Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (High-A Ft. Myers)
The top prospect in the land continues his assault on the baseball world, hitting for average and showing good pop with a mature approach, in addition to his top-shelf defense in center and elite speed on the bases. It’s a performance trend that started in the Midwest League and has continued after his promotion to the Florida State League. Simply put, Buxton is a superhero, showing all would-be contemporaries and spectators that they are mere mortals and insufficient next to his special baseball powers. The 19-year-old cape-wearing man from mythology is set to play with the Glendale Desert Dogs in the AFL, and if you haven’t put eyes on this exceptional prize, do whatever it takes to make your way to Camelback Ranch this fall. *Lycra Spandex costumes are optional. –Jason Parks
Trevor May, RHP, Twins (Double-A New Britain)
Earlier this summer I was able to sit on a May start, and at the time I wasn’t overly impressed despite a positive on-the-field outcome. May is a big, strong horse of a pitcher, with a well-rounded arsenal that includes a meaty fastball and multiple secondary offerings that flash above-average, but his delivery minimizes the natural advantage of height, and as a result of his drop-and-drive approach his plus velocity often arrives flat-planed and edible. The command comes and goes, but when he’s on and staying over his offerings, May looks the part of a no. 4 starter, one capable of logging innings and keeping his team in the game. He’ll be pitching for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League and will get to wear the same uniform as Byron Buxton, so I expect May to take a step forward this fall and carry it into his 2014 campaign, where the big righty will likely have the opportunity to pitch at the highest level. –Jason Parks
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami (Double-A Jacksonville)
I’m planning on blowing Heaney up this offseason, no doubt ranking him high on the Marlins’ team list and on the Baseball Prospectus 101. I’m fully on board. The 22-year-old southpaw has been fantastic this season, humiliating hitters in the Florida State League before an impressive run in Double-A. The athletic 6’2’’ lefty has nasty stuff, with a fastball that sits in the plus range and routinely works higher, with a plus slider and an ever-improving changeup that some scouts suggest is a solid-average offering at worst. Heaney looks like a future mid-rotation starter, with a chance to be a no. 2 if everything continues to progress. Like Trevor May, Heaney gets to wear the same uniform as Byron Buxton on the Glendale Desert Dogs, so take whatever future grade you were going to put on the young arm and kick it up a role distinction. –Jason Parks
Taylor Lindsey, 2B, Angels (Double-A Arkansas)
Admittedly, I’ve been soft on Lindsey, even in the face of scouts telling me that this kid can absolutely hit the baseball. The numbers have been very good, especially considering the 21-year-old has spent the entire season at the Double-A level and amassed an impressive 45 extra-base hits, including 17 bombs. With a sweet stroke from the left, Lindsey has a knack for hard contact, showing the ability to smack velocity and work himself into favorable hitting conditions. It’s not a superstar package, as the ceiling might be more solid-average regular than all-star, but Lindsey’s bat is legit and it’s going to play at the highest level. I expect him to turn in a very strong performance in the AFL, and position himself as the second baseman of the future for the Angels. He gets to play on the Mesa Solar Sox this fall, which sadly doesn’t include Byron Buxton, but does feature Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell, so try to keep the complaints to a minimum. –Jason Parks
Japhet Amador, 1B/DH, Astros (Triple-A Oklahoma City)
One of my first-ever behind-the-curtain scouting experiences involved watching Amador play in Mexico City back in 2010, and sending a report to a team about the large and in charge slugger. In that report, I suggested Amador had the bat to play in the upper minors, but I didn’t see enough to warrant a major-league grade. According to a few sources, my projection might have been too low. The body is 20-grade, and that might not be fair to other 20-grade bodies. The 26-year-old is remarkably fat, and I’m pretty sure I could crawl to first base faster than Amador could run, but physical beauty aside, the ability to hit a baseball is what will make or break the player. With natural bat-to-ball ability, Amador finds a way to strike the baseball despite an awkward back leg collapse and the aforementioned physique, which makes Calvin Pickering look like an oiled up Nelson Cruz. The AFL is a showcase for Amador, an opportunity to convince the Astros (or perhaps other teams) to retain his services long-term, to believe in his bat and to ignore his body. To quote the great Kevin Nealon from SNL’s great Patrick Swayze/Chris Farley Chippendales sketch: “Barney, we all agreed that your dancing was great.. your presentation was very sexy. I guess, in the end, we just thought Adrian's body was much, much better than yours. You see, it's just that, at Chippendales, our dancers have traditionally had that lean, muscular, healthy physique – like Adrian's – whereas yours is.. well, fat and flabby.” –Jason Parks
Jorge Alfaro, catcher, Rangers (High-A Myrtle Beach)
I’ve been fawning over Alfaro since he was 16, which is grounds for public registration in most states. The dual-threat backstop is no longer a teenager, but continues his rise up the prospect ranks, emerging as perhaps the top talent on the Rangers farm. Alfaro has incredible raw power, especially to right-center, and his catch-and-throw skills create human unity on the same level as “Hands Across America.” The approach can be aggressive, and quality off-speed stuff can make the 20-year-old Colombian an exploitable target at the plate. He’s still a high-risk prospect, but the ceiling is enormous: a role 7 all-star player at a premium position if everything clicks. The hit tool might be average at best, but if the power can play and the work behind the plate continues to improve, Alfaro might eventually live up to his lofty nickname as #TheLegend.—Jason Parks
Carson Smith, RHP, Mariners (Double-A Jackson)
The 23-year-old Texas State product is among my favorite minor-league relief arms in terms of both scouting look and numbers. Standing 6-foot-6 with long limbs, Smith features two present plus pitches, whiffle ball movement on a 91-93 mph (touching mid-90s) fastball, and the ability to manipulate the velocity and break on his slider between 82-88 mph. He recently finished his season at Double-A Jackson by yielding 33 hits in 50 innings, walking 17, striking out 71, and inducing––get this––a 67 percent ground-ball rate.
