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Yadier Alvarez, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Alvarez looks more filled-out than his listed 175 pounds would imply, with long levers, and a lazy, controlled physicality that produces strong balance and extremely fluid movements. The arm action is on the deeper side, but clean and consistent to a higher-three-quarters slot that leverages his length effectively to create a strong angle of attack. He’ll lose his back-side a bit when he pushes off, and the overall timing and execution of the delivery isn’t there yet pitch to pitch. But it’s a lot of frame to grow into and harness, and he just turned 21. This is exactly the combination of body control and delivery elegance that makes you unduly comfortable as an evaluator in projecting hard on future gains.
He produces the easiest premium velocity I’ve seen in recent years this side of Alex Reyes, with a four-seamer that sat 95-97 comfortably and touched 98 a few times. The heater plays fairly straight, but it stays on plane and explodes late, making it an awfully tough pitch to reach at the top of the zone and an equally difficult offering to lift when he drives it to the lower quadrants. He induced swings-and-misses around the zone, and with command and consistency improvements that should come with repetition it projects to eventually play as a true 70 pitch in a starting role. He showed two distinct breakers in this start, the first a hard slider in the 86-89 range with hard bite. The vertical action of the pitch helps it play up off the fastball line, with swing-and-miss potential below the zone and flashes of a plus offering. Another version at 84-86 featured more two-plane curveball movement with depth and finish, though a shorter trajectory on account of the high velocity that limited its movement. If he can find a way to knock a few miles-and-hour off of it, look out. A hard straight change in the high-80s rounds out the arsenal. There isn’t a ton of daylight at present between it and the slider, as both pitches dive hard with fringy horizontal movement. But the arm action is sweet, and if he can figure out how to draw some fade out of it I can see it evolving into a third well above-average offering in time.
Alvarez is raw to be sure, with timing and consistency issues eating into his present command. But the full package is as-advertised, with top-of-the-rotation potential when all is said and done. —Wilson Karaman
Triston McKenzie, RHP, Cleveland Indians (High-A Lynchburg Hillcats)
With a knee-to-chin leg kick and an easy, athletic delivery featuring plenty of arm speed, McKenzie’s fastball was impressive in the first inning, hitting 94 multiple times. By the second frame it was down to 89-92, and it sat below 90 for much of the remainder of his outing, dropping as low as 87 and bumping back up to 91 when he reached back. Natural extension from his lanky arms allowed it play up in the lower velocity band, and there’s room for more effective velocity if he lengthens his stride, especially out of the stretch. McKenzie backed up his fastball with a curveball that has plus potential and changed shapes from batter to batter. To one, it was a buckler at 77 with 12-to-6 bend, to the next it was up to 80 with more of an 11-to-5, strike-to-ball path.
If you’ve read anything about our 55th best prospect, chances are pretty good you know he’s slight of build. So while I’d like to avoid redundancy, McKenzie’s 6-foot-5, 165-pound dimensions are, in a sense, the most important part of his profile. Calling him skinny doesn’t really do his waist justice; he’s so thin that he had a problem cinching his belt up tight enough for his jersey to stay tucked in. It’s reductive to say it all comes down to whether the physical projection comes, but all the other ingredients are there. It’s a mid-rotation profile if he gets strong enough to hold what he already has over multiple innings, with upside for more if another tick or two comes with that strength. —Greg Wellemeyer
Listed at 6-foot-5, 220 lbs, the Phillies 24-year-old right-hander has an athletic, lean & strong upper and lower half. Pivetta has good rhythm to his delivery with a quick arm ,repeated well and had a 3-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curveball). He changed speeds with the fastball consistently, ranging from 91-97 mph. The fastball sat mostly 92-94 mph but easily dialed up to 95-97 mph when he wanted it. He maintained his velocity throughout a 7 inning, 85-pitch, complete game shutout in the doubleheader. The fastball was fairly straight but with late life and got on hitters quick generating many late bats. However, he didn’t actually miss many bats with the fastball. The slider was the true out-pitch at 85-86 showing both shorter and longer break at times and flashed plus potential. Pivetta picked up four of his five strikeouts with the slider. The curveball was 76-80 mph with slurvy action and was an average grade pitch at best. Pivetta showed the ability to throw strikes with his 3-pitch mix, repeat his delivery and had a plus fastball to compliment a potential above-average breaking ball. The lack of a changeup could cause trouble going forward against left-handed hitters. However, the Pawtucket lineup didn’t feature a single left-handed bat in the lineup so Pivetta was able to cruise without having to use it. Pivetta showed a changeup when I saw him in 2015 that was a clear 4th offering that was firm and lacked movement. —Chaz Fiorino
