Prospect Hot Sheet (April 19): Florida State League Parks Can’t Contain Miguel Sano

Welcome back to a new year of the Prospect Hot Sheet. As we’ve been doing for more than a decade, every Friday during the minor league season we’ll take a look at the hottest prospects in the game. Note we said hottest, not the best. This is not a re-ranking of our preseason Top 100 Prospects. Instead it’s a look at which prospects have had the best week, weighing raw performance, prospect status, age compared to level and the environment in which they play. This week’s Hot Sheet covers games from April 12-18.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy and Jim Shonerd.

Chat: Matt Eddy will answer your Hot Sheet questions beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET

1. Miguel Sano, 3b, Twins

miguel-sano-2013-mjTeam: high Class A Fort Myers (Florida State)

Age: 19

Why He’s Here: .385/.452/.769 (10-for-26), 3 HR, 1 2B, 11 RBIs, 5 R, 3 BB, 7 SO

The Scoop: Sano has to be considered the prime suspect in any speculation as to which prospect could develop into the next Giancarlo Stanton. With a Florida State League-leading five homers and 15 RBIs, Sano helped power Fort Myers to a 12-0 start and .816 team OPS that ranks No. 1 in the circuit.

Sano topped the Appalachian (2011) and Midwest (2012) leagues in extra-base hits in the past two seasons, and with nine long hits this year (four-way tie for first) he’s well on his way to claiming a third crown.

Take it as a sign of improvement or a small-sample blip, but Sano has struck out less frequently (24.2 percent of plate appearances) this young season without sacrificing power. That performance comes on the heels of fanning in more than a quarter of PAs (26 percent) last year for low Class A Beloit.

Miguel Sano’s Statistics

2. Jameson Taillon, rhp, Pirates

jameson-taillon-2013Team: Double-A Altoona (Eastern)

Age: 21

Why He’s Here: 1-1, 1.38, 2 GS, 13 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 HR, 6 BB, 16 SO

The Scoop: Nowadays it’s often hard to tell where curveballs end and sliders begin. Tony Cingrani, last week’s top pick for the Hot Sheet, throws what he and the Reds call a slider, but it’s now a slow (75-78 mph) pitch with a big break. This blurring of the lines is why scouts often prefer to just stick with the catch-all phrase breaking ball. Taillon, on the other hand, throws a true 12-to-6 curve that can leave hitters helpless. Against Harrisburg in his first start of the week, Taillon frequently locked up hitters with two-strike curves, leaving them with bats on shoulders.

Jameson Taillon’s Statistics

3. Chris Stratton, rhp, Giants

chris-stratton-2013Team: low Class A Augusta (South Atlantic)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.77, 2 GS, 11 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 14 SO

The Scoop: In another organization, Stratton might be pitching in high Class A or even higher. The Orioles’ Kevin Gausman, a fellow 2012 first-round pick out of a Southeastern Conference school, is pitching in Double-A. Likewise, the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha already is pitching in Triple-A. But the Giants like to take things slow, which is why their first-round pick out of Mississippi State is dominating low Class A. With the way he’s pitching, it’s hard to believe he’ll be there much longer.

Chris Statton’s Statistics

4. Michael Choice, cf, Athletics

michael-choice-2013Team: Triple-A Sacramento (Pacific Coast)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here:.385/.514/.808 (10-for-26), 3 HR, 2 2B, 9 RBIs, 11 R, 7 BB, 7 SO, 0-for-1 SB

The Scoop: Choice has shown no ill effects of the broken hand that truncated his 2012 season. Along with his health, Choice finally has his swing where he wants it after spending the last couple years working it over, and he’s off to a .288/.403/.542 start in his first taste of Triple-A. He’s shown patience to go with his power, drawing 10 walks and reaching base at least once in 14 of 15 games.

Michael Choice’s Statistics

5. Chris Owings, ss/2b, Diamondbacks
chris-owings-2013

Team: Triple-A Reno (Pacific Coast)

Age: 21

Why He’s Here: .467/.515/.700 (14-for-30), 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 9 R, 5 RBIs, 2 BB, 8 SO, 3-for-4 SB

The Scoop: Arizona minor leaguers move from a ballpark in Double-A Mobile that features 8.64 runs per game to one in Reno that sees 13.32. Only the same Double-A to Triple-A jump in the Rockies system heightens the run-scoring environment to that extent—but only slightly. Nevertheless, Owings is a 21-year-old shortstop (and occasional second baseman) hitting the ball with authority at the Triple-A level. You don’t need us to tell you how rare that is.

