Grant Holmes, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
The Dodgers’ first-rounder in 2014, Holmes picked a gnarly, damp night for his California League debut. That context may have contributed to a longer loosening than he’s used to, as he came out sitting 91-92 with his four-seam fastball and struggled to locate it in the first inning. He also hung a pair of curveballs at 82 and 83, costing himself a run. He quickly settled in, however, bumping up to 92-94 for the rest of his five innings and topping out at 95. The fastball has a tick of arm-side run and plenty of late life from his high-three-quarters slot thanks to premium arm speed. He worked in a two-seam complement at 87-90 mph with greater frequency as the outing wore on, and the pitch showed strong sinking action with greater arm-side run off the same plane. Holmes’ curveball wandered between 79-85 with consistent arm speed and action. He tunnels it well off his fastball, and the pitch shows 11-5 action with depth and hard break at the upper end of the velocity spectrum. He only threw a couple 86 mph changeups in this outing.
Holmes controlled the zone just fine, but the command wasn’t particularly crisp on this night. After a clean takeaway, there’s some stiffness and deceleration at the start of his drive. His foot strike is firm, with frequent bumpy landings on his heel that jostle him at release. His frame is on the stockier side, and the lack of fluidity raises some flags for his command development. Still, there’s a lot to like here, highlighted by two pitches that can play to plus even if the command never rounds past average. He didn’t allow any hard contact on this night, while generating double-digit swings-and-misses among his 75 pitches. —Wilson Karaman
Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Triple-A Albuquerque)
Hoffman had an excellent start to the 2016 season, throwing six shutout innings with six strikeouts and three walks against an experienced Tacoma lineup. Hoffman sat 94-95 mph, hitting as high as 97, and he held his velocity all the way until the last batter or two he faced. He’s capable of adding and subtracting velocity and movement, and his best two-seam fastballs had plus-plus tailing action. His best secondary on the day was a plus two-plane slider that drew a few whiffs and sat in the mid-to-upper 80s. He can throw the slider for strikes, but it’s a better offering—with more vertical bite—when thrown down and out of the zone.
Hoffman also threw a curve and a changeup. The curve was interesting: It was an 11-5 breaker with plenty of spin, but also a pronounced hump. He threw it for strikes—its primary function was to steal a strike early in counts—and while it was effective as a change of pace, he didn’t miss any bats with it. It also sat much lower than it has in the past, only reaching as high as 76 (previous reports have had it in the low 80s). He only used the change a couple of times on the afternoon. He maintained his arm speed well, but the pitch had fringy movement and looked like more of a barrel misser than a swing-and-miss option.
Hoffman is strong and he throws almost effortlessly. He has the frame to log innings, and while he ran out of gas in the sixth, it was only his first start of the season, and he was still sitting in the 92-94 range. There’s room for growth in his command: He can move the ball up and down and from side to side, but he’s better at hitting a general region of the zone than locating surgically. That shouldn’t detract too much from his present strengths, though. He has more than enough velocity to compensate, and while he’s not a finished product just yet, Hoffman looked like he was ready for the big leagues. We can’t know how he’ll take to Colorado, but he has the pure stuff of a no. 2 starter right now. —Brendan Gawlowski
Tyler Alexander, LHP, Detroit Tigers (High-A Lakeland)
Coming into the season, the most I knew about Tyler Alexander was how much Detroit liked him more than the industry. After all, they drafted him out of high school (23rd-round pick in 2013), and with the opportunity to take him again as a draft-eligible sophomore, popped him in the second round of this past draft. While he lacked the pedigree of some of the high school arms in the draft, and wasn’t even the best southpaw starter on his own staff (Alex Young, 43rd overall) the ceiling for Alexander remains high. With a large frame and an even build, he has the body to log innings, but still has some potential left as an early draftee. He has a deep arm swing with above-average arm speed and a slot that is somewhere between three-quarters and low-three-quarters. In his first outing of the season, his fastball was 89-91 mph, and touched 92, with major-league sink. While he might not gain much more velo on the offering, his plus control makes it tough on hitters, as he is consistently ahead in the count. His best off-speed offering is a changeup that was thrown between 81-83, with late action and good arm speed. He looked to be very comfortable with the pitch as he threw it in most counts and even to same-side hitters. Right now the pitch is major-league average but could play up down the road. He has a fringe-average slide piece at 81-83 that was sweepy but had some depth and decent action. His entire arsenal plays up due to his plus control and current average command. While not the most exciting profile, having three average pitches and plus control of all of them gets you back-end starter status. —Steve Givarz
Colby Blueberg, RHP, San Diego Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
I love me a good, wacky reliever as much as any archetype in baseball, and the former 24th-rounder out of Nevada found a soft spot in my heart on opening night. His listed 6 feet, 195 pounds looks a tad generous, though his compact frame stores mass efficiently. He has one of the most unique throwing styles I've seen, with a short stride and pole vault action over his front side, coupled with a short-armed, whippy path to his three-quarter slot. It is the definition of "max effort," and a freeze frame of him at release looks like he's in the process of getting hit by a bus.