Mark Appel, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies, (Triple-A Lehigh Valley)
Listed at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, the Phillies 25-year-old right-hander has a matured build with a strong lower half. Appel has lots of moving parts in his delivery making it tough to repeat and throw consistent strikes. His arm works well and it’s a fringe-average three-pitch mix at best across the board (fastball, slider, changeup). Appel’s fastball was 91-94 mph and fairly straight and hittable. The lack of movement and overall command results in an average grade fastball. The slider was 81-83 with short, vertical break grading as an average grade pitch but does not project to be a legit swing-miss offering. The changeup was 83-85 and a clear third offering that was straight and fairly flat, playing more as a BP fastball. There’s not much, if any, projection left with Appel and he appears to be a solid Triple-A organizational depth arm that could make a few spot starts in case of emergency at the major league level. —Chaz Fiorino
Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire) So Sean Reid-Foley has now made three 2017 starts and failed to make it into the fourth inning of any of them. Should we be worried coming off the dreaded forearm soreness at the end of 2016? I think these games all have reasonable explanations, and he pitched pretty much to our past scouting reports in my viewing of the third game in Trenton. In his first start of the season, New Hampshire’s rotation was all screwed up, and he was taken out early to return on short rest. In the second start, Reid-Foley was simply terrible and got lifted early, and in the third start I would suspect the 72 pitches he threw was pretty close to a target count given the weirdness preceding it. On the mound against Trenton, Reid-Foley was fastball-heavy, sitting 91-94 with command that came and went; the better ones had some quality sinking action. Also true to form, I'm not really sure he threw enough breaking balls or changes for me to get a strong feel for which one I preferred, though I think the curve flashed most interesting. I posited on Twitter that because of the circumstances this may not have been the world’s most representative look at Reid-Foley or opposing starter Justus Sheffield, and frankly these things do happen often in April looks at pitchers. But in retrospect it actually seems quite representative, doesn't it? —Jarrett Seidler
Last year, 18-year-old Brendon Davis spent his summer in Midland, Michigan being extremely thin and striking out at a high rate. This year he’s back repeating low A and in my recent looks I immediately noticed a thicker, more physically mature frame. While still very raw, there is a lot to like in Davis’s profile, and it’s easy to see why the Dodgers signed him over slot in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. He’s a smooth defender at shortstop with good range and soft hands. The arm is average for shortstop but accurate. Davis’s long legs and strides sometimes makes for a slow start out of the box, but the speed still plays slightly above average. On multiple times from this season and last, he averages 4.20 seconds from home to first. There also appears to be a toning down of the aggressive approach that I saw last year. However, the swing is still long and he will chase pitches out of the zone causing the strikeout numbers to continue to be inflated. There is some natural leverage in the swing and Davis possesses average bat speed. If he continues to physically mature, there could be an uptick in power in his future. —Nathan Graham
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Seattle Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
Everyone knows O’Neill is a big human and is playing in Triple-A at the ripe old age of 21. He is surprisingly mobile for his size and possesses a strong throwing arm. Despite a strong year at Double-A, where his athleticism and massive raw strength combined with an ability to control the zone to allow him to excel at the dish, O’Neill’s swing has some significant holes in it.
