Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks)
At just 20 years old, Correa has a presence on the field more impressive than one would expect, and as the first overall draft pick in 2013, there’s a lot expected. In a four-game series against Frisco last weekend, Correa hit .421, including two doubles and two homers. He shows good plate coverage with the swing, punishing pitchers for anything near the heart of the plate, and was only occasionally fooled.
Correa historically has walked at a higher rate than the eight percent in a small sample that he’s shown this year, but with the consistent hard contact against Double-A pitching that he’s shown so far, he hasn’t had much reason to take. While Correa’s currently striking out at a higher rate than he has in previous seasons, nothing in the sample I saw suggests that this is more than an early-season aberration, and his feel for hitting should assert itself in the numbers soon. Listed at 6-foot-4, and weighing 210 pounds, Correa certainly towers over the average shortstop prospect, but has an extremely quick first step and the arm to make plays from all over the infield. The Astros have had a long way to go from the laughingstock of baseball to hopeful contender, but the potential shown by Correa will help them stay there. –Kate Morrison
Ozhaino Albies, SS, Atlanta Braves (Low-A Rome Braves)
The word that first comes to mind to describe Albies’ overall game is “loose.” The 18-year-old shortstop has quick, loose hands at the plate. He has a soft glove and loose actions in the field. He’s even loose and easygoing in the clubhouse, with outstanding makeup and an approach to the game beyond his years.
Albies shows feel for both sides of the plate, though he looks a touch more natural from the left side. He has excellent bat speed from quick hands to the zone. He can bail out of his swing at times by not finishing and settling for the soft ground ball, which results in poor barrel authority. Power will never be part of his game, but the swing projects for a lot of contact, and it’s easy to see why some are already prepared to slap a potential 6 on the hit tool.
I might be a little higher than most on Albies’ defensive profile, but he impressed me greatly over a recent series to the point of giving him plus-potential marks across the board. He has a natural feel for shortstop and should easily stick. The future potential is a first-division player. –David Lee
JaCoby Jones, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates (High-A Bradenton Marauders)
What stands out most about Jones is his exceptional athleticism. The actions on the field exude the coordination and quick-twitch reactions of a man significantly smaller than his 6-foot-2 frame. That athleticism doesn’t translate to the smooth, natural baseball actions we’re used to seeing, but his hand-eye skills allow him to get the job done in a number of instances without the aesthetic form we prefer.
Jones is playing shortstop at the moment, though it won’t be his long-term home. His athleticism gives him the necessary range, but his arm is below average for the position. He can make the routine plays, but he doesn’t have enough to make the throw from the six hole. Third base could be an option, where the routine throws are shorter, but he’d struggle to make the backhand throw there as well. He could play either in a pinch, giving him some utility versatility in the future; however his best home will either be at second base or in the outfield.
The swing is similarly unorthodox, starting closed with a wide stance and moving open to start. The swing can get long which will cause him to swing and miss some, but he makes up for it with plus bat speed. The path needs to be shortened, but his natural skill helps him make up for his lack of refinement. He struggles with recognition of breaking balls from right-handed pitchers, which will ultimately limit his utility and could force him in a platoon role.
There are flaws in Jones’ game, but his size/speed combination is intriguing. His versatility in the field, pop at the plate, and speed on the bases could make him a valuable role player in a Sean Rodriguez/Justin Turner/Mike Aviles type of mold. –Jeff Moore
Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
I’m pretty big on first impressions. First impressions can ultimately decide my love or hate for all things. I’ve played with and watched many first-rounders over the years, and a lot of the time their first impressions have been mediocre at best. As I sat at the Corpus Christi Hooks-Frisco Roughriders matchup a week back, a pitcher I’ve never witnessed before came in relief from the bullpen. I looked at the roster and found the pitcher to be an unassuming 6-foot-2 right-hander, pretty much a standard size among organizational pitchers, named Lance McCullers. I then noticed he was a first-round pick of the Astros back in 2012. So, immediately based upon experience, I thought to myself “alright kid, show me something,” and show me something he did.
