Grant Holmes, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Double-A Midland)
If A.J. Puk is all raw potential in the Oakland A’s system, then Grant Holmes is a prime example of a prospect with a little more finesse, but a bit lower of a ceiling. A short right-hander, Holmes has a traditional over-head wind-up into a high-three-quarters arm slot with a fairly short stride, which is more striking when he’s throwing out of the stretch. There are no real obvious flaws in his delivery outside of the short stride, as he repeats his release point fairly well, and doesn’t have an excess of moving parts. In this outing, Holmes showed a fastball between 89-93 mph, and he was able to create some good movement on the pitch. His curveball was his best offspeed, coming in anywhere from 78-85 MPH, with variation in depth and sweep, and he was able to locate the pitch for both swings and misses and called strikes. Holmes’ changeup is his weakest pitch, sometimes showing good arm-side drop, but more often spinning into the zone in the mid-80s. Over the 70-pitch mark, Holmes began losing command, giving up hits on balls left high in the zone. Because of the simplicity of his delivery—and the fact that his velocity does look to be coming mainly from the arm—it seems unlikely that a move to the bullpen would do all that much for Holmes’ velocity, though shorter outings might help his command. —Kate Morrison
Heliot Ramos, CF, San Francisco Giants (Complex Level AZL)
Selected 19th overall this past June, Ramos will still be 17 until the week after the AZL ends in early September. The Puerto Rican center fielder features a 6-foot-2 frame with a mature build and above-average strength. He doesn’t have the same projectability as other first-round prep outfielders, but he has impressive acceleration and a second gear which allowed him to clock a sub-11.3 home-to-third time in his first pro at-bat—a line-drive triple down the third base line. He has a fairly quiet, balanced approach with a swing tailored to hit the ball in the air. His plus bat speed allowed him to drive the ball all four times he put the ball in play, and he recognized pitches well except for a swinging strikeout on a 3-2 breaking ball. He then followed up his 3-for-5 debut with a 4-for-5 night on Saturday, hitting his first career home run (which was reportedly a moonshot) and two deep doubles that nearly left the park. There’s legitimate power projection here, though he faced mostly 88-91 the night I was in attendance, and I’d like to see how he handles premium velocity. —Matt Pullman
Fernando Baez, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Double-A Montgomery)
Baez is not a big-time prospect, but I saw him start a game recently and found him interesting. He’s the kind of guy who occasionally shows up on a major-league roster in a useful spot and everyone wonders where he came from. The back story is different in that he was signed as an IFA by the Cardinals as a catcher. He caught for two seasons before the Cardinals decided his future was on the mound. As such, he’s in his sixth season of pitching professionally, with the Rays snatching him in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft after the 2015 season.
He has many of the flaws you’d expect from someone who came to pitching late, but he also has the potential to improve quickly if it all comes together. That needs to happen soon as he is now 25 in Double-A.
Baez throws from a high-three-quarters arm slot, sitting 91-94 with the fastball and touching 95. He has a smooth and effortless delivery that he repeats, allowing him to maintain average command on that pitch. He can throw it to either side of the plate with good late life. He has yet to find an effective, consistent secondary pitch of any kind. He is trying to develop a curve that he throws 69-78. The big range in velocity is due to the inconsistency of his mechanics. At times, he gets underneath it and at others, he spikes it. He threw a few that flashed average in my viewing, but there is just no consistent feel. There is also a quick breaking slider that he throws at 82-85. Like the curve, there is not much feel for the pitch yet.
Given his overall numbers, I surely saw Baez at his best. That was intriguing, though. The Rays seem to be using him in bigger stretches to allow him maximum opportunities to find a secondary knowing that the fastball will likely tick up even more in shorter bursts.
