Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Complex Level AZL)
Alvarez was arguably the highest-profile international free agent last summer, signing with the Dodgers for $16 million out of Cuba. Los Angeles has decided to take their time developing him, with the 20-year-old working through some command issues in the Arizona League. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, though his lean, athletic, frame makes him look a bit taller.
The velocity is easy—almost effortless—with reports of him touching triple-digits this spring. He works primarily at 93-97 with the fastball, rushing it up to 98 a few times the night I saw him. He seems to be experimenting a bit, working almost in phases—occasionally sitting 91-93 for an entire at bat, and then 94-96 against the next hitter. While his four-seamer is pretty straight, he generates excellent downhill plane when he gets on top of it. He also works in a sharp slider with a similarly large velocity band to the fastball, ranging from softer, slurvy offerings at 82, to power-sliders which might even be classified as cutters, as hard as 90 mph. His changeup is a work in progress; he struggles to replicate the same arm speed as his fastball, but he throws it hard enough (85-89 MPH) to get away with some mistakes at this level. The development of his off-speed pitch will likely be the difference between him throwing every fifth day and being a high-leverage reliever at the big league level.
Mechanically, he’s prone to flying open and falling off the mound towards first base, causing him to occasionally air mail fastballs over the catcher’s head. He throws a bit across his body, causing what appears to be a lot of stress on his plant leg; when he really drives straight toward home plate and keeps his front shoulder strong, he generates the plus-plus heat with downhill action. Out of the windup, Alvarez employs a high leg kick, getting his knee up around the letters of his jersey; out of the stretch, the leg kick is subdued, but he still isn’t exactly quick to home plate. His arm action is loose and whippy, with an arm slot somewhere between three-quarters and straight over-the-top. He hides the ball fairly well, making his stuff that much more dangerous. The Dodgers have enough depth in their system (and pockets) that they have no reason to rush Alvarez, allowing him to develop at his own pace in the lower levels. However, if he can make the necessary improvements, he stands a chance to rise through their system very quickly. —Matt Pullman
Tate was pulled in the third inning during a recent look and one scout spoke for all in attendance: “That’s it?”
The Rangers are handling Tate in a different manner lately by limiting his innings, but it hasn’t stopped the stuff and results from playing down. The fastball was 91-93, touching 94 with fringy life. It showed late arm-side run and sink with average downhill plane when on top, but his inconsistent release caused the ball to flatten up at times. He must have thrown 50 percent changeups. The amount of off-speed thrown in this look was incredible. Tate’s changeup was 80-84 and flashed average with similar arm-side fade as the fastball when turned over. He can slow his motion and cast it at times, but it profiles as a competent third pitch. His slider has been described as plus-plus in the past, but he never had feel for it in the few attempts, lacking bite and depth and only flashing. He tossed in a curveball in the upper-70s with downward action and average depth, and it could become another usable offering if he learns to tighten it and lose some hump.
Tate’s delivery isn’t as high-energy and high-effort as advertised, but tweaks are needed, notably his upper-half rotation and drop-and-drive that cause him to leave his arm behind and miss arm-side. It’s a bit of a gun-holster arm action that leaves his arm to play catch up and rely on plus arm speed. Tate has high-level athleticism on his side with a strong, defined lower half and developing upper half.
It’s a question of feel. Tate can work with what he has in the upper levels. It’s a deeper arsenal than he began with, with at least three pitches that should develop into major league offerings. But the fastball has backed up and he has very little room for command error. That doesn’t work when he’s battling with poor command. The telling sign is when he struggles adjusting to constantly missing arm-side and can’t gain a consistent feel for either side.
Tate has the makings of a major-league starter between an athletic frame and delivery, and a deep-enough arsenal, but it’s not the high-end rotation profile the Rangers signed up for. It’s also not a guarantee, and the command woes could eventually push him to relief. Tate was a college arm, but he continues to be a raw product and will need quite a bit of time. —David Lee
Mauricio Dubon, SS, Boston (Double-A Portland)
Dubon, a 26th-round selection in 2013, was not widely viewed as a top-10 Red Sox prospect at the beginning of the season, but that should change going forward after a promising first half for High-A Salem and Portland. Before receiving a promotion to Portland, he displayed considerable improvement at the plate although his power remained non-existent. In 279 plate appearances with Salem in 2016, he slashed .306/.387/.379 with 24 stolen bases. A more advanced approach, confirmed by better strikeout and walk ratios, has enabled his potentially above-average hit tool to further approach its ceiling. In addition, getting on base at a higher frequency allows his plus speed to impact the game on the basepaths. He has adjusted nicely to Double-A pitching, slashing .270/.333/.413 in 69 plate appearances.
