A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
My first few looks at A.J. Reed gave me a modest impression. He showed raw power for days in BP and worked counts in games, but the bat speed wasn't anything special, there was some length in the swing, and he showed indecision at the dish. But his is an approach that takes some time to understand and appreciate, as is the surprising bat-to-ball skill for a man of his size and power. There's some swing-and-miss in his game, but after you watch him enough you realize his strikeouts are more often a by-product of working deep into counts than flailing away. He thinks along with pitchers, frequently gets himself into advantageous hitting situations, and works the whole field with authority when he does. At the same time, he's not passive and will jump a first-pitch fastball with the best of 'em. It's not often you see a guy with 70 raw power figure out how to bring the vast majority of it with him into games at such a young age. Perhaps most tellingly, he improved his ability to shoot pitches on the outer third to the opposite field and up the middle during his time in Lancaster. That qualifies as remarkable progress for any player's hit tool given the environment's extreme prejudice towards lifting the ball to right field. The numbers were nice this year, but more importantly the developmental progress was real. —Wilson Karaman
Devin Williams, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Heading into 2015 the main concerns surrounding Williams' profile regarded the effort in his delivery, how poorly he was repeating his actions on the mound, and a slider that had yet to fully come around. Williams' potential was clear though, as his frame and athletic actions allowed for the possibility of repeatable actions. His walk rate was flirting with some uncomfortable territory for most of the year but when I saw him the context clues for solid-average or better command were present. Williams has toned down his delivery and the actions were fluid, athletic and most importantly, repeatable. He also flashed a solid-average slider but he still loses his release point from time to time. It's a definite improvement from a breaking ball that lacked shape in the past. His calling card is still a fastball that he can add some velocity to, and he flashes a changeup that has plus deception and potential for plus movement, with fade and tumble. Williams' stuff and potential for even more growth paint the picture of a mid-rotation starter.
Williams’ growth this season is a revelation for a system that is turning things around with smart draft picks and development. —Mauricio Rubio
Trey Mancini, 1B, Baltimore Orioles (Double-A Bowie)
When you’re a right-right first base-only guy without a sparkling pedigree, you have to not only perform but do so in the right way for evaluators to take notice. Mancini has done just that with a breakout season in 2015 that included 354 stellar, age-appropriate plate appearances for Double-A Bowie. His swing is still on the lengthy side but it has come a long way since his days at Notre Dame. Most notably, Mancini has gained more control over his swing by moving up the point at which he initiates his pre-swing gathering sequence. The result is a loose, athletic swing, geared to doing damage in the right-center field doubles alley. His ability to drive the ball with authority to the opposite field is his most attractive attribute as it portends further positive developments for his in-game home run output.
Mancini’s trim, elongated frame looks great in a uniform which led me to wonder aloud, after seeing him for a few innings, whether it might be worth giving him a shot in an outfield corner. In response, an evaluator who had seen Mancini quite a bit over the past two seasons chimed in, “have you seen him throw and run yet?” Surely enough, by the end of the game, we’d been “treated” to a bottom of the scale throw on a 3-6-1 double play attempt and a bottom of the scale max-effort run time on a ground out. So much for diminishing the steepness of Mancini’s developmental trajectory.
Beyond the factors that prohibit Mancini from playing anywhere but the cold corner, the most evident red flags are his less than desirable walk rate and his lack of manifested pull power. In the end however, his positive offensive attributes far outweigh the negative ones. Think about this for a moment: Would you rather have a bat-first prospect with a high walk rate, light tower BP power to the pull side, and below-average bat-to-ball skills or another bat-first guy with excellent feel for the barrel, manifested oppo doubles power but a lower home run rate than the hypothetically patient, pull-happy slugger? I’ll take the latter profile (Mancini) every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Trey Mancini is going to be a big leaguer but instead of the up-down/weak side of a platoon profile that one might have projected a year ago, it’s now a very real second-division regular profile with ML regular upside. —Ezra Wise
José De León, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa)
I was completely unaware of De León's existence before he struck out 14 and broke Clayton Kershaw's single-game record for Great Lakes in 2014. Even still, I wasn't sure what to expect from a 23rd-round pick, one that was only brought up sparingly when I talked to others about the Dodger system. What I ended up seeing—both in person and on tape—is one of the best right-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball. There's three above-average to plus pitches in his right arm from a clean delivery that allows him to pound the strike zone, and the command isn't very far behind the control. When you go from being system depth to a potential top-25 prospect and untouchable at the trade deadline, I think that qualifies as a pretty significant surprise. —Christopher Crawford
Luis Carpio, SS/2B, New York Mets (Short-Season Kingsport)
The Mets gave Carpio $300,000 out of Venezuela in 2013 and brought him stateside to the Appalachian League this summer as a 17-year-old. Under Sandy Alderson the organization had previously only done that with Amed Rosario, who received the biggest July 2nd bonus in club history ($1,700,000). Carpio responded by hitting .304/.372/.359 in 45 games. Although he lacks the raw athletic tools or potential plus shortstop profile of Rosario, he was a much more complete baseball player at the same age and level, while still giving you some things to dream on.