Chris Owings’ Statistics

6. Hak-Ju Lee, ss, Rays
hak-ju-lee-2013

Team: Triple-A Durham (International)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here:.500/.615/.800 (10-for-20), 1 HR, 3 2B, 4 RBIs, 6 R, 6 BB, 3 SO, 2-for-3 SB

The Scoop: Lee is best known for his slick defense, but two weeks into the season he finds himself third in the International League batting race with a .419 average. He’s also drawn 11 walks compared to just nine strikeouts. Lee’s slugging usually comes in the form of balls to the gaps, but he did swat just the 13th homer of his pro career last Saturday in Charlotte.

Hak-Ju Lee’s Statistics

7. Kyle Parker, lf, Rockies
kyle-parker-2013

Team: Double-A Tulsa (Texas)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here: .455/.500/.955 (10-for-22) 5 R, 10 H, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 4 RBIs, 2 BB, 4 SO

The Scoop: Even after he signed with the Rockies three years ago, Parker left money on the table so he could return to play quarterback at Clemson for his senior year. But unlike fellow Rockies 2010 draftee Russell Wilson, Parker eventually chose baseball, and it’s looking like he chose wisely. He’s well on his way to a third straight season with 20-plus homers, and his combination of on-base skills and usable power place him on the path to a future big league job.

Kyle Parker’s Statistics

8. Erik Johnson, rhp, White Sox
erik-johnson-2013

Team: Double-A Birmingham (Southern)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here:1-0, 1.32, 13 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 12 SO

The Scoop: The 2011 second-round pick was held back by shoulder fatigue last year, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. Johnson profiles as a potential mid-rotation starter and has ripped through Southern League hitters over his first three Double-A starts. He tossed seven shutout innings against Mississippi last Friday and followed that up with 6 2/3 innings and two runs allowed against Chattanooga on Wednesday.

Erik Johnson’s Statistics

9. Derek Dietrich, 2b, Marlins
derek-dietrich-2013

Team: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here: .333/.514/.556 (9-for-27), 4 2B, 1 3B, 7 R, 4 RBIs, 8 BB, 3 SO, 1-for-1 SB

The Scoop: Also known as the player acquired for Yunel Escobar, Dietrich gets lost in the transactional shuffle with all of Miami’s offseason trade activity. That may not be a problem going forward if he continues to rack up doubles and post a .435 on-base percentage.

Derek Dietrich’s Statistics

10. Joc Pederson, cf/lf, Dodgers
joc-pederson-2013

Team: Double-A Chattanooga (Southern)

Age: 20

Why He’s Here:.333/.333/.733 (10-for-30), 3 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B, 7 RBIs, 9 R, 0 BB, 4 SO, 3-for-3 SB

The Scoop: Yasiel Puig got most of the attention this spring but it’s another Chattanooga outfielder who tops the Southern League in homers: Pederson, with five in 14 games. Pederson’s doing this as the youngest position player in the SL (he’ll celebrate his 21st birthday on Sunday), and he’s working on a 12-game hitting streak.

Joc Pederson’s Statistics

11. Nolan Arenado, 3b, Rockies
nolan-arenado-2013

Team: Triple-A Colorado Springs (Pacific Coast)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: .370/.367/.741 (10-for-27), 1 HR, 7 2B, 12 RBIs, 8 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 0-for-1 SB

The Scoop: Arenado struck a double in seven straight games from April 11-16 and currently leads the Pacific Coast League with 11 two-baggers, 18 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits. Don’t think the Rockies front office hasn’t noticed. Colorado third basemen have combined for a .345 slugging percentage, the lowest at any of the big league team’s defensive positions.

Nolan Arenado’s Statistics

12. Didi Gregorius, ss, Diamondbacks
didi-gregorious-2013

Team: Triple-A Reno (Pacific Coast)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here: .474/.474/.872 (9-for-19), 6 R, 1 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBIs, 0 BB, 0 SO, 1-for-1 SB

The Scoop: Technically, Gregorius was on a rehab assignment this week as he worked his way back from a spring-training elbow injury, but he enjoyed his one-week stay in Reno regardless. Based on his performance this week, you’d never guess that scouts view Gregorius as a glove-first shortstop. His power surge continued in the big leagues when he homered in his first at-bat as a Diamondback on Thursday.

Didi Gregorius’ Statistics

13. Adam Morgan, lhp, Phillies
adam-morgan-2013

Team: Triple-A Lehigh Valley (International)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here:1-0, 0.69, 13 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 8 SO

The Scoop: Morgan hasn’t been striking out batters as proficiently as he did last year, when he led the Florida State League in strikeouts per nine innings (10.2), but he’s otherwise been even more dominant. He threw eight shutout innings last Saturday in just his second Triple-A start, and opposing batters are hitting a paltry .172 after 19 innings on the mound.

Adam Morgan’s Statistics

IN THE TEAM PHOTO

Chris Beck, rhp, White Sox: So far so good for this White Sox second-round pick in 2012. After slimming down and working to increase his flexibility, the 22-year-old has quickly put a rough 2012 season behind him. Beck has yet to give up an earned run this year. This week, he went 2-0, 0.00 with 11 strikeouts and 13 baserunners in 14 innings for high Class A Winston-Salem.

