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Scouting Houston and San Diego Prospects

While the big boys started their season in late March, the kids hit the fields on Thursday, April 3rd for their season opener.

To celebrate the minor league opener, I made my way to Lancaster California in the High Desert to watch the Houston Astros High-A affiliate, the Lancaster JetHawks. The JetHawks could have the most talented roster in the entire minor leagues buoyed by elite names like Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and Lance McCullers.  Their opponent, the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Padres High-A affiliate, also boast several top prospects in their own rite including Hunter Renfroe and Joe Ross.

I had a chance to catch both batting practice as well as the home opener and have provided scouting notes of six of the more notable prospects who appeared in the game.

Carlos Correa (SS, Houston)

Carlos Correa will be a star, and it’s isn’t going to take much longer. Blessed with great bat speed, balance and a short powerful stroke, Correa was easily the best player on the field. In batting practice, he lined shots all over the field and then hit bombs to left, left center and right-center field with ease. There wasn’t any dipping of the shoulder or lifting his left leg to get more leverage to show off his power, it was just a tight stroke with nice hip rotation to create the power.

In looking at him physically, it’s hard not to compare him to a young Alex Rodriguez – tall, a bit lanky but very athletic. His current body is clearly not built to hit a lot of home runs, but as he matures, the body will fill out and the strength should meet his bat speed to create plus future power potential.

Despite his height, he was very nimble at shortstop showing good lateral movement and an average arm. He tried to execute the “jump throw”, ala Derek Jeter, but it didn’t have the zip on the throw that would indicate plus arm strength. I believe he’ll stay at short for the next three to five years, maybe longer, but a move to third or even the outfield could eventually happen.

It’s all there for Correa to be perennial all-star and while Byron Buxton might be getting all the accolades as the best prospect in baseball, Carlos Correa isn’t far behind.

Vincent Velasquez (RHP, Houston)

While Carlos Correa stole my heat on Thursday evening, Velasquez was a worthy suitor as well. Over the winter, I ranked him as the number four pitcher in the system behind Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz, and Lance McCullers but after what I saw, I could easily move him ahead of McCullers if not Folty. In a word, he was impressive.

He threw a four pitch mix with a fastball sitting 92-94 MPH that touched 95 multiple times on the cold blustery evening. In the first inning, he threw exclusively heat and struck out two of the first three batters. His command was good in that first innings but did waiver during the rest of his four inning outing. Starting in the second inning, he unleashed a 77-79 MPH hard curve that had a nice 11-5 break that had the Storm batters flailing. He then added an 84-86 MPH slider that wasn’t as good as the curve but still held it’s own. In the third, he started throwing a change-up that while inconsistent, showed flashes of being an above average pitch.

All in all, he showed a plus fastball and curve ball as well as a change-up that should grade out to at least an average future offering. His mechanics were also solid with good posture and balance with an easy athletic delivery. His release point was not consistent as his front shoulder would fly out from time-to-time but with repetition and more experience, the command should grade out to at least average if not more.

The total package is at least a number three starter with a chance for more as his command improves. As a said, he was impressive and much more advanced than I thought and could easily see Corpus Christi by the end of the year.

Teoscar Hernandez (OF, Houston)

At times, I struggle pronouncing names, ok…I struggle a lot. So with Teoscar, I decided to talk with the PA announcer before the start of the game to see how to properly say it. Basically, the “o” is silent and you merge together Te with scar. I still can’t say it…but now at least I know.

Hernandez had an impressive batting practice showing bat speed and the body that should be able to produce future power. At 6-2 and 180 pounds, he’ll fill out the frame and the above-average speed he demonstrated on his triple in the fifth inning (11.58), should eventually regress. However, the bat could be very good.

He has a quiet setup with good balance and a relatively short swing that explodes when he hits the ball. A .280 batting average with 20-25 home runs is not a crazy future projection. Plus, he could also add double-digit stolen bases.

While his 2013 stat line showed only a 73% contact rate in Low-A, Houston officials indicated that Hernandez was a little too passive last year, particularly early in the season and it’s something they worked with him during the Spring. If it all comes together, Hernandez should force his way into the Houston outfield by 2016.