Baez should find his way to the major-league bullpen in the next season or two. Finding a consistently average second pitch would be the difference between a guy on the Durham shuttle or someone contributing at the back end of games. —Scott Delp
Adrian Morejon, LHP, San Diego Padres (short-season Tri-City)
I am quite bullish on the Padres $22 million investment ($11 mil + tax) in the 18-year-old Cuban, largely a result of an exciting command profile. Morejon [More-a-zhan], headliner of a robust 2016 July 2 class for the Friars, is a sturdy 6-foot, 190 pounds (give-or-take), and he deals with a three-pitch mix from the left side. I saw him the end of extended spring training, a time most prospects looked tired, and he showed quite good stuff—future plus fastball with ample run (91-93 mph), an above-average high-70s curve, and a future MLB outpitch in his low-80s cambio. Scouts reported that he was even sharper with more velo in previous EXT action, and the upside is a front-end starting pitcher. Putting such lofty projections on a teenage arm is a dangerous game, but Morejon’s command is well beyond his age. His athleticism, mechanics and arm action suggest repeatability, limited arm stress, and future plus (double-plus?) command. In other words, it just looks so damn easy. He is off and running at Tri-Cities in the Pioneer League with 12 Ks and 0 BBs in 13 innings, and the Padres will not rush their big investment. With limited performance data and only one viewing, I’m cautious before throwing gaudy grades on a teen, but I would not at all be surprised if Morejon is among the top pitching prospects in baseball this time next year. I’d actually be surprised if he’s not. —John Eshleman
Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Double-A Tulsa)
Sometimes, pitchers in Double-A baseball blend together—a band of competent but not particularly overwhelming talent. Occasionally, though, a pitcher comes through with stuff and maturity that is easy to see against the rest of the league. Buehler is that kind of pitcher. A right-hander with a medium build, Buehler has a quick delivery and extremely consistent pace, using a low set and quick arm to get the ball home while regularly using only around 5-6 seconds off the MiLB 20-second pitch clock. While he does repeat this delivery, and makes it look fairly seamless, he has already had Tommy John surgery once, and there is a bit of violence in the second half of his mechanics that do raise some questions about his durability as a starter.
Buehler brings a burgeoning four-pitch mix to the rubber, though in the viewed outing (5 1/3 IP, 7 K) he mostly relied on the two best—his fastball and his curveball. The fastball sat 96-98 (t99), and while Buehler did show an ability to use the offering as a power pitch, up and in for a swinging strike, he mainly concentrated on the the lower half of the zone, using the pitch’s natural sink to generate groundball outs. The curve, which for the most part has some solid vertical drop, sits in the low 80s, and Buehler used it adeptly to keep hitters off balance, and was able to throw it for strikes. Buehler’s slider is also a well-developed pitch, but he only used it a few times in this outing, a horizontally diving pitch usually in the upper 80s. He also throws a changeup, generally in the 89-90 band, but it could be picked up by more advanced hitters as a batting-practice fastball, and ambushed as it lacks any real, decisive movement.
While there are obviously things for Buehler to still work on at the Double-A level, if the rumours are true and LA intends to bring him up for additional help in the later stages of the year, he should be amply prepared to take on major league hitters. —Kate Morrison
Reggie Lawson, RHP, San Diego Padres (Low-A Fort Wayne)
The 71st pick in last year's draft and signed for over-slot value, Lawson has the physical tools to become a front-end, innings-eating starter for the Padres. Already 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, and only 19 years old, there appears to be additional mass and muscle that could be added to his frame. The arm speed is above average and has clean action from a high-three-quarters arm slot. There is very little effort in the delivery, and Lawson has made strides in making it more repeatable.
The fastball sat 92-93 throughout his six innings of work and touched 95 once. It was straight with very little run to it, but he worked downhill making it heavy. The curveball was the only secondary pitch shown on this outing and has plus potential. Lawson showed confidence spinning it, throwing early in the count with good command. Hitters looked uncomfortable when it was thrown and there were several awkward, off balance swings.
Take away his first Low-A start, an ugly outing of only one and a third innings, and Lawson has been solid. There is inherent risk being this young and far away from the majors, but he has the tools to be a starter in San Diego. —Nathan Graham
Devin Smeltzer, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Smeltzer survived pediatric bladder cancer before fighting his way into the fifth round out of San Jacinto College last summer. He’s long and lean, with a moderate rock into a severely closed-off leg kick and turn down the hill. The arm action is deep and slingy to a low three-quarter slot, with a pretty massive crossfire on the back end of it adding further length to his release point. While there are notable compromises to repeatability, it makes for a late pickup and pretty uncomfortable timing effort for batters. And unlike the LOOGY profile to which you’re likely subjecting him as you read this, that comment holds for righties and lefties alike—at least so far in his career.
He’s handled hitters of both handedness with equal peripheral effectiveness this year, largely on the strength an effective secondary for each side in the same 82-86 velocity band. His fastball is underwhelming at 89-90 (t91), with mild run and a healthy dose of deception covering for flat plane and spotty command in the zone. But he tunnels a solid changeup off it that draws out quality tumble when he turns it over successfully. And a frisbee slider just keeps running away from lefties to help him coax off-barrel contact out of fairer-handed hitters.
