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Ben Lively, RHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
Selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Lively is making a name for himself in his first full season of professional ball, shoving it in a league where pitchers are often unable to shove it; so far in 36 innings in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League, the 22-year-old righty has missed 48 bats while allowing only two walks and 19 total hits. You read that correctly: Two walks. What Lively lacks in well above-average stuff he makes up for with his pitchability and zone-pounding consistency, using a deceptive short-arm action and a deep four-pitch mix that he can add to and subtract from and locate in all four quadrants of the strike-zone. With a 90-92 mph fastball (that can tick up to 93-94 when he needs it) with good riding action, Lively is very effective at getting ahead in counts and punishing the zone, using a sweepy slider, playable curveball, and changeup to keep hitters off balance, change sight-lines, and force poor swings.
The ceiling isn’t crazy, but the feel for craft and strike-throwing ability give him a realistic outcome as a no. 4 starter at the major-league level. In light of his early results, Lively could find his way to Double-A at some point this summer and perhaps pitch his way to the big leagues at some point in 2015. It’s still early, but this looks like a nice scouting and player developmental win for the Reds organization. –Jason Parks
Victor Reyes, OF, Braves (Low-A Rome)
We were quite aggressive on Reyes when we published our Braves prospect list this off-season, as we were the only national publication to place the 19-year-old in the top 10, a risk at the time given his limited professional record and general unknown status. But the reports coming out of short-season ball in 2013 were very strong, just as they continue to be now that Reyes has moved to the full-season level. A switch-hitter with a projectable body, Reyes has a sweet swing that is short to the ball with a good feel for the barrel. He lacks elite bat speed or prototypical over-the-fence lift, but he can really square up the baseball and spray it in the gaps, and several sources think he should develop more game power as he continues to add strength to his frame.
Reyes has a left-field profile, with a fringe-average arm and average glove, but his money will be made at the plate, where he profiles to hit for a high average with good pop, and the Bobby Abreu comps aren’t nearly as farfetched or hyperbolic as originally thought, though Reyes doesn’t possess the same type of approach or discipline at the plate. This is a pure hitter—a player who has put his bat to the ball at every professional stop in his brief career—the type we tend to underrate because the overall profile is already in a corner and the power projection is still very abstract. But at the end of the day, the natural hitters are the ones who reach and impact at the major-league level, so don’t fall victim to scouting his negatives at the expense of his strengths, especially given the quality and significance of his carrying tool. –Jason Parks
Domingo German, RHP, Marlins (Low-A Greensboro)
It’s been low and slow for German since he signed as an international free agent in 2009, as he finally reached the full-season level this year after four seasons of short-season ball. The 21-year-old Dominican has always been able to miss bats, but has slowly refined his delivery and strike-throwing ability since he escaped complex ball. He has been quite sharp so far in the Sally League, walking only five in his first 27 innings while sending 30 hitters down on strikes. From a slender and athletic physical profile, German shows a plus fastball with excellent life and an emerging bat-missing slider that projects to give him a second plus offering. Several sources see a reliever profile because of the nature of the arm, the short-burst potential of the fastball/slider, and the slower developmental progress thus far in his career, but it’s not a given that German is ticketed for the bullpen, especially if he can continue to add strength and build stamina without sacrificing the stuff and ability to harness it. Regardless of the role, German is a promising arm worth paying attention to in 2014, and if he is able to take another step forward on the mound he could emerge as a top 10 prospect in the system. –Jason Parks
Brett Phillips, OF, Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
A sixth round pick in the 2012 draft, Phillips finally made a full-season roster out of camp and has been turning heads in the Midwest League in the first month of action, hitting for average and showing an approach, extra-base pop and above-average defensive potential in the outfield. The tools aren’t crazy—except for the arm, which is easy plus and a possible a legit 70-grade weapon—but he puts together good at-bats at the plate and shows plus bat speed, which allows for more game thunder than expected. The 19-year-old Phillips isn’t a true burner, but brings football athleticism to the field, and several sources suggested he could remain in center despite speed that was more solid-average than special. It remains to be seen whether the hit tool is good enough to make him an impact talent, or if he will develop enough game power to be a threat, but it’s a very strong start for yet another promising talent from the Astros’ impressive 2012 draft class. –Jason Parks
Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
As a position player progresses into the upper minors, he provides more opportunities to see how the bat stacks up against premium stuff. I like seeing top talents square off against each other. It gives you a good gauge for how the skills are trending, along with a feel for whether there might be any issues translating those skills against higher competition. It’s tough at times to get a good sense when a hitting prospect is facing arms you know aren’t likely to advance much further.
That’s why I was really keyed in on Sanchez when he faced Aaron Sanchez recently. One particular sequence stuck out. Aaron Sanchez was dealing with his fastball out of the gate, and absolutely overpowering hitters in the process. The first matchup between the two prospects lined up as power on power. After falling behind in the count, the 21-year-old catcher saw a 95 mph fastball on the outer third. Rather than try to do too much or unleash on the pitch, he put a nice, easy swing on the ball by guiding the head with his hands, and laced a hard line drive to right field for a single. The execution and feel for the situation impressed me.
