Eric Lauer, LHP, San Diego Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
The last of San Diego’s three first-rounders last June, Lauer wore the tag of polished, “safe” collegiate southpaw heading into the draft, and he’s acquitted himself accordingly in the first calendar year of his professional career. He’s got good size, and while his is not a quick-twitch athleticism, he is classically “pitcher athletic”: he’s extremely fluid and consistent in his delivery, with strong balance and quality timing. The arm swing is not traditional, with a stab and mild wrist wrap at the back of a deep, closed-off turn. But while he’s long to is higher three-quarter slot as a result, he’s also quite loose, and the result is a clean, flowing delivery that he repeats very well.
The fastball worked 89-92 all night, touching 94 a couple times, and he spotted it consistently on both corners. It lacks a ton of life, and it’s a pitch that can get hit when he’s not careful with it. But it isn’t the easiest pick-up in the world, and he had no fear challenging hitters up and out over the plate or coming after the hands. It projects to a 55 for me, and his cambio does too. He went to the change frequently in this start, and it tunnels well off the heater at 82-85 with late fade and quality arm speed. While not a swing-and-miss pitch, it stayed off barrels and bedeviled hitters all night. He deployed his spin infrequently, with a mid-70s curve acting as a get-me-over strike-stealer and a short-breaking slider in the low-80s flashing average.
Lauer struck me as that boring kind of first-rounder in the Andrew Moore mold, who gets dinged unduly for being, well, boring. But boring isn’t a bad thing when you’re a pitching prospect with a deep arsenal, and Lauer looked every bit the part of a quality big-league rotation piece in this start. —Wilson Karaman
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (Low-A Lansing)
I have to begin with a confession. Vladito lured me in with nostalgia before he’d even finished his first at-bat. I saw him take a hack at fastball that was easily out of the zone, up and off the plate. It’s the kind of pitch that will usually generate a bad swing when chased. Instead, Guerrero got the end of his barrel on it and drove an absolute missile down the opposite line. The ball struck the wall foul by about a foot, but I was stuck watching flashbacks of Vlad the elder playing on TV when I was a kid.
That said, there is a lot more to Guerrero than just namesake. He is a freshly minted 18-year-old who is laying waste to the Midwest League. As highlighted above, he has some pretty impressive raw power that he has had no trouble getting to in games. He has a wonderfully violent swing that leaves little doubt he’s hacking as hard as he can, but he streamlines his toe tap and load when he has two strikes to emphasize contact. However, what impressed me most about Guerrero was the bat control he exhibited. He had a knack for getting the barrel of his bat on just about anything. That sounds familiar.
There are also downsides to his profile, and they are centered around his defense. Guerrero is currently stationed at the hot corner, but odds are slim that he stays there. While he has the arm strength to play third, his hands are stiff, his footwork is clunky, and many of the throws he made were short or offline. He’s a 45 runner, 50 underway, but those grades are likely to go down given his body type. (He’s listed at 6’1”, 230.) This means the likely landing spot for him is first base. Even so, if there’s a type of bat that can carry a 1B profile, it’s this one. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Though Luiz Gohara and Ronald Acuna ascended to Double-A, the Florida Fire Frogs are still a über talented team, and one of those über talents is the 20-year-old Riley. Like his teammate, Alex Jackson, Riley is a man-child at 6’3”, 230. His body is more or less well-proportioned with a bit more length coming from his lower half. He is filled throughout and has more projection to come in the form of muscle. His speed is below average but usable. He moves well at third with good, easy actions for everything hit to his area, increasing his range with good reads off the bat—he made a diving play on a popped-up bunt near the foul line this weekend series, and in a series two weeks ago, a barehanded play charging in and finishing with an accurate, strong, and timely throw to first. There is more than enough arm strength, making throws on line from deep third with a clean though lengthy arm action. (Another similarity with his teammate, Alex Jackson, he was a potential two-way athlete throwing around 92 mph off the mound.) His raw power is easily above average, hitting fly balls to either gaps with ease. His bat speed is average plus, and has a decent ability to put barrel on the ball, but his mechanics and pitch recognition needs fine tuning (bat wraps, leakage and over shifting his weight forward resulting in chases as well as in-zone swings and misses). With a plus glove and more than enough arm, he projects to stay at third giving you an average bat with well above average power. —Javier Barragan
Jordan Humphreys, RHP, New York Mets (Low-A Columbia)
Over the past few years, the Mets have started to take six-figure prep arms in the draft in bulk, often with over-slot bonuses later in the draft, and they’ve started to populate all levels of the farm. Amidst Tebowmania at Low-A Columbia, another one of these pitchers has emerged: 2015 18th-rounder Jordan Humphreys, a $150,000 signing from a Florida high school. Humphreys has been absurdly dominant this season in Columbia, posting a 1.81 ERA and 1.31 DRA over his first seven starts.
