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Reese McGuire, C, Pirates (Low-A West Virginia)
Back in April, I wrote that McGuire was the prospect I was most excited to put eyes on as the season opened up. The 2013 first-rounder did not disappoint in a recent three-game look, showcasing the potential to be a top-tier defensive catcher at the highest level. The 19-year-old shows impressive athleticism behind the plate, starting low and displaying quick reactions to either side on balls in the dirt, patrolling the area around the dish like a seasoned veteran. His strong wrists allow him to receive the ball with very little lateral or vertical movement. The raw arm strength is a no-doubt weapon, with a short arm stroke and an efficient glove-to-hand transfer, but the footwork is the real key to his success. He gets from his catching to throwing position quickly, firing his feet in a manner that keeps him on line with the second base bag. On offense, McGuire has a short, line-drive stroke with good barrel awareness in all quadrants of the zone, showing a precocious ability to go with pitches to the opposite field. The bat stays in the zone for an extended period, which bodes well for his bat-to-ball ability as he climbs the ladder. His raw power is below average at present and will likely be a below-average in-game tool at the highest level, but there is enough feel for the barrel to forecast good gap-to-gap pop. This is the total package behind the plate, and while the bat might take some time to develop, McGuire’s glove will likely push him through the minors and move him into discussions as one of the top pure catching prospects in the game. —Ethan Purser
Wendell Rijo, 2B, Red Sox (Low-A Greenville)
A six-figure signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Rijo is making an impression in his first trip through the Sally League. Through 88 games, the 18-year-old has slashed .262/.351/.430 with seven home runs and a very respectable 41:87 walk-to-strikeout ratio as the youngest qualified hitter in the league. Though the stroke itself is compact with plus or better bat speed through the zone and incredible wrist strength, Rijo looks to lift and separate at the plate, starting wide open and creating big momentum by utilizing a high leg kick and a stride that spans the entire length of the box. While the lower half will eventually need to be cleaned up, Rijo absolutely stings balls at present and possesses the raw ingredients for a solid-average hit tool with the ability to find the gaps with regularity. Perhaps the most promising trait the teenager displays in the box is his ability to track pitches all the way into the catcher’s glove, a skill that has resulted in a well above-average walk rate thus far. The defense at the keystone has been erratic, with questionable hands, unpredictable footwork, and a fringy arm, but the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Dominican displays impressive athleticism and range to both sides, a trait that should carry over as he climbs the ladder —barring weight gain of the negative variety, at least. Though he is raw in certain aspects of his game, Rijo is maturing into a legitimate prospect, and given plenty of time and further refinement he could blossom into a major-league regular at the keystone down the road. The bat will need to play to its potential, however, as he will be limited to second base. —Ethan Purser
Danny Burawa, RHP, Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
The big draw here is a 94-96 mph fastball, with hard arm-side run and some sink. The pitch explodes out of Burawa’s hand with plenty of life, and can be very heavy in the lower tier. In additional to throwing from a mid-three-quarters arm slot with slinging action, the right-hander works from the third base side of the rubber, and creates a lot of angle on right-handed hitters. He’s an uncomfortable look. Burawa complements his heater with an 83-87 mph slider. I like the look of the offering in the upper band of its velocity, where it shows more tilt and darting action off the table. The pitcher struggles keeping on top of the ball with his wrist, though, which leads to inconsistent snap. Burawa has some trouble starting the slider off high enough when throwing glove side to get chases, but I can see a solid-average offering at his disposal. The long pole here overall is the control. The righty’s max-effort delivery and jerkiness lead to some difficulties with repeating his arm slot. The lack of consistent strikes is a cause for concern when assessing his potential role. The raw stuff is good enough for the eighth inning, but the gap to close with his control leaves me leaning toward a middle reliever, with a chance as a seventh-inning guy. –Chris Mellen
Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)
Almora burst onto the scene in 2013 with a solid campaign in the Midwest League, showing strong hitting ability and potential as a front-half-of-the-lineup type. At the forefront of the 20-year-old’s strengths are outstanding bat control, driven by innate hand-to-eye coordination and elite makeup. The outfielder has the type of loose hands to stay inside of the baseball and barrel up a lot of offerings. It’s not hard to envision a future gap-to-gap hitter who can develop some power as he learns to muscle up and take more chances with his swing. This season has shown that Almora needs to tighten up his strike zone. He’s an aggressive hitter. A positive sign is that the prospect has a knack for getting the bat on the ball. This isn’t a wild swinger with big holes. It’s more a case of slowing plate appearances down and learning more about himself as a hitter. The latter takes some time. Short-term resistance can often be the trigger for long-term growth. There’s a chance that Almora never gets it and never takes enough steps forward, but the makeup makes him a strong bet to show large gains over the next couple of seasons. —Chris Mellen
