This installment of the Prospect Hot Sheet covers games from July 4-11. Remember, this feature simply recognizes the hottest prospects in the minors during the past week--it's not a re-ranking of the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Vince Lara-Cinisomo and Josh Norris.
1. JaCoby Jones, ss, Pirates
The Scoop: The best thing the Pirates could for Jones was to put him at shortstop and leave him there, which is exactly what they have done. He played second base and center field at Louisiana State, but Pittsburgh drafted him with an eye to seeing what he could do at shortstop. Scouts who have seen him this year think he has at least a shot of being able to stick there, where his power (14 home runs this year) makes him a very valuable option. Even if he can't stick at shortstop, he should be able to handle an up-the-middle position.
2. Gabriel Quintana, 3b, Padres
The Scoop: Lake Elsinore plays in a pitcher’s park--at least relative to the other parks in its division--so Quintana took full advantage of a road trip this week by blasting home runs in three straight games at High Desert. Few minor league third basemen have more raw power than Quintana, who has launched 14 homers and 23 doubles this year, but his sky-high strikeout rate will pose problems at higher levels if left unchecked.
3. Tim Cooney, lhp, Cardinals
Team: Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast)
Why He's Here: 2-0, 1.69, 16 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 13 so
The Scoop: Cooney doesn't really have a pitch to blow away hitters, though his changeup is above-average at its best, and he doesn't give hitters comfortable at-bats. He'll begin with a fastball, curveball or changeup, and there's a pretty good chance that pitch will be a strike to get him ahead in the count. From there, he'll mix his pitches well, hit his spots and add and subtract to ensure the hitter can never time him consistently. It's not sexy, but it's an assortment that has Cooney nearly ready to help the Cardinals as a back-end lefty starter.
4. Dwight Smith Jr., lf/cf, Blue Jays
The Scoop: With Blue Jays breakout prospect Dalton Pompey having moved up to Double-A, Smith has taken over as primary center fielder at Dunedin. He celebrated the move by hitting .392 (20-for-58) with seven walks and seven extra-base hits in his past 13 games. Smith’s line-drive lefty bat, plate discipline and solid wheels are his ticket to advancement, and he’s shown them in concert this season.
5. A.J. Reed, 1b, Astros
The Scoop: The Baseball America College Player of the Year for his exploits as Kentucky’s Friday starter as well as its top bat, Reed was drafted No. 42 overall by the Astros as a first baseman and has acquitted himself well in the early going. While some scouts knock his bat speed, Reed is patient, has an improved approach and an easy swing, and his strength plays with tape-measure home runs.
6. Luis Torrens, c, Yankees
The Scoop: After starting the year at low Class A Charleston and then missing significant time with an injury to his throwing shoulder, Torrens is where he belongs in short-season ball. He's highly regarded for his defensive chops and strong throwing arm, and this week he showed off with his bat as well. He projects as an excellent all-around backstop and could shoot up the system's depth chart with a good finish to the year.
7. Steven Souza, rf/cf, Nationals
The Scoop: Souza has amended his approach to use the middle of the field more and it has led to him leading the minors in hitting at .374. Souza’s power is present, and he’s carrying a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio. With his knack as a baserunner and his solid arm in right field, Souza could be a good fit for a team without a crowded outfield. He projects as an everyday player and solid contributor, according to scouts.
8. Antonio Senzatela, rhp, Rockies
The Scoop: Colorado’s Latin American scouts have found several young pitchers who throw strikes consistently and have an advanced understanding of how to attack hitters for their age. Senzatela fits that mold and has been able to hold his own in the hitter-friendly environment of Asheville. Senzatela doesn’t have the secondary pitches to miss many bats, but he pounds the strike zone with a low-90s fastball, working down in the zone and keeping the ball on the ground to have success.
