SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 100 Prospects
SEE ALSO: Futures Game Box Score
They might not have all made the Midseason Top 100 Prospects list, but here are seven prospects who have significantly improved their stock with strong first halves.
Kevin Newman, ss, Pirates
Newman blitzed his way out of the Florida State League with a .369/.432/.481 slash line that saw him walk more often than he struck out (17-to-10) and included a quick recovery from a hit-by-pitch that fractured his orbital socket. Newman is unlikely to hit for much power, but as a shortstop who can control the strike zone, he is a useful player at the top of the lineup.
Francisco Mejia, c, Indians
Mejia repeated low Class A Lake County to begin the season. Yes, he was repeating the league, but it’s hard not to be impressed with a catcher who led the Midwest League in batting average and slugging percentage. Mejia was hitting .347/.384/.531 with 17 doubles and seven home runs when he earned a promotion to high Class A Lynchburg. Mejia has also showed improvement defensively. He’s got a long way to go, but as a catcher with significant potential at the plate, he’s part of a steadily improving Indians’ farm system.
Mitch Keller, rhp, Pirates
Keller was one of the fastest-rising high school pitching prospects in the 2014 draft as he went from someone likely to make it to North Carolina to a million-dollar Pirates signee over the course of a strong spring. Pittsburgh has had to be patient since, as a forearm strain last year that limited him to six starts in the Appalachian League. But this year Keller has paid off the Pirates’ patience. He’s been arguably the most effective starting pitcher in the South Atlantic League. He leads the league in WHIP (0.86), and is among the league leaders in batting average against (.208) and strikeout rate among starters (10.3 per nine innings). Keller’s mixture of plus stuff (92-94 mph fastball, above-average curveball) and excellent control has carved through low Class A lineups.
Eloy Jimenez, of, Cubs
As a 19-year-old, Jimenez is a contemporary of the high school outfielders in the 2015 draft class. From that group, Nick Plummer (wrist injury) and Garrett Whitley have yet to play in full-season ball. Daz Cameron was demoted to short-season ball and will miss the season because of a broken finger. Only Trent Clark and Kyle Tucker are currently in full-season ball, and of those only Tucker comes close to matching Jimenez’s production this year in the Midwest League. Jimenez was considered one of the most talented players in the 2013 international July 2 class. He’s living up to those expectations with power and improving plate coverage. The biggest knock against him is that he’s likely a left fielder–although he played right in Sunday’s Futures Game and made a great catch.
David Paulino, rhp, Astros
A 6-foot-7 righthander with loads of potential, thanks to his size and excellent 91-96 mph fastball, Paulino’s jump to Double-A has gone even better than expected. Most long-levered righthanders need years to find their control, but Paulino posted a 43-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 41 innings in May and June. His curveball and slider sometimes ineffectively meet in the middle, but Paulino’s fastball is already a plus pitch with downhill plane and run and he can locate it extremely well. He hasn’t pitched since June 18 because of right arm soreness, but is in Florida rebuilding arm strength and should return soon.
Reynaldo Lopez, rhp, Nationals
Lopez burst onto the prospect scene in 2014 with an outlandish finish to the season. He didn’t allow a run in five straight starts, a stretch of 29 scoreless innings, while sitting in the mid-to-high-90s with his fastball. As good as Lopez was then, he’s significantly better now. The righthander has filled out some. His curveball has gotten tighter while his changeup has significantly improved as well. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse by striking out 56 and walking five in his final six Double-A starts (34 innings). Lopez is shorter than scouts like for a righthander (6-foot) and his delivery ends with some recoil at the end, but he misses bats more consistently than his Nationals teammate Lucas Giolito and he has better present command as well. He pitched a scoreless inning Sunday in the Futures Game.
Chih-Wei Hu, rhp, Rays
The Rays acquired Hu in last year’s Kevin Jepsen trade. It’s paid off for Tampa Bay as Hu has emerged as a solid starting pitching candidate in Double-A this year. Hu pairs a plus fastball with a plus changeup and he also occasionally throws a palmball. He struck out two Sunday in the Futures Game, running his fastball up to 97 mph.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Here are some preseason Top 100 Prospects whose stock has fallen in the first half of the season.
