This installment of the Prospect Hot Sheet covers minor league games from April 18-24. 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.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Vince Lara-Cinisomo and Josh Norris. J.J. will be chatting about the list at 2:30 p.m. EST.
1. Joey Gallo, 3b, Rangers
Team: High Class A Myrtle Beach (Carolina)
Why He’s Here: .409/.500/1.091 (9-for-22), 8 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 9 RBIs, 5 BB, 7 Ks.
The Scoop: There are many, many amazing aspects of Gallo’s top-of-the-scale power, but here’s one you might not know. Gallo generally hits the ball too hard to hit doubles. For most mortals, doubles are easier to hit than home runs. Looking at everyone in the minors from 2007 to present, the average hitter hits 2.4 doubles for every home run. You don’t need to be told that Gallo is not the average hitter. He hits nearly twice as many home runs as he does doubles. Admittedly, this is in part because Gallo is a below-average runner, but much more than that, it’s because when Gallo connects solidly on a ball hit in the air, the ball will generally leave the park. Looking at every minor leaguer who has 20 or more career doubles from 2007 to present, no one has come close to matching Gallo’s ratio of 1.9 home runs for every double he hits. Astros’ first baseman Brian Pellegrini, a minor leaguer from 2007-2011, had the second-highest ratio with 1.6 home runs per double. Expanding the list to include any current or recent major leaguer’s minor league career, we find that Russell Branyan (1.5), Troy Glaus (1.4) and Giancarlo Stanton (1.4) are all in the top 10. Only 68 of the 5499 players sampled had even a 1-to-1 home run-to-double ratio.
2. Jesse Biddle, lhp, Phillies
Team: Double-A Reading (Eastern)
Why He’s Here: 2-0, 0.64, 14 IP, 4 H, 2 R, ER, 21 SO, 2 BB, HR allowed
The Scoop: After coming in third in the Eastern League in strikeouts despite bouts of whooping cough and plantar fasciitis, the Phillies returned Biddle to Double-A to work on his control. After this week, it looks he’s found it. He walked just two hitters in 14 innings and punched out 21 along the way and 38 total for the season, which leads the league by 11.
3. Tyler Goeddel, 3b, Rays
Team: High Class A Charlotte (Florida State)
Why He’s Here: .545/.600/1.000 (12-for-22), 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 R, 10 RBIs, 3 BB, 3 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: In 2013, Goeddel hit .286/.378/.443 in 18 April games for low Class A Bowling Green, but he couldn’t maintain his early success the rest of the season, as his numbers dipped and his plate discipline regressed. Goeddel is off to another hot start in 2014, batting .339/.446/.597 with more walks (11) and extra-base hits (9) than strikeouts (7). Goeddel’s swing can get big on him, which can lead to bouts of streakiness, so he has to show he can maintain something close to this level of performance for an entire season. But it’s certainly an encouraging start.
4. Brian Johnson, lhp, Red Sox
Team: High Class A Salem
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO
The Scoop: Friday had to have been a rewarding outing for Johnson, who fired six perfect innings at Winston-Salem. A 23-year-old Florida product should probably have little trouble against Carolina League hitters, but Johnson’s career has been slowed since he was hit in the face by a line drive soon after signing as a first-round pick in 2012, an injury that left him unable to eat regular food for months and sapped his strength. Johnson has an impressive 25-6 K-BB mark in 19 2/3 innings this year, though he’s been hit around in a couple of those starts, which is why his 5.03 ERA is less impressive.
5. Ben Lively, rhp, Reds
Team: high Class A Bakersfield (California)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 Ks.
The Scoop: The Reds have done an excellent job of scouting and drafting college pitchers with unconventional but deceptive deliveries. Tony Cingrani has quickly jumped to the big leagues as a 2011 third-round pick and now Lively, a 2013 fourth-round pick out of Central Florida, is working on a 18-inning scoreless streak. For the year, he has a 33-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Normally, you could say that he’s looking ready to jump to Double-A before long, but the Reds already a five-prospect rotation in Double-A Pensacola, so for now, there’s no room.
6. Gregory Polanco, of, Pirates
Team: Triple-A Indianapolis (International)
Why He’s Here: .414/.452/.724 (12-for-29), 8 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBIs, 2 BB, 7 SO, 3 SB, C
The Scoop: Pittsburgh’s bats are scuffling a little bit right now, and Polanco is itching to help them. He finished a triple shy of the cycle on Thursday night, and is getting on base in nearly half of his plate appearances. He’s adding the final touches to his game, presumably on defense, where Eastern League evaluators last season uniformly agreed he could use work, before joining Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the big leagues.
