Anthony Ranaudo, rhp, Red Sox: This is the version of Anthony Ranaudo the Red Sox thought they were getting when they signed him for $2.55 million as a supplemental first-round pick out of Louisiana State three years ago. After a disastrous 2012 season during which he battled groin and shoulder injuries coupled with brutal on-field performance, Ranaudo has been extremely sharp in his return to Double-A. With nine strikeouts over six shutout innings on Saturday, Ranaudo lowered his ERA to 0.83 with 26 strikeouts and five walks over 21 2/3 innings through his first four starts. It’s early, but this is the best Ranaudo has looked in his pro career. It’s also his best stuff. In his most recent start he was sitting 93-95 mph, touching 97 mph with a good downward plane on his fastball.
Adam Brett Walker, rf, Twins: Minnesota has the best position prospect duo in baseball (Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton) off to scorching starts, but the Twins are getting plenty of early production elsewhere in the farm system too. Walker, a third-round pick last year out of Jacksonville, homered in four straight days—including a two-homer game on Friday—before his streak ended yesterday. Walker, who led the Rookie-level Appalachian League with 14 home runs in 58 games last year, is hitting .297/.373/.608 in 20 low Class A Midwest League games this season. The most impressive part of what Walker’s done so far isn’t just showing that he can hit the ball a long way—we already knew he had outstanding raw power—it’s that he’s shown the aptitude to make adjustments to get to his power in games with greater frequency.
Nick Kingham, rhp, Pirates: Kingham had a fairly ordinary year in low Class A West Virginia last year until July, when he finished the year with a 1.68 ERA in his final nine starts. Kingham has carried that success into the 2013 season, highlighted by yesterday’s 13-strikeout showing over six shutout innings without allowing a walk for high Class A Bradenton. Kingham, 21, has a low-90s fastball and a putaway pitch in his curveball, so the focus for him will be to bring along a changeup to help him achieve his mid-rotation starter potential.
Mike O’Neill, lf, Cardinals: The man with the best strike-zone discipline in the minors reached base in all eight of his plate appearances of a doubleheader, going a combined 6-for-6 with six singles and two walks for Double-A Springfield. He’s now sporting a 5-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio with 20 free passes and four whiffs to produce a .338/.479/.378 line through 23 games. As a 25-year-old who’s 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, O’Neill has limited power so it’s fair to question what his ceiling is as a left fielder, but he’s an intriguing player with an extreme skill set.
Jesse Biddle, lhp, Phillies: Biddle followed up last week’s 16-strikeout performance with another gem yesterday (6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 SO), pushing him to second in the minors with 40 strikeouts in 31 innings. Everything is trending in the right direction for Biddle, who’s improved his control and seen his strikeout rate, with an array of average to plus pitches that could make him a No. 2 or No. 3 starter within a few years.
Marcell Ozuna, rf, Marlins: Boy are the Marlins happy to have Ozuna back in the lineup. With home runs on Friday and Saturday for Double-A Jacksonville, Ozuna now has five home runs in his last five games. Ozuna will do his fair share of striking out, but with his explosive raw power, these are the types of streaks he’s capable of stringing together.
Garin Cecchini, 3b, Red Sox: With Will Middlebrooks at third base in Boston and Double-A shortstop Xander Bogaerts potentially having to slide over to third eventually as he gets bigger, being a Red Sox third base prospect puts Cecchini in a difficult spot. While Cecchini’s defense has been shaky, his hitting has been outstanding. He’s hitting .373/.466/.640 in 20 games as a 22-year-old in high Class A Salem thanks to a strong batting eye and a knack for barreling up the ball. Cecchini strung together three triples over the weekend.
Corey Seager, ss, Dodgers: When the Dodgers drafted Seager with their first-round pick last year, they added a player with one of the more polished bats in the high school class. On Saturday, Seager celebrated his 19th birthday by hitting two home runs for low Class A Great Lakes, then bumped his slash line up to .284/.376/.473 in 21 games after collecting two more hits yesterday. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Seager might end up sliding over to third base, but as long as he stays with an all-fields approach, his offensive game should fit well at the hot corner.
Danny Salazar, rhp, Indians: Salazar was a pleasant surprise last year in and Indians farm system in need of pitching. After several nondescript years since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, Salazar’s fastball jumped to the mid-to-high 90s last season, and the jump in stuff has carried over to 2013. He struck out nine in five shutout innings for the second straight start on Friday for Double-A Akron, lowering his ERA to 3.57 with 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.8 walks per nine through five starts. Durability is still a question mark for Salazar, but he could be in line to make his big league debut later this season.
Ramon Cabrera, c, Tigers: Cabrera won the high Class A Florida State League batting title in 2011 but had a more modest year with the Pirates last season upon his promotion to the Double-A Eastern League. Traded to the Tigers so the Pirates could acquire erratic lefthander Andy Oliver, Cabrera has been excellent for the Tigers with his new Eastern League club, hitting .341/.415/.476 with the rare achievement of recording more extra-base hits (9) than strikeouts (7). Cabrera has a squatty 5-foot-8, 200-pound frame, but the 23-year-old switch-hitter has a natural feel for barreling up the baseball and improving patience at the plate.
Alex Wood, lhp, Braves: Wood attacks hitters with a plus fastball/changeup combination that has left Double-A hitters helpless. Wood, a second-round pick last year out of Georgia, leads the Southern League in ERA (0.67) in 27 innings while posting a 31-5 K-BB mark. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Wood has effort in his delivery but he repeats his mechanics to pound the strike zone, miss bats and keep the ball on the ground. The lack of a quality breaking ball may limit his upside as he moves up further, but his repertoire and mechanics lead to some uncomfortable-looking swings from hitters.