Yency Almonte, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Double-A Hartford)
Despite being delayed for a year, Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford is a nice little stadium with a lot to recommend. There is a very legitimate jerk chicken sandwich hidden away in the right field upper deck, it’s about eight minutes door-to-door from my favorite bar in the area, and oh yeah, pretty much every night you had a decent chance of seeing a future major-league arm starting for the Yard Goats. Almonte may be the best pitching prospect of the group. He’s a lean righty with simple mechanics and an easy 95 whenever he wants it. Usually for starting pitchers at this level, I’ll run the gun for a few innings and then check back in to see where they are in the sixth or seventh inning. Usually I end up writing something like “93-95 early, 91-93 late,” but Almonte maintains and even builds velocity throughout his outings. He found more 95-96 late in the start I saw, and he commands the heater well to all four quadrants. The advanced command covers for limited movement, although he will show some arm-side run from his three-quarters slot. He used a fastball-heavy approach—didn’t need much else—but both the slider and change flashed above-average. The slide piece is the more advanced secondary at present—despite some issues with the feel for it early in the outing. It’s a mid-80s offering with hard, late tilt. He pulled the string on a few nice cambios, but the pitch was too firm too often. Ryan Castellani has the better raw stuff on the Yard Goats staff, but that’s usually only the case for the first 50 pitches or so. Almonte’s ability to measure out his arsenal and superior pitchability makes him the better long term bet for me, and a potential 101 name come this offseason. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Tanner Houck, RHP, Boston Red Sox (short-season Lowell)
The 2017 first-round pick made his first two professional starts this past week in Lowell. During his one-inning debut (26 pitches), he surrendered two runs while striking out two batters and walking one. His fastball’s velocity ranged from 94-97 mph with sinking action. The potentially plus or better fastball was a major reason why he was drafted in the first round, but his sweepy slider (83-86 mph) also generated a few swing and misses. During his second start against rehabbing Dallas Keuchel (he is still good, by the way), the 21-year-old gave up just one run in 1 1/3 innings (33 pitches) yet his stuff took a step back. The fastball only sat 90-92, and he struggled to throw strikes despite displaying above-average control at the University of Missouri. His slider again flashed above-average but was more inconsistent. His changeup was the clear third pitch in both outings.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, he definitely possesses a starter’s frame with some remaining projection. However, he may ultimately be forced to move to the bullpen due his delivery. He throws from a low-three-quarters arm slot with a high leg kick and his back elbow pointed up. The counterarguments are that the lower arm slot contributes to his effectiveness and many scouts were also torn about Chris Sale’s similar delivery. I’m not saying Houck is the next Chris Sale but am a bit less concerned about his mechanics after watching Sale dominate for the Red Sox. The more likely reason he does not end up in the rotation could be failing to develop an adequate changeup. If all goes as planned, I think he will become a mid-rotation starter. —Erich Rothmann
Longtime scout, Howard Norsetter, has signed several notable international players in his tenure with the Twins including; Grant Balfour, Max Kepler and Justin Morneau. His latest import, Aaron Whitefield, is a former softball player from Brisbane, Australia that is putting up solid numbers in the Midwest League. Athletic and tall with a narrow build, there looks to be some projectable upper body muscle growth. Speed is the carrying tool, and he displays an aggressive nature, always looking to take extra bases or test an outfielder’s arm. He stands tall at the plate with hands close to the chest showing a high leg kick with the pitch. The swing is quiet with average bat speed and mild leverage which produces line drive pull power. There is still work to be done with pitch recognition, he can be fooled and get off balanced with secondary offerings. In the field, the speed allows him to cover a lot of ground in center and he shows solid instincts and routes. The arm plays at average for center but shows good carry and is accurate. Overall, it’s still a work in progress, but I can see multiple tools developing into plus offerings making a profile of an everyday major-league outfielder. And while Whitefield was off of most people’s radar at the beginning of the season, look for him to begin to catch the eye of the scouting world. —Nathan Graham
Freicer Perez, RHP, New York Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
Rarely do you see starting pitchers as tall as Perez. At 20 years old, the Yankees farmhand stands at 6-foot-8, weighing in at a skinnier 190 pounds. However, Perez is athletic for height, showing a loose arm and fluid delivery that makes you see why the Yankees are using him as a starting pitcher at the lower levels. The right-hander is thriving in the Charleston rotation this season, pitching to a 2.87 ERA in 17 starts thus far. The primary reason that Perez has been effective this year is his propensity to produce swings and misses (83 K in 87.2 IP) using his big fastball that consistently sits in the mid-high 90s early on in starts. While the heater does lose a few ticks as Perez approaches the middle innings, he flashes the ability to work the zone rather effectively given his basketball player body. He conserves his energy well through his compact and easy motion, which should keep him in a starting role for at least the next couple seasons.
