I was sitting on an Appalachian League game last week. The teams and players involved don't really matter for the purposes of this story. There were runners on first and second, two out. The batter lined a ball into short left field. Even with the head start, this was clearly a station-to-station to situation. The manager, coaching third, immediately pointed to the base. The throw came in about shoulder high to the catcher who came out from behind the plate to take it. And Fin, right?
Well no, because the trail runner on second just kept running and found himself a full halfway to third with both dugouts now yelling instructions. The catcher took a few steps towards him and then unleashed a throw to second as the runner scrambled back. The throw went over the second baseman's head. This is an accurate description of what happened, but it is not a depiction of what happened. What actually happened is the throw went a good 15 feet on the fly over the second baseman's head. All the runners moved up a base.
I've written before that scenes like these are not entirely unusual in the lower levels of organized baseball. It is just barely organized at times. So what I am looking for are scenes that look out of place in these leagues, but not-so-out-of-place in the majors.
Arquimedes Gamboa looks the part. He got $900,000 out of the 2014 J2 class, and the Penn League is a very aggressive assignment for him, though not out of line with how the Phillies generally treat their young, toolsy prospects. And Gamboa doesn't look out of place among the throngs of more physically mature college players, especially in the field. He is smooth around the bag and has the physical tools to make plays deep in the 5.5 hole. He has plus arm strength and his throws are accurate. His one flub in the field was on a routine 6-4-3 ball that he didn't quite wait long enough on and got five-holed. This isn't uncommon in less experienced, but physically gifted players, they occasionally struggle with the extra time on the play.
At the plate there's a bit more rawness. He's a switch hitter and made some loud, line drive contact from the left side. I do have some concerns about the ultimate hit tool projection and the approach in general, but again, he is an 18-year-old facing mostly older college arms.
And I keep returning to the play deep in the hole, made on the backhand, a strong throw to first. It doesn't seem like that big of a deal in the majors, which is why it was a big deal to see it in Williamsport. Or the shot he hit into the right field corner for a triple right after his error in the field. Big-league plays on the small stage matter. I can wax poetic about the tools and the polish on a larger scale, but it's those two plays that will stick with me on Gamboa. It is about what is possible. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (Low-A West Virginia)
Hayes is quickly turning into a nice stealth pick by the Pirates at 32nd-overall in 2015. He has good feel for the barrel and shows the ability to make consistently hard contact. It’s a fairly aggressive approach, but he tracks the ball well, and that further feeds his high contact skills. He has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average defense and a plus arm at third base. The main question is how much power he’ll tap into. He has at least above-average raw power and could grow into more, but his swing and approach are line-drive oriented based on a level plane that sometimes gets choppy. He’ll still run into his share of extra-base hits and a few home runs, but adjustments are needed to utilize his power more often. The profile adds up to an everyday player with contact and glove skills, and his value could really take off if he puts a few more over the fence as he gets older. —David Lee
Sandy Alcantara, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (Low-A Peoria)
Sometimes the second look at a player can be disappointing, but not in this case. The 20-year-old Alcantara has been striking out Midwest Leaguers at a prolific pace, and Friday night he tacked on another nine to his league-leading total. As it stands now he has 107 punchouts in a paltry 77 innings. Alcantara’s 6-foot-4 frame is skinny, but he does have broad shoulders and a narrow waist that make me believe that he will continue to gain strength as he matures. The arm action is clean with no issues out front, and he combines that with enough athleticism to repeat it consistently.
