Each Friday, the Prospect Hot Sheet singles out the prospects who had the best week, weighing raw performance, prospect status, age compared to level and the environment in which they play. Bear in mind that this is not a re-ranking of our preseason Top 100 Prospects list—it's a snapshot of top performances by prospects during the period Aug. 9-15.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy and Jim Shonerd
Prospect Hot Sheet Chat: Ben Badler will answer your Hot Sheet and prospect questions beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern.
The Scoop: Few Dominican pitchers fly through the minor leagues, but then few have the same background as Montero. The Mets signed him in January 2011 when he was 20—an age that makes him practically ancient in the world of international scouting—but he’s skyrocketed from the Dominican Summer League to Triple-A in just two seasons thanks to his impressive command of a solid arsenal. Little has fazed Montero on that journey, including the hitter-friendly conditions of Las Vegas. The only run Montero gave up this week came on a George Springer home run—he certainly has plenty of company there—but otherwise he overmatched hitters during his two home starts in Las Vegas.
Montero sits in the low 90s and can get up to the mid-90s when he needs it, but it’s the late life and the command of his fastball that makes him so effective. He lacks a wipeout offering among his secondary pitches, so scouts aren’t projecting Montero as a frontline starter, but the stuff and command are there to profile as a steady mid-rotation arm.
The Scoop: Bradley's arm is tantalizingly close to being major league ready if it's not already, and it has to be tempting for the Diamondbacks to call him up to reinforce their staff in some capacity so long as they remain in the playoff chase. He ranks third in the minors in both ERA (1.84) and strikeouts (150) and has been overwhelming Double-A hitters. He's 3-1, 1.13 in five starts since the Southern League all-star break and logged the first five innings of a combined no-hitter on Wednesday.
One issue that could give the D-backs pause when thinking of calling up Bradley? Control. He issued five walks and ran up a pitch count of 98 in those five innings, hence why he didn't go deeper into the game. This comes just a couple weeks after he walked seven and needed 101 pitches to get through five innings on July 27.
The Scoop: When the Rangers traded Villanueva and righthander Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs last year to add Ryan Dempster, the move made sense for Texas, where Villanueva was blocked by Adrian Beltre and Mike Olt. One year later, Villanueva is again blocked by Olt—though Olt’s struggles have certainly narrowed the gap between the two—with Kris Bryant, Jeimer Candelario and potentially Javier Baez also competing with Villanueva to be Chicago’s third baseman of the future. At some point, that could make Villanueva trade bait once again. For now, he’s one of the hottest hitters in the minors with a .305/.351/.543 slash line since the all-star break. His 36 doubles are a career high, and his 16 home runs are one off the 17 he hit two years ago in the low Class A South Atlantic League.
The Scoop: While Bethancourt's defense behind the plate remains stout, it's his progression with the bat that should force him into the Braves' catching plans for 2014. After an unremarkable first half, he's hit .336/.368/.582 in 122 at-bats since July 1, showing an increased willingness to use the whole field when necessary. He's presently riding a 16-game hitting streak, the high point of which came this past Sunday when he homered twice against Jackson. He followed up with another homer on Tuesday, giving him 11 on the year.
The Scoop: Smith's first start for Lancaster was every bit the standard Cal League nightmare. Playing at home against High Desert, he failed to make it out of the first inning, with seven of the nine batters he faced reaching base. Smith’s second start was much more remarkable by Cal League standards. He became the first pitcher to complete a game with two or fewer hits in the Cal League all year. The fact that he did it in High Desert, the toughest park in the full-season minors for pitchers, is even more remarkable.
6. Severino Gonzalez, rhp, Phillies
Team: high Class A Clearwater (Florida State)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 2.19, 12 1/3 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 4 BB, 16 SO
The Scoop: Gonzalez’s minor league numbers are absurd: a 1.84 ERA in 220 1/3 innings, 216 strikeouts and just 27 walks. OK, so that includes two years in the Venezuelan Summer League, where the Phillies kept Gonzalez after signing him for $14,000 out of Panama in 2011. At the time Gonzalez was a skinny kid with a mid-80s fastball and excellent feel for pitching. Now Gonzalez’s excellent control is still there, but his fastball has jumped up to the low 90s and peaks at 94 mph, making him one of the more intriguing arms in the organization as a 20-year-old on the cusp of reaching Double-A. Not bad for a pitcher making his U.S. debut.
