Alex Verdugo, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa)
A left-hander with the arm to pitch his way into the draft, the speed to handle center, and enough power to slug .464 in the Texas League this season, Verdugo can claim as much talent as any other prospect. He has a unique set-up deep in the box, with an open stance that suggests his front leg might be a conscientious objector to baseball. He keeps his weight all the way up and back, makes a soft timing toe-tap to square his stance as the pitcher delivers, then takes a flat stride to initiate his swing. The process is… interesting, but the end result is fine, with enough quickness and control to meet balls in the zone. If he pays any penalty for balance and timing complications, it might be in power but not in contact. He fared well last week against Luke Weaver, who struck out nine with a quality fastball/changeup combo. In fact, Verdugo had one swing-and-miss on thirty-nine pitches observed across two days. Although his strikeout rate has steadily increased as he moves up levels (from almost nothing to merely above average), it seems to be the result of selectivity: His walk rate has climbed and he gets good marks for pitch recognition. His negligible platoon split, often a liability for lefties, is another mark in his favor.
Verdugo is efficient but not spectacular in center, taking direct routes and showing adequate speed. Base stealing is becoming more of a challenge. His good outfield instincts and strong arm should eventually settle well in right field. His skills outside the batter’s box aren’t so remarkable that they will compensate if his bat gives out. The talent that was raw and projectable in the second round of the 2014 draft is more refined but also more bounded now that he has turned 20 and approached 1000 professional plate appearances. It’s still major-league talent, but he needs to maintain the hit tool against better pitching and tap into his power in order to advance.
Braden Shipley, RHP Arizona (Triple-A Reno)
Shipley, Arizona’s first-rounder back in 2013, is just about ready for the big leagues. The 6-foot-1, 190 pound righty works with a three-pitch arsenal. He pitches off his fastball, complementing his two-seamer with a 12-5 curve and a tumbling change. While he’s not a budding star, Shipley commands the ball well, gets outs with all three pitches, and should have a future in a big-league rotation.
Shipley’s fastball sits in the low 90s and features late and hard tailing action. He’s comfortable working the pitch to both sides of the plate, and has good feel for finding the corners. He also likes to elevate the pitch, but he was prone to missing very high (better than missing in the other direction, I suppose) and both that and his pedestrian velocity suggest that he won’t catch too many hitters chasing upstairs at the next level.
Shipley’s best offspeed pitch is his plus curve, a sharp breaker at 79-82 mph thrown with good arm speed. The pitch has a lot of spin, and he’s capable of both throwing it for strikes and burying it out of the zone to chase a whiff. His change sat in the mid 80s: It was a little too firm at times, but hitters didn’t read it well out of the hand, and his best ones flashed the late, dropping action that can entice even a good big-league hitter to swing over the top. With some refinement, the change could become a consistently above-average pitch, perhaps a tick more.
The whole approach works because of his command. There’s some effort in his motion, an up-tempo, rock-and-fire delivery, but he keeps his head still and repeats it well. He pounded the zone all afternoon long in my look, rarely leaving any of his pitches out over the middle of the plate. It’s not the sexiest profile, but Shipley makes it work, and he should settle in as a good no. 4 starter at the highest level, perhaps more if he gets some of his old velocity back. —Brendan Gawlowski
Jacob Gatewood, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Drafted 41st-overall in the 2014 draft, Jacob Gatewood made quite a name for himself as an amateur by winning the home run derby at Citi Field. In pro ball the results have been mixed, with plenty of question marks being raised by evaluators, but Gatewood has started to make adjustments and the positive returns are starting to come.
Standing 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Gatewood’s frame is long and rangy, with strength throughout and broad shoulders. The frame can handle additional strength and will continue to fill out as he is only 20 years old. At the plate, Gatewood stands tall with an even stance and his hands near his shoulder. In previous viewings his hands were higher, near his ear, which necessitated a drop with his hands before he could start his swing. The lower hands have him shorter to the ball, with a more level bat plane. While there will always be swing and miss in his game, this adjustment is a positive one in regards to the hit tool. The other positive from this adjustment is that the power hasn’t been sapped because the bat speed and strength he already has can finally manifest. While he never may get to average on the hit tool, the power he possesses is an acceptable trade off.
On defense, Gatewood’s arm possesses on-line carry to the bag from multiple angles. His bigger frame gives pause on the glove but his athleticism shines on plays in front of him and he plays third with the relaxed confidence of a former shortstop. —James Fisher
Donnie Dewees, OF, Chicago Cubs (Low-A South Bend)
Dewees, the Cubs’ second-round pick in the 2015 draft, is a medium-framed outfielder who has the potential to add a little more muscle. He hits from a slightly open stance and has a clean, compact swing. Has an advanced hit tool, barrels the ball well and can hit to all fields. He shows a good command of the strike zone—Dewees’ strikeout rate is down from 17.8 percent last year to 11.4 percent currently. Dewees has plus speed, registering sub 4.0 to first base. He is also an above-average base stealer.