The 21-year-old shortstop possesses a slim, athletic frame with room to add more muscle. He has an open stance and makes contact at a high rate because of quick wrists, good hand-eye coordination, and solid to above-average bat speed. Even with additional muscle, his power projection would increase only marginally in part due to a relatively flat swing plane.
Dubon’s approach can continue to develop by refraining from chasing off-speed pitches outside of the zone, consequently helping to prevent soft contact. For example, during the seventh inning of the June 30th game against Hartford, he slapped a weak groundball to the shortstop off of an 83-mph breaking ball on the second pitch of the at-bat as opposed to waiting for an easier pitch to drive. After primarily playing second base last season, he has displayed the ability to handle shortstop this season. An above-average arm coupled with plus range gives him plus potential in the field. His speed and defense tools result in a floor as a utility player, and if his hit tool plays as average or better at the big league level, he will become a regular. —Erich Rothmann
Blaine Prescott, 2B, Texas Rangers (Short-season Spokane)
Every summer in the Northwest League, I try to identify at least one late-round pick that I think teams missed on. This year, my guy is Prescott, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound second basemen who was drafted in the 28th round out of Midland College last year. Prescott barreled everything in sight in my viewings, and he’s off to a hot start in the NWL: through last Thursday, he was hitting .283/.342/.462 in 118 plate appearances.
At the plate, Prescott works with a short, smooth stroke geared to hit line drives. He keeps his head on the ball and the bat head relatively flat, though there’s some late loft in the swing and he incorporates enough of his lower body to project at least fringe average power. While he has some trouble with spin, he’s not an incorrigible hacker and he’s capable of making hard contact to all fields.
Defensively, he’s error-prone, occasionally booting routine grounders that he should field comfortably. He moves well laterally—he’s a plus runner—and coming in on the ball, however, and his actions are cleaner than his fielding percentage would suggest, leaving some room for optimism. Ultimately Prescott is raw, but he’s just 20 years old, and succeeding against significantly better competition than he’s ever faced before. Don’t let his draft position fool you: Prescott can play. —Brendan Gawlowski
Matt Thaiss, 1B, Los Angeles Angels (Low-A Burlington)
Drafted out of the University of Virginia by the Angels, Matt Thaiss is a physical right-handed hitter who’s currently manning first base for Burlington. In college, Thaiss was the catcher on a solid club and hit in the middle of the lineup. While opinions on his catching vary throughout the scouting community, the Angels wasted no time moving him to first. His first stop after being drafted 16th-overall was Orem in the Pioneer League but he quickly hit his way out of there to the Midwest League.
The main attraction here is the bat. He starts with a slightly open, crouched stance with his hands at rest near his shoulder. The swing gets started with downward hand movement causing the bat to go almost vertical but he gets through it with well above-average bat speed. He keeps the barrel in the zone and has feel for it as he buggy whips it through. Beloit pitchers wanted to challenge Thaiss inside and he responded by pulling the ball with authority to right. His opposite field power was only on display during BP but it is in there and Thaiss has a chance to emerge with average power.
Thaiss is still learning the first base position and to paraphrase Ron Washington in Moneyball, it’s incredibly hard. His hands are soft enough for the position but he is still learning the hops and angles. He moves well laterally and his feet aren’t heavy as one would imagine after moving from behind the plate. His arm will be a weapon and he isn’t afraid to throw across the diamond on a cutoff. All told, Thaiss has the ingredients to become an average defender at first but it’s going to take some time. —James Fisher
Jake Cronenworth, SS, Tampa Bay Rays (Low-A Bowling Green)
The Rays selected Jake Cronenworth, a two-way standout IF/closer at Michigan, in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. A cursory look at his profile so far in his early pro-career reveals an age (22) slightly older than the Midwest League average. This same cursory look may lead some to project Cronenworth as a utility infielder at best—a competent player to provide minor-league depth. The former collegiate closer breaks out of this mold with visible tools, springy athleticism, mainly, and above-average to plus run times (4.06 to first on a jailbreak bunt). With a slender frame and tapered waist, Cronenworth’s arm grades out as plus given the arm strength and accuracy. His throws routinely arrive at the first baseman’s belt, with carry.
At the plate, Cronenworth showed a fairly generic set-up—straight-up, stolid hands at his shoulders, with a slight bend in his back leg, giving way to a level, quick swing allowing for some hard gap-to-gap contact. The bat speed and hand/wrist strength was encouraging. Cronenworth is a unique form of raw, now entirely committed to SS and hitting. After all, he’s slightly above the league-average age and is a collegiate player from the Big Ten. Pre-game warmups at shortstop saw him falter with footwork coming in on the ball, with some intermittent lapses in glove transfers. The range is not too concerning given his athleticism, twitch, and foot speed, though. It would not surprise if Cronenworth is promoted soon given his offensive output, but there is a definite need for more reps at SS. This is a prospect that should not be viewed through a traditional lens because of the then curious (and now successful) shift from the mound. As recently as last year in Short-Season, Cronenworth received extended time at second. He is a shortstop for now, and someone who has the athleticism and arm strength to learn other positions, should the hit tool necessitate that for a utility profile. —Will Siskel
Nick Gordon, SS, Minnesota Twins (High-A Fort Myers)
After Nick was selected fifth-overall in 2014, Chris Mellen and the crew ranked Gordon sixth in what was then a strong Minnesota system. With an overall future potential of 60, Gordon had all the makings of a first division shortstop, thanks to a plus arm, plus runner, fantastic athlete, plus the bloodlines of his brother Dee Gordon and father Tom Gordon. So let’s check in on Nicholas.
