Prospect Hot Sheet (Aug. 2): Max Stassi Leads An Astros Avalanche

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 July 26-Aug. 1.

Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Michael Lananna and Jim Shonerd

Prospect Hot Sheet Chat: J.J. Cooper will answer your Hot Sheet and prospect questions beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Max Stassi1. Max Stassi, c, Astros
Team:
Double-A Corpus Christi (Texas)
Age: 22
Why He’s Here: .538/.571/1.154 (14-for-26), 4 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 8 R, 9 RBIs, 2 BB, 3 SO

The Scoop: Stassi was a big deal when the Athletics signed him for $1.5 million out of high school as a fourth-round pick in 2009. He had good bat speed and was billed as an advanced hitter with solid defense. But in Stassi’s first full season, he swung and missed at an alarming rate, racking up 141 strikeouts in 110 games as he hit .229/.310/.380 as a 19-year-old in the low Class A Midwest League. Over the next two seasons, Stassi’s stock steadily declined and then stagnated as right shoulder surgery limited his time on the field and hampered his effectiveness when he was in the lineup. Oakland ultimately shipped him to Houston in February as a supplementary piece in the trade that also brought first baseman Chris Carter and righthander Brad Peacock to the Astros in exchange for shortstop Jed Lowrie and righthander Fernando Rodriguez.

It’s been a roller-coast season for Stassi, who missed April with a sports hernia, hit well in his first month back, then saw his on-base percentage drop under .300 at the beginning of July. Since then, he’s been one of the hottest hitters in the minors. He hit 11 home runs in July, jumping his season slash line up to .288/.351/.572 through 61 games. Durability is still a question mark for Stassi, but he has the skill set to stick behind the plate with promising power and a contact rate that’s moving in the right direction.

He’s also leading the way for a great week for Astros on the Hot Sheet. Keep reading and you’ll find five more Astros receiving plaudits for what they have done recently.

Max Stassi’s Statistics

 

Jamie Callahan2. Jamie Callahan, rhp, Red Sox
Team:
short-season Lowell (New York-Penn)
Age: 18
Why He’s Here: 2-0, 0.00, 12 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 17 SO

The Scoop: The Red Sox gave Callahan 13 days off between starts to help let him stay fresh in what’s a fairly aggressive assignment for an 18-year-old. He responded by allowing exactly one baserunner in two starts—he faced the minimum 18 batters in six innings in each start as the lone hit was erased on a double play. Callahan, the club’s second-round pick in 2012 out of Dillon (S.C.) High, is getting results with excellent stuff. He averages 91-92 mph with his fastball, but it touches 96. His curveball is getting swings and misses, and he’s proven he can throw it for strikes, going 15-for-17 on that count this week.

Jamie Callahan’s Statistics

 

Marcus Semien3. Marcus Semien, ss/2b, White Sox
Team:
Triple-A Charlotte (International)
Age: 22
Why He’s Here: .500/.656/1.000 (11-for-22) 3 HR, 2 2B, 8 R, 8 RBIs, 9 BB, 3 SO, 3-for-3 SB

The Scoop: The White Sox don’t have a deep farm system, but they do have a number of intriguing middle infielders. Carlos Sanchez is having a disappointing season, but his defensive ability gives him a chance to be a big league contributor. Second baseman Micah Johnson has had a breakout year at two Class A stops. And then there’s Semien, a 22-year-old shortstop/second baseman who earned a promotion to Triple-A with a .290/.420/.483 stint at Double-A Birmingham. Semien projects more as a second baseman than a shortstop at the big league level, but he gets on base thanks to excellent strike-zone awareness (84 walks, 66 strikeouts), he has more power than the average middle infielder (15 home runs) and he has the actions to handle second base.