Brandon Workman, rhp, Red Sox: He may not have the best stuff in the Red Sox system, but Workman is extremely consistent and reliable as he fills the zone with strikes. Pitching for Double-A Portland, the 24-year-old held Binghamton scoreless for seven innings in his lone start this week. Maybe more impressively, he struck out nine to bump his strikeout-to-walk rate to 26-to-2 this season.

Byron Buxton, cf, Twins: It’s hard to imagine Buxton having a much better full-season debut than his first two weeks at low Class A Cedar Rapids. The 19-year-old center fielder has reached base safely in all 12 games this year and has hits in 11 of 12. This week he hit .455/.556/.500 with four walks. He does need to work on his jumps because, despite 80 speed, he was 3-for-6 on stolen-base attempts this week.

Corey Dickerson, lf, Rockies. Dickerson has hits in all 13 games he’s played thus far with Triple-A Colorado Springs, batting .408/.434/.714. The 23-year-old put up four multi-hit games in the last week while batting 12-for-28 (.429) with a homer, two doubles and three triples. Caveat: Dickerson did all of his damage in the hitter-friendly venues of Las Vegas and Reno.

Burch Smith, rhp, Padres. The 23-year-old jumped out to an early lead in the Double-A Texas League with 20 strikeouts and a 0.56 WHIP for San Antonio. Smith allowed just two runs on three hits over 10 innings this week, and with a fierce mid-90s fastball and a solid changeup, he has a no-doubt big league arm. Future role: TBD—though his precise control is a good indicator of rotation potential.

Jeff Ames, rhp, Rays. Tampa Bay has brought its 2011 supplemental first-rounder along slowly, and the 22-year-old has responded with a sparkling 1.20 ERA and 15-1 K-BB ratio through three starts for low Class A Bowling Green this season. This week, he and two Hot Rods relievers combined to one-hit Great Lakes.

Wilmer Flores, 2b, Mets. Against the backdrop of Triple-A Las Vegas teammates Zack Wheeler (blister on middle finger) and Travis d’Arnaud (broken foot) dealing with injury woes, Flores just keeps hitting. The 21-year-old went 12-for-30 (.400) with a homer and four doubles this week, but more remarkably he has just three strikeouts in 15 games this season.

NOT HOT

Mike Zunino, c, Mariners. This week served as a reality check for the hard-charging Zunino, and his struggles remind us that going straight to Triple-A in your first full year isn’t easy. After a torrid first week that saw him homer four times in five games, Zunino came crashing back to Earth by going 0-for-16 with seven strikeouts over his last five games. The 22-year-old did draw four walks, but he doesn’t have a hit since last Wednesday.

Tyler Skaggs, lhp, Diamondbacks. Pat Corbin claimed the D-backs’ fifth-starter job, relegating Skaggs to Triple-A Reno and setting in motion two very different series of outcomes. Corbin has allowed three runs in three starts to three quality big league opponents—the Brewers, Dodgers and Yankees—while the 21-year-old Skaggs allowed 12 runs in two starts this week, though he has yet to allow a home run on the season. Skaggs’ ERA ballooned to 9.72 following a drubbing by Sacramento on Saturday (nine runs in 2 1/3 innings), though he followed that with a quality start (three runs in seven innings) versus Colorado Springs.

Enny Romero, lhp, Rays. Though he sported a manageable 10-4 K-BB ratio in 9 2/3 innings this week, Romero’s introduction to Double-A has been a rough one. The 22-year-old allowed 11 hits and 10 runs in a pair of starts for Montgomery, most troublingly allowing four home runs, including three to Jackson on Saturday.

Courtney Hawkins, cf, White Sox. On the plus side: The 2012 first-rounder clubbed three homers and drove in eight runs this week as he jumps essentially from high school to high Class A Winston-Salem. On the minus side: The 19-year-old went 1-for-22 with 16 strikeouts and three walks when he wasn’t going deep.

HELIUM

Victor Payano, lhp, Rangers. The 20-year-old Dominican lefty probably would have cracked most other organizations’ Top 30 Prospects lists last fall, but a 4.63 ERA, high walk rate (5.3 BB/9) and fluctuating radar-gun readings at low Class A left him just off Texas’ ranking. So while Payano allowed two homers in two starts for high Class A Myrtle Beach this week, he also struck out 14, walked only one and allowed five hits over nine innings to jump out to an early lead in the Carolina League with 22 strikeouts and a 0.77 WHIP. The Rangers have clocked Payano up to 94 mph, and they love his tight, downer curveball, projecting it as a plus pitch once he locates it consistently. He presents an uncomfortable look for lefty hitters, who collectively have one hit in six at-bats against Payano in three starts.