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Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis)
No prospect has more hype around his impending callup than Polanco. The Pirates have defended themselves against accusations of service-time manipulation by saying Polanco hasn’t met on-the-field developmental checkpoints. After viewing Polanco in a two-game sample, it is quite clear that the Pirates’ concern about his major-league preparedness has some foundation in reality. In right field, Polanco showed major rawness in his footwork, tripping over himself multiple times pursuing balls in the gap, and showing improper fundamentals charging grounders, raising up too soon and trying to throw before he received the ball. At the plate, he showed both the good and the bad, displaying the loud contact he is known for but also an extremely fastball-heavy approach that is susceptible to off-speed pitches. The raw tools are certainly there for Polanco, but additional polish is needed in order to make him a consistent threat at the major-league level. –Ethan Purser
Albert Almora, CF, Cubs (High-A Daytona)
After taking in Daytona's series against Bradenton, I came away impressed with Almora—even though he didn't rake like he has lately, there was still plenty to like. At the plate he's patiently aggressive: Almora knows where he wants the ball and when he sees a pitch in his zone he lets his bat eat. The bat speed is above-average and his swing gets into the zone quickly and stays level. There aren’t a lot of moving parts before the swing. His stance is open and sports excellent balance. His hands and head are very quiet throughout the entire swing. His pitch recognition skills are advanced. This kid is able to recognize spin quickly, which allows him to make some very nice in-bat adjustments. Throughout the entire series he only had one bad at-bat, which came against another top prospect, Tyler Glasnow. Almora chased three elevated fastballs at the letters or higher—pitches he had no shot at catching up to. It was rare to see him get that aggressive at pitches out of his zone.
He's got an athletic frame that has room to add more muscle. He is an average runner and this has some questioning his future ability to stay in center. From what I saw, I think there is a legit chance he can stick there. What he lacks in natural speed, he makes up for with excellent reads off the bat and sound routes to the ball. There were a few balls smoked into the gaps that he was able to cut off, holding the batter to long singles. Almora's arm also impressed. He unleashed an absolute laser from the right center gap on a line to home plate. His release was quick and the throw was not only of the plus variety, but accurate too. Overall, he's a fun kid to watch. –Chris King
Alexander Reyes, RHP, Cardinals (Low-A Peoria)
Rated one of the best teenage arms in baseball coming into 2014, Reyes' stats don't tell the full story of his arsenal. He's certainly bigger than his listed weight of 185, probably by 20 or so pounds, and stands at 6-foot-3. Reyes has big, thick legs, a large butt, and is a physical presence on the mound. He averaged ~94 mph throughout the start, and was mostly 93-96 with the fastball. Only one pitch registered above that, a 97 mph exploding fastball on the inner black after he gave up a home run. Reyes has minimal fastball command at present, but the pitch featured plane and arm-side run, especially down in the zone, and generated swings and misses up in the zone. The curveball started out as a 10-4 pitch, with two plane movement, but ended the start as a 78-80 mph 11-5 hammer. He could throw it as a strike a bit slower, or as a chase offering harder, especially down and away to right handers. Reyes also showed feel for a change at 83-84 with arm-side fade that generated some swinging strikes. Overall, the command profile still has plenty of ironing out to do, but the pure stuff is that of a no. 2 starter; it's electric. —Jordan Gorosh
Jochi Ogando, SP Mariners (High-A High Desert)
After an unsuccessful and aggressive four-start assignment in the Double-A starting rotation (after not starting a game in all of the 2013), Ogando found himself trying to right the ship in High-A. Ogando is a large man—6-foot-5 in the mid-200s with big, broad shoulders and long levers. He uses his whole body in his delivery, whipping his arm through a long process to delivery. The arm speed is fast, but the crossfire delivery paired with a low three-quarters arm slot led to well below-average command and control with all his pitches throughout the game. He missed arm side and high one inning, and yanked a couple fastballs into the dirt in the next. The fastball was crisp, between 92 and 98 mph, sitting 94-96. The changeup played well off the fastball early, with decent dive roughly 10 mph behind his heater. He also has two different breaking ball looks—one more of a slider, thrown around 81-84 with good horizontal break, and another with two-plane break at 78-79. Both flashed, but weren’t very consistent and couldn’t put anyone away. Ogando is an interesting prospect with projectable stuff and good size, but the command is well below average and it limits the effectiveness of his arsenal. He’s young and starting now, which is understandable because of his deep tool shed, but the bullpen seems to be his most reasonable destination. –Chris Rodriguez
Joe Ross, SP, Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
The first thing you notice about Ross is his athletic body and perfect size (close to 6-foot 4 and 200). He creates a tough plane from a ¾ slot; it’s almost impossible to square a fastball low in the zone. It’s a dream body, with projection, strength, and grace. Reports have his fastball touching 97 mph, but he was only 91-93 in this look with a little run to the arm side. And while the delivery is clean and easy, he struggled repeating and had problems with his pace throughout the game. He fought himself, unable to finish and follow through to get the ball down. Ross’ slider was loopy, with a little horizontal movement but not much bite or bat-missing ability; there were command problems, too. He went mostly to his changeup in tough spots to keep hitters off balance and it flashed plus with dive and arm-side run. This wasn’t the sharpest start for Ross and it highlighted several things he needs to work on. His delivery is simple and the arm is fast, but the command was lacking throughout and led to lots of pitches elevated in the zone. His go-to breaking ball was thrown with good velocity, but lacked the horizontal bite to miss bats. Due do his size and projectability, I’m willing to chalk it up to a bad day at the office. It’ll say a lot about his makeup the way he bounces back in his next start. –Chris Rodriguez
Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
The last time I saw Swihart his left-handed swing was considerably off. The switch-hitter was pulling his shoulder off the ball and opening his hips early, which caused his typically fluid stroke to yank through the zone. The majority of the results were balls beaten into the ground toward the right side or lazy popups carved off without much behind them. His lack of balance was also noticeable. In my latest look, the 22-year-old’s swing was crisper. Swihart’s shoulder stayed square toward the pitcher during his stride, and his weight transfer was smoother as well. The ball came off his bat with jump up the middle and to right field. He showed the ability to muscle up on a pitch in his spot with loft and carry.
