2014 Arizona League Top 20 Prospects Chat

Bill Mitchell: Welcome to the annual Arizona League chat. I always enjoying chatting with the hardcore baseball fans who participate in this session every year. It was a good year for prospects in the AZL, so let’s get it started.

@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Bill. Had he qualified, would Rodon have unseated Jackson for the top spot? What were your impressions of him during his time there, and do you see him breaking camp with the Sox in April?
Bill Mitchell: Considering that Rodon was arguably the top player in the draft and that he’s closer to the big leagues than anyone else in the AZL this year, it’s safe to say that he would have ranked at the top. I saw both of his brief outings. He was rusty at first and had trouble locating his pitches, but by the second inning of his last start he was dominating. I see more minor league time in his future, but he should be in the big leagues to stay at some point in 2015.

Jacob Gatewood (Nearby): It's my 19th birthday today. A spot on your top 20 list would have made for a nice present. Just sayin'. Anyway, do you see me being able to improve my plate discipline next year as Joey Gallo did this year?
Bill Mitchell: Jacob Gatewood, the Brewers compensation round pick, shows plus raw power at the plate and the potential to stay at shortstop. He’s got some swing mechanics to work on and needs to make better contact in order to get to his power potential. Definitely a work in progress. But I wouldn’t want to compare Gatewood to Joey Gallo at this point.

Ben (Leland Grove): Medeiros and Touki had their struggles in the AZL, from what I've read. Who would have ranked higher for you, and who will climb through the minors faster?
Bill Mitchell: Both first-round picks (Arizona’s Touki Toussaint and Milwaukee’s Kodi Medeiros) struggled at times in their pro debuts, mostly with commanding their pitches and trying to do too much out of the gate. I probably would have ranked Touki the highest of the two. While Medeiros will be given every chance to start, there are still a significant number of scouts that believe his future will be in the back end of the bullpen.

Kyle (Dallas, TX): What were your impressions of Luis Ortiz during his time there? Future #1-2 pushing it? Would he have made the top 5 if he'd qualifed?
Bill Mitchell: I only got to see Ortiz, the Rangers first-round pick, one time but was very impressed. What struck me about Ortiz was how composed and confident he was on the mound. I used my camera to zoom in on his eyes, and the kid shows no fear out there. I’m pretty sure I would have ranked Ortiz in the top five in the league had he gotten enough innings to qualify. His performance after being promoted to low Class A reinforces that opinion. His size (he’s already a big, big kid at 230 pounds or so) is a concern moving forward, so conditioning will be an important part of Ortiz’s development plan.

Lisa (San Francisco): Do you have reason to be optimistic about Beede? Is command his only real obstacle? (We Giants' faithful need for this kid to be a success.)
Bill Mitchell: Tyler Beede was the Giants’ first-round pick from Vanderbilt. I saw three of his four AZL outings, as well as his first start in the College World Series, and he came as advertised—nasty stuff, but the big issue is consistency. The Giants organization has a solid reputation for developing pitchers, so he’s in the right place to put it all together.

Ben (Leland Grove): If you were to assign a 20-80 scale grade for this list of twenty prospects, what would it be?
Bill Mitchell: I became more and more impressed with the quality of prospects here as the season progressed, not quite to the level of the historically rich 2012 crop but not that far off if you also consider the first-round pitchers who didn’t qualify for the list. Compared to previous AZL seasons, I’ll put a 60 grade on the 2014 group with the 2012 guys (Russell, Soler, Gallo, Puig, etc.) earning a 70 grade.

Brian (Ohio): I've only seen positive reports on Bobby Bradley, but 18 year old players are never perfect. What will Bradley have to work on to continue his progression to the majors?
Bill Mitchell: I’m very high on Bobby Bradley but agree that at 18 he’s still got a lot of development ahead of him. He’s going to get stronger and will need to continue to work to keep the flexibility in the body. He’ll face better pitching as he goes through the system, so like any young hitter he’ll need to continue to develop his pitch recognition skills. He’s got work to do to improve defensively, especially with improving his footwork around the bag. But his career is certainly off to a ringing start.

Dave (Appleton, Wi): How close were the Brewers other top picks Medeiros and Gatewood from making the list?
Bill Mitchell: I’ve already addressed Medeiros and Gatewood in previous questions. To clarify, Medeiros came up just a fraction of an inning short of having enough playing time to qualify for the list but likely would have ranked in the 11-20 range. Gatewood was on my 21-30 group of prospects this year.

Richard Smiley (Chicago, IL): Bill, Thanks for the chat. What impressions did people have of Micker Adolfo of the White Sox?
Bill Mitchell: Micker Adolfo was one of the big names in last year’s July 2nd international period. (His name was reported as Micker Adolfo Zapata at the time of his signing). He’s a very athletic 17-year-old outfielder with plus raw power, five-tool potential, and a frame that should add strength. His arm is already a plus-plus tool. He needs to significantly improve his pitch recognition and make better contact. High ceiling but still very high risk—keep an eye on him.

