PHOENIX—I've spent the last four days following a group of Dominican amateur prospects from the International Prospect League around the backfields of Arizona. In the process, I've been able to see several pro prospects from the lower levels of the minors, either in games against the IPL or in normal minor league spring training games.
I wouldn't put much stock into any spring training reports, since players are often still getting their mechanics back together, pitchers are sometimes still building up arm strength and are often on quotas to throw certain types of pitches. Evaluating a player in March the same way you would in June just isn't fair, but in the interest of sharing what I've seen, here are the players who have made an impression.
Keury Mella, rhp, Giants: The top of the Giants' farm system is pitching-heavy with Kyle Crick, Edwin Escobar, Chris Stratton and Adalberto Mejia. Mella doesn't belong in that group yet, but the 20-year-old righthander is a potential breakout candidate this season. Pitching against Arizona's low Class A team on Monday, Mella showed a power arm with a 91-95 mph fastball that had solid sink. His secondary stuff was not sharp, with his 80-84 mph changeup looking better than his slurvy 76-79 mph curveball, but it's very early. He got into some trouble in his third inning, but he escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam with a broken bat groundout to shortstop.
Kendry Melo, rhp, Giants: Melo originally signed with the Blue Jays out of the Dominican Republic for $100,000 in November 2011, but Major League Baseball squashed that deal and declared Melo ineligible due to issues with his age. That turned out to be a great thing for Melo, because during his penalty, his velocity went up, his stock improved and in June last year he signed with the Giants for $500,000. Melo used the exact same date of birth and the same identity he used to sign with the Blue Jays, and this time MLB allowed the contract to stand. The Giants didn't do anything wrong, and they've been on the other end of MLB's arbitrary justice, but it underscores how frustrated teams can get with the conduct of the commissioner's office in Latin America, and why teams often prefer to do their own homework to vet players' ages. The 20-year-old Melo has a big, thick frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and threw 88-93 mph with heavy sink. His 80-82 mph slider got a swing-and-miss from Diamondbacks 18-year-old outfielder Justin Williams, their second-round pick last year, before Melo got him swinging though a fastball for the strikeout. Melo finished with two strikeouts, one hit and no walks in a scoreless inning.
Jose Martinez, rhp, Diamondbacks: Here were the first 11 fastballs out of Martinez's hand on Monday: 95, 95, 95, 93, 94, 93, 93, 93, 96, 94. More impressive was his 81-83 mph curveball (yes, curveball) with tight spin and late, sharp snap. It has slider velocity but is anything but slurvy, with true top-to-bottom action. He didn't even have his best curveball on Monday, bouncing the pitch in the dirt, but when he hit it right it was at least a plus pitch and not hard to see why some scouts say it flashes as a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Over three innings Martinez worked mostly at 92-95 mph, though he struggled with his control and has bee in the process of trying to develop a reliable changeup, as the 85-mph one he threw Monday wasn't doing much.
Sergio Alcantara, ss, Diamondbacks: It's hard to say if Alcantara will ever be able to hit much. He has zero power and doesn't seem like he's any bigger than his 2012 signing weight of 5-foot-10, 150 pounds. There are some things in his swing that will need to be cleaned up, but he led the Rookie-level Arizona League with 44 walks last year and posted a .398 OBP. On defense is where the 17-year-old Alcantara really shines. In a game against the low Class A Giants on Monday, Alcantara made an excellent play ranging up the middle, fielded the ball smoothly, then unleashed a throw from his 70 arm to barely get the runner. Any less arm strength and the runner would have been safe.
Eduar Lopez, rhp, Angels: Lopez, 19, got his work in yesterday against the IPL in one extremely quick but impressive inning. His fastball sat at 93-94 mph and he showcased a sharp, downer curveball at 79-81 mph. When Lopez has to work deeper into the game, he's usually in the 90-94 mph range, but he has two swing-and-miss pitches with his fastball and curveball. Lopez walked 42 batters in 62 innings last year in the Dominican Summer League—his second in the DSL—so he will have to do a better job of avoiding free passes this season in his U.S. debut.
Jairo Diaz, rhp, Angels: Diaz threw 88-92 mph on Tuesday, which doesn't sound all that extraordinary. Except for one thing: That was his changeup. Diaz drew a huge crowd of Angels minor leaguers behind home plate to watch the radar gun when he threw an inning against the low Class A Cubs team and didn't disappoint them, throwing 97-100 mph and bumping 100 on multiple pitches. He also popped out a solid 88-mph slider in a quick 1-2-3 inning. The Angels originally signed Diaz out of Venezuela in 2007 as a hitter, but there wasn't much hitting going on his first two seasons, so he moved to the mound. Diaz, 22, is a relief prospect with a 5.91 career ERA and allowed 27 runs in 22 1/3 innings last year, so he has to show he can put up flashy numbers beyond the radar gun. But there's a power reliever to dream on if the light bulb ever goes on.
Ricardo Sanchez, lhp, Angels: Sanchez was our No. 27 international prospect for July 2 last year when the Angels signed him out of Venezuela for $580,000 on July 2. At that time, Sanchez was throwing 87-91 mph, but his stock is already up since then. I didn't see Sanchez throw on Monday, but sources there said he was touching 94 mph, which is consistent with earlier reports from our International Reviews that had him up to 94 last year at U.S. instructional league. Sanchez wasn't throwing many strikes on Monday, which has also generally been the book on him, but he has a free-and-easy delivery, so some scouts think he will be able to hit his spots better down the road.