7. Micah Johnson, 2b
Team: Double-A Birmingham (Southern)
Why He’s Here: .407/.515/.556 (11-for-27), 4 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 6 BBs, 6 Ks, 5-for-6 on SBs.
The Scoop: Johnson is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do as Birmingham’s leadoff hitter. He gets on base and steals bags, although the rest of the Barons lineup has had a little trouble getting him in. Take away the three home runs, and Johnson has scored only nine times in 39 times on base.
8. Jose Ramirez, 2b, Indians
Team: Triple-A Columbus (International League)
Why He’s Here: .462/.531/.731 (12-for-26) 1 2B, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, 5 BB, 0 SO, 5-of-7 SB
The Scoop: Ramirez made a brief appearance at Progressive Field in 2013 and he’s pushing to return. He’s continued to show excellent plate discipline and had a whiff-free week while showing surprising pop and his trademark speed. He does appear blocked in Cleveland by Jason Kipnis and with Cleveland’s top prospect, Francisco Lindor, looming, but he’s making noise.
9. Ismael Guillon, lhp
Team: low Class A Dayton
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 1 GS, 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 Ks.
The Scoop: Guillon has tantalized the Reds with flashes of greatness sandwiched by bouts of bang-your-head-against-a-wall wildness—his nine-walk outing against Lake County early last year is only suitable viewing for masochists. It’s early, but in his first four starts this year, Guillon has shown the dominance without the drawbacks and his velocity has picked up, as he’s now sitting 91-93 mph. Guillon has struggled to maintain his delivery for longer than a few starts at a time in the past, so there’s still plenty of reason to be cautious, but this start is very encouraging.
10. Brandon Drury, 3b, Diamondbacks
Team: High Class A Visalia (California)
Why He’s Here: .448/.443/.862 (13-for-29), 3 2B, 3 HR, 6 R, 11 RBIs, 0 BB, 5 SO
The Scoop: When the Diamondbacks sent Justin Upton to Atlanta in a seven-player trade last year, Drury was coming off a bad year in the low Class A South Atlantic League and hardly the centerpiece of Arizona’s return. But the Diamondbacks appear to have made an astute decision to get Drury included, as he bounced back last season and is hitting .319/.364/.604 with six home runs through 21 games this year.
11. Mookie Betts, 2b, Red Sox
Team: Double-A Portland (Eastern)
Why He’s Here: .423/.448/.615 (11-for-26), 9 R, 2 2B, HR, 2 RBIs, 2 BBs, 2 SO, 3 SB, 0 CS
The Scoop: See that slash line above? All three categories are worse than his season averages. The man’s raking, pure and simple. He’s been on base every game this season, and dating back to last year has done so in an incredible 46 consecutive games. He oozes with athleticism and can show up nightly on MiLB.tv highlight reels. He’s also speedy and smart on the bases, as shown by his 87.8-percent success rate on stolen bases (65-for-74).
12. Stetson Allie, 1b, Pirates
Team: Double-A Altona (Eastern League)
Why He’s Here: .500/.652/.1.375 (8-for-16) 2 2B, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs, 5 BB, 5 SO
The Scoop: The failed pitcher is off to a terrific start as he moves up to Altoona. He has power, as he’s shown in the past, but more promising is the plate discipline he’s flashing through 16 games, with 10 walks to 14 strikeouts thus far. He had a superb week, but as Josh Norris noted in his majestic minor league roundup, Allie has a long way to go to convince evaluators he’s more a one-trick pony.
13. Yorman Rodriguez, of, Reds
Team: Double-A Pensacola (Southern League)
Why He’s Here: .500/.515./688 (16-for-32) 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 5 SO, 1 BB 1-of-1 SB
The Scoop: The Reds’ No. 5 prospect, Rodriguez just missed being ranked in our Top 100 Prospects and sat 15th in our preseason rankings on corner outfield prospects. Still just 21, he impressed the Reds in spring training despite hitting just .118. He’s picked it up in his return to Pensacola, hitting .325 through 77 at-bats, largely due to a scorching past week. His pitch recognition still needs polish (5-19 BB-SO), but he profiles as at least a useful fourth outfielder.