But he repeats his "motion" with striking consistency. His arm action and unique point of release, which comes from a Carter Cappsian hop, are a nightmare for batters to time. It's not all a dodge, either: His fastball sat 90-92 mph with sink and solid-average command down in the zone. He paired it with a slider at 82-84, and while the shape was on the slurvy side and it lacked late action, his arm speed was consistent and it showed enough depth to get under barrels.
He's put up numbers at every stop, and based on this look there's a legitimate chance that he continues to do so and pitches in the big leagues some day. And that ain't half bad for a 24th-rounder. —Wilson Karaman
Travis Demeritte, 2B, Texas Rangers (High-A High Desert)
Demeritte hasn’t been atrocious in his time in the Ranger system, but there’s been just as much poor as there’s been good, making 2016 a big year in his developmental path. He certainly started off on the right foot. In his first two games, Demeritte went 6-for-9 with four homers and a double, good for a totally sustainable 2.711 OPS.
Of course Demeritte can’t keep these kind of stats up (because math and logic exist, that’s why), but he has the talent to produce like this in spurts going forward. There’s plus raw power in his right-handed bat thanks to easy plus bat speed and some leverage in the lower half. The hit tool is never going to be more than fringe-average, but he’s shown a willingness to take walks to help compensate for the severe amount of swing-and-miss in his game. He’s an above-average runner with a plus arm, and he can handle any position on the infield minus shortstop, with a chance to be solid in the corner outfield, as well. There’s no denying the talent is here for him to become a regular, it’s just a matter of putting it together on the field. This weekend was a good start toward showing he can do that. —Christopher Crawford
Tyler Mahle, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (High-A Daytona)
Making his High-A debut on the road, Mahle flashed the plus command and pitchability that won him the Reds Minor Leaguer of the Year award in 2015. Despite the lack of a true out pitch, Mahle can still miss bats by painting corners with his fastball or fooling hitters with his changeup. His repertoire is most effective when he moves his four-seam and two-seam fastballs in and out, while mixing in breaking pitches deeper in the count. Getting groundballs is a key to Mahle’s game, and his fastball sat 92-94, with natural sink. There’s a lot to like in his repeatable, three-quarters delivery and clean mechanics, although he struggled at times to hide the changeup.
