Welcome back to a new year of the Prospect Hot Sheet. As we’ve been doing for more than a decade, every Friday during the minor league season we’ll take a look at the hottest prospects around the game. Note we said hottest, not the best. This is not a re-ranking of our preseason Top 100 Prospects. Instead it’s a look at which prospects have had the best week, weighing prospect status, age compared to league, the environment they were playing in as well as the stats they put up. This week’s Hot Sheet covers games from April 4-April 11.
Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, John Manuel and Jim Shonerd.
|1.||Tony Cingrani||lhp, Reds|
Team: Triple-A Louisville (International)
Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 12 1/3 IP, 2 GS, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 21 SO
The Scoop: It's hard to explain just how Tony Cingrani piles up strikeouts. He has a deceptive delivery, but usually deception doesn't work nearly as well for a pitcher as he climbs the ladder. For a lefthander, Cingrani has plenty of velocity, but he's not an Arodlis Chapman blowing 100 mph fastball past helpless hitters.
Cingrani did show a tick more velocity than he usually has in his first start this year—he was 91-96 mph with his fastball where he usually sits more in the low 90s, but by start two, he was back to a more normal 89-94 mph.
But over the first week of the season, no minor league pitcher was harder to square up. He struck out 14 in his first start of the season—a number that will rank among the best strikeout games of the season. He followed it up with seven more in his encore start.
Usually when a pitcher is getting swings and misses on his fastball because of a deceptive delivery, he hits a wall as he gets to Double-A or Triple-A. Yusmeiro Petit, a Mets' prospect of the past decade, is a great example. He dominated Class A with a 90-92 mph fastball that seemed faster because of a deceptive Sid Fernandez-esque delivery. But more advanced hitters could get a better look at Petit's fastball, which explains why he's spent most of the past eight seasons in Triple-A.
Cingrani is a lefty and he throws a bit harder than Petit, but like Petit, deception (and fastball life) is a big part of his success. But unlike Petit, Cingrani is having no problems baffling more and more experienced hitters. In a short stint in Cincinnati last September, Cingrani struck out nine batters in five innings. He struck out 101 batters in 89 innings at Double-A last year, and now he's leading Triple-A in strikeouts. Cingrani has improved his slider a bit this year, and more and more it's looking like he could be a big league starter, although his fallback position as a power reliever is an even safer bet.
|Tony Cingrani Player Card|
|2.||Archie Bradley||rhp, Diamondbacks|
Team: high Class A Visalia (California)
Why He’s Here: 11.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 19 SO
The Scoop: Bradley has wipeout stuff, which is why his 19 strikeouts rank second in the minors. Yet the most encouraging part of his last start wasn’t the 10 strikeouts in six innings—it was that he didn’t walk any of the 22 batters he faced. Bradley has plenty of stuff to beat hitters in the strike zone, so if he can live in there a little more often, he’s going to be devastating.
|Archie Bradley Player Card|
|3.||Oswaldo Arcia||rf, Twins|
Team: Triple-A Rochester (International)
Why He's Here: .458/.536/.917 (11-for-24), 3 HR, 2 2B, 8 RBIs, 8 R, 3 BB, 6 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Aaron Hicks' rise to the big leagues wasn't the only instance where the usually conservative Twins went against type with where they assigned a player. Arcia was dispatched to Triple-A with just a half-season of Double-A experience under his belt, an aggressive move by Twins standards. He's rewarded the organization's faith so far, though. A powerful lefthanded swinger, Arcia homered in each of Rochester's first two games and added a third Thursday night, and he also mixed in a couple of three-hit games along the way as well.
|Oswaldo Arcia Player Card|
|4.||Byron Buxton||cf, Twins|
Team: low Class A Cedar Rapids (Midwest)
Why He’s Here: .500/.565/.950 (10-for-20), 6 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBIs, 3 BB, 5 Ks, 2-for-2 SBs
The Scoop: It's been a rough couple of years for Twins' fans. But for the first time in a while, there are signs of hope on the horizon—just take a look at the three premium prospects the club has on this week's Hot Sheet. It's only one week of stats, but Buxton's fast start is a great sign for a prospect who has an overabundance of tools.
|Byron Buxton Player Card|
|5.||Eddie Butler||rhp, Rockies|
Team: low Class A Asheville (South Atlantic)
Why He’s Here: 11.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 14 SO
The Scoop: Butler pitched well his pro debut last year in the Rookie-level Pioneer League after signing as a supplemental first-round pick out of Radford. With Butler’s college experience, mid-90s fastball and effective breaking stuff, low Class A South Atlantic League hitters shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge for him, so he might not be sticking around Asheville for long.
