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 19-25.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Michael Lananna and Jim Shonerd
Prospect Hot Sheet Chat: Jim Shonerd will answer your prospect questions beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
The Scoop: A young pitcher’s fortune can change in the blink of an eye. Last season, Cardinals righty Shelby Miller didn’t get his ERA under 6.00 at Triple-A until mid-July. This year he’s a strong contender for the NL rookie of the year award. Zimmer appears to be following a similar tack this season. The fifth pick in the 2012 draft, he was awful in the early going this year. After 12 starts at high Class A Wilmington his ERA sat at 6.32, but since late June, Zimmer has turned back into the pitcher the Royals expected. He's allowed five runs in his last six starts and has yet to allow a run through two Double-A starts.
What changed? Zimmer's stuff never really dropped off, but he was opening up his front side too early. His fastball too often would run back over the plate, and his slider flattened out. Since making adjustments and working on improving his delivery from the stretch (Carolina League batters put up an .889 OPS with runners on), Zimmer has fixed many of the flaws that were leading to big innings. His summertime improvement has him back on track to be considered for a September callup if the Royals need him.
The Scoop: Calhoun got 23 at-bats in the big leagues last year, but he’s returned to the Pacific Coast League for the second straight year. He’s older than most prospects, but he’s showing improvement in all the right areas, particularly with his ability to make contact. Calhoun’s excellent batting eye and efficient swing have helped him hit .354 with a .431 on-base percentage, while he’s also shown a tick more power than he had in the past with 12 homers in 59 games after going deep 14 times in 105 Triple-A games a year ago.
The Scoop: Sampson has a 1.24 ERA over his last nine appearances at San Antonio, and he hasn't allowed an earned run in five of his last eight starts. He has better secondary stuff and better command than he had when he struggled through the Texas League last year. All but the most elite pitching prospects develop in a non-linear fashion, so don’t write off Sampson based on four poor starts (8.03 ERA) at Triple-A Tucson this season.
The Scoop: You have to go back to Ryan Wagner in 2003 to find a Reds first-rounder who didn't go on to carve out a regular big league job, and you have to go back to Chris Gruler in 2002 to find one who didn't make the big leagues. High school arms Robert Stephenson (2011) and Nick Travieso (2012) are climbing the minor league ladder on schedule. Ervin is doing his best to show he won't be ending that streak--he ranks in the top five in the Pioneer League in home runs (six), steals (10) and OPS (.980).
The Scoop: Barnes has rarely been able to get into a groove with Portland, but when he's been on, he puts up lines like what we see here. He has been missing bats all season, ranking third in the Eastern League with 106 whiffs in 82 2/3 innings, but command has gotten him in trouble at times. He had a 6.86 ERA in five June starts, then had to come out of his July 6 outing after facing only one hitter when he took a liner off the wrist. He certainly looks fine now.
The Scoop: Bird had an incredible week that’s been a continuation of his best year as a pro. A fifth-round pick who signed for a surprising $1.1 million in 2011, Bird saw limited playing time last year after dealing with nagging back issues. When he’s at full strength, he has a promising combination of patience and power, which is why he’s hitting .290/.416/.518 with 15 home runs in 91 games.
The Scoop: Blackburn yesterday turned in what might be the best pitching performance in the California League this year. Pitching in the hitter’s haven of Lancaster, he delivered 6 2/3 perfect innings before allowing his first hit and finished the outing with just three hits and one run allowed over eight innings. He struck out six. The 20-year-old Blackburn didn’t hand out a free pass in two starts this week, and he sports a walk rate of 2.3 per nine innings on the season while ranking second in the Cal League with 113 strikeouts and third with a 1.09 WHIP.
