Since it's July 2, we'll keep the international theme going for today's Prospect Notebook.
Ronald Guzman, 1b, Rangers: At least one hitter with low Class A Hickory isn't a strikeout machine. The 18-year-old Guzman joined the Crawdads lineup in early June and has proceeded to hit a robust .326 in 86 at-bats. He busted out of a 1-for-12 mini slump with back-to-back multi-hit games Saturday and Monday, when he went 3-for-5 with a homer, his third of the campaign. Scouts believed in Guzman's feel for hitting going back to his amateur days leading up to his signing for $3.45 million on July 2, 2011, and he's hit .322 in 75 career pro games. And while his teammates keep racking up the whiffs (eight last night, which is actually below their average of 10.5), Guzman's gone down on strikes just 15 times in 23 games.
Dorssys Paulino, ss, Indians: Signed for $1.1 million in 2011, Paulino was the second-youngest player on a low Class A Midwest League Opening Day roster, less than six months removed from his 18th birthday when the season began. Although he's hitting just .236 on the year, there are signs of progress. Despite his youth, Paulino's easy swing and mature approach were such that making contact hasn't been an issue, as he's fanned just 46 times in 69 games, and now he's starting to square up more balls. He's raised his average each month since hitting .208 in April. He hit .289 and slugged .467 over the last two weeks of June, and he got July started on the right foot by going 3-for-5 with two doubles Monday against Fort Wayne.
Ariel Ovando, of, Astros: The Astros signed Ovando for $2.6 million out of the Dominican back in 2010, with his power potential the primary selling point. Sometimes it looks like that power might be his only selling point, as Ovando, 19, is just a .237 career hitter in the minors, but he's stringing together a nice run for Rookie-level Greeneville. He went 4-for-7 with a double and a homer in Monday's doubleheader, giving him three multi-hit games in his last four after he'd started the season 1-for-17. The Astros worked Ovando out at first base last year in instructional league and that will likely be his defensive home eventually, but he's back in right field for now with Greeneville.
Max Kepler, of, Twins: Given the unenviable task of replacing Byron Buxton as low Class A Cedar Rapids' center fielder, the 20-year-old Kepler has had at least one hit in nine of his last 10 games, including yesterday's 2-for-4 effort that included his third homer of the year and first triple. Kepler, who received the largest bonus ever for a European position player when he signed for $800,000 out of Germany back in 2009, already has nine extra-base hits in 11 games for Cedar Rapids, continuing to amp up his power without sacrificing plate discipline to do it, as he already has drawn seven walks as well. He's hitting .295 and slugging .659 in 44 at-bats with the Kernels. It's a small sample, sure, but he's come a long way from when he hit .262 and slugged just .366 as an 18-year-old in the Appalachian League two years ago.
Edwin Escobar, lhp, Giants: Escobar originally signed with the Rangers out of Venezuela in 2008, but the Giants brought him on board in 2010 as compensation for big league Rule 5 pick Ben Snyder, noting his strong peripheral numbers despite lackluster ERAs in the Texas system. In yet another example that the Giants know what they're doing when it comes to pitching, Escobar turned a corner last year in low Class A (2.96 ERA) and has continued his strong work this year with high Class A San Jose, ranking among the top five in the Cal League in ERA (3.19 in 68 innings), strikeouts (86) and WHIP (1.17). The 21-year-old lefty struck out eight over six innings without allowing an earned run Monday (he did allow two unearned). He allowed six hits and no walks, upping his impressive strikeout-walk ratio to 86-15.