Rio Ruiz (3B, Houston)

While I was really impressed with Correa, Velasquez, and Hernandez, I can’t say the same for Rio Ruiz. First, it’s a bad body. The back of the bubble card says 6-foot-1 and 180, but he looked heavier and had well below average foot speed. I clocked him on a possible infield hit at 4.41 to first.

While there was bat speed, the setup was noisy and there was some length to his swing. I could see above-average future power but given his swing mechanics, I only see an average hit-tool. Defensively, he was average with a strong arm but lacked great foot work.

If it all comes together for the 2012 fourth round pick, he could be a solid Role 5 player at the highest level.

Joe Ross (RHP, San Diego)

Joe Ross didn’t make my San Diego Top 10 list as the reports I had on him were not stellar. Sources raved about his athleticism and plus fastball but those physical gifts were not translating into results. After seeing him pitch five innings, I believe those reports are accurate but I think I can now fill in the blanks a little more.

Ross has the body that farm directors crave: 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds with great athleticism and body control. His mechanics are very smooth with good posture and balance and nice extension on his release. He was able to repeat his delivery well during the evening and had good control.

The fastball sat 92-94 MPH and he was able to hold it for most of the evening. However, the fastball was straight and the JetHawks made good contact against him. The hard slider that I had heard so much about was not very good. Most of the pitches had little break and in some cases, were almost as straight as his fastball. Not all though, as he did reel off a few that showed promise. The change-up was also below average and he only threw five during the evening.

Ross is still very young and physically there is a lot to like. However, there is little deception in his delivery and the arsenal overall is below average. That said, I always bet on the athlete and therefore I’m not giving up on Ross; but there is a lot of work left to be done.

Hunter Renfroe (OF, San Diego)

I had a chance to see Hunter Renfroe quite a bit in Spring Training and liked very much what I saw. He has plus bat speed and raw power, plus running ability, and a plus arm. His bat speed was on display during batting practice on Thursday as he showed nice power to all fields. However, as opposed to Correa, he didn’t demonstrate a lot of over-the-fence power.

Once game time hit, Renfroe was overwhelmed by Velasquez and struck out both times he faced the right-hander.  He wasn’t able to catch-up to Velasquez’s heat and was badly fooled on his breaking pitches. Granted, Velasquez was dealing, but I expected better. He also, stumbled against Mitchell Lambson, who was only throwing his fastball 83-85 MPH. He seemed lost during that at-bat and struck out looking on an 84 MPH fastball that was over the heart of the plate.

Eight at-bats is not enough to draw a full picture of a player, but I am concerned about his approach and his ability to hit breaking pitches. While Velasquez was nasty on Thursday, Renfroe didn’t have a chance. It was disappointing.

 

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2014 NL Impact Rookies

We conclude our two-part series on 2014 impact rookies by moving to the National League.  As with the American League, the NL is stacked with potential impact rookie performers.  However, there is only one player in our Top 100 Prospect List who is likely to break camp with his team – Billy Hamilton…and it could be special.

I have listed the Top 10 players that I believe will have the most impact with their teams in 2014.   I also included five off-the-grid players that people might not be thinking about.

Billy Hamilton (OF, Cin) – ETA: Start of the Season

The average time to hear a Billy Hamilton mention on the MLB Network is 37 minutes…really…it’s been verified by an Accounting firm somewhere.  Hamilton will be this years “must see” baseball player.  The speed is ridiculous and the stolen bases could tally close to 100.  Will he hit enough to keep his job?  Yeah, I think he will.  Let the fun begin.

Projected Stat Line:  600 AB, .265 BA, .310 OBP, 1 HR, 90 SB, 23 RBI, 130 Runs

Archie Bradley (SP, Ari) – ERA: Mid-June or when the Diamondbacks come to their senses

Archie Bradley is nearly big league ready and is one of the best arms in the minor leagues.  Yes, his fastball command could be better and he would benefit from time in the minors.  However, he would also be the ace the of Diamondbacks staff if he started the year with the team.  Time to bring him up.

