This installment of the Prospect Hot Sheet covers games from April 3-10, from Opening Day to present. Remember, this feature simply recognizes the hottest prospects in the minors during the past week—it’s not a re-ranking of the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects.
A note on two excluded players: Braves Triple-A first baseman Ernesto Mejia mashed five home runs during the opening week of games, more than any other minor league player, but he’s also 28 years old and stationed behind Freddie Freeman on the Atlanta depth chart.
Mariners righty Taijuan Walker is considerably younger—he’s 21—and he notched a 17/2 SO/BB ratio over 9 1/3 innings, allowing two runs, this week. However, he made those two starts while on rehab assignment with high Class A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, levels he left behind in the second half of last season.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Vince Lara-Cinisomo and Josh Norris.
1. Joc Pederson, cf, Dodgers
Team: Triple-A Albuquerque (Pacific Coast)
Why He’s Here: .417/.548/.875 (10-for-24), 2 2B, 3 HR, 3 RBIs, 8 R, 7 BB, 5 SO, 2-for-2 SB
The Scoop: If you’re looking for a safe bet for an upper-level prospect to post monster numbers this year, look no further than Pederson. He’s an elite prospect with a patient approach, plus raw power and is playing his home games in Albuquerque, a park that helps keep the stat sheet padded for veteran 4-A mashers every year.
But Albuquerque didn’t do anything to help Pederson in the season’s first week. He did all of his damage on the road, split between hitter-friendly Reno and a less charitable park in Tacoma. If he were in another organization, he might already be in the big leagues. For example, we know the Pirates will bring up Gregory Polanco once they can delay his service clock long enough to retain him for another year, Pederson’s ETA to the majors is less clear, with Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier creating a logjam in the Dodgers outfield.
2. Henry Owens, lhp, Red Sox
Team: Double-A Portland (Eastern)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 1.00, 2 GS, 13 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 18 SO
The Scoop: When he’s at his best, Owens is as unhittable as anyone in the minors. He had a 19-inning hitless streak last year, he struck out 13 of 15 batters he faced in an intrasquad game in spring training last year, and he began 2014 by pitching the first six innings of a rain-shortened no-hitter on Opening Day. Hitters just can’t get a good read on Owen’s fastball and struggle to pick up his changeup. When he’s also locating his curveball, hitters don’t really have much of a chance.
3. Mookie Betts, 2b, Red Sox
Team: Double-A Portland (Eastern)
Why He’s Here: .464/.531/.750 (13-for-28), 6 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 3 SO, 2-for-3 SB
The Scoop: Betts has carried the momentum of a tremendous 2013 (.314/.417/.506 with 15 homers and 38 steals) into 2014. He began the season going 4-for-4 with a home run against Reading and has not slowed down, continuing to show excellent plate discipline. Though small (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), he has quick hands to generate extra-base power. He’s blocked at second base in Boston by Dustin Pedroia, and while the Red Sox talked about getting Betts some time at shortstop this year, so far he’s stayed exclusively at second base.
4. Robert Stephenson, rhp, Reds
Team: Double-A Pensacola (Southern)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 1 GS, 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 SO
The Scoop: What’s not to like about a starting pitcher with a 95-100 mph fastball, a freeze-your-brain curveball and a useful changeup? Stephenson carved a path through the Tennessee lineup in his 2014 debut. Only one hitter pulled a ball against him and only two balls left the infield.
5. Eddie Butler, rhp, Rockies
Team: Double-A Tulsa (Texas)
Why He’s Here: 0-0, 2.25, 2 GS, 12 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 12 SO
The Scoop: If you’re lucky enough to catch the Drillers for a series, you won’t see a better pitching-prospect duo all year than Butler and Jonathan Gray. Both have power arms, with Butler possessing outstanding life on a mid-90s fastball that he can spot well throughout the strike zone. Back it up with two more plus pitches in his slider and changeup and Butler is a potential frontline starter who can miss bats or get quick groundball outs, something that will come in handy once he gets to Colorado, which could come before the all-star break.
See also: Prospect Hot Sheet Chat
6. Courtney Hawkins, lf, White Sox
Team: high Class A Winston-Salem (Carolina)
Why He’s Here: .393/.419/.857 (10-for-19), 7 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBIs, 2 BB, 8 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: After a dreadful year with the Dash in 2013, Hawkins is out to prove he can hack it. He’s made some tweaks to approach, including lowering his hands, closing his stance and minimizing a leg kick. So far, the changes are paying dividends. He’s blasted three home runs and four doubles in the early going, which is a complete 180 from last year, when he collected 14 hits all of April. He also didn’t hit his first double of 2013 until April 30. Buyer beware, however. One scout we spoke with believed Hawkins’ bat was slow and noted that he swung through plenty of fastballs in the series he viewed.