While Perez does have the tools to be a potential starter, his lack of workable secondaries makes it more likely that his future lies as a high-leverage reliever. His slider is his most advanced pitch outside his heater, flashing fringe-average at times, but mostly sitting at well-below-average currently. He should continue to improve his slider, curveball, and changeup with experience, but I’m not confident in projecting any of them to average even given his athleticism and loose arm. Perez has the ceiling of a quality middle reliever because of his ability to pump his fastball to plus-plus velo, and it could play even higher given his added strength projection and likely switch to the bullpen. His breaking balls will play better in short stints playing off the fastball and he should throw enough strikes to have a floor of a solid middle relief option if none of his secondaries develop to fringe. There’s a lot to like about Perez as a potential major league arm but he’s also a long-term project that won’t factor into the Yankees major-league plans for many years to come. —Greg Goldstein
Steven Duggar, OF, San Francisco Giants (High-A San Jose)
I was a bit surprised to see Steven Duggar playing for the San Jose Giants this year, as I considered him one of the better position player prospects in the California League last year, but a little research revealed that Duggar was working his way back from injuries to his hip and elbow. Duggar, a sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2015, has a lean-muscled, athletic frame, and a refined approach at the plate. Duggar has no loud skills, but is average to a tick above across the board, with a lot of 5s and 6s on his card. Duggar’s plate discipline is his most impressive attribute. He showed very early pitch recognition, particularly on spin, and rarely expanded.
Duggar starts his leg kick fairly early, but loads in such a controlled way that he has some flexibility in when to come out of his gather and start his swing. He’s a guy that prefers to let the fastball travel deep, and stays through the middle of the field nicely. Currently, he has more of a line-drive, ground-ball stroke, but as he develops I think there’s the potential for at least average game power. His best run-times were typically from 4.2 to 4.3, though his speed plays up in a bit in the outfield where he’s a fluid athlete. Duggar also has a plus-arm in right-field, though it looks like his arm action is a bit longer this year, maybe as a result of his elbow injury. Ultimately, Duggar feels like the kind of guy that can put together a .275/.350/.420 batting line, with above-average defense in an outfield corner, and good baserunning. This package may not seem particularly exciting, but keep in mind, this offensive line is basically Adam Eaton and Jason Heyward throughout their careers. —J.H. Schroeder
Oneil Cruz, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
Standing at 6-foot-6, Cruz’s listed position is shortstop. That isn’t a typo either, as he has split duties at the six with Gavin Lux so far this year. However, Cruz’s time at short is not likely to continue long term. There has never been a shortstop this tall before, and the reasons why become pretty evident when you watch him. He’s a bit too slow, lacks range, and seems to have trouble getting the ball down in front of him, instead choosing to circle around slower ground balls, even when it isn’t warranted. Still, it’s still fun to watch Cruz play the field just for the novelty of the experience.
Even though he’s not a shortstop long term, Cruz is still an intriguing prospect. His calling card is his power, which is at least 60 raw right now despite him being skinny as a stick (listed 175 pounds). Given the heaps of projectability in the body, it’s easy to envision more power coming as he grows. And while it seems easy enough to stick him in the outfield, he showcases decent hands, quick reactions, and enough athleticism that a trial run at the hot corner is almost certainly in order. His ultimate fate will likely depend on how his body matures.
Cruz has his warts with the bat as well. He has a long swing that frequently gets exposed with fastballs inside, which leaves major questions about his hit tool. He’ll also look lost in at-bats at times, watching strikes go by or taking lazy swings. He is only 18, and being overmatched in the Midwest league isn’t a cardinal sin at that age, but his approach will need to mature if he hopes to progress at the plate. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Aramis Garcia, C, San Francisco Giants (High-A San Jose)
Garcia is a walking stereotype of the plea for patience with catcher development. After graduating to High-A in 2015 on the heels of a solid full-season debut, he lost most of last year after breaking his face on a slide, hence his return to High-A. It’s certainly not for lack of effort in the box recently, however, as he’s posted a .922 OPS with eight dingers since the Cal League All-Star break.
He moves around well behind the dish, with the lateral quickness to get out on balls and flashes of sound blocking technique when he gets after it. He’s demonstrated some immaturity across multiple looks dating back to last year, however, growing frustrated with the poor execution of his pitchers and failing to maintain his pursuit of errant pitches in the dirt through the full course of (still-competitive) games. His glove hand is strong on frames, though again inconsistent; he’ll bear down on snatching borderline balls for innings at a time, before losing focus and getting noisier in his receiving. The arm strength above-average, with multiple sub-2.0 pops, though his ball will tail on him.
