Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays (High-A Charlotte)
There were plenty of solid pitching performances over the first weekend of the minor-league baseball season, but none was quite as dominant as Snell was on Thursday against Fort Myers. Snell struck out 10 over six shutout innings against a less-than-stellar Miracle lineup, but the story of the evening was the improved arsenal—and more importantly—the substantially improved command. The 2011 first-round selection sat 92-94 mph with his fastball on an NL West scout’s radar gun, and he touched 97 with some life to the offering as well. The slider and change both flashed plus as well, with the slider being the more consistent offering, with hard tilt that can cause swings and misses from hitters from both sides of the plate.
What has hampered Snell in the past though has been his ability to throw strikes, and multiple sources told me it’s something he took great pride on working on this spring, and it certainly paid off in this first outing. More outings like this one will see his stock rise significantly, pushing him to become the best pitching prospect in the Tampa Bay system, with all due respect to Brent Honeywell and Taylor Guerrieri. –Christopher Crawford
Michael Mader, LHP, Miami Marlins (Low-A Greensboro)
April weather on the Northeast shore can be dreary and bleak. The left-handed Mader took the mound on opening night against Delmarva, pitching in a heavy mist and sub-40 degree temperatures. While the final line was ugly (0.2 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 2 K), there is more to the outing than the final result. Mader displayed the same stuff that I had seen last year while he was with Short-season Batavia. He was throwing his fastball 90-93 mph with hard arm-side run, but lacked feel and could not get comfortable on the mound. His fastball command was non-existent, and I attribute this more to the severe weather conditions than the ability of Mader. He still flashed an above-average fastball, and the slider did flash average, which were the only positive signs from the viewing. This is one of those evaluations that I am willing to overlook the negatives and allow a player to rebound, rather than making a harsh judgment on such a poor result. The development path in the minors is rarely linear, and this was a good experience for a player who has pitched mostly in Florida for his entire playing career. –Tucker Blair
Nick Gordon, SS, Minnesota Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
Nick Gordon is still coming into focus as a player. He has a skinny, high-waist frame which projects to add good weight and some strength as he ages. Defensively, Gordon has good shortstop instincts and the requisite quickness and athleticism to play the position. He catches the ball out in front and he has a strong, accurate arm that grades out as plus. He’s a good athlete and he gets out of the box quickly; I clocked him at 11.81 seconds home to third on a triple. The hit tool is abstract at present, but there is plus potential. The swing is compact and direct to the ball; he shows he can manipulate the barrel and he uses the whole field. Gordon’s approach is still immature, which is to be expected at just 19 years of age. He loves swinging and it can lead to bad contact. There’s some juice in the bat, but the swing and his height are more conducive to a fringe-average power profile at maturity. The overall package is an intriguing one: He’s a developing quick-twitch shortstop with a plus arm who teases at a plus hit tool and fringe average power. He should shoot up rankings if he can start to pull the tools together. –Mauricio Rubio
Jesse Biddle, LHP, Phillies (Double-A Reading)
After a 2014 campaign that saw the left-hander’s performance spin off the tracks mid-season—and deal with the lingering effects of a concussion sustained for a considerable stretch of the summer—Biddle enters this year at full health and out to prove he’s rounding towards getting a look at the major-league level at some point in 2015. When on, the 23-year-old mixes his low-90s fastball with a fading changeup and curveball that flashes solid depth, though the latter offering can run into stretches of inconsistent break and action. Getting more consistency out of the curve remains the main hurdle for the 6-foot-5 lefty, with his time in the Eastern League an opportunity to work on creating more consistent snap, and in the process, show that it’s a pitch trending towards being capable of getting advanced bats started early during sequences to enhance the quality of his overall repertoire. This is an arm that has lost some of the prior shine, but has also battled injury adversity that impacted development time. Look for Biddle to regain momentum, with it, it’s likely his attention will turn to facing Triple-A sooner than later. –Chris Mellen
David Dahl, OF, Rockies (Double-A New Britain)
The 2014 season ended up a bounce-back one for Dahl after he lost almost all of 2013 to injury. It was also one that saw the center fielder emerge onto the national prospect scene, thanks to his five-tool potential, along with the translation of those tools consistently into game action. It seemed likely that the 21-year-old would return to High-A after a 29 game stint in the California League to close out last year, but the organization decided that the time there was enough to push Dahl into a more aggressive placement in Double-A at the onset of 2015. A quick and efficient stroke highlights the offensive package here, with the type of loose hands to pull them inside of fastballs and also wait back to drive secondary offerings with authority to all fields. The hit tool will be in for a good test in the Eastern League, where the step up in quality of breaking balls and more mature sequencing will challenge this left-handed hitter right out of the gate. If Dahl shows that the bat is indeed as advanced as believed, it’s not going to be long before he emerges as one of the best prospects in the league, along with generating even more swell as a potential impact player at the major-league level. –Chris Mellen
Carson Kelly, C, St. Louis Cardinals (High-A Palm Beach)
I'll have more on Kelly's bat as the season progresses, as I'm likely to see him 20-30 times this year, but the early returns don't have me optimistic that he'll be able to handle premium velocity. His move to catcher, however, which is now in its second season, is going smoothly.
