Anthony Alford, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
It’s never been a question of athletic talent with Alford – the 2012 third-round selection was one of the most highly recruited dual-threat quarterbacks before he committed to Southern Miss. Unfortunately for Alford, the football career didn’t work out, and it hurt his baseball development before he gave up the “other” sport in 2014.
It appears the light has clicked for Alford in 2015 though, and several scouts have told me he’s looked like one of the most improved prospects of the summer. Alford has always been a plus-plus runner, but his swing has shortened and incorporates more of his strong lower half, which has allowed him to put the ball into the gaps and his speed to work. As he adds more loft to his swing, those doubles (20 this year) should go further, and 15 to 20 homer seasons are not out of the questions.
It’s still very much a work in progress, but any time an athlete like Alford takes a step forward before the age of 21 you have to consider that a positive development – Christopher Crawford
Leonardo Molina, OF, New York Yankees (Rookie Gulf Coast Yankees)
The Yankees were extremely aggressive with Molina in 2014 as they brought the then 16-year-old stateside after inking him to a $1.4 million bonus during the previous international signing period. The outfielder struggled considerably during his first taste of professional action, which could be expected given his age and lack of experience, but drew solid marks for his overall athleticism, defensive foundation, and plus bat speed. Molina finds himself back in the Gulf Coast League for the 2015 campaign, with chatter indicating the now 17-year-old looks much more comfortable in the box and is handling sequences better than last season. A good sign that the initial experience is starting to build, and the prospect is beginning to apply that experience to his overall game.
It’ll be interesting to see where things go physically for Molina, as the body has taken ssteps towards filling out and adding size to his 6-foot-2 frame. The expectation at the moment isn’t that it will force a move to a corner outfield spot down the line, as the speed still grades at plus-or-better and his athleticism remains in tact Still, it bears watching how the power will ultimately play out. Molina can surprise people with the punch he packs thanks loose hands and an easy, whippy swing, though the leverage can be inconsistent. In the near-term it’s all about building his pitch recognition and approach so the amount of hard contact increases. Down the line this could ultimately be a bat who grows into solid-average-to-plus power making him a highly attractive up-the-middle-player – Chris Mellen
Ali Sanchez, C, New York Mets (Rookie Gulf Coast Mets)
It already looks like the Mets are going to get something out of their $690,000 investment, signed out of Venezuela in 2013, though it’s still very much up in the air as to what the finished product will be. It’s probably not a catcher, but it is likely to be a pretty good hitter. Still just 18, he’s already stateside and shows all of the natural tools that make a good hitter. He has a strong build to go with plus bat speed and good barrel control. It’s unrefined, more reactionary than planned at present, that’s to be expected given his youth. His arm is below average, and while he moves and receives adequately for now, he doesn’t have the kind of body that projects to be agile enough to remain behind the plate. Given the lack of foot speed and arm strength, that limits the profile to first base or left field. For now, he’ll stay put, and because he is so young, there is still room for positive physical development that could allow him to stick.. – Jeff Moore
Tyler Jay, LHP, Minnesota Twins (High-A Fort Myers)
In general, the idea of drafting relief prospects in the early parts of the first round seems like a short sighted organizational philosophy. But if that’s the direction an organization wants to go, they might as well draft a really good one. Jay hasn’t been that yet for the Twins, but he should be, and as the sixth-overall pick, he’d better be. It’s been a rough transition into his brief professional career, but such is often the case with college pitchers who are throwing further into a season than their arms are used to. It certainly isn’t hurting his velocity any, as the lefty reached 96-98 mph with ease and showed a breaking ball that will give lefties fits. The question of just how late in games he’s going to be called upon to pitch in will hinge on the effectiveness of that breaking ball against right-handed hitters, enabling him to face whoever happens to be coming up in the ninth. He has the velocity to miss bats, so if he can avoid platoon susceptibility, there’s no reason he can’t pitch in late innings. – Jeff Moore
Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore Orioles (Short-season Aberdeen)
Drafted in the 13th round this year out of Campbell University, Mullins may be the best position player on an Aberdeen team bereft of positional talent. While he has a small stature and is unlikely to put on any significant muscle or weight, Mullins provides a valuable skill set moving forward.
He is a plus defender is center field displaying efficient reads and routes, along with strong instincts. His plus speed, clocked 4.09 down the line, is a weapon on both the base paths and out in the field. At the plate, Mullins has average bat speed with a clean and easy swing. He does not have a ton of raw power, but there is enough pop in the bat to be more than just a spray, singles hitter. Overall, Mullins has been a bright spot in the NYPL so far this season, and looks to be a solid find for the Orioles. – Tucker Blair
Kyle Holder, SS, New York Yankees (Short-season Staten Island)
Selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, Holder was seen by some as a glove-first player that could hit a little bit at the plate. So far in my viewings, I haven't seen this player on either side of the ball.
Defensively, Holder is fine. He lacks range and the reactions are not always smooth, but he does have soft hands and an above-average arm. Defensively , there’s more sizzle than steak. He has a lot of unnecessary movements with his body and feet, causing him to lose ground and be late to the ball. Holder is more solid-average defensively than the plus grades I heard that were thrown on him coming out of the draft. At the plate, I just don't see a major leaguer caliber bat. He has well below-average bat speed with minimal raw power, and there is a lack of balance in the swing overall. The tools did not stand out, and the in-game views were not much better. Holder struggles on velocity on the hands, and soft stuff away. Overall, my impression of Holder is that he has a utility manthat is primarily reliant on the defense. – Tucker Blair
Luis Liberato, OF, Seattle Mariners (Short-season Everett)
Liberato has missed several games after getting drilled by a pitch, but he spent the first three weeks of the season showing why he’s one of the most exciting players in short-season ball. The 19-year-old has a quick bat and swings hard, spraying lwell-hit balls all over the field. His power is mostly to right field at this point in his career – although he can hit the ball with authority up the middle as well – and could develop average-or-better power as he grows into his frame. For someone his age, he has a pretty good feel for the strike zone, although he likes to swing, and with good bat-to-ball ability, he isn’t working too many deep counts. Liberato is also a plus runner with the range for center and the arm for right field if he outgrows the middle of the diamond.
Liberato is as raw as he is talented. He has a decent eye at the plate, but the Dominican native is an aggressive hitter and he’s an adventure on the bases. On one occasion, he got a great jump stealing second and was almost at the base when he stopped running, thinking that the pitch had been called ball four; it hadn’t and he was out. In the field, I’ve seen him make a perfect throw from the left field corner to third base on the fly, and I’ve also had to decipher which base he was trying to throw to after an errant toss wound up in the dugout. Player development is the name of the game at this level, and it’ll be exciting to watch a very talented player shape his unrefined tools into real production over the course of the summer. – Brendan Gawlowski
Jacob Nottingham, C, Houston Astros (High-A Lancaster)
The Astros signed Nottingham away from dueling baseball and football scholarship offers in the sixth round back in 2013 as a raw, long term project. The investment started paying dividends this spring when he laid waste to Midwest League pitching. The 20-year-old stands a robust 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, with a chiseled physique and notable athleticism in his motions. It’s a big league body with little remaining physical projection.
There are still plenty of raw edges in the defensive package: his blocking is aggressive but inconsistent, there’s some looseness in his receiving, and he doesn’t have the quietest hands. He consistently consistently 2.1-2.2 on full-speed throws between innings, with quick feet but a long throwing motion. His arm strength can make up for some of the excess movement, but not all of it. Still, he showed a good baseline skillset behind the plate despite, highlighted by a plus-or-better arm and strong lateral agility. The athleticism and arm strength suggests ample room for improvement.
At the plate, Nottingham’s swing is highly leveraged, with above-average bat speed. There’s definitely some length to it, and he showed some swing-and-miss tendencies despite an impressive ability (and willingness) to drive the ball to the opposite field. There’s power potential here, and he showed some command of the zone.
Mike Papi, 1B/OF, Cleveland (High-A Lynchburg)
It’s fair to say that 2015 didn’t start out the way Papi would have liked, as the former Virginia standout posted a dreadful .560 OPS through May 31.
It’s also fair to say that since June, Papi has been one of the best hitters in minor league baseball. His overall OPS is still a less-than-spectacular .764, but the on-base percentage is up to .383 as of Monday, and he’s hitting .371/.483/.577 since the start of June. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Papi was still drawing walks over those first two months, and his BABIP was a paltry – and unsustainably low — .255. His feel for the strike zone is outstanding, and the left-hander’s line-drive swing can shoot the ball to every part of the field. It’d be nice to see more power from a corner outfielder who may have to move to first base, but there’s no denying that Papi’s approach is impressive, and it gives him a chance to be a big league regular someday. – Christopher Crawford
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (High-A Port Charlotte)
Tampa Bay’s pitching system has seen dramatic improvements this year – thanks in large part to the developments of Blake Snell and Brent Honeywell – but one could easily argue that the most welcome sight has been the return of Guerrieri, once considered one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. The right-hander missed almost all of 2014 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery and served a 50-game suspension, and the Rays have taken it slowly with the 2011 first-round pick. While the innings and pitch counts have been limited, the results have still been impressive, as the 22-year-old has posted an ERA of 2.43 with 41 strikeouts and just seven walks in 33 innings pitched.
“He’s pretty close to the same [pitcher we saw in 2015],” an NL West scout said. “He’s showing the plus fastball and a 55 curveball pretty consistently, enough to make me believe he’s fully healthy. He also looks like a more mature pitcher on the mound, he’s going after hitters with that good stuff and handling trouble much better than I saw in 2013. There’s some work to be done and they’ll have to stop the babying soon, but so far, so good.”
With two plus pitches and above-average control, Guerrieri could be a future closer, but the Rays have every reason to believe he’ll develop into a quality starter, whether that’s as a top of the rotation arm or a back-end guy remains to be seen.
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