The Dodgers’ second-rounder last summer, Verdugo worked his way up to High-A this year at the tender age of 19 despite a slow start. He sports a fairly athletic frame and there’s physical projection remaining, with room to fill out his chest and arms. He carries himself with a quiet swagger, appearing almost passive at times when he’s not in the heat of the moment. His switch flips quickly, however, and he shows as a high-intensity player when engaged. He wasn’t shy about expressing frustration after what he deemed to be a sub-par round in the cage, and after a pop out in-game he spent the better part of the next half inning pantomiming his swing in between pitches in the outfield.
His approach at the plate is aggressive. He hunts fastballs, looking to do damage with his swings, and doesn’t tone down much when behind in the count. The swing setup involves a relaxed posture, with an open stance, and his feet close together, with a gradual load as he builds tension on the back leg. The stride forward is aggressive but fairly short, and while he showed off plus power in BP he doesn’t create a ton of separation with his hands despite opportunity to do so within the swing’s structure; the game swing isn’t particularly leveraged. There’s some feel for the barrel though, and he shows an ability to adjust to off-speed pitches after he’s started the swing.
Verdugo has a somewhat awkward running style, but he’s quick and manages to turn it into average foot speed, even if it’s not pretty. In center he showed plus arm strength and an ability to corral a ball in the gap, plant, and throw with velocity and carry. – Wilson Karaman
The second-overall pick this June, Bregman has made the Astros look smart thus far in his professional career, hitting .291/.368/.402 across 58 games. The relative polish in his game jumps out immediately. It’s clear that this is a player with self-confidence in his ability to compete, and he carries himself with notable purpose.
At the plate his setup is quiet and the load minimal. There’s some rigidity in his arms and shoulders, and it’s a quick trigger that can force a steep angle into the zone on some swings. He shows strong balance in his lower half, though, really driving off his back leg to create torque and some mild leverage. The bat speed is above average thanks to strong hands that whip the head into the zone and an aggressive weight transfer, and he shows an advanced ability to control the barrel. It’s a premium bat-to-ball skill set, and he shows some tracking and recognition abilities to boot.
He showed above-average speed on a 4.19 dig to first, though his read on a stolen base attempt was poor and he got himself gunned down by a couple steps on an average pop. I’ve seen limited defensive reps thus far in a two-game sample, but he moves well on the dirt and shows smooth actions. His hand speed and transfer don’t stand out, but he showed outstanding footwork in breaking back on a flare over his head to make a difficult play into a routine one, and he was technically sound on a couple routine chances. – Wilson Karaman
Jose Reyes, RHP, San Fransisco Giants (High-A San Jose)
An older J2 signing in 2010, Reyes was destroyed by Sally hitters in his first taste of full-season ball in 2013, and didn’t make it back there until this spring. A successful second effort pushed him to the California League for the second half, and he’s been knocked around a good bit since arriving. That wasn’t the case Thursday night, however, as he dominated a poor Inland Empire lineup for eight innings, almost exclusively with his fastball.
Reyes appears bigger than his listed 185 pounds, with a thick build, wide backside, and big quads. There’s slope to his shoulders and a borderline hunch when he stands on the rubber. Both his body type and throwing motion conjure images of his former rotation-mate Keury Mella. It’s a smooth, repeatable motion with a relatively clean arm action to a 3/4 arm slot. The drive is clean but lacks force, and that leads to below-average extension at release and some laziness in getting to his release point consistently.
The arsenal he showed in this start was limited to say the least, as he was never forced to adjust off the fastball and, well, never did. The heater worked 92-95, touching 96 once, with some sink and weight to it early in the start. He worked the pitch down early, moving to higher ground as the outing wore on to change hitters’ eye levels the third time through. He generated a good deal of weak contact with the offering and quite a few swings and misses as well. Of his 102 pitches I only counted nine curveballs, more than half of which were flat and lost outside of the zone. He snapped off a couple with some shape and depth at 79-82, but there wasn’t much of a sample to evaluate. – Wilson Karaman
The name is 80-grade and the baserunning borders on 70, but Polo's future projection and overall role are more limited.