9. Teoscar Hernandez, cf, Astros
The Scoop: One of the best international signings the Astros have made in recent years cost them just $20,000. Hernandez checks off a lot of boxes on the tools chart, with above-average speed, arm strength and bat speed, with the size and strength to hit for power. Lancaster helps, and it does mask some of the pitch recognition issues he’s going to have to continue to address to bring down his strikeout rate, but the upside for a power/speed package here is tantalizing.
10. Henry Owens, lhp, Red Sox
The Scoop: Even if you include Owens’ rain-shortened no-hitter on Opening Day, this is probably his best outing of the season. He reached a season high for strikeouts and tied his career best, set last August with Portland. He's very clearly got the arsenal to be a big league starter, and lately he's showed off much-improved control. He's walked no more than two hitters in any start since May 19.
11. Nick Williams, lf, Rangers
Team: high Class A Myrtle Beach (South Atlantic)
Why He's Here: .444/.516/.852 (12-for-27), 7 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 9 RBIs, 3 BB, 9 SO, 0-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Few players in minor leagues have better hands than Williams. Those quick, strong hands also get in trouble at times at the plate, as it feeds into his overaggressiveness. Too often, he'll try to pull a pitch he should take the other way, or chase at a pitch and make poor contact. But those hands also mean that he can homer twice in one game and follow it up with two doubles and a triple the next night. And the hands give him legitimate power to all fields. If Williams ever figures it all out, he's a future all-star, but for now, he shows flashes of greatness followed by stretches of frustration.
12. Rafael Bautista, cf, Nationals
Team: low Class A Hagerstown (South Atlantic)
Why He's Here: .440/.517/.536 (11-for-28), 11 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 6 BB, 3 SO, 6-of-7 SB
The Scoop: Forming a dynamic duo at Hangerstown with shortstop Wilmer Difo, Bautista has asserted himself as one of the minors' most dangerous burglars of bases. With six more swipes this week, he's up to 48 for the season in 54 attempts, to place him second in the minors. He's a graceful outfielder with gliding strides in center field, and he's held his own with the bat this year but needs to better adjust to breaking pitches.
13. Andrew Velazquez, ss, Diamondbacks
The Scoop: Perhaps the best story in the minors nobody is talking about, Velazquez has gone all Mookie Betts and reached base in 69 straight games. A Bronx native from Fordham Prep, he also leads the minors with 13 triples and is fifth with 38 stolen bases in 47 chances. Moreover, he's a quick-twitch athlete who earns high marks for his ability to hit, glove and baserunning acumen.
In The Team Photo
Franchy Cordero, ss, Padres. The 19-year-old shortstop wasn’t ready for full-season ball--he put up a .472 OPS at low Class A Fort Wayne in April--but he’s showing his true talent in the short-season Northwest League this month. He hit .440 (11-for-25) this week with two homers, two doubles a triple and a stolen base at Eugene, and he now ranks fifth in the NWL with 45 total bases.
Matt Dean, 1b, Blue Jays. The 2011 13th-rounder out of high school in Texas still lacks a good feel for the strike zone, but few can match his bat speed. This season at low Class A Lansing, his raw plus power is starting to show up in games, and this week he hit .370 (10-for-27) with three homers and two doubles.
Maikel Franco, 3b, Phillies: He's 21 and endured a rough first half at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but this week he showed what a whole lot of bat speed can do for you. He clubbed seven doubles, two triples, a homer and drove in 11 runs. After a putrid June, he's started July ablaze, racking up 16 hits in his first 37 at-bats, including half for extra bases.
Rangel Ravelo, 1b, White Sox: Scouts everywhere have had trouble figuring out what to do with Ravelo. He's a plus hitter and an on-base machine, but he has shown limited home-run power at Double-A Birmingham. That's the kind of skill-set that is a perfect fit for a second baseman or center fielder, but not ideal for a righthanded-hitting first baseman. However, Ravelo went 11-for-23 (.478) this week with three more walks and now ranks second in the Southern League in average (.323) and on-base percentage (.411). His hitting ability is strong enough to find some sort of big league role.
