In his Padres debut, 18-year-old Anderson Espinoza displayed the precocious ability and projection that has driven his status as a nationally-celebrated prospect. Espinoza came out in the first inning with a toned-down fastball, working smoothly between 91 and 94. He lasted three innings, but in the latter two he worked 93-96, touching 97 twice, with natural though inconsistent running action and some sink. At higher velocities, the fastball run can be downright explosive. Espinoza works from a high 3/4 release point with a good arm action and an overall mechanical package that exudes premium fluidity and athleticism. His command and feel sometimes evaded him on this muggy night, and he impressed by remaining composed.
He tried to establish his fastball early, falling victim to medium-contact on singles sprayed to the outfield. I liked how he tried to attack inside with the pitch, but he frequently failed to get it in enough to miss barrels. In between innings, Espinoza would casually showcase his innate ability to snap a curveball with very tight spin and impressive depth, though there was some inconsistency getting around the ball. He threw few off-speeds early, but snapped 11-to-5 curveballs (75 mph) for strikes later in the start and showed out-of-zone command to generate swinging strikes. The changeup (80-82) lagged behind the curveball in this outing, but for the most part he replicated his arm speed with deception. The pitch was firm at times, with some fade and minimal tumble, but at 18 the feel is there to match the physical projection. An evaluator I sat with put a future plus grade on it, and it has the ingredients to get there.
Espinoza has a modest frame, short for a starter but not small muscularly, and the body has projectability to grow more and add weight and strength to his listed 160 pounds. Questions about his plane will persist given his present height, but it did not look to be a detrimental issue in this start, and the repertoire is virtally unrivaled considering the age and level. –Will Siskel
Matt Pearce, a former 13th-round pick, has a knack for throwing strikes. Command and control is the name of his game, to where he set a Midwest League record last season by going 54 1/3 consecutive innings without issuing a free pass. Pearce’s remarkable strike-throwing ability has continue throughout this season in the Florida State league, and he’s shown the ability to work the strike zone with a full four-pitch arsenal. It starts with the fastball, which is an average pitch by velocity – he sat 90-91 in the two starts I’ve caught – but one that he is able to spot consistently to both sides of the plate. The secondaries help it play up a bit as well, as he’ll compliment with an above-average curveball, a plus change-up with late-moving action, and a slider that he hopes will become the swing-and-miss pitch he currently lacks. The advanced pitchability keeps him effectively ahead of batters, leading to less aggressive swings.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Pearce has room for added weight to increase his strength and potentially add another tick or two to his fastball. The stamina and ability to pitch late into games are both already there; he’s logged four complete games this season, and currently leads the league in innings pitched.
There’s some question as to whether the stuff and zone-pounding approach can hold up at the next levels, as his significant fly ball tendencies have likely benefitted some from the significant homerun-suppressing ballparks of the FSL. That being said, I’ve witnessed breaking and off-speed stuff that has routinely produced a lot of shallow fly balls, which lends optimism that it may just be a workable package that can round into a back-of-the-rotation candidate down the line. —Thomas Desmidt
Steen, a ninth-round prep pick in 2014, still has a long way to go before stepping onto the mound at Fenway Park. He just turned 20 years old, and has amassed just 89 inning across what is now his third professional season. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, he boasts an athletic frame with plenty of projection remaining. His repeatable delivery requires minimal effort, and he throws from an over-the-top arm slot. The fastball leads a three-pitch mix, roaming between 87 to 91 mph and touching 93 with some late life. It flashes solid-average presently, and if and when he fills out there’s some additional projection if the velocity ticks up correspondingly. His 71-77 mph curveball takes a 12-6 shape with quality depth and above-average. The changeup at 81-84 will flash average, displaying at-times decent fade but plenty of inconsistency.
