Alex Jackson, OF, Seattle Mariners (Low-A Clinton Lumberkings)
Jackson was viewed as the best prep bat in the 2014 draft as his polish and power potential won over both draft pundits and the Seattle Mariners, who selected him sixth overall. Jackson is off to a slow start in his first full-season assignment, but even as he struggles it’s easy to see what people liked about him. He has a muscular build and a thick lower half. The build comes with the potential for bad weight, so he’ll have to keep up with the conditioning. At the plate, Jackson sets up with a slightly open stance and his hands away from his body. There’s some pre-swing noise with his hands, but he quiets it down once it’s time to load up for the swing.
The power hasn’t manifested itself in game action just yet, but Jackson’s plane and plus bat speed produce the type of loft and backspin that inspire hope that plus power will come. The power plane works as a double-edged sword as it does lessen the hit tool potential. Jackson’s swing path doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error, as his bat doesn’t stay in the hitting zone for too long. He loves to get his arms extended and can’t quite get to the hard stuff up in the zone yet. It’d be easy to hang a below-average hit tool on Jackson for those reasons, but I think it can get to fringe-average levels. He does have strong wrists, displayed some aptitude for the strike zone, and has enough bat speed to learn how to cover his main weakness up and in. In the field, Jackson has just enough foot speed for the outfield and a strong arm that pulls together a right-field profile.
The Mariners were aggressive with Jackson’s assignment this year, so the early season struggles aren’t too surprising. He’s struggling now, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that Jackson will overcome it and start producing. –Mauricio Rubio
Jose Rondon, SS, San Diego Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore Storm)
It was my first live look at Rondon, and while there’s still work to be done, I saw enough over the two-game stretch to suggest that he could be an everyday shortstop in the next two to three years. His swing is built for contact, short in the zone without much load, but with enough bat speed to suggest at least an average hit tool—maybe even more as there’s so little swing-and-miss in his game, thanks to outstanding hand-eye coordination. There’s no chance for power here, and add in the fact that his ultimate destination is Petco Park and it wouldn’t shock me if he only contributes a handful of homers a year.
Where I came away most impressed is with the glove. He read the ball off the bat very well, and the arm is above average with some carry to it. He’s only an average runner, so any loss of athleticism moves him to the other side of second base, but right now, I see a potential regular at a premium position, one who could even hit at the top of a lineup. –Christopher Crawford
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)
It was not my first live look at Bellinger, though it was easily the best I’ve seen the young first baseman look. He’s posted an OPS of .866 in the admittedly friendly hitting confines of the California League, but what I saw this weekend suggested that he’s not just another guy taking advantage of the league. I saw four average-to-above-average tools on display, led by a hit tool that has a chance to be plus with above-average bat speed and quality balance throughout the swing. He’s still growing into a 6-foot-4,180-pound frame and he’s improved his plane, though it’s unlikely he’ll ever be your prototypical first baseman, because there just isn’t much loft in his swing. He’s a quality defender at first with an above-average arm, and he’s a solid athlete with fringe-average speed as well. I don’t see everyday-first-baseman upside, but he has shown significant improvement every year in the system, and I do think he has a chance to contribute to a big-league roster at some point. –Christopher Crawford
Tom Murphy, C, Colorado Rockies (Double-A New Britain Rock Cats)
Following a lost season that saw him play in only 27 games with Double-A Tulsa in 2014, Murphy will play this season as a 24-year-old back in Double-A for the third time, needing to re-affirm himself as a top prospect. He has gotten off to a blazing hot start, ripping a .364/.453/.655 line in his first 16 games, giving hope that he may still become the viable everyday catcher the Rockies have long envisioned. In one look last week, Murphy showed many of the qualities that made him a rising star in the organization two years ago, including fringe bat speed in a lengthy swing that generates above-average raw power thanks to impressive strength.
Murphy was solid behind the plate, demonstrating good hands and minimal drift. His arm strength is noticeably off from the easy plus grades he previously received; grading more as an average tool than plus or better. His throws still maintained good accuracy and he has a chance to contribute behind the plate. The big question remains just how much Murphy is going to hit, and in my look last week I could see the potential for high-level pitchers to exploit him with velocity in the strike zone and by keeping pitches in on his hands. Murphy needs much more than a hot start to the 2015 season to challenge for the starting catcher’s job in Colorado in 2016 and beyond, but the type of roaring start he has embarked upon certainly can’t hurt his chances. –Mark Anderson
Ramon Torres, SS, Kansas City Royals (High-A Wilmington)
Positional value is a large factor in determining a player’s worth. The ability to stick up the middle is valued higher on the defensive spectrum; which is exactly where Torres profiles. The 22-year-old Torres showed above-average range at short, displaying an adept ability to move to his glove side and plant his feet for a strong throw to first base. He displayed efficient reads on ground balls and displayed smooth hands that allowed for quick transfers on throws. The overall profile is that of a player capable of performing at an above-average level at shortstop, with a little juice in the bat. While the bat is certainly limited with below-average bat speed and a lack of raw power, he displays moderate barrel control and laid down multiple bunts that were masterful. While it is exciting to sit on a series and watch players who are surefire big-leaguers, it is also interesting to watch and evaluate players such as Torres, who show enough ability to potentially stick as a utility option in the future. –Tucker Blair
Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
My first opportunity on the young season to zone in on the 22-year-old outfielder created a rather mixed initial picture, but also left some definitive areas for following up on as things continue to heat up. First and foremost, Nimmo’s ability to control the strike zone and willingness to grind through plate appearances clearly stand out. There’s a strong understanding of his strike zone, with instances of needlessly expanding few and far between. The left-handed hitter is almost patient to a fault, at times being too passive early in sequences leaving him forced to protect later in the count after letting pitches in good spots pass for strikes.
