Brendan Rodgers, SS, Colorado Rockies (High-A Lancaster)
Rodgers’ start to the season was delayed by a couple weeks on account of a sprained wrist, but he’s certainly doing his part to make up for lost time, throwing up an only-partially-Lancaster-aided .400/.427/.614 line through his first 17 games. He’s not the type that immediately jumps off the diamond as an elite physical specimen with supreme athleticism, but you watch him play for a few innings and you get it pretty quickly. He’s a smooth mover, with lo-fi grace in the field and a keen sense for measuring out his strides when ranging east or west. He’s not the quickest shortstop you’ll see—the run tool looks to be somewhere around average—but he controls his body well and shows solid actions fielding on the run to convert transfers into accurate, strong throws.
At the plate, his approach is patient, with a willingness to take early strikes that borders on passivity, but has thus far in my looks consistently succeeded in getting him something better to hit later. It’s a simple swing that’s direct to the ball. He doesn’t get a ton out of his lower half at present, and he could stand to add more loft by getting into his backside a bit more. The hips clear early, however, and the upper body works very efficiently, with notable hand strength that gets his barrel on plane quickly. I like the raw ingredients, and with a few tweaks he has the strength and physical projection to envision plenty of pop in his future. —Wilson Karaman
Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A Durham)
Back in February, I tabbed Honeywell as the player I was most excited to see this season. To prove it, I braved a 10:30 a.m. start with several thousand elementary school students on Education Day. Honeywell put on a show for the kids and I, striking out 10 batters over six frames, the first five of which he worked with relative ease.
Throwing from the extreme first base side of the rubber, Honeywell was pumping 95-96 mph gas in the first and struck out the side without dipping into much of his secondary arsenal. By the second, his fastball was down to 92-93 and he began mixing in more frequent changeups and cutters in the low-to-mid-80s, his trademark screwball in the upper-70s, and an occasional curve in the mid-70s. As much as the pure stuff, it was Honeywell’s sequencing with arm slot and speed replication that had Columbus off-balance. (The ability to drop a 76 mile-per-hour looper over for a first pitch strike isn’t all that fair when hitters have four superior pitches to concern themselves with.) Honeywell’s delivery was as violent as advertised, deliberately paced out of the wind-up until a stab sets off a fit of arm speed and head whack. The misses mostly came on the glove side when things got out of sync. Columbus didn’t have much trouble elevating on occasions where they made contact, but that’s picking nits for one of the premier pitching prospects in the minors. —Greg Wellemeyer
Erick Fedde, RHP, Harrisburg Senators (Double-A Washington Nationals)
Because my typical coverage area is Low-A and Double-A, I don’t often see pitching prospects that are clearly ready for the majors. Once or twice a year I’ll wander out to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and if I’m lucky I’ll get a real prospect there. Once in awhile, a top prospect blitzing through the minors is already ready at Double-A. Ironically, the most recent guy I’ve seen in both of those categories was Aaron Nola, so it’s been a couple years now.
I finally got another one in Fedde. He isn’t quite a top prospect breezing through in the same way as Nola, though Fedde was a first-round pick, comfortably made last year’s 101, and has yet to spend a hundred innings at any minor-league level. But he’s also already 24; he was drafted right after having Tommy John in 2014, which held his professional debut off until June 2015. The Nats have been relatively conservative with his assignments since, and he returned to Double-A this year after five successful starts to end last season.
Fedde is ready, though. It’s basically the same profile we’ve written up a half-dozen times for him: a heavy fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, primarily complemented by a plus slider that moves so much that it often presents with two-plane, near-curveball type movement. It’s a slurvy breaking ball, but in a good way, and it’s far too much for most Double-A hitters. The change remains a consistently average pitch once in awhile flashing a little higher. The command profile is very advanced, and I would have no problem dropping Fedde in a major-league rotation tomorrow. Whether or not the Nationals need him to be a MLB starter in 2017 remains to be seen. —Jarrett Seidler
Dylan Baker, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Double-A Akron)
After a game of soft-tossers and non-prospects, the Akron RubberDucks dug into their bullpen for a seldom-used and oft-injured arm. This outing for Baker, which was his third appearance since the end of the 2014 season and fifteenth since the end of the 2013 season, could not have gone any better. He did not waste time in establishing his dominance, striking out the first batter he faced, Tomas Nido, on three pitches. He started off Nido, a legitimate prospect that has struck out in only 11.4 percent of his plate appearances last year, with fastballs at 95 and 98 miles per hour. Yet, those two pitches paled in comparison to the ridiculous 88-mph slider he threw to Nido on the third pitch. It appeared to be heading towards the strike zone, but had tremendous late break, ending up a foot outside the plate and below the zone. The movement and velocity on the pitch make it a plus or even plus-plus pitch that has the makings of an excellent secondary weapon.