Steen has struggled mightily with his command and consistency thus far. When he fails to finish his delivery, which happens frequently, his pitches stay up in the zone and too often produce hard contact. He walks too many batters, and the delivery out of the stretch is even less consistent. There is theoretically mid-rotation upside here, but it’s a long-term project. –Erich Rothmann
Guduan has transitioned from being a pitcher who threw hard and errantly in the low minors to one who throws hard and errantly in the upper levels. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, the southpaw has the raw ingredients any organization would covet in a reliever. He comfortably sits in the mid-90's, touching 96, and he complements his fastball with a slider that flashes above-average despite some slurvy tendencies. His low arm slot makes him a tough at-bat for lefties, but it's not clear that he'll ever face a meaningful number of them at the highest level. Throughout his career, he's posted a walk rate over seven-per-nine, and that pattern has not abated in his first 24 Triple-A innings, with 19 more free passes added to the ledger. It's not hard to see where his control problems stem from: he has a rock-and-fire delivery with a pronounced head whack, and all of his weight falls towards third base when he throws. Not surprisingly, he misses down-and-in frequently, and occasionally he spikes a pitch or throws one to the backstop. He's thrown strikes over isolated stretches in the past, and if the Astros can get him to that point consistently in the future without sacrificing the stuff that makes him so compelling, they could have quite the reliever on their hands. His developmental history warrants pessimism though, and he serves as a reminder that, even in an era characterized by elite velocity, you can’t succeed just by throwing hard alone. –Brendan Gawlowski
Lugo’s one of those guys who feels like he’s been around forever, having been a top-ranked international prospect when he signed with Toronto in 2011. He’s still just 21, however, and the recent recipient of a promotion to Double-A. I caught several looks at him across his time at High-A Visalia before the bump, and he showed some strengths, some weaknesses, and not a ton of skill development during his time in the desert. He’s got some thickness and density to his frame, and though he moves well laterally and boasts quick feet in the field. A former shortstop, this is his first season playing the majority of his games at third, and the defensive skill set looks more appropriate there. He’s slow in his initial reads, and has struggled with things like timely covers of the bag on stolen base attempts – both symptoms of his relative newness to the position. The hands work, though, and his arm strength is somewhere in the plus range, with throws that hold their plane from the line. His movements are fluid, if on the slower side, and his 40-grade run times speak to a player who will probably never claim range as an asset.
In the box there are elements of a strong, contact-oriented swing and some nascent pop. He is an extremely aggressive hitter who looks to jump early fastballs with separation, and he can be coaxed into chasing benders and expanding his zone. The swing has some intriguing features, though, and Lugo’s feel for the barrel was advanced for the High-A level. His setup features extremely low, tight hands with plenty of early rhythm in his arms and lower half. A short leg kick and mild hand drift is the extent of a mild load, and he triggers a quick, direct bat into the zone. It’s not the most consistently-balance swing, but he makes a lot of contact, and he shows an ability to drive the ball on a line to all fields. There’s average raw power, though the approach and inconsistent plane limit the present utility to a track below that.
I’m not convinced the hit tool holds up against more refined arms, and the okay-not-great defensive profile off the six-spot means there’s some additional pressure on his power to play up in games. I like the bat-to-ball enough to hold out some hope of that happening, and I could see him trying out second base down the line to add some valuable versatility that would make me more comfortable about projecting a useful big league role. –Wilson Karaman
Michael Baumann, RHP, Jacksonville University (Cape League, Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox)
The 6-foot-5, 230 pound Baumann is a right-handed starter out of Jacksonville University. His freshman year at Jacksonville was a solid one that saw him strike out a batter an inning, but his efforts on the Cape haven’t gone nearly as well, with plenty of walks and earned runs. The silver lining for Baumann is that the strikeouts are still coming.
The sturdy-framed Baumann throws from a semi-windup with a relatively clean arm action in the back to a high three-quarter slot. He takes a full swing, though there is a small pause that may limit his ability to repeat. Out front he lands slightly closed on a flexed front leg. The present delivery does not allow him to command the baseball effectively at this point, though the quality of his pitches is still solid. The fastball sits 91-96 with average arm-side run. It comes out of his hand well, and he fills up the strike zone just enough to be effective with it. A curveball is his main breaking ball, with an 11-5 shape and mild depth when he throws it with proper arm speed. He flashed a changeup during warmups with downward action as well, but the pitch lacked proper arm speed and didn’t make an appearance in the game.
Baumann has a lot of work to do going into his sophomore year at Jacksonville, but there’s a nice amount of raw material to work with. With a durable starter’s frame,an average fastball, and developing secondary pitches, he’ll be a guy to keep your eye on going forward. –James Fisher
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but with Connor Sadzeck, a 6-foot-7 right-hander currently starting for Frisco, the saying holds a lot of truth. Sadzeck is putting up some eye-opening numbers in his first full season at Double-A, yielding just 87 hits in 104 2/3 innings with a 3.27 ERA. A Tommy John survivor, Sadzeck features a low-to-mid-90’s two-seam fastball with the ability to push upper-90’s when he reaches back. He pairs it with a tight, sweeping slider enhanced by his low three-quarter arm angle and tall, lanky frame. The Rangers may have found a gem in the 11th round of the 2011 draft with Sadzeck, who has become one the most intriguing prospect arms in the Texas League this season. –Colin Young
Vega’s second stint in the Arizona League is going considerably better than his first. After finishing last season under the Mendoza Line in his first 107 professional plate appearances, Vega’s average hasn’t dipped under .400 once through 20 games this summer. The Puerto Rican-born outfielder was drafted in the 14th round out of a Texas junior college last year, and turns 20 this September.
