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I decided to take a different tack in Ask BA today, and focus on prospects who don't get much time in the spotlight. So here we go . . .

    Astros outfield prospect Ariel Ovando seems to be putting his injury-riddled 2011 campaign behind him. This guy has intriguing size, raw power and athleticism. In the 2012 Prospect Handbook (or as my buddy and I call it, "The Bible"), Ovando got a BA Grade of 55/Extreme. What is your evaluation of Ovando so far this season? What is the likelihood we see a 60 or even a 65 next to Ovando's name in future editions of "The Bible"?

    Mike Brown
    Hopkinton, Mass.

Ovando is repeating the Rookie-level Appalachian League, which shouldn't be viewed as a setback because he's just 18 years old. Signed for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and trumpeted as a sign of the Astros' renewed commitment to Latin American talent, he hit .235/.283/.365 in his pro debut last year and has boosted those numbers to .308/.355/.472 this summer.

Call me conservative, but I'd still give him a 55/Extreme if we were working on the 2013 Handbook today. The first part of the BA Grade reflects the player's realistic ceiling on the 20-80 scouting scale, and the second indicates the amount of risk involved with getting him there. Despite his improved performance, Ovando hasn't changed significantly in either regard.

Raw power remains his best tool, but it still shows up more in batting practice than in games. Though he has raised his batting average 73 points and his OPS 179 points, he still has a lot of work to do with tightening up his strike zone. He's still raw as a basestealer and right fielder and needs to fill out his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame. While Ovando has made some encouraging progress in 2012, he's still far from a finished product.

    What are your thoughts on Nationals righthander Nathan Karns, who has been pretty unhittable this year? Does he project as a No. 3 starter, or is the bullpen his calling?

    Jason VanHouten
    Albany, N.Y.

In his first fully healthy season of pro ball, Karns has been spectacular. He has gone 11-2, 1.83 with a 135-42 K-BB ratio in 108 innings, and he leads the minors in opponent average (.154) while ranking second in ERA. Shortly after signing for $225,000 as a 12th-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2009, he had surgery to repair a tear in his labrum in his shoulder, so he didn't make his pro debut until 2011 or reach full-season ball until this year.

Despite his success this year, most of which has come as a starter, I still envision Karns becoming a reliever. He succeeds mainly with two pitches, a low-90s fastball that can touch 95 mph and a hard curveball. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder always has featured a lot of effort in his delivery, which hampers his command and his ability to work deep into games.

Because of the delay to the start of his pro career, Karns already is 24 and has yet to advance past high Class A. The Nationals surely will continue to develop him as a starter for now, but they already have one of the deeper big league rotations and he'll probably be best off airing out his fastball and mixing in his curve in short stints.

    Daytona righthander Matt Loosen's numbers are staggeringly good this year. Is he a prospect despite being a little old for high Class A, or are his numbers fluky? What's the story on fellow Cubs righthander Trey McNutt this year? And finally, are there any young Cubs arms to be excited about?

    Dale Roberts
    Calvert City, Ky.

Loosen turned in a pair of nondescript seasons in the Cubs system after signing for $30,000 as a 23rd-round pick from Jacksonville in 2010, leaving no hints that he'd break out this year. Even after getting roughed up in his last two starts, he tops the high Class A Florida State League in wins (10) and opponent average (.190), and he has an overall record of 10-4, 3.33 with a 96-37 K-BB ratio in 100 innings.

Loosen is a prospect in the sense that he has a chance to get to the big leagues, but he's not a top prospect. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder works mostly with an average fastball and he can run it up to 94 mph on occasion. His curveball is better than his slider, though both are effective, while his changeup lacks consistency. He throws a decent amount of strikes but his control and command still need improvement.

At 23, Loosen is old for his level and needs to get tested by more advanced hitters. He projects more as a middle reliever than a starter, and if we slapped a BA grade on him, it would be 45/High.

As for McNutt, whom we ranked as Chicago's best pitching prospect entering the season, he has hit a wall. Though he flashed a pair of plus-plus pitches and showed promise as a potential No. 2 starter at two Class A stops in 2010, he hasn't been the same guy since.

Now relegated to the bullpen during his third stint in Double-A, he just hasn't shown the same stuff with any consistency. He no longer misses many bats and his command, never his strong suit, has backslid as well. He now looks like a definite reliever, and he's going to have to snap out of his funk to get a big league opportunity.

The Cubs lack quality pitching at the upper levels of their farm system, which is why they drafted high school arms Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Ryan McNeil and Anthony Prieto in the first five rounds in June and traded for four pitchers (most notably Arodys Vizcaino) in July. Of the guys who were in the system at the start of the year, the best young arms (21 and under) are Dillon Maples (who didn't make his pro debut until July 29 after tweaking his elbow), Tony Zych and Jose Rosario.

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