Sadly, since he was so dominant and only needed 11 pitches to mow through the heart of the Binghamton lineup, Baker only threw a slider that one time in the inning. He threw nine fastballs, none of which registered under 95 mph, with life, including a 99-mph heater he threw high and out of the zone to induce a swinging third strike against Matt Oberste. He threw a single changeup in the inning, which came outside the zone and clocked in at 87 mph. If Baker remains healthy, he has more than enough talent to be a legitimate late-inning, major-league reliever. With health again being the key, Baker has a tremendous chance to pitch key innings out of the Cleveland bullpen before the year is over and potentially play a strong role in their playoff and championship aspirations this year. —Skyler Kanfer
Daniel Brito, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
A hypothetical: I have awoken from a soap-opera-style 12-month coma and decided to take in a minor league baseball game. You are sitting next to me at First Energy Field and tell me that the Blue Claws have a 19-year-old who went first overall in last year’s draft. You give me no other information. I watch a batting practice session. Certainly one of the players stands out, but plenty of lies get told at 5 p.m. I watch a couple games. I think you know who it is. A couple weeks later, another game, and the preponderance of evidence still points to Daniel Brito. Everything he does pops. There’s plus raw pullside power even now, and as he fills out his projectable frame, the doubles to the gap will start clearing the fence. He’s going to hit a lot of doubles to the gap too, he is direct to the ball with plus bat speed. The approach is solid. He controls the barrel well. He never looks overmatched even when making outs. Would a second baseman really go 1.1 though? I may have been in a coma, but there’s no retrograde amnesia to deal with. I am well aware of the conundrum of the low minors keystone prospect. But Brito is plenty athletic, good infield actions. He might be a grade short of arm for shortstop but he wouldn't kill you there. It’d be a weird 1.1 profile for sure, but maybe he took a chunk below slot? Not the worst price for a potential plus regular with perhaps a bit more in the tank if he fills out and the pop really plays. As for the guy who actually went 1.1? Well we will be dealing with him in a longer format soon. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (High-A, Bradenton)
With a long body, the 21-year-old Keller toes the third-base side of the rubber and releases from a high 3/4 slot after a long, deep arm circle. With mild effort, he repeats his delivery very well—controlled, ideal hip-shoulder separation, and the arm is cocked just at foot strike. Although his arm action is not the cleanest, everything else checks out well, allowing him to throw strikes and limits walks. Of the 659 batters faced in his long minor-league career, he has walked 26 and sent 176 sulking back towards the opposing dugout. These are the kinds of numbers Player Development directors aim to collect.
The good stuff does not stop there—his fastball ranges from 95-98 mph, mixing in cutters at 95-96 and two-seamers at 92-94 at the corners. With that heater, hitters get anxious and can expand the zone, effectively becoming an out pitch, but Keller uses another pitch, a decently sharp 11-to-5 curveball. At 79-81 mph, he sells it well and throws it to both sides. In my viewing, he stayed with these pitches, but did occasionally sprinkle in a change that was well below average and is clearly a work in progress. It was firm and often cut at 88-89 mph. Despite having one of his shortest starts of the season, he went after hitters and was composed throughout, mowing down the first nine hitters consecutively. The 21-year-old is likely to be moved up before season’s end. —Javier Barragan.
Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago Cubs (Low-A South Bend)
While it’s only early May and he’s still in Low-A, Cease is becoming the first home grown super pitching prospect of the Theo Epstein regime. He has a narrow, athletic build with some room left for growth. The delivery starts from a semi-windup, has a three-quarters arm slot and shows plus arm speed. Cease has an efficient motion and shows mild effort. The finish is clean and he athletically decelerates fielding his position well.
In my look, Cease showed four pitches that have the potential to be plus offerings. The velocity was easy, created by plus arm speed. He sat 94-95 and touched 96 mph. It was fairly straight but had some heaviness to it and generated whiffs when it was elevated. The two-seam fastball, which sat 91-92, showed nice arm-side run that he used to run in on the hands of right-handed hitters. The two breaking pitches are works in progress, but both showed flashes of becoming true swing and miss offerings. The curveball sat in the low 70s with 11-to-5 movement. It did lose its shape on a few occasions, but when it was right it had depth and bite. Cease still is inconsistent in replicating the arm speed with his changeup. It did show good velocity separation, sitting 79-80 and exhibiting late fade.
