Each Friday, the Prospect Hot Sheet highlights prospects having great weeks, 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 May 17-23 period.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy and Jim Shonerd.
See also: Jim Shonerd’s Prospect Hot Sheet Chat.
The Scoop: Stetson Allie threw hard, but he could never find the strike zone. His first year in pro ball in 2011, he walked 28 batters in 26 innings. He looked so bad the next year that the Pirates barely even let him get on the mound for an official game. When he did, he recorded just two outs (split across two games) and walked eight batters. By the end of the year, Allie had converted to a position player, his pitching career finished. Just two years after signing for $2.25 million as a second-round pick, Allie had already become one of the bigger busts in recent draft history.
Or is he?
Allie may have drawn the most attention for a fastball that flirted with triple digits coming out of high school, but his raw power ranked among the best in the 2010 draft class. So while the Pirates paid Allie handsomely for his arm, it’s not completely dumb luck that he’s managed to quickly resurrect his prospect status as a hitter. He has hit 13 home runs, tying him for the minor league lead with Miguel Sano, George Springer and Ryan Rua. He’s hitting .329/.413/.636 through 45 games, and while the 57 strikeouts are a red flag, he’s relatively new in pro terms to the “batter” portion of the batter-pitcher matchup.
The Scoop: Morris broke out last year in Double-A with 28 home runs and a Southern league MVP trophy. He’s still driving the ball with authority to all fields this year and is even showing a slightly more patient approach at the plate than he did last year, even if he’s not getting on base as much in 2013.
No. 3 Kyle Gibson, rhp, Twins
Team: Triple-A Rochester (International)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO
The Scoop: A pitcher throwing a nine-inning shutout is a rare feat in the minors, but Gibson’s done it twice in his last three starts. He has tended to alternate good starts with bad ones so far—his two shutouts sandwiched an outing in which he gave up seven hits in three innings—but overall he’s been solid in his first full season back after Tommy John surgery. His season line includes a 3.25 ERA and 46-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 2/3 Triple-A innings.
The Scoop: With his dominating turn this week, the 2010 first-rounder now has logged a 2.84 ERA and 30-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his past 25 1/3 innings, covering the eight starts since his 16-strikeout masterpiece on April 22. With a fine fastball-changeup combination and improved crispness on his breaking ball, Biddle now leads the EL with 60 strikeouts while ranking second with a 0.95 WHIP and fourth with a 2.50 ERA.
The Scoop: What makes Polanco a special prospect is his vast array of tools, the type of collection that suggests he’ll be at least a solid big leaguer. Worried about the power? Even if it doesn’t fully show up—and it’s already showing signs of arriving after he hit 16 home runs in low Class A last year—Polanco is a gazelle in center field with a plus arm who could be a top-of-the-order hitter with his selectivity and blazing speed (19 steals in 23 attempts this year). And if the power shows up? You’re talking about one of the best all-around prospects in baseball.
The Scoop: The 2011 second-rounder hadn’t exactly been lighting up the Midwest League. The opposite, actually. After getting hammered for six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings on May 8, his ERA stood at 10.07. But Norris has shown two plus pitches when he’s on, and he’s finally found his groove over his last three outings (each of which lasted four innings), allowing just seven hits and one run while striking out 22 over 12 innings.
The Scoop: It’s been a slow progression through the minors for Velasquez, who spent 2010 in Rookie ball, missed the 2011 season after having Tommy John surgery, then spent last year with short-season Tri-City. He’s looked promising in his full-season debut, where he’s sat in the low 90s, pitched down in the zone and used an effective changeup to keep hitters off balance.
The Scoop: All Pacific Coast League starts are not created equal. Fresno traveled to Tucson and Reno in April, and Kickham allowed 12 runs in nine innings while pitching at those locales. But now that the Grizzlies have begun visiting the Midwest on May road trips—including stops at Nashville and Memphis—the southpaw’s raw numbers look much better. Kickham has gone 3-1, 1.72 in five May starts, logging 29 strikeouts, nine walks and no home runs allowed over 31 1/3 innings. That’s not to say he’s a Midwest mirages—no, Kickham has three solid pitches, including a firm fastball.
