2080 Prospect Spotlights: Notes From Around the Minor Leagues (6.17 Edition)

Taylor Ward - 2016 Inland Empire 66ers (Bill Mitchell)

Feature Photo: Taylor Ward, C, Angels

Emily Waldon, Ryan Ozella, Mark Shreve and Dave DeFreitas write up six prospects this week, including an Astros prospect that may be the next Matt Lawton down at High A Lancaster, and a late-blooming Giants prospect who could impact their bullpen sooner rather than later.  Plus, eight new prospect reports are posted to our report library.

Double-A Prospect Spotlight

LogoMLBWASTyler Mapes, RHP, Nationals (Double-A Harrisburg, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 205   B/T: R/R   Age: 24 yrs, 11m

Mapes is a former 30th-round pick of the Nationals from 2014, and after a rookie season being used purely in relief, he began spot-starting for Potomac in the High A Carolina League in 2015, and transitioned to Harrisburg’s rotation full-time this year. His carrying card is his command, and it was on display in this viewing — a three-hit shutout of the Trenton Thunder on May 16 on 98 pitches (68 for strikes).

Mapes has a muscular, bordering on bulky, athletic build that includes a running back’s lower half. He looks to be playing above his listed weight at present. He gathers with a sharp leg lift to his chest with slight rotation behind the rubber, and uncoils with strong drive off the rubber into a 3/4 arm slot, with his finish falling off to the first base side due to his high-effort mechanics.

For all that effort, however, his fastball was sitting at just 88-to-91 mph (T92), though he showed plus command of the pitch, and the ability to move it to both sides of the plate with some two-seam, boring action to the arm side, and with some mild sink to the glove side. While he was able to dot the pitch to in the lower third, his lack of velo left me thinking that his lean muscle mass may actually be hindering his arm speed, and he may not be able to dial it up any further than its present below-average velo range.

His best pitch was his slider, which sat 83-to-86 mph and was down in the zone all night. He started one version of the pitch at the belt of righties and it showed sweeping action into the zone with some late bite to it, and its effectiveness was accentuated by Mapes’ positioning on the third base side of the rubber. It’s not a true out pitch for him, as it generated some hard contact that went for ground ball outs in later innings. A second version was more of a slurvy 11-to-5 shaped offering thrown in the 75-to-79 mph range, starting on a fastball plane on the plate and dropping to the outside corner with some late bite as a chase pitch (a nice sample of which can be seen here, courtesy of milb.com). He flashed a changeup in the 78-to-80 mph range that had some late drop to the arm side, but it was used sparingly since he was pitching to contact and getting hitters out with great command of his fastball/slider combination in this viewing.

His solid build and athleticism are what you want to see in a starting pitcher, and his durability through the first half of the season already has him about 15 IP away from his 2015 total innings. And he does have plus-grade command of his fastball/slider combination, which is enough to get hitters out right now. But with the fastball being a below-average overall offering his slider being an average pitch, and his changeup being fringe-average, he still has a lot of work to do stay in a starter’s role beyond his current level. He’ll need to sequence the changeup into his repertoire a lot more, and have it play to at least an average grade, to see continued success against more advanced hitters. Based on his current three-pitch mix, he’ll be working on laser-thin margin for error to keep moving up the Senators’ system. – Mark Shreve


Single A Prospect Spotlights

LogoMLBSFGReyes Moronta, RHP, Giants (High A San Jose, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175          B/T: R/R         Age: 23 yrs, 6m

Moronta came to the Giants as an international free agent in 2010 out of the Dominican Republic, and spent three of his first four seasons in Rookie ball developing. Moronta has a stocky build to his medium frame and looks like a non-athlete. He works directly from the stretch and has a delivery with a slight bend at the waist before a high leg kick and a whippy, max-effort 3/4 arm angle to the plate. He utilizes his glove arm elbow as a guide, pointing the elbow directly at the plate and hiding the ball behind his body. He will open up his front shoulder, leading to early arm-side run and poor command at times. He has had inconsistent control, showcased by the 74 walks in his 177 career IP.

He has shown the ability to generate significant swing and miss (212 Ks in 177 IP) through his career, including this year (42 K’s in 28 Innings) due to his stuff. The ball explodes out of Moronta’s hand, jumping on hitters extremely quickly. His near-elite fastball regularly sat 94-to-96 mph (T97) with late arm side bore. He also showcased a plus slider that sat 84-to-85 mph with late downward, cutting action that was tough for hitters to pick up as it cut hard off the fastball plane. The slider led to five strikeouts in my looks, and plenty of foolish swings. He also showed an average changeup that was generally straight with a small drop and designed to keep hitters off balance. The change was only thrown a couple of times at 83 mph, but if he’s able to replicate the same path as the fastball as he did in this viewing, it could play up, and prove to be a difficult pitch to hit.