There is still a ton of risk for a player this young and at this low of a level. However, given his velocity and the improvement shown on his off-speed pitches, the potential for reward is very high. —Nathan Graham
Evan Manarino, LHP, Oakland Athletics (High-A Stockton)
Through his first two seasons of professional baseball, Manarino has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the Oakland system, possessing a career strikeout-to-walk ratio over four. A 25th round pick out of UC-Irvine, Manarino is your prototypical crafty lefty. A bit undersized, and without overwhelming stuff, he gets by predominantly through movement and command. Manarino relies on a fastball that sat 86-89, but features some interesting natural cut. He did an excellent job of moving it in and out to batters of both hands, but could use a little refinement in working north and south within the zone. The lefty thew in the occasional two-seam fastball to mix up his look, and was generally effective at keeping this pitch off the barrel. Manarino also features a slider in the 77-81 range, which flashed some really wipeout two-plane break in put-away counts. It looked like he might have been manipulating the break, as he repeated a shorter, rolling version of this pitch when working backwards. Rounding out his arsenal is a fringy changeup from 79-81, with more drop than fade, and a get me over curveball that ranged from 69-73.
Manarino has a simple, compact, and low-effort delivery working from the first-base side of the rubber. He has a somewhat abbreviated leg kick, and hangs for a split second on his backside. The arm action is easy, but a bit short-arm and over-the-top perhaps contributing to his deception, which is above average. Manarino has a very low front-arm clear, which if cleaned up, could add a bit of velocity and play up his deception. As he progresses through the Oakland system, I don’t see Manarino’s stuff maintaining the level of swing and miss it has generated to this point in his career, meaning he will have to continue to be a master of soft contact. He’ll also need to refine his already good command, particularly working up and down in the zone. Manarino reminds me a bit of Craig Breslow, and that might be the ceiling for his projection, a spot-starter, or LOOGY reliever. —J.H. Schroeder
Ryan McMahon, 3B/1B, Colorado Rockies (Double-A Hartford)
After experiencing a bit of a down year in 2016 during his first go around in AA, including a lot of swinging and missing, McMahon is back at it with the Yard Goats and the results have been quite different. Not only has he cut the strikeout rate by 12 percent, but he is actually hitting for more power as well, which bodes well as his transitioning to first base may become permanent. At times with the bat he can get a little bit pushy with the upper body, creating some holes in his swing and forcing contact out in front of him leading to early decisions and more pull-side ground balls than you would like to see. The power is there though, and it looks like the hit tool is improving. Assuming he sees Triple-A by the end of the year, I would be interested to see if it can pass the next test. —Derek Florko
Mauricio Dubon, SS, Milwaukee Brewers (Double-A Biloxi)
Part of the return for the Brewers in the Tyler Thornburg deal this offseason, Dubon has taken a step back this season. He has quick hands and feet, a plus arm and a feel for the game that all translate to game-changing ability, but his approach often keeps those skills from playing up in games. Defensively, he can be a bit lazy with his footwork at times, so he is forced to rely on his plus arm and quick hands to bail him out. It doesn’t always work and he has made nine errors at short this season. This has led to Biloxi beginning to use him more at second base of late.
As a hitter, Dubon has an inconsistent leg lift and a mild load. He also drifts into his front foot and often finds himself off-balance, especially against off-speed pitches. He can look bad on pitches with spin but his plus bat control allows him to make contact regardless, albeit weak contact. The drift and inconsistency in his leg lift don’t allow him to get to most pitches with any authority. Two of the balls he did hit hard were to right field and came on upper-80s fastballs.
His plus speed turns that weak contact into base hits often enough that he appears productive just looking at raw numbers. I saw him in 19 at-bats over four games. He had eight hits, but hit the ball hard just three times. He had three infield hits, one slowly hit ground ball that found a hole and one fly ball that dropped in short right field. Once he is on base, he can take over the game. He currently leads the Southern League in steals with 18 and one sequence I saw showed him at his best. After the looping base hit to RF, he went to second on a ground out, then executed a perfect delayed steal to get to third and scored the winning run on a passed ball.
Dubon’s ceiling is still that of an average starter in the middle infield, but he is several adjustments away from reaching that and the more likely outcome seems to be somewhere on the utility player spectrum. —Scott Delp
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