A converted third baseman, it's easy to see why the Cardinals took this route. His size and arm strength are optimal for behind the plate. He's got the build to handle the rigors of season after season of foul tips, but isn't so big that he can't move laterally or get low for balls in the dirt. His receiving skills are strong for an inexperienced player, with soft hands and limited movement. He moves well from behind the plate, showing good footwork fielding a bunt and throwing the runner out at first. He also threw a potential base stealer out at second, popping a time just under 2.2 seconds and right on the base. It's not Yadier Molina fast, but it's acceptable for a work in progress.
Starting from scratch has worked well for Kelly and the Cardinals, who have instilled him with strong fundamentals and footwork. The result has been a successful transition to the hardest position on the field to learn. The jury is still out on his status as an overall prospect, but there's no reason to doubt his ability to stay behind the plate. –Jeff Moore
Mitch Brown, RHP, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg)
A 2012 second-round draft pick out of Minnesota, Mitch Brown looks a tick shorter than his listed 6-foot-1 height, but every bit the 195 pounds. Brown lasted 3 2/3 innings on Sunday against a talented Potomac lineup. He pounded the zone with a 90-92 mph fastball that would touch 93 and show natural arm-side run at times. He’d flash an average curveball in the upper 70s, but too often the pitch was casted, and would spin more than it would break. He mixed in a below-average changeup at 85-86 that arrived straight and firm, with one of these getting deposited over the right-field fence for a home run. While the outing was a struggle, there was a lot to like for Brown, as he commanded the fastball down in the zone, recording six of the eight outs he got via the groundball. –Craig Goldstein
Jorge Mateo, SS, New York Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
Mateo has yet to do anything that would impress in a box score, but he’s left me with a good first impression nonetheless. After hearing reports that he was a slick but light-hitting shortstop, he had a different frame than I expected, as he has some width in his shoulders with long limbs. During BP, he showed a complicated swing, but maintained balance and moved through his swing with fluidity. More impressively, he actively sought out a coach after each round to discuss his hitting. In game action, he looks to spray the ball around with a truncated version of his BP swing. Out of the box he ran a 4.1 to first base from the right side after losing a step out of the box.
In the field his focus was apparent. He was actively shifting and peaking in at the catcher’s signs or coaches direction. His footwork getting to balls is very good, but he fails maintain that footwork on the transfer, often taking extra steps before making his throws. Most of all, Mateo impressed me with his approach to the game (a sign of great makeup). He was locked in both in pre-game work and during the game. Mateo is young, he’s athletic, and is actively learning the game. Overall, it was an encouraging first look. –Ryan Parker
Ketel Marte, SS, Seattle Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
When I spoke to scouts about Seattle prospects this winter, the name that came up the most often was neither Alex Jackson nor D.J. Peterson, but Marte. The right-handed hitting shortstop out of Nizao, Dominican Republic, has impressed scouts with his feel for hitting—with more than one scout giving him a chance at a plus hit tool, thanks to his hand-eye coordination and a swing path that allows him to hit the ball hard to the opposite field. Because of his slender—to put it mildly—frame, he’ll never put up big power numbers, though he will put the ball into the gaps, and his borderline plus-plus speed makes him a threat to turn doubles into triples and also steal 20 to 30 bases a year.
The question-mark with Marte is where exactly he fits on the field. Right now, Seattle has him playing shortstop, and while he certainly has the athleticism to play there, he may not have the arm strength or footwork. The Mariners will give him every chance to stick at the premium position, and if he can, he has a chance to be an impact player who might be able to hit at the top of the lineup. –Christopher Crawford
Dylan Baker, RHP, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg)
Coming off of a strong spring training where he continued to show major development, Baker fired five hitless, shutout innings to open the minor-league season. He struck out nine, abusing batters with a 94-96 MPH header that scraped 97. He walked major leaguer Jayson Werth while missing up in the zone in the first inning, but he didn’t allow another baserunner the rest of the way, keeping the ball down and hitting his spots with the fastball. He threw two distinct breaking balls, with the slider flashing plus but inconsistent on the whole. The curveball is a new addition to his arsenal and it looked the part at times. He didn’t throw many changeups, but did manage to sequence it in against Werth in his second at bat, catching him way out front before finishing the job with an inside corner fastball at 96 mph. At 23 years old, Baker might not be long for the Carolina League. –Craig Goldstein