of the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, Withrow could force himself into the big-league bullpen discussion this season. The 24-year-old righty is off to a strong start, logging 8 1/3 scoreless innings while yielding three hits, walking five, and striking out 13. Withrow impressed me in a quick look last week, as he fanned two while throwing nine of his 13 pitches for strikes in a perfect frame.
Showing a 94-96 mph fastball and an upper-80s slider with some late tilt, Withrow certainly has the stuff to become a factor. The pure stuff has never been an issue; his command is the primary question. The progression of his command will likely be the separator between potential late-inning reliever and power middle reliever. —Jason Cole
Aaron Altherr, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (High-A Clearwater)
After two seasons in Low-A resulting in a combined .242/.307/.369 line for the former ninth-round pick, Altherr has begun to click in High-A this season. In 22 games the 22-year-old has posted a.365/.438/.576 line with 10 doubles, a triple, and two home runs. To cap off his impressive start, Altherr has shown an improved walk rate (jumping from one every 12 plate appearances to one roughly every nine) in addition to maintaining his strikeout rate despite the jump in competition. One scout described Altherr’s dramatic improvement as, “He’s just figuring things out.” As athletic and tooled up as Altherr remains, figuring out how to transition his wealth of at least average tools to the field is a very big deal. Altherr may not hit .365 all season in the FSL but he is showing signs that his performance may be for real and as a result he could start shooting back up the rankings next season. —Mark Anderson
Cody Anderson, RHP, Cleveland Indians (High-A Carolina)
A 14th round pick in 2011, Anderson signed for a well over slot $250,000 and had shown flashes of talent throughout his first two seasons in pro ball. Early this year, Anderson has stood out as one of the few legitimate prospects on the Carolina roster, notching a 2.25 ERA in five starts. Anderson’s fastball still sits in the 91-92 mph range and he can reach back for 94 when he needs a little extra, but he is showing improved stamina, maintaining that velocity deeper into his starts. Anderson’s curveball is also showing signs of life this year with more consistent break and some average potential. Still a work in progress, Anderson is beginning to convince scouts he might have a future as a back-end starter rather than purely as a reliever. —Mark Anderson
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
Correa was the top selection in last June’s draft and entered the spring as the 26th overall prospect per Parks’ 101. A huge collection of tools, Correa is an excellent example of the importance of not scouting a stat line, particularly at the lower levels. Despite an uninspiring .206/.342/.397 line through his first 16 games at Low-A Quad Cities, Correa has shown growth in his approach at the plate as compared to his short-season showings last summer. The young shortstop is consistently working deep counts while showing comfort in the box regardless of the situation, and is demonstrating a more coherent plan at the plate, particularly from at-bat to at-bat when facing an arm for the second or third time in a game. While Correa’s average has lagged, he has run into more than his share of hard-hit outs, and it should not be long before we see that .206 climb. Additionally, his in-game power utility is ahead of schedule, as he is rapidly learning the counts and the zones in which he can best put a charge into the ball. There are still some holes in the swing to address, but overall it has been a highly encouraging start to the year.
Defensively, Correa’s body still appears to be the only hurdle to his sticking at shortstop. His hands are soft and sure, and his lower half works very well fielding cleanly through the ball and setting up effortlessly from various angles. His arm is among the best you’ll see from the left side, and his internal clock operates well in dictating the flow of his actions based on the particular runner and trajectory of the struck ball. While he showed above average run times to first last summer, Correa has been merely average thus far this spring (4.35 home-to-first most recently) and is still refining the intricacies of his baserunning game, including his secondary leads and reads off the bat. Overall, it has been a very strong first month of full-season ball for Correa, and the 18-year old not only looks comfortable with the full-season assignment, but ready mentally to tackle even higher levels. He’ll first have to show an ability to make some adjustments at Low-A, but a mid-season promotion to Lancaster seems likely if his game continues to grow at its current pace. —Nick Faleris
Victor Roache, OF, Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Despite possessing some of the best raw power in last year’s draft class, Victor Roache fell to the Milwaukee Brewers at the back of the first round (28th overall) after the powerful corner outfielder missed almost all of the 2012 Georgia Southern season with a broken wrist (suffered during the second weekend of play). Roache got his first taste of professional ball in fall instructs some seven months later, and this spring has begun his road to The Show in Low-A. Roache has already flashed the big leverage and 6+ raw that drew Milwaukee to him, producing hard and loud contact, mostly to the pull side, and posting a .318/.400/.500 line through his first 25 plate appearances. His lone home run thus far came last weekend in Appleton—a missile that struck the 16-foot scoreboard standing about 385 feet from home plate to the left-center gap. He just missed sending his second out to the same part of the park a couple games later when he launched a hanging curveball, tossed by Astros prospect Lance McCullers, off the base of the wall.