Facing a fair amount of college arms, Carpio displayed a very advanced hit tool and approach for essentially a young high school senior. He showed an ability to track breaking balls, and enough feel for the barrel to send good spin (for the level) into the outfield. It's not hard to see him adding upper body strength as he gets into his twenties, eventually developing double-digit home run power, as the ball carries well off his bat despite an immature frame. In the field, Carpio split time at second base and shortstop with the Mets 2014 third-round pick, Milton Ramos. Ramos showed the better defensive tools of the duo, but Carpio is smooth in the field and around the bag, and moves better laterally than you would think given his very pedestrian home-to-first times. The arm may end up limiting him to the right side of the diamond, but he would project as a plus defender at second base.
I don't have a specific player comp in mind, but Carpio reminds me of the type of Latin American middle infield prospect that the Texas Rangers always seem to have kicking around their system. There isn't a standout tool here, but Carpio's advanced approach and bat-to-ball ability at 17 shouldn't be overlooked in a Mets system that is a bit down from recent years. A potential 2016 South Atlantic League assignment at age 18 would be aggressive, but not more than he could handle, and should bring the major league projection into clearer focus. But even as of right now, it is not hard to see a solid major league regular in here. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Nick Williams, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A Reading)
It’s hard to say that Nick Williams showed up out of nowhere this season – he had already appeared on several top-10 prospect lists (including No. 7 on our own), and anyone who knows prospects knew his name. Prior to this April, “Nick Williams” was synonymous with “lack of plate discipline,” “talented but not putting it into action,” and “bat speed! No walks.” In 15 lackluster games at Double-A at the end of 2014, it looked like the then-20-year-old had gone as far as his natural talent would let him coast.
The 21-year-old Nick Williams that showed up to Frisco on April 9th, 2015 looked determined to prove the detractors wrong. He regularly took first pitches, worked the more-than-occasional walk, and looked more mature at the plate. In the field, Williams improved his reads in center, as well as his ability to utilize his natural arm strength, and proved why the Rangers developmental staff wanted him to get time there. Across the entire season, Williams hit .303/.354/.491 between Frisco and Reading, proving that he could sustainably hit upper-minors pitching, all while being on the younger side for Double-A.
Now, it may not be a surprise to some that an extraordinarily talented player lived up to his talent, but it’s not common to see an overhaul of both offensive and defensive approaches within 12 months. While there is the troubling decline in walks as the season waned, Williams definitely showed enough improvement in all facets of the game to earn his way up the offseason top-100 lists. —Kate Morrison
Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals (Short-Season Auburn)
Though I had yet to see Robles play entering the 2015 season, I had talked to numerous contacts in the Dominican Republic, and I was certainly excited for his arrival in the United States. The strong reports continued with those that saw him during extended spring, and those that saw him during the GCL season, and that set the stage for his New York-Penn League debut. I had high expectations going into my first series with Robles, and those expectations were blown out of the water. No matter what I thought I was going to see, I didn’t expect to see a player with 7 speed, potential 7 glove, potential 7 hit, and fringe power potential. That’s a game changing talent, and that is exactly what I saw with Robles. On top of that, his athleticism stands out on the field, and he carries himself with the confidence you would expect of a player that talented. After sitting on him for a series, I thought it was possible I simply saw the best he had to offer and I should temper my expectations for the player, so I called around and the reviews were just as glowing. Folks, Victor Robles entered the year as an intriguing player worth keeping on the radar; he exits the 2015 season as a potential impact player with monster tools and a legitimate high-end prospect. —Mark Anderson
Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics (High-A Stockton)
Entering the season, Oakland wasn’t sure to expect from their first-round pick in 2014. Drafted out of Pepperdine, third baseman Matt Chapman didn’t hit, walk, or tap into his plus raw power in his first spin through pro ball. Elite defense and a plus-plus arm were his carrying tools, but scouts and evaluators were concerned that he wouldn’t hit enough to start and the idea of putting him on the mound — Chapman hit 97-100 on the gun in a brief trial as a pitcher for Team USA — hadn’t completely faded.