8. Miguel Sano, 3b, Twins
Team: Double-A New Britain (Eastern)
Why He's Here: .429/.538/1.095 (9-for-21), 4 HR, 2 2B, 10 RBIs, 6 R, 5 BB, 6 SO
The Scoop: Miguel Sano is back to doing Miguel Sano things. Believe it or not, his four homers this week were his first of July, though granted he missed a couple days to go to the Futures Game. He ended his drought with a grand slam in the fourth inning last Friday against Binghamton, his first homer since June 28. After breaking the ice, he homered three straight days from Sunday through Tuesday. Sano moved back into a tie for fourth in the minor league home run race with 26 (10 at Double-A), two off the pace of leader Ryan Rua. Meanwhile, his Double-A average had dipped below the Mendoza Line to .190 coming into the week, but a six-game hitting streak has brought it back up to .231 through 121 at-bats.
The Scoop: Lindor, a 19-year-old shortstop drafted just two years ago, announced his arrival at the Double-A level by batting .441 (15-for-34) with four extra-base hits and five stolen bases in his first 10 games for Akron. He went 3-for-5 with a homer and a double in yesterday’s action, and his ascension could bring to an end the Asdrubal Cabrera era in Cleveland by the time the 2014 season is through.
The Scoop: In two starts since he returned from the Futures Game, Rienzo has done a great job of dodging damage. Walking 10 batters in 12 1/3 innings usually will come back to haunt you, but if you're only going to give up one hit, you can do some great damage control. Rienzo's start on Thursday was the best of his career, as he no-hit Indianapolis in a seven-inning game.
The Scoop: He’s taken a circuitous, well-documented route to get to this point, but Matzek, the 11th overall pick in the 2009 draft, has quietly been one of the best pitchers in the Texas League over the last two months. His ERA stood at 4.70 at the end of May, when he was coming off a stretch of losing four straight starts, but he's 6-1, 1.49 in nine starts since then, posting the TL's best ERA over that stretch. Walks remain an issue, as his line above attests, but his walk rate of 4.8 per nine innings for the year actually is a marked improvement from the horrid 6.0 BB/9 he allowed in 2012 in high Class A. The red flag? He's not missing many bats (6.2 SO/9), though he did fan a season-high eight over 6 2/3 innings on Wednesday.
The Scoop: Stroman has shown he's not far from being ready to contribute in Toronto, and he may already have gotten there if he hadn't begun the year serving a 50-game suspension (he tested positive for a stimulant). Since a disastrous outing on May 29 in which he gave up seven earned runs and failed to make it out of the second inning, Stroman's gone 4-1, 2.12 over 59 innings, ranking fourth in the Eastern League in ERA during that time. Command was the question coming out of the draft for Stroman, but he's held Double-A hitters to a .216 average while walking just 19 in 69 innings on the year.
The Scoop: Cole delivered seven strong innings in his Double-A debut, holding Portland to one run on three hits while striking out six. He throws hard, mixes three quality pitches and posted excellent strikeout (9.4 per nine innings) and walk (2.1) rates in the Carolina League, though he also led the circuit with 12 home runs allowed (10 of those at home). That proneness to the longball has been the only mark against Cole these past two seasons, when he’s allowed 20 in 27 starts (1.3 HR/9) at levels above low Class A.
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
Javier Baez, ss, Cubs: Promoted to Double-A Tennessee in the beginning of July, Baez justified that promotion with an explosive offensive week. He drilled five home runs, including four over a span of three games, tallied three doubles and drove in 10 runs while batting .281 in 32 at-bats. Plate discipline continues to be an issue--he had zero walks and more strikeouts (11) than hits (9)--but the the 20-year-old is batting .266/.324/.550 with 25 homers this season.
Matt Magill, rhp, Dodgers: Control problems doomed Magill to a 6.51 ERA in 28 big league innings earlier this summer, but he's been able to brave the hitter’s haven that is Triple-A Albuquerque. The 23-year-old has a 3.91 ERA at Isotopes Park, and he lowered his overall Triple-A mark to 2.76 after two starts this week in which he allowed two runs on six hits in 9 1/3 innings and stuck out 14.
