Hitter of the Night: Billy McKinney, OF, Cubs (Myrtle Beach, A+): 2-5, R, HR, BB. McKinney has been overlooked within the Cubs farm system since joining their ranks last season because his tools don’t scream as loudly as those of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, or the newly promoted Addison Russell, but in most systems, a player who just completed a successful season in High-A ball as a 19-year-old would be near the top. Now 20, McKinney is back in the Carolina League after being promoted aggressively before the 2014 season, and has now managed to appear in all three High-A leagues within a 12-month span. McKinney’s best tool is his bat, and he has the chance to hit in the .290-.300 range in the big leagues. A simple swing and strong approach, McKinney doesn’t hit for a ton of power but makes up for it with a strong feel for the barrel and high contact rates. With the inevitable depletion of the Cubs system due to graduations, McKinney should be getting a lot more attention as the season progresses, as well as an eventual promotion to Double-A.
Pitcher of the Night: Jaime Schultz, RHP, Rays (Montgomery, AA): 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K. Schultz doesn’t get the recognition that his numbers would suggest because he’s an undersized (5-foot-10) right-hander working primarily with a two-pitch repertoire. Those two pitches, however, both have the potential to be plus offerings, and he misses bats at extraordinary levels for a starter. His size and some control issues may preclude him from remaining a starter, but a boring two-seamer and a power curveball are working just fine for him thus far.
Best of the Rest
Nick Gordon, SS, Twins (Ceder Rapids, A-): 3-3. The son of Flash and a first-round pick (fifth overall) last year, the Twins aggressively promoted the 19-year-old shortstop to full-season ball to begin the season. Our own Mauricio Rubio, Jr. saw him last week and said of his bat:
“He has a compact swing, excellent plate coverage and has the ability to go to all fields.”
That’s a good start for a 19-year-old, especially when you factor in athleticism and bloodlines (in addition to his father being a former big-leaguer, his brother Dee is the Marlins second baseman). Gordon could struggle as he adjusts to pro ball and advanced pitching, but the tools are there to be a talented shortstop, and he’s holding his own thus far.
Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Braves (Gwinnett, AAA): 8 IP, 3 H, R, BB, 9 K. The Astros refused to give up on the “Folty-for-starter” campaign, and the Braves are drinking the Kool-Aid as well. There are a lot of reasons to keep giving the tall right-hander chances to work as a starter, given that his upper-90s fastball puts his ceiling in the front half of a big-league rotation. The present-to-future gap, however, is still large, and that gap is strictly the result of a lack of fastball command. He still allows far too many free baserunners, though Monday night is a good example of what can happen when he doesn’t. The Braves are right to keep trying, as he’s only 23 and there is little to lose. If they need him as a reliever at any point, the transition should be simple. In the meantime, he’s just a phone call away from the majors for any role.
Tyler Goeddel, OF, Rays (Montgomery, AA): 3-3, 3 R, 2 3B, 2 BB. Goeddel feels like he’s been around forever, in part because he has. In his fourth season as a professional, however, the supplemental first-rounder from 2011 is still just 22 and is in Double-A for the first time, showing off more power thus far than his track record would suggest he can maintain.
Wilmer Difo, SS, Nationals (Potamac, A+): 2-4, R, 2 2B, SB. Difo broke out in a big way last year for Low-A Hagerstown, and is off to a similarly hot start this season in the Carolina League. There was some concern that he was feasting on younger competition last season, but as our own C.J. Wittmann saw first-hand on Monday night, the tools are loud:
“Role 6 at peak, 7 run. Stood out. Sneaky pop, plus bat speed and contact skills from left side. Two 2B’s to RF, one down line, one to gap.”
It’s an impressive combination of tools for Difo, who has split time at second base in the past but wasn’t doing so out of necessity and has the ability to remain at shortstop long term.
Nick Pivetta, RHP, Nationals (Potamac, A+): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K. Pivetta is an intriguing young arm in a great, projectable pitcher’s frame, but the stuff is more of a back-end starter than that of a mid-rotation guy.