Moronta definitely has some trouble getting pitches to the glove side of the plate and regularly is over the middle/arm side of the plate with all three pitches. Even though he had an inability to pitch to a third of the plate in this appearance, this hasn’t affected him at all this season (.184 BAA, 1.04 WHIP). With a high-octane fastball, a plus slider, an average changeup and the ability to miss bats, Moronta has the tools to be an impact closer. His bad body scares me, but if he can improve his conditioning and continue to work on his control, Moronta could be on San Francisco’s roster quickly. – Ryan Ozella


LogoMLBLAAJake Jewell, RHP, Angels (High A Inland Empire, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200          B/T: R/R          Age: 23 yrs, 1m

Jewell was the fifth-round pick for the Angels in the 2014 MLB Draft, and has a mature, athletic body that could continue to build strength without hindering his development. He has a smooth, easily repeatable delivery where he lifts his arms and leg in sequence, allowing him to create a clean arm drop from the glove before getting his arm up quickly into a short circle with a high 3/4 release point. The delivery allows Jewell to hide the ball well, and doesn’t hinder his controlled drive towards the plate.

Jewell has a four-pitch mix led by a heavy fastball that sat between 88-to-91 mph (T93). It had arm side sink with late movement, jumping on right-handed hitters and creating lots of weak contact. This was showcased during the outing, as a majority of the hits given up (6 of 11) were weakly hit jam shots or flairs over infielders’ heads. Jewell looks to pound the zone with the fastball, spotting it better to the arm side. He can have it leak out over the middle, allowing hitters to put it into play. Jewell’s best off-speed pitch is his slider that sat 80-to-83 mph. At it’s best, the slider can be an above-average pitch with some late tilt action out of a fastball look, and it generates some swing and miss (198 Ks in 215 career innings). He showed some pitchability, starting off hitters with the slider the second time through the lineup and being able to throw it back-to-back. His curveball was average, sitting 77-to-79 mph, and with similar action to the slider, but with more of a 10-to-4, slurve-like bend in it. Jewell’s below-average changeup was 84-to-85 mph, and was generally straight with little tumble, and more of a show pitch.

Overall Jewell showcased his aggressive game plan well, along with the ability to battle through defensive miscues and weak contact. He has control of his pitches but doesn’t command them, and has a tendency to not put hitters away when ahead in the count. His best role is as a spot starter or middle reliever to limit his looks to once or twice through the lineup. – Ryan Ozella


LogoMLBLAATaylor Ward, C, Angels (High A Inland Empire, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185          B/T: R/R          Age: 22 yrs, 6m

Ward started the season as the top prospect in the Angels organization. After being drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Fresno State, he had a great first season with a .348/.457/.438 slash line over time in Rookie ball and at Class A Burlington in the Midwest League. He showcases a muscularly thick build on his mature body to go along with his long arms. He can continue to add some strength to his frame, without it pushing him off the catcher position.

Ward has a quiet stance at the plate, standing tall with his hands held at the shoulder before creating a level stroke with some bat speed. He’s a patient hitter that rarely chases outside the zone, making consistent contact and utilizing his patience to stay back and balanced at the plate. Ward looks for pitches out over the plate, looking to stay to the middle of the field with his contact oriented, line-drive swing. He doesn’t have much power currently, but could develop some gap power as he continues to get stronger and could turn on mistake pitches.

Highlighted by his plus arm (1.8 pop time) that has a quick release and is regularly on target, Ward’s defense has continued to improve. He will be a consistent factor in limiting the running game, throwing out almost 36% of potential base stealers so far. Ward needs to continue working on his receiving skills, as he can turn his hand the wrong way trying to catch pitches on the inner half of the plate. His blocking is o.k. right now, but he shows late reactions to balls in the dirt, highlighted by the nine passed balls charged to him already this season. Ward isn’t a blazer on the base paths, but does a good job of building up speed and can score from first. Base stealing won’t be a part of his game, but he has shown an ability to pick and choose his spots.

Ward looks like he could be a major league regular behind the plate, utilizing his defensive skills and line-drive stroke to his advantage. For him to reach his ceiling, he will need to continue to work on his receiving skills and continue to showcase good patience and pitch selection at the plate. – Ryan Ozella


LogoMLBHOUJason Martin, OF, Astros (High A Lancaster, California League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/190          B/T: L/R         Age: 20 yrs, 9m