Although I love Smith’s pure stuff and unique life, I’ve had my reservations about his long-term consistency. When I scouted the right-hander in April, I wrote that he’s a “high-effort slinger” while pegging him as a likely middle reliever because his “delivery may make consistent (command) difficult.” But Smith’s late-season run has put him on my must-see list in the Fall League, as I want to compare with my early-season look. The Texan went unscored upon in his final 12 Southern League appearances, giving up seven hits in 16 2/3 innings while walking three (all in one outing) and fanning 27. There’s a late-inning ceiling in the arm, and if he’s gaining consistency, it’ll be fun to watch. —Jason Cole
Video from April:
Colby Suggs, RHP, Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
Miami’s supplemental second-round pick in this year’s draft, Suggs flashes late-inning stuff with frustratingly inconsistent command. Despite his at-times knockout fastball-breaking ball punch, the 5-foot-11, 230-pound righty dipped on draft boards this spring after walking 17 batters in 20 2/3 innings at the University of Arkansas. His professional debut this summer yielded similar results; he logged 18 1/3 frames at High-A Jupiter, giving up just nine hits while walking 14 and fanning 26.
Even with Suggs’ shaky command and control, he’s yet to be seriously touched by collegiate or professional hitters. The 21-year-old prospect hides the ball well in his deceptive delivery and attacks hitters with a plus-plus fastball (sitting 93-95, touching 98) and potential plus downer breaking ball. But his delivery, while deceptive, borders on max effort and has limited his command/control profile. Suggs has the pure stuff to fly through the minors and make a quick impact in Miami, but he’ll need to refine his mechanics to enable more consistency. That’s a process that should begin this fall in Arizona. —Jason Cole
Video from March, shot by Nick J. Faleris:
Richie Shaffer, 3B, Rays (High A Charlotte)
Shaffer’s season in the Florida State League has been mixed after he made the quick transition to the professional ranks with Hudson Valley in 2012. The former first-round pick did skip a level with his 2013 placement, but the advanced approach he had previously shown has been stuck in neutral for most of the year. Outside of some streaks, consistent hard contact has been lacking, mainly due to the third baseman having trouble keeping his swing mechanics together while falling into ruts of over-pulling the ball. The 22-year-old is the type of hitter who extends early, leaving him prone to high-quality fastballs on the inner third and stuff above the thighs.
The Clemson product will get a chance to keep polishing his skills after the season ends in the Arizona Fall League. There will be adjustments needed to show his bat won’t plateau in the upper minors. A trip to the AFL serves as a good challenge for the prospect to make some tweaks to his game and show he’s capable of closing his hole against better competition. While Shaffer may always have some trouble on the inner third due to his longer arms, the right-handed hitter has the talent to do damage when he’s keeping his front shoulder square to the pitcher and his mindset on going up the middle and to right field. He won’t be able to fall back on pure talent, and must prove that the ability to adjust is part of his offensive game. –Chris Mellen
Stephen Piscotty, OF, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield)
A 2012 supplemental first rounder, Piscotty has cruised through three levels since signing, spending about a half-season at each stop and posting remarkably similar production lines with each club (Across all levels: .295/.355/.464). The former Stanford Cardinal is nothing if not consistent at the plate, routinely putting together good at-bats punctuated by hard contact. Though he is sturdily constructed, there is some question as to whether his strength and penchant for raking will eventually result in more over-the-fence pop.
At present, Piscotty excels at wearing out the gaps and shows no issue driving the ball, but he lacks natural loft in his swing and has yet to show an ability to produce the backspin necessary for his doubles to carry the wall. It’s possible the Cardinals’ development staff will help him reach his strength, and there’s enough oomph in the stick to envision average home run totals and plenty of doubles, which may be enough (along with the above-average hit tool) to make him a viable everyday option in right field. It’s the type of offensive profile that could make some noise in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League, and a strong October/November could put Piscotty on track for at-bats with the Cards at some point in 2014. –Nick J. Faleris
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