His future depends heavily on the maturation of his hit tool, and it currently projects as below average. He has above-average bat speed and loose hands that help him barrel velocity. There's a lack of drive in the lower half on pitches down in the zone. He'll chop down on pitches near the knees without clearing his lower half. This limits his plate coverage and overall hit utility despite the bat speed and average pitch recognition.
Polo clocks 4.1 to first, pushing a plus-plus grade. He's aggressive but wasn't out of control on the bases. His glove has average potential. He's raw at reading the ball off the bat and takes inconsistent routes, but his speed produces above-average range. He won't be a defensive specialist in the outfield, but it's enough to stick in center field. His arm lacks carry and grades below average, limiting him to center and left.
The Colombian has a motor. He's a high-energy player who works hard from pregame to the last out, and he has fun doing it. Polo has speed, center-field range, and loose hands, and there's enough in the profile to project a fourth outfielder or bench role. – David Lee
A 15th-round pick out of Nevada, Howell’s numbers tell a story of a non-prospect worth little more than a passing glance on the stat sheet, as he is hitting below .200 and posting an OPS below .650. Howell may not be a prospect in the truest sense of the word, but he is worth a little attention at the ballpark, the type of attention a 15th-round flyer requires. He has a solid build with some athleticism, but where Howell really stands out is during batting practice, where he drives balls out of the park with ease. He shows plus raw power during BP and will occasionally flash similar pop during games, but more frequently struggles to make consistent contact. Howell is an all-or-nothing bat with a decent approach and some knowledge of the strike zone that is let down by his inability to recognize the pitches being employed against him. Fastballs in any part of the strike zone are something Howell handles with ease and he even handles velocity pretty well. There is an enormous gap between what Howell is and is likely to become offensively, and what he could be given the thump in his bat, but that dream of what he could be is something that is becoming increasingly rare in today’s game. Aside from offensive questions, Howell has serious defensive limitations, having played second base, third base, and both outfield corners with limited success. A lot stands between Howell and the big leagues, or even the upper minors, and the odds that he actually puts things together are slim, but his raw power stands out and warrants attention in the short term. – Mark Anderson
The Cardinals were willing to pony up $325,000 to sign the Missouri prep left-hander away from a commitment to the University of Arkansas this June, the equivalent to fifth-round money. The tall (6-foot-3) lefty is mostly projection at this point, but he does have a few qualities that make him more realistic to dream on than your typical projectable 18-year-old.
What sets Schlesener apart from most teenage pitchers just dipping their feet into professional waters is the advanced level of his curveball. A potential plus pitch at its peak, it's close to that level already with command within the strike zone being its only obstacle.
The overall ceiling isn't terribly high at present, with his fastball sitting in the high-80s and barely scraping 90. But his game action was limited this summer as he and the Cardinals tried to regain some of his lost velocity (he hit 92 as an amateur) and build up his arm strength. He's also a prime candidate to gain a tick of velocity or two as his body grows into an ideal pitcher's frame.
Overall, the package is an intriguing one that will take plenty of developmental time, but it could reward the Cardinals for their faith and patience. – Jeff Moore
Wyatt Mathisen, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (High-A Bradenton)
Mathisen looks the part of a solid prospect, one whom the Pirates should be excited about. With a solid build and plus arm, he looks like a slightly shorter version of the prototypical third baseman every team covets. His background also suggests success, as a former second-rounder who went pro instead of pursuing a college career at the University of Texas.
The Pirates worked Mathisen as a catcher for his first two professional seasons before moving him to the hot corner exclusively last year, in an effort to jumpstart his bat. It's not that the move hasn't worked—he's hit better as a third baseman in full-season ball than as a catcher in short-season—but his bat still hasn't shown the impact potential they had hoped.
