Josh Bell, 3B, Dodgers (Double-A Chattanooga)
A fourth-round pick in 2005, Bell has always combined impressive tools with good/not-great performances due to a poor approach. Things have changed considerably for him this year, as his walk rate is way up, his strikeout rate is way down, and that combination is rarely seen suddenly only after a player reaches the upper levels. The exciting thing is that the bat is beginning to explode as well; by going 12-for-21 in his last six games with four doubles and pair of home runs, he’s now batting .297/.388/.500. No wonder his name is suddenly coming up quite a bit in trade rumors.
Jeff Bianchi, SS, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas)
In talking to scouts on the phone and in person, two in the past five days have asked the same question: “Hey, is that Bianchi guy still hitting?” That tells you that he’s generating some attention, and the answer to the question is an unequivocal ‘yes,’ as the 22-year-old is coming off back-to-back four-hit games on Saturday and Sunday. He’s 18-for-30 in his last five games, and is now batting .368/.417/.512 overall in 30 Texas League games. His range at shortstop is a bit limited, but he’s fundamentally sound there, and moving way up many team’s preference lists.
Rex Brothers, LHP, Rockies (Short-Season Tri-City)
Attached to many teams with late first-round picks back in June, Brothers ended up falling just outside of the first round despite outstanding velocity for a southpaw, going 34th overall to Colorado. Recently signed to a $969,000 bonus, Brothers made his pro debut over the weekend, pitching one-two-three innings with a pair of strikeouts on both Friday and Sunday. His heat sat in the low 90s, and he pushed his fastball up to 96 mph at times. He also features a plus slider, and if he remains in a relief role, as expected, he could move up very quickly.
Ike Davis, 1B, Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
This is one of the poster boys for why you can’t get too worked up about post-draft pro debuts, be they really good or really bad. Davis’ stock certainly fell when he landed in the latter category in 2008; after going 18th overall, he went 215 at-bats without a home run in the New York-Penn League. This year, he’s more than bounced back, already reaching Double-A in his first full season and succeeding there; with home runs on Friday and Saturday, he’s now batting .308/.400/.547 in 31 Eastern League games.
Christian Friedrich, LHP, Rockies (High-A Modesto)
Like Brothers, Friedrich is a left-hander who went to the Rockies when he dropped further than expected in the draft, as Colorado snapped him up with the 25th overall selection last year when many expected him to go off the board in the middle of the first round. He’s also looking like an absolute steal, as with 11 strikeouts over five shutout innings on Friday, his California League ERA is now 1.73 after putting up a 2.18 mark in the Sally League, and he’s struck out 107 in 81
Jason Heyward, OF, Braves (Double-A Mississippi)
The hits just keep on coming, as Heyward added three more knocks on Friday, including a home run, then two more on Saturday, and is now hitting a PlayStation-esque .422/.506/.734 in his first 18 Southern League games. Fourteen of his 27 hits in Double-A have gone for extra bases, he has twice as many walks (11) than strikeouts (five) in 64 at-bats, and chances are better than ever that you’ll see him in the big leagues come September.
Destin Hood, OF, Nationals (Rookie-level GCL Nationals)
The Nationals gave Hood a $1.1 million bonus last year as a second-round pick to buy him away from a college football career as one of the most heavily recruited wide receivers in the county, but they knew he’d be a bit of a project on the diamond just the same. It’s starting to move a little quicker than expected, though, as Hood went 7-for-11 over the weekend with three doubles, a pair of triples, and a home run, as he’s now batting .330/.388/.614 in 25 Gulf Coast League games. With plus power and speed, his ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the system.
Dan Hudson, RHP, White Sox (Double-A Birmingham)
Hudson is certainly the White Sox breakout player of the year, and he might be the pitching breakout of the year across all of baseball. With eight shutout innings on Friday, he now sports a 2.03 ERA in seven Double-A starts as well as more than a strikeout per inning. With a power frame (standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 225 pounds) and a plus fastball/slider combination, scouts are seeing him as a easy future big leaguer, though they’re mixed as to whether it’s as a starter or reliever.
Corban Joseph, 3B/2B, Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
A fourth-round pick last year out of a high school in Tennesee, Joseph signed for a $207,000 bonus had a solid pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, but was expected to move up just one level to the short-season New York-Penn League this year. Instead, Joseph found himself in a full-season league, and after struggling to get either his on-base percentage or slugging much above .300 for most of the year, he’s suddenly among the hottest bats in the minors, going 18-for-27 in his last six games and batting .442 overall in June. The tools are there for him to be a real prospect, and some profile him as a nice offensive-oriented second baseman down the road.
Jose Tabata, OF, Pirates (Double-A Altoona)
After being traded to the Pirates last year, Tabata basically saved his season and prospect status by batting .348 with Altoona post-trade. Now he’s trying to do so again, as after a non-descript first half, the bat has come alive once again, as the soon-to-be 21-year-old had seven hits over the weekend and is batting .367/.406/.520 in 24 July games. The bat speed alone makes it impossible to write him off, but scouts still want to see more secondary skills out of him before seeing him as someone who can play in the majors in a corner outfield slot every day.