Jason Groome, LHP, Boston Red Sox (short-season Lowell)
Leading up to the 2016 amateur draft, Jason Groome was considered to be a possible 1-1 selection. However, he ended up falling to Boston at 12th overall due to concerns about signability and maturity. He eventually agreed to a $3.65 million bonus and his work ethic has impressed the Red Sox. He began the year in Single-A Greenville, but struggled mightily in his first start and left with a lat injury. His next start was not until June 19th for Lowell, which lasted only 2 1/3 innings due to rain. Boston’s top pitching prospect should return to Greenville once he proves that he can pitch deeper into games.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, it’s hard to believe that he is only 18 years old. Despite his frame, the athletic left-hander’s delivery is pretty smooth. He starts from the third base side of the rubber, throws from a three-quarters arm slot, and uses a high leg lift. His height also allows him to throw from a downward plane. Groome features a three-pitch mix that consists of a fastball, curveball, and changeup. The fastball’s velocity ranged from 89-94 mph in Lowell but decreased as his outing progressed. Considering that he has reached 97 in the past, he likely was rusty due to the two-month absence. As he continues to get stronger, he should more consistently reach the mid 90s. Overall, after factoring in the late life, the offering has plus or better upside. The sweeping curveball is his most dominant pitch. It already grades as plus and even flashes plus-plus with tight spin and two-plane depth. His curveball command is actually slightly ahead of his fastball command too. The changeup is a work in progress. It flashes above-average with good arm speed and downward action yet is very inconsistent. Of course, there is inherent risk with him since he is a pitching prospect about four years away from the majors. Nonetheless, his ceiling is a bona fide ace, and he should at least develop into a mid-rotation starter. —Erich Rothmann
A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics (Double-A Midland)
The first thing one notices about A.J. Puk is his height. The second thing is the extreme sling with which he delivers the pitch—a deceptive angle, especially for a left-hander with the velocity he brings, but not without its issues.
For the first five innings of his first double-A outing, Puk was consistently 94-96, touching 97. In the sixth and seventh, he lost consistent velocity, falling down to 92-94 on average. This is likely due to the fact that he has only pitched into the sixth inning three times in 2017, and isn’t overly concerning due to the projectable body. Puk throws two off-speed pitches, a slider and a changeup. both in the same 83-87 velocity band. The changeup will need to improve significantly in order to be a real option for Puk, as right now it has neither solid drop nor arm-side movement. While he was able to throw both for strikes, ideally he’ll find some more differentiation between them over time. As he tired, he leaned more heavily on the slider, and threw a few pitches in a 78-79 MPH velocity band that featured more vertical drop than a standard slider, a possible indication of an attempt to develop a curveball. The most concerning trait of Puk’s delivery is its inconsistency, especially late in outings. He varies the angle on his delivery between pitches, but it does not seem particularly deliberate as of yet, and was far more noticeable, even as he struck out a batter in the seventh inning.
For a Double-A debut, Puk was impressive, but also displayed the likely focus of his development over the rest of 2017—consistency. If he can find some measure of that, it should be no problem for him to stay in the starting rotation, especially if he does develop a fourth pitch. —Kate Morrison
Justin Williams, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (Double-A Montgomery)
Williams has an athletic body at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds. He has plus raw power and looks the part of a middle of the order producer, but has yet to put that look on display on a consistent basis. He starts from an open stance and now uses a toe tap for timing. He has a moderate load and his hands have become a bit quieter of late. He is extremely aggressive and does not look to work counts, so he rarely walks. He has a plus hit tool with a knack for putting the barrel on the ball, but he has not been able to translate that into enough fly balls. He also can get himself in situations where he tries too hard and his mechanics suffer.
His speed is average to below and he is therefore limited to a corner outfield spot so the lack of power in games is becoming increasingly problematic. He is in Double-A at age 21 and holding his own, so there is still time for him to make the adjustments necessary to let his quick, strong hands do more of the work. Defensively, he has a plus arm. He gets good jumps on balls and takes efficient routes.
There is a lot of variance in Williams. His plus makeup and work ethic should help, but everything is tied to whether he can maximize the hit tool and get to his power. Doing so makes him an everyday player, but the lack of speed to play center means a Williams who doesn’t hit is not even a fourth outfielder. —Scott Delp
Shed Long, 2B, Cincinnati Reds (High-A Daytona)
Long was in the wave of Reds’ midseason promotions to Double-A that included Gavin LaValley and Nick Senzel. Though not a big body player—he stands at 5-foot-8, 180 pounds—his bat plays like one. He has a very quick bat and impressive bat control, allowing for playable power to all fields. He takes hacks with each swing, sacrificing a bit of contact, but not much. Long is a smart hitter with enough bat speed to not be exposed, and he knows how to take a walk. He has sprayed the ball to all fields through his time in High-A this year (32.6, 30.5 and 36.9 percent for pull, center, and oppo, respectively), a positive shift from his pull-heavy approach in previous seasons (his pull percentage was north of 42 percent in some years).