An eighth-round selection by the Astros in the 2013 MLB Draft, the former Orange Lutheran High School standout is beginning to look like a steal. At 5’11”, Martin doesn’t jump out at you at first, but he is well built, with strong shoulders and solid lower half. His compact stroke and quick hands cause the ball to really jump off his bat, generating tremendous backspin. Last night, vs. recently signed Cuban right-hander Yasiel Sierra (RHP, Rancho Cucamonga), Marin took a 95 mph FB running away from him and lined it over the wall to straightaway left field (about 380 ft). Such a feat is not terribly uncommon when the pitch is up and on the outer half; what made Martin’s shot stand out was that it was a very good pitch–plus velo at the knees on the outer 3rd with hard sink going away from his left-handed bat…that’s hard to do folks. He followed that up with another rocket to left on another similar fastball, and then did a great job keeping his hands back and barreling up a slider down, even after he was fooled. He is a plus athlete and shows great feel for the barrel. The knock on him last year was that he lacked power and, I assume due to his size, made it hard to project a whole lot more of it developing. What a difference a year makes, because with 11 jacks as of June 16th, he has already surpassed his total from his last three seasons combined. Add in the 11 doubles and four triples this year, and you get a .900 OPS for a kid that has yet to turn 21 years old.

He is not just an offensive player either; he runs well and has good instincts in both corner outfield spots. On a flare down the left-field line last night, he was shaded towards the gap and not only covered the ground to make the catch, but got himself into perfect throwing position to make a strong throw back to 2nd base, almost doubling off the surprised base runner. His gait down the line is a little bit stiff even though he managed to run a 4.19 from the left side, but his strides lengthen out on defense and seem to play up the speed at least a half a grade.

This is not to say he is ready for Houston, however; he owns a 24% K rate right now, almost 10% higher than last year, playing in the Class A Midwest League. Some of this can be attributed to the higher level this year, and the better breaking ball command that he is facing, but that is still high for a player that will need to make consistent contact to reach his ceiling. That said, the game is about making adjustments, and considering the ingredients that he had on display in Rancho this week, I see a lot of reason to believe that he will do just that in the second half of the summer. You may recall the little left-handed outfielder the Twins took in the 13th round of the 1991 MLB Draft who turned out to be a hell of a hitter with great carry to the big part of the field; it’s far too early to say this kid is Matt Lawton, but the tools are similar. I plan to get another couple looks at him this weekend vs. Bakersfield, so look for my full report on him early next week. – Dave DeFreitas

LogoMLBDETDerek Hill, OF, Tigers (Class A West Michigan, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195         B/T: R/R         Age: 20 yrs, 4 months

Labeled a ‘dynamic talent’ out of Elk Grove H.S. (CA), Derek Hill surfaced as the Tigers’ first round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, the first outfielder chosen by Detroit since Cameron Maybin entered as the 10th-round pick for the Tigers in 2005.

A lean 6’2”, 195-pound build fits the bill for an outfield blueprint , though his listed weight may be a bit generous. In addition to the ability to pull an occasional Willie Mays-style basket catch in his usual center field post, one of Hill’s most buzzed about attributes is his elite speed, and it plays up on both offense and defense. Hill clocks speeds as low as 3.9 seconds from HP-to-1B, and with type of gap pop he has in his swing, the combination gives him a shot of being an everyday hitter at the major league level, despite lack of HR power. Defensively, Hill has been clocked in the middle 90s throwing in from center field, and shows plus range and quick footwork that should make him a legitimate impact defender.

One hurdle for evaluating Hill during his first full season of pro ball last year was just staying healthy. Hill made three trips to the disabled list dealing with a nagging quad injury, limiting him to just 53 games with Class A West Michigan in 2015. Despite the setback, Hill managed to steal 25 bases over his 53 games, concluding the year with a .238/.305/.314 slash line, with six doubles, five triples and 16 RBIs for the Whitecaps.

Entering 2016, we are seeing the long-awaited healthy version of the 20 year old, finally allowing a glimpse of what Detroit first saw in him out of high school. Displaying a more patient, relaxed stance at the plate, Hill has experienced a dip in his overall ISO, dropping from .076 in 2015, down to .062 this season. While he may bulk up in the coming years, Hill’s value will shine through the speed that allows him endless opportunities to stretch what would normally be a single into easy extra bases.

Hill is leading West Michigan with 42 runs and 19 stolen bases, all while hitting .268/.326/.348 and adding a .647 OPS. His current production is slowly but surely giving the Tigers a clearer picture of what they can expect from their speedy outfielder moving forward. – Emily Waldon


This Week at 2080 Baseball…

Reports Filed:

Ronnie Jebavy, CF, Giants (High A San Jose, California League)

Jake Jewell, RHP, Angels (High A Inland Empire, California League)

Reyes Moronta, RHP, Giants (High A San Jose, California League)

Tim Locastro, 2B, Dodgers (High A Rancho Cucamonga, California League) 

Drew Jackson, SS, Mariners (High A Bakersfield, California League)

Franchy Cordero, LF, Padres (High A Lake Elsinore, California League)

Joshua James, RHP, Astros, High A Lancaster, California League)

Shintaro Fujinami (RHP, Hanshin Tigers, NBP Japan)

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