Mark Appel, RHP, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
Mark Appel earned his first win as a professional during his seventh appearance, his fifth as a member of the Quad City River Bandits in the Low-A Midwest League. Appel worked five innings, giving up two hits and a walk while striking out a pair. Neither of the two runs he allowed was earned, as batters had difficulty squaring the ball up against him. He came out firing against the powerful (though Buxtonless) Cedar Rapids Kernels, throwing almost exclusively 98 mph fastballs in the first inning. The velocity continued to sit at 96-98 in both the second and third innings before settling in around 93-96, while still touching 98, in innings four and five. The arm action continues to be easy, repeatable, and clean, and he threw downhill while working the bottom half of the zone pretty well, as evidenced by his 12-to-2 groundout-to-fly out ratio. With an approach typical of college pitchers, Appel started the game by trying to get hitters swinging outside, and looked much better an inning or two later when he started to trust his fastball to establish the inner half. His slider continues to be a swing-and-miss pitch thrown at 85-86 mph, while he also showed a polished changeup in the same velocity range. The slider at its best is a plus-plus pitch with sharp two-plane break that makes it nearly unhittable, although he will need to work at making it a plus-plus pitch more consistently. His changeup works well as a perfect slow-ball complement to his fastball, given how well he maintains his arm action, though my only minor complaint with the pitch is that I wish there were a little more speed differential between it and his breaking ball. As Appel continues to gain confidence in his fastball while honing the consistency of his slider, he's going to be a strikeout pitcher at the highest level. His cool, poised demeanor on the mound also serves him well, and in this game he clearly recognized the importance of pitching to contact to make the most of his limited pitch count after a long college season. The Astros have no need to rush Appel, even though they could, so don't be surprised to see him spend most, if not all, of 2014 in Double- and Triple-A. ––Patrick Ebert and Chris Wimmers
More, including video, here.
Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Cubs (Triple-A Iowa)
After posting a 1.85 ERA in 21 Double-A starts, Hendricks impressed in his Triple-A debut last week by tossing seven innings of one-run ball. An eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth in 2011, Hendricks was acquired from Texas last summer as part of the Cubs’ haul for Ryan Dempster. While the 23-year-old righty lacks big stuff, he’s an extreme strike thrower and commands a deep arsenal that includes four- and two-seam fastballs, a cutter, slider, curve, and change. He keeps hitters off balance by varying his fastball velocity, often throwing it anywhere between 86-94 mph and sitting around 88-90. His stuff doesn’t have plus movement, but the command and deception––particularly with his slow mid-70s changeup––give him a chance for success. Hendricks likely isn’t more than a no. 4 or 5 starter––and that’s probably his ceiling––but the pitchability should enable a big-league future. –Jason Cole
Video (2012): https://vimeo.com/43220029
Alex Jackson, C, Rancho Bernardo High School (Escondido, CA)
It was an honor to join Joe Hamrahi on stage this weekend as we presented Alex Jackson with the first annual Baseball Prospectus Prospect of the Year Award, at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego. Jackson is a dual threat talent, with an easy plus-plus arm behind the plate, near elite pop times, and big power from the right side. It's a similar profile to high-ceiling prospect Jorge Alfaro, which should give you some indication how special this player could be. Getting to watch the talent on the field opened my eyes to his physical abilities, but the way he carried himself off the field, the natural leadership qualities and maturity he possesses, opened my eyes to the type of makeup that can make his ceiling more than just an exaggerated fantasy. When physical talent and makeup join forces, the end result can change the fortunes of an organization, and Jackson looks like a player well on his way to that reality. –Jason Parks
Keury Mella, RHP, Giants (Rookie AZL Giants)
One of the rookie Arizona League’s more intriguing arms, Mella is flashing a big fastball and producing results in his first state-side season. The 20-year-old righty signed with the Giants prior to last season for $275,000 and made his debut in the Dominican Summer League. Pitching in the AZL this summer, he has a 2.30 ERA while striking out 32 and walking eight in 27 innings. Mella’s stuff is more intriguing than the numbers, however, as he’s pounding the zone with a heavy 90-94 mph two-seam fastball and running his four-seamer into the 95-96 mph range. His delivery and secondaries––including a hard curveball and changeup––are works in progress, but he’s showing a feel to pitch with a potentially dominant fastball. –Jason Cole
Cody Buckel, RHP, Rangers (Rookie AZL Rangers)
Remember Buckel? Coming off a standout age-20 season between the High- and Double-A levels, he earned an invite to big-league camp this past spring and was briefly in contention for the Rangers’ no. 5 starter job. But a few disappointing outings led to an early boot back to minor-league camp, and it’s been downhill from there. Buckel opened the year in Double-A with extreme control issues, walking an incredible 28 batters in 9 1/3 innings. Despite his allergy to the strike zone, Buckel’s pure stuff was fine, as his fastball sat 89-92 mph and even reached 96. He wasn’t hurt; he’d developed a mental block that left him unable to lock into his delivery and, in turn, throw strikes.