7. Vince Velasquez, rhp, Astros
Team: high Class A Lancaster (California)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 1.13, 2 G, 1 GS, 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 12 SO
The Scoop: The Astros are conducting an interesting experiment this season. If any team could subdue the pitcher’s hell that is Lancaster, it’s this JetHawks pitching staff with Velasquez, Mark Appel, Lance McCullers Jr., Josh Hader and Kyle Smith working in a tandem rotation. Velasquez is more than doing his part with two excellent outings. So far, the JetHawks have a 3.29 ERA through roughly one-tenth of their home slate. Lancaster hasn’t had a home ERA under 5.20 in any of the past seven seasons (though it gets cold in the desert at night in April).
8. Rafael Montero, rhp, Mets
Team: Triple-A Las Vegas (Pacific Coast)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 2.45, 2 GS, 11 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 14 SO, 1 BB
The Scoop: Montero’s uncanny mastery of his hostile home park continues in the early stages of 2014. He closed out last season with a 2.87 ERA in nine starts at Las Vegas, allowing just 12 walks and two homers in that span. Montero toed the Vegas rubber in his first two starts this year (see above) and continued to show exceptional command—his 14.0 SO/BB ratio ranks second in the PCL—while striking out one-third of batters faced.
9. Trevor Bauer, rhp, Indians
Team: Triple-A Columbus (International)
Why He’s Here: 0-0, 1.50, 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 9 SO, 2 BB
The Scoop: Spring training portended more of the same for Bauer, the third overall pick in 2011 whom the Diamondbacks dumped for Didi Gregorius in a trade prior to the 2013 season. After running up a 4.15 ERA at Columbus a year ago, courtesy of an ugly 1.58 WHIP, Bauer did not receive a September callup, and his struggles continued into spring training, when he allowed nine runs on 12 hits in seven innings. He’s been electric since the opening bell rang, however, dominating in one Triple-A start and also pitching well against the Padres on Wednesday, thanks to improved quality (and deployment) of his fastball—which topped out near 95 mph—and crisp secondary stuff.
10. Tim Cooney, lhp, Cardinals
Team: Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast)
Why He’s Here: 2-0, 0.73, 12 1/3 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 12 SO
The Scoop: Cooney has put himself a short step from the big leagues less than two years after being drafted. His first two starts of 2014 have done nothing to slow his momentum. In his first outing—against an Iowa club that includes No. 5 overall prospect Javier Baez—Cooney pitched shutout ball over six innings with nine strikeouts. In start No. 2, against Omaha, Coone went 6 1/3 innings, giving up just five hits and a run with five punchouts.
11. James Ramsey, rf/cf, Cardinals
Team: Double-A Springfield (Texas)
Why’s He Here: .464/.516/.857 (13-for-28), 6 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBIs, 3 BB, 4 SO
The Scoop: In another system, Ramsey would be adjusting to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League right now. But with Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham in Triple-A, Ramsey gets to take a second swing at the Texas League. With a .251 average last year and 108 strikeouts, Ramsey had some room for refinement. So far, so good.
12. Dwight Smith Jr., lf, Blue Jays
Team: high Class A Dunedin (Florida State)
Why He’s Here: .469/.485/.750 (15-for-32), 3 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBIs, 1 BB, 0 SO, 2-for-3 SB
The Scoop: Smith doesn’t profile as a bopping corner outfielder, but he began 2014 by flashing surprising pop, hitting two home runs and three doubles in his first 32 at-bats, with both homers against rehabbing Cole Hamels. Smith had two doubles and three RBIs against Daytona on Thursday.
13. Hunter Harvey, rhp, Orioles
Team: low Class A Delmarva (South Atlantic)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 1.64, 11 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 11 SO, 3 BB
The Scoop: Harvey just missed the cut for our Top 100 Prospects list, and he’s started the season by making a strong case to jump squarely into the middle of next year’s version. The son of former MLB reliever Bryan Harvey started the season with 10 scoreless frames before Greensboro’s Felix Munoz reached him for a longball on Thursday. Dating back to last year, Harvey has allowed just seven earned runs over 36 1/3 career frames.