Alen Hanson, SS, Pirates (Double-A, Altoona)
Footwork is the foundation for all three phases of the game. Whether a player is pitching, hitting, or defending, footwork plays a crucial role in maximizing raw tools. Alen Hanson is an exceptional athlete, with plus speed and a quality second gear. However, he does not constitute this athleticism quite as much at shortstop. While this is certainly not breaking any news, I wanted to discuss why Hanson has issues at shortstop.
It all begins with his ability to set his feet before the pitch. At times, he will become "stuck in the middle", as he worries about planting his feet down too early or too soon. This is often an issue with players, as you want to be balanced when the ball is hit to you. Hanson is often struggling to find this balance point, and was flat-footed or else not set when balls were hit to him. This is also a detriment to his range, and saps his natural agility and speed. His feet can become choppy and his reaction times are not tremendous. The footwork lags behind and he has trouble positioning his feet for throws. Hanson is the definition of a player with the raw skills to play a position, but the skills do not translate. Second base is likely the final destination, which will help alleviate some of the footwork troubles and help boost a fringe arm. —Tucker Blair
Joe Jimenez, RHP, Tigers (Short-season Connecticut)
A member of the Tigers' "on the rise" group this winter, Jimenez has taken a step forward in development for the NYPenn league affiliate, striking out 26 and walking only three in 17 innings so far. Signed for $100,000 out of Puerto Rico after going undrafted in 2013, Jimenez features a 94-96 mph fastball with very good life, and a potential plus slider in the low-mid-80s. His mechanics are rotational and have some effort, including an arm stab, but if he stays in the pen, that shouldn't be a problem. Last week, scouts had Jimenez as high as 100 on the gun, and it's pretty clear that he needs a full-season challenge. Jimenez likely will stay in the pen, but might end up as a high-leverage relief arm with the ability to miss bats in short bursts. –Jordan Gorosh
Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
Osuna threw one inning in a GCL game about three weeks ago and then went off the grid. After speculation spread that he was injured, it was a nice surprise to see him back on the mound in Dunedin this past Friday. The 19-year-old came out firing strikes with his mid- to upper-90s fastball, sitting easily 92-95 while topping out at 96. Not only was the velocity there, but so was the life on the pitch, which had late and heavy run to the arm side. He was moving it to both sides of the plate and for the most part was working lower in the zone, but would run it up and in to right-handed batters. Osuna also had his changeup and slider on display this time out, and both were better than I anticipated. I was expecting more rust and less feel for the off-speed stuff since he was throwing only fastballs when I saw him three weeks ago. The slider was more slurvy, and scouts that I've talked to seem split on whether this pitch was actually a slider or a curveball. Whatever you want to call it, it lacked tight spin and was flat for the most part, although he did mix in a few that showed potential for a future above-average offering. The changeup is what really got my attention. Not only was he able to locate it, but his arm speed remained quick and was able to create lots of deception. Even more impressive was the ability to add and subtract velocity on this pitch. For the most part he had it sitting 81-83, but got it up to 84 while dropping it down to as low as 74. This kind of fluctuation, mixed with with arm speed and command had batters way out front; he would then come right back with heavy 95 heat. It just isn't fair. The mechanics were still smooth and low effort and his body looked good while still sporting that thick lower half. The Blue Jays will continue to ease him back in, but this outing was very encouraging. –Chris King
Jesus Posso, C, Philadelphia Phillies (Rookie GCL)
After getting spoiled last year by Devi Grullon, the GCL Phillies might have another legit catching prospect on their hands this season in Posso. At 19, he’s older than Grullon already, but that's not going to stop me from being impressed. The Colombian backstop has shown consistent skills behind the plate to go along with a plus arm. He's been sub 2.0 all season in his pop times, getting as low as 1.83. He has very quick footwork defensively, which allows him to drop quickly and not only block balls but control them from getting too far away. While his arm is strong and accurate, Posso isn't overly aggressive with it. Still only a teenager, this kid has shown a real ability to frame pitches. His strong wrists and hands allow him to keep a quiet glove when receiving a pitch and he's very slick and smooth, bringing the mitt back toward the plate to steal some strike calls for his pitcher. On the field, I'm not sure I've seen a more vocal catcher at this level. He's constantly communicating with his batterymate and also the entire infield, showing very strong leadership abilities.