The season-to-date stats overstate Humphrey’s prospectdom, but he absolutely is a prospect. He’s been working with a low-90s fastball, touching up to 95. The fastball has decent late life, but more importantly Humphreys showed very advanced command for it. He’s throwing a curve and a change as secondary offerings; I liked the curve more in a viewing last week, but others have preferred the change. Neither projects as a true MLB out pitch quite yet, but both project as useful.
This isn’t a rising top prospect profile quite yet because the nitpicks do add up. Humphreys is already filled out physically, and as much as the Met organization has specialized in maxing out velocity at higher levels, you wouldn’t traditionally expect Humphreys to participate in that. He turns 21 in a few weeks, so while he’s not exactly old for the level, he’s not notably young either. Unlike, for example, Thomas Szapucki, none of his current offerings project as a true major-league swing-and-miss pitch, which means you’re probably looking at mid-rotation upside unless something unexpectedly pops. Put him in the back of your mind with a note that the Mets have done weirdly well with this profile on performance (if not quite health), and check back when we see how Humphreys deals with Double-A in a year or two. —Jarrett Seidler
Dustin May, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
Some of us here at Baseball Prospectus have been riding the Dustin May bandwagon for a while now, and having caught a good look at him, I suppose I’ll have to consider myself a member. May is all limbs at this point, checking in at 6-foot-6 and 180 pounds, a textbook example of a projectable body. He also comes equipped with a luscious set of ginger locks that pop out from behind his head like a mane of fire.
May’s got the stuff to back up the hair. He sat 92-94 mph, touching 95, while showing late explosion through the top of the zone. He also flashed a two-seamer at 88-90 that he’d run in under the hands of righties. May’s go-to weapon is his slider, a loopy offering with 10-5 break that sweeps across the entire plate at 80-82 mph. He wasn’t afraid to throw it for strikes either, front dooring it to hitters a few times, but the pitch is at its best when it’s diving out of the zone. May also had a hard change that clocked in at 85-88, but the pitch was firm and he lacked feel for it. May’s delivery is a joy to watch but a bit wild. It features a leg kick up to his shoulders, but he loses his release point frequently, especially out of the stretch, and it can lead to issues with command.
May is some ways off right now, but the stuff is real and his body hasn’t even begun to fill out yet. There’s definitely risk in the profile, but his ceiling is very high. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Connor Sadzeck, RHP, Texas Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Last we checked in with Sadzeck, he’d had not exactly the best start to the season. After not making it out of the first inning in his first game of the year, though, Sadzeck has shown steady improvement across the season, putting together the pieces that he’s always exhibited. While his future is still likely in the bullpen, he’s consistently shown an ability to bring big velocity into deep innings, which he repeated in his best start of the year last weekend, going eight innings with one run allowed, and a final four pitches of 98-99-75 (CB)-98 mph. Overall, his four-seam fastball ranged from 95 to 99, his two-seam hovered around 93, and his changeup, which he threw sparingly—and is still his weakest pitch—was high at 90-91. Sadzeck also throws a slider in the mid-to-high 80s, and his best off-speed, a curveball which he regularly manipulates the depth and break on, usually leaves his hand between 75 and 78 mph.
