After nearly two weeks on the baseball road, which included stops in the Eastern League, Carolina League, and Sally League, I finally found myself back home in New York, weary from the travel and homesick for my home, but alive inside because of the events taking place in the borough to my immediate north. The Futures Game is the core of our molecular cloud, the thermonuclear fusion that makes us shine. We stand in the collective glow of their futures, and watch them inch toward the realities their skill sets suggest; major leaguers of tomorrow gathered on one field, the preface of a book yet unwritten. Simply put, this is the best day of the prospect year, a grand celebration of what is present and what is plausible. It’s awesome to witness the birth of a star.
The sun was intense at Citi Field, appropriate heat given the intensity of the event and our proximity to the source of the heat. I arrived early, already beaten down by transit. I love the G train. It’s the friend you never wanted who shows up late, drinks too much, doesn’t pay his tab, and then vomits on your girlfriend in an awkward attempt to kick game. The inconsistency is remarkably consistent.
It was a big day for Baseball Prospectus. I was meeting fellow prospect bandmates Jason Cole, Chris Mellen, and Zach Mortimer at the field, along with our editor-in-chief Ben Lindbergh and captain of the ship, Joe Hamrahi, the man behind the upward momentum of the Baseball Prospectus brand. With a healthy crew beneath a hearty sun, we stood on the field and watched the day unfold, expelling liquid wonderment from our pores in reaction to the view. We have become spectators to the spectacle, and the environmental complaints are muted by the exceptionalism on display a few feet from our oven-fresh bodies. We break through the boundaries set by our senses, and explore the totality of the scene. I think Francisco Lindor smells like fresh cookies. Gregory Polanco’s swing sounds like unicorns mating. I think the sun might be closer to the earth than originally thought.
The game died a death that was too soon, and the nine-inning affair felt more like a snapshot simulation than anything of substance. I wouldn’t say the scouting was poor, because the talent on the field was significant and satisfying, but the context produced Polaroids and not paintings. Max-effort outings are quite pleasing to the eye, and if you enjoy velocity it can be pleasing to other organs as well, but power vs. power is an unsustainable pleasure, one that offers a bright flame but one that plays coy with the oxygen necessary for survival. The prospect air was sucked out of Citi Field shortly before 5, and we all returned to our normal planets. Tepid experiences, compared to the surface of the prospect sun. I miss it already.
I’ll spare you the tedium of an overwrought recap of a short-burst affair, but I do want to highlight a few prospects whose performances caught my eye and/or tickled my over-sensitized fancy.
*Austin Hedges, Catcher, San Diego Padres
This is the best defensive catcher I’ve ever seen at the minor-league level, which is both a product of my experience (~eight years) and the qualities and characteristics of the defensive skill set. From a receiving standpoint, you won’t find a better glove; Hedges is very strong and centered at the plate, and his soft hands allow him to receive velocity without showing a pronounced drift to either side. His catch-and-throw skills are of major-league quality already, with routine pops in the ~1.85 range, including a ~1.85 in the game to nail a would-be theft of second. My favorite Hedges moment from the game happened early on, as a runner on first took one step too many after the pitch, and without a throw, Hedges triggered a phantom back pick that forced the runner to retreat with max effort. How many catchers are looking to back pick a guy off first in an exhibition game? He had command of his craft, which is probably the best way to describe his overall game. He commands it, from receiving to game calling to controlling the running game.
*Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
As expected, the top arm in the minors pitched to form, showing a heavy plus-plus fastball and a sharp vertical knuckle curve. I love watching him pitch, as he has both feel and stuff, a lethal combination when you factor in his size, strength, mechanical fluidity, and competitive edge, which creates a top-of-the-rotation Frankenstein.
*Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies
He straight up shoved it, and might have been the most impressive arm on either roster. From the side, his delivery doesn’t appear overly conducive for command or consistency, which might force a bullpen future, but the stuff is undeniable across the board, which could allow him to stay in a rotation and thrive doing so. He showed multiple fastballs looks, including a four-seamer that worked in the 96-98 mph range; both fastballs with good movement. The slider was an easy plus offering, thrown with velocity (up to 88 mph) and featuring good tilt. Those are two monster carrying pitches, but the changeup he flashed didn’t disappoint either and could end up giving his arsenal a third plus offering. The reports have been strong all season, and I’m glad we included him in the mid-season Top 50. This is an impact arm regardless of the role.
*Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
This is a very real player. The hands at short were on display, the range was on display, the arm strength was there, and the cage work was equally impressive. The right-center gap power was legit, and Russell looks like a player that will be capable of hitting 20-plus bombs and a lot of doubles at the highest level, which makes him a monster considering he can not only stick at shortstop, but play above-average at the position. Standout player.
*Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Baseball player. Period. He barrels. He gloves. He makes plays on both sides of the ball and it all facets of the game. Very short stroke to the ball, but quick and powerful, allowing him to not only center the bat on the ball but drive it with authority. He’s not a slappy wrist hitter, as his hip rotation brings plus bat speed into the equation, and he doesn’t sell out and lose the bat control, which should help make him a high average, doubles hitter at the highest level. Always a joy to watch.
*Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
Because of the talent surrounding him on the field, Nimmo’s bat stood out, but not in a positive way. I’ve never been a huge fan of the swing [itself], mostly because of the hand location and the path he takes into the zone, but the bat speed [or lack thereof] stood out in his cage sessions, magnified because of the plus bat speed that was on display before and after him. I thought it was a slow stick.
*Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers
Pederson sold out for power in the cage [dropping the back shoulder and elevating his plane], but it was still very easy and very pretty, and that’s what you want to see. Can a player make his physical actions look easy on a field? It’s an important question in the scouting process, and Pederson, despite the “grinder/gamer” labels makes the game look easy. He plays a good outfield, he has a good arm, he has very good and very natural bat-to-ball skills at the plate, and you can’t sleep on his raw pop. This is a role 5 type, and possibly a first-division player.
*Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins
The smoothest bat on either roster; you can see a future .300 hitter at the major league level; remarkable hands; stays inside the ball; true line-drive stroke; excellent pitch recognition; velo isn’t a problem, even on the inner third; looks like a prototypical no. 3 hitter, with contact and power. The best hitter on a team.
*Miguel Almonte, RHP, Kansas City Royals
I feel like a proud father, or at least a proud creepy uncle. Almonte belongs on the big stage, and was impressive in his inning of work. The delivery is very smooth and the velocity very easy, working in the plus range and showing more when he needs it. The curveball is still underwhelming, flashing average potential but playing below. The changeup is a stallion pitch, a possible 7 [plus-plus] at the end of the day, with excellent arm speed deception and arm-side fade. He will drop the change to both lefties and righties, and his confidence in the pitch makes it a weapon in any situation. He needs refinement, but I see a legit rotation arm, which isn’t the norm for me because I tend to put bullpen grades on most Dominican arms.
*Enny Romero, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
That slider was pretty sick, and setting it up with 97 mph cheese only made it harder on the hitters. I don’t see a starter; rather, a very good late-innings arm. The command needs to sharpen, but the short-burst heat and the intensity of the slider will make him a major-league weapon. His stuff was impressive.
*A.J. Jimenez, Catcher, Blue Jays
I thought his batting practice was outstanding, as he showed off more power than I expected, sending rockets to the pull side and making the “sound” off the ball that I originally confused for another player. I like the bat a lot. The glove was good, but the arm action on the throws was long and the throws lacked zip. Limited sample.
*Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, Chicago Cubs
He put on one of the better batting practice performances, jumping into the ball and sending ropes up the middle and to his pull side. The swing is balanced and easy, finding the ball and driving it without noisy or complicated bat-speed generators. Basically, he doesn’t sell out for bat speed, he just produces it. He can really hit, and he can really run, and he can field, but the throwing mechanics are a better fit for second, and I think he’s going to excel at that position at the highest level. This looks like the Cubs keystone of the future, and a guy who is a no doubt top 100 prospect in the game right now. He can flat out play.
*Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Very impressive player, and not just on the field. The elite makeup is worn on his face, and the way he conducts the business of being Carlos Correa really stands out. I get it now. If you spend a few minutes with this kid you will get it as well. His cage sessions were solid, hitting some bombs into the left-field seats, although it was more loft and light than most of the other balls hit out of the stadium. The swing is there. Once he adds strength to his large frame, he’s going to hit for serious power. The glove at shortstop is fine, and the arm is more than fine, and if he can stay on his conditioning and stay lean, I don’t see why he can’t stick at shortstop, at least for the foreseeable future.
*Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
*Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins
After he missed his first round of batting practice due to fame and the trappings of it, Sano stepped into the box for his first seven [with one of those being a mandatory bunt] and proceeded to hit ball out of the park like a big leaguer. Massive power to all fields. Massive strength. He was sending bombs to dead center; balls into the second deck in left; balls that committed suicide in mid-air because of the inevitability of their own demise. Sano is still a very young hitter, meaning he has a lot of work to do against advanced competition recognizing and reacting to off-speed stuff and improving his two-strike approach, but you can’t teach his raw power, and that makes him one of the most exciting prospects in the minors. His cage drew the biggest media crowd, and if you were looking for a PG-13 rated experience, you didn’t receive one.
*Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Wow. This guy is a stallion. I loved it. I loved the body, with long legs and a high butt; I loved the present strength and the easy-to-dream-on projection; I loved the stroke, although you can see that he might struggle with coverage on the inner third because of the swing length. The reads/routes in center weren’t the most efficient, but you can see the fluidity in his movements and it’s a lot of fun to watch. I think this player could turn out a number of different ways. He could be a .280-plus hitter with 20-plus bombs a year or he could do a lot more damage if he really starts to tap into the power, because the strength/torque is there for legit over-the-fence production. Hell of a player.
Thank you for reading
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This doesn't surprise me, as I think most evaluators do, but I've never seen one say it. Can you explain why (as in, why most get bullpen grades, NOT why no one says it)?
-They're generally smaller. Small frame = reliever
-They are signed at 16 so they have to be on the 40 man roster at a pretty young age. Less time to develop secondary pitches = reliever.
-They're generally less polished, partly due to the "showcase" atmosphere and partly because there just isn't as much organized baseball at a young age. Kids spend all their time on showcase tools (arm strength, raw power) and less time *playing* baseball (compared to somewhere like Venezuela where they have tons of little leagues). Less polished = needs more time to develop = see point above.
Also a question about Willy Mays Jr. It was Christmas morning watching all these guys Sunday. Well Christmas on Mars. Are you a fan of Buxton's wide stance or do you think he will close it up a bit as he reaches the majors?
Sorry, I had to. I still love you Jason.
A - I would assume all of them. How else would you show off in a meaningless game?
Noah Syndegaard: Big boy. Not a beanpole 6'6, but fully grown. My favorite moment happened with the first batter, whom he put away with a 96 MPH FB up in the zone. That's good ol' country hardball, son, and it plays real nice in the big city. I also like that Matt Harvey is mentoring him.
Rafael Montero: First two hitters were quick soft outs. Then George Springer showed one of his five tools by turning on a pitch and launching it up and away. It was 20 feet foul, but well up in the upper deck. Montero's reaction: fastball, up and in. Rick Sutcliffe's reaction: orgasmic. Springer's reaction: reached for the next pitch and popped up to 2B. Well played, Rafael.
Arismendy A.: Speedy little infielders who turn on an inside pitch and take it into the upper deck down the line bring out my O-face.
Austin Hedges: Threw a seed to 2B to get Bogaerts. Hot damn that was a throw. Unfortunately, it robbed me of seeing how Syndegaard was going to try and put away Sano with two strikes on him.