A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics (High-A Stockton)
The sixth-overall pick a year ago, Puk is a long, large human being. He’s a mature 6-foot-7 with strength and elasticity, though he lacks for great athleticism. The physicality poses challenges for his ability to repeat his delivery, and he attempts to simplify by pitching exclusively out of the stretch. His timing was all over the place in this start, however, and there were frequent balance issues that resulted in him yanking his head and neck down rather violently as he fell offline. The arm slot wandered around three-quarters, with huge extension out front but just a lot of length to his release point. I don’t love the fine command projection, though the stuff can pair with moderate control and be enough.
The raw stuff is arguably the best I’ve seen in a loaded field of Cal League arms. The fastball came out 96-98 (t99). It’s an explosive pitch with ride and outrageous life up in the zone, as his extension gives him additional perceived velocity and margin for error. I have it as a potential 70 pitch even with fringy command, and he had worse than that for much of this start. He still managed to beat A-ball hitters around the zone in spite of that, and he made pitches with his secondaries to shut out a good Rancho lineup for five innings. His slider and change hung out in the same 88-90 band, with a few of the former down in the mid-80s when he got on the side of ‘em. It’s a devastating pitch for hitters at this level, with nasty two-plane bite off a very difficult angle, and it’s another easy plus pitch in the making. His change flashed above-average dive bomb, though it’s fairly straight and the salesmanship is inconsistent.
This is a top-shelf pitching prospect, albeit one with pretty significant command-associated risk. —Wilson Karaman
The left side of the Lansing Lugnuts’ infield is very young but deep on talent and major league dna. With Vlad Jr. behind him in the lineup and next to him in the field, Bo Bichette has been tearing up the Midwest League. The 2016 second-round pick has a slim, athletic build that is projectable for future strength and bulk. In the field he is solid yet unspectacular; his range and hands are average for a shortstop.The arm strength is also average for the position but is accurate. He features a violent swing that starts with a deep load and high leg kick. Raw, pull power is generated by above-average bat speed and a swing that generates mild leverage. Maybe the most impressive aspect of Bichette’s game has been his advanced approach at the plate. There is good command of the strike zone and recognition of offspeed pitches. In my looks, he was not fooled by breaking stuff and stayed balanced, which is rare especially for a player so young. Projectable growth might eventually necessitate a move to second base and make the speed grade tick down a notch. However, the hit and power tools should cause quick advancement through the Jays’ system. —Nathan Graham
Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
We’re a year removed from Wilson Karaman raving about him in the California League, and Cuban import Rogelio Armenteros is just as impressive. The 22-year-old right-hander took a no-hitter through the fifth in the most recent look against the Frisco Roughriders, before being lifted at 79 pitches due to the Astros customary caution about young pitchers. This makes it hard to know what Armenteros would do when exhausted, but through those five innings, he looked every bit as impressive as anyone could hope.
Armenteros has a smooth, loose motion to the plate with a small hip turn into his long stride. There’s no excessive bounce to his delivery, something that helps him deliver all three of his pitches indistinguishably. His fastball, which is fairly heavy, if devoid of excessive amounts of wiggle, sat steadily in the 90-92 MPH range. His best secondary is his curveball, which he varied the angle on substantially through the outing, giving the pitch a slider look at times, though he consistently threw it in the same upper-70s velocity band. His changeup is his weakest pitch, but he demonstrated an understanding of when and where to use it, and if he can develop this into a true third pitch, he’ll have a real chance at starting. The most noticeable thing that Armenteros brings is a solid feel for pitching, mixing his arsenal easily and creating easy weak contact. —Kate Morrison
Travis Lakins, RHP, Boston Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
After trading away elite pitching prospects Anderson Espinoza and Michael Kopech, Lakins has a case for the top remaining right-handed starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox system. Boston drafted him in the sixth round of the 2015 amateur draft out of Ohio State and signed him to an over-slot $320,000 bonus. The athletic 22-year-old missed the final three months of last season due to a stress fracture in his right elbow. He started this season in High-A Salem and dominated, posting a 2.61 ERA and 1.18 WHIP along with 43 strikeouts in 38 innings.