Austin Meadows, cf, Pirates: The ninth pick in this year’s draft, Meadows connected for his first two pro home runs this week in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, a tough assignment for a young hitter. The 18-year-old from Loganville, Ga., went 10-for-25 (.400) with two homers, three doubles, a triple and four walks in six games. The Pirates could not have hoped for a better start.
Henry Owens, lhp, Red Sox: The last time Owens allowed a hit was on July 11, as he threw six no-hit innings on July 17 and followed it up on Monday with five more innings of scoreless, no-hit baseball with nine strikeouts for high Class A Salem.
Michael Taylor, rf, Athletics: After posting Triple-A career highs in batting average and on-base percentage last season, the 27-year-old Taylor continues to thrive at Sacramento. He hit .419 in 31 at-bats this week with four home runs and 15 RBIs, boosting his season totals to .312/.377/.534 with 15 homers. He went 1-for-23 in nine games with the Athletics earlier this season.
Adam Brett Walker, rf, Twins: In the Twins system, the only player with more raw power than Walker is Miguel Sano. And when Walker is swinging the bat like this, he can be one of the more feared hitters in the Midwest League. Walker hit .379/.379/.862 this week and he had a stretch of nine home runs in 11 games.
Zach Walters, ss, Nationals: Before this season, Walters hit 25 home runs in 1,207 career minor league at-bats. In 359 at-bats this season, he has already hit 23. A ninth-round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2010, Walters hit four homers this week for Triple-A Syracuse, batting .391 with three doubles and seven RBIs in 23 at-bats.
Matt Olson, 1b, Athletics: Olson's 12 homers are a respectable total for a 19-year-old in the low Class A Midwest League, but he's trending in the wrong direction, batting .196 in the second half and .179 in July, dropping his season's line to .228/.337/.398. The 47th overall pick in last year's draft, Olson may have bottomed out this week, going 0-for-19 with seven strikeouts and four walks.
Jonathan Singleton, 1b, Astros: Houston will add the 21-year-old Singleton to its 40-man roster this fall to shield him from the Rule 5 draft, but a September callup is less assured in light of his performance at Triple-A Oklahoma City. After a rough 3-for-25 week with four walks and 14 strikeouts, he’s hitting just .195/.301/.301 with three homers in 38 games (he missed the first 50 with a drug suspension). Singleton’s spiraling strikeout rate is the biggest concern here, as more than a third of his plate appearances (36 percent) have resulted in no contact.
Allen Webster, rhp, Red Sox: Outstanding stuff? Yes. Outstanding results? Not so much, at least not this season, either in Boston or Triple-A Pawtucket. After getting tagged for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings in his last big league start on July 9, Webster hasn’t been any better in his last two starts in Triple-A, where he’s allowed nine runs in 8 1/3 innings to inflate his International League ERA to a pedestrian 4.40 through 13 starts as he’s struggled with his command.
Walker Weickel, rhp, Padres: The Padres paid sandwich pick Weickel like a first-rounder ($2 million) out of last year’s draft, but it’s been a challenging year for the 19-year-old in the low Class A Midwest League. On Monday, Weickel gave up seven runs in just three innings, which spiked his ERA to 5.27 in 80 1/3 innings. Walker shouldn’t be a comfortable at-bat for hitters, as he comes downhill from his 6-foot-6 frame with a heavy low-90s sinking fastball, but the rest of his arsenal hasn’t been enough to keep hitters off-balance.
Samir Duenez, 1b, Royals: The Royals signed Duenez last year as a third baseman out of Venezuela for $425,000, making him their top international signing of 2012. Duenez has a heavier body type, so the Royals already have him at first base, but the organization was attracted to Duenez because of his feel for hitting and projectable power. So far the bat has been even better than expected, as he’s skipped the Dominican Summer League and headed straight to the Rookie-level Arizona League, where he’s hitting .303/.355/.384 in 26 games. The Royals have added a strong contingent of international talent to the system in the last several years under the watch of assistant general manager Rene Francisco and Latin American scouting coordinator Orlando Estevez. Duenez looks like another international talent to keep an eye on.