Vega’s a plus athlete, standing 6-foot-2 with relatively broad shoulders and a slim waist, and there is clear room for additional muscle. He moves well in the outfield and on the bases, with a quick first step out of the box. The Angels have him playing primarily right field, though he was in center on the night I saw him. He wasn’t really tested defensively, but I’ve heard reports of him having a plus throwing arm.
He has a wide, slightly open stance, with his feet further than shoulder-width apart. He keeps his arms loose, maintaining a good rhythm by rocking his hands around letter-high. The stride is low and short with a full-foot tap, and once his swing is engaged he lets it rip. The hips clear well, and he keeps his hands in tight to his chest before throwing them at the baseball with good bat speed. His shoulders consistently keep on a downhill plane, with a strong top hand that drives good extension with the barrel. His twitchy hands and strong wrists really yank his body through the baseball, to where he’s almost drifting forward out of the box as he completes his swing. He generates good leverage, but doesn’t have much loft at the moment; his swing is geared to hit hard line drives, though the plus extension signals legitimate power potential down the road.
He’s an aggressive hitter early in the count, hunting fastballs and making contact with most of them in the zone – he showed an ability to square up those that were left over the plate, but made weaker contact on more marginal strikes. The first-fastball aggressiveness limits his exposure to breaking stuff – already sparse in the AZL – and increases the chances he’ll be exploited by them at higher levels. I’m not sure Vega has much more to prove in the AZL, and he should likely receive a promotion to short-season Orem sooner than later. –Matt Pullman
The Gulf Coast League is a lovely contrast to the Florida State League: the games are early in the day, there’s no publicity, no fireworks paint the sky, and most of the time there isn’t so much as a scoreboard to help remind you about how long you have been watching the action. Within this league you’ll find a lot of filler, players playing so that other players can play. Rest assured, Jhailyn Ortiz is no filler, and if Mickey Moniak wasn’t on the squad one could argue that Ortiz would be its top player. Signed for huge $4 million bonus as a sixteen-year-old out of the Dominican Republic, Ortiz is already extremely large and physical, much more so than guys four or five years his age. The main attraction with Ortiz is his plus-plus raw power; he can take a ball out anywhere from left to right-center with a lofted swing that can make you forget how young and relatively inexperienced he is. While Ortiz does have premium bat speed, at this stage his swing is still fairly long and has been exposed by decently-located breaking balls. But given his age, his overall experience in the game, and the adjustments he has made, the power could potentially play to full utility at the big league level. Ortiz has been playing exclusively in right field, and while he doesn’t take the best routes, he is a better runner than his size would indicate and he is able to close down on balls. His arm has been 50-55 in my viewings, which will certainly play. But there’s reason for concern that Ortiz may become too large and slow-footed, forcing his 40 speed further down the scale as he matures. If he moves to first base the profile takes an overall hit, as his hit and power tools would then have to carry him. Overall, there’s potential for a promising future here, and that’s exciting given all it took was a bad sunburn and some early-morning wakeups to catch some of his first professional game reps. –Steve Givarz
After a few two-inning relief appearances, the Mets have moved Dunn into a starting role at Brooklyn. So now he throws three innings at a time instead! They were three good innings last week, although he had the look of a guy who had just pitched a full college season. The fastball was 92-96, sitting 93-94 for most of the night. It showed occasionally explosive arm-side life, but would flatten out some when he tried to throw it glove-side. He emptied the tank on his last pitch of the night, touching 96 with a heavy ball down in the zone, but overall it didn’t show as an overpowering offering despite the velocity. His command wavered at times, and the late torque in his delivery limits the overall command profile.
Dunn also threw a slurvy breaking ball that looked at times like two distinct pitches: a curveball in the upper-70’s, and a low-80’s, tighter slider which flashed plus. The shape of the pitches tended to bleed together, and Dunn struggled to start either in the zone. Luckily, hitters at this level will still chase it. He threw two changeups, one good one with some hard sink, and one just-sort-of-there, firm thing you typically see in this league.
Dunn has an athletic frame, but there isn't much projection left and I would wager he is an inch or two shorter than his listed height. Since he closed at Boston College, there will always be lingering questions about whether the stuff will play better in the pen. I think he could move quickly in that role, but there is no reason to rush that move, as he has the tools to develop as a starter for now. –Jeffrey Paternostro