Long was drafted as a catcher in 2013, playing that position until 2015 when he was converted full time to second base. I like him here for his athletic actions, feel for the position, range, confidence with his glove, as well as arm angles and ability to communicate well with newly acquired Cuban signee Alfredo Rodriguez. Though he has acquired some Spanish by osmosis from his teammates, when I speak of his communication, I mean more of his ability to be a good second base tandem for double plays—he perfectly timed a glove pass to Rodriguez to initiate the 4-6-3 double play, showing flare and swag. Long is always wearing a smile on his face and is a social butterfly on the field. He projects to be a major league average regular at second base with average pop, speed, and arm with the occasional flashy glove play and better than average hit tool. —Javier Barragan
Daz Cameron, CF, Houston Astros (Low-A Quad Cities)
It’s been a rough year for Daz. After a disappointing performance in 2016 that saw him demoted from Low-A to short-season ball, Cameron returned to the Midwest League this year only to struggle once again. He’s currently (as of Sunday) running a .679 OPS, and at 20 years old, he’s no longer that young for the league.
However, when I ventured out to Beloit to get a glimpse of the Quad Cities team, Cameron put up an impressive performance. He socked a dinger, tallied two doubles, and reached base five times over the weekend’s two games while playing a competent center field with ease. The tools that had him projected as a first-round talent back in 2015 are still there. Unfortunately, Daz doesn’t seem to have much of a plan when he comes to the plate, which has likely been a large part of his struggle to make consistent, quality contact this year. There’s a good amount of swing-and-miss in his game, and the bat-to-ball ability didn’t impress in my looks, even with the aforementioned results. He also displayed a lot of aggressiveness at the plate, swinging at the first pitch in all but one at-bat. He chased pitches frequently, got exploited by sequencing a few times, and as a whole seemed like he had no plan of attack when hitting. There’s average to above-average pop in his compact frame, so he has some margin for error, but many of his swings were wild and didn’t inspire a ton of confidence.
The nice thing about Cameron is that given his broad array of tools, he still offers a nice floor as a prospect. Even if the hit tool and discipline don’t come around, he could still be a solid fourth outfielder who could provide some pop off the bench. But the dreams of an average to above-average regular that Houston had when they drafted him seem a long way off. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Josh Ockimey, 1B, Boston Red Sox (High-A Salem)
There were a few questions about Ockimey's physical projectability when the Red Sox drafted him in the fifth round in 2014, but his upper half is looking stronger than ever and his lower half still has the potential to fill out even further. Ockimey displays plus bat speed and there is plus raw power in there, too. He show good balance at the plate, with a toe tap evident but no tangible leg kick to speak of. He counts on his quick hands to drive the ball and displays a responsive feel for the strike zone. He's able to take the ball the other way with his quick hands, and his in-game opposite field power is developing. A quick look at his spray chart shows four of his seven homers this year being opposite field shots. If he's able to take the ball the other way consistently, that makes Ockimey a force to be reckoned with.