The Scoop: If the Royals are still in the playoff hunt in September, it's easy to see Ventura becoming a useful callup, either as a power arm out of the bullpen or as a spot starter. Where he once was a pitcher who could touch 100 mph with a max-effort delivery, he now reaches triple digits "as easy as any pitcher I've seen," according to one scout who saw him recently. Ventura has found smaller strike zones at Triple-A to be a bit of a challenge—his walk rate has climbed from 3.1 BB/9 at Double-A to 4.2 BB/9 at Triple-A, though his stuff is no less difficult to square up.
The Scoop: With a home run in Las Vegas last Friday, Springer joined exclusive company—Grant Desme and Terry Evans in recent years—as a minor leaguer with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in the same season. He leads the minors with 33 homers on the year, with roughly three weeks remaining to build on that total.
Before you label Springer a creation of his home environments, note that Double-A Corpus Christi (1.085) and Oklahoma City (.882) feature home-run park factors that rank in the middle of the pack—or worse—when compared with other league locales. In fact, OKC ranks 15th out of 16 Pacific Coast League teams in terms of homer friendliness, and sure enough Springer has hit just three of his 14 Triple-A homers at home. For the season, he’s at 11 bombs at home and 22 on the road.
The Scoop: If you ever wanted to see College Player of the Year and No. 2 overall draft pick Kris Bryant don a cap featuring a sunglasses-wearing cartoon bear, then here’s your chance. You’ll want to act quickly, though, seeing as he’s launched two homers and gone 4-for-13 (.308) in his first four games for the Daytona Cubs. At three minor leagues stops, Bryant has hit .333/.381/.679 with 16 extra-base hits (including six homers) in 24 games as a professional.
The Scoop: The hottest hitter in the Southern League has been on quite the tear. Baez has eight multi-hit games in his last 12. He's 7-for-his-last-7 on steals and he's reduced his at-one-point obscene number of errors, committing nine errors in 34 games at shortstop in Double-A (.944 fielding percentage). While that's still more miscues than the Cubs would like to see, he has made significant strides at converting chances into outs, as attested to by his poor .922 fielding percentage at high Class A Daytona, where errors tended to occur in bunches.
The Scoop: Alcantara's numbers didn't measure up to his raw stuff in 2012, as he struggled both to command the ball and maintain his poise on the mound when things went south, leading to a 5.08 ERA in low Class A. He's made progress towards addressing both those shortcomings this year, going 7-1, 2.44 in his return to the Midwest League and earning a promotion to Stockton in late June. He's the fourth-youngest pitcher to work in the California League this year and has been up to the challenge, going 5-3, 3.30 though 11 starts and holding Cal League batters to a .229 average.
The Scoop: Lee signed as a first-round pick for $5.25 million three years ago, so he comes from a very different background than the No. 1 guy on the Hot Sheet, Mets righthander Rafael Montero. But in some ways, the two are similar. Both pitchers sit between 90-95 mph, they both throw strikes and both have moved quickly through their respective systems. However, neither has a true putaway secondary pitch. With solid stuff across the board, Lee projects as a solid mid-rotation starter.
The Scoop: This season has been everything that Polanco and the Pirates could have hoped for. He made the midseason jump from high Class A to Double-A look easy. He has more walks (29) than strikeouts (25) since arriving at Double-A, and his three steals this week puts him within striking distance of reaching 40 for the second consecutive season (he has 37). Pittsburgh just called up corner outfielder Andrew Lambo and his 31 minor league home runs, but if he stumbles—and he did spend parts of six seasons in Double-A—then Polanco could be next in line for an big league audition.
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
Eddie Butler, rhp, Rockies: Butler has made the jump to Double-A look like no big deal. The 22-year-old has thrown 10 scoreless innings over his first two starts with Tulsa since being promoted from high Class A, including five scoreless with six strikeouts, no walks and three hits allowed against Frisco last Saturday.
J.O. Berrios, rhp, Twins: After Berrios ran up a 5.68 ERA in July, one could wonder if the long season was catching up with the 19-year-old, but he's bounced back with two strong outings to begin August for low Class A Cedar Rapids. Last Saturday, he picked up his second win since the end of June with 7 1/3 shutout innings against Kane County, allowing two hits, one walk and fanning seven.