His swing works, though it's flat and doesn't produce much backspin, but he has good natural strength and enough bat speed to work. He can get rotational and struggle to cover the outer half of the plate, but he's hardly the only 21-year-old in A-ball with that issue. His patient approach works in his favor as well.
The issue is that he simply doesn't square up the ball often enough, and currently not as often as his tools suggest he should. Whether it is a neurological problem with putting the barrel on the ball consistently or a failure to execute his plan at the plate successfully, Mathisen just doesn't seem to hit the ball hard as often as he should, and when he does, he doesn't drive it with authority.
This isn't always the death knell it sounds like. I've said this about players in the past only to see them put it together and begin to hit with the consistency their skill set is capable of. For others, it is the beginning of a disappointing trend. Mathisen is still young, and development isn’t always linear, so there's still plenty of hope for improvement, but his performance to this point hasn't matched his ability. – Jeff Moore
The Mariners were extremely high on Kivlehan coming into the 2015 campaign, as the 2012 fourth-round selection performed brilliantly at High Desert and Jackson the previous season. This year hasn’t been as kind to the former Rutgers Scarlet Knight, but there have been enough moments to believe that Kivlehan does have some offensive upside.
Kivlehan gained scouts' attention in 2012 with his athleticism—he played football at Rutgers, as well—and when you keep in mind that he’s still fairly new to full-time baseball, what you see is considerably more impressive. The swing is long, and pitch recognition appears to be a weakness, but there’s enough bat speed and strength in his frame to project above-average power from the right side, with long limbs that give him the ability to hit the ball into the opposite-field gap. Because of the aforementioned long swing and issues picking up spin, it’s tough to see the hit tool getting to even fringe-average, though he has shown some selectivity at the plate.
One of the more intriguing things is also a potential dilemma for Kivlehan, as the 25-year-old still doesn’t have a set position. He’s an above-average runner with an average throwing arm, and he’s gotten looks at all three outfield positions and both corner infield spots. That kind of versatility along with above-average power should give him a chance to play in the big leagues at some point, and if I were forced to pick one landing spot, I’d likely say right field. – Christopher Crawford
Many draft pundits were skeptical of Ward’s first-round selection in June, but the former Fresno State Bulldog has been sensational in his professional debut, posting a .948 OPS for Orem in the Pioneer League and continuing to impress upon his promotion to Burlington with a .324 average and .352 on-base percentage through Sunday.
Ward has shown impressive patience early on—as evidenced by his 32 walks in 177 plate appearances as a professional—and though he doesn’t possess elite bat speed or a swing that has much natural loft, he has shown a short stroke capable of hitting line drives to the opposite field, with quality hand-eye coordination that limits the swing-and-miss. Add that to his impressive arm strength and solid receiving skills, and Ward does have a chance to become a starting catcher, albeit one who is best served hitting near the bottom of an order. – Christopher Crawford
The Orioles took Hart with the 37th pick of the 2013 draft knowing that the young outfielder was more athlete than baseball player at time, but even knowing that, Baltimore has to be disappointed with the lack of progression he’s made. Hart has struggled to a .258/.278/.318 line in the Carolina League, and that .596 OPS is actually eight points over his career OPS of .588.
Hart’s swing and frame give him no shot of power, which puts a lot of pressure on the hit tool to play up. Unfortunately, Hart has little to no patience at the plate, and since there are moving parts in the swing, when he does make contact it’s generally weak.
What keeps Hart from being labeled a non-prospect, however, is his speed and defense. He’s a plus-runner who is a threat to steal any time he reaches base—rare as that may be right now—and his athleticism and quick first-step make him a center fielder despite possessing a below-average arm.
At just 20 years old you can’t give up on Hart just yet—the wheels and glove give him a chance to be at least a fourth or fifth outfielder—but he’ll have to show drastic improvement at the plate to ever become someone who gets substantial playing time at the major-league level. – Christopher Crawford