The fastball is the calling card here with premium velocity, sitting 93-96 and touching 98. It features arm-side run that has improved since my last viewing and he has improved his ability to command it. He commands it to all four quadrants and in this outing his opponents fell victim to the high fastball on multiple occasions. The curveball sits 79-81, getting slurvy at times, but when he stays on top of the ball he flashes quality rotation and depth down in the zone. The arm speed has improved with the pitch and he shows feel to both sides of the plate. The straight-change has also taken a step forward with more consistent arm speed. He threw several that featured average fade and hitters failed to recognize out of the hand. —James Fisher
Michael Kopech, RHP, Boston Red Sox (High-A Salem)
A first-round pick in 2014 and the Red Sox fifth-overall prospect, Kopech flashes the potential to become a mid-rotation starter but has a long way to go before reaching that ceiling. In 65 innings for Single-A Greenville last year, he finished with a 2.63 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 3.35 FIP, 70 strikeouts, and 27 walks. However, one of the primary concerns with him is maturity. He received a 50-game suspension last July after testing positive for Oxilofrine and suffered a hand injury incurred by a fight with his roommate during the spring. On June 17th at Lowell, he finally returned to action, pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings (78 pitches) while striking out four batters and surrendering four hits and four walks. A calf injury further delayed his debut with Salem until July 7th, during which he allowed three walks and one hit in four scoreless innings (60 pitches). He struck out six batters as well, including three on nine pitches to end his outing.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Kopech possesses an ideal frame that has seen added muscle since he's entered the system. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot and has a delivery with some effort that includes a high leg lift. His glove side is firm, but he lands awkwardly to the first base side. The most dominant and frequently utilized offering in his arsenal is clearly his plus-plus fastball, which topped out at 103 mph with late life, and generated several swing and misses. Control was an issue early in both starts, in part due to rust and excess adrenaline pumping. Fatigue caused his velocity to drop to the 93-97 range as the game progressed. His three secondary pitches lag behind the fastball, with his slider flashing plus at the fore and the changeup more of a fringe-average future offering at the tail of the group. At Lowell, the fourth strikeout came on a 79-mph above-average curveball and an 82-mph changeup with noticeable downward movement induced a double play in the first inning. Nonetheless, they must generate weak contact and swing and misses more consistently than they do at present. Base hits and loud contact resulted from either poor command or the pitches not breaking as intended. —Erich Rothmann
Eddy Julio Martinez, CF, Chicago Cubs (Low-A South Bend)
Eddy Julio Martinez started slowly after a break from the game following his defection from Cuba. In April, he was adjusting to the culture, getting back into baseball, and also battling the elements in the frigid Midwest League. The struggles then continued into May and June, and with every viewing it became more and more apparent that he was not comfortable in the box, or invested as heavily into the game as he should be, possibly due to the adjustment period. Even through those struggles Martinez showed his tools off, especially his bat speed.
Over the past month though, Martinez has looked like a different player, slashing .370/.422/.510 (since June 9). He was visibly more comfortable a recent look against Fort Wayne, taking better swings, and showing off a much-improved approach. When he was pressing, his swing would elongate and he would chase pitches; now he has been quieter with a smooth lower half. His bat speed combined with his ability to sit on hanging breaking balls and leverage his swing for line drives has played a big factor for his approach lately, but he will still revert back to chasing low-and-away offerings occasionally. The most promising change has been the fact he looks reinvigorated and more interested in the game, which probably has a lot to do with becoming more comfortable in the States. —Grant Jones
Tyler Wade, MI, New York Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
Wade is a player who has grown on me not just the more I have seen him, but the more I have thought about the nature of athletic, polished middle infield prospects. A 2013 fourth-round pick by the Yankees out of a California high school, Wade shows enough arm and range to have a shot to play shortstop in the majors at the position with more reps. If his reliability at short doesn’t improve, he’s very good at second. He has an advanced plate approach and takes a nice looking swing. There isn’t a lot of lift yet, limiting present power while offering projection for more. He’s been a pretty consistent 65 runner for me all season. He’s currently hitting .271/.374/.373 at Double-A Trenton at age-21.
We’ve called Wade “the perfect utility player” in the past, and he certainly could end up being that. I’ve seen Wade enough to ballpark median-type future grades for him: 50 hit, 30 power, 65 run, 55 glove, 50 arm. Converted to narrative form, I see a fringe defensive shortstop or very good defensive second baseman whose average peak season would look something like a .260-.270 hitter with 5-8 home runs a year, and he’ll chip in a decent walk rate and excellent baserunning. In a triple-slash context, that’s probably something like .265/.330/.365. Think Elvis Andrus without the defense.
