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 June 28-July 4.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy and Jim Shonerd
Prospect Hot Sheet Chat: J.J. Cooper will answer your Hot Sheet and prospect questions beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.
No. 1 Julio Urias, lhp, Dodgers
Team: low Class A Great Lakes (Midwest)
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.84, 10 2/3 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 15 SO
The Scoop: You could argue that Tyler Skaggs, Byron Buxton or someone else had a better week than Urias from a statistical standpoint, but it's hard to argue that anyone else had a better week in context. Urias is easily the youngest player in full-season ball. We had to go back to Jacobo Sequea, who pitched in the Sally League in 1998, for the last 16-year-old to make a significant number of starts in a full-season league. (Readers: feel free to add to this list by tweeting to @baseballamerica or @jjcoop36).
Urias, a Mexican lefty who has been succeeding with both stuff and feel, has been one of the better pitchers in the Midwest League since his arrival, going 2-0, 2.78 with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings and a reasonable 3.6 BB/9. He's comfortable pitching backwards, throwing a changeup that freezes hitters and a low-90s fastball. With typical progression, he could be in Double-A at age 18 and in the majors before he turns 20. Add it all up, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited--but there is also a reason to be cautious.
The youngest big league rotation regulars of the Expansion Era--Gary Nolan, Dwight Gooden, Wally Bunker and Larry Dierker all logged 180-plus innings at age 19--did not had long careers in the limelight. Youth is a much greater predictor of prolonged success for young position players--see Bryce Harper, Tony Conigliaro, Ken Griffey Jr., Robin Yount and Edgar Renteria.
The Scoop: On Buxton's first three days after his promotion to Fort Myers, he went 2-for-13. Consider that his three-day transition to the Florida State League. Since then, he’s gone the 10-for-19 you see above, with four straight multi-hit games. He also has made a few outstanding catches in center field. Of all the amazing things things about Buxton's full-season debut, his consistency may be the most impressive. He has yet to go three straight games without a hit. He has gone hitless in back-to-back games just twice all year.
The Scoop: When you're evaluating 17-year-olds in the South Atlantic League, you end up grading on a curve. Mondesi's raw statistics don't look all the special. He doesn't rank among the league leaders in any category, and he has a .706 OPS. But when you consider his tools, his potential and his age, you conclude that it's been a successful first full season for the teenager. As you might expect, Mondesi has mixed great moments (hitting for the cycle) with the the bad (striking out six times in a game). With a seven-game hitting streak, this week was one of the high points.
The Scoop: Arizona gave Skaggs just three starts in the majors this year before sending him back to Triple-A, but he looks like he’s ready to return and eventually become a frontline starter. He’s not going to blow 97 mph by hitters, but he has a well-rounded arsenal to keep hitters off balance--a fastball that gets into the low 90s, a sharp curveball and a deceptive changeup--all coming from a smooth, easy delivery.
No. 5 Nolan Fontana, ss, Astros
Team: high Class A Lancaster (California)
Why He's Here: .379/.500/.517 (11-for-29), 4 2B, 10 RBIs, 6 R, 7 BB, 6 SO
The Scoop: Fontana celebrated Independence Day by reaching base five times, going 2-for-3 with a double and three walks against Inland Empire. He's going to make pitchers come in the zone, as that patience is a hallmark of his game. He drew 65 walks in 49 games last season in his pro debut and already has 54 in 58 games with Lancaster, ranking him third in the Cal League in both walks and on-base percentage (.432).
The Scoop: Scouts might as well take up residence in Mobile, where the BayBears have a three-headed monster of a rotation in Holmberg, Archie Bradley and Andrew Chafin, all of whom rank among the Southern League top 10 in ERA. This week was Holmberg's turn to shine with back-to-back sterling outings against Jacksonville (eight shutout innings) and Mississippi (seven). He's allowed one run or fewer in five of his last six starts.
The Scoop: It may have taken few years longer than the Astros expected for Velasquez to make his full-season debut, but he’s been effective when healthy. After rebounding from Tommy John surgery that erased his 2011 season, he now has more strikeouts (93) than innings (81) while maintaining a 3.56 ERA, showing a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 with a quality changeup to keep hitters off balance.
No. 8 Keyvius Sampson, rhp, Padres
Team: Double-A San Antonio (Texas)
Why He's Here: 0-0, 1.29, 1 GS, 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 0 BB, 10 SO
The Scoop: Coming into the year, Sampson look destined to be a power-armed reliever eventually because of his lack of a quality breaking ball and his lack of command. Tear up that scouting report and throw it away. Sampson has become one of the most dominant pitchers in the Texas League--after flaming out at Triple-A with an 8.03 ERA in four April starts--thanks to a slider he's added as well as improved control and command of his fastball. The run he allowed this week is the first he's allowed in 26 2/3 innings. Over that same stretch he's allowed just 12 hits and six walks while striking out 33.
The Scoop: Zimmer has pitched capably at high Class A this season, but he appears to be less advanced than the Royals had hoped when they selected him with the fifth pick in the 2012 draft. He has enjoyed his best sustained stretch in three starts coming out of the all-star break, notching a 3.10 ERA and 19-5 K-BB ratio over 20 1/3 innings. However, Zimmer’s seasonal ERA of 5.26 is none too impressive in the context of his working in an extreme pitcher’s park (Wilmington) in a pitcher’s league (Carolina). Pitching with runners on base has been an issue--his opponent average jumps from .205 with the bases empty to .321 with runners on.
