Jose Peraza, 2B/CF, Cincinnati Reds
There might be some prospect fatigue settling in with Peraza. Originally billed as a shortstop with a promising hit tool, Peraza has been moved off the position—some guy named Andrelton was in the way—and while learning two new roles, his bat didn’t take to the upper levels as expected. Shuttled from Atlanta to Los Angeles to Cincinnati in a matter of months, Peraza’s stock seemed to take a hit with each stop.
In a spring game against the Padres though, he sure looked like a big leaguer. Facing James Shields, Peraza worked a few good at-bats, laying off junk out of the zone and getting the barrel to pitches he could handle. He’s capable of getting the bat to the ball quickly, and his line-drive stroke should allow him to post strong batting averages and drive mistakes into gaps. He covers the plate well, and with easy plus speed, he’ll turn a few outs into singles. With Brandon Phillips entrenched at second for the moment, it’s not clear where Peraza’s immediate big-league future lies: he’s taking reps in the outfield and he may get his first extended big-league crack in center. Regardless, he looks ready for big league duty and could settle in as an above-average regular at the keystone.
Rookie Davis, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Davis has the size of a workhorse. He’s tall and strong, with broad shoulders and big legs conducive to carrying a starter’s workload. He works with a high-three-quarters arm slot and generates above average velocity with relatively little effort. He has a loose arm and gets good extension. His fastball sat 92-94 across two backfield innings, touching 95, with above-average sink at the lower end of that velocity band. He also threw a projectable power curve: the pitch featured plenty of spin and hard, 12-5 drop, and reached 81 on the gun. He drew a few whiffs with it, and it flashed above average in my viewing. He also mixed in a fading changeup, although I didn’t see enough of it to evaluate the offering conclusively.
When the Reds acquired him in the Aroldis Chapman deal, Davis was billed as a future back-end starter. Based on what I saw, I think his curve may have been underbilled, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he exceeds that projection.
Trevor Oaks, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
A seventh-round pick in 2014, Oaks may have been my favorite player to watch while I was in Arizona. He’s a three-pitch pitcher, mixing a two-seam fastball with a tumbling change, and a slider. He wasn’t consistent with any of his offerings, but he flashes enough with all three to get diamond-finders excited.
Oaks is a strong, high-waisted athlete. He hides the ball effectively, and there’s not too much effort in his delivery: he has a loose arm and he keeps his head still as he drives towards the plate. He does crossfire and have stabbing arm action, and was prone to overthrowing in my view; not surprisingly, his command came and went over the course of his outing. He pitches off of his fastball: A 93-95 mph offering with a bit of late sink. His most projectable offering is the changeup. He threw a couple, ranging from 85-89 mph, and while the harder version didn’t move much, the pitch dropped precipitously when thrown a little slower; his best ones will miss anyone’s bat. The slider was more of an average offering, a barrel-missing mid-80s delivery with limited movement, but good arm speed replication.
Ultimately, Oaks still has a lot of room for growth: his command was spotty and both of his off speed pitches had inconsistent shape and variable movement and depth. He has a low floor, but I’ll certainly be checking in on his progress throughout the season.
Erik Gonzalez, SS, Cleveland Indians
Gonzalez doesn’t have a prototypical shortstop’s size: at 6-foot-3 he’s tall, and at roughly 200 pounds, he’s also more filled out than most who man the position. Nonetheless, Gonzalez should have the defensive chops to stay up the middle for the time being. He takes a quick first step and with above-average speed, he moves well to both his left and his right: In a big league game against Seattle, I saw him range deep into the six-hole and deliver a strong throw to first to nail an (admittedly slow) runner; he also tracked far to his left to field a tough popup in short center.
At the plate, he has a slight bat wrap but otherwise uses an efficient bat path and a smooth stroke. He hasn’t hit for a ton of power in games, and his swing doesn’t have a home run hitter’s loft, but he’s strong enough to be a threat and he may ultimately have fringe-average pop. Gonzalez isn’t in the best organization to maximize his value—with Francisco Lindor in tow, a trade may be in the offing eventually—but he’s a certain big leaguer, and could be an average, if unconventional, regular at short in the right situation.
