Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP, Tampa Bay Rays (short-season Hudson Valley)
In the leadup to the 2017 draft, McKay was on the short list of players receiving consideration to be selected first overall by the Twins. The Rays ultimately snagged him at pick four and are giving him the opportunity to both hit and pitch for the foreseeable future. Early results suggest he is presently more advanced on the mound. Through his first two professional starts (five innings), the left-hander has yet to allow a run and has compiled seven strikeouts. The athletic 21-year-old’s most impressive offering is his potentially plus curveball. It displays 11-5 action and should generate swings and misses at the major-league level. His fastball initially sits 90-94 before dropping to the upper 80s by the end of an outing. Despite the lack of elite velocity, the pitch flashes plus due to its movement and his ability to command it on both sides of the plate. His final pitch is a sparingly used and inconsistent changeup. McKay’s floor is a middle reliever, and he should become a mid-rotation starter once he learns how to sustain velocity deeper into games and gains confidence in his changeup.
As a hitter, McKay’s hit and power tools possess plus and average ceilings, respectively (think Eric Hosmer). At Louisville, his smooth, line-drive swing in addition to great hand-eye coordination and above-average bat speed enabled him to make hard contact to any part of the field. He is also a decent first baseman with solid range and a plus arm. However, through his first 82 plate appearances with Hudson Valley, he has hit for power (four homers) but is batting only .214 with 22 strikeouts. The primary issue has been surprisingly poor pitch recognition. For example, during his fourth at-bat in my viewing, he took a first-pitch fastball for strike one, fouled off a second pitch fastball with a check swing, and watched a third pitch changeup float over the plate for the third strike (1:54 to 2:50 in the video). Yes, the sample size is small. Nonetheless, attempting to both pitch and hit at the professional level is rare for a reason and a longer developmental process than usual for a fairly polished college prospect should consequently be expected. The highly intriguing best-case scenario for McKay is a career as a mid-rotation starter and above-average first base regular. —Erich Rothmann
Keston Hiura, 2B/DH, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Hiura had one of the odder profiles in recent memory going into this year’s draft. Though listed as a second baseman, an elbow injury limited him to DH throughout his junior year at UC Irvine. Though most agreed he was one of the best college bats in the class, the uncertainty about his ultimate defensive home gave many cause for concern. Evidently, the Brewers were not scared off by the arm issues, as they popped Hiura at No. 9 overall.
Hiura has yet to play the field in professional ball, with all of his starts coming at DH. However, when I caught the Brewers Low-A affiliate for a couple of games last week, he was throwing like any other player in practice before the game. He played catch, threw from over 120 feet, and made throws to first base on grounders. His arm looked fine, not standing out in a good or bad way, and it should play comfortably at second base.
Video courtesy Will Siskel
It was nice to have my fears about Hiura’s arm assuaged, because at the plate he looked advanced. He has a great awareness of the zone, using a patient approach to get to the pitch he wants. His hands have some pre-swing noise, but his plus bat speed helps him get the barrel into the zone on time. He’s also very strong, and showed the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field in BP. Hiura’s bat was never really the concern, but it’s reassuring to see that it’s playing well. But as he a nears a return to playing defense, this becomes a profile to be excited about. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Zack Collins, C, Chicago White Sox (High-A Winston-Salem)
Taken in the first round last summer, Collins is currently producing they type of numbers at High-A that he projects to put up as a major leaguer. Collins has a long swing with a hitch and a tendency to bail out on his back leg rather frequently. This keeps him from making consistent, solid contact and amounts to a likely below-average hit tool even factoring in some slight modifications.
However, Collins’ consistently loose and leveraged swing allows for quality launch angles as he can effortlessly use his big body to turn on pitches over the heart of the plate. The power is what carries the profile, but his ability to work the count and produce a high number of walks may be the saving grace in keeping him as a classic three-true-outcomes type of major leaguer. Unfortunately, the offensive profile plays much more average as a first baseman, which he will likely have to switch to because of the flaws he shows behind the dish. Collins shows little feel for receiving and struggles blocking and moving laterally because he is a below-average athlete. The arm is pretty solid, but his glove skills are really lacking to project much of a chance of him sticking as a catcher, where he would be an elite offensive contributor.
Nevertheless, Collins’ current line of .217/.361/.432 with 17 homers and 117 strikeouts acts as a solid baseline for the type of player I project the White Sox to get at maturity. He lacks the all-around game to expect him to become a multi-time all-star at first base, but there’s a place for Collins’ power ability in everyday lineup dependent on if he can tighten up some of his mechanical issues over these next few seasons. —Greg Goldstein
Josh Pennington, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Wisconsin)
Acquired from Boston in the Tyler Thornburg trade, Pennington is a well-built 6-foot, right-handed starter. He throws from a high-three-quarters arm slot that gives him more plane than his height would suggest. The fluid motion from the windup features some deception with a slight hesitation just before he drives towards the plate. He gets decent extension and finishes centered towards the plate, mostly on-line, while showing the ball a bit in back. He syncs his upper and lower half movements well.
