Will Benson, RF, Cleveland Indians (Complex Level AZL)
As I overheard one scout say, “That’s a big-league body.” Benson turned 18 just two months ago, but he’s 6-foot-5 and built like a defensive end. Taken 14th-overall out of a Georgia high school this year, Benson is already a premium physical specimen for the baseball diamond. He isn’t polished defensively, but he makes up for some of it with his athleticism. He uses his body well while throwing, and looks like he could have a plus arm in the future. Out of the box, he has a little bit of “great dane puppy” to him, but once he hits his stride, he moves well for someone his size and he typically displays the head-down hustle you hope to see.
He has huge raw power, hitting this ringing home run last week. It’s a bit of an old school swing—he’s a very strong kid swinging a huge bat. It’s not a loose, whippy barrel, but rather a sweeping swing which stays in the zone for a while. He doesn’t have much barrel control, and it’s hard to believe he’ll ever develop into a .300 hitter. I haven’t seen Benson against plus velocity or a good cutter, but I’d imagine he doesn’t handle either very well. He likes to swing at pitches up in the zone, but has a tendency to drop his back shoulder, creating a hole in his swing. His swing can lag behind, causing him to get jammed more frequently than one would hope. All that said, he has extremely strong hands and wrists, and can hit the ball a mile when he gets full extension. The difference between Benson developing into a Quad-A slugger and a perennial all-star will be in the adjustments he makes to pro pitching. The potential is clear as day, and it’s no mystery why Cleveland called his name in the first round of the draft. The raw power is salivating, but I’m not completely sold on his hit tool ever being more than a 40. —Matt Pullman
Cornelius Randolph, LF, Philadelphia Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
Randolph, the 10th-overall pick in 2015, is still getting his bearings after missing two months with a left shoulder injury. After a brief GCL rehab stint, he returned to the South Atlantic League in early July and has hit around .250 with little power since. A recent series look produced the obvious signs that he’s working to get his timing back while trying to adapt to the league. Once that happens, singles should start turning into doubles.
Regardless of his timing being off, Randolph showed solid pitch recognition and the ability to track off-speed well for his age. He has a polished bat and plate approach for a 19-year-old. His hit tool will be his carrying tool to the point that he could be a plus hitter. His power has been less certain among reports, but he has the bat awareness to turn much of his raw power into in-game production. It’s a compact stroke with hands that stay inside the ball to work all fields, but there is loft and the ability to produce backspin with pop.
Randolph will be fine in left field but doesn’t profile for any other position, meaning the bat needs to carry the value. He has a high floor as a plus-potential hitter with average-or-better power, and that makes for a solid prospect worthy of a 10th-overall pick. He might not be a star, but there’s strong everyday ability here. —David Lee
Zac Lowther, LHP, Xavier University ‘17 (Cape League Brewster Whitecaps)
Lowther has piggybacked off a solid sophomore campaign in the Big East to lead the Cape League in strikeouts by a comfortable margin, with 54 (against just four walks) across his 35 2/3 innings this summer. He’s a big kid with a well filled-out frame, looking every bit his listed 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. His legs are strong, his shoulders broad, and durability shouldn’t be an issue. There’s room to gain strength within the frame as well, suggesting another tick or two of velocity in the tank. What may be and issue, however, is a funky arm action that has a good bit of length on the back end and some drag to a low three-quarter slot. He’s aggressive and quick through his early checkpoints, and he struggled with his timing in this start, particularly out of the stretch. The arm speed is more on the average side, and he struggled to get his hips downhill on time, leading to difficulties commanding the baseball north and south.
Given the arm angle, that’s problematic for his fastball, which worked 87-90 (topping at 91) for his four-inning stint. He threw a lot of them in this start, especially early on, and the pitch flashes strong arm-side run and some late life thanks to a later pick-up. But it straightens out up in the zone, and he yielded consistently sound contact without missing many bats on this day. In speaking with some scouts who’d seen him several times, command of the pitch has been the hallmark of his time on the Cape. It was missing in action on this day, however, and some effort combined with a deficit of natural athleticism and repeatability makes it unlikely that fine command ever develops into a consistent asset. He paired the gas primarily with a hard change that tumbled in the 80-82 band. He struggled to start it in the zone, though it showed a quality bottom with ground-ball and mild bat-missing potential when he did. He also sprinkled in a few hump-back curves in the high-70’s. The pitch generates some two-plane bite, flashing average movement but lacking depth and finishing in the zone. Right-handed hitters saw it well and squared it on multiple occasions.
