Michael Wacha, RHP, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
The Cardinals’ top pick in the 2012 draft, Wacha received an aggressive assignment to Triple-A Memphis despite logging just 21 pro innings last summer. He is proving plenty apt for the challenge, posting a 1.99 ERA while yielding just 27 hits in 40 2/3 innings. Regarded as a polished arm as an amateur at Texas A&M, Wacha has made some quick strides as a pro. The progression hasn’t really changed his projection as a no. 3 starter, but he’s perhaps closer to realizing that potential than initially thought.
The 21-year-old righty has shown lots of polish early this season, pounding the strike zone with a three-pitch mix that includes a 90-95 mph fastball. He generates a steep downhill plane from his 6-foot-6 frame. His secondary pitches play well off the fastball––particularly his deceptive low-80s changeup, which is already a plus offering. Wacha’s curveball has been a key development since college; it’s presently average to solid-average and should become a third plus in the near future.
With a projection for three 60-grade pitches, strike-throwing ability, and an overall mature approach to pitching, Wacha has all the makings of a durable no. 3 starter. He’ll likely reach St. Louis at some point this season. If the Cardinals aren’t in need of starters, he could make a short-term impact out of the bullpen, where he reached 98 mph in short bursts this spring. –Jason Cole
Rafael De Paula, RHP, Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
Unknown to many coming into the season—thanks to name/visa issues that kept the Dominican arm pitching on Dominican fields—De Paula has stepped out of the shadows in 2013 and emerged as a rising player in the Yankees org. On the back of a very good fastball that features well above average life and plus velocity, the 22-year-old De Paula is able to miss a high number of bats in the Sally League. In addition to the heat, De Paula shows flashes of a plus curve and a plus change, but both offerings need refinement before they join the fastball as major-league-quality pitches. The future is very abstract and combustible, but if you love a high ceiling, De Paula is one of the more interesting arms to follow in the minors. –Jason Parks
Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (High-A Ft. Myers)
In his second full-season campaign, Sano has blossomed into the premier power bat in the minors, possessing the rare 80-grade raw power and a knack for run production. So far in the Florida State League, the 20-year-old has hit for average and game power, using a highly leveraged swing to send exit-velocity rockets all over the yard. At times, he can be long to the ball and prone to swing and miss, but the overall hand-eye coordination is excellent and his extension and power through the ball is elite. Double-A will be the test, as better stuff and better command could exploit the holes in his game and force an adjustment, which will benefit the young hitter on his accelerated path to the majors. –Jason Parks
Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals (Low-A Lexington)
I took some flack online this spring when I not only suggested Almonte belonged in the same prospect discussion as org-mate Kyle Zimmer, but that I would prefer the 20-year-old arm in the long-term. After a shaky start to Almonte’s season, fingers started pointing and I was asked on several occasions if I had changed my stance. Why? This kid has a very live arm and a very simple and easy release, and the stuff just explodes from the hand. The fastball is a plus offering, with velocity in the low-to-mid 90s and some sinking action. The money pitch is a darling of a changeup, thrown with fastball arm speed and above average movement to the arm side and down. Some sources have put a future 7 on the pitch, and based on what I’ve seen in several starts over the last calendar year, it’s one of the better changeups in the lower minors. He will show multiple breaking balls—a mid-70s curveball and a low 80s slider—both of which can flash some utility but neither has separated itself as the go-to breaker to pair with the rest of the arsenal. After a few mechanical tweaks, Almonte has been stellar in two May starts, missing bats and limiting the hard contact that he ran into to start the season. The ceiling is crazy high, but the product is far from finished, so bumps and bruises are to be expected on the journey. –Jason Parks
Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
A slow start to the season (by Taveras’ standards) had some voicing concern, especially when the bat produced only five extra-base hits in his first 76 at-bats. The familiar monster has since returned to the village to plunder and pillage and put the anxious minds at ease, showing off his brand of controlled violence at the plate. A natural hitter, Taveras has a lighting quick trigger and lighting quick bat speed, finding the best part of the ball with the best part of the bat. He’s a ferocious talent who just happens to reside in an organization that isn’t starving for his services at the highest level, which will allow the 20-year-old to rake in the minors until an opportunity becomes available. Once the door opens, expect Taveras to saunter through like a man who belongs, and the major-league production will follow suit. –Jason Parks
Ross Stripling, RHP, Dodgers (Double-A Chattanooga)
With Wacha’s Triple-A assignment and Stripling’s promotion to Double-A last week, two-thirds of Texas A&M’s 2012 weekend rotation have already reached the upper levels. The 23-year-old righty made a dominant six-start stint in the High-A California League before tossing six innings of one-run ball in Saturday’s Southern League debut.