A right-handed hitter, there isn’t a ton of upper- and lower- half sync in his early-count swings, but he’ll add a bit more torque and leverage when he’s hunting in a hitter’s count. He has enough barrel control and bat speed to make a decent amount of contact, though he frequently works himself into deep and disadvantageous counts, to where he strikes out more than he probably should, and does so without augmenting his on-base profile with free passes.
There are a lot of elements to like in his profile, but also a good bit more rawness than you’d typically see from a 24-year-old in High-A with still-intact big-league aspirations. It’s the slowest of slow-burn profiles, but if it comes together there’s average defensive and fringe-average offensive potential here—a late-in-life second-division/back-up profile. —Wilson Karaman
Gregory Guerrero, 2B, New York Mets (Complex-level GCL)
Gregory has some tough sledding to become the most well-known member of his family, even among prospects. He is athletic, but not athletic enough by major-league standards to stick at shortstop. The glove is solid, as are the actions, but his range is fringy. Guerrero’s lack of agility and his legs, which are on the slower side of quick-twitch, put him in the second base group. He also looks more comfortable at second, and though he can gain more comfort at the six with additional reps, it is his lack of explosiveness that, again, relegates him to second.
The defense is solid, but his bat is what you like. It will also need to develop significantly for him to sniff the majors. As is the case with many 18-year-olds, the bat is labeled in bright red as a “Work in Progress.” Things to like: the ball jumps off the barrel, he has quick hands, a loose body, and has bat-to-ball ability. Things to not like: he is not ever balanced, often ending up on his front foot or stepping in the bucket. His understanding of the zone is fringy, too. These result in weak contact on pitches he should be able to line. Still, the actions and makings of an above-average hitter are there, but with big developmental risks. He would need to refine his timing, zone discipline, and aggression to become the above-average hitter. Power isn’t a significant part of his game, but he’s got enough to be a starter at second, given the chance. His chances of tapping into the below-average power he does have is tied to his ability to stay on his backside, and subsequently learning to drive the ball.
Guerrero is at best a future second-division regular, contingent on his bat making the necessary timing and mechanical adjustments to spray line drives and drive the ball. His defensive skills will play acceptably at second, but that is not what he is there for—it is his bat. —Javier Barragan
Freddy Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Double-A Biloxi)
Peralta has become my favorite unheralded pitching prospect. Part of Milwaukee’s haul from Seattle for Adam Lind, he has developed nicely in the Brewers’ system. He was recently promoted to Double-A shortly after his 21st birthday and the jump has not slowed him down.
Peralta does not have any pitch that will wow anyone, but the whole package is quite intriguing. He is adept at changing both speeds and looks on his 88-92 fastball. He sinks it, cuts it, and runs it with good command. He can throw the fastball anywhere in the zone and the changes in velocity and movement make it tough on hitters. He is especially adept at using the fastball up in the zone as a put away pitch. He also spins a potentially plus slider at 84-86 with late life. His curve and change are works in progress but each flashes average. Peralta complements this potentially deep repertoire with a bit of an offbeat delivery. He uses a full windup which, coupled with throwing slightly across his body from a high-three-quarters slot, gives him a lot of deception. Though there are a lot of moving parts to the delivery, he repeats it successfully and gets good extension on his pitches.
Peralta is slightly built at 5-foot-11 and just 175 pounds and there was some concern about his ability to remain a starter, but he has shown that he can maintain his velocity and movement into the 90-pitch mark, allaying those concerns, at least in part. With a little more polish, Peralta is on track to become a solid 3 or 4 starter. If either the curve or change can be developed into an above-average pitch, he can be a notch above that. —Scott Delp
Seuly Matias, OF, Kansas City Royals (short-season Burlington)
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound 18-year-old outfielder is off to a strong start in the Appalachian League. I saw the young Dominican twice this week, and I came away impressed despite his only going 1-for-8 with a single. Let’s start in right field, where Matias profiles with a 55 arm and enough range to go into the gap and snag deep flies (which he did with aplomb). He has average speed out of the box at present, and I expect he’ll slow some as his body fills out. At the plate, Matias excites with the ability to pick up and track offspeed pitches. Strikeouts were an issue at the complex, but Matias has gotten his strikeout rate down to 20 percent in 2017, and he looked confident and comfortable in the box; neither too aggressive nor passive. Patience is key for Matias’ development—if he can learn to wait on the ball, his plus bat speed will allow him time to be selective. He just missed several pitches that ended up as deep fly balls, but there is barrel awareness here, going down in the zone to elevate the ball. The ball explodes off the bat, and the swing path is built for loft and power. While Matias looks athletic with his current dimensions, the frame can add more braun, I won’t go throwing overall FV grades around until I see some batting practice and more games, but I anticipate Matias will begin shooting up pref lists in the next year as a right field playing, power-hitting prospect. —John Eshleman