There are some intriguing elements here in the size, movement, and tough pickup. I didn’t see a true swing-and-miss pitch, however, and the arm action and slot both looked more the part of a relief profile. —Wilson Karaman
Ariel Jurado, RHP, Texas Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Command is a fickle thing. It comes, it goes, it haunts pitchers who could just be that little bit better if only they had command. So when a 20-year-old steps into Double-A with command, you sit up and take notice.
Ariel Jurado throws a 90-94 fastball, mostly down in the zone, with the emphasis on “in the zone.” Not only does he command the pitch low in the zone, but it’s a heavily sinking fastball, making even his mistake pitches difficult to barrel for extra-base hits. In addition to this fastball, he throws a decent changeup and a solid curveball that he can manipulate the velocity and depth on, and appears to be developing a slider. Jurado appeared to have little issue holding velocity and command into the sixth inning in the live look I got, and absolutely dominated Double-A batters, striking out six and walking none. At no point did Jurado look like he was losing control of either the game or his pacing, even when tiring towards the end of his appearance. While the true test of Double-A is in facing teams for a second or third time, if Jurado continues the way he’s begun, he could be a very valuable pitcher for the Rangers in the near(ish) future. —Kate Morrison
Bobby Dalbec, 3B, Boston (Short-Season Lowell)
The Red Sox drafted Dalbec in the fourth round to play third base, though he also pitched as a starter and reliever at the University in Arizona. His arsenal included a low-to-mid 90s fastball as well as a changeup and breaking ball which both displayed at least fringe-average potential. He began his professional career on July 23rd as a full-time position player, but the Red Sox could be tempted to move him back to the mound if he struggles to adjust to minor-league pitching. The hope is that his plus or better raw power to all fields translates into game power. He has enjoyed early success for Lowell, sporting a .310 average and slugging .517 through 33 plate appearances. However, at 6-foot-4, his long, explosive swing naturally leads to concern about his swing-and-miss rate. Vermont southpaw A.J. Puk exploited his currently below-average hit tool on August 3rd, inducing a pop-up and swinging strikeout by throwing Dalbec high 96-97 mph fastballs and off-speed pitches. He did not play in the field during my two viewings of him, but at Arizona, he flashed above-average potential at third base with a plus arm. If his hit tool develops, he could become a major league all-star. —Erich Rothmann
Jesus Castillo, RHP, Los Angeles Angels (Low-A Burlington)
Signed out of Venezuela by the Diamondbacks, Castillo has switched teams multiple times in his four-year pro career. The Diamondbacks shipped him to the Cubs who then flipped him to the Angels for Joe Smith, and he made his Midwest League debut Friday night. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound right-hander has a long, lanky frame with room for added strength up top. His extra-large feet and hands combined with broad shoulders lead me to believe that he may not be done growing yet.
At this point, Castillo pitches from the stretch exclusively, with a three-quarters arm slot. In the back he has a soft stab and he hunches over during his delivery instead of staying tall. The arm speed was inconsistent during this outing but flashed average on his changeup/fastball, and the inconsistency may just be him working on new things with his new team. The fastball sat 88-92 and is mostly straight, but when he finished the pitch down in the zone there was some wiggle to it that kept hitters from barreling it with authority. He shows the ability to move the ball east and west. The curveball is a work in progress with the velocity ranging from 78-81. The pitch came and went with below-average spin and hitters got a good look at it out of his hand. They were able to lay off the pitch for most of the outing because Castillo couldn’t locate it in the zone. The changeup was his best offering with mild tumble to it. He isn’t afraid to double or even triple up on the pitch and his comfort level with it was obvious.
While Castillo is still a raw product, the ability to command the changeup with authority and the growth potential on the fastball make him an intriguing arm going forward. —James Fisher
Jean Cosme, RHP, San Diego Padres (Low-A Ft. Wayne)
Despite a strong start to the year, Cosme ended up in the Fort Wayne bullpen thanks to an influx pitching prospects, including Anderson Espinoza, Jacob Nix, and others, so you’re forgiven if you haven’t kept tabs on him. He’s begun making noise again though, and he looked the part on Tuesday, coming out with slightly cut fastballs and a mix of two-seamers in the 90-94 mph range, but was down to 89-90 in the fourth and fifth innings. His changeup fell off the table with occasional fade at 76-77 mph, and his curveball had really nice shape and depth to it at 76-78 mph with 11/5 movement and he showed an ability to shorten the pitch. He was inconsistent with the curve at times, as it occasionally looked more 12/6.