No. 9 Cody Martin, rhp, Braves
Team: Double-A Mississippi (Southern)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.75, 2 GS, 12 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 14 SO
The Scoop: The Braves have kept an open mind about Martin’s future role. He was a reliever in college at Gonzaga and made his first four appearances of this year out of the pen, but he’s been pitching mainly out of the Mississippi rotation since late April and has been consistently successful. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any of his seven starts and has racked up 47 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings for the year. His ERA is down to 2.62, eighth best in the Southern League.
The Scoop: A year ago at this time, Gray was muddling along with a 4.23 ERA in Double-A while trying to alter his mechanics. He ditched the changes in the second half last year and pitched better, and now he’s pitching like you’d expect from a first-rounder, posting five straight quality starts for Sacramento. He’s upped his strikeout rate from a meager 5.7 per nine innings in Double-A last year to a solid 8.7 so far this year, and his 2.49 ERA stands fourth in the PCL.
Sonny Gray’s Statistics
The Scoop: Even with his early suspension, it’s been a great start to the season for Soler. He’s hitting for power, hitting for average and he’s drawing nearly as many walks as strikeouts. In comparison to the other massive rebuilding projects in Houston and Miami, the Cubs have a lot of advantages. For one, they have a number of potential cornerstones already in the big leagues in Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Starlin Castro. And just as importantly, they also have a number of potential cornerstones coming up through the minors in Soler, Albert Almora and Javier Baez.
The Scoop: Speaking of Baez, he matched Soler hit for hit this week. Unlike his fellow top prospect, Baez has some significant warts to burn off before he’s ready for the jump to Double-A. Baez’s three walks this week come after he walked five times in his first 36 games. His excellent hand-eye coordination and his impressive bat speed allow him to compensate to some extent for his overaggressiveness, but the strikeouts are becoming more of a problem as he climbs the ladder. A week like this where he works counts and lays off strike three is a positive sign.
The Scoop: Wheeler doubled in his second at-bat for the Rockies this season but otherwise went 0-for-8 during a six-game callup. That’s no way to make fans forget about injured franchise icon Todd Helton. The good news for Wheeler is that since being demoted to Colorado Springs on May 7, he’s gone 26-for-63 (.413) while also playing primarily third base—you know, now that Nolan Arenado no longer plays for the Sky Sox. Wheeler ranks second in the PCL with a .385 average, but the 6-foot-3 lefty hitter will only win job security in Denver with a larger percentage of long hits, lest prospect watchers begin to view him as the next Brent Morel.
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
Christian Colon, ss/2b, Royals: It’s been a disastrous week for the Royals. Losing a series to the Astros as the big league club drops under .500 is bad enough, but to do it when the organization’s two cornerstone young players—Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas—keep struggling is even worse. To do it the same week that one of the worst graphics in the history of sports shows up on your telecast? Yeah, that’s even worse. So here’s a little cheer-you-up moment Royals fans: Colon, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft, hit .417/.517/.667 at Triple-A Omaha. We can leave out the part where the 24-year-0ld Colon doesn’t look ready yet to replace the struggling Chris Getz as the Royals’ big league second baseman. After all, this is supposed to be a bright spot for Royals fans.
Zach Eflin, rhp, Padres: The 2012 supplemental first-rounder found a new gear this week, striking out 14, walking four and allowing nine hits over 10 innings for low Class A Fort Wayne. He went 0-1, 2.70 in two starts. The 19-year-old Eflin had struck out 17 over 27 1/3 innings prior to this week, owing his new power numbers to season highs for swinging strikes—according to Baseball-Reference.com—17 last Friday and 24 on Wednesday
Alen Hanson, ss, Pirates: Hanson had a quiet April at high Class A Bradenton, batting .255, but he’s started to catch on to Florida State League pitching now. The 20-year-old put his speed and gap power to good use this week, racking up three doubles and two triples while hitting .385 (10-for-26) and upping his season average to .286 through 175 at-bats.