|Eddie Butler Player Card|
|6.||Mike Zunino||c, Mariners|
Team: Triple-A Tacoma (Pacific Coast)
Why He’s Here: .385/.414/1.038 (10-for-26), 4 HR, 3 2B, 1 3B, 17 RBIs, 2 BB, 7 SO, 7 R
The Scoop: Zunino’s early-season rampage through the streets of Fresno and Sacramento leaves him as the PCL leader in homer runs (four), RBIs (17) and extra-base hits (eight). In fact, eight of his 10 hits on the season have gone for extra bases, making Zunino an early favorite to be the second player from the 2012 draft to make the majors. The Dodgers’ Paco Rodriguez—his former Florida Gators teammate—beat him there last summer.
|Mike Zunino Player Card|
|7.||Joe Ross||rhp, Padres|
Team: low Class A Fort Wayne (Midwest)
Why He’s Here: 2-0, 0.00, 10 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 12 SO, 2 BB, 1 HBP
The Scoop: The Padres’ 2011 first-rounder found some measure of redemption early in the '13 season after a poor showing with Fort Wayne last year (6.26 ERA). Ross’ two wins lead the Midwest League after a pair of five-inning, one-hit starts against Great Lakes and Lake County.
|Joe Ross Player Card|
|8.||Miguel Sano||3b, Twins|
Team: high Class A Fort Myers (Florida State)
Why He’s Here: .393/.452/.714 (11-for-28), 6 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBIs, 3 BB, 8 Ks
The Scoop: Picking the top prospect in the Twins organization isn't easy. On one hand you have a potential five-tool outfielder (Buxton). On the other, you have an infielder with a cannon of an arm and some of the best raw power in the minors. Sano's hit tool likely will never be as refined as Buxton's, but if he can keep the strikeouts to a moderate level to allow his power to play, the rest of his skills and tools will take care of the rest.
|Miguel Sano Player Card|
|9.||Adam Conley||lhp, Marlins|
Team: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)
Why He’s Here: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO
The Scoop: Conley breezed through hitter-friendly Greensboro in the first half of 2012, but his ERA jumped during a promotion to the more pitcher-friendly environment in high Class A Jupiter. His first start of 2013 was an encouraging sign. Conley’s 92-97 mph fastball is a major weapon, but he still needs to prove he can come up with a reliable breaking ball to back up the heater.
|Adam Conley Player Card|
|10.||Yasiel Puig||rf, Dodgers|
Team: Double-A Chattanooga (Southern)
Why He’s Here: .450/.522/.700 (9-for-20), 3 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Yes, Puig was pulled from a game this week for what the Dodgers called a mental mistake. It's a hiccup, but it only is a slight tap to the brakes for a player who should be in Dodgers Stadium before the end of the year. Puig's toolset is one of the best in the game—he's a plus-plus runner, with huge raw power power, a potentially plus hit tool and a plus arm in right field. Add it up and the Dodgers' $42 million investment doesn't look so crazy anymore, especially now that we know that Los Angeles is capable of outspending everyone else in the game year in and year out.
|Yasiel Puig Player Card|
|11.||Nolan Fontana||ss, Astros|
Team: High Class A Lancaster (California)
Why He's Here: .423/.529/.885 (11-for-26), 2 HR, 4 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBIs, 8 R, 6 BB, 7 SO, 1-for-1 SB.
The Scoop: Fontana enjoyed his first week in Lancaster, but don't expect him to maintain his Cal League-leading .885 slugging percentage. (He also had a whopping .579 average on balls he put in play.) He's more of a gap power guy. Nonetheless, the Astros' 2012 second-round pick does know his way around the batters' box, opening the year on a seven-game hitting streak, in addition to his reputation as a reliable defender at shortstop.
|Nolan Fontana Player Card|
|12.||Scott Van Slyke||1b, Dodgers|
Team: Triple-A Albuquerque (Pacific Coast)
Why He's Here: .571/.636/1.143 (16-for-28), 4 HR, 4 2B, 14 RBIs, 8 R, 5 BB, 6 SO, 0-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Van Slyke clearly has nothing left to prove in the minors (he's a .338/.412/.603 hitter in 426 Triple-A at-bats), yet he finds himself back in Albuquerque as he's blocked at first base in the corner outfield, his other positions. Worse yet, he's now off the 40-man roster and, in all likelihood, will need another organization to give him a crack at the majors. In the meantime, Albuquerque's installation of a humidor hasn't slowed him down. He has hits in all eight games he's played, has five multi-hit games and leads the PCL in all three slash stats.
|Scott Van Slyke Player Card|
|13.||Francisco Lindor||ss, Indians|
Team: high Class A Carolina (Carolina)
Why He’s Here: .458/.519/.667 (11-for-24), 5 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 3 RBIs, 3 BB, 1 K, 5-for-5 SBs
The Scoop: The second-youngest player in the Carolina League, Lindor has already given glimpses of his many talents in the first week of the season. He's shown off his gap power with a pair of triples. He's only struck out once in 24 at-bats and he's flashed his plus range with a couple of highlight plays at shortstop. Even as he faces much older players, Lindor usually looks like one of the most experienced players on the field. He's Cleveland's star of the future, and he's moving up the ladder quickly.
|Francisco Lindor Player Card|
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
Max Muncy, 1b, Athletics. Few questioned Muncy’s pure hitting skills when he came out of Baylor last year, though some doubted his power. Well, he's answered those doubts emphatically so far. The 22-year-old homered four times in his first eight games for high Class A Stockton, part of a .379/.500/.862 (11-for-29) week, adding in two doubles and nine RBIs.