Balancing his grinding style with instances of being selectively aggressive will be something that I’ll be extremely interested in focusing on the next time around. I feel it is a key development point in order for Nimmo’s hit tool to push to average to better, along with enough consistent hard contact to show against high-quality arms. The bat speed here isn’t of the premium variety, and also suffers a bit when the prospect goes into a protecting or defensive mode, so finding that balance is pretty big for me to project him as a regular at the big-league level for an extended period of time. –Chris Mellen
Reese McGuire, C, Pittsburgh Pirates (High-A Bradenton Marauders)
Developing catchers is difficult. We often get strong defensive catchers with poor bats or good hitters who either shouldn't be catching or are moved out from behind the plate in order to save their offensive production. McGuire, on the other hand, is a catcher all the way, and one with a chance to hit as well. With the size and build to handle catching, McGuire is not just a capable defender behind the plate, but a potential weapon. He combines a plus arm with strong footwork to flash elite pop times. I, and scouts around me this weekend, had him between 1.76-1.8 on a stolen-base attempt, putting him around 70/75 on the scouting scale as a thrower. That's enough to shut down any running game.
While McGuire's defense is a relative sure thing, his bat will need to grow over the next few years, but also has potential. He uses a fundamentally sound, left-handed swing with a compact load to spray line drives from gap to gap. He doesn't look to drive the ball with any authority at this point, but he has the swing and strength to do so as he grows into his offensive game. It doesn't profile as an impact bat, but the bar for offensive production behind the plate is incredibly low. If the hit tool ends up reaching its potential, it could take him from everyday catcher to potential all-star. –Jeff Moore
J.T. Riddle, SS, Miami Marlins (High-A Jupiter Hammerheads)
Riddle won't wow you with tools, but extended looks show consistent production both at the plate and in the field. A tall, lanky, left-handed bat, Riddle uses a short, compact swing and line-drive approach to make consistent contact. He doesn't work terribly deep into counts, but he does embrace the lead-off mentality and puts together good at-bats. He won't hit for a ton of power, but does project to have good gap power for a middle infielder and doesn't strike out much. He's thin and could still stand to add a few pounds, but his wrists are stronger than they look.
In the field, Riddle has the range, hands, and arm to handle shortstop, though he won't be a game-changer there. He has the arm for any position on the infield, and the hands and range to handle all three, and has rotated between all of them in the past. He's playing shortstop every day in Jupiter this year, but his future is as a left-handed bench bat. With moderate pop and the versatility to play multiple positions, he could bring value to a team in the right role. –Jeff Moore
Mike Papi, OF, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg Hillcats)
The third of three 2014 first-round picks by Cleveland, Papi has gotten off to a slow start in his professional career. He slashed .178/.305/.274 in Low-A Lake County last season before being placed in High-A to open 2015. Things haven’t gotten better from a performance standpoint, as Papi was slashing .135/.250/.173 entering Sunday’s double-header. Over three games, Papi has shown a professional approach at the plate, refusing to expand his zone despite being in a rut. He’s been beaten by velocity at times, but showed the ability to make solid contact with low-90s heat, as well. Papi has enough feel for the hitting that he could sport an above-average hit tool down the line, but even when he barreled the ball, there wasn’t much oomph behind it. Without the ability to make pitchers pay for their mistakes, the utility of the hit tool is going to play down. Papi showed a fringe-average arm from left field, but often the throws had too much arc, costing him some zip. He ran a 4.41 on a dig, so while he’s not necessarily a detriment on the basepaths, he won’t be contributing much there either. Given the left-field profile, there’s a lot of pressure on his bat to succeed. It’s early in his career, but it’s looking more and more like fourth outfielder/platoon bat is his future, rather than everyday player. –Craig Goldstein
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Cleveland Indians High-A Lynchburg Hillcats)
Popped 17 picks ahead of Papi, Kyle’s brother Bradley has taken to pro ball like a fish to water. Every bit his listed 6-foot-4 frame, Zimmer has room to add weight as he matures physically. He has a wide base that appears to play into a contact-heavy approach, as he doesn’t involve his lower half much in his swing. He does well to spoil pitches when he’s behind in the count, allowing him to take advantage of mistake pitches later on. He’s an asset in the field as well, showing off a plus arm that held runners multiple times in my viewing. A lesser arm might have meant two Wilmer Difo triples, rather than doubles on Sunday (4/26). The bugaboo at this point is power. He has a high elbow that drops only slightly during his set up, likely costing him some power production as there is little lift in the swing. While the home runs have been there (four on the season), he laced his first double on the season in his 16th game, so it’s not all roses in that sense. The overall profile is extremely impressive, and while there’s no doubt some bias here, after watching him go 6-for-10 with a walk in 11 plate appearances, the ceiling appears to be a first-division player who can contribute on both sides of the ball. –Craig Goldstein