Projected Stat Line:  110 IP, 9 Wins, 90K, 3.55 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Javier Baez (SS/2B, CHC) – ETA: Mid-June to avoid Super-2 Status

A shortstop that can hit 30+ home runs and steal double digit stolen bases don’t come around very often.  Javier Baez could produce to that level almost immediately.   Yes, he likes to swing the pole and there will be some swing and miss in his game.  However, his premium bat speed and innate ability to barrel the ball is going to erase a lot of the strikeouts.  If Castro starts the year on the DL and Baez forces his way onto the roster for the entire year, he will beat out Billy Hamilton for NL ROY.  Count on it.

Projected Stat Line:  380 AB, .270 BA, 21 HR, 11 SB, 68 RBI, 60 Runs

Gregory Polanco (OF, Pit) – ETA: Mid-June to avoid Super-2 Status

Gregory Polanco might have the highest offensive upside in the entire minor leagues.  The progress he has made over the past two-years has been remarkable and he is on the door step of the big leagues.  The power is still developing but the speed is there.  From a fantasy standpoint, the only concerns is that the speed will start to dwindle before the power truly takes off.  For me, he’ll have a couple of 30/30 years before he becomes a 15/35 guy.  Oh yeah, I’m all in.

For 2014, he’ll be good, not great.  However, the upside still warrants a number three ranking on the Top NL Impact Rookies.

Projected Stat Line:  360 AB, .275 BA, 9 HR, 17 SB, 55 RBI, 60 Runs

Chris Owings (SS, Ari) – ETA: Start of the Season (I hope)

I’m basing this projection on Chris Owings getting the starting shortstop job out of Spring Training.  I know, I’m being optimistic, but Owings is better than Gregorius…come on now.  Assuming he gets considerable plate appearances, Owings could put up high single-digit home runs and close to 20 stolen bases.  He makes good contact but his aggressive approach will hurt his OBP.

Projected Stat Line:  480 AB, .270 BA, 8 HR, 19 SB, 35 RBI, 75 Runs

Jameson Taillon (SP, Pit) – ETA: Mid-June to avoid Super-2 Status

Jameson Taillon prospect star fell a little in 2013 but I still consider him an elite talent with the ceiling of a Top 20 pitcher in all of baseball.  Assuming he stays healthy, he should join Gregory Polanco in Pittsburgh and pitch quite well.  While it might not Cole-ish, it could be very close.  Health is a concern as his arm action is not clean and he suffers from his elbow getting above his shoulder on his delivery.

Projected Stat Line:  95 IP, 6 Wins, 85K, 3.55 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Noah Syndergaard (SP, NYM) – ETA: Mid-June to avoid Super-2 Status

The Mets dream of a rotation of Harvey, Wheeler, and Syndergaard during the second half of 2014 will not happen, but Mets fans will be able to see two-thirds of the future staff.  Syndergaard could be special and provide a very similar stat line to what Zack Wheeler did in 2013.

Projected Stat Line:  102 IP, 8 Wins, 90K, 3.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Oscar Taveras (OF, STL) – ETA: July or when somebody gets injured

With the depth at the major league level, the Cardinals have the luxury to move slowly with one of the best prospects in the entire game – Oscar Taveras.  Taveras is good, very good, but his troubled ankle is still not 100% and he needs time to knock the rust off; not to mention, some development.  When will he arrive?  Nobody knows, but it will likely take an injury or Matt Adams not hitting.  I’ve taken the middle ground and put his arrival in July.

Projected Stat Line:  330 AB, .270 BA, 14 HR, 3 SB, 60 RBI, 55 Runs

Andrew Heaney (SP, Mia) – ETA: June

Could this be Jose Fernandez Part Two?  No, but you know, Andrew Heaney is a really good pitcher and the Marlins have proven to be very aggressive with their prospects and I expect that to continue with Heaney.  Expect Heaney to be promoted when he’s ready.

