Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres (Triple-A El Paso)
On Friday, I had my first look at Hedges since he was a highly touted prospect at Junipero Serra High School in 2011, and while I wasn’t blown away, I certainly saw the flashes of brilliance that make him one of the top catching prospects in baseball. Hedges went 0-for-2 on the afternoon, but did draw two walks. During batting practice I saw an easy-to-repeat stroke that won’t ever let him hit for power, but does give him the ability to control the barrel and spray the ball to all parts of the field. Unfortunately, the Chihuahuas had him DHing Friday night, so I didn’t get a chance to see him on the field, though I did get a chance to see him show off an easy plus-plus arm before the game. A star he is not, but Hedges will be a quality starting catcher at the big-league level, and his floor is as high as any prospect in the San Diego system. –Christopher Crawford
Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles (Double-A Bowie)
In 2012, Bundy sliced and diced his way through lineups as he journeyed through the minors. The arsenal consisted of a potential double-plus fastball, plus curveball, and a plus change. It was the makings of a frontline arm, and that does not include the cutter, which was arguably his best offering. Tommy John surgery in 2013 shelved the right-hander for a substantial amount of time, missing all of 2013 and most of 2014. Last season, the stuff was decent but not at the caliber it was in 2012. The curveball lacked tight spin, the fastball lacked the mid-90s velocity, and the change was firm. While there were signs of encouragement, the return of Bundy's arsenal had yet to develop on the mound.
This weekend, Bundy looked like his old self, sans the stamina. Working in a three inning stint, Bundy's velocity consistently sat 93-95 mph while showing a heavy downward plane and command to all four quadrants. The curveball was inconsistent at 79-81 mph, but flashed the tight spin and depth that he displayed in 2012. The changeup was the most improved offering, showing arm-side fade around 85-86 mph. The change was the largest concern last season in my viewing, lacking the velocity separation and movement to provide consistent value. His cutter was used sparingly in this outing, but acts more like a slider at this point. The pitch lacks the late bite that it displayed in the past, but is still an effective offering due to the tight spin and ability to command. While his stamina has yet to return and the Orioles are taking development slow to start the year, Bundy has regained some of the steam he displayed when he took the prospect scene by storm in 2012. –Tucker Blair
Michael Chavis, 3B, Boston Red Sox (Low-A Greenville)
It wasn’t a surprise to see the 19-year-old receive a placement in the South Atlantic League given the pre-draft reports and chatter during spring training. The smoothness of Chavis’ stroke and lively hands are usually the leading topics of conversation with evaluators, along with where on the diamond this prospect is going to end up in the long run.
Because of those first two attributes, the Georgia native can really square up a baseball. There’s a distinct sound and look when the infielder puts the ball into play. Despite somewhat of a slow start out of the gate, expect Chavis to show that he’s more than capable of handling A-Ball pitching as his level of comfort starts to grow. It’s only a matter of time before the offensive talent really starts coming to the forefront, though his progress picking up high-quality breaking stuff bears watching and will help tell us where this bat is against more experienced arms.
Though Chavis saw time at shortstop soon after signing, the thinking has always been that a move to either third or second at the onset of his career was going to happen. Early returns at the hot corner have shown that the instincts are there, along with fluidity in his actions and lightness on his feet. The prospect does need work with his angles and staying square to the ball. It’s a work in progress, but the chance exists for things to click. –Chris Mellen
Jairo Labourt, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays, (High-A Dunedin)
A lot of eyes have been on Labourt since he came into season ranked sixth in the Blue Jays system, ahead of guys like Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna. He's known to have a well-rounded, three-pitch arsenal with a plus fastball, a changeup that has a lot of potential, and a slider that’s shown flashes of being another above-average pitch. The 6-foot-4 lefty drew the Opening Day start for the Blue Jays High-A affiliate in Dunedin and I was there to see to him put on quite a show.