At the plate is where Posso can separate himself from the catching prospect pack. He has a chance to be an average hitter with above-average power. There is decent bat speed with a swing that has natural lift and very solid barrel control. The contact is loud and the power is starting to show up in games. He is still very pull happy, but his mechanics don't have a lot of moving parts, so a change in his approach shouldn't come with much tinkering. There is a lot to like with his overall game and profile, and even with the high risk, he's got the tools to be more than a backup at the highest level someday. –Chris King
Victor Caratini, C/3B, Chicago Cubs (Low-A Kane County)
The Puerto Rican catcher/third baseman was acquired from Atlanta at the deadline for Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell. At the plate the switch-hitting Caratini sets up with a slightly open stance, hands held at shoulder length with his feet slightly wider than his shoulder width. Caratini has a simple load and a low leg kick. The bat is quick but there isn’t much loft in the swing. The swing is easy and he replicated it from both sides of the plate. I didn’t see a ton of power projection in the bat, but I did see bat-to-ball skills and a line-drive power profile. I want to see him behind the plate more but I’ve heard that he’s very quiet behind the dish and has good catch-and-throw skills. You mix that with what I think can be an okay bat and there’s likely something more than just catcher depth here. –Mauricio Rubio
Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
It's always important to get multiple looks at a prospect in order to ensure that the evaluation isn't based on an outlier outing. After coming away impressed by an early-season look at Urias, the bar was set high when I went back to catch his most recent start. The expectation was that as the 17-year-old approached his innings limit for the year, the stuff would be a bit diminished due to fatigue. But the opposite was the case. He sat 93 to 95 mph in the first inning, peaking at 96 and showing advanced feel to the glove side and solid control on the arm side. He continued to hit 95 through his first three innings, while sitting 92 to 94 throughout his four dominant innings of work.
The changeup was yet again the most advanced weapon in the arsenal. While digging for flaws I found only two minor criticisms. First, he can get too comfortable over the heart of the plate with the pitch, relying on deception. Second, there were times when he would drop his arm slot a bit and the delivery would become rotational, causing the changeup to dart horizontally to the arm side rather than tumbling downward. That said, he consistently threw the pitch for strikes, flashing plus-plus with late tumble from the same plane and arm speed as the mid-90s fastball. Given that the target from his catcher was frequently down the middle, it's hard to fault Urias too much for throwing the pitch that was called. His curve showed big bite and depth with a lot of 1-to-7 tilt but it occasionally got sweepy. He also tended to elevate the pitch, and while he is able to get away with it due to the ability to miss bats purely on the strength of its break in A-ball, he will need to learn to keep it lower to stay out of trouble as he climbs the ladder.
Urias is advanced, not just for his age but for the High-A level. He's ready to compete at Double-A, though there's no reason to rush him there this season. He has reachable front-of-the-rotation upside and the Dodgers were wise not to trade him for a short-term boost to the big-league club this season. —Todd Gold
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