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Michael Taylor, OF, Nationals (Double-A Harrisburg)
Lost beside the incandescence of his Futures Game contemporaries, Taylor was a silent star in the pre-game batting practice, showing easy plus power with explosive hips and hands. It’s hard to champion any hitter after Gallo ruined our perception of power with his cage conquest, but I absolutely loved the way Taylor generated his pop, despite a body that doesn’t identify itself as a middle-of-the-order threat; Taylor is quite narrow in the hips and long, the body of an athlete but not the body commonly associated with a 23-year-old baseball player. Since being selected in the sixth round in the 2009 draft, Taylor has flashed tantalizing tools accompanied by maddening inconsistencies and on-the-field utility. But he has taken a big step forward so far in 2014, driving the ball with more authority and hanging in against arm-side pitching. The swing-and-miss is still a concern, and I don’t project Taylor to be a plus hit utility player at the major-league level. But if he can make enough contact to put the power and the speed into the game, his overall profile will play as a regular—and perhaps a first division impact talent if he can continue to refine at the plate. –Jason Parks
Victor Arano, RHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
When Baseball Prospectus ranked Arano 10th in the Dodgers system coming into the 2014 season, the most common question was: “Who in the hell is Victor Arano and how can you possibly put him on a top ten list?” After a strong stateside debut at the complex level in 2013, and an even stronger instructional league campaign, the simple answer to the aforementioned question was: the kid can pitch. Making the jump to full-season ball for 2014, the 19-year-old Mexican righty has continued to show a legit starter’s profile, using a solid-average fastball that sits 90-92 and touches 93 to set the table, showing strong feel for a mid-70s to low-80s breaking ball (slurve) that he can manipulate, and a developing changeup that could end up giving him three solid-average offerings. With size, good present strength, feel for strike-throwing and a three-pitch mix, Arano profiles as an innings-eating arm, a profile that lacks frontline potential and prospect sexiness but that will eventually provide value at the highest level, which is all that really matters. Don’t sleep on this prospect. –Jason Parks
Daniel Norris, LHP, Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)
It starts with the heater for the left-handed starter, as the offering loosely comes out of his hand at 91-95 mph, with some arm-side run and strong late finish. I like the look of the fastball, and I like his feel for manipulating the velocity depending on the situation. This isn’t an arm that is just out there trying to throw the pitch through a wall. There’s an understanding of the craft. While Norris can stray offline and land too open, I see him able to continue polishing his delivery to enhance his command. The 21-year-old is athletic and smooth. The fastball command can reach plus. His 84-86 mph slider showed as far and away his best secondary offering. It’s a future plus offering, capable of missing bats when he pulls it glove side and causing frustrations when he sneaks it back-door. The lefty is confident using it at any point in the count.
The curveball and changeup both have gaps to close for Norris to become a true four-pitch threat. The curve flashes two-plane break and teeth, but the velocity at 72-75 mph leaves the pitch on the soft side. The lack of power allows batters to sit back and adjust to the path of the ball. Norris tends to wrap his wrist when delivering it, which restricts him from creating strong snap. I’m mixed as to whether the curve can progress to better than an average offering. He does have feel for his changeup and creates bottom-dropping action when he turns it over. Norris is inconsistent finishing it with strong wrist action though. The pitch floats too often up in the strike zone, more like a fastball he is taking something off of, but I feel he can push it to a solid-average pitch with more repetition and trust in the process. The upside here is a third starter, and I’m confident this is a big-league arm, but there’s polish needed and likely growing pains ahead. –Chris Mellen
Michael Papi, OF, Indians (Mahoning Valley)
Seeing college bats when they first transition to the professional ranks can cloud the initial read, but it’s obvious there is hitting ability here. The left-handed hitter possesses a shorter stroke with a quick trigger driven by explosive hands. This leads to strong bat-to-ball ability. Given Papi’s bat speed and efficient path to the ball, I see the swing translating well against good velocity as his experience builds. The outfielder flashes loose hands that naturally adjust to keep the head of the bat inside the ball. While the swing is a little on the flat side, he should learn to muscle up on offerings to produce solid-average power down the road. Around 15 home runs or so does not seem out of the question. This is a bat-first player, though, which puts pressure on the bat developing to full potential. The skills in the outfield are limited, and left field is the best fit. Papi piqued my interest in the first look, and is definitely a player who can hit his way to a projection as a regular. –Chris Mellen
Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, Cardinals (Palm Beach, A+)
In a weaker system, Jenkins' potential would be enough for automatic Top 10 status, but on the Cardinals’ farm it takes more than potential. Jenkins has the ideal build and body for a pitcher—tall, lean, athletic with a long, loose arm action. He's not frail, but will need to add pounds and he has the frame to handle it. His stature makes for tremendous downward plane on his fastball, which sits between 92-94 mph over the course of a start and can hit 95 when he reaches back. He throws with virtually no effort in his delivery, and should be able to gain a few ticks on his fastball if ever used in a relief role.