A fifth-round senior sign who largely worked between 88-91 mph in college, Stripling has consistently sat at 92-93 since signing, topping out a tick higher on occasion. He’s a short strider but has done a better job of using his lower half to increase the velocity. The 6-foot-3 hurler throws strikes, gets good tailing life to his fastball, and works downhill. His polished curveball/changeup mix should give him three average-or-better offerings and lend to a no. 4 starter projection with a perfect-world no. 3 ceiling. –Jason Cole
Gabriel Guerrero, OF, Mariners (Low-A Clinton)
I was all over Guerrero this spring, watching as many workouts and games as I possibly could, almost becoming obsessed with the potential of Vlad’s nephew. He not only looked the part—with legs longer than lifetimes and the familiar gait of a future Hall of Famer from the same bloodline—but the talent was showing up in game action. Jumping from the complex level to full-season ball is quite the leap, especially for a young prospect asked to go from the warm climates of the Dominican Republic and Arizona to the less-than-ideal environments of the Midwest League in April, and it didn’t surprise many when Guerrero struggled in his first month. But the hands and coordination are simply too good to stay dormant for long, and so far in May, the high-ceiling 19-year-old is finding his stroke. I don’t expect a statistical bouquet bright enough to illuminate a room, but I do expect Guerrero to flash his immense potential during season and set himself up for a big breakthrough in 2014. The talent is there. He just needs to find his rhythm, and the rest is already written. –Jason Parks
Trevor Story, SS, Rockies (High-A Modesto)
Story broke out in his full-season debut in 2012, and a move to the California League in 2013 was expected to provide even more fuel to his prospect fire. The performance so far has been disappointing, as the swing-and-miss tendencies from last season have been magnified and the contact has been quiet. The approach needs work, but a source suggested his swing mechanics were the scariest villain so far this season. The bat speed that drew praise last season isn’t receiving the same glory this season, but all hope is not lost. A few tweaks and a few hits are often all it takes to put a hitter in a confident state, and Story still has the raw physical tools to develop into an offensive force at a premium position. –Jason Parks
Nick Williams, OF, Texas (Low-A Hickory)
On the internet side of the prospecting business, it’s common to get caught up in the hype and hope of a prospect’s physical gifts at the expense of the one carrying tool that can make or break a position player: the hit tool. Nick Williams is a very promising athlete who can make the game look both incredibly easy and incredibly hard—depending on when you see him– but he can put his bat on a baseball, and that is something you just can’t teach. For all the physical gifts and all the tool-based promise, Williams shows a preternatural feel for hitting—with early recognition, a fast trigger and incredible bat speed—and despite some of the rawness in his overall game and areas that need considerable amounts of refinement, the one tool that could make him a major leaguer stands above his teammates’ on the Hickory roster, and that roster ain’t no sippin’ tea. This kid can hit. Keep a close eye on him. –Jason Parks
James Ramsey, OF, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
A true leader in his four seasons at Florida State, Ramsey gained Jeter-type status in Tallahassee before being selected in the first round by the St. Louis Cardinals last year. The Cardinals started him off at High-A Palm Beach where he struggled at the plate for most of the season. This year, however, his bat has showed why the Cardinals believed he was a worthy first-round selection. Starting this season at Palm Beach again, Ramsey put up a .361/.481/.557 line while drawing 12 walks in 77 at-bats. He was promoted last week to Double-A Springfield. Ramsey doesn't have any eye-popping tools, but the kid is a gamer and he has made several mechanical adjustments to his swing and as a result, his bat is quicker and stays in the zone longer. His approach has always been above average and he's now drawing more walks. Ramsey doesn't project to hit for too much power, but after seeing him this season I can envision him as a very productive top-of-the-order-bat who hits for a high average. –Chris King