Peter Lambert, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Low-A Asheville)
If you frequent the lower levels, you’re watching 18-19-year-olds spotting every so often with stuff that flashes more than consistently hits a grade. Lambert is different. He stands out more for his polish as a 19-year-old prep product than his arsenal. He flashes a plus changeup that could reach 60 with time, but otherwise he’s working with a deep arsenal of average pitches that he utilizes with advanced command and control.
Lambert sat 90-93 in a recent look with average sink and downhill plane. There’s life in the pitch when commanded to the lower half of the zone, and he even has slight natural cut to the glove side, but he has to keep it down to avoid the lifeless fastball at the thighs and up. His changeup can be at least above average with proper arm action and above-average fade and sink. He shows an advanced feel for it and has the confidence to throw it in any count. He flips between a slider and curveball, both of which could be fringe-average to average. He never showed good feel for either in this look, but the framework is there for a weak-contact slider with three-quarters tilt and average depth, while the curveball needs to tighten and lose some hump, but it flashes above-average depth and downward action.
The young Rockies prospect will need time to progress through the minors, mostly to gain strength and get the necessary reps, but he’s a good bet to be a No. 4-type starter. The frame has some slightness with a narrow waist, but he repeats a delivery that’s smooth and a high three-quarters slot that’s efficient. With a feel for four pitches and solid command, Lambert should be a reliable one for Colorado. —David Lee
Mitchell White, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
White has had a coddled start to his professional career, being held to two innings pitched in each of his starts so far as the Dodgers keep an eye on his year-long pitch count. As a freshman at Santa Clara he had Tommy John Surgery, missing a chunk of his college career to injury. Friday night featured a two hour and forty-five minute rain delay until 9:45, but White still pitched his scheduled two innings, and looked fantastic. He sat 91-93, but was known to get higher pre-draft, and had some downhill action on it. To complement the fastball, he has a cutter that sits 85-87 with hard, late life that almost resembled more of a slider at times. His curveball had nice, deep shape with 11/5 movement that he threw with authority, and he also has an impressive changeup at 83 with hard fade.
White has a fairly standard delivery, coming from a three-quarters arm slot and featuring a high leg lift and then carries around his landing foot high until his finish. His delivery opens up in the back as well as he gears back to release. Overall White impressed me, as a late riser in the draft he looks to have been a great pick for the Dodgers in the second to not only save money, but get an up and coming pitcher. —Grant Jones
Thomas Szapucki, LHP, New York Mets (Short-Season A Brooklyn)
Once in awhile, I go to a minor league game as a fan. The Brooklyn Cyclones were hosting a Mike Piazza Hall of Fame celebration a week ago Sunday, and I just wanted to take it in as a spectator instead of on a press pass. It just so happened that I ended up at the Brooklyn debut of 2015 fifth-rounder Thomas Szapucki, who accrued some buzz in Kingsport, and I ended up sitting next to a guy with a reliable radar gun, Jeffrey Paternostro.
When Szapucki was warming up, I was not impressed with his low-three-quarters arm slot and overall mechanics, and reset my mental expectations. Then came the first pitch of the game: still coming out of a three-quarters slot, but much smoother and with little effort. It also registered 94 on Jeffrey’s gun. The next two after that were 95, the one after that was 96, and 97 followed shortly after. I turned to Jeffrey and Greg Karam of Amazin’ Avenue and said “yep, I get it now.”
Szapucki’s fastball wasn’t just hard, he also shaped it pretty much every which way. He mixed in a two-seamer that had enough downward break that it sometimes looked like a change. That probably doesn’t say great things about his current change, which flashed average with two or three above that, but clearly needs more repetition. His primary offspeed pitch is a curve that flashed as plus, more consistently than your average short-season pitching prospect. Of course, that’s still not all that consistent, but he is ahead of the game.
Szapucki also showed a lot of the issues typical to high school draftees in their first full season—loss of velocity deeper into the game, inconsistent mechanics between pitches, an awful pickoff move, and some fielding mistakes all reared their head in this start. But even though he’s a mile away from the majors, we’ve still got a lefty touching 97 with a general clue and the potential for two average or better offspeeds here, in the organization that seems to take this profile and turn it into gold quite often. Keep an eye on Thomas Szapucki. —Jarrett Seidler
Magneuris Sierra, CF, St. Louis Cardinals (Low-A Peoria)
After struggling during his 50-game stint last year, Sierra is heating up in the Midwest League. Last year, as a 19-year-old, Sierra posted a slash line of .191/.219/.247 along with 52 strikeouts and only seven walks. 2016 has seen his strikeout rate improve and his current line of .298/.325/.377 is reminiscent of his numbers that put him on the prospect radar in rookie ball.