The Scoop: Ruiz has had much more trouble with the Midwest League than his teammates Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. His OPS has not topped .700 since the third day of the season and he has shown less power than expected. He hasn't turned a corner yet, but this was an encouraging week. Ruiz has three multi-hit games this week, including only the second three-hit game he's had this year. He also managed to draw four walks on July 1 after drawing just nine in the entire month of July.
The Scoop: Lindor may be the greatest triple threat in the minors based on what he can do in the batter’s box, on the bases and on defense. He has the lowest strikeout rate among high Class A shortstops (9.6 percent of plate appearances), while ranking second among that group with a .310 average and fourth with a .379 on-base percentage. Lindor has chipped in 19 stolen bases and solid extra-base pop (.420 slugging), all at the tender age of 19.
Team: low Class A Lake County (Midwest)
Why He’s Here: .333/.357/.593 (9-for-27), 1 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBIs, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 SO
The Scoop: Paulino’s bat lay dormant for much of the first half, but he’s hit well for two weeks since the break, batting .304/.316/.482 with five extra-base hits in 13 games. That’s a sight better than the .222/.273/.312 line he recorded in the first half.
The Scoop: Be sure not to leave the room whenever Walker takes the mound in the Futures Game. We know he'll be up for the challenge, too, as he's introduced himself to the PCL with 11 shutout innings over his first two starts despite being the youngest pitcher to toe the rubber in the league this year. He lowered his cumulative ERA to 2.18 for the season, and he's third in the minors with 108 strikeouts in 95 innings.
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
B.J. Boyd, of, Athletics: A fourth-round pick out of high school last year, Boyd is hitting .397/.441/.603 through 17 games in the short-season New York-Penn League. Power is the question from the 5-foot-10, 190-pound lefty hitter, but his bat stays in the zone a long time and allows him to get base hits to all fields.
D.J. Davis, cf, Blue Jays: The 17th pick in last year’s draft tripled in three straight games for Rookie-level Bluefield beginning on Saturday, showcasing gap power and plus speed. The 18-year-old Davis also stole three bases and scored eight runs in five games, and he’s now hitting .294/.357/.529 with an Appalachian League-leading seven extra-base hits through 51 at-bat.
Max Fried, lhp, Padres: The 19-year-old Fried completed a pair of tidy five-inning starts for low Class A Fort Wayne this week, allowing two runs (one earned) on just five hits while brandishing an 11-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. As always, he misses bats and doesn’t allow much hard contact, but the best part of Fried’s three second-half starts is a lower walk rate of 3.6 per nine innings, which compares favorably with a 4.8 rate in the first half.
Sonny Gray, rhp, Athletics: A year ago at this time, Gray was struggling to miss bats and sported a 5.11 ERA in Double-A. He started finding his old form in the second half last year and has carried that into 2013, ranking right behind Taijuan Walker with 107 strikeouts. The 23-year-old took over the PCL's ERA lead at 2.81 after throwing seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts against Fresno on Independence Day.
Erik Johnson, rhp, White Sox: Johnson had to leave his start Wednesday after three innings with a right groin strain, stalling the momentum that earned him a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte in late June. In 10 innings of work this week before he went down, Johnson allowed just three runs on seven hits and struck out 12. He picked up his first Triple-A win last Friday, and he stands 9-2, 2.24 combined between Double-A and Triple-A.
Marcus Stroman, rhp, Blue Jays: OK, so it’s been a brief pro career, but Stroman set a career high with 13 strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings for Double-A New Hampshire on Tuesday. He’s up to 50 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings for the Fisher Cats.
Mac Williamson, rf, Giants: Williamson was hitting just .235 through the end of May at high Class A San Jose, but the 2012 third-round pick has started catching on to the Cal League over the last month. The 22-year-old hit .320 with six homers in June and kept rolling into July, batting .357 (10-for-28) with four homers on the week, bringing his season's count to 14.
NOT SO HOT
Tyler Cloyd, rhp, Phillies: Not many righthanders with below-average fastballs have staying power in big league rotations. Cloyd became one of the exceptions when he pitched well for six starts with Philadelphia last summer despite a lack of strikeouts. This year, however, Cloyd has proven very hittable at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’s allowed as many runs as innings pitched this year, and this week the 26-year-old gave up 10 earned runs and 14 runs overall in two starts.
Lance McCullers Jr., rhp, Astros: It’s been a bad year but a good week for Quad Cities’ Rio Ruiz. It’s been a good year but a bad week for his teammate McCullers. McCullers had his worst start of the season this week, giving up six runs, nine hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings.
Roberto Osuna, rhp, Blue Jays: Osuna missed all of May with elbow soreness and, perhaps coincidentally, he has not looked sharp his last three times out for low Class A Lansing, allowing 18 hits and 17 runs over nine innings. A seven-run drubbing over 1 2/3 innings this week was a typical performance during this downturn. The 18-year-old has gone 3-5, 5.53 through 10 starts this season but with an excellent 4.6 K-BB ratio.
Joe Ross, rhp, Padres: Ross hit a sour note coming out of the Midwest League all-star break, allowing six runs for low Class A Fort Wayne in each of his first two starts despite a 6-to-0 strikeout-to-walk mark. To blame: He allowed three homers in six innings on June 24 and then 13 hits over four innings on July 1, which spelled 12 runs in 10 innings for the 20-year-old.
Emerson Jimenez, ss, Rockies: Jimenez received the largest bonus ($280,000) the Rockies awarded to an international prospect in 2011, the same year they signed promising Venezuelan righthander Antonio Senzatela for $250,000. Jimenez, 18, has plus speed and does a lot of things well on the field. He has a nice line-drive swing, which has helped him hit .373/.396/.490 through his first 12 games in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.