Image credit: Anthony Alford (Photo by Cliff Welch)
Last spring, whispers began to emanate from Arizona that a fringe major leaguer on a minor league deal named Max Muncy was showing major offensive improvement in Dodgers camp. Out in Florida, word spread that young Rays utilityman Daniel Robertson was showing increased comfort and confidence and appeared primed to play a significant role in Tampa Bay.
Both, of course, went on to have the breakthrough seasons predicted, with Muncy outperforming even the wildest expectations and becoming one of the National League’s top performers.
While spring training statistics don’t mean much, every year players arrive in camp with new swings, new physiques or enhanced skillsets that cause evaluators to take notice.
Spring training is already halfway over, and many players have already made such an impression. More than a dozen scouts were contacted and asked who has impressed them this spring, and who might be in for a potential breakout year.
Here are 15 players—prospects and big leaguers—scouts identified as primed to take a step forward in 2019 based on what they’ve seen in spring training, with what makes them feel that way.
Players are listed in alphabetical order. Scout responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Anthony Alford, OF, Blue Jays
Scout’s Take: “He looks insanely good. I know he’s had health issues, but to me the issue with him has always been balancing his approach and the fact that he does draw walks with some aggressiveness. He has just not missed pitches in the strike zone this spring, and he’s hit them a long way. He hit three home runs the last couple of days. It feels like each one is farther than the next one. The thing is I don’t know where he fits for them. I’m not sure what kind of trades the Blue Jays are talking about making or what their plans are, but if I were Teoscar Hernandez, I’d be worried. Because Teoscar Hernandez is similar tools, but he’s getting a little bit more expensive and he’s just a lesser defender . . . All of their veteran outfielders, (Randal) Grichuk, (Kevin) Pillar, they should be wary because Anthony Alford just looks better than all of them.”
Joey Bart, C, Giants
Scout’s Take: “Joey Bart for me is guy that could potentially be in the big leagues halfway through the year. I don’t see why he couldn’t. He’s had that good of a spring. It’s been both (offense and defense). He’s caught really well behind the plate. He’s handled new pitchers and all that fine. I think the attitude is there behind home plate. He’s got the mental ability to do it. I think also for a guy his size he really folds up well, and for me he doesn’t look like a 6-foot-2 guy when he’s squatting. And then hitting too. He’s just been hitting for power, taking good swings, good ABs, finding the barrel. Every time I go and see him he hits at least one or two balls hard. I just think all-around he’s been a really good player.”
Jalen Beeks, LHP, Rays
Scout’s Take: “The stuff from the left side. The fastball, it’s not overpowering velocity, but he’s a north-south guy a little bit, there’s some ride at the top and a good breaking ball. Just got some good pitchability feel. I think coming in he wasn’t maybe the guy for them that was going to be their longer bullpen guy, but I think he’s pitching himself into that a little bit this spring.”
David Fletcher, INF, Angels
Scout’s Take: “I think David Fletcher is going to be a really, really nice piece for the Angels club this year. He showed he can play shortstop, he’s been hitting, he’s got good bat-to-ball skills. He’s not going to be a guy who necessarily hits 15 home runs, but he’s going to put together some good ABs and be a good No. 2 or 7 through 9-type hitter in that lineup. I think in that order, in that lineup, I think his ability to handle shortstop when needed, handle second base—they’ve had him at third base too and left field—I think he’s going to probably provide enough value in an everyday role as opposed to just a backup.”
Domingo German, RHP, Yankees
Scout’s Take: “Obviously the velocity and the arm strength, plus the breaking ball, we know both those pitches are plus, major league-ready. But he threw the other day and really in that third inning the changeup came through. Seeing that third pitch to go along with the arm strength and the breaking ball, that kind of opened my eyes. Command-wise, obviously there’s still some left to be desired, but just based on fastball-breaking ball he can help them in the bullpen right now. And with the addition of that changeup and the continued development there, I think he can be a guy that can actually help them in the rotation. He was in the rotation last year, but I think now he has a chance to sustain being a bonafide starter.”