Sierra has raw elite speed. I caught several sub 4.0 times to first base including a blazing 3.63 on a jailbreak. The ability to steal bases is still developing as indicated by his 12 caught stealings this year. This speed and a plus arm give Sierra the tools to become an excellent defender in center field. He shows excellent range but needs more experience to develop better instincts and routes to the ball. The bat holds the key to whether Sierra’s high ceiling can be reached. The swing is simple and balanced with minimal load. Like many young players, he is very aggressive and struggles with secondary offerings, especially from left handers. There is some minimal line drive pull power generated from above average bat speed.
There is a very high ceiling for Sierra. He currently has two plus tools and plays a premier position. If he can continue to hit, and prove that last year was just an adjustment period, you will see continued advancement through the Cardinals’ system. —Nathan Graham
Jake Jewell, RHP, Los Angeles Angels (High-A Inland Empire)
A former fifth-rounder in 2014, Jewell has endured a disastrous campaign in the California League this year, bringing up the rear in earned runs and hits allowed. In my look he wore those numbers in yielding a dozen largely-earned hits and seven runs into the fifth inning. The frame is mature and thick, with broad shoulders and bulk throughout. His rock and leg kick are quick and aggressive, and he holds his posture well. It’s a generally fluid motion, though there’s a slight deceleration into his arm swing that served to repeatedly undermine his timing in this start. It’s a short arm swing with a steep path up to his higher three-quarters release point, and between a closed front stride that never gets all the way open and his short path to slot, he doesn’t have quite enough time and rhythm to get across his body consistently. Pitches were leaking up and to his arm side from start to finish, and he struggled to finish pitches down in the zone.
Arsenal-wise, he was fastball-dominant with a two-seamer that sat 88-92, topping at 94 on an angry overthrow. He primarily worked in the 90-92 band, before the pitch backed up to 88-91 by the fifth inning. It has some weight to it, with some tail and sink, but the pitch lacks plane and frequently wandered up in the zone, where it flattened out and found barrels aplenty. The change was the best secondary he flashed, with hard tumble in the mid-80s that generated whiffs and weak groundball contact when he got it down, though again he left his share and mine of flat ones up and over. A slider flashed average tilt and late bite, with some bat-missing ability below the zone. But he struggled to stay on the pitch, getting around a number of them and leaving spinners hanging in the zone that hitters squared. He mixed in a half-dozen curveballs in the mid-70s as well, and it showed as a soft pitch into the zone.
There are three pitches here where I could squint and see average-or-better flashes, but despite the relative fluidity I wasn’t optimistic of the motion producing consistent command. The off-line drive and short arm action just didn’t click, and short of a significant delivery overhaul that would carry loads of risk, I’m not sure there’s more than a swingman’s profile here in a best-case outcome. – Wilson Karaman
Rayder Ascanio, SS, Seattle Mariners (Low-A Clinton)
Signed out of Venezuela in 2012, Ascanio is an athletic, switch-hitting shortstop with plenty of tools. The body is incredibly lean with broad shoulders and long limbs. There is some strength projection remaining but the frame won’t get too bulky.
The defense is Ascanio’s calling card showing above-average range at short with a quick first step and fluidity to his actions. He can make adjustments on the fly and positions his body correctly to make the throw. His arm strength is plus with carry through the bag and the ability to make throws from all the angles. His hands are soft and the ball disappears into his glove with a confidence of a player much older. This defensive package will play at the major-league level but it’s the bat that is holding him back.
A switch-hitter, Ascanio lacks authority from either side of the plate. While I witnessed his lone home run this season, it will not be part of his game. The swing path is inconsistent from at-bat to at-bat and he doesn’t pull balls with any regularity. Because he doesn’t put much on the baseball, he hits a lot of opposite field grounders which, although he is a plus runner, he doesn’t beat out as many as he needs to in order to make that profile work. Ascanio could benefit from giving up switch-hitting and focus on one side of the plate. All told, he is a glove first prospect with plenty of work to do with the bat. —James Fisher
Ronnie Williams, RHP, St. Louis (Short-Season State College)
Williams is beginning to display the potential that convinced the Cardinals to select him in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft. He has pitched deeper into games and has become a more consistent pitcher in 2016. The results, particularly his strikeout to walk ratio, confirm this observation. Against Lowell on July 17th, he surrendered only four hits and one run in six innings. The only blatant mistake he made was leaving an 89-mph fastball over the plate for Tyler Hill to launch over the fence.
