Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
It might be cheating to select the dude already hitting .300 with pop in the majors, but I get so few opportunities to victory lap in this gig, so you’ll have to bear with me on this one. This is not to suggest that Devers was a hard scout. In fact, my one regret is not being more aggressive after seeing Devers in May—still in the Eastern League then, mind you—when I considered putting down a 7/7 marker on the offensive tools and having him no. 1 at midseason.
And yes, it’s only 200 major-league plate appearances, but boy howdy it sure looks right. Just as I saw against Hartford, there is power to all fields, and a more advanced hit tool and approach than you would expect from a 20-year-old. He battles at the hot corner at times, but he should be passable there for most of his twenties. The tools have translated into meaningful major-league production from day one, and Devers sure looks like he will be a star for years to come. —Jeffrey Paternostro
A.J. Puk, LHP, Oakland Athletics (Double-A Midland)
In a split decision over what might’ve been my final opportunity to wax poetic about how Ibandel Isabel will sporadically destroy baseballs while powering the state of Oklahoma with the wind of his empty swings next year, I’ll go ahead and anoint Puk my favorite player of the year. It’s a fitting final pairing, too, as there’s a circus freak factor to watching both of these guys do their respective things. Only in Puk’s case, there’s legitimate superstar potential. Beyond that, what makes him so interesting to me in the here and now is how unbridled and unruly his length can look in one delivery, and how deadly and terrifying it can appear in the next.
Size is one thing; there are a lot of tall pitchers out there, and they all struggle to at least some degree in figuring out how to harness their size and repeat movement consistently from pitch to pitch. It goes with the territory of having a large body. But Puk’s combination of elasticity and slingy arm action, while lacking for top-shelf athleticism and balance, means it’s a wild card as to where a given pitch is going to end up. There are enough “whoops!” efforts in his starts to make any hitter uncomfortable. But to his credit, he controls his body well enough to keep the ball around the zone pretty regularly, and that ultimately might just be good enough. The stuff absolutely jumps on hitters, thanks to absurd extension and a pickup made more complicated still by his arm appearing late off a closed front side. The high-90s gun velocity plays up with perception, and the slider dive-bombs with late, wicked two-plane movement. It’s unhittable when he executes his sequence.
There’ll be a year—maybe not this one, and probably not the next one, but somewhere down the line – where he finds his balance point for a few-month stretch and absolutely dominates the best hitters in the world. And that’s going to be a really, really fun thing to watch. —Wilson Karaman
Covering the Midwest League this year I spent a lot of time in Fort Wayne, scouting the many young, talented prospects on the Tincaps’ roster. It was there that I saw my favorite player of the year, Fernando Tatis, Jr. My Tatito experience began early this spring with an usher raving about the 18-year-old kid who, a few days earlier, had hit the longest blast the man had ever seen off of the center field batter’s eye and ended with Junior setting the franchise record for home runs. In between I saw a young player go from being a top-ten Padres’ farmhand to one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The talent was always there, but the jump was due to an improvement in the hit tool. Over the course of the summer I saw a more disciplined approach and better pitch recognition to go along with the swing that already features plus bat speed and leverage. That swing, along with the power and aggressive baserunning, made every at bat must watch and often created a buzz in the ballpark. Tatis’ star is rising and I’m glad that I got a chance to see the development firsthand. Looking back, that stadium usher was right to be excited. —Nathan Graham
Gleyber Torres, SS, New York Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
If not for the strange left (non-throwing) elbow injury that prematurely ended his season in mid-June, Torres very well could have been our number one prospect in the midseason rankings and would likely now be helping the Yankees clinch a playoff berth. Not a bad return for a closer who was later re-signed anyway. He was one of just a few prospects to truly “wow” me this year, and it was immediately evident during my first viewing of him that he hits the ball quite hard. The 20-year-old possesses insanely quick hands, excellent hand-eye coordination, and an advanced approach.
