Brandon Workman, RHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
The 24-year-old has come out of the gate in 2013 showing improved fastball command, with the forward progress translating into less hard contact against and the missing of more bats. Workman has always thrown strikes since turning pro, but the increase in quality strikes has allowed him to efficiently churn through lineups in the Eastern League during the first month of the year. The latest outing saw him heavily feature his 91-94 mph fastball. Workman pounded the lower tier of the strike zone, along with generating more than a handful of swings and misses with the offering. While the right-hander didn’t have his best feel for either the 75-78 mph curveball or 86-89 mph cutter, he used them enough to further enhance the heater.
I’ve felt that Workman’s ultimate role lies in the bullpen, but there’s also been some improvement with loosening up the delivery and becoming less jerky with the arm action. The pitcher does still expend some extra energy, and longer frames do take their toll on him. I still see a seventh- or eighth-inning-reliever role as the best fit long-term, but more of a chance he can stick around as a starter for the near future. The growth of the fastball command is a good sign that Workman is taking steps toward getting closer to the majors, and should help boost his case for getting a crack at Triple-A as a starter. –Chris Mellen
Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies (Low-A Asheville)
A 2012 supplemental first-round pick, Butler is off to a fast start in the Low-A South Atlantic League, posting a 2.06 ERA while yielding 17 hits in 35 innings. He has also walked 17 and struck out 33. Although the 22-year-old righty surrendered five runs in 5 2/3 innings during his May 2nd start, a scout who was at the game tells me he flashed two major-league quality offerings––a 93-98 mph fastball with plus-plus life and a 60-grade slider. That elite fastball life has helped the 6’2”, 180-pound Butler register more than 5.7 groundouts per flyout through six starts. The scout source believes Butler should move quickly, with a chance to finish this season at Double-A Tulsa. –Jason Cole
Alen Hanson, SS, Pirates (High-A Bradenton)
For such a small player, the 5'11" switch-hitting Hanson seems to always find a way to flat out annoy his opponents. I first noticed this trait in 2011 when he was creating havoc atop of the Pirates’ GCL lineup. Often referred to as a gnat-in-your-ear type, he has plus speed and uses it to his advantage. Early in at-bats Hanson loves to show bunt and teams must respect it because he will lay it down without hesitation. The first few times I saw him my first thought was he would show bunt to draw in the infield so he could slap a hit past them. It didn't take long for him to show me that wasn't necessarily the case. The 150 pounder has some pop in that small frame. He has good gap power to all fields, with a league-leading 13 triples last year in the South Atlantic League. Unlike a lot of young switch-hitters, there isn't much of a drop-off in his ability to hit for average from either side of the plate, but most of his power still comes from the right side. The one thing I'd like to see improvement on is his basestealing. He has the speed, but gets bad jumps at times and doesn't read pitchers as well as he could. This is something that can be corrected with coaching and more experience, so it's not a major concern.
Defensively, Hanson still has some questions, but range in the field is not one of them. He routinely gets to balls that would get by a lot of shortstops and his glove is reliable. The errors (13 this year) can be attributed to his arm. He throws off-balance too often and gets lazy by dropping his arm and throwing across his body, which leads to errant throws. The rush in his mechanics seems to be caused by the lack of arm strength, a requisite skill for the left side of the infield. From what I have seen –and the other scouts I have talked to all seem to agree–second base will be his ultimate home on the diamond. With the energy and passion he brings to the field everyday, along with his bat, there will always be a position and spot in the lineup for a player like Hanson. –Chris King
Bruce Rondon, RHP, Detroit Tigers (Triple-A Toledo)
Ranked third in the Tigers’ Top 10 rankings heading into the year, Rondon received an early call to Detroit as the Tigers bullpen struggled throughout April. In three big league appearances, Rondon lasted just 2 1/3 innings while allowing five hits, two walks and striking out only one batter. Back in the minor leagues, Rondon has returned to his dominating ways, blowing 80-grade heat past Triple-A hitters. In nine minor-league outings this year, Rondon has a 0.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. There is no doubt he can dominate minor-league hitters. There is also no doubt that Rondon’s secondary pitches and control need improvement for sustained success. Rondon failed in Detroit, the first time he has failed on the baseball field since he was an 18-year old in the complex leagues. For any player, failure is an important part of the developmental process and for extremely gifted players it can be difficult to find minor-league scenarios where failure is possible. Rondon’s next failure will not come in Triple-A and as a result his development has little hope of continuing until he gets back to Detroit where major-league hitters will force him to take the next step along his developmental arc. These situations are rare, but some players reach a point where big-league innings and big-league failure are the only things that can help them reach their potential. –Mark Anderson
Garrett Gould, RHP, Dodgers (High-A Quakes)
Gould came into the season repeating the High-A level after a disappointing 2012 campaign and really needed a good start to boost his prospect status. Unfortunately for Gould, he has been struggling mightily in his first five starts while giving up 15 hits per nine While the California League is awful for pitchers, this much hard contact is not very promising. In his start on April 23rd against the 66ers, Gould featured a fastball sitting 88-91, just touching 92 and 93 once. He tries to quick-pitch batters, getting the ball and throwing as soon as the batter is ready, which worked against him due to his fringy control and command of his fastball. He fell behind numerous batters, relying on an 88 mph get-it-over fastball, which got hit all over the park. The curveball is his strikeout pitch and flashes plus, and he can bury it in the ground when he wants to. He did not have many opportunities to throw due to falling behind in the count too much, but it showed good depth and tight rotation. Gould’s third pitch was a surprisingly projectable changeup, showing the same arm speed as the fastball. The problem, again, was the control and command of the pitch, which was left up in the zone for batters to see and react to.