None of the raw components of Sadzeck’s pitching had appreciably changed from the reports of late last season, but there has been one noticeable improvement that might make the difference in what his major league role is—his pitchability. At times last season, it seemed as if Sadzeck was pitching robotically, making no adjustments to what hitters were doing, but instead throwing to some plan in his head. After that first start—and while he’s had some shaky innings between—Sadzeck has seemed much more engaged on a pitch-to-pitch level. He’s been making those adjustments and really challenging hitters with his best stuff, and when that best stuff includes big fastballs at 99 in the eighth inning, that’s something worth dreaming on. —Kate Morrison
Felix Paulino, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
I generally like minor league doubleheaders. You get a few extra plate appearances from the hitters, and have to deal with fewer bullpen arms. You do often run into teams needing to use spot starters for these though, and your average A-ball arm that wasn’t good enough to make his team’s rotation is unlikely to be particularly prospecty. The Lakewood rotation goes six deep with notable arms though, and Paulino is much better than your average minors swingman. He dialed it up to 96, and got some good arm-side run in the low 90s. He has a very advanced hard slurve that he could spot to the back foot, and it overpowered the Columbia lineup early. Paulino would be starting in most A-ball rotations, but he isn’t a starter long term. He’s a shorter righty with torque and effort in the delivery to get it to 96, and he gassed badly later in the outing. There isn’t much of a changeup here at present, and he’s already 22. But there is a potential major league relief arm here, which you don’t usually see out of an emergency A-ball start. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Francisco Mejia, C, Cleveland Indians (Double-A Akron)
Thanks to what seemed like never-relenting rainfall and overall terrible weather, the Akron RubberDucks did not take batting practice a single time during their three days in Binghamton. In addition to preventing me from witnessing majestic Bobby Bradley dingers, this also robbed me of the opportunity to watch more of Mejia. The best catching prospect in baseball despite appearing no taller than 5’9”, Mejia has achieved notoriety for his tendency to have really long hitting streaks. While he didn’t do all that much offensively in the series, the most impressive thing he showed me was on a foul ball. On a pitch where he seemingly swung way too late on a high 90-mph fastball—too late to even make contact—he managed to pull a foul ball deep into the seats in right field, which was certainly no small task. His bat speed on this foul ball was incredible, fully exhibiting the bat speed and short swing that have allowed him to become such an incredible hitter and a potential plus-plus hitter in the major leagues.
Defensively, Mejia had average pop times behind the plate, clocking in at 2.07 and 2.03 on two occasions against Binghamton. His throwing arm was above average in terms of strength, though he had some less than accurate attempts to throw out prospective base stealers in what were 40-something degree temperatures in May. While he will probably always be a bat-first catcher, Mejia will in all likelihood be adequate enough behind the plate to stick at catcher and be a first-division regular at the position. —Skyler Kanfer
Thairo Estrada, 2B/SS, New York Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
I excitedly travelled to Portland, Maine last summer in order to get my first live look at the now former Red Sox top prospect Yoan Moncada. He did not disappoint, but I left impressed by overshadowed fellow middle infielder Mauricio Dubon too (now in the Brewers system). Well it was déjà vu for me this past week in Manchester, New Hampshire. Yankees top prospect Gleyber Torres played the role of Moncada and Estrada played the role of Dubon.
The Yankees signed Estrada in 2012 out of Venezuela, and it is easy to forget that he is still just 21 years old. He is a plus defender with fluid footwork and solid instincts, and while he possesses the range to succeed at shortstop and his arm probably could play at third base, he has been playing some second base due to the presence of Gleyber Torres (until Sunday, that is). His defensive ability and versatility give him a floor as a utility player, and he is capable of hitting well enough to develop into a regular. Through 139 plate appearances so far this season, he is slashing .347/.424/.458. He has failed to steal a base, which is a bit of a surprise given his above-average to plus speed. Estrada’s hit tool is much closer to average than plus, but is willing to take a walk and consistently makes contact with a line-drive swing and above-average bat speed. However, he sometimes loses his balance and ends up slapping the ball. Despite his career high eight homers in Single-A last year, the most evident drawback to his swing is that it does not lend itself well to over-the-fence power. Between Torres, Jorge Mateo, Estrada, Nick Solak, and others, the Yankees have a surplus of middle infield prospects and a loaded overall farm system. Don’t be surprised if Brian Cashman uses this depth in his search for a high-end starter on the trade market. —Erich Rothmann
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers, (Double-A Biloxi)
Ortiz is a big-bodied guy listed at 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds. He has a plus fastball that sits at 92-95 mph and touches 96 with arm-side run that often induces weak contact from right-handed batters. He maintains his velo from the stretch, and has a clean, quiet delivery with an easy finish that he is able to repeat—though he sometimes gets quick on the fastball. He works slightly from the third base side of the rubber and can throw to all quadrants effectively. At 21, he shows average control and plus command, as he rarely misses in the middle of the zone. The change, at 84-85 mph, has fade but not a lot of depth and shows the potential to be an average pitch. His slider, which sits 87-88, flashes plus with bite, but lacks consistency. Both the change and slider can be used to finish off left-handed hitters. He is young for Double-A, but is still being brought along slowly as he has fewer that 200 career innings pitched, partly due to some injury history. He has pitched into the sixth inning just twice this season.
What was most impressive in my viewing was his competitiveness. He is a bulldog and rises to excel in difficult situations. Stamina is a big question and he began to struggle as he went a third time through the order, but when he was in the most trouble, he threw his best sliders and showed outstanding sequencing to squelch a rally.
Given the stuff and the approach, Ortiz projects as a mid-rotation starter, but if he can avoid bad weight, affirmatively answer the stamina question and develop more consistency in his secondary pitches, he can still be more than that. —Scott Delp
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