It is always exciting to see a player who is a consensus top prospect, but one difficulty in viewing those players is to keep the hype from coloring what you are actually seeing. This five-game look at Jimenez I got is a good example of how different people can come up with different thoughts on players. Jimenez is certainly a physical specimen, listed at 6’4” and 235 lbs. His actions are not as athletic as you might expect and he is only average to slightly below average as both a runner and defender. In the field, he struggles at times with both his reads and routes. His arm is a tick above average, but he can struggle with his footwork and this impacts the carry he gets on his throws, as well as his accuracy. He has slightly below average speed and did not show consistently strong base-running instincts.
On the offensive side, Jimenez showed off very few of his tools in this view. He works from an open stance and uses a leg lift where he tucks his knee a bit for timing. He has a minimal load and generates plus bat speed, but he struggled with bat path. He can sometimes lose the bat angle in his load, and he then struggles to get to velocity inside. He was inside-outing almost everything in the 17 at bats seen and had trouble getting the ball airborne consistently.
The good news is that he showed excellent pitch recognition and he never looked off-balance or completely fooled. He has enough raw power that he doesn’t have to overswing or sell out to find it. His most impressive at bat in this series was a simple single to right-center where he stayed back, recognized the curve ball and roped it. It’s sometimes surprising how few hitters at Double-A are able to do that, and Jimenez is still just 20 years old. It will be interesting to follow Jimenez’s progress at Double-A over the final weeks to see if this series was an aberration and he is just acclimating himself to a new level, or whether he has hit a small speed bump in his development. Meanwhile, I can’t help hoping that somewhere there is a time machine that would allow Eloy to face off against (Al) Morlock. —Scott Delp
I am a few weeks away from starting the Top 101 process and a couple months away from having to deliver 101 writeups for the Annual. There will be a lot of pitchers on that list, and many of them will carry questions about their change-ups. “How much change is enough to start?” is the question that underlies where these guys slot in on the list. After all even the most chaw-stained of scout strawmen, the one who grumbles to no one in particular every time he hears “para Español o prima dos,” knows how to ask the charters about the “cambio.” It's kind of a big deal.
Mitch Keller is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. I have little concern about his ability to be a major league starter. He might have a 20 changeup. It's tough to tell, mind you. He only threw two (I think). I'm not entirely sure one wasn't a bad two-seamer that missed armside and up. I asked around and got the faint praise of “well it flashed 4 for me.”
The rest of the arsenal is so good it doesn't really matter. The fastball sits in the mid-90s. It's among the easiest 95 you will see. I saw what I am guessing was his worst command/control game of the season and am still comfortable with future plus grades on both. The curve is the party piece here, and I understand why people hang 7s on it. I couldn't quite get there in this look, although it certainly flashed there. It's a hard, late 11-5 breaker in the low-80s. He used it sparingly, throwing mostly that mid-90s heater. So how much changeup do you need? In Keller’s case, not much. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Gavin Sheets, 1B, Chicago White Sox (Low-A Kannapolis)
Sheets is a left-handed slugger, Chicago’s 2017 second-rounder and the son of former big leaguer Larry Sheets. He stands an imposing 6’4’’, 230 lbs in the batter’s box. Given his size, you’d expect that Sheets would have a ton of raw power, and you’d be right. His batting practice is a fun watch because of his ability to use his weight well and turn on pitches pull-side. The swing plays as a pure power stroke, as Sheets produces above-average bat speed along with a ton of leverage. His long swing path makes it easy for him to lift the ball for consistent, quality home run launch angles when he’s able to square one up, like he did in the series I saw him.
However, like most power-hitting corner infielders, Sheets is susceptible to a fair amount of strikeouts and weak pop flies. His bat takes a longer-than-necessary path to the ball, as his bat head starts behind his head and tilted toward the ground. Sheets also doesn’t do a very good job of getting to his load position quickly enough, which could prevent him from making solid contact against better velo. The bat speed also might disappoint a bit given his mammoth size and strength. The first baseman is mostly a fastball hitter at present, but he’s only 21 years old, and shows enough patience and steadiness at the plate for me to think that he won’t be a total liability against better breaking balls. Sheets is not hitting for the game power that you’d think he would based on his size—he’s launched just two long balls in Kannapolis—but the homers should come. On a positive statistical note, Sheets has shown a propensity to take walks (20 BB in 46 games) with only 33 Ks.
Moving forward, I see Sheets as a mature power bat that should dominant lower-level competition once he tightens up his stroke in the offseason. He will experience some struggles adjusting to better stuff, and I don’t think that the hit tool will ever get to anything higher than below-average utility against major league quality pitching given his mechanics. But, his power potential could carry him to becoming a home run-reliant starting-caliber first baseman at his peak, with his floor being not too far behind that projection. —Greg Goldstein
Tyler O'Neill, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
O'Neill came in at number 53 on our top-101 prospects list before the season began after a very solid 2016 campaign; however, the 2017 season hasn't been as kind to him. A year since putting up solid numbers in Double-A, O'Neill's batting average has taken a dive south of .240. However, he has managed to eclipse last year's home run total, putting 26 balls out of the park in the hitter-friendly PCL.