Marcus Semien’s Statistics

 

Corey Seager4. Corey Seager, ss, Dodgers
Team:
low Class A Great Lakes (Midwest)
Age: 19
Why He’s Here: .370/.452/.889 (10-for-27), 4 HR, 2 2B, 9 RBIs, 5 R, 3 BB, 5 SO

The Scoop: In April and May, Seager fought through a hamstring injury in addition to the learning curve associated with being a teenage shortstop in the Midwest League. He’s come out on the other side and carved up league pitching since the start of June, batting .335/.423/.605 since June 1. For the season, he leads all MWL shortstops (competition that includes Carlos Correa) in slugging percentage (.529) and OPS (.918), impressing scouts with his smooth swing and projectable power.

Corey Seager’s Statistics

 

andrew-heaney-2013-mug5. Andrew Heaney, lhp, Marlins
Team:
high Class A Jupiter (Florida State) / Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)
Age: 22
Why He’s Here: 2-0, 0.00, 12 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 7 SO, 1 BB

The Scoop: The degree of difficulty changed, but the results did not for Heaney, the ninth pick in the 2012 draft. After authoring 28 consecutive scoreless frames in the Florida State League, he tossed six shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk, for Jacksonville while making his Double-A debut yesterday. Make that 34 innings—and counting—with no runs charged to Heaney’s account. While he surely will allow another run this season, his success is no fluke, not with the ability to locate a plus fastball and hammer curveball.

Andrew Heaney’s Statistics

Maikel-Franco-2013-mug

 

6. Maikel Franco, 3b, Phillies
Team:
Double-A Reading (Eastern)
Age: 20
Why He’s Here: .407/.448/.778 (11-for-27), 3 HR, 1 2B, 6 R, 8 RBIs, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 1-for-1 SB

The Scoop: Double-A is supposed to be tougher than high Class A, but don’t tell that to Franco. His .975 OPS at Reading is even better than his excellent .925 mark at high Class A Clearwater that earned him a promotion. Franco’s swing isn’t picture-perfect, but it works for him and he has both the hand-eye coordination and the bat speed to hit for both average and power. He’s giving Jesse Biddle a pretty strong run for the title of best Phillies prospect.

Maikel Franco’s Statistics

 

vincent-velasquez-20137. Vince Velasquez, rhp, Astros
Team:
low Class A Quad Cities (Midwest)
Age: 21
Why He’s Here: 2-0, 1.29, 13 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 14 SO, 3 BB

The Scoop: The 2010 second-rounder might jump on the fast track next season, but for now he’s building arm strength after missing a year and a half while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Velasquez leads the Midwest League with 116 strikeouts after racking up seven in each of his starts this week, and with a repeatable delivery and plusses up and down his scouting report he could be the best under-the-radar pitching prospect in the low minors.

Vince Velasquez’s Statistics

 

Danny Salazar8. Danny Salazar, rhp, Indians
Team:
Triple-A Columbus (International)
Age: 23
Why He’s Here: 0-0, 0.00, 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 11 SO, 1 BB

The Scoop: American League opponents can expect to see more of Salazar down the stretch, but for now he’s waiting in the wings at Triple-A, ready as needed to step into the Cleveland rotation or bullpen. He struck out 11 of the 18 Durham batters he faced in five innings this week for Columbus, allowing three hits and no runs. A wicked fastball/slider combo give him the weapons for long-term success.

Danny Salazar’s Statistics

 

Alex Dickerson9. Alex Dickerson, 1b, Pirates
Team:
Double-A Altoona (Eastern)
Age: 23
Why He’s Here: .462/.517/.731 (12-for-26), 1 HR, 4 2B, 11 RBIs, 7 R, 2 BB, 1 SO,
0-for-1 SB

The Scoop: No Eastern Leaguer has more than Dickerson’s 16 extra-base hits since the beginning of July, and after his rampage this week he leads the league with 30 doubles and ranks third with a .513 slugging percentage.

Alex Dickerson’s Statistics

 

Addison Russell10. Addison Russell, ss, Athletics
Team:
high Class A Stockton (California)
Age: 19
Why He’s Here: .545/.643/1.364 (6-for-11), 2 HR, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBIs, 6 R, 3 BB, 2 SO

The Scoop: Anyone who hopped off the Russell bandwagon during the season’s first half, welcome back. A thumb injury kept him out of Stockton’s lineup for nearly two weeks, but he returned on July 28 and promptly went 3-for-4. Two days later, he had his first two-homer game of the season. The teenager has hit .338/.399/.617 with five homers in 38 games since June 1, ranking fourth in the Cal League in both average and OPS (1.016) during that stretch.