Nick has been struggling with the bat for most of the year in Fort Myers but the signs of a potential above-average hitter are still there. He still has above-average bat speed and extremely quick hands that allow him to react and identify pitches out of his hand early. Unfortunately, he has been prone to expanding the zone and chasing far too often, plus he has had trouble with pitches under his hands for most of the year. Nick has also filled out his frame a bit, to the point where he now has average raw power, which will likely play down to below-average at full utility given his overall hit tool and approach. While he has filled in his frame he still posts plus run times to first, routinely clocking in within the 4.09-4.12 range.
In the field, the athleticism is still there and his overall speed allows him to get to most in either direction. The instincts remain and the arm is still plus as well, unleashing some strong throws on a line with good carry. He has struggled with his overall accuracy this year as he can get too quick with his hands and miss his target.
While he has struggled thus far this season, Nick still has the tools to make you look foolish for doubting him. It will just take a little longer than anticipated for those tools to blend together. —Steve Givarz
Dylan Davis, RF, San Francisco Giants (High-A San Jose)
San Francisco’s third-rounder in 2014, Davis signed a nominally above-slot deal out of Oregon State and is a newly-promoted, age-appropriate corner outfielder. His is a stocky build, with broad shoulders and thickness throughout. He showed as a competent if below-average defender in right, where heavy feet, a slow start-up, and poor foot speed limit his range. He read trajectories well, however, showing an ability to run solid routes and turning in a steady process in digging one out of the corner. There’s average arm strength with some carry and accuracy as well.
He’s open in the box, with a flat bat that flares up at load and stiffness in launching the barrel. He takes a high leg kick, but the weight transfer is reserved for later and it’s an arms-and-shoulders swing that is not particularly fluid. He’s strong enough to generate some bat speed despite the hips staying closed, but he was beaten by in-zone velocity several times and it’s not a stroke that lends itself to in-swing adjustment. The approach is geared towards the right-center gap, and he showed some opposite-field pop in muscling one up into the Lancaster jet stream for a cheapie homerun. He was pitched-to in his other at-bats, however, getting himself out or behind with an aggressive approach.
It’s a tough profile without quite enough power to drive the train, and at least on first glance I didn’t see the underpinnings of enough hit tool to overcome the defensive and base-running limitations. —Wilson Karaman
Matt Esparza, RHP, Cleveland (Low-A Lake County)
Esparza, the former UC Irvine Anteater, worked mostly out of the bullpen after being drafted in the 14th round last year. This year, however, he has been given the opportunity to start and has quietly become one of the best pitchers in the Midwest League. The 21-year-old righty has a physically mature frame. He starts with a semi windup and shows average arm speed out of a three-quarters slot.
The fastball sits 90-92 and touched 93 with slight arm-side run. He showed plus command, working low in the zone and generating swings and misses. Esparza showed both a slider and curveball as his secondary offerings with both lacking consistency. The slider shows the most potential, sitting 83-86 with strike to ball sweep. The curveball lacked quality rotation and was only shown a few times.
Slight improvement on the slider, combined with his plus fastball and command should give Esparza a floor of valuable bullpen arm. If a third pitch can be developed, he has the stuff to be a back of the rotation type of pitcher. —Nathan Graham
Carson Sands, LHP, Chicago Cubs (Low-A South Bend)
Sands headlines as one of the more interesting arms on South Bend, a team that attracts more attention for its hitters. Coming from the left side his fastball sits 89-90 mph, featuring hard arm-side run as well as some dive. It projects as an average to above-average pitch, and gets complemented well by his changeup which sat in the 80-82 range, showing fade and occasional tumble. The separation on the change and fastball balances well, especially to righties. On Sunday, his curveball simply wasn’t there. It was a loopy 11/5 that he had a hard time getting tight and left up a few times. He did throw one that flashed average, garnering a swing and miss to a righty as it dove in on his feet. His delivery is fairly easy and repeats well, coming from a three-quarters arm slot with a quick arm. He profiles well as a lefty out of the pen, unless he can become consistent with his curveball and tighten up the offering. —Grant Jones