Now, it’s a small clue and there’s plenty to follow up on, but I took it as a positive marker. He has the physical ability to compete against the competition in the majors. The bat speed, hands, strength, and swing fluidity are there. It’s the development of the secondary skills in the upper minors, along with his level of engagement, that will determine whether this is a regular in the big leagues over the long run. In this instance, he showed progress with those developmental aspects, and left the impression that there’s growth to be made with continued commitment. –Chris Mellen
Michael Fulmer, RHP, Mets (High-A Port St. Lucie)
A knee injury early in 2013 caused Fulmer to miss a significant chunk of last season, and when the former first round pick did get back on the mound things were mixed. There was a lack of trust in the knee that lead to inconsistent mechanics and choppy stuff. A healthy Fulmer would have been a Top 10 prospect in the system heading into this season. In fact, we debated placing him at the back of the Mets’ list, but ultimately settled on including him in the “On the Rise” section.
Fulmer’s stuff was inconsistent in spring training and to start the year, but recently the big right-handed starter has found his groove. When finishing his delivery with confidence, the 92-94 mph fastball slices downward through the strike zone with arm-side run. It’s a difficult pitch to fully square up. Fulmer also leans on a curveball and slider, with the curve getting the higher marks thus far. The area where the righty has the most work to go is with his fastball command. Fulmer is typically around the plate, but can work too much in the middle of it and elevated. Time will tell whether the righty can full master it, but after dealing with injury and getting out of whack last season, early reports have indicated that Fulmer is starting to return to prior form. –Chris Mellen
Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP, Cubs (Low-A Kane County)
Tseng looked a bit bigger than his listed 6-foot-1, but definitely all of 210 pounds, as he was a presence on the mound last night. He possesses some characteristics from the “Far East” archetype of mechanics on the mound, especially his long pause when he takes his left foot back on the rubber, and his leg lift. However, he isn't drop and drive, and generates excellent plane toward the plate, especially on his 90-94 mph FB. Most of his fastballs were in the 91-92 range, with arm-side run and wiggle, and he loved to pound the outside corner to lefties. His changeup was the better of the two pitches last night, as he showed the ability to throw the 82-84 mph offering for strikes when he was behind in the count; the pitch showed some fade. His breaking ball had 10-to-4 movement, and worked between 73-75. It's not quite a swing-and-miss pitch yet, but flashed tight spin, and his arm slot is excellent for the pitch. Overall, the command and control profile are encouraging, and he's gaining a lot of helium in the Cubs’ system right now. There's no need to rush Tseng, as he's only 19 and hasn't been in the U.S. for very long. He's more polished than most teenagers on the mound, and has a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling. –Jordan Gorosh
For the development process of many players, one of the biggest obstacles is toning down an over-aggressive swing and learning to stay within oneself. For Polanco, the opposite is the problem. No one will ever mistake Polanco for a power hitter, and he deserves credit for knowing his game and trying to make the most of it, That doesn't mean, however, that he should resign himself to being a slap hitter.
As a first round selection in 2013, Hart was viewed as a highly athletic player who could become a sparkplug at the top a lineup. Of course, with that high athleticism often comes the “raw” label. Hart has demonstrated that both athleticism and rawness are part of his game, but he has begun to flash some of the tools that made his selection so enticing. The bat has come a long way since his arrival last season, displaying above-average bat speed, quick hands, and a balanced swing. His speed is a true threat, with clocked times to first base under 4.0 seconds. The real asset of Hart's game is the plus-plus defense in CF. He is a natural, displaying tremendous range, plus speed and terrific reads. It's a long road ahead for Hart, but the underlying tools are exciting and the end result could be something special. –Tucker Blair
Josh Staumont (Azusa Pacific University)
The last time a Divison II player was selected in the first round was when the Cubs popped Hayden Simpson with the 16th overall pick in 2010, which came as a surprise. There is a realistic chance that the 2015 draft may see the next Division II product selected in the first round, as Azusa Pacific University (Calif. ) sophomore right hander Josh Staumont has been making a lot of noise this season. Undrafted and lightly recruited out of high school in 2012, Staumont has seen steady and significant improvements to his velocity and overall stuff. In his most recent outing, he topped out at 98 mph, and he can sit in and maintain low-to-mid 90s velocity with a low-effort delivery, which should allow him to remain in a starting role at the professional level.
In his first outing of the season, Staumont threw just one errant changeup before abandoning it. Three months later, it has become a weapon, and his curveball consistency has also improved significantly. Given his rate of development and the quality of his stuff, Staumont looks to be one of the top arms available in the 2015 draft, and he will be heavily scrutinized this summer in the Cape Cod League. His performance there will have added significance, since it will be his only opportunity to prove that he can get the best college hitters in the country out on a consistent basis. –Todd Gold