Throughout March, the BP Prospect Team is invading both Arizona and Florida to get some fresh looks at players as they prepare for their 2015 assignments. Between now and the start of the minor league season, they’ll be providing updates (and videos) on the prospects you know and love—and quite a few that you may not.
Notes From the Field:
Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Some evaluators had concerns about Gray's future when dissecting his profile for the 2013 draft. Thus far, the right-hander's development has not been linear, as it seems he's taken three steps forward and two steps back. Our internal write-ups on his progress have been glowing, but some scouts that I've spoken with recently have been a bit more bearish on the former second-overall pick. These reviews are not necessarily knocking the guy, but the feedback was more 'low 3, high 4 starter' or 'I put a role 5 on him' than the front-of-the-rotation tag associated with his selection. With all that in mind, it was exciting to watch him face a major-league lineup—if you're willing to grant such a status to the Diamondbacks at present.
Gray is a big dude, standing every bit of 6-foot-4, 240 pounds with a sturdy frame. Eating innings will certainly not be a problem. After reviewing his video from college, he's made some mechanical tweaks—namely throwing much more across his body. The batter can almost see both numbers on his jersey before foot strike. This may lead to problems with glove-side command, which Gray certainly struggled with during the outing. In fact, he had trouble with command in general, leaving many fastballs up and out over the plate in the first inning. Hitters were feasting on the offering. He allowed hits to the first three batters and four of the first five. Gray's velocity was in the 92-95 range, mostly 3s and 4s, which is a slight tick down from his college days. The fastball was flat when elevated, but when he located it down in the strike zone, especially to the arm side, the pitch looked much better. His touted slider makes a hasty left turn about 30 feet from the plate—a two-plane breaker in the 81-85 mph range. It wasn't its usual preposterous self, flashing mostly plus as opposed to downright nasty. That pitch is his pacifier and the Rockies know it, so the last 18 months have been an exercise devoted to tempering its usage while making him work on the changeup. This has paid off, as the change went from unusable as an amateur to potentially big-league average. He has feel for the offering, even throwing it to right-handers with some arm-side tumble. The advent of this new pitch will help Gray turn over lineups while keeping hitters honest.
I'd lean toward the more conservative scouts sentiment, although there's nothing wrong with a quality No. 3 starter. The arsenal has taken a small step back, with the slider not quite as sharp as it was in college, and the fastball velocity backing up a tick. The changeup should help mitigate some of these concerns, but missing bats in Coors is paramount. Gray will go as far as his fastball command and consistency of the slider will take him. –Jordan Gorosh
Lewis Brinson, OF, Texas Rangers
Athleticism runs a fine line in the development of a baseball player, with the term “raw” often thrown at players demonstrating extreme athletic talent but not piecing their ability together yet. Brinson is one of those players who is still in the process of lessening the gap between the raw athleticism and the projections, but the finished talent could be special. After watching three days of the gazelle-like outfielder, it's hard to not fall in love with the potential profile.
The tools displayed during batting practice are loud. His plus bat speed and plus raw power are easily noticeable, with the ball flying off his barrel with extreme ease. Brinson's long limbs provide great extension, although he does drop his shoulder and elbow at times, and the hands also move around too much for my liking. So while the extension is great for reaching low and/or outside pitches, it diminishes the success rate when his top-half mechanics are inconsistent. He doesn't always make hard contact because of this. However, his medium stride and load mesh well with the torque from his hips, and the overall swing generates a ton of force when he makes sufficient contact. I thought the lower half was cleaner mechanically than reports from last season. It's easy to see why Brinson strikes out at a high rate, but I don't believe it's going to seriously affect the overall profile in a drastic manner. During my time watching him on the backfields, he was able to spray the ball around the field, and the approach he displayed was better than anticipated. While he was susceptible to same-side fade, it was the only instance where I saw Brinson over-matched. His pure athleticism on the bases (11.73 on a triple, 4.23 on a home to first) was electric, and his legs do not take very long to kick into top gear. Overall, it was an impressive showing for Brinson. He's not close to the majors, but the improvements for hitting his projection are not unrealistic after what I saw in the past week. –Tucker Blair
Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds
In watching Winker hit over the course of a day, my eyes couldn’t help but be consistently drawn into his extremely lively and loose hands. There’s plenty of natural feel for the barrel as a result, along with an ability to stay inside of the ball to square up with authority. The 21-year-old ran the gamut in terms of flashing how well those hands work covering all four quadrants of the zone during this look, first pulling two rockets against inside fastballs, and then ripping a hard line drive the other way after waiting back nicely against a heater on the outer third. In each instance Winker also displayed an efficient path to the ball while creating solid extension through the zone, especially when turning on the ball. There is some wildness in the left-handed hitter’s swing that bears watching, which shows when he attacks breaking balls. Presently, the Florida native tends to gear up heavily for fastballs early in the count, with a tendency to commit to swinging that leaves him a bit prone when a secondary offering is delivered in this situation. Winker’s success at higher levels, and ultimately beyond, should rest with learning how to further slow things down at the plate to manage sequences better against the rising quality of arms. –Chris Mellen
Keone Kela, RHP, Texas Rangers
Kela is built like an ox, with a sturdy and tall frame conducive for a power reliever. The big righty features a large drop and drive, along with plus arm speed and extension to explode his fastball at the batter. Kela generated a solid plane on his 95-96 mph fastball, which he used to strike out the side against the A’s Triple-A squad. He also displayed a hammer curveball, showing tight rotation at 81-84 mph. The 11-5 offering was buckling the knees of batters, and mixes well with his plus-plus fastball. Kela also displayed a hard change at 87-89 mph and a split change at 82 mph, both showing average. The only refinement Kela needs in his arsenal is his command, which, if he can get to average, could turn him into a shutdown reliever in the back end of the Rangers’ bullpen. –Tucker Blair
Orlando Calixte, SS, Kansas City Royals
Calixte has been on the prospect radar since 2012, and his status may have reached its peak in 2013 when he was ranked at No. 10 in a very strong Royals’ farm system. The 23-year-old shortstop struggled in 2014, but in my viewing of him it became increasingly clear what drew high praise a couple of seasons ago. Calixte has good bat speed and he’s a fluid athlete. He also displayed good actions at short and the arm plays at the left side of the infield. However, while there’s natural strength in the profile—showing good pop for a shortstop—his main deficiency is a tough one to overcome. Calixte’s swing gets long and he gets overly aggressive at the plate, which will likely put a damper on his potential hit and power tools. He isn’t a future star, but there’s still enough talent there for Calixte to eke out a utility role—an outcome the Royals would surely take at this point. –Mauricio Rubio
Victor Gonzalez, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Signed out of Mexico two years ago, the lefty has a thick frame which lacks projection. Gonzalez showed a successful rookie campaign in the AZL during the 2013 season, but struggled mightily last year in the Pioneer League. He has a smooth delivery with little exertion, but has average arm speed and little torque or drive. As a result, his pitches lack oomph and the 89-91 mph fastball becomes hittable. The two-seam fastball has heavy arm-side movement, which does help to diminish the amount of hard contact. Gonzalez also flashes a below-average change and curveball, both needing serious refinement before he is able to tackle higher levels. On the positive side, he displays pitchability on the mound and has present average command of his arsenal. While the stuff may not be electric, Gonzalez could profile as a backend starter type if he can tighten the curveball and repeat the release points on his changeup. –Tucker Blair
- To have an impact on the Dodgers, Darnell Sweeney is going to have to hit, because his glove isn’t good enough to warrant regular playing time on its own. He demonstrated unrefined instincts in the field again last week, looking helpless on a hard one-hopper to his left. He got a poor jump on the ball and eventually tried unsuccessfully to stab at it on its way to right field, a textbook example of letting the ball play him. –Brendan Gawlowski
- Jeimer Candelario had an abysmal season last year, but in my viewing he displayed ability to pull his hands in and manipulate the barrel enough to spread the ball around the field. The swing has improved since the initial reports I had received. –Tucker Blair
- Eloy Jimenez peppered the ball in multiple viewings, making loud contact up the middle. The projectable body and raw tools are certainly intriguing if he can settle down some of the inconsistencies at the plate. –Tucker Blair
- Travis Jankowski had one of the worst at-bats I saw all spring. He tried to bunt twice and then took a called third strike on a fastball right down the middle. Confidence is notoriously unstable, but Jankowski appeared lost. –Brendan Gawlowski
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Moreover, there's no uniform answer here. It's likely that some pitchers require more upkeep on certain pitches, while others can shelve something for months at a time and pull it out immediately. Hyun-Jin Ryu asked Josh Beckett how he threw his curve, and broke it out in his next game, effectively. Most can't do that but it's a spectrum and pitchers are all over it.