Frank (Chicago, IL): Did Justin Steele make a case for this list, and what's your projection for him?
Bill Mitchell: With a strong group of prospects in a 13-team league, there are going to be players that deserve to be on the list but we just run out of room on our lists of 20. Steele, a lefthanded pitcher who the Cubs took in the fifth round, is one of those. He was on some early versions of my list, and wound up ranking either No. 21 or No. 22 along with fellow Cubs pitcher Jeferson Mejia. Steele piggy-backed his outings with fellow southpaw Carson Sands, and was just about as impressive on some nights. Steele pitches at 89-91 mph with good life and sink. His mid-70s curveball looks to be a plus pitch and the changeup has potential. The big question with Steele is whether he’ll be able to hold his velocity in longer outings, since he was limited to no more than three innings per game in his pro debut.

Mike (Cincinnati): The Reds had a few intriguing guys that didn't make the list Bill. What did you hear about Hector Vargas and Gavin LaValley?
Bill Mitchell: Gavin LaValley, the Reds’ fourth-round pick from high school in Oklahoma, came the closest to making the list with a ranking in my top 25. He’s got plus raw power, a good approach at the plate, and the ability to slow the game down. It’s all about the bat for him since I believe that his size will eventually push him off third base across the infield to first. He’s already a big kid who needs to watch his weight and firm up the body. A real sleeper from the Reds is outfielder Jose Siri, an exciting player with the tools to make it. He’s already got a plus arm and is a plus runner. Keep an eye on Siri.

Brian (Ohio): There has not been much written about Sheffield since the draft. What, if anything, has changed on his scouting report? Are any of his pitches starting to flash real plus potential?
Bill Mitchell: I mentioned in the report on Sheffield about how he dug deep with the championship game still on the line and the Indians holding on to a 1-0 lead. After the first two batters reached base, Sheffield reached back for his best stuff and and got two strikeouts with filthy breaking balls. Perhaps I’m putting too much stock on one appearance, but that inning showed me something that you can’t always get in a scouting report.

Brian (Ohio): Dillon Overton actually seems low on this list. Is it simply because you believed he should be dominate due to his age and experience? Does he have the same ceiling as some of the other pitchers on the list?
Bill Mitchell: Overton is such a unique case that it’s hard to tell where to rank a 23-year-old college pitcher in a league made up primarily of teenagers. He deserves to be on the list because of how well he pitched coming off Tommy John surgery and his potential to get to the big leagues quickly. There are still questions as to how much of his pre-injury velocity he’ll get back. He may wind up in the bullpen but his odds of making it to Oakland are pretty good.

Kelly (St. Cloud, MN): How much projection is there in Ti'quan Forbes? What does he need to work on going forward?
Bill Mitchell: Forbes, the Rangers’ second-round pick, is another player in my 21-25 range. He was one of the toolsiest players in the AZL this year, but coming out of a Mississippi high school he is still very raw. He just needs lots of repetitions and more strength in his wiry body. A high school shortstop, Forbes primarily played third base in the AZL due to the presence of Josh Morgan and Yeyson Yrizarri on the Rangers team. Because he’s undoubtedly going to add bulk to a 6’3″ frame, he’s probably better suited to the hot corner or perhaps a move to the outfield at some point. But again, right now he just needs to get more game experience.

Justin P (New York): What is there to know about Hector Vargas, Jordan Paroubeck, and Li-Jen Chu?
Bill Mitchell: Hector Vargas is a tall, rangy 19-year-old shortstop with the Reds, with solid defensive skills and a good contact hitter at the plate. Jordan Paroubeck, an outfielder from the Padres, got some top 20 consideration. After being drafted in the third round in 2013, he missed all of his first season to injury, but had a nice AZL season. Paroubeck’s an athletic switch-hitter who has some pop and runs well; he’s still recovering from last year’s shoulder injury so where he winds up in the outfield is still TBD. Li-Jen Chu is a 20-year-old Indians catcher from Taiwan in his first pro season stateside—strong bat, decent skills behind the plate, and ranked with my 21-25 group.

Steve (Madtown): I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Brewers that you got a good look at not on the list. Medeiros, Gatewood, Denson (if you saw him on rehab), Lara? Thanks
Bill Mitchell: I’ll briefly divert from AZL discussion to address one name you mention—Gilbert Lara—primarily because I think he could be a player that we’ll be talking about on next year’s chat. Lara is a 16-year-old shortstop who signed with the Brewers for just over $3 million in July. He’s playing with the Brewers instructional league team right now and has been the talk of Arizona so far. Still very raw approach at the plate and the swing needs lots of work, but this kid has some serious pop.

Jim (New York): Matt McPhearson performed well for the d-backs this year. Was he in consideration for the list?
Bill Mitchell: Matt McPhearson has two plus-plus tools (speed, defense). While the 2013 fourth-round pick hit better this year, there’s still a lot of weak contact. He wasn’t considered for the list this year.

Mateo Kovacic (Milan, Italy): Anyone who missed the list you feel could be a breakout guy next year?
Bill Mitchell: I’ve already talked about Ti’Quan Forbes and Micker Adolfo, both who have enormous potential but are far from reaching that ceiling. A breakout next year for either player is very optimistic, but perhaps we’ll be talking about one or both of them in three or four years.