Gould needs to refine his control and command of all his pitches if he is going to make it to Double-A this season. When he’s going well, he can feature three league-average or better pitches. That is not something to give up on but if the control and command don’t show up, he could be toiling in the low minors for a couple more seasons. –Chris Rodriguez
Domingo Santana, OF, Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
Listed at 6’5”, 230 lbs., Santana features plus-plus raw power and a 60-grade arm from right field. The 20-year-old prospect is off to a decent start as the Texas League’s second-youngest player, hitting .233/.341/.438 through 20 contests. Santana can show power to all fields; I saw him crush a long opposite-field home run two weekends ago. His overall approach is plenty workable given his age––it’s far from all-or-nothing––though his swing can get too long, and he can miss stuff in the zone. A good runner and athlete given his size, the former Phillies prospect has a chance to be a legitimate corner outfield bat. –Jason Cole
Mike O’Neill, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
Every year the prospect hype machine gets carried away and a prospect with nominal big-league potential starts getting a lot of love. Outfielder Mike O’Neill represents this year’s early candidate. Thanks to an excellent approach at the plate and some lofty walk totals, O’Neill has been all the rage early this season. Unfortunately, he lacks the tools and skills to utilize that approach at the highest level. Limited to a corner outfield spot, O’Neill has a contact-oriented offensive game and absolutely no power, while lacking the physicality to suggest power may be on the way. An excellent approach can do things for you in the minor leagues, even in the upper minors, but O’Neill will be exposed eventually. Pitchers will not fear his approach and slappy style of hitting and will eventually overpower him, likely relegating him to the life of an organizational player. –Mark Anderson
Andrew Toles, OF, Rays (Low-A Bowling Green)
Toles caught my eye in spring training and has gotten off to a solid .319/.352/.509 start in 27 games. The athletic outfielder’s strengths lie within his plus-to-better speed, ability to create bat speed, and control of the barrel through the hitting zone. While Toles has piled up 15 extra-base hits thus far, he’s more of a hitter who is going to rely on spraying the ball to all fields and focusing on hitting line drives in higher levels. The approach and patience at the plate are the areas where the 20-year-old is going to need to take the most steps forward now that he is in full-season baseball. He can’t afford to be too much of a free swinger. If Toles can further learn how to work counts and narrow down his strike zone, the hit tool has a better chance to play up against higher-quality arms. The work in his early career on cutting down on his swings and misses due to expanding his zone or chasing bad balls in the dirt should have a lasting effect on whether the bat can round into the type of form to profile as a regular down the road. –Chris Mellen
Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees (High-A Tampa)
There may not be a more important prospect in the Yankees system than the 20-year-old backstop. The Yankees not too long ago seemed to have a surplus of catching talent in the big leagues and down on the farm. Things change quickly in this game and that's why Sanchez is a very valuable piece to the Yankees future. Sanchez has the body you like to see on a catcher. Standing at 6'2" and 220 lbs., he's solid as a rock and should be able to hold up behind the plate well into the future. He boasts a very strong arm that easily grades as a plus tool and he is athletic behind the plate. During his career, Sanchez has thrown out 30 percent of baserunners, and an even more impressive 42 percent this season while committing only one error. As a receiver he shows a natural feel, but needs more time to work on calling a game on his own.
At the plate there is a lot to like. He has a swing that doesn't have a lot of holes and consistently shows raw power. His approach is strong and with a nice level swing he can find gaps anywhere. Because he has natural power Sanchez doesn't need to swing with an uppercut to generate home runs. The one thing that has stood out so far this season is his ability and desire to work the count and improve his strikeout and walk rates. Last year he struck out 132 times to only 32 walks; this he has 24 Ks but 12 walks. Those numbers, and his five homers, are an encouraging sign that he's recognizing pitches better and willing to work an at-bat. Big-league teams can never have enough catching, so it would not be surprising to see Sanchez rise. –Chris King
Alex Yarbrough, 2B, Angels (High-A 66ers)
A fourth-round pick out of high school in the 2012 draft, Yarbrough surprisingly got a taste of Double-A in his first season of professional baseball. He does not astonish you with anything off the bat; you really need to see him play to get a sense about his tools. He brings some solid defense at second base and really good baseball instincts. Yarbrough also features good hand-eye coordination and can put the bat on the ball well and with some authority. He might have some more over-the-fence pop down the line once he matures. The friendly confines of the California League should bring out the best in his bat and he could see a move to Double-A if it all comes together for him. Right now though, he belongs on the Angels’ weak Top 10 list, and should going forward. –Chris Rodriguez