His fastball has the necessary velocity and plane, but the command is presently below average and holds him back. He throws strikes, but not good ones, and with only minimal arm-side run the pitch is more hittable than it ought to be, which contributes to his lack of missed bats at the moment. Still, with better command, the combination of velocity and place should make it an above-average pitch with plus potential. His slider is another potentially plus pitch, coming in at 78-79 mph and a sharp, though not overly dramatic, break. It's a power pitch that isn't going to miss a ton of bats, but will generate a ton of poor contact. His command is once again below average, routinely missing down in the dirt, but the ones he threw for strikes were present plus pitches. He just doesn't throw enough of them for strikes. Jenkins' third offering is a changeup that he throws 82-84 mph, once again with poor command. It has good fade, putting it on its way to becoming an above-average pitch, but with a long way to go.
The fastball and slider are there, but need more consistency, while the changeup remains a project. That makes a move to the bullpen a possibility, especially if he remains in a system with as many other options as the Cardinals have. Still, the potential for two plus pitches is a start that most pitching prospects don't have, and the ability to miss more bats should come with improved command. –Jeff Moore
Chance Sisco, C, Orioles (Low-A Delmarva)
If you have been following the minor-league leaderboards, you might have noticed Sisco's name a few times. He currently leads the SALLY in average and is top five in OBP. He has been able to put together such a fine season due to a short and compact swing, solid-average bat speed, and a good approach at the plate. In an entire series, I did not see Sisco try to overwork at the plate. He shows good patience and sprays the ball around the field. The hit tool is plus, and it could carry him to the majors. The reason the buzz has not been higher on Sisco is because the defense has not improved much. Sisco has a fringe arm, with pop times of 2.10 and 2.09 this weekend against Hagerstown. I have not seen the footwork improvements I had hoped would occur since my time seeing him in April. His catching career might be cloudy at the moment, but the hit tool is something to be excited about, and could propel him through the minors. –Tucker Blair
Rafael Bautista, CF, Nationals (Low-A Hagerstown)
The speedy Dominican flashed all his tools this weekend against Delmarva. He has quick hands and plus bat speed, but they take a little longer to get going than I usually like in a hitter. However, he makes up for this by using a small load. This minimizes the power tool some, but Bautista is a wiry-framed player built more for speed anyways. He hit a line drive homer this weekend, which displayed what he can do when he barrels a pitch. In the field, Baustista displays plus range and has natural instincts. He is a natural center fielder and should stick there in the future. The speed is also plus, although the high stolen base numbers come more from good instincts on the basepath rather than the pure speed. Baustista is a toolsy player, but the swing might become overmatched at higher levels because there is not extreme impact with the bat. His role could be more fourth outfielder than second-division starter. –Tucker Blair
Brandon Drury, 3B, Diamondbacks (High-A Visalia)
Drury looks heavier than his listed 190, with a filled-out frame and a body that projects as higher maintenance down the line. The swing is compact and powerful, featuring solid bat speed and strong hands. He can generate loud contact, but there's some rigidity in his wrists that leaves his barrel delivery inconsistent. Against more advanced arsenals he'll be vulnerable to rollovers and swing-and-miss. His approach is highly aggressive in the zone: he wants to hit fastballs hard, and while he has an advanced eye for tracking hard stuff his balance is quickly compromised when he doesn't get the heat. When fooled, his swing mechanics can disintegrate in pretty spectacular fashion. He’s a below-average runner who I clocked between 4.25 and 4.32 on