The headline here is the fastball (92-95, t96) and his pitchability. The fastball was comfortably 94-95 for the majority of the night, dipping to 93 in his last inning of work, and featured mild boring action. Pennington excelled getting whiffs elevated in the zone, as he worked it vertically, as well as inside to righties. He will have to be conscious of his release point because of his height and mild crossfire. Pennington’s primary offspeed is a two-plane 11/5 curveball at 75-77. The pitch has moderately tight rotation and he can sweep it with two-plane break and depth. Pennington’s ability to throw in any count will help the pitch play higher than the raw grade. He spotted it masterfully low and away to right-handers for called strikes, and showed a real ability to spin it in warmups. Pennington also featured a slider (86-87), which generated some whiffs against righties, but he tended to overthrow it. He threw a handful of changeups at 84-86 that looked good when buried, but otherwise only featured moderate drop. In this five-inning outing—his longest of the season—Pennington was quick (.88-.94 from the stretch) and efficient, executing his game plan all night, showing definite starting pitcher traits both in the approach and in his mechanics. Pennington projects out to have a 6 or slightly better fastball, a 5 curve that plays up because of his command of it, with development of the slider (his most inconsistent pitch in this outing) and change that would be real difference-makers in the profile. Ultimately, I see a kit for a back-end starter with a four-pitch mix with the realistic floor of a seventh-inning arm. —Will Siskel
Luis Garcia, INF, Washington Nationals (complex-level GCL)
With an athletic frame true to the 6-foot, 190-pounds listing, Garcia is the most dynamic player of the Nationals July 2 signings, on their current Gulf Coast team. Garcia can play the premium infield positions well, but is currently rotating time with Yasel Antuna, Juan Pascal, and Jose Sanchez for each of their defensive development. His glove will be better than average, and has a chance to elevate to plus with better reads off the bat. He is agile and athletic, making strong throws that are generally on the bag.
His speed is average, allowing him to range into the short outfield, bunt, and steal bases. This tool will work in the lower levels, but with the quickness of the game in the majors, it will be utilized to a lesser degree. Still, his speed should be effective in spurts, as he has a feel for the game, likely derived from his father Luis Garcia.
There’s plenty to like about Garcia’s bat, too. He is short and quick to the ball, and can barrel pitches well. He sprays the ball everywhere, willing to go with a pitch wherever it is thrown. There is mild leverage to his swing path, leading me to believe he will have gap power. Garcia is extremely aggressive at the plate; he loves to swing at the first pitch, even when it is not a fastball or not in the zone. As expected for young hitters, his approach needs refinement. Another necessary improvement will require facing more left-handed pitchers. In a plate appearance against a lefty, he looked uncomfortable, once ducking out and down on a breaking ball. Still, I project this bat to be above-average in. It is easy to like Garcia, with his smile, upbeat mannerisms and energetic play. Let’s simply hope he accrues more WARP (- .01 ) than his father, despite the similarities in play style. —Javier Barragan
Felipe Castaneda, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (complex-level GCL)
Signed on November 4, 2016, Castaneda is very young, he won’t be 18 until January 4, 2018. Whether we all like it or not, the 2000’s are here, making us feel old, reminding us how old they were when all this stuff happened. Brutal.
Castaneda, who is from Mexico, is definitely an intriguing arm to watch as he matures. While there doesn’t seem to be a lot of vertical growth left (but who really knows, he’s 17), he still has a lean frame that can add weight as he matures. In his windup, he has a soft, plunging arm action with average arm speed, and a three-quarters slot. While the delivery is low effort, he does have a low elbow which could be troublesome down the road. His heater is a below-average offering right now, coming in at 88-90 (t91), but he throws strikes with it, can spot it all around the zone, and it could be a plus offering in time. His go-to offering is a change, coming in at 81-83 (t84). He has advanced feel for the offering, using it to both righties and lefties as his preferred strikeout offering. He even went to it in fastball counts, confusing hitters and generating ugly swings and misses. What he lacks, though, is a quality breaking ball. In my viewing, he struggled to spin it during warmups, shelving it for most of the game. He did try some curveballs, but they came in at 72, and were lollipops at best. While this is a concern going forward, he is still 17…maybe he will be throwing a slider next year, or get more feel for a curve. Yes, he is a long-term project, with nothing but strike-throwing ability really standing out at present. But there is good clay here, and nobody will ever complain about starting off with good clay. —Steve Givarz
Garrett Hampson, 2B/SS, Colorado Rockies (High-A Lancaster)
A third-round pick in 2016, Garrett Hampson seems somehow a bit of an under the radar prospect in the Rockies system. Hampson had a good college career at Long Beach, and has excelled as a professional since signing last summer, with a .305/.383/.439 slash line across two-levels. Hampson has quick, compact stroke at the plate, and has a good feel for the strike zone. Hampson’s elite tool is his speed. He’s already collected 41 steals this season, after swiping 36 of 40 bags in short-season ball last year.