Labourt came right out and attacked hitters with a fastball that sat easily 93-95 mph while touching 96 multiple times. He had solid command of the heater for most of his 5 1/3 innings, moving the ball too all quadrants of the zone and regularly changing the eye levels of opposing batters. On top of the mid-90s velocity, the fastball also displayed late life and was even more electric when located down in the zone. He did a solid job of working to his glove side and keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate. To mix things up, Labourt was throwing a very deceptive CH in the 86-87 mph range that was also his go to pitch when he needed to miss bats. Maintaining quick arm speed added even more deception to this pitch and he was able to throw it for strikes. It was the best changeup I had seen from him and it gave batters all types of trouble, especially left-handed hitters. The mid-80s slider wasn't as impressive, and he didn't throw it very often, relying mostly on a FB/CH combo for most of this outing. His second start of the year was not good. Reports I got from those who were in attendance said the velocity was down a few mph and his control was erratic. I'm hoping this was just a blip on the radar, but moving forward, Labourt will need all three pitches to work on a consistent basis if he wants to maintain success as a starter in the upper levels of the minor leagues. –Chris King
Austin Meadows, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates, (High-A Bradenton)
Meadows is a guy who certainly looks the part with his 6-foot-3, 200-pound body, but has had mixed results in his young career. The former first-round pick has a reputation in the scouting community for getting beat too easily by average velocity and having the best calves you'll ever see. I saw both of these firsthand in his debut season while he played in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. What I saw from him the past two nights in Bradenton has given me much more hope and belief in his development.
Batting leadoff for the Pirates High-A team in Bradenton, Meadows showed a more patient approach and a willingness to use the entire field. The bat speed looks quicker, his swing was much shorter and took a more direct path to the ball allowing him to square up the ball on a consistent basis. The contact was loud in almost every one his at-bats and he just missed two home runs, one to deep center field and the other to deep right. The at-bat that really stood out for me was an absolute rocket he hit into left field for a single. The short swing and barrel control he displayed during this at-bat was as good as I've seen from him. Meadows was also sporting a more disciplined eye at the plate and an unwillingness to expand the zone.
Defensively, it was a quiet couple of days for him. On the balls that were hit in his direction, they were mostly of the routine variety, but he did show the ability to take charge patrolling center field on a ball hit into right-center gap. If Meadows is going to commit to using the whole field like he showed me on this look at him, he has the tools and natural ability to be on the verge on a true breakout season. –Chris King
Jake Bauers, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays (High-A Charlotte)
Acquired this offseason in the deal that sent Wil Myers to the Padres, the Rays may have found themselves the everyday first baseman they've sought for so long. Of course, in the case of the 19-year-old Bauers, the culmination of everyday coming to fruition still won't be for two or three years, and the journey to that point is littered with developmental obstacles. For starters, he's limited to first base defensively as a left-handed thrower. He's athletic enough to pass in left field, but there's no plan to explore that option at the moment. He's also undersized for a first base-only option at just 6-foot-1, though he has a good frame and already sports thick, well-developed legs. Those legs provide a solid foundation for his best asset, his bat. His swing is already quite refined for his age, starting with his hands high but lowering them slightly as he loads. His swing is smooth, staying in the strike zone throughout its duration as it ascends slightly. He sports above-average bat speed that leads more to doubles production at the moment, but could one day lead to average power. At the plate, he has a smart, advanced approach for a 19-year-old, displaying patience until he gets his pitch, but a willingness to attack it once it arrives.
It will take a lot of patience, dreaming, and good fortune for Bauers to actually turn into the everyday first baseman he has the potential to be, but being 19 and not overmatched by the Florida State League is a good start. He's not a star, but he could be a regular contributor. –Jeff Moore
Rowan Wick, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (High-A Palm Beach)
An athletic combination of size and skill, Wick shows flashes of potential all over the field. A strong, well-built, left-handed hitter, Wick shows off above-average bat speed that helps him generate good power to all fields. The ball carries off his bat, with one instance registering 104 mph on the in-park Trackman system on an opposite field double. What holds Wick back is his pitch recognition, as some of the more advanced breaking balls of the Florida State League have given him trouble thus far. He has a plan at the plate and looks to attack fastballs, so if he can adjust and learn to better identify breaking pitches and stay away from them, he could do enough damage to justify a corner outfield spot. On defense, his best asset is his plus-plus arm, which he unleashes quickly and accurately. It's the kind of arm that gets scouts attention during the monotony of the middle innings.
