Dustin May, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Bracketing the inevitable (and entirely warranted) early-career Carrot Top comps, May’s physicality is as interesting as it gets on the mound. He’s a slender-framed, rail-thin 6-foot-6, and while he’ll add some mass as he matures I’m not sure how much bulk we should really expect to adorn the frame at maturity. The shoulders are narrow, the hips squeeze thinner still, and there’s an inherent gangle to the body. He utilizes a long, high leg kick, reminiscent of Bronson Arroyo. The hips stay closed through a long arm swing and drive downhill, and while he features plus arm speed, he isn’t always consistent in clearing his front side. Combined with a slingy, low-three-quarters slot, it leads to balls that will migrate arm side when he’s not on time. Still, given the age and degree of difficulty in the delivery, he repeated pretty well in this look, and it translated to decent control to both sides.
He worked 92-94 (t96) out of the gate, bumping a tick and topping at 97 in the second, and really dominated off the heater throughout his first time through the lineup. He showed hard, plus two-seam run to attack the hands of right-handed hitters, while also mixing in a straighter four-seam variant with life above the zone. His slider at 82-84 showed wicked two-plane movement, with tight vertical action diving below the zone as well as a softer early-count variant with more sweep into the zone to steal strikes at 79-81. A handful of firm changes in the 86-87 band included one that flashed above-average dive and command to coax an empty swing out of Brendan Rodgers. The rest showed as relatively flat and raw, however.
There are some command-based flags here, and durability questions will likely follow May as he climbs the organizational ladder—he left this start in the fifth inning with a reported aggravation of an earlier-season lat injury. But the fastball-slider combo flashes deadly, and his advanced feel for sequencing the two and working them off one another bodes well for his development. —Wilson Karaman
After finally getting the opportunity to watch Linares pitch in Lowell, I understand why the Rays decided to sign the Dominican Republican native for $275,000 back in 2014 when he was just 16 years old. Including the zero earned runs surrendered in 4 2/3 innings against the Spinners, he has a 2.35 ERA and 0.96 WHIP along with 60 strikeouts through 61 1/3 innings. As he first walks toward the mound, it is instantly obvious that he possesses significant remaining physical projection. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, he is a good athlete with a live arm and clean delivery but is quite slim. His fastball velocity is presently below-average (sat 88-92 for me), yet I believe that he will add more velocity as he bulks up. The offering still induced swing and misses from Lowell batters due to its late movement. His best pitch is an already above-average curveball that displays some nice bite and two-plane depth. He was able to throw the curveball for strikes in any count in addition to using it to generate swing and misses and weak contact. The left-hander’s final pitch is a sparingly thrown changeup. He showed some feel for the offering though, and it flashed average with some late action. Overall, I envision Linares joining a major league starting rotation down the line while his primary focus for next season should definitely be getting stronger. —Erich Rothmann
Francisco Rios, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)
Rios signed in 2012, but didn’t really show any signs of being a guy worth watching until last season, when he cruised through Low-A Lansing on his way to High-A Dunedin while appearing in the 2016 Futures Game. The 22-year-old spent all of 2017 with New Hampshire, pitching to mixed results. While he did start 17 games, he also appeared in six out of the bullpen, which may be his ultimate destination.
His fastball shows slight arm-side run, with a free-and-easy delivery from a three-quarters arm slot. The fastball can be deceptive, and some hitters struggle to pick it up as he hides the ball with a slight stab included in the delivery. The fastball sat 91-93 mph, but he struggled to control it at times while leaving the pitch up in the zone for hard contact. The slider, which sits 80-82, is still Rios’ best secondary offering, with tight 11/5 break that flashes above-average depth. The curveball shows some promise with a bit of late break to it, but Rios was unable to shape it into anything effective in a consistent manner in this outing; it’s a pitch that needs a fair amount of work. The changeup, while thrown occasionally, doesn’t get much velocity separation from the fastball and grades out as a below-average future offering.
If either the curveball or changeup doesn’t work out (and the safer bet would be on the curve working out), then Rios is likely looking at a career as a middle-reliever with a plus fastball and above-average slider. As long as Rios keeps the fastball down in the zone and works on making it more of a heavy, boring pitch with arm-side run, he should find success in a major league bullpen. He’ll need to make major leaps and bounds with the secondaries to become a back-end starter. —Victor Filoromo
Yonathan Daza, OF, Colorado Rockies (High-A Lancaster)
Daza caught my eye with an impressive four-hit performance in the final game of Lancaster’s first playoff round. He’s a toolsy little player, but the bat-to-ball ability is what stands out the most as he won the Cal League batting title this year (granted, he was in Lancaster). Despite an unorthodox pre-at bat routine, Daza stands in the box with a fairly conventional high set up and features a moderate leg kick. He has great feel for the barrel, and manages to move the bat around the zone to create solid contact on many of his swings. While he showed below-average raw power in BP, he did manage to drive a ball to the wall in center during the game. It’s more doubles power in the end than anything, but it plays with his skillset.