O’Neill has a massive barrel-shaped chest on his 5'11", 210 lb frame, and the body is already completely filled out. With huge wrists and forearms, O'Neill generates plus bat speed for 70 raw power. It is a really handsy swing without much lower half implementation at all. It's evident that he wants to swing, but O’Neill will draw his fair share of walks. He will always struggle with contact, and maybe to such a degree that it will prevent him from being an every day player. While the hit tool is a tick under average, his speed and defensive abilities are both middle of the road. His arm strength is a plus, and he likes to show it off. O'Neill's athleticism is obvious, but he does have some quirky mannerisms in the field. —Keith Rader
I bet you did not expect to read about a 2017 12th-round pick this week. Well, Chester looked like a possible second- or third-round selection leading up to the draft and has been Hudson Valley’s best position player this season (Brendan McKay is also on this team). His best tools are clearly his speed, glove, and arm. The 21-year-old is a gifted athlete and a potential Gold Glove center fielder due to plus-plus speed (16 SBs through his first 254 professional plate appearances), a plus arm, and impressive range. He makes plays like this look routine. His speed and defense give him a floor of a fourth outfielder.
However, he probably fell to the 12th round due to doubts about his hitting ability. Yes, Chester will likely never possess better than solid gap power, but he does not need to be a premium hitter to become a regular. Even so, he made consistent contact while at the University of Miami and is slashing .338/.429/.444 as a pro so far. During my viewings of him in Lowell, he displayed above-average bat speed, the ability to make hard contact to any part of the field, and a relatively advanced approach for a NY-Penn League hitter. A future average hit tool appears realistic as a result, which gives him a ceiling of an above-average big league starter. —Erich Rothmann
Ronaldo Hernandez, C, Tampa Bay Rays (Rookie League Princeton)
Hernandez signed out of Colombia in 2014 for $225 K and has converted to catcher from infielder. He is the top young catching prospect I have seen this season based on an aggressive hit tool projection. Just 19 years old, Hernandez already shows an advanced feel for hitting. He’s strong and has loose, active wrists that help him manipulate the bat head around the zone to barrel baseballs. He gets great extension and showed enough pitch recognition to land in frequent hitter’s counts. Add in plenty of bat speed, and you have both frequent and loud contact to the gaps and projection for future bombs. I had a 60 on the raw power, and he should get to a big piece of it given the quality of the contact he makes and the upside of his above-average hit tool. This offensive upside is tantalizing considering how quickly he’s taken to catching. He projects as an above-average defensive catcher at maturity.
Physically, Hernandez has little projection left, and he’s thicker than his listed 6’1” 185 lbs (closer to 195-200). This gives him a sturdy catching frame that will require some maintenance as he ages, but he moves laterally well and has quiet actions. With soft hands he was able to steal some strikes on the edges. He’s still learning to block hard breakers in the dirt, but early indications are that he has the quickness required to block well. Throw in a 1.90 POP, add it all up. and this is the toolset of an above-average major league catcher who would be a college sophomore this coming year. He’s a long ways off, but I expect Hernandez to quickly rise to the upper echelons of catching prospects —John Eshleman
When I last wrote about Brito back in April, I went over an exciting box of offensive and defensive tools that had found a home at second base, in the context of “second base prospect” actually being a thing. Fast-forward four months and he’s continued to sometimes show exciting tools, but he’s also displayed a common trait amongst players in their first full-season; he’s been looking pretty darned tired as the summer has progressed, and his production has slid as a result.
We often dismiss effects of the lower-minors lifestyle as generic adjustments to pro ball, but they’re actually quite a shock to the system. Summers in the South Atlantic League are often unbearably hot. Bus trips are long and restless. Meals are often the closest fast food joint and not a strict diet. If you’re lucky, you’re dealing with a new “host family,” usually enthusiastic strangers, but the less lucky are sleeping four or five to a small hotel room. This is all thrown at kids around 19 or 20 for the first time, often while living alone or in a foreign country on their own for the first time. When Arquimedes Gamboa went down early in the season, Brito probably played a little more often than he otherwise would have, at least until Raul Rivas got settled in as Gamboa’s replacement. Gamboa eventually came back and Rivas eventually settled into being a semi-regular as the fifth infielder, but Brito already looked gassed shortly after the break. This isn’t uncommon at all—Mickey Moniak looks even more spent than Brito right now, for example—and it’s something worth considering before dismissing Brito for an unexciting triple-slash or occasionally unspectacular play. —Jarrett Seidler
Joe Gatto, RHP, Anaheim Angels (High-A Inland Empire)
The former top prospect in the Angels’ system fell on hard times last year, losing control of his delivery, getting shelled in full-season ball, and ultimately finding himself exiled to the fiery pit of Arizona in August for his troubles. After working to streamline his delivery through the offseason, he started slowly but surely before embarking on a nice run in mid-June that has since carried him to High-A. He has a fairly athletic, sturdy frame, with a thick ass and limited remaining projection. Working aggressively out of a full wind, he’s quick and reasonably fluid through his progressions into a drop-and-drive that creates a long arm path to his high-three-quarters slot. There are an awful lot of speed bumps along the way that threaten his ability to repeat and stay on time from pitch to pitch, though he kept things together reasonably well through the first four frames in this one. I don’t trust the parts to all move in continuous harmony on the regular, though.