Prospect watchers, rejoice: Because they both pitched on Thursday, Harvey appears slated to duel against Nationals No. 1 prospect Lucas Giolito in Delmarva. Think there might be a little interest in that one?
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
Jesus Aguilar, 1b, Indians. The burly first baseman jumped out to an early lead in the International League with 24 total bases and a .960 slugging percentage after going 12-for-25 (.480) with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs for Triple-A Columbus.
C.J. Cron, 1b, Angels: Cron is carrying over a strong Arizona League League performance after a mixed campaign at Double-A Arkansas in 2013. After a 3-for-13 start, he’s had multi-hit games in four of the past five contests at Triple-A Salt Lake. He homered in back-to-back games against Fresno, but he remains aggressive at the plate, walking just twice so far against nine strikeouts.
Jake deGrom, rhp, Mets. While his ceiling is lower than other Mets pitching prospects, and he’s older at age 25, the converted college shortstop has a live arm and a future role in the big leagues. In two starts at Triple-A Las Vegas last week, he logged a 0.82 ERA, striking out 11, walking three and allowing seven hits in 11 innings. He also kept the ball on the ground (3.4 groundout-airout ratio) with command of a fierce two-seam fastball.
Brett Eibner, cf, Royals. The Triple-A Omaha center fielder went 5-for-5 with two home runs, a double and a walk and nine RBIs in a game against Memphis this week. It’s as good a game as anyone has had this year. The rest of his season has been solid as well. He’s hitting .360/.467/.800 with five walks and three strikeouts.
Johendi Jiminian, rhp, Rockies. Jiminian has had no problem adjusting to the hitter-friendly conditions at low Class A Asheville. He’s 2-0, 0.00 with eight baserunners allowed and nine strikeouts in 11 innings. The live-armed righthander uses a fastball that touches as high as 95 mph with plenty of boring action in on righthanders, as well as a power slurve and developing changeup.
Daniel Robertson, ss, Athletics. Robertson is hitting .394/.429/.606 for high Class A Stockton through seven games. The 21-year-old has a simple, efficient swing and a good hitting approach from the right side.
Tyrone Taylor, cf, Brewers. Milwaukee could use some good news out of its farm system. Taylor’s hot start for high Class A Brevard County has helped, as the 20-year-old is hitting .321/.406/.571 with seven doubles through seven games.
Franchy Cordero, ss, Padres. Don’t hit the panic button on the tooled-up, 19-year-old Dominican shortstop, who went 2-for-25 (.080) with 14 strikeouts and zero extra-base hits during his first week in full-season ball. Cordero never has played in cold conditions like those at low Class A Fort Wayne and the rest of the Midwest League in April. Don’t lose sight of the fact that he hit .333/.381/.511 in 141 at-bats last year in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Nate Karns, rhp, Rays. A 10/10 SO/BB ratio says it all for Karns, in his first two starts for the Rays organization at Triple-A Durham. He labored through each start, walking seven and allowing two steals in his first start, then eight hits—including six for extra bases—in his second. All told, his ERA stands at 13.50 after allowing 12 runs and 21 baserunners in 7 1/3 innings.
Mark Sappington, rhp, Angels. Sappington regularly gets his fastball into the mid-90s, but his feel for pitching and secondary stuff have always lagged behind. Sappington’s first two starts back at Double-A Arkansas did not go well. It took him 82 pitches to get through three innings (while giving up six runs) in his first start, then he came back in his next outing and gave up four runs over 5 1/3 innings. Ultimately—and perhaps soon—the best role for Sappington may be in the bullpen.
Drew Vettleson, rf, Nationals. The flip side of the Nate Karns trade to the Rays, Vettleson was one of three players acquired by the Nationals in the February swap. He probably wants a do-over on 2014 after kicking off his career with a new organization by going 0-for-17 at Double-A Harrisburg, though he’s done so with a manageable four strikeouts. The only other non-zero on his stat sheet is a single RBI.
Akeel Morris, rhp, Mets. A 10th-round pick from the Virgin Islands in 2010, Morris struggled with his direction to the plate as a starter, but his potential was obvious given his mid-90s heat. He began seeing results after switching to relief at short-season Brooklyn last year, striking out 60 in 45 innings with a 1.00 ERA. That success has carried over to 2014 as the 21-year-old Morris has recorded 11 strikeouts among the 12 outs he’s recorded this year while throwing four scoreless innings (three of them in one relief outing) at low Class A Savannah. If Morris keeps dominating like that, he might get another shot at the rotation.