Lakins throws from a three-quarters arm slot and has clearly worked on repeating his delivery. He also moved to the third-base side of the rubber this season. His potentially plus fastball averages 93-94 mph with some arm-side run and tops out at 97 mph. At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, he still has room for added strength, so it is certainly possible that his average and maximum velocity will continue to increase. His slider has morphed into a cutter (87-90 mph). It flashes plus and can generate swings and misses. The other two pitches in his repertoire, a curveball (75-79 mph) and a changeup (87-89 mph), currently flash above-average and average, respectively. The curveball looks more 11-5 than 12-6 and is capable of missing bats while the changeup is thrown with decent arm speed and displays some late tumble.
Lakins was recently promoted to Portland and has struggled against the more advanced hitters. Control and consistency of his secondary pitches have been the two main problems. Still, with the potential for three above-average pitches, he can become a mid-rotation starter if he develops more consistency. —Erich Rothmann
Joey Lucchesi, LHP, San Diego Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
Drafted in the fourth round out of Southeast Missouri State last year, Lucchesi has been one of the better performers in a Padres’ system suddenly brimming with pitching talent. An under-slot sign at just $100,000, Lucchesi sparkled in the Northwest League in 2016 with a 53-2 strikeout to walk ratio. Lucchesi has handled the jump to High-A nicely so far, featuring a 2.51 ERA, with strong supporting peripherals. There is a lot to like about Lucchesi as a pitcher. He is a big, broad-shouldered lefty, with an above-average fastball, and a plus changeup. In my two looks at Lucchesi, he worked at 90-94 (touching 95), and 89-93 respectively. His fastball is well commanded, and though it lacks much movement, he compensates through good tilt, and keeping the ball down in the zone, which is supported by his 50 percent groundball rate. Lucchesi backs up his fastball with a changeup that is already plus. The changeup works from 77-81, and has excellent downer-action, and deception. It will occasionally flash plus fade, but he also cuts it on occasion. The glaring hole in Lucchesi’s arsenal is the lack of a breaking ball. His curveball, which worked 76-80 in both my looks, had little movement, rolled, and was often left up.
Lucchesi also has one of the more interesting deliveries that you will see from any starting pitcher out there. He begins pre-pitch with a Kershaw-like extension of his hands above his head. As his motion begins, he sharply drops his hands down to his thighs, a la Ben Weber, where he pauses. At this point, he brings his hands back up, before shooting his throwing arm out behind him, where there is another pause. Despite the uncomfortable, spastic look to his move, Lucchesi actually gets into pretty nice position as he delivers the ball. He has a good load on his backside, and does nice work with his glove-side, getting through his move nicely, finishing out front. In effort for full transparency, I’m a total sucker for a guy with a good changeup, but ultimately, I think Lucchesi’s fastball-changeup combination is so good right now, that the development of an even adequate breaking ball gives him easy mid-rotation upside. Yet, I don’t think his curveball in its current form offers much promise, and he may be better served developing a harder, shorter breaking ball like a cutter, or slider. —JH Schroeder
Carlos Tocci, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A Reading)
It may seem like Tocci has been a Phillies prospect for a decade, but in reality it’s been just over half that time. Signed out of Venezuela in 2011, he will play the entire 2017 season at 21 years of age. He has always displayed above-average plate discipline, and his swing has become more fluid over time. The leg kick is less pronounced this year, and he stays balanced at the plate. He's a line-drive hitter and can spray the ball to the opposite field with above-average bat speed.
But there's just not much power in that bat. Tocci's long, wiry frame hasn't really filled out; he's 6-foot-2 but hasn't put on much muscle. It's seeming more and more likely that he won't ever have the strength to provide much in-game power at all. Defensively, he does get a good first step in center field, can close ground quickly, and won't hurt a team with his routes. At this stage, the Phillies hope they've found a poor man's Doug Glanville; a wiry player capable of getting by on smarts and the ability to field his position well enough to stick at the end of the bench despite a lack of power. —Victor Filoromo
Marcos Molina, RHP, New York Mets (High-A Port St. Lucie)
I caught Molina’s second start since being activated from the disabled list, which he landed on with a shoulder strain. Molina was the recipient of a lot of hype before falling to Tommy John surgery in late 2015, and though he flashed some of the reasons for that hype in this viewing, there were concerning elements as well. Formerly up to 95 with his fastball, he sat 90-91 and touched 92, lacking the electric arm-side run that had people so excited. He located the fastball very well, routinely commanding it down in the zone. Molina’s best secondary in this outing was his changeup, which showed late fade and tumble out of the zone. He showed the confidence to throw it in any count, which allowed the fastball to play up as hitters had to prepare for the change. Molina’s slider, which had previously gotten good reports from his time in the NYPL was below-average on this night. He showed some feel for the offering, attempting to backfoot it to left-handed batters, but more often spiking it in the dirt. It flashed inconsistent break, but enough overall sharpness that there’s the potential for it to be an average pitch.