But if Wade overshoots median projections by just a little, if the scouts and evaluators that really love him are right, that package gets a lot more interesting very quickly. If Wade is the offensive player I forecast above, but his defense jumps, well, that basically makes him Elvis Andrus. If the hit tool is a 60 instead of a 50, his batting average carries him. If his plate discipline survives the major-league jump with just a little less attrition than I projected, his OBP carries him. If the power projection pans out even to gap power and the slugging percentage starts with a four, that carries him. If several of these gains happen, or even if one of them jumps a lot, all of a sudden he’s a hidden star. That star outcome probably doesn’t happen, but most guys on your top 101 probably won’t be stars, and these aren’t unreachable jumps. While it’s easy to tag players with this profile as low upside, in reality Wade offers high upside combined with a high floor, and that’s a strong candidate for the BP 101. —Jarrett Seidler
Nunez presents as a very interesting catching prospect, though he's still young and fairly raw on both sides of the ball. The defensive package is solid all around, with decent agility and a strong glove hand that shows projection for quality framing, and he's already smooth to the ball. His technique to the ground is still haphazard, but he controls his body well and shows the physical ability to improve. He's explosive out of the crouch, though he hasn't yet learned how to harness it into a smooth catch-and-transfer. The arm features above-average velocity and solid accuracy. At the dish he had the ingredients of a future average hit tool on display, with an all-fields approach and fluidity into the zone. I saw his first (and to date only) home run of the season, and he displayed leverage and ample separation in lifting to the pull side. Coupled with his present physicality and some remaining projection it's not hard to see the power utility playing up to average in the future. It'll take a bit of time, as it tends to with you backstops, but this is the profile of a potential starting catcher who can jump into the mix for the back end of this winter's 101. —Wilson Karaman
Joe Jimenez, RHP, Detroit Tigers (Double-A Erie)
If you have seen any playoff baseball in the past few years, you will know that bullpens, and especially those towards the back end of it, have become extremely valuable players. Just ask Wade Davis, Mark Melancon, Roberto Osuna, or Sergio Romo.
Jimenez, a fast-rising closer prospect, has made a strong case to see big-league action this year and has the highest ceiling of any relief prospect in the organization. Listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jimenez looks closer to 230 and certainly looks the part of an intimidating mound presence. Pitching from the stretch only, Jimenez has a slight crossfire in his delivery with a quick slinger arm action and repeats his three-quarters slot and delivery well. His fastball was routinely between 96-100 in my viewings, and while the velo plays at 80, its plus boring action makes it especially tough on hitters, allowing the pitch to play higher and force some ugly swings. The slider is a plus offering with big depth, plus bite. Jimenez shows the ability to throw the slider for strikes or off the plate for swings-and-misses. What stands out most about him though is that he is throwing both pitches for strikes, routinely pitching ahead in the count and forcing batters to take uncomfortable swings against him.
Typically, relief prospects don’t crack the Top 101 given their profile, overall volatility, and limited number of innings over the course of the season, but Jimenez carries the type of impact profile that at can at least make the case. —Steve Givarz
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Short-Season Aberdeen)
The only way Harvey doesn’t make the top 101 is if he’s not healthy, so, I guess there’s a decent chance that he’s not on this list when you consider his track record. Assuming he is healthy—and he certainly has looked like he is since returning last month, it’s tough to see someone this talented not making the list. There are two pitches that will flash plus-plus in his fastball and curveball, and while they’re not consistently in that range, you could give both 65 grades if you were a believer in said grade’s existence. There’s also a change that should get to average at his disposal, and he throws enough strikes to make you believe that starting is in his future. Is it risky? Yep. Is it volatile? Yep. Is it a top 101 prospect? You bet. —Christopher Crawford
If Harvey was the safe play, Diaz is a little more risky, but not really, because Isan Diaz is really good. Acquired in the deal that sent Jean Segura to the Diamondbacks, Diaz’s numbers aren’t otherworldly, but they don’t tell the story of how talented his is. He has an outstanding approach at the plate, and while that approach gets him in two-strike counts and leads to (a lot of) strikeouts, it also sees him get on base. There’s above-average power in his left-handed bat, and the swing path suggests and above-average hit too, with the chance for more if he can cut down on the strikeouts. It’s likely he’ll move over to second base at some point, but he should be above-average there, and the bat will certainly play. There’s a lot to like here, and no one should be surprised if he’s one of the top 101 prospects come this winter. —Christopher Crawford