The overall package for Wick is intriguing, especially if he can find a way to unleash his raw power more consistently against better pitching. –Jeff Moore
Luke Jackson, RHP, Texas Rangers (Triple-A Round Rock)
Wednesday's outing perfectly encapsulates Jackson's high-minor’s career thus far: plus stuff, loose command, underwhelming results, and a relatively early exit. The 2010 supplemental-round pick has a live arsenal which garnered 11 swings and misses in four innings
sandwiched hot-dogged between four walks. It’s not that the right-hander was downright wild, but he was failing to attack with his fastball—a pitch that could be a potential plus offering in part due to the plane he generates with a high front side and linear delivery. Jackson has feel for the mound, and can run his heater up to 97 when he needs it. Typically working 90-92 mph with a two-seamer that has arm-side run and life down in the zone in addition to a 93-96 mph four-seamer, it’s not a surprise that high-minors hitters swung through the pitch five times. And since this performance took place at altitude, it’s important to take some of the lack of sharpness and depth on Jackson’s breaking balls with a grain of salt. He uses two separate breakers: a vertical slider in the 82-85 mph range, and a high-70s bigger-breaking curve. The changeup was the best of the secondary offerings, coming in between 80-86 mph with good arm speed and fading action, creating a very nice separation from his fastball.
The former hot-dog first-rounder is certainly not short on ability; and Jackson supporters will cite his arsenal, makeup, competitiveness, and feel for the mound as a potential no. 4 starter, but fastball command may push him to the bullpen where his current weakness is not as paramount. –Jordan Gorosh
Grant Holmes, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
Sometimes as an evaluator, you have to read between the lines—making it even tougher to project a player’s future. For instance, Grant Holmes threw 90 percent fastballs in his most recent outing, leading to a few hard hit balls and a handful of runs allowed. If the 6-foot-1 right-hander was given free rein to sequence his pitches, I doubt he’d have given up more than two or three hits. Yet at this point in his young career, refining fastball command is more important than striking out 12 Low-A hitters. Holmes worked from 91-94, touching 95 mph with the fastball if he needed it. His delivery is simple and effortless, although the aforementioned command was loose in this particular outing. Weirdly enough, the right-hander was able to spot the ball on the inner part of the plate to both lefties and righties, but struggled to hit the glove on the outer half. He was trying to be too fine, instead of letting his fastball overpower inferior hitters. As well as a potential plus fastball, the South Carolina native offers a sharp 82-84 mph slider, and has feel for a mid-80s change, although he was not asked to throw it often. Holmes is very solidly built through the chest, in addition to having thick legs—so while the body doesn’t have any projection left, there isn’t much strength needed to withstand the rigors of 200-plus innings. It should be interesting to see how the 2014 first-rounder is handled only one year removed from high school, but the ingredients are there for a major-league starter or high-leverage reliever. –Jordan Gorosh
Jeff Brigham, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
When you get right down to it, bringing in an arm like Brigham's to relieve Grant Holmes in a Low-A game against inexperienced hitters can be seen as a jerk move. Brigham cocks his delivery slowly before exploding at batters with a lightening quick arm. He came in and started pumping gas, working comfortably in the 94-96 range, and touching 97 towards the end of his stint. The fastball has life and creates an uncomfortable at-bat for opponents. With further refinement of command, the fastball can become a plus offering. He backs the fastball up with a slider that has sharp 10-4 movement in the low 80s. Brigham flipped a few cement mixers in there as he doesn't always finish the pitch. The offering is inconsistent at present, but the base is there for a plus pitch. The fastball and slider work well in tandem and are solid building blocks towards a potential future as a solid late-innings arm. –Mauricio Rubio