If you take a look at his back elbow—as it works down notice how it ends up getting in front of his hands. A common term for this flaw is “bat drag” and the problem with this movement is it shifts the hitting zone forward on the hitter. The most precious commodity for a hitter is time, and the further you shift your hitting zone forward, the less time you will ultimately have. Less time means making earlier decisions—and worse—decisions. In other words, worse plate discipline, and more swing-and-miss potential. This isn’t a trait you see in elite hitters, but that doesn’t mean O’Neill won’t be a major leaguer. I do think that unless he rectifies this issue, he won’t reach elite status. One player I’ve noticed who has found success and does feature elbow drag if Mark Reynolds, whose penchant for walking, whiffing, and hitting homers make for a decent comp for O’Neill at the plate.
Strength, while not everything, can help cover up some flaws, but I do think that this,seemingly small issue will play a big role in his future. —Derek Florko
Zac Gallen, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (High-A Palm Beach)
Throwing from a high-three-quarters slot with a repeatable, deceptive delivery, Zac Gallen has two major-league pitches and two others not too far behind. He mixes a two-seam and four-seam fastball that sits 92-93, topping out 95. Throwing all offerings to either corner, he commands his fastball best—he gets the heater in on hitter’s hands with consistency. He tunnels off the fastball with his next-best pitch, a cutter sitting 88-89 with small, 10-5 break. He has mastered this pitch to the corners for swings-and-misses and weak contact.
The other two pitches are serviceable, but have room for improvement. His changeup has moderate fade, and throws it to both righties and lefties. Though below average now, the changeup has the potential to become a reliable weapon. His fourth pitch; a big, 12-5, soft knuckle curve, is only used occasionally—but often enough to take up real estate in a hitter’s mind.
Gallen is off to a hot start in his first full season, accumulating three earned runs, 23 strikeouts, 13 hits, and four walks over 18 innings in three starts. There is a lot to like—the strikeouts, the pitchability, the athleticism, the tempo, the confidence... There mere drawback is his narrow 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, leading to durability concerns. Fortunately, for us, for the Cardinals, and for Gallen, there have been no health concerns. We’ll check back later in the season to monitor the development of his changeup and durability. —Javier Barragan
Isaac Paredes, SS, Chicago Cubs (Low-A South Bend)
The Cubs signed Paredes for $800,000 as part of their 2015-16 international class, and promoted him to South Bend at the end of last year when he was still 17. This season, Paredes is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League, where he has gotten off to a slow start.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Paredes likely weighs more than that as he possesses a mature body despite his age. The body makes scouts questions whether he’ll be able to stick at short, as he carries much of the weight in his upper body, making it hard to envision the lateral movement required for the position sticking around much longer. That said, Paredes’ actions at short are fluid and natural, as he possesses soft hands and a strong arm, suggesting a slide to third wouldn’t be much of an issue defensively. At the plate, Paredes displays a mature approach for his age, paired with strong wrists and a natural bat-to-ball ability. His body isn’t completely maxed out, so fringe-average power is possible down the road, but has yet to manifest itself in games.
Paredes is a long ways away from the majors, but simply being in the Midwest League at 18 is an indicator of his potential. His well-rounded skill set would play better at the six due to the fringe power, but he could make a go of it at the hot corner if he winds up there. —Emmett Rosenbaum
Andrew Stevenson, OF, Washington Nationals (Double-A Harrisburg)
It’s easy to put guys in boxes, especially if they look like they’ll fit snugly. It’s easy to cast Stevenson as a fourth outfielder. He looks the part. A speedy center fielder without much in the way of pop at the plate, who’s not particularly young for his level. As good as his outfield glove could be, he’d still have to hit to have an everyday role. Well, he looked that part too. While there isn’t much loft in the swing, the line drives are loud and he can spray balls to all fields. Stevenson is at least a plus runner, and will take an extra base or two on those line drives. That will help make up a bit for the lack of over-the-fence power. Everything else was what you would expect, he made a couple nice, rangy plays in center field, He went first-to-home with ease on a double. It was a one-game look—which can lead to dangerous prognostications—but I think we may have packed Stevenson into the “extra outfielder” box a bit too soon. —Jeffrey Paternostro