Daza is a plus runner, an asset that aids him both on the base paths and in the field. He was aggressive in taking third on his ball to the wall, doing so easily, and also displayed impressive closing speed in center on a liner towards the gap. He also flashed plus arm strength on a strong and accurate throw home early in the game. The most notable gripes are his aforementioned lack of power and that he doesn’t walk much at all. He does show solid pitch recognition and didn’t chase breakers off the plate, but he would let it rip on the first pitch in the zone. Daza’s a nifty little player, one with holes in his game but an appealing skillset nonetheless. Ultimately, his hit tool will do the heavy lifting with his profile, but so far is appears to be up to the task. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Carter Kieboom, SS, Washington Nationals (Low-A Hagerstown)
After seeing Kieboom in April, a hamstring injury kept the soon-to-be 20 year-old off the field until August. Luckily, I was able to catch the shortstop in two series towards the end of the minor league season, and man was I glad I did.
Standing 6-foot-2, 190 lbs., Kieboom has a projectable, athletic build that he uses well at the plate. Already showing above-average bat speed, the Nats prospect should grow into more power and physicality with age, which will make his already noticeable natural hitting skills play that much better. Kieboom has loose hands capable of driving pitches to both gaps. He covers the plate well and can keep up with plus velo high or low in the zone. He’s got a slight hitch and his hands start low, which makes his bat path a little longer than it could be. Like most young hitters, he also has some strides to make staying on the offspeed stuff, but the hit tool projects to above-average, given how much of a natural he is with the stick.
In addition, Kieboom flashes potential plus raw, utilizing enough leverage to naturally drive the ball even when he’s not selling out for power. His body still has a lot of growing to do, but Kieboom is a legitimate 20-home-run threat at full utility, which is elite power when discussing shortstops. However, while the body projection proves advantageous at the plate, it will likely force Kieboom to third base long-term given his already fringy movement skills at the six. His projected offensive production plays a bit down at the hot corner, but Kieboom’s contact-power combo still gives him a chance to become an above-average regular wherever he ends up defensively. Kieboom could certainly be a player that can make a rather big leap on prospect lists with a fully healthy 2018 season. —Greg Goldstein
Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
Tucker physically reminds one of a young Brandon Belt—all length through the arms, legs, neck, and general appearance. An outfielder by trade, Tucker is one of the Astros more polished prospects still left in the system, and while there are some concerns to be had, he’s definitely among their best talents. In the outfield, Tucker is not exceptional, but he showed as an average outfielder, and his arm was never really tested in this outing. His real value is expected to be at the plate, where he went 4-16 with three doubles, three walks, and two strikeouts over this look. Tucker has a very upright stance, standing stiffly with his hands near his shoulder until initiating the swing motion, where he drops his hands and has a somewhat flat bat plane through the zone. In batting practice, he displayed good power, and while he didn’t homer in a game, he did hit a towering fly ball that ended up just to the right of the right field foul pole, and to the pull side was where he showed much of that pop in both practice and game. Tucker can be patient at the plate, but almost to the point of passivity, and when he wasn’t taking pitches, there were multiple times where he swung at the first pitch and popped up or grounded out. The pieces are there for Tucker to be another one of the Astros’ developmental success stories, but they’re not quite completing the full picture yet. —Kate Morrison
Elehuris Montero, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (complex-level GCL)
Montero just turned 19 years old recently, but has a mature, dense frame from which he derives above-average strength. He fires missiles from across the diamond, which his teammates love, yelling “¡Sueltale!” to encourage him to “let it go!” It is a true line with steam and mustard through the first baseman’s mitt. His strength shows up at the plate, too. He can send the ball to any part of the field showing plenty of power and carry to the gaps. The ball jumps off the bat with a good launch angle, and extra bases are always a possibility when he’s at the plate.
The concern for Montero centers around a few mechanical flaws—no surpise for a GCL player—but there is one that doesn’t have a simple fix: leakage. In the second plate appearance in the video, you can see the directional flaw: he floats away from contact. You can also see how pitchers in more advanced levels will pitch him and the consequential result—down and away for a 6-3. His mature, thick frame limits his range at third, as his actions are as heavy as you might think. He’s a future 20 runner, but his arm could tempt a team to try him in a corner outfield spot before sending him to the cold corner.
