Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis)
Taillon pitched on Wednesday for the first time since late 2013 after two surgeries (Tommy John, hernia), and it couldn’t have gone much better. Over six innings Taillon allowed six hits, with six strikeouts, and no walks. His fastball wasn’t showing the same velocity that it did pre-surgery, but he worked at 90-94 mph, topping out at 95. The tailing action on his fastball complemented the lower velocity well, but it remains to be seen if he can get back into the range he had previously operated in.
As of right now his best pitch is his curveball, which breaks hard and late resulting in multiple swings-and-misses for the Mud Hens. Taillon showed his changeup more than a few times, mostly using it to keep hitters honest. Overall his control in the game resulted in no walks, which was a good sign in his first game back. The action on his pitches helped him get away with missing a few spots that still resulted in whiffs, something he will have to work on before he gets to Pittsburgh. His arm action was repeatable, with quality arm speed.
In the end, the most important part of his outing was getting back to game action. Taillon will be in Pittsburgh later this season, and until then it is a matter of getting game reps and building up his arm strength. It is not yet known if he will have an innings limit, with his unusual situation of having all of 2015 off for his hernia surgery. —Grant Jones
Josh Naylor, 1B, Miami Marlins (Low-A Greensboro)
Naylor will be 18 years old for the entire first half of the South Atlantic League season. So you would forgive him if at times he looked like “Un Canadian Errant” at the plate. It's also a tough profile, as he is a short, stocky high school first baseman, but there is a fair bit to like here. There is easy plus raw here. He goes up to the plate with an idea and never got pull happy against the more advanced arms he saw in Lakewood. When he needed to though, the bat speed was there to turn on 95. He is a better athlete than he looks, although his well-below-average arm, marked by a shot-put style throwing motion, limits him to first base. He also occasionally acts his age, starting a bit of a tussle with the entire Lakewood team on Sunday, for reasons passing understanding. To borrow a soccer pundit cliché, it was a bit of handbags, nothing more.
But he also toughed out a leg injury on Friday that could have easily kept him off the field for the weekend. He toughed it out through the rest of the game and hobbled out with a taped up calf for a couple rounds of BP and infield on Saturday. The BP was easily the most impressive of the weekend, and the power should play to all fields. Again, it is a tough profile, the body is going to need monitoring, and of course there is the added pressure of getting $2.2 million as the 12th-overall pick last summer. A selection our own Chris Crawford called “a massive reach.” But to borrow another line from the world of European football: “We don't live in the past. That is for museums. We are not a museum.” Looking to the future instead, it isn't hard to see an everyday first baseman with average hit and plus power. And with Tyler Kolek going under the knife, our wandering Canadian may well be the best prospect in the Marlins system. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Sandy Alcantara, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (Low-A Peoria)
Alcantara has a tall, rangy frame that seems taller than his listed height of 6-foot-4. With broad shoulders, long limbs, and a high waist, the body leads to plenty of projection in terms of both strength and growth. He generates great arm speed from a three-quarters slot, with good extension and no significant issues in the back. The only issue out front is a tendency to get off line at times, and it’s one the Peoria Chiefs coaching staff is on top of. The fastball sits 93-96 and tops out at 98, and he holds the velocity well (93-96 in the 6th). Most are fairly straight but he’ll flash arm-side run at lower velocities. Alcantara did show the ability to get to the lower, outer quadrant, as well as the inner half with the fastball, lending hope for average command in the future. It would be good to see more execution down in the zone but he gets swings-and-misses in the top half of the zone at present, due to velocity.
The curveball is at its best when he stays on top of it and shows the 11-5 shape with good depth. While he did get two strikeouts on the pitch, the arm slot wandered and the shape along with it. He flashes feel for the deuce, and it will be an above-average offering as he masters the arm slot and repeats it on a consistent basis. A handful of changeups were thrown with many of the same arm slot issues as the curve, but he did throw several in warmups with fade and proper arm speed. At present it is a below-average offering. All in all, Alcantara put together a solid outing with six innings, two hits, three earned runs, and 5 strikeouts against a Timber Rattlers club that can swing the bat. The ceiling with Alcantara is high but so is distance to reach it. The Cardinals should give him time to gain strength and perfect the delivery, and if they do they could have a mid-rotation starter on their hands with three above-average pitches. —James Fisher
Nick Gordon, SS, Minnesota Twins (High-A Fort Myers)
Tired of being overshadowed by his older brother (who just happened to win the 2015 NL Batting Title), Gordon looks to continue to his rapid ascent through the minors. It’s unlikely that High-A will restrain him for long, as his hit/speed combination continues to demonize opposing pitchers. The slim, twitchy shortstop bats lefty and gears his swing towards contact, although when ahead in the count, he can drive the ball into the gaps with authority. Gordon shows good pitch-recognition skills, but likes to be aggressive early in the count. His quick hands combined with plus barrel control make Gordon a tough out, bereft of any holes in the swing. The home run power may never arrive, but Gordon should hit plenty and terrorize opposing batteries with his speed on the basepaths.