The delivery features a high leg lift, opening up of the shoulders with a long fluid motion to the delivery that is full circle. From time to time he would fall off line in his finish, and occasionally showed more effort with his fastball as he tried to pump up the velocity in the later innings. His command was unglamorous but consistent, and he has some consistency issues across the board with his pitches, but he has the making of a guy that would be getting more attention publicly if not for the shadow that Espinoza, Paddack, Nix, Allen, and Smith cast. —Grant Jones
Ramon Hernandez, 3B/1B, Arizona Diamondbacks (Short-Season Hillsboro)
Sometimes you just have to bet on the frame. Hernandez is 20 years old, and he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds. Built solidly, he’s lean and a muscle of a man with room for good weight as he matures physically. He’s also a high energy player, a good makeup guy who has his head in the game and out-hustles everyone on the field.
Hernandez will go as far as his bat takes him. He works with a deep load, big leg kick, quick bat, and a swing that features enough late loft to project above-average power down the line. For a guy who takes a big hack, he also has a surprising knack for adjusting the barrel mid-swing. Twice I saw him gear up for a fastball, get his foot down early, keep his hands back, and drive a breaking ball out of the park. He’s very aggressive, and he’ll chase pitches out of the zone, but he tracks well and it’s a really good sign that he can hit a curve.
The catch is that he’s raw as hell, particularly defensively. Hernandez’s hard swing hinders his balance, he’s susceptible to chasing pitches out of the zone, his first step is slow, and he might as well be using a skillet for a glove. He clanged a pop up and also bobbled a couple of grounders in the first two games I saw him last week. It’s hard to imagine him sticking at third, which means first base or left field, and that puts a lot of pressure on the stick. The bat should be good though, and in an organization where too many of the system’s top prospects project as future middle relievers, Hernandez offers a tantalizing shot of offensive upside. There are plenty of reasons why the profile might not work, but he’s a guy I would love to have in my system. —Brendan Gawlowski
Willie Calhoun, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa)
Entering his second full season, Calhoun will play the whole season at age 21. There may be some questions surrounding where he fits in defensively, as the arm doesn’t play anywhere but second, though he may not move well enough to stick in the middle of the field. The bat however is exciting, as Calhoun popped 11 home runs in 73 games across three levels last year, and has followed that up with 23 so far in 2016, good for second in the Texas League, behind only Matt Chapman. At the plate he employs a leg kick, with a tip-n-rip load that, when synced together right, is sexy, and lands on my list of favorite minor-league swings.
He has controlled the strike zone extremely well so far in his young career, which will bode well for him going forward. Coming out of the leg kick he does a good job of getting his lower half open, while he unwinds his tip creating early bat speed deep in the zone. This early bat speed and depth allow for a short, adjustable swing, which helps him to make late decisions and control the strike zone, even at his young age. If he can find a spot on the field, I think we could be seeing Calhoun and his bat in LA sooner than later. —Derek Florko
Dustin May, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Complex Level AZL)
A 6-foot-6 beanstalk, May generates plus extension with a long lower-half. He has a loose, live arm, three-quarters slot, and throws across his body, creating plus deception and depth to all his pitches. His fastball has serious life, sitting 91-93 but it gets on hitters quickly. I also don’t think he really let it loose once, given he hit 93 on nearly a third of his fastballs. There’s definite plus potential with the four-seam, but it was the slider that stood out as a potentially lethal put-away pitch. An 81-83 MPH offering, with tight 10-5 bite, he backdoored it to multiple left-handed hitters, with the pitch seemingly bowing out before snapping back to the corner of the plate. He can telegraph the changeup at times, but when his release is proper, the pitch has good body to it, and at 86 MPH, it has enough life to catch AZL hitters off guard. He commanded the zone well except for a four-pitch walk to start the second inning. He threw just 43 pitches across four scoreless innings, and seemed to only leave the zone when appropriate. He has a good feel for pitching, tons of projectability, and the kind of stuff that gives him potential to develop into a mid-rotation starter, with a chance for an even bigger role. A writeup on May wouldn’t be complete without mentioning his hair; big-time ginger curls—past the stage of mullet, but maintains impressive bounce. It’s the type of hair you just hope never plays home games in the Bronx. All things considered, it’s easy to see why the Dodgers gave May a million dollar signing bonus to sway him away from a Texas Tech commitment. —Matt Pullman
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