Four innings of utter dominance and tenacity entertained me. McCullers was attacking the Frisco hitters and the strike zone pitch after pitch. With a fastball range of 94-97 mph and slider that left knees either buckled or broken, I sat and watched with jaw wide open. McCullers’ line at the end of it all was four innings pitched, four hits, one run (zero earned), no walks, and nine strikeouts. The stuff was there, a 70-grade fastball with 70 slider; two big-league bullpen ready pitches. His changeup was a little hard for my liking (89 mph) but was more of a show-me pitch than anything, something to keep hitters honest. His mechanics were fluid and easy, and he loaded up his backside well, getting all he could out of his frame. His arm was quick and whip like, showing me he stays very loose throughout his delivery.
What impressed me the most was his plan of attack and purpose with each pitch, identifying weaknesses in hitters’ swings and taking advantage of them. Pitchers often give hitters too much credit and deviate from their plan, but McCullers never did. With a bulldog-type mentality and a “you can’t touch my stuff” attitude, I came away thoroughly impressed by this first-rounder. I’m honestly surprised he’s still in Double-A at this point as I’m of the mind frame that organizations should promote consistent, hot arms like his. Who knows, if the Astros maintain the battle for the top of the AL West, McCullers could be an easy and worthy addition down the stretch. –Colin Young
Preston Tucker, OF, Houston Astros (Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies)
A muscle of a man at 6-foot-0, 215 pounds, Astros outfielder Preston Tucker is having his way with the Pacific Coast League. Through 21 games, the Florida product is hitting .329/.376/.671 with 11 extra-base hits. He reached three times in his first two games in Tacoma this weekend, belting his ninth homer of the season on a pitch that he didn’t even square up Thursday night.
At the plate, Tucker stays balanced and works with a violent swing that produces plenty of power. He isn’t particularly adept at finding the barrel—I wonder if he’d benefit from toning his swing down by about five percent or so—although he has enough bat speed, natural strength, and loft in his swing to do damage even when he doesn’t make perfect contact. He’s average in the field, and he has a strong enough arm to play in right, although Fresno has used him more in left this season. Tucker isn’t a quick runner, but he’s heady on the bases: on Friday, he stole his first base of the season, timing slow-to-the-plate Forrest Snow perfectly and swiping the bag with ease.
While Tucker currently leads the PCL in homers, Astros fans hoping to see him in Houston soon should pump the breaks. The left-handed slugger is still learning how to barrel advanced breaking pitches and despite his improving plate discipline, Tucker is still prone to expanding the zone too often. One scout I spoke with acknowledges both the developmental road ahead and Tucker’s ultimate potential to impact games with his bat, saying, “He’s still chasing too often, and big-leaguers will exploit that. But he’ll hit.” –Brendan Gawloski
Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox (MLB)
While Swihart could still stand to benefit from some seasoning on both sides of the ball in Triple-A, the 23-year-old backstop has been presented with an opportunity to show he can handle the duties of a regular catcher during Ryan Hannigan’s stint on the disabled list. Once a concern for me way back when he signed with the organization, the glove has come a long way for the New Mexico native over the course of the last three seasons to the point where he’s about an average defender at present, with a good chance to round out as a plus one at full bloom. Though not built like a traditional catcher with a super thick lower body, Swihart’s body has steadily packed on muscle since he was a skinny 18-year-old. Despite the physical transformation, he’s maintained the athleticism that has always enhanced his overall game, especially in regards to how he moves and reacts behind the dish.
We don’t know how long Swihart will stay with the big club and whether the plan will be acquire someone with more experience so he can continue to refine his game at Pawtucket, but I fully expect the youngster to be able to hang behind the plate. The makeup here grades high, with the way he goes about his business on the field and approach to the game sticking out as a big positive. Sure, there could be some awkward moments or plays for the rookie, but it’s all part of the learning process, and the experience logged, whether it’s a few games or stretch of weeks, will go a long way towards leaving Swihart with the impression of what exactly he needs to do to be successful in the long-run at the big-league level. –Chris Mellen
Austin Wilson, OF, Seattle Mariners (High-A Bakersfield Blaze)
Austin Wilson has been a personal favorite since he was a senior at Harvard Westlake High School in Los Angeles, and despite the many warnings throughout the industry, I believed he was the steal of the 2013 draft. After a personal viewing this week, the industry might have been right.
Wilson once oozed athleticism—and he’s still a decent athlete despite his massive stature—but the athletic swing that he possessed as a prep at one point in 2014 was nowhere to be found. There was some head movement and he didn’t stay balanced, and that, along with slowing bat speed, makes it difficult to project even a fringe-average hit tool at this point. The size and ability to transfer weight still give him a chance to hit for power, but the flat plane (no, he doesn’t suffer from the Stanford swing, his one saving grace) bring it from plus-plus territory to plus, maybe even just above average.
He’s still a decent corner outfielder with a strong throwing arm, though he’s not going to remind anyone of Jayson Heyward in right. What was once a potential middle-of-the-order bat now looks like a situational player, and that’s pretty disappointing. –Christopher Crawford
Tyler Marlette, C, Seattle Mariners (High-A Bakersfield Blaze)
While Wilson didn’t impress over the weekend, Marlette did, though it comes with the caveat that there’s no reason he should be in High-A at this point in his developmental stage. Marlette has hit for average at every level since being taken in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, and it’s easy to see why, as his swing has little wasted movement with good plane and decent bat speed. He also has excellent barrel control, which allows him to go with the pitch and hit the ball hard to the opposite field. There’s also solid-average power potential in his right-handed bat, though the in-game swing didn’t have the same kind of loft and weight transfer he showed during batting practice.
While Marlette certainly has the offensive upside to be an everyday backstop, the defensive profile is still a work in progress, to put it mildly. He’s not a great receiver and his below-average athleticism along with an only average arm and below-0average footwork make him more detriment than asset when it comes to shutting down the running game. If he can become even a below-average defender he’s got a chance to start for someone behind the plate, but as is, I see an offensive-minded backup. –Christopher Crawford
Cole Tucker, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates (Low-A West Virginia Power)
The Pirates raised a few eyebrows when they selected Tucker in the first round of the 2014 draft, and turned some heads with an aggressive assignment for the 18-year-old shortstop. The wiry-framed Tucker has a high waist and long legs, which correlates with the belief that there is plenty of overall projection left. During their series with Hagerstown, Tucker displayed his box of tools. In the field, you can see why the Pirates are high on him, as he displayed efficient range to the hole and a quick transfer from his glove. His hands are very smooth presently, although the footwork will need to be refined some before he is consistently able to make use of his quirky throwing motion. Overall, the defense left me with a positive feeling, and I think there is a chance for Tucker to be an average or better fielder at the position.
At the plate, Tucker displays barrel control from both sides, with the left side currently more slap-happy than drive-happy. He displayed plus bat speed and quick hands through the zone, and the ball jumped off the bat more than I was expecting for a player that is so wiry. The Pirates may have been aggressive with their assignment of Tucker, but the results on the field will begin to turn more heads than the assignment. –Tucker Blair
Victor Reyes, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks(Low-A Kane County Cougars)
Victor Reyes was acquired from the Braves for a draft pick this past offseason, and his early performance at Low-A has been impressive. Reyes’ body is highly projectable; he’s a high-waisted player with square shoulders and skinny legs. Reyes is really fun to watch in the batter’s box as the hit tool is his carrying tool; he has an advanced feel for the barrel and plus-plus plate coverage. He repeats the swing well from both sides, but he’s shorter to the ball from the left side. The bat speed is average and above average from the right and left sides respectively. Reyes makes hard contact, but he’s a front-foot hitter with a linear swing. The barrel does stay in the hitting zone for an extended time which is great, but the nature of his swing path limits the over the fence power potential to below average. He’s just average in the field, as his reads could use improvement and the initial step isn’t fast. But once he gets underway, Reyes can cover some ground out in a corner. The arm strength is below average and he gets poor carry on the ball, and it all add up to a left-field profile defensively. Overall, the potential is there for an average regular in left. He has plus-plus hit potential, but the power and defense limit the overall future potential. –Mauricio Rubio