Addison Russell’s Statistics

 

Delino DeShields11. Delino DeShields Jr., 2b, Astros
Team:
high Class A Lancaster (California)
Age: 20
Why He’s Here: .500/.517/.857 (14-for-28), 3 2B, 2 3B, HR, 7 RBIs, 1 BB, 2 Ks, 2-for-5 SB

The Scoop: It’s hard to follow up a season in which you’ve become the first ever 10 homer-100 steal man in minor league history. Sitting on three home runs after his longball this week, DeShields won’t hit 10 home runs this year unless he goes on a power binge, and 100 steals is even further away (38). But DeShields is still hitting for average and getting on base, albeit in the hitter-helping confines of Lancaster. Jose Alutve’s contract extension could eventually lead the Astros to move DeShields to center field, which he played during his pro debut, but for now he’s sticking at second, where he projects as an average-at-best defender, but one whose offense should be enough to live with any defensive deficiencies.

Delino DeShields Statistics

 

michael-choice-201312. Michael Choice, lf, Athletics
Team:
Triple-A Sacramento (Pacific Coast)
Age: 23
Why He’s Here: .462/.548/.923 (12-for-26), 3 HR, 3 2B, 10 RBIs, 4 R, 5 BB, 6 SO

The Scoop: Choice got August started on the wrong foot yesterday, taking an 0-for-5 to break a 10-game hitting streak, but that doesn’t diminish that fact his average has improved in each of the last three months, peaking with his .355/.431/.551 line in July. Choice’s plus raw power has helped him overcome a tough home park for hitters. He doesn’t get cheated at the plate and still does accumulate his share of strikeouts, but they haven’t been unmanageable (20.5 percent of his plate appearances), allaying one of the big concerns about him when the A’s made him the 10th overall pick in 2010.

Michael Choice’s Statistics

 

Mike O'Neill13. Mike O’Neill, lf, Cardinals
Team:
Double-A Springfield (Texas)/Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast)
Age: 25
Why He’s Here: .500/.583/.586 (12-for-24), 1 3B, 8 R, 4 RBIs, 5 BB, 1 SO, 3-for-3 SB

The Scoop: O’Neill is running out of levels for pitchers to refute his hitting approach, which boils down to working the count until he sees ball four or gets a pitch he can line somewhere. He hit .320/.431/.383 at Double-A this season, earning a promotion this week to Memphis. His inability to play center field regularly and an arm that limits him to left field are marks against him developing into a fourth outfielder, but then the Cardinals do have a track record at turning guys who can hit into useful big leaguers.

Mike O’Neill’s Statistics

 

IN THE TEAM PHOTO

Christian Binford, rhp, Royals: Right now, Binford is a control-oriented pitcher who is dominating low Class A because of his solid secondary stuff and ability to hit spots with his 88-92 mph fastball. But since he’s a 20-year-old, 6-foot-6 righthander with an excellent frame, some project his average fastball to gain a tick more velocity. If that happens, Binford’s current dominance (7-4, 1.89 with more than a strikeout per inning at Lexington) could carry over to higher levels.

Matt Dean, 1b, Blue Jays: A 13th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Dean appears more comfortable in his second season with Rookie-level Bluefield after batting .222/.282/.353 with 24 errors last year. Dean certainly hit his stride with the bat this week, going 10-for-20 with two home runs and three doubles, which pushed him to .295/.360/.443 on the year. However, Dean hasn’t had much time at the hot corner this season, playing 34 of 37 games at first base after last year’s rough defensive season.

Teoscar Hernandez, cf, Astros: The gradual development of Hernandez continues for Houston’s toolsy, 20-year-old center fielder, whose seven-game hitting streak has spiked his season line to .270/.324/.426 with nine home runs and 21 stolen bases for low Class A Lexington.

