Minor league baseball is back, which means fresh scouting information and new performance data begins to pour in. We’re talking about tiny sample sizes, not just with the stats but with scouting information that needs to be put in context. Minor league spring training is brief, some of the younger players in their first full year of pro ball often show up in less than optimal game condition and the weather still is cold in many of the northern towns, but prospect stocks are starting to change from their preseason statuses.
Jorge Soler, of, Cubs: Three Cuban players have left the island in recent years and have generated widespread excitement among scouts. One was Aroldis Chapman and his explosive fastball from the left side. Second was Yoenis Cespedes, a standout performer in Serie Nacional and on Cuban national teams who captivated scouts with his athleticism, bat speed and power. Then there was Soler, who didn’t have the national team experience of Chapman or Cespedes but was one of the best young Cuban players in years. Now pro scouts are getting a glimpse at why international scouts were raving about Soler even before he left Cuba.
Soler, 21, hit his first home run of the season for high Class A Daytona on Saturday into a 20-mph wind. After another homer yesterday, Soler’s off to a 7-for-16 (.438) start. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Soler has 70 raw power and is capable of producing 30-plus home run seasons, but what’s impressive about Soler is that he’s not just a rigid, all-or-nothing hacker. Scouts who have been the highest on Soler have always praised him for his strike-zone discipline and offensive approach.
“Players like Soler don’t come around very often,” said one scout. “He has a chance to be a perennial all-star.”
Archie Bradley, rhp, Diamondbacks: Few pitchers can match the pure stuff of Bradley. His fastball sits in the low- to mid-90s, tops out at 98 mph, and he can finish hitters with a devastating curveball. Pitching for high Class A Visalia on Friday, Bradley struck out nine batters over 5 2/3 scoreless innings. The key for Bradley to become more than just a hard thrower with knockout stuff will be to improve his control. He walked 5.6 batters per nine innings last year, and in his first start this year he walked three and hit two others.
Rafael DePaula, rhp, Yankees: The first time DePaula emerged on the prospect radar was 2008. His talent was never in doubt, but given his history, even his new date of birth—which would make him 22 now—remains in question. Regardless, DePaula has some of the best stuff in the system, and after dominating Dominican Summer League hitters he finally made his full-season debut on Saturday for low Class A Charleston, striking out 11 of the 19 hitters he faced with one walk and two runs allowed over 4 1/3 innings. It’s been an atypical development path, but DePaula shouldn’t be in the South Atlantic League for long.
Byron Buxton, cf, Twins: Buxton is baseball’s best center field prospect, and with his outstanding speed and range, there’s no doubt about his ability to stay there. His offense has been impressive as well early on with low Class A Cedar Rapids. The 19-year-old homered off Athletics righthander Michael Ynoa on Friday and is off to a 9-for-16 (.563) start.
Rougned Odor, 2b, Rangers: When you have one of baseball’s best farm systems, these are the problems that come up. The Rangers have Elvis Andrus locked up through 2022, second baseman Ian Kinsler through 2017 and baseball’s best prospect, Jurickson Profar, waiting in Triple-A. That doesn’t leave much of a clear path to the big leagues for high Class A Myrtle Beach shortstop Luis Sardinas or his double-play partner Odor. At 19, Odor is the youngest player in the Carolina League, but he has the offensive aptitude to handle the assignment, homering off Royals 2012 first-rounder Kyle Zimmer on Friday, then adding another home run on Saturday. Even if there isn’t a spot for Odor in Texas, pro scouts from other teams will be keeping close tabs on him and Sardinas this summer.
Gregory Polanco, of, Pirates: Polanco was one of the biggest breakout stories in the prospect world last season, and don’t think it was a one-year fluke. The lefty-hitting Polanco crushed lefthanded pitchers last year, but it was still another encouraging sign that he homered against Twins big league lefty Scott Diamond, making a rehab start, yesterday in a high Class A Florida State League game. Polanco has become one of the most well-rounded prospects in baseball, but the scary thing is he’s just starting to tap into his potential.
Roberto Osuna, rhp, Blue Jays: Osuna and Mariners righthander Victor Sanchez showed last year why they were the top pitchers signed on the international market in 2011. In his full-season debut yesterday for low Class A Lansing, Osuna allowed one run in five innings, struck out eight of the 16 batters he faced and didn’t issue a walk. Osuna has quickly become one of Toronto’s best pitching prospects, with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a plus changeup and his advanced pitching savvy for an 18-year-old.
Julio Morban, of, Mariners: When Morban has been healthy, scouts have been drawn to his left-handed bat, ever since he signed out of the Dominican Republic for $1.1 million in 2008. The 21-year-old is 8-for-15 (.533) in his first four Double-A games, but for a guy who’s never played more than 90 games in a season during his four-year career, he has to prove he can hold up over the grind of a full season.
Mike Zunino, c, Mariners: It’s rare for a draft pick from the previous year to begin his career in Triple-A, but that’s what the Mariners have done with Zunino and the Cardinals are doing with righthander Michael Wacha. So far the 22-year-old Zunino hasn’t blinked at Seattle’s aggressive assignments between his late-season promotion to Double-A last year, his time in the Arizona Fall League and his hot start in Tacoma, where he’s 5-for-12 with all of his hits going for extra bases, including two home runs. Zunino’s power is his only plus tool, but with his solid all-around game and ability to catch, he has the ingredients of an above-average big league catcher.
Oswaldo Arcia, of, Twins: Arcia homered in his first Triple-A game on Opening Day, then added another home run the next day and three more hits yesterday. Arcia, 21, doesn’t get as much attention as Buxton or Miguel Sano, but scouts like Arcia’s combination of bat speed and balance at the plate. Arcia isn’t at the level of Buxton or Sano as a prospect, but he’s going to make an impact in Minnesota before either one of them.