At six-feet and 170 pounds, Williams possesses a projectable, athletic frame although he lacks the height of a prototypical starting pitcher. The 20-year-old throws from a three-quarters arm slot and continues to work on finishing his delivery without spinning off the side of the mound. His fastball often sat in the 89-92 range with a bit of late sinking action. The offering occasionally touched 95 and if it does so more consistently, should reach its plus potential. This goal seems realistic considering his frame and loose arm. Williams’ 77-79 mph curveball showed good depth and bite while generating a few swings and misses. With better command, it can develop into an above-average offering. His 84-86 mph changeup impressed me the most because it flashed plus life and he throws the pitch with the same impressive arm speed as he throws his fastball. Concerns about his height will persist, but his athleticism should help him make the necessary adjustments to eventually make the Cardinals’ big-league rotation and hopefully reach his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter. —Erich Rothmann
Erling Moreno, RHP, Eugene Emeralds (Northwest League)
The Colombian-born right-hander is listed at 6-foot-3, 200 lbs, but might actually be closer to 215. He has a thick, mature build for a kid who won't turn 20 until next January. He creates deception with a fairly pronounced over-the-top delivery. His fastball works 88-94, sitting comfortably around 91, keeping his 93-94 MPH four-seamer in his back pocket most of the night. What stood out to me the most was Moreno's ability to pound the bottom half of the zone with a plus changeup, registering swinging strikes on four of the twelve he threw. He replicates his fastball arm speed, creates plus arm-side run and good sink at 83-84 MPH, and has the confidence to throw it in hitter’s counts. The curveball I saw was more of a show-me pitch, though he occasionally flashed swing-and-miss potential on his 11-5 breaking ball. Working primarily off the fastball and changeup, Moreno kept batters off-balance all night, allowing five hits and one walk, while striking out eight over 5 2/3 innings. He showed an advanced feel for pitching for his age, and was certainly one of the most interesting arms in the AZL before being promoted to short-season Eugene last week. —Matt Pullman
James Reeves, RHP, New York Yankees (High-A Tampa)
Originally profiled by David Lee earlier this year, all Reeves has done since going to Tampa is post a 0.82 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 1.56 ERA, and a .146 BAA, all while being in the starting rotation for the first time in his professional career. Suffice it to say, Reeves has been almost untouchable, who is James Reeves you might ask? He signed for $50,000 as a 10th-rounder in 2015 from the Citadel, and performed well in his pro debut. After starting the year as a reliever in Charleston, he was promoted to Tampa and has had the opportunity to start with the sustained success mentioned above.
Reeves has a lot of factors in his favor. He is funky: with a high front shoulder that gives the batter a different look when he is in the windup. He is deceptive: hiding the ball behind his body until his release point with his stiff, crow-armed arm-action and claw grip. He has a sidearm slot: while at times it can drift up to low-three-quarters, the lower slot is a different look for guys and gives different movement to his pitches. His fastball is only 88-90 and scrapes 91 on some days, but has late sink with a tough angle for both side batters. He has above-average control and can effectively spot it to both sides of the plate. What befuddles hitters the most are his sliders. He has a slower one at 77-78 that has a lot of depth and uses early in counts to set up his harder slider. That pitch comes in at 81-83 with tight spin and wipeout ability. It is a present plus pitch and it plays up because of how he can finish both righties and lefties with the offering. His changeup is there, but is 82-84 and is a tough pitch for him because of his arm slot to consistently stay on top of. It is more of the show-me variety but he has gotten better at being able to mix it into fastball counts to deceive hitters.
Reeves is honestly one of the toughest guys for me to profile. He has a floor of a left-handed specialist in the majors, but with how effective he has been starting, could he be more? Could he pitch high-leverage innings and avoid platoon splits? Could he have consistent success as a starting pitcher? In my view, he could be effective enough to pitch in the back of a rotation. Even with only two pitches. But given his arsenal and lack of platoon splits, he would be much more valuable to a club pitching high-leverage innings. —Steve Givarz
Luis Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Philadelphia Phillies (Short-Season A Wlliamsport Crosscutters)
At 16 I spent most of my free time watching weird 90s films with my equally weird group of friends, later adjourning to the all-night diner in our town where I would eat mozzarella sticks and we'd plan out our artistic escapes from laconic Connecticut suburbia. I was distinctly not getting seven figures from the Phillies to play baseball. I still live within walking distance of that diner and mozzarella sticks make up more of my diet than they should, so I shouldn't be overly dismissive of a 16-year-old that got one million bucks from the Phillies to play baseball. But you write what you see, and I don't see it here.
I often joke about how every baseball player was a shortstop or center fielder at 16, so the fact that Encarnacion was signed as a third baseman (who everyone knew would be moving to first) is already a minor red flag as these things go (says the guy who was watching Sonatine in his friend's basement at 16 and is definitely not an auteur nowadays). At 18, Encarnacion already has the physique of a 1B/DH type, and while he will flash the raw power to match, the swing is a bit of a haphazard mess. Encarnacion uses a big leg kick for timing, but he just sort of leaves it hanging there during the pitcher's wind-up before exploding forward. He doesn't always get the foot down in time, rarely gets it down at the same time from pitch to pitch, and even when it looks “right,” he is easily exploited by anything offspeed. His pitch recognition and barrel control aren’t nearly good enough at present to compensate. Every once in a while, Encarnacion will get a fastball he can time and show you why he got seven figures, but the swing desperately needs a complete overhaul. —Jeffrey Paternostro
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