Brent Keys, lf, Marlins: Keys continues to build off of a strong 2012 campaign after chronic hamstring injuries hampered the 2009 17th-rounder early in his pro career. He hit .464/.514/.571 this week for high Class A Jupiter, homering and driving in five runs. After earning the South Atlantic League batting title last season with a .335 average, Keys currently leads the Florida State League in hitting, batting .351.

Brett Mooneyham, lhp, Nationals: Scouts would still like to see better command out of Mooneyham (witness his 4.5 BB/9), but he’s otherwise performed how a highly-drafted (third round, 2012) college pitcher should in low Class A. The 23-year-old lowered his ERA to 2.48 with a pair of dominant outings this week for Hagerstown, allowing one run in 15 innings of work while racking up a 14-1 strikeout-walk ratio.

Rio Ruiz, 3b, Astros: Between Ruiz and Carlos Correa, the left side of low Class A Quad Cities’ infield represents $6.65 million of investments in last year’s draft by the Astros. The 19-year-old Ruiz hasn’t come along as quickly as his teammate Correa, but he’s hit .305 in the second half of the season and finished July with a bang, hitting two homers and three doubles this week as part of a .400 (10-for-25) showing.

George Springer, cf, Astros: Springer is still tearing up the Pacific Coast League, slugging another two home runs and posting a .320/.452/.680 week with Triple-A Oklahoma City. Strikeouts continue to be an issue—he whiffed nine times this week and has 136 strikeouts in 390 at-bats this year. But the 23-year-old has been making plenty of hard contact, batting .333/.428/.667 at Oklahoma City with 29 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A.

NOT SO HOT

Jesse Biddle, lhp, Phillies: Locked in a battle with former Phillies organization-mate Trevor May for the Eastern League strikeout crown, Biddle had one of those outings this week where he just could not locate the strike zone. The 21-year-old southpaw walked six in an inning and a third, allowing five runs on three hits—but no homers—while striking out two. Biddle’s walk rate crept above five per nine innings with the outing, but the big picture remains rosy based on his strikeout (9.9 per nine) and hits allowed (6.7) rates.

Matt Davidson, 3b, Diamondbacks: And here comes the hangover. Davidson had a week to remember when he won the Futures Game MVP award and followed that up by winning the Triple-A all-star game home run derby. This week, he returned to Earth, going hitless in 18 at-bats while striking out eight times for Triple-A Reno.

Stephen Pryor, rhp, Mariners: Mariners fans not anxious to read about bullpen meltdowns should probably skip this section. Pryor’s rehab from a shoulder injury hit a sizeable speed bump Wednesday. Making his fourth appearance for Triple-A Tacoma, the 24-year-old came on in the seventh inning against Omaha and faced six hitters. He retired exactly zero of them. He allowed five hits—including two doubles—and a walk while also throwing a wild pitch. Five of those six men eventually came around to score.

Aaron Sanchez, rhp, Blue Jays: Chased after allowing five runs in two-thirds of an inning this week against Jupiter, Sanchez has oscillated between good starts and bad since the Florida State League all-star break. Add it all up and the 21-year-old high Class A Dunedin righty, who missed time with shoulder discomfort from mid-May to mid-June, has gone 0-2, 5.32 in his last eight appearances, averaging 7.6 strikeouts and 4.9 walks per nine innings.

HELIUM

Abiatal Avelino, ss, Yankees: Avelino joined the Yankees in December 2011 when he signed out of the Dominican Republic for $300,000, the third-highest bonus the Yankees awarded that year. Avelino stood out for defensive actions, above-average arm and athleticism. The Yankees believed in his bat as a line-drive hitter with occasional gap power, but he proved even better than expected last year and ranked among the top 20 prospects in the Dominican Summer League. While a torn quad delayed his start this year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he’s generated attention when he’s been on the field by hitting .345/.394/.471 in 95 plate appearances, showing a mature hitting approach for his age with advanced baseball instincts in the field and on the basepaths. He stamped a strong week yesterday by going 5-for-5 with two doubles, a triple and two stolen bases in a Tampa Civil War game as the GCL Yankees2 edged bitter rival GCL Yankees1 by a 9-7 margin.