Carter Kieboom, SS, Nationals:
Scout’s Take: “This spring was the first time I’ve seen him, and he really stands out. I don’t think he’s a shortstop, I’ll tell you that, but I do think he’s a power-hitting second baseman. I’d pick second baseman over third, but he could probably play third so depending on your roster or where you’re at, either will do. But he probably profiles best at second base. The game comes easy to him, and he’s got the easy, superstar personality. Nothing is too big for him in the moment. And those players who can consistently keep that are special players. They end up really special.”
Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins
Scout’s Take: “Some guys have those low walk rates in the minors and you’re intrigued, but it doesn’t always mean they have plus command, it just means they have plus control. I think he has plus command and a smooth, easy delivery and a chance to manipulate the ball and do different things and solid offspeed stuff to go with it. Good mound presence, good delivery, good body. You see some guys get called up with good minor league numbers by a bad team and it feels like he might not really have stuff, they just need a guy to start Thursday. From afar that’s what I thought it was, then I went to see him and it was like, ‘This guy is a guy.’ Fastball was firm 92-95, the breaking ball looks sharp, changeup was good, used it against righties and lefties. It wasn’t like his velocity is what excited you, it was his command, but it’s better to have command at 92-95 than 88-89.”
Chris Paddack, RHP, Padres
Scout’s Take: “I think he’s commanding the fastball a little bit better. You know the changeup is always there. He’s not a pop-up, but he’s taking that next step forward to a position of a guy who legitimately probably deserves to break camp in the big league rotation. Curveball is the same, still a below-average pitch, that’s the question mark. But because of the other stuff it doesn’t have to be plus. Realistically, you’re still talking about a two-and-a-half pitch guy, but it’s good enough to work. Realistically, the expectation is still a No. 3 or 4 starter, but the thing that’s been interesting about this spring is he’s shown he possibly could be higher.”
Martin Perez, LHP, Twins
Scout’s Take: “He’s throwing the (expletive) out of it and it’s legit. He’s 95-97 and it’s real. Let’s see him sustain past May, so I would temper my enthusiasm, but I know he did it the other day, he went four innings and the velocity was there. If the Twins are a sleeper, one of the ways is if Martin Perez and Michael Pineda play significant roles in the rotation . . . If Perez maintains the way he’s throwing right now, they will have addressed their rotation.”
Nick Pivetta, RHP, Phillies
Scout’s Take: “I didn’t have to write a report on him, but if I did I would have given him three pluses and an average changeup. The curveball and slider both flashed plus. Both very sharp breaking balls, distinct. 94-95 with an 82 mph power curveball and a slider up to 86 with tilt. He was really, really good.”
Nick Tanielu, 3B/2B, Astros
Scout’s Take: “He’s absolutely raking, and he’s making me a believer. Granted the stuff he’s facing is not the stuff he’s going to be facing in the big leagues if he gets there this year, but he’s kind of interesting. I think he’s just a hitter. He plays second base and they’ve had him play some outfield, but he’s just a hitter for me. He could start in the big leagues for some teams, although probably not on a World Series team.”
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Blue Jays
Scout’s Take: “I’ve seen him all the way from A-ball. When he’s locked into that left-center gap, whether it be lefties or righties, he’s going to be a tough out. Early on in the spring he was kind of rolling over pitches, just kind of hitting weak ground balls to the right side. But now that he’s locked into that left-center gap, hitting lefties and righties, he’s going to be somebody to watch. He actually kind of trimmed up a little bit. He looks a lot better moving his feet. He looks good.”
Cole Tucker, SS, Pirates
Scout’s Take: “He looks fantastic here. I’m trying to decide what kind of raw power grade I’m going to put on him. It’s at least plus. He hit one of the furthest home runs I’ve seen. The righthanded swing looked good in BP, I haven’t seen it in the game. He’s really filled out physically, still has some long legs, but he’s just a giant of a dude. To me Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman are just placeholders for Tucker. He’s their shortstop of the future.”
Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves
Scout’s Take: “He’s really stood out in cleaning up some things. He cleaned up his delivery quite a bit. Last year, I was more kind of skeptical that he could get to being a mid-rotation guy just because of command issues. But this spring training he’s cleaned some of that up. He’s got the ceiling now to be a middle to maybe top of the rotation kind of guy.”
Jared Young, 1B, Cubs
Scout’s Take: “He was the Cubs’ minor league hitter of the year last year, and they brought him into big league camp and he’s hit in the opportunities he’s had. It’s a pure bat-first prospect. I don’t have a lot of history with him, I’m just saying if you’re going in and watching the club you say, ‘OK, this guy is standing out a little bit on the field and now let’s find out some more about him.’ If you’re going really under the radar for a pop-up guy, he’s turned some heads in camp. Just the fact he was a 15th-rounder in 2017 and he’s already playing in some big league games, that speaks well of how he’s progressed so far. He’s played some second, some third, a little bit of corner outfield, but it’s primarily first base. So obviously there is a little bit more pressure on the bat, but that’s the one thing that’s stood out about him so far. He’s put himself on the radar screen.”
Sandy Alcantara, RHP, Marlins
Francisco Alvarez, C, Mets
Ryan Borucki, LHP, Blue Jays
Griffin Canning, RHP, Angels
Luis Cessa, RHP, Yankees
Nico Hoerner, SS, Cubs
Brandon Lowe, 2B/OF, Rays
Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics
Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
In addition, here are four other notable players scouts had more mixed reviews on.
Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets
Scout’s Take: “He’s had a good spring training, but I don’t think Pete Alonso is that good. He’s obviously a polarizing one. Defense isn’t any better, he’s still stiff. He’s going to have to hit his way. Everyone knows he is. He’s hitting fastballs, but that’s the thing—it’s spring training. Once you actually try and get guys out, that’s going to be interesting. Right now, he’s taking advantage of the fastball. I can’t recall him ever hitting a slider. I’m not confident that Pete Alonso has the skills to be a hitter.”
Lewis Brinson, OF, Marlins
Scout’s Take: “I saw him last year and I could not believe how long his swing was. I was just like, ‘Wow, this is a death sentence swing.’ It was no wonder he was hitting .200 and can’t walk and strikes out all the time. But of course I also saw the 80 athlete and how young and inexperienced he was. So I said, ‘Well, it’s possible he can come back.’ I’ve tried to watch him this spring and see how much shorter that swing is, and I’m not sold either way yet. I’ve seen a little evidence of both. One day I was like, ‘There’s no difference’, and the next day I was like ‘Oh, that was impressive.’ I can’t say I’m convinced either way yet.”
Austin Hays, OF, Orioles
Scout’s Take: “He’s swinging the bat better this spring than he did last spring. I don’t think there’s any way he’s a center fielder. I know he made a highlight catch the other day, a diving catch in right-center, and he did get a good jump on it. I do think Austin Hays is going to be a nice player, I do not think he’s going to be a center fielder. I saw where the other day they said their center field competition is wide open. If that’s not Cedric Mullins, then they don’t have another center fielder on their roster. Austin Hays, he’s stretched there, even the routine plays, and I was very alarmed by his throwing arm. I was surprised at how poorly the ball came out.”
Mickey Moniak, OF, Phillies
Scout’s Take: “Moniak has a flash of a good game and then flashes that are kind of like, ‘Yeah, he’s going to need a lot more time.’ I’m on the fence with him. I definitely like the speed, I like the defense, I like the effort that he puts out and the aggressiveness. He’s going to have to know that he’s not going to be a home run hitter. Even when he gets to be 24-25, I don’t see him being a 20-plus home run guy. He’s going to have to learn other facets of the game. The other day they were down, they came back, he had a chance to drive in a run and literally the defense gave him the whole left side. All he had to do was put a bunt down or try and pepper the ball to that side and he just swung through the pitches trying to pull them. I think he might be a guy who could benefit from a different sound, a different uniform, a different voice in his ear. He’s 20 years old, let’s not give up on him, but he needs some refining to his game.”