Travis d’Arnaud, c, Mets: The Mets have won seven of rookie Zack Wheeler’s last eight starts (2.87 ERA, 44 whiffs in 47 innings), and the system’s preseason No. 1 prospect may soon be throwing to its No. 2 prospect if d’Arnaud continues his hot hitting at Triple-A Las Vegas. Back from a broken foot that sidelined him since mid-April, the 24-year-old catcher has gone 8-for-20 (.400) with a homer, three doubles and nine walks in seven games since returning to Pacific Coast League action.
Simon Mercedes, rhp, Red Sox: Last year the Red Sox signed two high-profile Dominican pitchers who trained with Felix Liriano. One was righthander Jose Almonte, a top July 2 signing who has pitched well in the Dominican Summer League. The other is Mercedes, an $800,000 signing last March with a physical 6-foot-4, 200-pound build and a heavy fastball he can get up to 96 mph. Pitching for short-season Lowell as a 21-year-old, Mercedes struck out 16 batters over his last two outings and lowered his ERA to 2.58 over 52 1/3 innings.
Daniel McGrath, lhp, Red Sox: McGrath was a high-profile signing when the Red Sox signed him last year out of Australia for $400,000, but he’s been even better than expected. After mowing down hitters in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, the 18-year-old McGrath earned a promotion to short-season Lowell, where he has a 19-1 K-BB mark and a 2.65 ERA through 17 innings.
Miguel Sano, 3b, Twins: His average dipped to .190 following an 0-for-4 performance for Double-A New Britain on July 18, but since then the 20-year-old Sano has gone on a rampage, hitting .311 (23-for-74) with eight homers in 22 games. He contributed three doubles and three homers in 28 at-bats (.679 slugging) to the Rock Cats’ cause this week, clubbing his 30th home run of the season on Tuesday. Only George Springer and Andrew Lambo have more.
Lucas Sims, rhp, Braves: The Braves 2012 first-rounder fanned nine in seven shutout innings for low Class A Rome on Thursday, moving him to 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings, tops in the South Atlantic League among qualified pitchers. Sims’ mastery of Savannah (one hit, two walks, no runs in seven innings) made for his finest start of the season as per the game score metric (82).
Tim Beckham, ss, Rays: Kyle Skipworth (sixth overall), Aaron Hicks (14th) and Ethan Martin (15th) all made their big league debuts this season, leaving No. 1 overall pick Beckham and Phillies Double-A right fielder Anthony Hewitt (24th) as the lone 2008 high school first-rounders to not yet reach the majors. As for the 23-year-old Beckham, he went 1-for-21 with five strikeouts this week at Triple-A Durham, dropping his season line to .275/.340/.383 and giving him a .713 OPS in International League play as he zeroes in on 900 career plate appearances at the level. A lack of offensive production seems to rule out a future as a bat-first second baseman, placing inordinate pressure on Beckham’s glove at shortstop, the position he’s played exclusively since May 19.
Brandon Jacobs, lf, White Sox: Jacobs started out well with his new team, going on a 17-game hitting streak after his arrival with Double-A Birmingham following a trade from the Red Sox. Since then, however, he’s recorded just four hits overall and only one extra-base hit since. He went 2-for-23 this week and piled up 13 strikeouts.
Peter O'Brien, c, Yankees: It's been a solid first full pro season for O'Brien, who made the jump from low Class A Charleston to high Class A Tampa at the midpoint of the season. But there are signs that the long pro season may be wearing on the 22-year-old. He went 1-for-24 (.042) this week with 11 strikeouts.
Peter Tago, rhp, Rockies: Even the most talented high school pitchers can make for risky propositions as professionals. Take 21-year-old Tago, the 47th pick in the 2010 draft, as an example. He’s repeating short-season ball this year, but faring no better than he did in 2012, when he logged a 5.47 ERA for short-season Tri-City. A level lower this year at Rookie-level Grand Junction, Tago again has a bloated ERA (7.50) and more walks (34) than strikeouts (29). He had a not-hot performance for the ages this week, allowing 10 runs in each of his two starts while allowing 24 baserunners in 4 2/3 innings.
Thairo Estrada, ss, Yankees: The Yankees were tapped out on their $2.9 million international bonus pool last year by the time they saw Estrada. Every team is allowed to sign six players for $50,000 or less who don’t count against their pool, so the Yankees were ecstatic when they were able to get him for $49,000. Estrada’s tools and hitting ability were comparable to players who signed for significantly more money, so he looked like a sleeper coming into the year. With good speed, smooth hands and clean footwork, he projects as a true shortstop, and his bat has been even better than expected, as he’s hitting .301/.361/.474 in 38 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.