The hottest hitter in the first week and a half of the minor league season has been Astros catcher Chris Wallace, who hit three homers for low Class A Lexington on Sunday, boosting his batting line to .444/.535/1.000. A 16th-round pick from the University of Houston in 2010, Wallace was a senior sign who may be slugging his way into being a prospect. He earned Rookie-level Appalachian League all-star honors as a DH in his pro debut. He'll be 23 by the end of the month, so the Astros may want to accelerate his development if he keeps hitting.
The best pitcher so far is less of a surprise: Mets righthander Matt Harvey, the seventh pick in the 2010 draft. The North Carolina product has turned in three scoreless starts while making his pro debut at high Class A St. Lucie, striking out 20 in 16 innings while holding opponents to a .179 average. Harvey's fastball and slider can be plus-plus pitches and he can be devastating when he maintains his delivery and throws strikes, which he has done so thus far.
While Bauer has prettier stats than Cole, scouts give Cole the edge in other areas. Both pitchers have great life on their fastballs, but Cole has a little more velocity on his heater. He usually sits at 94-96 mph, while Bauer works at 91-93. Bauer's tremendous feel for his curveball makes his breaking ball more effective than Cole's slider, but Cole's is a true plus pitch. (For what it's worth, Bauer also has two versions of a slider.) Cole's changeup is better than Bauer's.
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Cole is more physical than Bauer, who's 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. Scouts prefer Cole's more traditional delivery to Bauer's mechanics, which resemble Tim Lincecum's. Then again, there are nine teams kicking themselves for passing on Lincecum in the 2006 draft.
All of this is just splitting hairs, really. Barring an upset, Cole will be the first pitcher drafted in June and perhaps the No. 1 overall pick. Bauer very well could be the second pitcher chosen and/or go in the top five choices. As physically talented as Cole is, I'd take Bauer over any pitcher if I had to win a college game today.
A 21st-round pick out of Cowley County (Kan.) CC in 2009, Rosenthal spent his first two seasons in Rookie ball. He showed a 92-94 mph fastball while flashing a solid slider last summer. This year, his stuff has found an extra gear, to the point where Quad Cities manager Johnny Rodriguez says Rosenthal is better than top Cardinals prospect Shelby Miller was at the start of the Midwest League season last year. Miller relied almost exclusively on his fastball at that point and didn't become a well-rounded pitcher until the second half.
While striking out 18 over 11 innings in his first two starts, Rosenthal has sat at 93-95 mph and touched 97 with his fastball. His heater has heavy life and he has commanded it to both sides of the plate. He has shown improved tilt and late bite on his slider, which resides in the low 80s. The Cardinals are having him emphasize his changeup, and while it's still a work in progress, it has good action. Rodriguez also gives Rosenthal high marks for his control and mound presence.
If Rosenthal can maintain his current fastball, slider and command while improving his changeup, he could become a No. 2 starter. I wouldn't put him in the class of Miller or Carlos Martinez yet, but Rosenthal definitely is rocketing up the ranks of St. Louis pitching prospects.
In the days before the Internet, we had to make our scouting reports a lot tighter because we were limited by space restrictions in the print magazine. So I'll give you the first three reports we wrote on Ramirez.
We rated Ramirez as the 36th-best prospect in the 1991 draft, noting that he was attracting first-round interest (the Indians would select him 13th overall). Here's Allan Simpson's analysis:
Ramirez makes consistent contact and generates great bat speed. He's one of the best high school hitters in the draft, with an average in excess of .600 that last two years. He's an average runner with an average arm.
Ramirez nearly won the Rookie-level Appalachian League triple crown in his pro debut and was an easy choice for the circuit's No. 1 prospect. Wrote Alan Schwarz:
He arrived in North Carolina as a startled city kid, but he wasn't shy against Appy League pitchers. He hit .326-19-63 to break team records in home runs and RBIs.
"I'm probably a little biased," Burlington manager Dave Keller said, "but it's been nice to see him play every day. The only thing he doesn't do as well as anticipated is steal bases. I think in time, speed will come. I don't think there's anyone in his class."
That offseason, we ranked Ramirez as the third-best prospect in the Indians system, behind Kenny Lofton and Reggie Jefferson. Jim Ingraham's report:
It's been a long time since any first-year Indians player hit with the impact that Ramirez did in nearly winning an Appalachian League triple crown. Voted the MVP and top prospect in the league, Ramirez exceed even the most optimistic hopes.
Ramirez had little trouble adjusting to wooden bates. His .679 slugging percentage led all of professional baseball.
"He did some things as an 18-year-old that some guys in the big leagues can't do," said Johnny Goryl, Indians director of minor league field operations.
Drafted as a third baseman/outfielder, Ramirez showed enough defensively to get slotted as a center fielder. The kid just needs to play. And the Indians need to guard against rushing him.
That last paragraph wasn't exactly prescient. The idea of Ramirez playing center field seems laughable. The Indians didn't have to worry about harming his development by moving him too quickly, as he spent his first full pro season in high Class A and was in the majors to stay by the end of his second. He became one of the most dangerous righthanded hitters in big league history, though whether he'll get elected to the Hall of Fame after failing three steroid tests remains to be seen.