Devin Williams, RHP, Brewers (Rookie AZL Brewers)
Milwaukee’s top selection (54th overall) in this year’s draft, Williams is already making adjustments and showing improvement with the complex-league Brewers. The early reports on Williams this summer had him working 90-92 mph, struggling with control, and featuring a violent delivery that included a head jerk and hard fall-off toward first base. While those mechanical aspects were still present at times when I saw him July 27th, they were much more under control. As a result, the 18-year-old righty sat between 92-94 mph and touched 96, relying heavily on his fastball while tossing four no-hit innings. Williams finished his outing by throwing 44 consecutive heaters and pounded the lower portion of the zone. His secondary stuff showed on the raw side, though he did flash some feel for a lively mid-80s changeup. More thrower than pitcher at present, Williams provides a nice package to dream on. His athletic 6-foot-3 frame has some projection, and his fastball could be a monster pitch at full maturity. I’m looking forward to seeing how the secondaries develop, and he’ll certainly be worth another look at instructs. –Jason Cole
Lucas Sims, RHP, Braves (Low-A Rome)
Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2012 has made a smooth transition during his first year in full-season ball and has proven to be ahead of the South Atlantic League competition. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has beat hitters with a 91-94 mph fastball, hard biting curveball, and a changeup with improving arm-side fade. Sims’ heater jumps out of his easy delivery, and when staying on top of the curve he is capable of getting into extended grooves of missing bats. The 19-year-old will be challenged to sharpen the command of his fastball. While the inexperienced hitters tend to foul off or swing through the offering when elevated, more polished hitters at the next step up will get a better piece of it. Sims will also be pushed to throw more strikes with his changeup and mix in the curve earlier in sequences. All are aspects of the game that the righty is capable of learning. His progress will dictate his future role. –Chris Mellen
Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Short-Season A Boise)
The Cubs grabbed Bryant with the second overall selection in this June’s draft, inking the former Torero for $6.7 million. Bryant has been eased into pro ball, with two complex-league games before a promotion to the short-season Northwest League. Through his first 15 professional contests, Bryant is already showing the advanced power that wowed evaluators this spring, as 60 percent of his hits have gone for extras. It’s too early to start digging into the production, but the numbers to watch for Bryant will be his strikeout rate and walk rate as he progresses up the chain. There is no doubt the young slugger has the raw power to stand out in the middle of any major-league lineup, but his ability to make contact will be paramount in making sure that raw power is reachable in game. Bryant draws mixed reviews for his projected hit tool, so his on-base ability will be an important component of his overall offensive value. Thus far the defense has shown adequate, and evaluators generally give Bryant a fair shot to stick at the hot corner. Right field remains an enticing back-up option, and Bryant’s athleticism and arm strength would play. –Nick J. Faleris
Angel Baez, RHP, Royals (Rookie AZL Rehab)
Baez was one of the more intriguing arms I ran across during my recent visit to the rookie Arizona League. A 22-year-old righty who’s recovering from a broken hand suffered at High-A Wilmington, Baez featured a 94-96 mph fastball during a four-inning rehab start last week. He also flashed a usable mid-80s sinking changeup/low-80s slider mix. Despite his strong 6-foot-3 frame, the thick-bodied hurler is almost certainly a reliever long term. There’s some effort to his delivery, and he fell off hard toward first base at times, leading to a fringy-at-best command/control projection. Regardless, Baez has big arm strength, and he should ultimately throw enough strikes for the stuff to play in short bursts. –Jason Cole
Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
As a 19-year-old in his first full professional season, the big thing that sticks out about Berrios is his poise. The right-hander has also shown a very mature approach, with an early understanding of how to execute his craft. Over the course of the long baseball season there are many peaks and valleys. July ended up as one of those valleys for Berrios, showing some signs of wearing down and experiencing a dip in performance, but the poise remained a constant. In addition to the 91-93 mph fastball with late movement and promising secondary stuff, the righty demonstrates an important intangible that offers early clues that he has what it takes to keep making adjustments. While the size isn’t ideal, Berrios should have a strong chance to continue to track as a starter until at least Double-A, and move closer to the top of Minnesota’s Top 10 list in the process. –Chris Mellen
Corey Knebel, RHP, Tigers (Low-A West Michigan)
Knebel entered this June’s draft as perhaps the top pure reliever in the draft class. The former Longhorns closer shows the potential for two knockout pitches, a fastball and a power curve. Both have been on point through 18 Midwest League appearances. The heater ranges anywhere from the low- to upper-90s (split between his higher velocity four-seamer and low-90s two-seamer), and he works his height to his advantage, producing solid plane on the pitch. The curve can be inconsistent at times, but at its best it is a low-80s bender with hard bite and two-plane action. He is being encouraged to use his slider and changeup with more frequency, with an eye toward a possible shift to rotation work starting with fall instructs. There is some herk-and-jerk to the mechanics, which can lead to inconsistency in pitch execution and command. While Knebel is walking almost four batters per nine, he is holding opponents to a miniscule .150 batting average and striking out more than 10 batters per nine. It’s been a solid showing for the 39th overall selection; he’ll look to build on his early success through the fall and could start 2014 in the High-A Lakeland rotation. –Nick J. Faleris
Amir Garrett, LHP, Reds (Single-A Dayton)
One of the minors’ more intriguing arms, Garrett spends his winters and springs as a college basketball player and his summers as a professional pitcher. Although the wiry southpaw was best known for his skills on the court in high school, his athleticism and potential elite fastball––which reached 96 mph as an amateur––enticed the Reds to give him a $1 million signing bonus in the hopes that he’d one day turn his full-time focus to the diamond. That hasn’t happened yet, however, as Garrett is transferring from St. John’s to Cal State-Northridge, where he intends to continue his collegiate hoops career.
