The Grind: Prospect evaluations from a veteran scout (Mississippi/Chattanooga Series)

Nick Gordon - Surprise Saguaros - 2016 Arizona Fall League (Bill Mitchell)

Feature photo: Nick Gordon, SS, Twins

After a long weekend in Chattanooga, home of the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in the Southern League, I was able to get looks at a bunch of former first-rounders as the Mississippi Braves came to town for a five-game set. No less than five former first-rounders were in action for Mississippi, and below are my thoughts on each.  I also write up newly acquired Zack Littlel (RHP, Twins) for Chattanooga, who has quietly gone 18-1 in a breakout season split between the Twins and the Yankees, and Nick Gordon (SS, Twins), who has the raw tools to become an average middle infielder, but whose defense still needs some polish.  And Fernando Romero (RHP, Twins) is looking at a ceiling of a Role 60 number three starter if he can throw more quality strikes.


2080 Prospect Spotlights
Double-A Southern League
Mississippi Braves (ATL) at Chattanooga Lookouts (MIN)
August 21-25, 2017


Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves (Double-A Mississippi, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/190 lbs.      B/T: L/L           Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 20y, 6m

Allard is a young and projectable lefty who can throw strikes with a projectable above-average three-pitch mix. The former 2015 first-rounder (#14 overall), Allard works from a full windup with a long arm action. He has some recoil in the delivery and finishes with stiff front side. In spite of some mechanical flaws in the delivery, he repeats it well, and has shown consistently average command and control of his arsenal (2.8 BB/9 this year, 2.56 BB/9 in 2016 across 87 innings split between Rookie and A ball). In my viewing August 21, his fastball had average velocity, sitting mostly at 91 mph but in a range of 88-to-92 for the outing, and it had run and tail to both sides of the plate, with particular effectiveness seen with some boring action into righties. The command was above average, and he is able to work down in the lower half of the zone consistently. Allard’s curveball was average, with depth and good spin action, and he was able to change the shape of it. His changeup was also average with projection, with fading action at 82-to-84 mph and good fell for the pitch.

With the potential for three 55-grade offerings and solid-average control, Allard projects nicely as a solid number four starter, with his secondaries still having some room for development at this early point in his career.


Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves (Double-A Mississippi, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/225 lbs.       B/T: R/R        Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 20y, 7m

Along with lefty Kolby Allard, Soroka is another projectable, young arm worth keeping an eye on in the Braves’ system, and another first-rounder from the 2015 MLB Draft (#28 overall). Soroka is a big man, well-proportioned for his 6-foot-5 frame and durably built. He works without a windup with a shorty arm action and a shallow wrap in the back. The arm is quick, and the ball really jumps out of his hand even with a smooth delivery. He shows good tempo and rhythm, allowing him to repeat well especially for a big guy, and has an above-average feel for pitching and double-plus control so far as a pro, walking just 2.03-per-nine innings this year, and 2:03 last year over 143 innings in the Class A South Atlantic League.

His fastball was sitting 90-to-94 mph with most readings at 91 mph, but the pitch projects to plus at maturity. He shows plus deception with it, and can work it with heavy sinking action in the lower velocities. The run and tailing action and plus movement at the higher velos play the pitch up, as does his above average command of the offering. He also throws a cutter at 86-to-87 mph that has short, quick and deceptive movement. The slider has potential to get to average but is presently inconsistent, and he over-uses the pitch, though it has average spin. The changeup is too soft at present, in the 80-to-82 mph range. While the change and slider are the biggest points of development for Soroka, he is constantly around the zone pitching to contact with double-plus control, which along with a projectable above-average arsenal across the board, gives him a ceiling of a Role 60 number three starter, and a solid floor of a Role 50 number four.


Travis Demeritte, 2B, Braves (Double-A Mississippi, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 lbs.      B/T: R/R     Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 22

Demeritte is an offensive-minded power bat at second base for Mississippi, showing a loose and lively body with plus athleticism, and quick-twitch actions. He is among the bevy of former first-rounders on the Mississippi roster, taken by the Rangers in 2013 with the 30th overall pick before being treaded to the Braves near the 2016 trade deadline. The swing is on a good path, and he shows quick hands and wrists at the plate. He’ll look to drive pitches middle-in and out over the plate, and is aggressive, swinging at plenty of first pitches in my recent views. Demerrite’s bat is quick, and he can barrel balls up to all fields, but he struggles with below-average pitch recognition and is prone to expanding the zone and showing a lack of patience in his approach. He still carries a bunch of strikeouts on his back, with 139 strikeouts this year (28%), which is actually an improvement over his 38% strikeout rate last year across to High A clubs. His raw power is above-average, and the loft and leverage he gets continues to translate into games with a .171 ISO, though the home run production has dipped in Double-A to 15 from last year’s 28. Overall the hit tool still projects to fringe-average.