#Nationals Nick Pivetta FB 91-94 T95(2x); downhill. Arm-side sink in lower velo band. CB 73; soft. Broke Starling's bat w/ 95 on outer half.
Despite the velocity, Pivetta doesn’t miss a ton of bats with his fastball. The movement is good, but not elite. Coupled with a mediocre curveball, it makes for a back-end profile (though he does have a more impressive slider that he’s not using at the moment in deference to the development of his other pitches).
Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets (Binghamton, AA): 3-4, R, 2B, K. After tearing up the Florida State League in the first half of 2014, Nimmo struggled after a promotion to Binghamton. An incredibly patient hitter, Nimmo found himself down in the count far too often against pitchers who threw more strikes and he struggled to adjust. He’s still patient, and his ability to get himself into hitter’s counts is what allows him to get away with just average bat speed, but he’s working towards finding the line between patience and passivity. If he can make the proper adjustment, he profiles as an everyday leadoff man.
Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Corpus Christi, AA): 2-4, R, HR, K. Correa is venturing dangerously close to “I’m out of superlatives” territory here at the update, and is now hitting .355 as a 20-year-old in Double-A. Had he not missed time last season due to injury, and if the Astros were competing for anything this season, you might see Correa getting a big league call-up this week as well. As it stands, he’s going to need another challenge in a month or two because clearly Double-A isn’t providing him with one.
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Blue Jays (Lansing, A-): 2-5, 2 R, HR. Don’t let the 30th-round status fool you, Tellez was highly sought after coming out of high school in 2013 and the Blue Jays paid him as such ($700,000). A member of the all-name prospect team, Tellez is a massive human with massive power and in-game application issues. As our own Chris King pointed out earlier this spring, he’s improved his body and conditioning, two important signs for a 20-year-old. He’s going to hit for power, but as a first-base only player, there is a lot of weight riding on the bat.
Justin Nicolino, LHP, Marlins (New Orleans, AAA): 6 IP, 3 H, R (0 ER), BB, 5 K. Nicolino doesn’t wow scouts due to a mediocre fastball, and there are real concerns about a player who misses as few bats in the minors as he has. But it’s impossible to argue with the results, the success of which stem from impeccable control of multiple pitches, Nicolino absolutely pounds the strike zone and keeps hitters honest with a plus changeup. It’s not a sexy profile, but it’s also one that could lead to 15 years of quality back-end starts.
Fight Another Day
Maikel Franco, 3B, Phillies (Lehigh Valley, AAA): 0-5, BB, 3 K. Franco is talented, but he’s an incredibly streaky hitter thanks to his propensity to swing at everything. He’s not the savior to the Phillies dismal lineup that many hope he will be, but he’ll be an upgrade when he gets there because he has some power and puts the ball in play and because the bar has been set so low.
Jesse Winker, OF, Reds (Pensacola, AA): 0-5, 2 K. After tearing up the California League for the majority of last season, Winker struggled in a brief Double-A stint at the end of 2014 and hasn’t quite figured out the new level yet this season. He’s a polished hitter for 21, with strong contact skills that don’t require a sacrifice of power. No reason for concern just 29 games into his Double-A career just yet.
Jonathan Gray, RHP, Rockies (Albuquerque, AAA): 5 IP, 10 H, 5 R, BB, 6 K. Gray is looking more like a mid-rotation guy than the rotation-leader the Rockies thought he was going to be when they drafted him, but three games into the season, the Rockies just want him to get somebody out. He’s been atrocious thus far, allowing both hits and walks at levels far too high for a player of his caliber.
Notable Pitching Performances
- Marco Gonzales, LHP, Cardinals (Memphis, AAA): 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K.
- Michael Mader, LHP, Marlins (Greensboro, A-): 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K.
- Blake Snell, LHP, Rays (Charlotte, A+): 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 3 K.
- Nick Kingham, RHP, Pirates (Indianapolis, AAA): 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R (2 ER), 0 BB, 6 K.
- Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds (Pensacola, AA): 5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 9 K.
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