As a pitcher, Garrett is a scout’s dream. He’s a premium athlete with a long-limbed 6-foot-5 frame and a fastball that consistently touches 94 mph from the left side. While the California native shows good overall feel, for a hurler who still lacks experience on the mound, the truth is that if he’s ever to reach his potential as a baseball player it’ll require a year-round commitment. Garrett’s lively plus fastball, curveball, and changeup will all flash. But his somewhat rigid delivery, pitchability, and pure stuff can’t be adequately refined in such short windows. The Reds are hopeful Garrett will see the light soon, and if he does, it’ll be a huge development for the organization. –Jason Cole
Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Low-A Kane County)
Almora just continues to perform for Low-A Kane County. Through 270 plate appearances the standout center fielder is hitting .332/.379/.470, showcasing an aggressive approach at the plate backed by an advanced feel for the barrel. As Almora progresses through the Cubs’ system, he will likely need to tone down the aggressiveness some. Midwest League arms, however, have proven incapable of getting the ball by the Cubs’ top prospect, with Almora striking out in just 11 percent of his plate appearances.
Perhaps most importantly, in his first year of full-season baseball Almora appears to be getting stronger through the season, rather than tiring, and is already showing an emphasis on putting together more patient at-bats. Over his past 10 games he’s hitting .368/.429/.447, and in the month of July he saw his on-base percentage jump 60 points from June, in spite of a slight downtick in batting average. Almora won’t turn 20 until April, and he continues to show a feel for game well beyond his years. He is an elite prospect who could move quickly should the Cubs decide to let him loose. –Nick J. Faleris
Joe Jimenez, RHP, Tigers (Rookie GCL Tigers)
Jimenez signed with the Tigers this year as an undrafted free agent, earning an assignment to their rookie ball affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. After seeing him a couple of times in action, I find it crazy nobody took a shot at him in the draft, even with his rumored big bonus demands. Jimenez is a big kid, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 220 pounds. He shows excellent mound presence, is confident, and attacks hitters with a “you can't hit me” attitude. His fastball has some run to it and sits in the 90-93 range while topping out at 94. Jimenez has shown the ability to move his fastball around the zone with solid control and command, constantly changing the hitters’ eye levels. He has been throwing an above-average slider in the 79-to-82 range, and it has been giving complex-league opponents all types of problems. He has generated a ton of bad swings with that pitch and I have seen a few batters bail out when he throws it inside, only to have it come back across the plate due to the late action.
Jimenez’s secondaries still lag, but he has shown some feel for a changeup and a “show me” curve. Through his first 18 pro innings, Jimenez has given up just one run and surrendered only nine hits to go with a 24:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His frame and clean mechanics should allow him to hold up as a starter, assuming the secondaries develop. If starting is not in the cards, Jimenez has the stuff and mentality to be a weapon out of the pen late in games. This looks like a nice find for the Tigers. I'm stunned he was not drafted. –Chris King
Tyrone Taylor, OF, Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
After a strong start to his first full-season campaign, Taylor has hit a bit of a wall in recent weeks. The Timber Rattlers’ center fielder has looked fatigued at the plate and in the field; maybe the grind of the season is taking a toll on him. Offensively, Taylor is rolling over balls more frequently—especially against same-side pitching—and he has seen his strikeout rate rise significantly. He is making less hard contact, and in general looks to be running out of gas. He continues to provide solid efforts in center, and his overall game continues to grow.
Taylor has made great developmental progress this summer, shining on both sides of the ball. The glovework in center has been impressive, and his jumps and routes have steadily improved to the point that he could project to plus defense when all is said and done. He has routinely put together strong at-bats, and he even strung together a 16-game hit streak earlier in the season. It’s not uncommon for a young player to tire over the course of a long pro season, and there is still a month of play remaining for Taylor in Wisconsin. Regardless of how that month goes, he has shown enough to ensure he will be featured prominently on Milwaukee prospect lists this offseason, as well as on the acquisition lists of the other 29 organizations. –Nick J. Faleris