Promoted to the California League, Chapman improved his stock immensely in 2015. Wrist problems limited him to 80 games, but he popped 23 home runs while demonstrating an improved eye at the plate. His consistently hard contact was a marked departure from last year’s struggles, characterized by an impatient approach and a ton of soft fly balls. He’s still prone to chasing high fastballs and he struggles against good spin, but incremental progress in either department over the next few years should allow his power and defense to play in a full time role. He’ll need to prove he can hit outside of the Cal League, but if the improvement is real, Oakland has a third baseman on their hands.
Lewis Brinson, OF, Texas Rangers (Triple-A Round Rock)
Brinson has always been a premium athlete whose tools screamed loudly at scouts. The production started to catch up to his tools in 2014. Now both his tools and production are rocketing this prospect towards the majors. The South Florida product was drafted in the first round in 2012. Four other high school center fielders (Byron Buxton, Albert Almora, David Dahl, and Courtney Hawkins) were all picked before Brinson's number was called by the Rangers at 29th overall. It's too early to close the book on any of these guys, but Texas sure appears to have gotten a good player.
Bat speed, raw power, size, foot speed, and arm strength; Brinson has all these on his side. The bat was a big question mark entering last season after a mediocre 2013 full-season debut which saw Brinson bat .237/.322/.427. Most troubling was that he struck out a staggering 191 times in 122 games. Brinson started back at Low-A Hickory the next year, but there was progress as he ended the year at High-A with a slash line of .288/.354/.458 for the year. Brinson cut down on the strikeouts and worked on his two-strike approach, but his walk rate dropped as well. His approach at the plate was still a major work in progress. Everything came together for Brinson in 2015. He rocketed through three levels, ending the season at Triple-A (so far!). The tools remain spectacular. He does things with ease at the plate and roams center field with the grace of a gazelle. Brinson raked across three minor league levels to the tune of .332/.403/.601. His K:BB ratio in 2013 was 191:48. This season he improved that to 98:44. As is the case with many raw, toolsy prep draftees, Brinson looked like a guy who could be a monster big leaguer if he could just hit. Now it looks like he's going to hit plenty. —Al Skorupa
Arturo Reyes, RHP, St Louis Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
When I saw Arturo Reyes in May, I wanted to see a 40th-rounder defy the odds and prove something—and that he did. There’s a satisfaction in the overlooked succeeding, a missed entity that abruptly appears on the radar screen.
I have been a staunch Reyes supporter this year after my initial look and talk with the Springfield Cardinals Pitching Coach Jason Simontacchi. He is a likable, hard working pitcher with stuff that plays better than you’d expect given his draft status. With a repeatable, compact delivery, pitchability, a fastball from 91 mph to 97 mph, and composure of a ten year veteran, Reyes has worked his way into a projectable MLB pitcher.
Consistency is the name of the game for Reyes and has been throughout his career. Reyes was more than up to the task in Springfield, posting a 2.64 ERA in 99 IP, striking out 80 and walking 28 before a call up to Memphis at the end of the season. While the stat line in Triple-A ended a bit ugly for Reyes in his initial go round in the Pacific Coast League, he finished the year strong with six scoreless innings against Oklahoma City. The PCL is notorious for knocking a pitcher down a few pegs, especially their first time through. However, his bit of struggle in the PCL is not too worrisome for me due to his ability to make adjustments with hitters and lineups. Reyes is a smart pitcher who understands how his stuff plays and how he can use it to nullify hitters. Pitchability, along with his superb command of three 50+ grade pitches, will certainly carry him into next season as a prospect on the cusp of the Show. —Colin Young
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