Short Hops: Seattle’s Paul Frye jumped onto the radar last season, using a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider with a ton of break to record a 12.7 SO/9 ratio across two levels. His stuff was subdued in my viewing, with his fastball cracking 90 and his slider looking a little flatter than what it was a year ago. It’s just one look, but perhaps it partially explains why the bullpen-desperate Mariners reassigned him early in camp… Adam Engel blasted a homer into the wind during in a backfield game. A good athlete with plus-plus speed and some ability to get on base, he’s my “guy” in the White Sox system… Cleveland’s Jesus Aguilar is a big man, but with average bat speed and limited loft in his swing, he doesn’t take full advantage of size. He has probably plateaued as an up-and-down guy… A first-round pick of the Rangers back in 2011, Zach Cone got his first taste of the upper minors last season. The Rangers were betting on his athleticism—at 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds, he’s surprisingly spry—but it doesn’t look like the bat will come around. He puts his front foot in the bucket, and his weight is leaning towards third as he swings. It’s a slow swing, and he’s often caught lunging at breaking balls… A lack of plate discipline has been a knock on Brandon Drury’s game, though I saw nothing but long and discerning at-bats in my two looks at him this spring.
Matt Krook, LHP, Oregon
Krook was the 35th-overall pick in the 2013 draft, but he opted to play for Oregon after failing a physical. Two years ago, he was in the midst of a stellar freshman season when he tore his UCL in a start against Washington, an injury that required Tommy John surgery. Back on the same field where he hurt his arm, the left-hander proved that he still has the explosive stuff teams coveted back when he was in high school.
Standing six-foot-three and listed at 217 pounds, Krook has the prototypical size you like to see in a big-league starter. He’s highly athletic and has a loose arm with mostly clean arm action. He does have a pronounced head whack, and his front leg swivels as he strides, both of which inhibit his command.
Krook’s velocity was down a little bit from when I saw him two years ago, sitting 92-93 with a two-seam fastball with plus tailing action. He had trouble commanding the fastball, missing arm-side and up frequently, though Washington’s hitters couldn’t square him up when he found the strike zone. He worked through a plenty of long at bats though, and too often, the Huskies were able to take fastballs that were nowhere near the strike zone.
When it’s on, the fastball is good, but Krook’s power curve is his bread and butter. Sitting 87-88 and touching higher, it’s a bastard of a pitch, with above average 12-7 movement, sharp break, and a ton of spin. He’s capable of taking a little off of it when he wants to throw it for a strike, and both righties and lefties looked helpless against the curve all night. His best ones were easily plus-plus offerings.
Krook also has a changeup, although he didn’t use it much. The few he threw were hard and featured a bit of fade, but little velocity separation from his fastball. Given the lack of innings he’s thrown as a collegian, and how good his other two pitches are, it’s not a surprise that his change is undeveloped; improving the pitch will certainly be one of his primary objectives when he signs professionally.
Krook is less polished than most prospective first-round college juniors, and teams will understandably be concerned about his ability to throw strikes. But there’s too much upside here for Krook to slip far on draft day: there just aren’t that many lefties who can comfortably sit in the low-to-mid 90s with the kind of impact secondary that Krook offers with his curve. He’s a gamble, but one worth taking.
Gage Burland, RHP, Gonzaga
Pitching prospects who earn a slot in Chris Crawford’s draft book are almost always the Friday night starter for their college team. When they’re not, it’s usually because they’ve been bumped to Saturday by another starter in the book, as is the case with Florida’s A.J. Puk this season. Burland is the exception, as I caught just his third college start and 17th overall appearance this past Monday.
As you might expect based on this introduction, Burland has a strong arm, but he’s very raw. He generates velocity without too much exertion, sitting 91-93 with his fastball and touching 94. The pitch features a bit of natural cut, and he’s capable of generating tailing action with it when he wants to. For all but a handful of batters though, he had no feel for the fastball, alternatively spiking it in the dirt and leaving it above the letters. If he threw half of his fastballs for a strike, I’d be surprised, and he didn’t demonstrate any ability to command the pitch.
He had much better feel for his curve, a 12-5 offering that sat in the high 70s and touched 81. He was capable of adding and subtracting velocity and movement depending on whether he wanted to steal a strike or induce a whiff. Hitters had a difficult time connecting with the curve, but I’m not sure he’ll be as successful sneaking it past professional bats: it’s a hard curve, but it breaks early, doesn’t have great spin, and rarely finds the strike zone at the upper end of his velocity band. It’s an intriguing pitch, one that flashed average or a tick above, but probably not a game changer against good hitters. Burland also threw a changeup, a clear third pitch. His best ones had fading action and good velocity separation, but of the handful he threw, most were turkeys.
Burland has a live arm, but command problems—stemming from an awkward delivery—will probably prevent teams from handing him a huge signing bonus. He has a bit of a head whack and some spinal tilt, but it’s his landing foot that drew my attention: as he’s coming to the plate, his front leg isn’t smooth, but rather stabs towards home. His landing spot is inconsistent, and between that and deep arm action, he has a lot of trouble timing and repeating his delivery. Ultimately, Burland has decent stuff and was effective when he put everything together, but he’s more project than top pick at this point.