Defensively, he shows above-average range and gets good reads on the ball off of the bat. The arm grades out at average but is accurate. Dewees is a high-floor, low-ceiling type player. The speed and hit tool should allow him to become a major leaguer. If his defense and arm allows him to stick in center field, he could be an everyday player, if not he looks to top out as a fourth outfielder. —Nathan Graham
Yeyson Yrizarri, SS, Texas Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
A $1.35 million signee out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Yrizarri is the embodiment of the raw tools that the Rangers can't get enough of. As Kate Morrison noted in her excellent Rangers essay in the 2016 Baseball Prospectus annual, this isn't bad company to hold, because Texas has done really well on this type. Two aspects of Yrizarri’s game in particular stood out during a recent series: his arm, which is an absolute cannon from short, and his hitting potential. It's a beautiful swing—and yes, he's a righty, and yes, we don't say that often about righties—and there's true thunder in his bat when he squares up. Throw in some good infield actions, sprinkle appropriate speed and athleticism, and you've got a ton of potential.
So here's the catch: The dude swings at everything. He's got just five walks in 220 PAs through Saturday’s game, and walked seven times in 291 PAs in 2015. Visually, while he wasn't badly fooled by location or spin, he hasn't at all figured out what to lay off of yet. It's quite dissonant given the impressive polish he displays in nearly every other aspect of his game, and it could easily cause the aforementioned hitting potential to never materialize.
Usually with this risk profile and upside I’d make some sort of wry quip about how the player could be a shooting star, among the best prospects in the game in a few years, or might never see Triple-A. Strictly speaking, that wouldn't be correct here, because the Rangers actually put Yrizarri in Triple-A for a few weeks last year before short-season ball started. He got into nine games, and wasn't absurdly overmatched, which even in that small a sample is a heck of an accomplishment at 18 years old with no experience above complex leagues. That speaks to Yrizarri’s ability to handle himself, and the faith the Rangers organization has in him. —Jarrett Seidler
Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A Reading)
Hoskins, a fifth-round selection out of Sacramento State in 2014, continues to torch minor-league pitching and present himself as an increasingly viable candidate to eventually land the job that Ryan Howard just lost. Last year for High-A Clearwater, he finished with a .317/.394/.510 slash line along with eight home runs and a .193 ISO in 277 plate appearances. This initial dominance was expected for a player drafted out of college, yet against more advanced Double-A pitchers, he currently sports a .261/.320/.514 slash line along with 15 homers and a .256 ISO in 251 plate appearances. His contact rate has decreased this year, but the Phillies are undoubtedly pleased that a higher percentage of the balls he does square up are leaving the ballpark.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Hoskins possesses an ideal power-hitter’s physique. He features a basic, balanced stance and a leveraged swing with plus bat speed and moderate barrel control. Against Portland on June 2, he displayed above-average plate discipline, which was particularly evident when he refrained from chasing two consecutive breaking balls following a 2-2 count to draw a walk during his final plate appearance. However, the previous five at-bats resulted in outs and the primary concern with Hoskins is that he will fail to consistently make enough solid contact for his plus raw power to manifest itself in higher-level games. Soft hands and serviceable range should allow him to stay at first base, where he could start at the big-league level as soon as 2017 if he maintains his approach and hit tool plays as average. The more realistic scenario is that this season’s home run rate proves to be unsustainable and contact rate decline persists, diminishing his future role to bench bat. Neither outcome would surprise me though. —Erich Rothmann
The Rockies advanced Wall to High-A after a strong full-season debut last year, but he’s had a tougher go of it at High-A so far. He generates solid early rhythm with his setup and a mild load, but his weight often gets stuck too far onto his back side, and the top half can get rigid at trigger with a moderate bat wrap. He struggled pretty significantly with his timing throughout my looks, as his long, early stride didn’t come with enough momentum to sync his launch. On far too many swings he’d end up losing his hips, dropping his back shoulder, and exposing vulnerability against anything that wasn’t a fastball. I’m not convinced it’s a chronic problem that will handicap his ultimate ability to make in-pitch adjustments, but it was definitely a present issue limiting his potential for consistent contact. There are some notable strengths to the swing, including quick hands, extension through the zone, and quick hips that can drive above-average bat speed when he does get everything on time and flowing. I only got one game of him in the field, but he showed a solid package of skills as a defender. There’s ample lateral quickness, his plus speed has utility in the form of range into the hole, and he showed very solid footwork on a tough cover of first base on a bunt. I saw no deficiency of arm strength, and all told he looked like a perfectly adequate defender at the keystone. —Wilson Karaman
Alex Young, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Low-A Kane County)
Young was the Diamondbacks second round pick last summer, and effectively their highest pick leftover from that draft following the trade of Dansby Swanson. On Saturday night the lefty went six-plus innings, failing to get any outs in the seventh. His delivery features a quiet bottom half, repeatable delivery and a consistent three-quarters arm slot. His fastball sat 88-90 mph, with tailing action and occasional sink on the pitch. Multiple times throughout the game it was easy to see his velocity—or lack thereof—was hurting him, as Wisconsin’s talented line up easily caught up to it and pulled almost every fastball they waited on for a hard hit.