In The Team Photo
Aaron Judge, rf, Yankees: Everybody knew coming in to the season that Judge, 21, had light-tower power. This week, however, he’s hit for average, too. He hit .476/.560/.667 this week for low Class A Charleston with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs, and could find himself in high Class A Tampa by midseason if he keeps this up.
Zach Borenstein, of, Angels: After an outstanding season at high Class A Inland Empire last year, Borenstein needs to prove this year that his numbers weren’t a Cal League creation. He got off to a slow start, but a .360/.448/.800 week with six extra-base hits has brought the 23-year-old’s numbers at Double-A Arkansas to respectable again.
Tommy LaStella, 2b, Braves: One of the best pure hitters in the minors, LaStella hasn’t shown much power but has been squaring up the ball consistently and getting on base plenty for Triple-A Gwinnett. The 25-year-old is hitting .338/.403/.369 with nine walks and four strikeouts in 18 games.
Luke Jackson, rhp, Rangers: Texas’ No. 7 prospect, Jackson, a supplemental first-rounder in 2010, is holding opponents to a .192 average. He is coming off seven shutout innings, and given the Rangers’ health issues, could be an option for the rotation—as was Nick Martinez—if he continues to keep his walks low. Jackson, 22, walked 4.1 per nine in 2013, but has walked just five in 21.1 IP in 2014.
Donald Lutz, lf, Reds: Power got Lutz to the majors last season and it’s playing a strong part in his bid to return. The 25-year-old slugged .828 this week for Double-A Pensacola, including four doubles and two home runs. He also collected the third cycle of his career.
Edwin Escobar, lhp, Giants: San Francisco’s major league starters have a 4.39 ERA, which ranks 23rd in baseball. If they need a boost, the 22-year-old Escobar could be ready soon. While Escobar’s first three starts at Triple-A Fresno were uninspiring—he does have a 5.49 ERA—he threw seven shutout innings on Sunday and owns a strong 22-4 K-BB mark in 19 2/3 innings.
Dan Winkler, rhp, Rockies. Winkler’s 24 and has only made nine starts above Class A. He has a fringy fastball and modest scouting reports. So, it’s easy to forget that Winkler led the minors with 175 strikeouts last season and was the Cal League pitcher of the year. His stuff doesn’t stick out, but so far he’s done well at Double-A Tulsa in 2013 as well as in four starts this season, going 2-1, 0.75 with 27 strikeouts in 24 IP.
David Holmberg, lhp, Reds. Arizona’s No. 7 prospect before he was acquired by Cincinnati in the three-team deal that sent Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay, the 6-foot-3 lefty is a control specialist and regarded as a polished pitcher, close to being ready for the majors. He has been compared to Mark Buehrle. So far this season, the 22-year-old has been anything but Buehrle-like dependable, compiling an 0-3, 14.46 mark with Triple-A Louisville, allowing 20 hits in 9 1/3 innings.
Kaleb Cowart, 3b, Angels: Cowart’s swing fell apart in Arkansas last year, as he stopped stinging the ball, but kept striking out like a power hitter. A 2-for-26 week this week has brought this year’s numbers down to a similar level in his return to Double-A Arkansas. As a 23-year-old repeating Double-A, Cowart’s solid 2012 season keeps drifting further and further in the rear-view mirror.
Jacob May, of, White Sox: Maybe he’s tired from playing 170 games last season between college, the regular season and winter ball in Australia? No matter the case, May, 22, has started cold this season with high Class A Winston-Salem, where he’s hitting just .130/.231/.188 over the first 19 games. He had just one hit in 18 at-bats this week.
Avery Romero, 2b, Marlins: The Marlins have moved Romero along at a judicious pace since signing him as a third-round pick out of high school in 2012. Romero, who turns 21 next month, went just 2-for-22 with a walk and no extra-base hits over the last week at low Class A Greensboro. For a player whose bat will have to be his calling card, Romero needs to show more impact at the plate.
Victor Arano, rhp, Dodgers: The Dodgers have had a lot of success scouting Mexico for pitchers over the years. From the amazing find that was Fernando Valenzuela to current uber-prospect Julio Urias, the Dodgers have seen that pitchers from Mexico usually are generally advanced as far as feel for pitching. Arano is another addition to that pipeline, as he allowed one hit in four scoreless innings this week, lowering the 19-year-old’s ERA for low Class A Great Lakes to 0.66. Arano has an average fastball that touches 92 mph, but it’s his ability to throw four pitches for strikes that generally handcuffs Midwest League hitters.