three groundballs. In the field, Drury is a high-energy player who stalks around between pitches. He’s constantly in motion and engaged with his teammates, and presents as a player who takes his defense very seriously and works hard at it. At pitch delivery he takes an aggressive posture and shows excellent reaction time at contact. He needs that plus preparation and early recognition to help offset a below-average first step and average-at-best lateral quickness. His longer zero-to-sixty limits his overall range, particularly horizontal movement on balls he needs to charge. When he can get to the ball he’s got soft, steady hands which he showed off in the middle game of the series by smoothly barehanding a Baltimore chop and gunning down a 4.15 runner. The arm is above average when he’s behind the ball. He has the defensive tools to develop into an average major-league third baseman as an OFP, and given the work ethic I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches that top-end projection. He’s a big leaguer, but I could see the package adding up to anything from a Quad-A corner bat who occasionally runs into some power on major-league benches to a borderline first division starter. The outcome will be tied largely to his hit tool and subsequent power utility, so he’s a player we’ll learn a lot more about outside the offensive comforts of the California League. —Wilson Karaman
Conrad Gregor, 1B, Astros (High-A Lancaster)
I saw Gregor on Cape Cod a couple years ago and he stuck in my mind because he's a hulk of a human being. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was actually pushing 240, with a big barrel chest, broad shoulders, and long tree-trunk arms. He starts his hands low off his back shoulder before a pronounced load and fire. The stride is short and direct, and he remains consistently balanced in his weight transfer. His command of the strike zone is well advanced, easily the strongest aspect of his game. Raw power is an easy plus, and while the swing is long he exhibits impressive hand-eye coordination and delivers the barrel consistently on plane. Video below ends with an awkward home run hit while attempting to maintain body control on a 3-2 left-handed breaking pitch that initially fooled him. The hips stay closed and the hands back, and once he does commit he has the bat speed to recover and the raw strength to drive the ball with authority despite all-arms contact. While this one was a Lancaster "just made it" he followed it up with a no-doubt bomb on a cleaned out inside fastball in his next at-bat. In the field he's a perfectly adequate defender at first, and there's at least a chance he can develop into more. He showed strong receiving skills, digging out several balls without issue. He’s quicker and more athletic than expected given the size and body type. The power/patience combination will play, and he exhibits enough pure hitting skill to suggest potential to do more than just mash at higher levels. Lots of pressure on the bat, but he’s got a nice starter tool kit. —Wilson Karaman
Dominic Smith, 1B, Mets (Low-A Savannah)
After a chilly April, the former first-rounder has enjoyed three straight months with a batting average over .300, including .373 thus far in July. Through his first 28 games after the All-Star break, Smith has hit to the tune of .358/.400/.459, though the promising young first-bagger remains light in the power department as a general matter. While the contact has been loud and forceful, and while Savannah is renowned for stifling big flies, it is a little disconcerting to see Smith 93 games into his season and yet to put one over the fence, home or away.
There is little question that Smith’s solid approach and good feel for the barrel will help him to square up the baseball on a regular basis as he climbs the developmental ladder, and his glove work at first will add additional value above what is generally expected of prospects at the position. Still, as a first baseman, his ultimate value will be tied to his power output, and that is one area of Smith’s game that has yet to manifest in the professional ranks. —Nick J. Faleris
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