In the field, the actions are playable at second base, with his hands being somewhat firm, causing him some trouble on balls hit right at him. But he also shows above average lateral range with the ability to go glove side, and good footwork and quickness around the bag. His arm is above average, helped by a quick release and the ability to throw from angles. His future role will ultimately be determined by his ability to learn the strike zone and improve his pitch recognition skills. He has a tight ceiling of a Role 45 second baseman capable of playing every day on some clubs, with a floor of a Role 40 part-time player.


(UPDATED) Austin Riley, 3B, Braves (Double-A Mississippi, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/230 lbs.      B/T: R/R        Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 20

I was able to get more looks at Riley after he was assigned from High A Florida to Mississippi on July 13. (Here is my original spotlight on Riley). Riley hasn’t missed a beat since his promotion, sporting a .294 average with six home runs for the Braves, and showing a projectable plus hit tool with plus power potential. He has good swing mechanics and shows feel for the barrel, and gets dangerous when he can get extended and take advantage of the loft and leverage in his swing. The ball is really jumping off his bat and he makes consistent loud contact. He’s adjusting to pitches middle-in and fighting off pitches he can’t handle with better frequency than my previous views, and the power numbers continue to trend upwards.

He’s shown improved ability at third base as well, with average hands seen in these views. His fielding actions remain stiff and rigid, and he won’t wow you with a highlight reel, but he is making the routine plays. And is a steady presence. He needs to keep working on the footwork and let some of his raw athleticism take over at the position to improve. His arm strength is plus, and he shows both carry and accuracy. His run tool is below average (4.39 seconds down the line), but the speed is not a part of his game.

Riley should be allowed to develop at third base until he plays himself off the position, where a move to first base would be probable. He has a ceiling of a Role 60 third baseman, and a floor of a Role 50 at either corner position, with the hit tool carrying the profile in either case.


(UPDATED) Touki Toussaint, RHP, Braves (Double-A Mississippi, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 lbs.      B/T: R/R       Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 20y, 9m

I previously saw Toussaint in the Florida State League before being promoted to Mississippi AA on July 31st (here is my original spotlight on Toussaint). The young righty continues to be plagued by a lack of control and command this year, and in my viewing August 24, he was no better, walking seven over five innings of work, keeping his control numbers at a well-below-average 3.94 BB/9, which is still an improvement over his previous two years (4.82 in 2016, 4.92 in 2015). It is only slightly offset by his 10.56 SO/9 rate.

Toussaint works from the stretch with a long arm action, and the arm is free and easy. The fastball was above average, sitting 90-to-94 mph and resting at 92, and it could reach plus at maturity with the average movement and projection for some strength in the body. It shows arm-side tail and sink, and he can flash some cut action at times. The curveball was not as firm as prior views, showing a loopier 12-to-6 shape and ¾’s break as compared to the FSL looks I had, but still showed average action. The changeup was a projectable above-average offering with fading action and feel, and with some dive to lefties.

At this stage a move to the pen seems inevitable, where the command/control profile can be hidden in shorter stints, and where the fastball could play up to plus. He has the raw stuff and ability to see a high-risk ceiling of a Role 50 reliever, and a floor of a Role 40, where he could handle the sixth-and-seventh innings, but it’s all predicated on refinement of the command/control profile in the high minors from here.


Zack Littell, RHP, Twins (Double-A Chattanooga, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/220 lbs.           B/T: R/R            Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 21y, 5m

Littell was a quiet-but-important piece of the Yankees’ package to acquire left-hander Jaime Garcia from the Twins at this year’s trade deadline (along with lefty Deitrich Enns). Assigned to Chattanooga, I was able to view his start on August 21, where he threw six innings of two-hit ball, walking four and striking out six in a no-decision, 3-2 loss.

Littell has a strong and durable, well-proportioned frame, and looks fully developed with a prototypical starter’s build. He has a short arm action and repeats his delivery well. He’s aggressive in his approach, with plus feel for pitching and really attacks the zone with his four-pitch mix, and this four-walk outing was uncharacteristic of his performance this year, where he has shown consistent plus control (2.3 BB/9) and double-plus control last year over a solid 165.2 innings (1.8 BB/9). His fastball was average, sitting 91-to-93 mph with most reading at 91 mph, and he can work it to both sides of the plate with run and tailing action for above-average movement. The movement and plus command play the pitch up to an above-average grade.

The curveball is plus, showing ¾ depth and sharp break in the 73-to-76 mph range, and he can change the shape. He is confident to throw the pitch for strikes in any count with plus command, and it has some deception off the fastball. His slider was average, with more of a cutter look in the 84-to-86 mph range, and the changeup showed average late fade at 83-to-85 mph.

It’s been a breakout year for Littell, with an 18-1 record across 24 starts and two relief appearances, and he’s crossed 150 innings for the second consecutive year and taking a regular turn in the rotation without an injury as a pro. He has a realistic role of a number four-or-five starter, with the durability to really eat up a bunch of innings in a rotation.


Nick Gordon, SS, Twins (Double-A Chattanooga, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175 lbs.          B/T: L/R        Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 21y, 5m

Still a fresh 21 years old and a former 2014 first-round pick of the Twins (and son of Tom Gordon (MLB, 1993-2009, multiple teams), and brother of Dee Gordon, 2B, Marlins), