Andrew Stevenson, OF, Nationals (Hagerstown, A-): 3-5, 2 R, 2 SB. It’s the up-the-middle profile and the elite-level speed that attracts you to Stevenson at first, and that’s why he was a second-round pick by the Nationals two months ago, but he’s got the necessary characteristics to be a good hitter as well. The former LSU Tiger has yet to be challenged by short-season or Low-A pitching, and despite limited power production, he does show some raw power in batting practice. All the tools are evident for him to be a legit up-the-middle, top-of-the-order threat, and by next season, we should get a better feel for how his skill set will play against higher-level competition.
Cody Bellinger, 1B, Dodgers (Rancho Cucamunga, A+): 3-5, 2 R, 2 HR. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between a breakout season and one that’s simply taking place in the California Leauge. Bellinger’s power production this season has been impressive, as is the success he’s had given that he’s 19 and skipped a level. Still, the strikeouts are concerning regardless of age/level considerations, especially given that they are connected to his difficulties identifying breaking balls. Luckily, we don’t have to decide on a player’s future when he’s a teenager in A-ball. His development will be interesting, as will his adjustment to a less-hitter-friendly league with better breaking balls, which he’s certain to see next year.
Nick Gordon, SS, Twins (Cedar Rapids, A-): 3-5, 2 R, HR, K. Gordon is expected to have more power than his speedster brother, but to this point in his first professional season, he hasn’t shown much of it. With little question about his ability to stick at shortstop, he won’t need a ton of it to become an everyday major leaguer, though if he wants to approach his ceiling, he’ll need some. The combination of hit tool and athleticism is what makes him a rare prospect, but it’s going to take some time for it to come together.
Max Kepler, 1B/OF, Twins (Chattanooga, AA): 2-4, 2 R, 2B, HR, BB, K. In writing up Kepler last year, I said, “If you were designing a ballplayer, Kepler could be the mold” but “Despite looking the part, Kepler simply doesn't square the ball up consistently, and when he does, he doesn't do so with the authority expected from a player his size.” The latter is no longer accurate, as Kepler has taken the size and swing that made him such an interesting prospect and put it to much more effective use. He’s driving the ball more consistently and with more authority, yet is doing so without striking out. Defensively, he’s a stretch in center but can handle the corner-outfield positions, and has some experience at first base. It’s not shocking to see him take a major step forward, as his background coming from Europe gave him limited experience before professional ball. If he’s going to be in a corner or especially if he’s going to be at first base, he’ll need to continue to hit for even more power, but the hit tool is playing up and will leave some margin for error.
Michael Mader, LHP, Marlins (Greensboro, A-): 7 1/3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, BB, 5 K. The transition to full-season ball has been rocky for Mader, a third-round pick in last year’s draft. His live arm produces plus fastball velocity, but his command is below average. Friday serves as evidence, however, of what he can do when he’s throwing strikes. The rest of his arsenal is still a work in progress, which is limiting his ability to miss bats, but for now the fastball command is the most important part of his development.
Yoan Moncada, 2B, Red Sox (Greenville, A-): 2B, HR, K, 2 SB. It appears we may have been concerned about nothing. That adjustment period that ended around the start of July now seems to be gone for good, as the Red Sox Cuban import is now having his way with the South Atlantic League the way a 20-year-old of his talent level and physical development should. The power that had been absent early in the year has come on strong, now matching the speed aspect of his game for an impressive all-around package. Now that he’s more acclimated to stateside pro ball, there’s no reason he shouldn’t move quickly starting next year.
Andrew Knapp, C, Phillies (Reading, AA): 3-5, 2 R, HR, K. The Phillies pushed Knapp aggressively last year and the move backfired, resulting in a demotion back to Lakewood. This season, Knapp returned to the Florida State League and proved he belonged in the conversation of future Phillies catchers, forcing his way to Double-A and then taking off even more. Power production is Knapp’s calling card, and he offers more than most catching prospects. That was suppressed in the FSL as only the FSL can do, but it’s taken off in the Eastern League. He’s a good-enough defender to remain behind the plate, and coupled with switch-hitting power ability, that could end up making him a big-league regular.
Dustin Fowler, OF, Yankees (Tampa, A+): 3-3, 2 R, 2B, SB. A former two-sport athlete, with athlete being the key word, Fowler is still in need of much sanding around the rough edges. That said, he has a good idea of how to use his athleticism on a baseball field and has already forced a promotion and handled his new level of competition with aplomb. He’s essentially getting better at every level, though that has much more to do with experience than anything else. He’s an up-the-middle player with a strong build and a ton of raw talent, and one that will be fun to watch over the next year or two.
Colin Moran, 3B, Astros (Corpus Christi, AA): 2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, K. The knock on Moran has been where he fits in on a big league roster. His pure hitting ability has always been impressive, but that has yet to, until quite recently, translate power production consistent with his raw abilities. His ability to hit his way on base will make up for the power if it never gets to better than average levels, but that’s assuming he can remain at third base, where he’s a below-average defender. Still, if he’s getting closer to his ceiling of being a .300 hitter with 10-15 home runs and passable defense at third base, that will play.
Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins (Rochester, AAA): 7 IP, 5 H, 0 R, BB, 9 K. We’re approaching the “not much left to prove” part of Berrios’ minor-league career (and in my coverage of him). He’s still just 21, but he’s handling the top level of the minor leagues with as much success as he’s had everywhere he’s gone in what has been a remarkably consistent minor-league career. He’s answered the question again about whether or not he can hold up over a full season, and his size is no longer a concern save for the occasionally flat fastball. He should be a factor in Minnesota by next season.
Manuel Margot, OF, Red Sox (Portland, AA): 3-4, R, 3 2B, SB. It took them four years, but the Red Sox finally found a level Margot can’t dominate… for now. The adjustment period isn’t likely to be long, and even the results thus far haven’t been terrible for a 20-year-old. Margot has the potential to be a dynamic up-the-middle player with elite contact skills, speed, and above-average power for the position. There are still developmental steps left for him to take, but he’s progressing as quickly and as impressively as the Red Sox could have hoped.
Francisco Mejia, C, Indians (Lake County, A-): 3-3, R, HR. Mejia’s first go-‘round in full-season ball hasn’t been the smoothest, but that’s pretty standard for teenage catchers. With so much to handle on both sides of the ball, it’s far from rare to see the bat take a back seat. Mejia hasn’t lit the Midwest League on fire this season, but he’s more than held his own given his aggressive promotion schedule and the responsibilities of handling a pitching staff. There’s a ton of talent to dream on here, but as with most catching prospects, it’s going to take time. Despite his skill set, he could still be 3-4 years away from the big leagues.
Jorge Mateo, SS, Yankees (Tampa, A+): 2-4, R, 2B, 3B, BB, K. The speed gets all the attention with Mateo, which is what happens when you steal 74 bases (and counting) in a season. But there’s more to his game than that, including more power potential than he’s shown thus far. Unlike many speed-based hitters, Mateo doesn’t get himself into trouble by being too desperate to swing.
Blake Snell, LHP, Rays (Durham, AAA): 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K. Steps forward in control and increased bat-missing ability have forced Snell into the Rays’ pitching equation even earlier than they might have expected. His talent has never been in question, as his three-pitch mix is what the Rays dreamed on when they selected him 52nd overall in 2011. But the biggest developmental steps forward have been taken this season and Snell has continued that progress into Triple-A. The Rays are notoriously methodical with the promotion of their pitching prospects, so even his league-to-league bumps have been somewhat surprising, but don’t be surprised to see him back in Triple-A next season and on call when the Rays need help.