Rick (New York): Do you think Isan Diaz repeats the AZL next year due to the performance? Any thoughts on his first pro season?
Bill Mitchell: Lots of D-backs questions in the queue, so I’ll hit a couple of them in a row while I have my notes in front of me. Diaz struggled with the bat this year, but give him time. His swing is natural and he projects to hit for power.He needs to work on his swing mechanics but it’s a natural swing and the ball flies off his bat. He was better than expected at shortstop, but I think he eventually winds up at second base.

Mike (LA): Ismael Pena was offered the largest bonus by the Diamondbacks 2 years ago. I am wondering if he is still a prospect after his struggle in 2014? What is his best tool and what grade would you give?
Bill Mitchell: You are correct in saying that Pena struggled at the plate in his first season in the States, but there is some potential there. He has a good swing from the left side with plate discipline. Power should come as he gets stronger and gains experience. He played mostly first base this year but with an average arm could see more time in the outfield. Not a big prospect, but someone to follow.

Greg (Boston): What were your thoughts on Marcus Wilson? Was he considered for the top 20?
Bill Mitchell: Marcus Wilson, an outfielder from southern California who the D-backs took in the second compensation round, is very raw and quite likely could spend another year in the AZL. His swing is long and he really needs to get a lot stronger. Wilson is a long-term project, but the Diamondbacks knew that when they drafted him.

Robert (Phoenix): Thanks for the chat. Have you heard about Gerard Hernandez from the D-backs? What is his best tool?
Bill Mitchell: Hernandez was the Diamondbacks’ 21st-round pick out of nearby Pinnacle High School. I saw him one time in the state playoffs and then again after he joined the AZL team. Good swing from the left side, some strength and he looks like he’s having fun on the field. He hit well after a late season promotion to Missoula. An interesting later round guy.

Roger (Washington DC): Michael Santos seems to be pretty similar to another recent Giants AZL pitcher, Joan Gregorio. Gregorio's had some developmental ups and downs trying to maintain consistent mechanics and strength. Do you see Santos as being ahead of Gregorio at the same point, with either his strength and physicality or his repertoire?
Bill Mitchell: Roger, that’s a good comparison that I hadn’t thought about before. I think the difference is that Gregorio is taller and even thinner than Santos. I haven’t read any recent scouting reports on Gregorio and will need to dig out my notes on him from when he was in the AZL. Santos’ mechanics are decent now, so I don’t know if comparing him to Gregorio is appropriate.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): Surprised that Chang was slotted as low as 12th despite "his refined skills, especially at the plate, where he showed a compact, quick swing, a good feel for the barrel and more power than expected" while on defense "He's got the arm for both [SS and third] and is sound fundamentally, so he could become a plus defender at third." What's his downside?
Bill Mitchell: Elliott, I anticipated this question and even wondered whether I was going too low on Chang. I don’t think it’s a question of Chang’s downside, but more on his upside compared to others on the list. A scout I know who used to work in Asia said that the players from Taiwan come out of excellent programs and are much more refined when they get to the states, so it’s a little harder to project them to improve as much as other international players. I like Chang and believe he has a good future. In a relatively deep league, coming in at No. 12 isn’t bad.

John (Mesa): Understand Jose Herrera tired from catching nearly every game in the AZL. But what are the chances that Jose Herrera will hit enough to be a MLB starting catcher?
Bill Mitchell: I like Herrera’s swing and believe he has the strength to add over the fence power. I originally had him ranked higher on this list but went a little more conservative due to his age. He’s only 17 and has a lot to learn, but I’m high on him.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): Besides the big bats of Bradley and Chang the Indians had solid defenders and baserunners in SS Alexis Pantoja and CF Silento Sayles. How do they look as prospects?
Bill Mitchell: Pantoja, the Indians’ ninth-round pick, looked very good in the field. The question on him is how well the bat will develop, but the kid can sure pick it at shortstop. In his second AZL season, Sayles improved considerably. He was very raw coming out of high school in Mississippi, but has some nice tools—not a high profile prospect but an interesting one to follow.

Michael Smith (Chicago): Is there a cub that went under the radar that scouts really liked such as Kevonte Mitchell?
Bill Mitchell: Kevonte Mitchell was the real sleeper on the Cubs this year (and I’m not just saying that because we share a last name). He’s very raw but made a a lot of adjustments and it was a good learning year for him. He’s got good speed, is athletic, and controls the strike zone. He was new to the outfield this summer but showed good range there. Perhaps my top later round sleeper in the AZL this year!

Phil (Winter Springs, FL): What do you think Forrest Wall's timeframe is to reach the majors?
Bill Mitchell: Forrest Wall was not in the AZL, but instead played for Grand Junction in the Pioneer League. I’ll be back on Monday to cover the prospects in that league, and can answer in great detail about a guy who was one of my favorite players to watch on my trips to GJT. Stay tuned.

Bill Mitchell: With that last question about a Pioneer League player, it now seems like a good time to end this chat and head out to an instructional league game. Thanks to all for the great questions and the interest shown in a league in which few fans attend the games. If I didn’t get to you, feel free to hit me on Twitter at @billazbbphotog. Thanks again!