The best pitch is obviously his slider, which he throws hard in the low 80s with hard, late bite, and consistently made righties look silly. It was a pitch of much ire, as a few Wisconsin batters were visibly frustrated, repeatedly swinging and missing at the pitch. The changeup is lagging and does not feature much separation in velocity from the fastball, though it has slight, late fade on it, and showed one that had harder fade and came out much more firm for a swing and miss from Monte Harrison.
At the big league level I would expect Young to work his way into the bullpen, as the stuff he showed Saturday would not be able to play for six or seven innings in the big leagues. Many noted it was a poor outing from him, and with how easily the Timber Rattlers were able to sit fastball and control the game it was easy to see how the lack of velocity and third pitch hurt him. His slider is plus, and can continue be his bread and butter, but one of his other pitches will need to improve for him to be effective moving forward.
Monte Harrison, CF, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Harrison is presently an amalgamation of his many past, exciting forms—a standout tri-sport athlete from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, with dunk montages and end-zone grabs to show. His YouTube celebrity aside, Harrison’s athleticism translates onto the baseball field. An overslot, second-round pick of the Brewers in 2014, Harrison has a lithe, quick burst to his first step. Much like he exploded past unworthy cornerbacks in high school, Harrison can go get it in center field. It’s more athleticism than true instinct at the moment, but that more than makes up for the instinct, which will come in time. In pre-game drills, Harrison didn’t approach throwing seriously, showing a poor arm with a side-arm release point. That changed in game as the arm looked average on a throw to the cut-off man. Sticking in center is important for Harrison’s profile and major-league ceiling, so as to put less emphasis on the hit tool and game power in a corner spot.
Harrison, 20, looked particularly susceptible to pitches in on his hands, and anything slow-and-low. Using mild toe-tap for timing, he has bat drag, a long swing, and an arm bar all present at times in his swing. For Harrison, who has missed developmental time due to ankle and leg injuries, swing and miss will be a part of his game. After 184 plate appearances in Low-A last year, Harrison has cut his whiff rate by over nine percentage points (it is still over 30 percent), but the walk rate has deteriorated by close to two percentage points as well. Importantly, the ISO (.145) is up from last year.
Harrison’s prospect status will long be linked to his multi-sport past, sparking the question of baseball instinct and feel, especially at the plate. As much as that can harm the profile though, it also represents an unteachable, quick-twitch ability. The current question Harrison has to answer is whether the copious amount of swing-and-miss in his game is the result of an inability to identify movement, or simply an aggressive hitter, looking to drive his pitch. He is not just a dead-pull hitter, possessing the looseness in the swing to flip a ball to the opposite field in a two-strike situation. A realistic ceiling for Harrison is a platoon bat in center, with plus defense and above-average to plus speed. The hit tool and approach are going to have to take major strides for him to realize his ceiling as a regular, but the path to that ascension is clear, and made easier as an up-the-middle player. He is undoubtedly a raw prospect, but in his third time through the order versus Kane County’s Alex Young, he waited back on a hanging slider low-and-in and cleared the left-field scoreboard for a home run.* In an at-bat that saw him get tied up by off-speed pitches below the zone, Harrison was still able to add to his montage-worthy ability. —Will Siskel
*Per BP South Side's own James Fegan, the home run was "long."
Walker Lockett, RHP, San Diego Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
A former fourth-round prep pick, Lockett has had a start-and-stop professional career riddled with injuries, but he’s healthy now and had the look of a potential future big leaguer in a start last week. His frame is big and sturdy, easily measuring up to his listed 6-feet-5 and 225 pounds, with a thick base and broad shoulders. Off a modest rock, he fires into a balanced semi-wind up with good posture and a direct drive. There’s some stiffness in his takeaway, and the arm path migrates by pitch type, but it’s a clean action to his three-quarters slot, and he generates some deception with a moderately closed front side. He’s inverted at foot strike with some crossfire, though he’s consistent over his front side with easy deceleration. He repeats well, and that helps him pound the zone with above-average control.
The arsenal is somewhat limited, though it works off a solid low-90s fastball with run and moderate sink. He touched 96 in the first, though sat more in the 91-93 band before losing a couple ticks later in his seven innings. The find command isn’t quite there, but he worked it to both sides effectively and kept it down all night, driving a groundball parade. The change is the better of his secondaries, tunneling well with similar action to his two-seamer at 82-85, though the movement is subtle and it is a contact pitch with limited swing-and-miss. He struggles to generate much bite on his upper-70s slider, as the pitch sets an early trajectory and tends to sweep. He’ll also frequently show the pitch with a shorter arm action, and batters didn’t have much use for it outside the zone. The overall profile is that of a middle man who can generate grounders off a strong fastball and limit self-inflicted damage. – Wilson Karaman
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