Dilson Herrera, 2b, Pirates: Everywhere he goes, he hits. Another big week for the 19-year-old Herrera brought his slash line up to .314/.374/.487 through 39 games with low Class A West Virginia.
Martin Perez, lhp, Rangers: The 22-year-old Venezuelan became a fundamentally different pitcher last season, learning to trust a two-seamer and slider to help him expand the zone horizontally. After tossing seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts and no walks for Triple-A Round Rock this week, Perez appears fully recovered from the broken left forearm he suffered in spring training. If the control gains are for real—he’s walked three in four minor league starts—then you could see a very different pitcher than the one who logged a 5.45 ERA for the 2012 Rangers.
Miguel Sano, 3b, Twins: El Rey had another good week, crushing seven extra-base hits for high Class A Fort Myers, including three home runs. He even stole three bases in three tries, giving him seven for the season. For all the skepticism about Sano’s defense at third, scouts who have seen him this year don’t see him moving any time soon. It’s worth noting that Sano leads all Florida State League third basemen in total chances, putouts and assists and is third among FSL third basemen in range factor.
Tyler Skaggs, lhp, Diamondbacks: Skaggs has emerged from a two-start rough patch with three straight quality outings at Triple-A Reno, including his two this week in which he fanned 15 over 14 innings while allowing four earned runs on 12 hits. His ERA still stands at 5.23 after nine starts, but much of that damage was done in three disastrous outings.
Nick Ahmed, ss, Diamondbacks: First impressions mean a lot, whether you’re a cubicle drone or a baseball player. In Ahmed’s case, this isn’t the impression he wanted to make to his new Diamondbacks bosses. Part of the offseason Justin Upton trade, Ahmed went 1-for-17 this week. More disconcertingly for the 24-year-old, this isn’t an aberration. Ahmed is hitting an incredibly light .147/.216/.152 this season at Double-A Mobile. His lone extra-base hit this year came on May 2. For a shortstop who’s sitting behind big leaguer Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings on Arizona’s depth chart, Ahmed is making the wrong impression with his new bosses.
Mikie Mahtook, rf, Rays: Scouts looked at Mahtook last year and struggled to find the one carrying tool that would take him to the big leagues. He has average power and a potentially average bat, and he could be an average runner. Optimists can look at that and call him a cheap five-tool player without any clear weaknesses. Pessimists can point out that he could end up just as easily as a Triple-A lifer who doesn’t do enough to really help a big league club. This week was one for the pessimists as Mahtook went 2-for-21 with five strikeouts at Double-A Montgomery.
Sean Gilmartin, lhp, Braves: Gilmartin started the year pretty well, posting a 2.40 ERA in April, but the 2011 first-rounder has been hit harder his last couple starts at Triple-A Gwinnett. He had his worst outing of the year on Monday, getting knocked around for seven earned runs on nine hits over four innings. He also gave up two homers after not having allowed one since April 5, his first start of the year.
Walker Weickel, rhp, Padres: The Padres paid 2012 sandwich pick Weickel like a mid-first-rounder ($2 million), but the 19-year-old hasn’t looked particularly sharp through his first seven starts for low Class A Fort Wayne, going 0-2, 5.46 with a pedestrian 1.4 K-BB ratio and 40 hits allowed in 29 2/3 innings. Much of the damage to his ERA has occurred in his past two starts—7 1/3 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 5 BB, 8 SO, 2 HR.
Josh Hader, lhp, Orioles: Baltimore picked up Hader two years ago for $40,000 as a 19th-round pick out of a Maryland high school to keep him from going to Anne Arundel (Md.) CC. He’s quickly transformed himself from an extra guy to a prospect with a real chance to help in the big leagues. Owner of a 1.96 ERA in seven starts for low Class A Delmarva, Hader has a low-90s fastball and flashes an above-average changeup that’s hard for hitters to pick up out of his deceptive low three-quarters arm angle.