Mechanics are also a challenge for Molina. He’s a high-effort, short strider, with minimal involvement of his lower half and recoil upon finish. Despite his athleticism and plus arm speed, it’s difficult to see how he holds up over 170+ innings. —Josh Turner
Ariel Jurado, RHP, Texas Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Jurado, a 21-year old out of Panama, looked solid in a recent start against the NW Arkansas Naturals, commanding both fastballs well throughout evening. Two mistakes were punished early, but he remained composed to put together a nice outing. but remained composed to put together a nice outing. Jurado deals from a three-quarters slot with a clean, repeatable delivery. He consistently pounded the bottom of the zone with a sinker that flashed plus potential, elevating on batters with a four-seamer for whiffs. He leaned on the sinker throughout the outing, sitting 87-90 with natural, arm-side run, ramping the four-seamer up to 93 at times. He mixed in a lazy, 11-5 slider at 79-83, but the changeup was his preferred secondary in this outing, flashing moderate, vertical drop at 83-86. Both secondaries could be average pitches in time, with the cambio the better of the two offerings. —Keith Rader
Yasel Antuna, SS, Washington Nationals (EST/GCL Nationals)
The Nationals currently have Yasel Antuna at short, though he does not project to stay there—his actions are too clunky and heavy, and his hands are too stiff for the infield. That pushes him to the outfield, where his smooth, but heavy movements restrict him to the corners. A muscular guy presently, it looks as if he is carrying 50 pounds on his ankles. His acceleration is slow, with seemingly inflexible hips and ankles. His speed is not going to improve with age, and he should be a below-average runner in time. Still, he is no base clogger, as he is alert on the base paths. His arm is average and firm, and though the arm action is clean, I do not see it elevating to plus with his average arm speed. So, he is a future corner outfielder with an average arm, how’s his bat? This is where things get interesting.
There are no public stats for Extended Spring Training, but the switch-hitting Antuna likely leads all of EST with walks. His plate discipline is very advanced for his age and level, often showing the plate approach of a much older player. On multiple occasions, he completed a plate appearance without swinging once because he understands the strike zone and his sweet spot (middle-middle and middle-low). Even when he is in a hitter’s count, he won’t bite unless the pitch is in his spot. Still, he does not strike out often, and he is rarely caught off-balance or swinging at pitches that he does not have a good chance to hit. He has also shown the ability to barrel the ball relatively easy from either side. He possesses average raw power with this tool grading up as he matures. Signed for $3.9 million in 2016, Antuna projects to be a middle of the order thumper hitting for average and high OBP providing average corner outfield defense in his best seasons. —Javier Barragan
Justus Sheffield, SP, New York Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
A quick search of our database shows that I’ve somehow managed to avoid writing anything substantive about Justus Sheffield this season, even though he’s a 101 guy that I’ve seen three starts from. In part this is because, well, he’s the same pitcher that myself and others have previously reported: a fastball ranging from the low-to-mid-90s with life and command that comes and goes, a slider and change that both have a chance to be average-or-better but aren’t totally there yet, and concerns about size, stamina, and repeatability. Chaz Fiorino wrote him up with video last month for Notes From The Field, and Chaz’s notes are close enough to mine that I’d be repeating him if I filed a full scouting report.
What I find fascinating about Sheffield is that I have no more certainty now about whether he’ll ultimately stick as a starter than I did when I last filed a Ten Pack on him last September. He hasn’t stagnated as a prospect at all, and he’s doing just fine both in look and on the back of the baseball card in his first full exposure to the Double-A level. But unless he’s one of those dudes who takes a big command jump at some point, the questions about his long-term role aren’t really going to be answered until and unless he makes the majors and succeeds as a starter or doesn’t. Given that the Yankees are competing ahead of schedule, one wonders if Sheffield could get the Erick Fedde treatment later this season to contribute to the MLB club in relief. —Jarrett Seidler
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