This is a prospect who continues to show definitive progress with his hitting skills. I see him being capable of hitting in the .280s during his peak. The quick hands and pitch recognition skills are there. He’s also more than willing to use the whole field, with a sweet spot for driving the ball into both gaps. While the power numbers will never be gaudy, Swihart has been growing into some and he’s going to continue to. A projection of 15 or so home runs annually is reachable. Most importantly, this is a player who demonstrates strong makeup. There’s drive to get better at his craft, and an ability to make adjustments against rising competition. I see a regular here. –Chris Mellen
Francellis Montas, RHP, White Sox (High-A Winston-Salem)
Montas is the definition of a power arm. The right-hander’s fastball routinely registers in the high 90s and overpowers the best of hitters. It’s a pitch that absolutely explodes out of his hand. I’ve never been big on Montas’ chances for sticking as a starter, because of the effort in his delivery and lack of overall looseness. My feel has been that the delivery is more conducive to repeating in shorter stints. Recent reports have indicated, though, that Montas has made progress, getting looser and more balanced. The righty’s improved fluidity enables him to finish better when throwing his heater, and to locate it more consistently down in the strike zone. While I still see the ultimate path leading to the bullpen, strides with his pitching mechanics are a positive overall trend. This is an arm to keep an eye on as he progresses into the upper levels. –Chris Mellen
Chi Chi Gonzalez, RHP Rangers (High-A Myrtle Beach)
When I first saw Chi Chi late last summer, I was enamored with the physical presence and pitchability. Things and prospects change, but Chi Chi hasn’t. He’s got a thick lower half and durable, healthy upper body that could withstand the longevity of a MLB season. His mechanics are clean and repeatable—he generates plus arm speed as his hips and shoulders rotate in unison. His stuff separates him. His fastball sits 91-95 with a plus command profile. He manipulates the pitch like a 10-year veteran would, and one could call it a three-way pitch; arm-side ride, downhill flat and cut. His slider is a major-league out pitch that sits 85-88 with good shape and hard-biting late break with tilt. His command of the pitch and the pitch itself both project to be plus at the highest level. Gonzalez throws his changeup with the same arm motion as his fastball. It can be anywhere from 80 to 85 and his arm slot allows him to produce arm-side sink. He can stay around his changeup grip and cut the ball in the lower velocity band. He loves throwing it away to lefties, and it projects to play plus at the highest level. Lastly, he has lately shown a change-of-pace curveball at 77-80 that features 11-5 shape with some depth. I initially didn’t see it as a weapon, but as more of a show-me pitch. But after getting multiple looks in different counts and sites, it projects major-league average. I see a solid no. 3 starter for a long time. –C.J. Wittmann
Dariel Alvarez, CF, Orioles (Double-A Bowie)
The Orioles have recently began to explore the Cuban market, signing outfielders Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez. While Urrutia received more buzz with his signing, Alvarez might end up the more valuable player in the long run.
Alvarez struggled in his nine-game stint with Double-A Bowie last season, hitting .194/.219/.290 and showing an elongated swing with plenty of noise. This season, Alvarez has lessened the noise in his hands and has a much quicker path through the zone. The results have been noticeable, with Alvarez hitting .342/.353/.568 with nine home runs through 48 games. The most impressive feat has been his ability to stick in center field. I was hesitant on this trial before the season, but Alvarez has shown average ability to play center field, with a plus-plus arm. This has been a huge boost in his value. His main issue is the inability to pick up spin, which has been very noticeable at times against prospects with plus secondary offerings (such as Detroit's Corey Knebel). Unless Alvarez can improve in this area, he will be a free-swinging outfielder with pitch-recognition issues. His ceiling is likely that of a fourth outfielder. –Tucker Blair
Dixon Machado, SS, Tigers (Double-A Erie)
The 22-year-old Venezuelan has never shined in the spotlight. Heading into his sixth season of professional baseball, Machado has never produced an OPS over .700 and will likely never produce a season like that in the future. However, Machado does one thing: play excellent defense. He has displayed instincts in the field, while showing his range to both sides. He is an easy plus defender, with a cannon for an arm. When I last saw him in Bowie, he made a few plays in the hole that most shortstops would eat, but Machado made the insane throws from the deep hole for the outs. His footwork is impressive and he is smooth around the bases. While his ceiling is a role 4 utility player, he is a useful option to have in the system for depth. Players like Machado don’t get much recognition, but they are key cogs and help support those minor-league arms as they progress through the system. If he ever hits at all—which is very unlikely—it will only be an added benefit. –Tucker Blair