Dalton Pompey, CF, Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
During the offseason, Pompey’s name was in the running for the Jays top 10 list, and after falling short of that distinction he was in the running (but not chosen) to be named a prospect on the rise in that organization. The omission is our mistake—and a foolish one at that—as the 21-year-old outfielder has blossomed into arguably the top position prospect in the Blue Jays organization, a toolsy dream of a player who is finally healthy and putting the pieces together on the field. A relatively unknown 16th-round draft pick in 2010, Pompey has struggled with injuries, most notably a broken hamate bone, but he has always flashed the promise, especially the plus-plus speed (and plus-plus baserunning) and defensive chops in center field. A switch-hitter at present, Pompey is superior from the left side of the plate, with a quick to-the-ball stroke and gap pop. While he’s far from a finished product—the right-side bat can look like a mess, with poor balance and bat control, and the defense in center is still more raw athleticism than crisp reads and routes—the step forward in 2014 is legitimate, and if Pompey can stay healthy, he should reach the Double-A level at some point during the season and emerge as a nationally recognized prospect. –Jason Parks
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis)
The stage was set for Polanco’s very own hype machine to gain tremendous steam at the outset of the 2014 season. If it weren’t enough that Polanco hit .285/.356/.434 across two levels in 2013, including a solid showing as a 21-year old in Double-A, the Pirates outfielder went to the Dominican Winter League and raked. After a .331/.428/.494 line with five home runs and 10 doubles in 44 games, Polanco ranked as the no. 2 prospect in a strong Pirates system. After that, the hype was rolling in and Polanco’s .402 average and 12 extra-base hits in 22 Triple-A games has only continued to build the anticipation for his arrival. Over the last few days, I have asked multiple veteran scouts about Polanco. After explicitly asking them to identify the fatal flaw that could hold Polanco back, each struggled and could come up only with handling same-side breaking balls; each of them even cautioned that this amounted to nitpicking. Polanco has all the tools to be a future star alongside Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen in the Pirates outfield, and at this point, it is becoming difficult to temper expectations ahead of his major league arrival. –Mark Anderson
Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers (High-A Myrtle Beach)
Gallo’s prodigious raw power has been well documented since he signed with the organization, and the 38 home runs launched in A-ball last year showed that the 20-year-old third baseman knows how to lift the ball. The swing features max extension and a ton of leverage, which serves as the trigger for his huge raw as well as the area of concern for his hit tool. It’s a double-edged sword.
A typical batting practice session from Gallo features plenty of majestic drives landing over the fence, but the young hitter doesn’t just stand in the cage trying to yank balls over the wall. I was impressed when first seeing the prospect with how he approached his practice sessions, using the whole field and showing an aptitude for his craft. This is a player with a feel for the game. The chatter this month has indicated that Gallo is very relaxed in the box, doing a good job keeping his weight back before unfolding with his swing, and showing some improved selectiveness. There were plate appearances last year when he was very overzealous getting his weight going, and he seemed to be swinging for the sake of swinging. It’s very early in the year, but Gallo’s made an initial adjustment, with success following. Positive results can be a very strong reinforcement. I’ll be very interested to see what happens when the league’s pitchers begin to make countermoves, but my feel says Gallo has taken a good first step toward learning from last season. –Chris Mellen
Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins (High-A Fort Myers)
Young pitchers with advanced stuff can get into stretches of being able to walk through opposing lineups with similar sequences because they are just better than the competition. It was likely a positive in the long run that Berrios wore down toward the end of last season. Why? It forced him to pitch down in the zone more, while also highlighting a key developmental need for the 19-year-old: improved stamina. As good as Berrios’ 92-95 mph fastball, hard breaking curveball and fading changeup can be, they lost some shine when the right-hander hit the wall last year. Not uncommon for arms in their first professional season.