Gordon looked less impressive in the field, however. It’s certainly possible that I caught him on a bad day, but he appeared to get late jumps on a couple of choppers, and his instincts seemed imprecise. His speed expands his range, and the hands are solid for the position, but Gordon would benefit from more reps, where he can iron out his performance. He didn’t seem to have any trouble throwing out baserunners, and while the mechanics are solid, I’m not convinced the arm is a plus tool. While his future at shortstop might be a concern down the road, Gordon offers a fun, promising profile that Twins fans could expect to see as early as 2018. —Will Haines
Michael De Leon, SS, Texas Rangers (High-A High Desert)
After just turning 19 in January De Leon is the youngest player in the Cal League, and his youth shows in his present approach at the plate. He’s highly aggressive, getting out on his front side early and struggling to lay off pitches outside the zone. There’s some looseness in his trigger from both sides of the plate at present: his hands drift during his load and launch inconsistently, so the barrel control isn’t quite there yet. He raises up on his heels with a big hitch from the left side, but I liked the rhythm in his right-handed swing, and his bat is quick into the zone with a linear path. He demonstrates impressive hand-eye coordination in the field and in making consistent contact despite his current rough edges, and all of those ingredients suggest some projection into at least fringe-average range is possible for his hit tool. Power is unlikely to ever be a part of his game, and his foot speed is surprisingly average in spite of the frame and athleticism, so he’ll need to max out that projection if he’s ever going to hit enough to play regularly.
He’ll make his money with the glove, however, and it may just be good enough to keep him on a 25-man regardless of the offensive outcome. I could watch this kid pick it all day. You name the six-spot ingredient, and he showed it in two looks (one at second base after a late scratch) this past weekend: an instinctual first step, lateral quickness, body control to the ground and through contorted transfers, a strong hand in the glove to snatch balls on the edge of his range…it’s all there, and it helps his range play to above-average in spite of the limited speed. It’s comfortably a six glove, and that may end up looking light. He pairs the leather work with an arm that already plays above-average, with smooth actions and transfers buying him an extra tick. He showed velocity and accuracy across his body and on the move, and with additional physical pains there’s room for this tool to grade up as he matures as well.
It’s getting kind of silly how deep the Rangers are in the middle of the infield dirt, and you can go ahead and toss De Leon’s name onto the pile, if you hadn’t already. —Wilson Karaman
Jose Azocar, OF, Detroit Tigers (Low-A West Michigan)
Despite a less than daunting frame (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), youth offers room for projection in Azocar, and he’s quickly proving he can handle the pressures of adapting to minor league baseball. Azocar transitioned to the Gulf Coast League in 2015 following after two years in the VZL. Showing an ability to recognize pitches, he hasn’t struggled to blend into his surroundings in his first run at full-season ball. Splitting the 2015 season between Short-Season Connecticut and the Gulf Coast League, he hit .300/.326/.396 with a .722 OPS, 16 extra-base hits and 29 RBI.
At the plate, Azocar carries a visibly mental approach, allowing you to see the wheels turning just before every pitch. Possessing a one-piece swing, Azocar depends on strong rotation of his upper body, with minimal movement in his hips and legs. His arms are not extremely long, but decent bat speed has proven to work in his favor. Given his build—even including projection—he’s unlikely to develop into any sort of a power hitter. Still, he consistently drives the ball to opposite field at present, making him something more than a slap-hitter. In the field, his speed and instincts give hope for potential plus defense. There’s a ways to go, of course, but at 19 years old, Azocar’s blend of speed, instincts, and just-enough-thump should allow him to hold his own, and gain traction in a relatively thin Tigers system. —Emily Waldon
Brian Anderson, 3B, Miami Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
At first glance, third baseman Brian Anderson looks and acts like the Marlins’ no. 9 prospect. However, as one of my colleagues pointed out, “That’s like being the ninth skinniest kid at fat camp.” After multiple looks, Anderson possesses what others have observed, the skill set of a solid organizational utility player.
The positives that you can take away from Anderson’s offensive game are that he has shown some flashes of power and good plate discipline. He often works deep counts allowing for a lot of looks at the ball. He draws a lot of walks (reaching base on half of his plate appearances as of my viewing), but his penchant for taking pitches results in a lot of swing and misses, as well. He employs a long swing, missing frequently when he does swing the bat. Between the walks and misses, it doesn’t add up to a lot of solid contact other than one monstrous home run last week. Anderson appears too selective at the plate and needs to show a more aggressive approach.