Chance Sisco, c, Orioles: You have to get somewhat excited about a 19-year-old catcher hitting .341/.405/.465 in the South Atlantic League. This week he hit .414 for low Class A Delmarva as he tries to catch Chad Wallach for the Sally League lead. Cisco's a better hitter than catcher at this point, but he doesn't look lost as a receiver, with a chance to be average defensively.
Andrew Susac, c, Giants. If you’re looking for catcher depth in a keeper league, then take a long look at Susac, who ranks among the minor league-leading backstops in component measures such as walk rate (13.9 percent) and isolated power (.193). After going 8-for-18 (.444) with two homers, a double and six walks at Triple-A Fresno this week, the 24-year-old now is hitting .273/.386/.465 with nine homers in 55 games.
Mike Yastrzemski, of, Orioles. Yaz’s grandson had a modest career at Vanderbilt but this season has made a name for himself as one of two minor leaguers--along with Cubs second baseman Arismendy Alcantara--to reach double-digits in doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases. In the past week at high Class A Frederick, he continued to show power with eight of his 14 hits for extra bases and a solid batting eye. For the season, he’s slashing .312/.370/.540. Young Yaz has a quick, line-drive stroke and can pepper the gaps but will have to play some center field or be a fourth outfielder as a pro, because he lacks corner power.
Akeem Bostick, rhp, Rangers: Before Tuesday, Bostick hadn’t allowed a run in three of his previous four starts at low Class A Hickory. The Rangers’ 2013 second-round pick followed that up with the worst outing of his career, getting yanked after allowing eight runs and recording just five outs with three walks. For the most part, Bostick has been able to throw strikes with his low-90s fastball this season, though with his secondary pitches still a work in progress, his 4.36 ERA and strikeout rate of 6.1 per nine innings have been pedestrian.
Nick Ciuffo, c, Rays: Even as Ciuffo struggled at the plate in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year, he made a strong impression on scouts with his blocking, receiving and throwing. But unless things start to click with the bat, that’s not going to help him much. A first-round pick last year, Ciuffo has hit just .151/.224/.189 through 15 games at Rookie-level Princeton. Contact frequency has been an issue for the 19-year-old, who has 15 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances.
Reese McGuire, c, Pirates: Yes, his defense is outstanding, but McGuire’s bat has been in a tailspin since the all-star break. He’s hit .186 (13-for-70) with no extra-base hits in his past 16 games. At 19 and in his first taste of low Class A at West Virginia, he still has plenty of time to develop into the power-hitting catcher the Pirates believed he would be when they drafted him in the first round last year.
Rymer Liriano, cf/lf, Padres. Though he’s played more center field this year than he has since 2010, and though he has established a career high with 13 home runs at Double-A San Antonio, Liriano remains an enigmatic prospect with obvious raw tools but an unrefined plate approach. In 14 games since the Texas League all-star game he’s hitting .188 (9-for-48), thanks in large part to going 2-for-21 (.095) with nine strikeouts this week.
Joan Mauricio, ss, Astros: When the Astros missed out on Venezuelan catcher Jose Herrera (Diamondbacks) and a bad physical caused Dominican shortstop Wilson Amador’s bonus to drop, Mauricio received Houston’s top international signing bonus ($600,000) last year on July 2. When Mauricio signed, other teams saw the projection in his 6-foot-1, 160-pound frame and his smooth actions at shortstop, but questioned whether he would hit. Mauricio had been switch-hitting for about a year when he signed, but the Astros had conviction in his lefthanded swing and made him a full-time lefthanded hitter. Their faith in his bat has been rewarded in the Dominican Summer League, where Mauricio is hitting .298/.394/.512 in 34 games. He still weighs 160 pounds, but there’s surprising sock in his bat for his size and he manages his at-bats well with good patience and pitch recognition for a 17-year-old. With improved agility and body control, the arrows are all pointing up for Mauricio.