He’s going to have to hit and hit for power for the profile to work, but given his age, his present feel for the zone and ability to pick up spin, and ability to produce loud, leveraged in-game contact leave me hopeful he can make that happen. —Javier Barragan
Arquimedez Gamboa, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
Gamboa really snuck up on me over the course of the season. He missed most of the first two months with a hamstring injury, and didn’t particularly impress upon his return. He was still sort of interesting in that anyone who can go get it at short and shows any kind of offensive ability is more interesting than your typical A-baller, but I didn’t see much with the bat. As the summer progressed and he picked up reps—and perhaps returned to full health—Gamboa’s offense took off and his overall athleticism even ticked up a bit.
Signed for $900,000 out of Venezuela in 2014, Gamboa is a gifted enough defender at short that he’s pushed Daniel Brito and Lucas Williams—players who won’t ultimately have a MLB profile at short but would still be there in Low-A in many other orgs—over to second and third respectively. His hitting line overall (.261/.328/.378) looks fine but not great for a 19-year-old in the Sally, but he was scorching hot from mid-July on. As the season went along, he adjusted to the level of pitching and showed improved selectivity, which let him unleash gap power and line the ball all over the park. It’s a pretty little swing from the left side, and while there isn’t much over-the-fence power yet, there’s some projectability in the body that leaves hope for moderate pop. All-in-all, Gamboa has a shot to be an everyday shortstop in the bigs, although he’s years away from even sniffing J.P. Crawford’s job. —Jarrett Seidler
Steve Villines, RHP, New York Mets (short-season Brooklyn)
There are three likely scenarios in which you will find yourself reading about a senior-sign sidearmer in this space.
(A) The author wants to make a point about evaluating relief prospects,
(B) He’s actually a pretty good pro prospect, OR
(C) Wilson Karaman is responsible
(C) doesn’t apply here, but both (A) and (B) do. Villines was the best pro prospect on the field across a Labor Day Penn League doubleheader. You see a lot of low-arm slot guys at all levels of the minors now. The profile filtered all the way down into the college ranks years ago—as opposed to being a last ditch move for the Brad Zieglers of the minors—and Villines was one of the best relievers in the Big 12 the past two seasons. And it’s legitimate major league stuff. The fastball is what you’d expect—sitting in the mid-80s—but he has touched 90 mph in the past, and even in the current velo band it’s an effective pitch. He can sink it, or bore it in with rise. Villines is athletic enough and repeats well enough to project plus command of the offering. He has enough changeup to cross over and the pitch features 10+ mph of separation off the fastball and heavy deception. The missing piece here is the slider. He threw a couple that had the frisbee-type motion you’d expect from the profile, but it’s very inconsistent at present, looking more like a cutter at times or even backing up.
When you think of the better pen prospects, you have an image in our head: Zack Burdi or AJ Minter, power arms with a bat-missing secondary. The best relief prospect in baseball is probably either Michael Kopech or Sixto Sanchez, even if it’s quite possible (and certainly preferable to their orgs) that they never spend an inning in relief. But the aforementioned Ziegler has been one of the better and more durable relief arms in baseball for close to a decade. As have Darren O’Day and Joe Smith. I can’t really comp Villines to those guys, because…well, you just can’t. And in all likelihood he’s not one of those guys, he’s merely a nice middle reliever. And it’s an unusual profile with unusual risks. Still, Villines has stuff that should get more than just Wilson’s attention. —Jeffrey Paternostro
Tyler Bashlor, RHP, New York Mets (High-A St. Lucie)
It has long been said that relief pitchers are volatile, unpredictable, and risky. Bashlor, the former recipient of a $550,000 signing bonus as a JuCo reliever and a Tommy John survivor, looks to be the latest proof of that. Through a significant portion of his pro career, he had struggled from inconsistent fastball velocity, an unrefined breaking ball, and command that fell short of being major-league standard. Now, suddenly, the light seems to have turned on for him and the result could be a legitimate late-inning reliever.
At 24 years old, Bashlor has developed into a power reliever with a plus-plus four-seam fastball in the 95-98 mph range and a plus curveball in the 80-83 range. The curve has transformed from the lackluster slurve it was prior to this year into a high-spin breaking ball with tight movement and a consistent 11-5 shape. Most notably, however, his command has quite possibly jumped two full grades since the start of the season to a legitimate above-average grade. Equipped with a lightning quick arm and a delivery that allows him to hide the ball well, Bashlor has a worthy argument for being one of the game’s few elite true relief prospects. There is a strong chance that he gets a crack at closing games for the Mets within the next two years. —Skyler Kanfer