His power projection has significantly increased over the past couple of years mainly due to added strength. There is also some natural loft to his swing, so despite only hitting seven homers before the injury, a potential plus hit and power tool combination appears realistic. If not for the presence of Didi Gregorius, his hands and actions would enable him to stick at shortstop despite average speed and mobility. Fortunately, his offensive profile will play anywhere. I did not see him at second or third base, but he has some experience at those positions. His arm strength looks sufficient for third, and he should find second to be easier than shortstop. Yes, Tommy John surgery is an unfortunate temporary setback. Nonetheless, I still fully expect Torres to become a star. —Erich Rothmann
Eloy Jimenez, RF, Chicago White Sox (Double-A Birmingham)
It was easy to decide which player I was going to highlight in this ten pack. Not only do I think Jimenez was the best player I saw this season, and I saw some good ones (Victor Robles, Estevan Florial, Sixto Sanchez), he was also the most fun to watch. I already put in a report on the 20-year-old right fielder about a month ago, so I’m just going to use this space to flesh out how rare of a prospect he is. First of all, the dude is a physical freak of nature. He’s bigger and stronger than nearly every player I got a chance to watch this summer, but what’s insane is he still has room to grow. He’s already got legitimate 8 raw power that he taps into really well for a player in this phase of his development. The ball jumps off the bat in a way that’s just different than any other player I’ve seen.
His batting practice was easily the most fun to watch because of how effortlessly he drives the ball over the fence with incredibly high launch angles. The power alone would put him in good standing on prospect lists. However, what really separates Jimenez is what a pure hitter he is. The man shows well in every area with the bat. He let’s the ball travel, sprays with power, and really has a calm and confident demeanor at the plate where pitchers can just feel the need to execute to near perfection…just so they don’t get lit up. To cap it off, the numbers were just as elite as the profile this season, and if I had my choice long-term about what prospect makes the most impact with the bat in the years to come, I’m choosing Eloy pretty comfortably. —Greg Goldstein
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
Some prospects win you over across a few looks. They make consistent, quality contact, work good at bats, and you leave the second or third game realizing he’s a pretty good player. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is not that type of prospect. He announces his presence with authority, smacking monster home runs in BP, screaming line drives in games, and displaying the plate discipline of a 10-year-veteran. His hitting elicits audible reactions from scouts and fans alike. He looks like a man amongst boys when he’s the youngest player on the field.
I espoused my love for Vladito back in May, and not much has changed since then as I never had the chance to get another look at him. Yet he stayed on my mind throughout the season, and was always the first guy I thought of when asked about the prospects I’d seen this year. I will direct you to Steve Givarz’s in-depth look for the formal scouting report, but the reason Guerrero stands out on a baseball field is more than just his prowess on a baseball field. He has that special something where you just can’t take your eyes off him. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (short-season Vancouver)
Pearson was just plain fun to watch this year. While velocity throughout the game has been on the upswing in a long time, it is still fun to see the premium guys. For the most part, I generally ignore velocity on the surface and look at other things the heater has going with it. How much does it move? Does the pitcher have deception behind it? Can he control it? Can he command it? Pearson checked off a lot of those boxes in my viewings.
When I first saw him in early February, the fastball was 94-97, it had future average movement—he had control of it, but struggled with command. Throughout the year the pitch improved, both in velocity, and command. While he still had ways to go, you could see the steady improvement that made you more confident in him as a player. Then, in June, before the draft, right after the Florida All-Star Game, Pearson throws a bullpen. Before it started, the great Tom Kotchman jokingly told me “get your popcorn ready.” There were about 100 evaluators there from all 30 teams covering the event, as well as to see Pearson throw one last time before the draft. It was electric. Every fastball was over 100, topping 102. The off-speed made huge strides in that outing, showing more and more consistency. His changeup was in the low-90s…which would be good for most kids’ fastballs down here.