He’s a gritty, emotional pitcher on the bump, and while the fringy fastball and command inconsistencies limit the ceiling pretty dramatically, he shows signs of controlling a three-pitch mix with plenty of funk, and that’s generally enough to put a guy in the mix for eventual big-league innings. —Wilson Karaman
Jacob Gatewood, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers (High-A Carolina)
Gatewood really caught my eye in BP as he consistently hit moonshots, demonstrating the true plus-plus raw power in his profile. He also displayed legit upper-body strength when he pushed a high pitch out of the park the opposite way in his first at-bat of the series. While the 21-year-old does flash because of his sheer size and ability to hit balls far, his poor contact skills are what will scare people from buying into his power. But much to my surprise, Gatewood showed that he wasn’t just all frosting with no cake in the three games I saw him. Although he’s a career .243 hitter who has struck out over 430 times midway through his third full season, Gatewood has managed to post a respectable .274 average in the Carolina League thus far. What’s the difference?
In Potomac, he flashed the ability to stay within himself and keep his eyes following ball to bat, while shortening his swing a bit in two strike counts. His hands aren’t that stiff either, so there’s potential to improve his barrel control, though he’s still striking out in about 30 percent of his at-bats this year, thanks in large part to a highly leveraged swing and an aggressive approach. Still his ability to hit for contact has certainly improved. Perhaps you can chalk this up to more experience, but our own Steve Givarz has wisely pointed out that the first baseman is now using corrective lenses, which is definitely something to consider when evaluating the 2017 version of Jake Gatewood. There’s still considerable risk in his profile given his high swing-and-miss tendencies, but his raw power is rare and it is worth keeping tabs on his ability to convert his raw power into game situations. —Greg Goldstein
Lane Thomas, CF, Toronto Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
Jays’ prospect Lane Thomas is an intriguing young player that will continue to draw attention as a legitimate center field prospect. A fifth-rounder out of high school that received a hefty $750,000 signing bonus is currently meeting expectations. Thomas flashes tools that still need polishing, but have promise. In the most recent series against Bradenton, Thomas rapped five hits and displayed above-average bat speed and power to opposite field when he took a 98 mph fastball out of the park. Defensively, he showed plus instincts in center with excellent routes and two over the shoulder catches. His speed, instincts, and athleticism will allow him to stay in center field long term and get to most balls. Offensively, Thomas features excellent bat to ball skills to go along with wiry strength and above-average plate coverage. Although there is some potential for power, as there is leverage in the swing, he fits more of a leadoff or two-hole profile. Currently sporting a .319 OBP, he will need to continue providing premium on base and base running skills while showing that he can stay consistent with his line-drive, contact approach to be a big leaguer. —Josh Turner
Jeff Brigham, RHP, Florida Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
Marlins are sellers this season, in more ways than one. Having the weakest system in all of baseball, this is a good time to stock up on talent, like RHP Jeff Brigham. Brought to the organization from LA in the Mat Latos deal, Brigham has returned to the mound in the past month. He has suffered through several trips to the DL, most recently a shoulder injury, but still he has enough arm strength to pump it into the 97-98 range around pitch number 80.
Brigham throws a four-seam fastball at 95-98 mph, two-seam fastball 95-97, a slider 81-85, sitting 82, and a changeup firmly at 87-89, all from a three-quarters slot . The fast stuff will not consistently blow past major-league hitters, but he will get some swings and misses based off sheer velocity. Still, Brigham commands and repeats well to either side of the plate, especially in. While grading the off-speed stuff, the slider stands out. It is a tight, late-moving 10-5 pitch with moderate depth that he can place on either side of the plate. This is his out pitch, a major-league pitch, that he looks to place glove-side and down. As for the change, it is firm and thrown mostly to lefties. It bottoms out decently with a touch of fade. Combined with the premium fastball, it can be used serviceably; on its own, it is a BP fastball.
The delivery is repeated well and his arm action is long and deep, but clean. His times to the plate are on the longer end, 1.32 to 1.51. Though the Marlins currently deploy him as a starter in High-A Jupiter, Brigham is best suited as a reliever. He has two pitches that rate as at least major-league average, with fringy control and command. This will only produce replaceable numbers in the major leagues if used as a starter. Brigham projects to be an early-out-of-the-pen arm who can get you outs, when healthy. —Javier Barragan
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