On the defensive side, Anderson should be more than a competent defender at third. He shows good range and a strong arm. His throws are crisp and accurate to first. He does get a bit complacent on routine plays, however. One of his two errors was on a medium-range grounder that he just didn’t get down on, though that can be said of many a High-A infielder. With a lean and long body, he needs to show bit more athleticism in the field. At the end of the day, 10 games is a small sample size and the Florida State League is a developmental league. —Thomas Desmidt
Lewis Brinson, CF, Texas Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Brinson is on the verge of becoming the complete player we’ve all been waiting for since his first-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2012. A once overwhelmingly “raw” tools player, as noted by many scouts, Brinson has refined his talent and is becoming the package that befits a first-round pick. In 2015, Brinson finished strong in Triple-a Round Rock, slashing .433/.541/.567 in eight games, and carried the momentum into a strong Arizona Fall League, hitting.300/.408/.575 in 11 games. Starting back at Double-A Frisco this season, Brinson has got off to a solid start and is looking to build on last season’s successes. The defensive abilities have always been there with speed, instinct, and great reads off the bat, but it has been his gains at the plate and his hit tool which are starting to make Brinson an all-around top level player. What’s most noticeable is Brinson’s shortened hand path to the baseball. He has always had high hand positioning in his stance, but now the hands drop into a shoulder-height launch position upon loading, creating a straighter and more efficient path to the baseball. This minor fix seems to provide for more consistent solid contact and the ability to use all fields now. An excellent example was his exhibition walk off against the Royals a few weeks ago, driving the ball with authority to right-center. With the initial offensive worries fast subsiding, the Rangers could be on the brink of adding another elite player to their lineup. The future looks bright for the Rangers outfield with Nomar Mazara easing in to the big leagues, and Joey Gallo on the verge of breaking out of Round Rock, the addition of Brinson would make it an outfield organizations only dream of. —Colin Young
Chance Adams, RHP, New York Yankees (High-A Tampa)
Profiled in last week’s Who to Watch, I had the opportunity to watch Adams toe the rubber for Tampa earlier this season. A fifth-rounder out of Dallas Baptist in 2015, Adams has a starting pitcher’s mentality despite working as the closer for Dallas Baptist, on a team that featured plenty of flamethrowers. He pitches inside often with his 92-94 mph heater, as he generates easy velocity with his large muscular body (6-foot, 215 pounds). He is still quite athletic even with his size, showing a clean delivery with above-average momentum and good balance. He was primarily fastball/slider in college, but has introduced a curveball into his arsenal while becoming a starter. The curve sat 74-77 mph, with 11/5 shape, and large depth— the best ones flashing average, as he was able to locate in the zone and get a fair amount of break. More often than not the pitch was loopy and not located well. The slider was 82-86, and is still an above-average offering; a very sharp pitch with two-plane break and ability to locate for punchouts. His change is well behind both of the breaking balls but he has some feel for the pitch. At 83-85 mph, it had some fade down in the zone but on this night, he was lacking feel for the offering and left it up in the zone for some loud home runs. While he could have been fast-tracked as a relief prospect, he has the makings of a no. 4 starter, and could take a jump higher with improved control. —Steve Givarz
Justus Sheffield, LHP, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg)
Sheffield holds a muscular, broad-featured 5-foot-10, 200-pound frame athletically. Despite his smaller stature, when you see his wide shoulders and well-built lower half, there’s no reason to question his durability—and indeed, he was able to maintain his velocity and stuff throughout. He throws from an aggressive semi-windup, relying on his aforementioned muscular lower-half to provide most of the power. His delivery features a deep back-leg drive to the plate, with a long stride that limits the downhill action he generates on his fastball. There’s effort—though not extreme effort, either—through Sheffield’s release: his back-leg can swing around very hard and pull him off-line down the mound, and his throwing arm bounces back with some recoil after release. Aside from the arm-bounce, his arm-action is stellar; a compact arm-circle with definite plus arm-speed through a high three-quarters release point. Sheffield’s four-seam fastball sat 92-94, and touched 95 a handful of times, showing a late second-gear that jumped at hitters with average arm-side run. Interestingly, he relied heavily on a true cut fastball in the lower-90s—especially to right-handed bats—consistently trying to throw the cutter across the plate to his glove-side in order to jam righties in on their hands. Sheffield’s four-seamer is at least a 60-grade pitch, with the cutter not far behind.
It’s his command of the two fastballs that will need continual improvement, as the stride and fall-off in his delivery occasionally impact his consistency landing his fastballs to quality quadrants of the zone. Sheffield showed advanced feel to manipulate the grip and action on an 81-85 slider. At the lower ranges of that velocity to left-handers, the slider had wider, longer, deeper tilt—same-side hitters were absolutely baffled by the pitch throughout the game, missing by a wide margin on numerous occasions. Against righties, his slider was thrown harder at 84-85 with later-showing, darting action with less depth. Sheffield showed encouraging ability to incorporate an at-least-average third pitch in his changeup. He maintains his arm speed well, and the pitch arrives in the 82-84 range with late run to his arm-side. While his shorter frame, moderate-effort delivery, and occasional command lapses will lead to questions about a future in the ‘pen, he has the athleticism to remedy some of those concerns. Given the potency of his three-pitch mix, he has the upside of a no. 3 starter if he remains in the rotation. —Adam McInturff
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