Projected Stat Line:  105 IP 7 Wins, 80K, 3.45 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Maikel Franco (3B, Phi) – ETA: July

I don’t know where he plays but the Phillies need to find out what they have in Maikel Franco and that should happen sometime in the second half of the year.  He’s got plus power and should be able to make enough contact to sport an average hit tool.  A lot will depend on how well Cody Ashe does at the hot corner and therefore, I suspect there will be opportunity.

Projected Stat Line:  320 AB, .255 BA, 12 HR, 1 SB, 50 RBI, 45 Runs

Kris Bryant (3B, CHC) – ETA: July

Could Kris Bryant be the first 2013 drafted player to arrive in the Big Leagues?  While I would put the possibility of more than a September call-up at less than 50/50, his immense talent just might force the issue.  The power is going to be plus-plus with easy 30 home run potential.  There will be swing and miss in the bat and the average could settle around the .260 mark, but together, it’s an all-star package.

Projected Stat Line:  280 AB, .240 BA, 12 HR, 2 SB, 50 RBI, 45 Runs

Off-the-grid players

Steven Souza (OF, Was)

I don’t know where he plays, but Steven Souza is going to force the issue in Washington before the end of the year.  He’s a great athlete with plus raw power and plus running speed that has spent a lot of time fighting demons that now seem to be a thing of the past.  It’s a great redemption story that will end in the Major Leagues  sometime this year.

Kyle Parker (OF/1B, Col)

The Rockies signed Justin Morneau to a two-year deal and that slowed the assent of Kyle Parker to the majors.  However, he’s nearly big league ready and needs an injury to get the call.  I have even-money that he gets the call and contributes in a meaningful way in 2014.

Christian Bethancourt (C, Atl)

I love the Evan Gattis story but he’s a below average defensive catcher and Ryan Doumit isn’t any  better.  Bethancourt is an elite defensive catcher and has some pop as well.  I think he gets the call sometime during the year and logs over 200 at-bats for the Braves.

Keyvious Sampson (SP, SD)

The Padres have been debating whether Keyvious Sampson should start or come out of the bullpen.  I’m betting he starts and there will be opportunity in San Diego before the season is over.  I have the over/under at 15 starts; and I think they will be pretty good starts.

Rafael Montero (SP, NYM)

He’s not off-the-grid but should be mentioned in an article about rookie impact players.  The stuff isn’t elite but he throws strikes, knows how to pitch, and CitiField is kind to pitchers.  There’s been talk that the Mets will move him to the pen.  I’m betting they don’t and Montero becomes an important piece in the Mets starting rotation.

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2014 AL Impact Rookies

With the two-game Australian series less than a week away, the 2014 major league season is upon us.  While many media outlets have started publishing their predictions on MVP and CY Young winners, here at Prospect361.com, it’s time to discuss which prospect will grow into an impact rookie for their major league team.

The American League is stacked with potential impact rookie performers.  In fact eight players on our Top 100 prospect list will likely break camp with their teams.   Not all of these players will perform; in fact, it’s likely that some will get demoted at some point during the season.

I have listed the Top 10 players that I believe will have the most impact with their teams in 2014.   I wanted to go deeper and include talents such as Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, and Marcus Stroman but time did not permit.  I did include five off-the-grid players that people might not be thinking about.
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National League Lineup for the 2018 All-Star Game

Last week we started our two-part series on the 2018 All-Star game by presenting our starting lineup for the American League.  The response was terrific but the overwhelming question was:  “Where is Xander Bogaerts?”  He’s there, but is riding the bench behind Carlos Correa at third base.  He’s great…Correa turned out to better – and that’s the fun of following prospects.

Today, we move to the National League.  Is it stacked as much as the American League?  You let me know; and in fact, let me know who wins this mythical matchup between 2014 eligible prospects in the 2018 All-Star game.

For those of you new to this series, here’s the exercise:

I decided to put the lineups together for the 2018 All-star game from players who have rookie eligibility (i.e. players in the minor leagues).  Some players will be household names and others will not.  Some will be on their current teams and some will be on new teams.   You might also question…how did he come up with those estimates?  Well, I made them up…but I did so hopefully in a logical and meaningful way.