Despite a strong start to his outing, retiring the first eight batters he faced, Mahle issued a rare walk in the fourth inning, and lost composure, eventually loading the bases after an error and another walk; Mahle was touched up for a couple of runs before being pulled. The mature, cruising starter who began the game quickly transformed into a shaken kid with runners on, frequently rushing his delivery to the plate and at times missing wildly with pitches that were painting the black just an inning before. There’s no reason to think that Mahle won’t become more comfortable in tense situations as the season progresses and as he matures (he’s only 21 years old). The upside, if you squint a little, is a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but there’s a lot of work to do along the way. Mahle has plenty of time to make adjustments, but he’ll need more deception and tumble out of the change, as well as a curveball he can use comfortably to contribute at the major league level. —Will Haines
Monte Harrison, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Following an up-and-down season in 2015 that ended with a broken leg and dislocated ankle, Harrison is looking to show that he is healthy and the improvements he made at the plate last year can continue. Despite the statistical struggles to start the season, there’s still a lot to like about his profile. The leg is healthy and he is still showing plus defense in center with easy speed and a 7 arm that he isn’t afraid to show off. Harrison is so confident in his speed that it can get him into trouble on the basepaths at times by attempting to steal bags when he shouldn’t. At the plate he has done nothing but strike out (four whiffs in seven at-bats) so far but the plus bat speed is still there along with an improved ability to lay off breaking balls out of the zone. His combination of bat speed and natural strength will help him reach the power projection that some scouts envision. As with most prospects, the bat is the key for Harrison and if he continues to make adjustments, watch out. He could be the athletic, five-tool monster the Brewers envisioned when they drafted him. —James Fisher
Robert Gsellman, RHP, New York Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
Robert Gsellman is a pretty good pitching prospect. In a deeper system than the 2016 New York Mets he might not make a team top 10, but he is a useful back-end-starter type. An 88-92 two-seamer that he can spot to both sides, potential plus curve, some feel for the change, big, athletic frame that is built to log innings. You know the type. Your favorite system has one of these guys somewhere 8-15, maybe more than one. (You might think every system has a Robert Gsellman. Well, you might think that; I couldn't possibly comment).
I was up in Binghamton this weekend, so I missed him by a day. While not ideal, it wasn't the end of the world. That was, until I got the report that he had been sitting 93 and touching 98, which I confirmed when I got into town. This was not a hot stadium gun, this was the real deal. Gsellman touched 95 for me as a young turk in Brooklyn, but 98? And let's not forget that Binghamton in April is basically Hoth. There was a snowout the next day. This wasn't just for show either. Gsellman struggled to miss bats in his first taste of Double-A last summer. He struck out under 13 percent of the batters he faced and didn't strike out more than six in a single start. In his first outing of 2016, he struck out seven of the 20 batters he faced. That'll play.
Of course you want to see him do this a few more times. Heck, I just want to see him do it myself, but a velocity bump of that order could change the conversation around Gsellman the prospect. Another young, athletic pitcher, showing a plus fastball/breaker combo, would be a big boon to a system suddenly bereft of impact arms. For now, he is just still a pretty good pitching prospect, but you can affix the adjective “intriguing” as well. —Jeff Paternostro
Ian Clarkin, LHP, New York Yankees (High-A Tampa)
I first saw the former 2013 first-rounder in the Arizona Fall League in 2015. Clarkin missed the 2015 regular season with elbow tendinitis, but did not get Tommy John surgery and went to the AFL to gain innings. A young projectable arm, Clarkin impressed with the ease of his fastball and the potential of his curveball, all from an athletic body and delivery. Flash forward to April and Clarkin was making his first start of the year for Tampa. His fastball was 89-92 mph, with average cut when down, but would flatten when elevated in the zone. He would lose command of the pitch in the 91-92 range, often spiking the pitch in the dirt. His curveball is a potential plus offering as it was 71-75 with plus depth and good action. He was comfortable throwing the pitch in any count, but would bury it more often than not. His changeup had good arm speed and clocked in at 84-85, featuring late fade and sink. While behind the curveball developmentally, it is a usable third offering at present and should get to average in the future. Clarkin checks a lot of boxes in what you are looking for out of a future starting pitcher: Athletic, clean arm action, above-average arm speed, pitches for strikes, athletic delivery. While the elbow injury does bring some cause for concern down the line, it hasn’t been an issue for him thus far and might’ve been a bump in the road instead of a detour. If he can stay healthy and put together a good full-season, he could be a top-five prospect come 2017. —Steve Givarz
Adam Plutko, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Double-A Akron)
If you can remember back to 2010—and I can, barely—Plutko was a potential first-round pick coming out of Glendora HS in California. Four years later, he was an 11th-round secondary thought out of UCLA. Three years later (now), he might be one of the more underrated prospects in a strong Cleveland system.
Plutko struck out eight in his 5 2/3 innings of work, allowing just two hits and one unearned run. The fastball is only average in velocity, but it plays up because of his ability to repeat his delivery and put it where he wants it. The change is a plus pitch with late fade, and he’ll show a solid slider and fringe-average curve, as well. Add in the ability to throw strikes with all four pitches, and you have a guy who could become a back-end starter in a short amount of time, maybe even this summer. —Christopher Crawford
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