Jorge Lopez, rhp, Brewers
Colorado Springs is going to hurt any pitching prospect’s development because it’s a near-impossible place to pitch effectively. At home, the Sky Sox have a 6.10 ERA and .310 batting average against (the team’s road numbers are 4.77 and .255). And some of those struggles at home can bleed over on the road. But even with all those caveats, scouts have been disappointed in what they have seen from Lopez this year. Lopez’s downer curveball has not been the same plus breaking ball he’s shown in the past. And he’s left his fastball up in the zone much too often. Scouts who have seen Lopez in the past as well as this year wonder if he’s hit a speed bump and needs to recover, and scouts who have just seen him this year say he looks like a fringe big leaguer more than a future rotation stalwart.
Dominic Smith, 1b, Mets
Smith is a 21-year-old in Double-A, so he’s young for the league. He’s coming off of an impressive season where he hit .305/.354/.417 with 33 doubles in the difficult hitting environs of the Florida State League. But Smith’s first half in the Eastern League has continued to bring focus to some of the worries scouts have long had about him. A recent hot streak in which he hit six home runs gave him 10 for the season, easily a career high. Despite that, some scouts are skeptical.
“The body looks bad and there’s no damage at the plate. If he doesn’t hit, you have nothing,” a scout said. “There’s not a high ceiling. He’s an average player at best and still has to hit a ton to be an average player. He’s not going to bring much else to the table.”
That said you can find scouts who believe in Smith’s future. The lefthanded hitter has played in tough parks for power hitters (especially his time in Savannah’s Grayson Stadium), leading some to believe the power is still to come.
Anthony Alford, of, Blue Jays
As great as Alford’s 2015 season was, he’s been equally bad so far in 2016, but there are some extenuating circumstances. Alford hurt his knee in a slide on Opening Day. He returned to action a month later and showed signs of significant rust–he went 5-for-45 (.111) with no extra base hits and 28 strikeouts in his first 12 games back. He started get his timing back at the plate, but he then had to be taken off the field on a stretcher after a frightening outfield collision on June 10. He missed another two weeks recovering from a concussion and has only just returned to the field. Alford’s swing-and-miss issues this year (he has a 36-percent strikeout rate) are a red flag, but there’s a healthy debate on how many of Alford’s issues are health/rust-related.
Carson Fulmer, rhp, White Sox
Fulmer’s first year as a pro has failed to quiet doubts that he’ll end up pitching out of the White Sox’s bullpen. Fulmer is a short (6-foot) righthander with a high-tempo, high-effort delivery. While that worked great at Vanderbilt as he helped the Commodores to a national title, it’s not held up nearly as well pitching every fifth day. In the first two innings of his outings, Fulmer has been adequate. He’s posted a 3.21 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in that span. But from the third inning on, Fulmer has a 7.71 ERA with a 2.02 WHIP. His hits allowed almost double (from 6.75 H/9 to 11.6 H/9) and his walk rate also increases (from 4.2 BB/9 to 6.6 BB/9).
Daz Cameron, of, Astros
Like Fulmer, Cameron spurred plenty of debate in front offices before the 2015 draft. Many scouts loved his all-around game, as they saw an excellent defensive center fielder with speed and power potential, like his father Mike. But other scouts thought Cameron’s hit tool would get in the way of him reaching his potential. It’s very early in Cameron’s pro career, but so far, the concerns about Cameron’s hitting ability are well warranted. Cameron was sent to low Class A Quad Cities to start the season, but he was sent to extended spring training after he hit .143/.221/.221 (11-for-77) with 33 strikeouts. He’s was playing for short-season Tri-City when he broke his left pointer finger and he’ll miss the rest of the season. The tools are still impressive, but the track record of prominent high school hitters who can’t stick in low Class A in their first full season is poor, not to mention he’s missing key development time.
Javier Guerra, ss, Padres
Guerra was one of the key parts for the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade with Boston, but his approach has taken a significant step back. Guerra is still a rangy defender but he’s also been unreliable defensively, especially with making the routine play at times. Guerra’s biggest problems have been at the plate. His overaggressiveness has been exploited by high Class A pitchers. Guerra’s significant strikeout rate can be lived with when it comes with if he’s hitting doubles and home runs and providing great defense. This year he’s struggled to any of those things.