In the end, I’m trying to answer the question:  “What kind of player could X be in 5-years?”.  To do that, I decided to take a fun (hopefully) approach to answering that basic question.

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American League Lineup for the 2018 All-Star Game

As we wait for pitchers and catchers to report, I thought I would delve into a creative writing exercise to pass the time.  I’m sure fans of Truman Capote or even Stephen King will exclaim…”This is creative writing????”  Yeah, well…this is the best I can do…here’s the exercise.

I decided to put the lineups together for the 2018 All-star game from players who have rookie eligibility (i.e. players in the minor leagues).  Some players will be household names and others will not.  Some will be on their current teams and some will be on new teams.   You might also question…how did he come up with those estimates?  Well, I made them up…but I did so hopefully in a logical and meaningful way.

In the end, I’m trying to answer the question:  “What kind of player could X be in 5-years?”.  To do that, I decided to take a fun (hopefully) approach to answering that basic question.

I hope you enjoy and feel free to provide me your feedback.

Continue Reading »

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Players who just “missed”

I started writing over 300 player capsules six months ago and most recently went through the task of putting together a list of the best of the best – the Top 100 minor league prospects.  Was I happy with the list, even proud of the list?  Absolutely, but I do have regrets as well as disappointments of players that I really wanted to include, but just ran out of numbers.

I decided to look back through my work and come up with a “Baker’s Dozen” of players that I really like as both prospects and fantasy prospects.  Some are well known names and others are a little under-the-radar.  They are in no particular order.

1. Nick Williams (Tex, OF) – Was the best player on the stacked Texas Low-A affiliate and stood above the rest with his ability to make contact.   That ability should allow his above-average power to eventually play at the highest level.

2. Vincent Valasquez (Hou, RHP) – While Houston has several hard throwing hurlers that made our Top 100, VV has the arsenal and polish to pitch just behind those pitchers.

3. Tyrone Taylor (Mil, OF) – Taylor’s lack of loud tools pushed him off the Top 100 list but there is a lot of upside with the young outfielder.  If he continues to put it together, the Brewers might finally have a prospect on the Top 100.

4. Phil Ervin (Cin, OF) – A polished college hitter with louder tools than you think.  He should move quickly through the Reds system and could see the majors by 2015.

5. C.J. Edwards (CHC, RHP) – Very good arsenal but the body size still worries me.  That said, the Cubs need starters and they’ll likely keep Edwards in that role for the foreseeable future.

6. Pierce Johnson (CHC, RHP) – While I ranked Edwards higher in the Cubs Top 10, I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnson becomes the better pitcher.

7. Raimel Tapia (Col, OF) – I had Tapia number eight in a surprisingly strong Rockies organization but didn’t have the courage to rank him higher.  I wrote: “…could become an interesting name within the Rockies organization”.  I should have used the word monster somewhere in that sentence.  Watch out!

8. Josh Bell (Pit, OF) – Uber-talented outfielder that has been limited by injuries during his brief professional career.  Don’t sleep on yet another talented outfielder in Pittsburgh.

9. Sean Manaea (KC, LHP) – A serious hip injured caused me to downgrade Manaea, but assuming he fully recovers, the stuff could allow him to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation.

10. Matt Barnes (Bos, RHP) – With so many pitchers in the upper minors, somebody had to drop out of the Top 100 from Boston.  Mid-rotation starter – book it!

11. Anthony Ranaudo (Bos, RHP) – A higher ceiling than Barnes but I bet you Barnes becomes the better pitcher.  Still, in nearly any other system, Ranaudo is a Top three prospect.

12. Zach Lee (LAD, RHP) – He no longer has the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation starter, but is solid and nearly ready for Big League action.

13. Rosell Herrera – Yeah, he repeated Low-A in 2013 but he also had one of the best statistical years of any minor league player.  There’s both power and speed with Herrera and while it’s debatable whether he can stay at short, he has “fantasy impact” written all over him.

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Top 100 Prospects – 1 through 25

Our top 100 prospects list, players 1 through 25, has just been posted.

More content will be on the way.  Thank you for all your support!

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