Roache is built the part of a slugging corner, standing at a chiseled 6-foot-1, 215-plus pounds, and utilizes every ounce of that strength in his highly leveraged swing from the right side. He has thus far been susceptible to offspeed stuff down and away, with issues in particular picking up even fringy offspeed offerings out of the hand. Defensively, Roache is limited to left field and has been unspectacular there so far as he continues to shake off the rust. He has shown a nose for the ball, tracking well back and to the gap, but has run into more than couple of occasions where his stiff actions have led to an inability to finish on balls that probably should have been caught. In the end, his value is in his bat, and the ultimate utility of his hit and power tools won’t be apparent until he’s several hundred at bats into his pro career. Looking ahead, evaluators will want to see progress in pitch identification, fewer mistakes in the field and continued hard contact. —Nick Faleris
Blake Snell, LHP, Rays (Low-A Bowling Green)
The 20-year-old left-hander flashes solid raw stuff, but will be tasked with reeling in that arsenal as the season deepens. Snell is presently inconsistent keeping his arm in slot, especially when delivering his 90-93 mph fastball. The young arm has walked 13 batters in just 16 1/3 innings, which illustrates the development work needed to become crisper with his delivery. While Snell hasn’t been hit all that hard in his four starts this year, the lefty hasn’t been overly efficient and has gotten away with some mistakes that he isn’t likely to get away with in high levels. Reports on his low-80s breaking ball have also indicated the need for some clean-up work to produce sharper break and more depth. He is just beginning the developmental journey in full-season ball, so expect Snell to be on the inconsistent side. The next month or so can give some insight into how well the youngster can make his first set of adjustments and show some progress harnessing his raw stuff. —Chris Mellen
Niko Goodrum, SS, Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
Goodrum possesses an intriguing package, highlighted by plenty of athleticism, the ability to generate bat speed, and a frame that can pack on more muscle as the shortstop matures into his mid-20s. The 21-year-old has progressed out of short-season slowly, spending a repeat stint in the Appalachian League last season before getting the bump to Low-A this year, but early returns so far have pointed towards a more mature player. Goodrum shows some juice in his stick, with the ability to sting the ball with backspin. There’s jump off the bat when he squares offerings up. The young hitter also demonstrates the type of patient eye at the plate to differentiate between pitches and wait out sequences.
Of concern, though, is the amount of times Goodrum currently swings and misses. He can get too aggressive in favorable counts and also chase bad breaking balls off the plate. The switch hitter has struck out 20 times in 18 games this season, while whiffing once a game in his career thus far. There’s some untapped power for Goodrum—I see the potential for about average power—but the hitting profile likely will not be able to maintain such high strikeout rates in higher levels. Progress here will be key and an area to watch as the season continues to unfold. –Chris Mellen
Eric Stamets, SS, Angels- High-A 66ers
Stamets, the sixth-round pick by the Angels in the 2012 draft, is a really, really good shortstop. I had a look about a week ago and he did not disappoint picking balls with his backhand, stopping, and firing across the diamond. To end the game, he played a two-hopper to his right perfectly and flipped to second base to start a tough double play. He has plus range, arm, and feel for the position, and s body that will translate to the major leagues.
The question with Stamets is if he can hit at all at the major-league level, which would could mean becoming a SS/2B backup or a second-division starter. He showed off some good contact ability and will battle the pitcher. Pair that with good speed, and if it all clicks he could become a .280 batter with some eye and almost no pop. Whether or not he hits, he will most likely be a major leaguer with the glove alone. —Chris Rodriguez
Justin Nicolino, LHP, Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
The most common word you hear when scouts talk about Nicolino is "polished" and the kid really is. From his 6'3" lefty frame, a solid three-pitch repertoire, and command of all his pitches, it's easy to see why he is regarded as one of the Marlins’ top pitching prospects. The former second-round pick was a key piece for the Marlins in the trade that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle to Toronto. His fastball has been sitting in the 89-92 range, but he can pump it into the mid 90s when he needs to and still maintain above average command. His second and best pitch is a plus changeup. He's not afraid to throw it in any count and his excellent arm speed only adds to this pitch's deception and effectiveness. Nicolino also posses a solid curveball. It still needs some work, but it has the makings of a solid third offering. —Chris King