Nolan Arenado, 3b, Rockies. Whatever he felt about narrowly missing a big league roster spot, Arenado hasn't let it slow him down in his assignment to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The 21-year-old (he turns 22 next week) hit .476/.542/.952 (10-for-21) with two homers and four doubles in his first taste of Triple-A.
Rafael Montero, rhp, Mets. In his first two starts for Double-A Binghamton, Montero dominated (11 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 15 SO), showing the stuff to be a potential mid-rotation starter with good control and solid stuff across the board. The 22-year-old has shot through the minors, earning a look in big league camp this spring after opening 2012 in low Class A.
Asher Wojciechowski, rhp, Astros. After allowing just two hits in his first two appearances (9 IP, 0 R, 4 BB, 11 SO) for Double-A Corpus Christi, the 24-year-old has shown that he has the makings of a back-end starter.
Matt Davidson, 3b, Diamondbacks. Davidson appears to be well on his way to another 20-homer season after belting a pair of longballs and going 10-for-27 (.370) with five walks at the dish for Triple-A Reno. Bigger picture: Arizona’s 2009 draft continues to pay dividends. They have Paul Goldschmidt (eighth round) and A.J. Pollock (first) in the bigs, while GM Kevin Towers has used Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss (Chris Johnson), Ryan Wheeler (Matt Reynolds) and Mike Belfiore (Josh Bell) in trades to (typically) bolster the big club.
Clayton Blackburn, rhp, Giants. Blackburn has picked up right where he left off last season, when he led the Sally League in strikeouts and WHIP. The 20-year-old is 1-0, 0.82 with 12 whiffs, one walk and five hits allowed in 11 innings for high Class A San Jose after visiting Visalia and Stockton this past week.
Jason Martinson, ss, Nationals. Much like last year, Martinson begins the year a level below where you would like to see him considering his age—he's a 24-year-old returning to high Class A Potomac (Carolina) after starting last year as a 23-year-old in low Class A. But if you're going to be sent back to repeat a level it’s best to dominate it to try to get out of there. That's what Martinson's doing up to now with a .368/.536/1.000 start that includes three home runs and a stolen base.
Jonathan Villar, ss, Astros. As a 21-year-old in Triple-A, Villar is one of the youngest players in the Pacific Coast League, but he’s been bad in just about every way possible on offense. He’s 1-for-25 (.040), doesn’t have an extra-base hit yet and he’s drawn just two walks. Even on the rare occasions when Villar has been on base, he’s managed to get erased, as he’s 0-for-2 stealing bases despite having excellent speed.
Mike Foltynewicz, rhp, Astros. Foltynewicz has to know he's going to take his lumps pitching for high Class A Lancaster. His first two outings in the JetHawks' hitters' paradise both ended badly, as he gave up a combined 10 runs (seven earned) on 12 hits over five innings. The 21-year-old did strike out seven, but he also didn't do himself any favors with seven walks.
Brett Eibner, of, Royals. The Royals say that they haven't given any thought to the idea of moving Eibner to the mound. But a 0-for-20, 10-strikeout start to the season and a career .197/.308/.385 stat line in 202 pro games means that Kansas City maybe should start considering the idea of making the move. Eibner was considered a potential top two-round talent coming out of Arkansas as a pitcher with a fastball that touched 97 mph. At the plate, he's struck out in 37 percent of all of his pro at-bats.
Daniel Norris, lhp, Blue Jays. If Cingrani is an example of a pitcher who seems to get better results than you would expect from his stuff, Norris is his bizarro doppleganger. The 19-year-old still has plenty of time to turn things around, but it's hard to explain how a lefty who can touch 96 mph and pairs it with a breaking ball that shows flashes of being a plus pitch can get squared up outing after outing. Norris saw his career ERA jump to 8.87 after giving up 13 baserunners in only four innings over the past week. Even more inexplicably, lefties have posted a 2.300 OPS against Norris in five at-bats.
Tyler Duffey, rhp, low Class A Cedar Rapids (Twins): Minnesota drafted a raft of college relievers in 2012—righties Luke Bard, J.T. Chargois, Zach Jones and Tyler Duffey and lefthander Mason Melotakis among them—and gave them all the option to start as pros. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Duffey was among those who accepted the offer, with the Twins hoping he’d maintain his above-average quality low-90s fastball and hard breaking ball (alternately described as a curve and slider) over longer outings. Mission accomplished in his first pro start Sunday night—Duffey tossed seven perfect innings and struck out seven before leaving the game due to a pitch count. He dedicated the performance to his late mother, who died in 2012 at age 44. For more on Duffey’s emotional reaction to his no-hit outing, check this story.