The downside to Ockimey is that he's a first baseman no matter which way you slice it. He doesn't have the body to play anywhere else, and he has some work to do to become even an average defender. If the defensive side of things doesn't work out at all, he's going to have to really prove that his plus power translates to all fields for him to be a worthy DH option. For now, the Red Sox should be happy with Ockimey's opposite field hitting. He's going to strike out a lot, but if he gets the reps he needs at first and does even moderately well over there, he's a guy worth keeping an eye on. —Victor Filoromo
Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa)
The Dodgers first-round pick in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt, Buehler lasted four innings in his second start since a brief DL stint sidelined him earlier this month. He has a smallish frame but a strong build in the lower half. There is still a bit of room to add some good weight, but he will always be on the slighter side. The righty deals from a high-three-quarters slot, but the angle drops from time to time, especially on breaking pitches. He flies through his windup and the delivery reminds me of a more up-tempo Tim Lincecum. His velocity was down a tick from where it has been in the past and topped out at 97, but worked mostly in the 94-96 range and no one will turn their nose up at that. When thrown in or near the zone, the fastball had moderate life. Buehler's curveball and slider can morph into the same pitch, but regardless of the break and speed, they could both be above-average pitches. The same could be said of the changeup. Buehler has a deep repertoire and with the potential for above-average offerings across the board. On this night his command left a bit to be desired, and the delivery was not repeated especially well; however, he absolutely pounds the strike zone. Still relatively new to Double-A, it will be exciting to see how he handles hitters in the upper minors moving forward. —Keith Rader
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
The gas undeniable—Lopez sat 95-96 mixing in a few 97s and touching 98. The problem is that he had no idea where it was going, missing both glove- and arm-side, up and down, and well, Casey Gillaspie (#16) can show you below in the video (3:07) what happens when you don’t locate 95. Half of his 76 pitches were balls, meaning that he couldn’t go to his secondaries with much frequency. The positive is that in this limited view, those secondaries (CH: 80-83; CB: 78-79; SL: 84-85) showed growth compared with a previous viewing—particularly his changeup that is well-separated in velo from the heater. He does slow his arm down to throw it right now, but there is some promise with the pitch. He leaned on his curve more than slider, and I need more data to grade these pitches, but the preliminary view suggests choosing one to develop into a solid to above-average third offering. The negative is that this growth is not so meaningful when a power pitcher like Lopez can’t locate his best weapon. Although he engaged his lower half more than previously, his delivery is still too top-heavy, which affects his effort, repeatability, and ultimately, his command. Especially when trying to ramp it up to peak velocity, Lopez’s head whack and recoil did him no favors. These fastballs, two out and one in, to Gillaspie were probably his best of the night (pitches three, six, seven):
The White Sox have no reason to move Lopez to the bullpen just yet as they work through “the process,” but he’s going to have to improve his fastball command to make it as a starter. It’s one start, but the effort and inconsistency in the delivery do not leave me confident that he can hack it as a starter. I do think he has a decent shot to be an overpowering reliever, shedding one breaker and making an impact as a three-pitch stopper. It all rests on the fastball command. Link (nearly) full outing. —John Eshleman
JoJo Romero, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
Romero caught my eye a few weeks ago in a start he had against the Hagerstown Suns. When looking at him, his body doesn’t jump out; he’s not the biggest guy, but he’s strong enough and has the athleticism to carry his stuff deep into outings. He has a standard delivery with a bit of a shoulder turn to create added deception against left-handed hitters. Romero’s pure stuff won’t “wow” you either. His fastball only sits 90-91, but it’s the movement and his ability to work the zone that makes the 20-year-old effective. While his heater has considerable arm-side action, he also throws two-seamer that creates a lot of weak contact. Romero locates these pitches on the corners, which helps set the tone during an at-bat. He also can locate his above-average slider in and out of the zone for swings and misses. He adds a playable change some of the time to keep hitters off-balance too. Overall, Romero is the rare 20-year-old that is advanced with both his control and command for his age, while having enough movement to not solely rely on pinpoint location to be successful. Even though he works the corners a lot of the time.
While there may be some concern that his stuff and 6-foot body won’t play as well at the higher levels, the lefty should continue to have success because of the command, craftiness and movement he brings to the table. He was fun to watch pitch and I’m confident that he’ll be a No. 4 type starter given his smarts on the mound and all the little things he does to get hitters out. —Greg Goldstein
Domingo Acevedo, RHP, New York Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
I had a nice fun narrative for this blurb about how Domingo Acevedo dominantly blew through Double-A in five starts—which he did, earning a recent promotion to Triple-A—and pushing his way into MLB consideration right as the Yankees could use a big power righty out of the pen. Then the Yankees returned him to Double-A over the weekend due to their ever-present pitching logjam at Triple-A deepening as the MLBers returned. C’est la vie.
I can still write about Domingo Acevedo the pitching prospect, of course. I gave it away in the lede, but at face value Acevedo is a reliever for me. He’ll sit mid-90s and touch triple-digits (media reports have had him as high as 103 in the past) with the fastball, and his slider is nasty with excellent tilt. His command is better than many with this profile, and the change even flashes average, but saying there’s a ton of violence in the delivery feels almost kind. There’s bad head movement, a ton of torque, and a severe fall-off at the end. I just don’t think it’s repeatable thirty or more times a year for 100 pitches. I do think he could be a heck of a reliever letting it fly for an inning or two.
But before totally writing him off as a starter, I’m reminded that I would’ve said nearly all of this if I filed on Luis Severino at the same stage of development. While it’s been a struggle and he always had a superior third offering, Severino’s certainly toned down the mechanical violence while maintaining most of the stuff, and looks like he’ll stay in the rotation medium-to-longer-term. So perhaps the Yankees have more of that magic available for Acevedo. —Jarrett Seidler
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