He came out working 91-93 (t94) with a fastball that featured quality plane and nice run. He worked it from side to side pretty effectively in the early going, challenging right-handers on the inner third repeatedly and getting into some kitchens on both sides of the plate. He backed up to 88-90 by the fifth and sixth innings, however, and the length in his delivery started to get the best of him as he tired, with the heater wandering more frequently into the upper quadrants of the zone and flattening out. He worked heavily off his curveball in this start, deploying three of them for every two fastballs. And he did so with reason, as it’s his best pitch. He shows quality feel for landing it in the zone at 79-81, and he flashed some ability to hump it up to 83 below the zone as a chaser. The feel for spin was clear from the outset, and he featured as many as four consecutive hooks to multiple batters. He didn’t show a change.
It’s not a profile with an especially high ceiling, as the fastball may be hard-pressed to play above a 55 even with an additional tick or two in a relief capacity. The hook, while flashing quality depth and consistent command, lacks the bite and finish of a true plus offering. But there might be some middle-inning utility here if the command tightens up some. —Wilson Karaman
Francisco Morales, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Complex-level, GCL)
Morales, who signed in the 2016 IFA period out of Venezuela, is a physical specimen. Standing 6’4” 185 lbs, Morales looks like the ideal starting pitcher, with broad shoulders and a lean body that looks like it can add plenty of muscle mass without sacrificing athleticism. Pitching from a full windup, he does have a small hook with his wrist, but his arm action is otherwise clean and compact with above-average arm speed, and a standard 3/4 slot. His fastball came in from 91-94, touching 96, with inconsistent action. At times it would vary between cutting and running action. Either way, it still made hitters uncomfortable standing in the box.
While he isn’t throwing a ton of strikes now, the ease of his delivery and arm action suggest he will improve. His primary breaking ball is a hard 82-85 (t86) slider. While it’s firm, he shows feel for it with quality depth and action. What impressed me about it was that he could throw it for strikes against both lefties and righties, while using it as a chase pitch against righties. While he has a hard change, coming in from 87-88, it is in its infancy, much like many other young pitchers’ changeups. Morales is as intriguing an arm as there is down here in sunny, rainy, humid, Florida. —Steve Givarz
At 6’ 4”, 215 lbs, Encarnacion easily stands out. Twenty-years-old in October, Encarnacion has an XXL frame, with broad shoulders and a well-proportioned body throughout with fair fill. For a guy his size, he moves all his long levers well. He occasionally gets tripped up when running around the bases, which I will facetiously liken to a baby giraffe learning how to walk, but he has deceptively average speed. Seeing the big man move is exciting.
He mans the corners well, too, running down all balls well, catching and fielding everything with ease. He showcases a plus arm with accuracy, getting on top of it and keeping the ball low with carry. Encarnacion has the athleticism to cover center in a pinch. I like the bat, too, as he has plus potential. The swing is fairly loose, designed for fair leverage line-to-line. He has hit singles, doubles and triples to both gaps.
That being said, Encarnacion has to shorten up his swing before I give it a plus grade. Pitchers down here have already been able to identify his weakness in on the hands. It has been hard for him to meet the ball in front, as he often swings over it. Simply, his swing needs to be shortened to get to those pitches placed in. He also needs to grow more selective. Sure, it is the kind of aggression you like, but experienced pitchers will bait him. He will need to learn to zone in on a spot and take pitches, and take a walk when the situation calls for one. Presently, he profiles to be a strikeout-heavy guy with low walk numbers. There are not many major league players like that.
As for power, average game power is conceivable. Encarnacion has hit many balls for extra bases presently and will solidify into plus raw power, but he swings for average rather than for fly balls. With his size and this approach, he might accidentally hit 9-12 homers a season. It is easy to like the big man. He runs hard, plays with energy, plays solid defense with a plus arm, and make things happen with the bat. If he can shorten his swing, develop balance in the swing, and learn to take pitches, there is major league regular potential. We will see how he adjusts at the plate. —Javier Barragan
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