Since returning to the Rangers’ Arizona complex in early May, Buckel has spent most of his time throwing on the side––playing catch, throwing bullpens, and throwing live BP. While he has shown slight progress on the side, his two Arizona League appearances last week yielded more of the same result––1 1/3 innings, 0 hits, 7 walks, 4 strikeouts while sitting 91-92 mph. Given his reputation as an advanced hurler with a cerebral approach on the mound, it’s surprising that Buckel has fallen into this situation, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can work his way out of it. –Jason Cole
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Astros (Triple-A Oklahoma City)
Singleton has been slow to get it going since joining the Triple-A RedHawks in June, hitting just .215/.327/.345 with a 33 percent strikeout rate (though also a solid 15 percent walk rate) in 53 games. The 21-year-old prospect has been playing catch-up since returning from his 50-game suspension (marijuana) in late May, and getting back into game shape has been one of his primary obstacles. He was more than a few pounds overweight when I saw him at Double-A Corpus Christi earlier this summer. While his bat was still plenty fast, and his wrists remained extremely strong, his range at first base was down significantly.
I tried to avoid judging Singleton too harshly at the time, as he was just getting back into action. One scout who recently saw Singleton in Triple-A commented that he has “lost a few pounds” since June but is still whiffing at a high rate. Despite this year’s disappointing performance, Singleton’s impressive offense tools are still present. If he gets himself back into shape this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a return to form in 2014. –Jason Cole
Jesse Hahn, RHP, Rays (High-A Charlotte)
After missing all of the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery and making a return to the mound last year, Hahn continues to gain traction as the stuff further sharpens. When I saw the right-hander this year in spring training, both the curveball and changeup impressed, along with the movement of the fastball. Hahn creates strong leverage via a 6-foot-5 frame enabling his heater to bore in hard on right-hander batters, which makes it tough to elevate in the process. The 24-year-old has served up just one home run in 64 innings thus far. Hahn will lean on his secondary stuff to put hitters away, showing the ability to miss bats with an 84-86 mph change with arm-side fade and a 74-82 mph curve that the righty changes the shape of depending on the situation of the sequence.
The Rays have been conservative with the former sixth-round pick, limiting his innings per outing this season to allow the pitcher to continue to build arm strength. While signs point toward Hahn’s future being a bullpen role, the repertoire is polished and deep enough for him to start for the near future. I envision the righty as a future late inning weapon coming out of Tampa’s ‘pen down the line, which makes Hahn an intriguing arm to keep an eye on during his rise up the ranks. ––Chris Mellen
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Mets (High-A St. Lucie)
A meniscus tear in Fulmer’s right knee put things on hold out of the gate in 2013, but the right-handed starter has made it back to the mound for the second half of the season. The 20-year-old features an explosive fastball that will consistently touch 95 mph, along with a hard, late breaking mid-80s slider with the type of tilt to miss bats consistently. Fulmer has not yet been able to find his groove in High-A, though. Over five starts, the 6-foot-3 righty has walked 12 batters in 24 1/3 innings and had to continuously work out of jams. While the heater can flat out beat hitters, Fulmer falls into ruts of over-throwing the pitch and the command suffers as a result.
The ability and potential are certainly there for this young arm. Progress with the changeup and a more paced mentality on the mound will be the keys for Fulmer to begin approaching his ceiling. The remainder of this season should serve as time for the prospect to get his feet back on the ground before heading into the offseason. Given the lack of innings, Fulmer may also be a candidate for the Fall Instructional League, where he can get further repetition before next spring. –Chris Mellen
Jose Pujols, OF, Phillies (Rookie GCL Phillies)
Of all the players in the GCL this year, Pujols was who I was most excited to get eyes on. I had talked to a lot of people about him and the one common theme of these discussions was his raw power. It was evident after about one minute of BP that the stories were true. Pujols,17, stands a lanky 6'3" and 175, but his frame has projection for days. His arms and legs are wiry and his shoulders are pretty wide. Once he starts to fill out I will really feel bad for baseballs thrown to him. Aside from the power, Pujols has quick hands that generate crazy bat speed. After seeing him more than a few times, I determined he still had a long way to go at the plate and in the field. He didn't show anything resembling an approach at the plate. He would swing out of his shoes at just about every pitch. Fastballs above the letters, breaking balls bouncing in the dirt, it didn't matter, Pujols was taking a hack. Then one day, almost out of nowhere his swing was flying through the zone with the same speed he's always shown, but the uppercut wasn't as exaggerated and violent; it had leveled off. The results of this adjustment came immediately. Instead of swinging and missing or hitting weak pop-ups, Pujols started making more contact, and hitting line drives. It was a big step in the right direction for him. He was sporting a .181/.253/.337 line at the time, but over his past 10 games he's hitting .350/.441/.791 with two loud homers. While Pujols still lacks the ability to quickly recognize pitches, the adjustments he's made have been impressive. You can see his confidence building more and more every day. He is completely different from the kid I saw in late June. The risk will remain high on him, but his ceiling just might be even higher. ––Chris King
Touki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs Christian Academy (FL)
Jason Parks said it best: Toussaint was “pretty bad, but also really good” in his one inning appearance at the Perfect Game All-American Classic. Touki was sitting 92-94 and touching 95 with a very projectable curveball that featured some tight rotation. The curveball could become a huge weapon, and he has already begun to make adjustments to throw it for strikes more often. From my view on the third-base side, I found Toussaint really set himself apart with the extension of his delivery. He really gets “downhill” and uses all of his 6’2” frame. He also began to showcase a nice cutter/changeup that he used to keep hitters off balance.
Like all the high school players in this game, he a long way to go before he is even close to realizing his potential. His delivery can get a little quick, and a little tweaking to slow him down would benefit his below-average command and control. Toussaint was also very slow from the stretch, clocking around 1.6 to home plate, although he did try a slide step on a couple pitches.
With two future plus pitches and another on the way, Toussaint may have the highest upside of any high school arm in the country at the moment. His stock is certainly on the way up. ––Chris Rodriguez