I still don’t know the future for Pearson, I labeled him as a quality arm who, “has the body and frame to eat innings in a rotation spot, still young and athletic to make strides for that future. No. 3-4 starter, or a late-inning bullpen fallback option.” It was kind of a punt on his ultimate role, but in choosing a quality talent, after long enough, a clear decision will be made. Until then, get your popcorn ready. —Steve Givarz
Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (High-A Clearwater)
2017 was the year of Sixto for me in terms of prospectdom. He burst onto the full-season scene throwing 102 with a kitchen sink’s worth of secondary stuff. But from a purely aesthetic perspective, he was also fun to watch and cover. He works as quickly as any pitcher I’ve ever seen, and working really fast is a great way to endear yourself to everyone in baseball, from teammates to prospect writers on deadline. He would often double or triple up while sequencing, which one usually only sees from a polished high-level kid. He flashed extraordinary feel for spin—it’s not all the way there yet, but what is at 19 years old? At times, two different speeds of changeup showed similar projection, and a few times there was a fun hard slider too. Sanchez messed around with it all with style and flair, while also being one of the best pitchers at the level. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future. —Jarrett Seidler
Willy Adames, SS, Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A Durham)
“What’s not to like?” I love when a scout answers a question with a question. “That’s what I keep saying!” said I after watching Adames do very, very good baseball things in 2017. The answer, of course, is that in a fantastical world of upside, shiny new toys, OFP (role 6), and freakish shortstop prospects, Adames is sort of ho-hum, supposedly lacking upside or a ton of flash. Still, he was the best combination of future value and risk of all the non-Moncada prospects I viewed in 2017. That 60 puts me on the higher side, since Adames is hindered by a potential move to third, minimal power performance (as a 21-year-old), and average speed. Here’s what I saw in over a dozen 2017 games:
Adames has improved his range, particularly glove-side and in. He is a shortstop and will stay as one through his prime. The glove should play to 55, with a 6 arm that plays from the hole and off-balance. His body is mature—reflected in his foot speed—but his lateral quickness and hands are those of a shortstop.
Early, Adames was an aggressive, anxious hitter, hunting fastballs early in counts (and barreling the literal hell out of them), but Triple-A pitchers started to exploit him with off-speed. Adames adjusted and improved his zone awareness and patience in each viewing. Early, the game looked fast, but I watched him slow things down, shorten, and improve his all fields hitting ability. Despite his “lack” of upside, Adames’ age is readily overlooked and his developing zone awareness portend an impact offensive profile. It is future 6 raw power, with batting practice bombs to all the right places. Adames did not get to his power consistently in 2017, but all the tools are there. His plus hit tool and ability to drive gaps to all fields is promising, and he has the bat path and barrel awareness to impact the ball. What’s not to like? —John Eshleman
Jose Trevino, C, Texas Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Back in April, Trevino was among the very first ten packs I filed from the Texas League, based almost purely on his defensive ability—in fact, the direct quote was: “At some point, someone will have something substantive to say about Jose Trevino’s offense, which needs improvement that it’s far too early in his Double-A career to see.” Though he didn’t fully answer those questions about his offense, he did show why the Rangers will be completely willing to give the 24-year-old the time he needs to develop.
Trevino allowed only three passed balls in 99 games caught with Frisco in 2017, and threw out 41 percent of would-be stolen base attempts, all numbers at the very top of the Texas League leaderboards. He has a calm demeanor behind the plate, soft and quick hands, and solid fundamentals—those caught stealings don’t come courtesy of an overpoweringly powerful arm, but rather sound fundamentals. His game awareness is high, and his floor, right now, is that of a backup or personal catcher, as many defensive catchers tend to be. However, catchers are slow to fully mature, especially at the plate, and Trevino showed a bit more of the power he displayed as an amateur in 2017. He may not be the best prospect out there, but he’s definitely one of Texas’ best, and good catchers are always a pleasure to watch. —Kate Morrison