Hampson features a very open batting stance, with a bigger than average leg kick and load, coming square. His hands get pretty low during his load with a higher back elbow, and a low one-handed finish. He was quick inside in my look, though he stands surprisingly far off the plate for a smaller guy. It’s generally a contact oriented, leadoff profile. In addition to his elite speed, he was fairly patient, and worked the count. He used his line-drive stroke to make a lot of contact to all field. His run times were good, ranging from 3.95 to 4.3, and registered a 3.68 on a bunt attempt. Defensively, Hampson is a bit more of a question mark. He appeared to be adequate at short, with a quick first step and good instincts. Yet, the arm is fringe-average at best, despite a quick release. With his range, Hampson could be an above-average defender at second base, while providing above-average on-base skills at the top of a lineup. —JH Schroeder
Pavin Smith, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks (short-season Hillsboro)
There is a key challenge when evaluating pro players right after the draft; namely that the rigors (physical and mental) of reaching the dream may not produce accurate outcomes or energy. Or it might. You see? But tools are tools, and Smith has a very good hit tool. In my brief two-game look, he didn’t make a lot of hard contact (sans a double in game two), but he saw a kazillion pitches. And these weren’t just takes on non-competitive pitches—he also spit on borderline spin and well-placed fastballs, in and out of the zone. This patience yielded three walks in ten plate appearances for Smith, and he was near-always in early hitters counts. He didn’t do a lot with those counts in this look, but this is where the draft year conundrum fits in—the bat looked a little slower than when I saw him in March, so some fatigue may be at play. The concern is that Smith can get too passive, and with only average bat speed and average game power at first, his OBP skills must be his calling card. I’m bullish on Smith’s ability to make it work. I don’t have platoon concerns and this is the best eye of any hitter I’ve seen in the pros this season. —John Eshleman
Jose Sanchez, INF, Washington Nationals (complex-level GCL)
At 17 years and 32 days old, Sanchez is currently the youngest player in the GCL. He has impressed with the glove, confidence, and surehandedness; making a few highlight plays with his bare hand in my viewings. He will stay in the infield, likely in an up-the-middle capacity. The arm will get to average with maturation, allowing him to play shortstop serviceably. Outside of the glove, however, things get a bit murky.
I have clocked multiple 4.8s and a 4.7 on my stopwatch and while I have gotten as low as a 4.33, it was on a bunt. At his age and size (5-foot-11, 155 pounds), however, there is a chance he could get faster in his early 20s, but I don’t expect him to reach any better than fringe-average at any point during his career. He lacks the twitchy actions.
As for his bat, it is relatively light. He could do with some minor adjustments, such as using his lower half and widening his base, but even so, will likely not get to better than average due to his average bat speed and mild bat to ball skills. He has well-below-average power.Still, Sanchez plays the premium positions at above-average value to give him a glove-first reserve with a chance for second-division regular, should his hit tool develop. —Javier Barragan
Peter Lambert, RHP, Colorado Rockies (High-A Lancaster)
Lambert is a local kid, insofar as far as High-A affiliates have local kid, as the Rockies’ second-rounder two summers ago came out of San Dimas High. He’s held his own and then some this season as one of the youngest hurlers in the Cal League, and as he pushes past his career high the team has recently begun to curtail his innings in the form of three- and four-inning starts. Yesterday’s four-inning affair against Lake Elsinore was notable for looking, well, a lot like the early-season starts I’d caught of him in April and early May.
The immediate impression is that of a command righty, as he’ll show confidence in a full arsenal in any count or situation. He works with pedestrian velocity, scraping 93 on occasion but mostly working 89-92, and yet he pitches heavily off the fastball in spite of the deficit. He comes straight downhill from an over-the-top slot that he gets to with a simple phone booth delivery that he repeats extremely well in spite of some tilt to the spine and stiffness on landing. The motion allows him to leverage every inch of his 6-foot-2 frame to generate outsized plane, and he supplements the angle with an advanced ability to manipulate the heater and attack hitters inside and out.
He’s added some oomph to both his slider and change since earlier in the year, with the former pitch now looking more the part of a cutter at 86-87 in rare deployment. The change was up a couple notches in this start, too, sitting 85-86 but maintaining the late tumble and turnover that he’d shown previously. It’s a 55 pitch for me, playing well off the fastball and missing barrels on the regular. The curve has taken a nice step forward, with a sharper bit and more consistent two-plane shape. The handful he threw in this start all looked the part of another 55 pitch.
The stuff is not headline-grabbing, but the whole package works awfully well together with quality command and advanced pitchability. —Wilson Karaman
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