Despite the step up in competition for him this season, I see Berrios being able to adjust well to the Florida State League. Though the prospect might hit some inconsistent stretches, the raw stuff should more than handle opposing lineups. The big thing to watch for is his stamina. If Berrios again experiences a noticeable decline deeper into the season, some of the concerns about his size will get a little louder. It’ll be an area of interest, and a strong factor for whether the prospect can develop into a mid-rotation starter. –Chris Mellen
Eugenio Suarez, SS, Tigers (Double-A, Erie)
In a barren system like Detroit's, Suarez tends to shine more than he would in a deeper system. However, it does not come without merit. Some believe he will not stick at shortstop, but I have seen enough now to think it is feasible. Suarez has a legitimate 60 grade arm and has displayed throws from both sides. His range is perhaps only average, but the arm makes up for most of those deficiencies, and he has soft hands and quick feet. I am particularly impressed with how he works around the base. At the plate, he has minimal power but displays quick hands and ability to pull them inside and handle high-end velocity. His ability to pick up spin off the pitcher's hand is another trait that should not be overlooked. While he won’t be a star at the position, there will be enough to provide some second-division value. –Tucker Blair
Nick Williams, OF, Rangers (High-A, Myrtle Beach)
When most discuss the Rangers and their Myrtle Beach club, they usually think of Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro first. However, Nick Williams has the best hit tool of all three and should absolutely be in the conversation with them. Williams displays tremendous hand control and the ability to barrel the ball. Add this to his plus-plus bat speed and extremely underrated power tool, and you have a player worth keeping a close eye on. The power comes from a combination of bat speed, ability to barrel up, and a small lift in the swing. While a free swinger (30-plus strikeouts already), his ability to barrel everything is something that cannot be overlooked. This is a player who could have a 5 power, 7 hit future. My only concern is where he plays defensively, as he is rather adventurous in center field. He displays a fringe-average arm, which might not play well at the corner outfield spots. Regardless, Williams will hit, and he might hit a lot. –Tucker Blair
Tony Kemp, 2B, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
A couple weeks ago I wrote that Kemp’s “actions and instincts at second base need some work.” After multiple looks, Kemp has proved me wrong as he has done nothing but impress at the position. He range has been excellent to both directions. In one game, he ranged a couple steps to his left and made a sprawling catch to snatch a line drive ticketed for right field. In another game, he sprinted up the middle and made a feet-first slide while scooping the ball, popping up and gunning the runner out at first. His arm strength is fringy, but the range he possesses allows him to make plays that an average second baseman couldn’t get to. He doesn’t have much power, but his swing is designed for contact and he has plenty of bat speed to catch up to a good fastball. His eye has impressed as well, walking 15 times to only nine strikeouts so far this season. I can see a utility future for Kemp, one that allows him to play second and all three outfield spots while providing bat-to-ball skills and quality defense. While not a sexy outlook, every team needs a Tony Kemp. –Chris Rodriguez
Mark Appel, RHP, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
In Appel’s last start, the 22-year-old sported an 88-91 mph fastball that simply lacked explosion out of his hand, allowing the opposing lineup to square up the offering with ease. It was my first look at Appel, but the arm looked slow and he seemed to be laboring. Houston’s tandem rotation in High-A may have played a role in the velocity dip, as the routine of throwing every four days (instead of once a week, as in college) might could have been a shock to Appel’s system. The good news is the advanced secondary offerings were present, especially the low-80s changeup that missed bats throughout Appel’s 10-out start. It has been anything but the smoothest of roads for Appel in 2014, and the Stanford product is now heading to extended spring training for a few weeks before going to High-A or Double-A, which would be the more likely assignment of the two. —Ron Shah
Josh Hader, LHP, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
As a former 19th round draft pick, Hader doesn’t get the same recognition as some of his fellow teammates on a loaded High-A roster featuring multiple first round choices. That is to no fault of the recently turned 20-year-old, who is posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of seven in the hitter-friendly California League and developing just fine. Hader is a unique southpaw, throwing from the low three-quarters slot while working from the extreme third-base side of the rubber. None of Hader's offerings is overpowering, but there’s plenty of deception in the delivery that allows each of them to play up. Just ask Leo Rodriguez, who swung at a pitch that hit him for strike three. Hader's strengths are also his weaknesses, however, as he can lose his arm slot and struggle to repeat his mechanics for five innings or longer. —Ron Shah
Teoscar Hernandez, CF, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
With high-end draft picks Mark Appel and Carlos Correa currently on the shelf for what was recently one of the most prospect-laden clubs in all of the minor leagues, Teoscar Hernandez finds himself as the main attraction at the moment for the Lancaster JetHawks. He doesn't look entirely out of place in the role either, as prospects of his caliber typically would qualify as the big dog on most clubs in affiliated ball.
Hernandez brings a lot to the prospect table. The combination of above-average present speed (evidenced by home-to-first times in the 4.2 range) and above-average bat speed with remaining projection makes him a very interesting prospect. His frame projects for continued strength gains, giving him the potential to develop his raw power to its near plus ceiling. The question going forward will be how well that power will translate given his contact ability, which is currently being challenged at the age-appropriate High-A level. Hernandez's approach is aggressive, and he frequently lengthens his swing to attack the baseball. He has the physical tools to accomplish that goal, though his walk rate will likely remain low for as long as he continues to either check-swing or swing at every pitch.
On defense, he combines above-average speed with the necessary skills at this stage in the development curve to translate into quality defense in center field, despite possessing slightly below-average yet playable arm strength. From a raw tools standpoint, Hernandez possesses the upside of a first-division regular if everything clicks, though he seems to profile more realistically as a fourth outfielder/second-division regular. This type of profile would qualify Hernandez as one of the better prospects in many systems. —Todd Gold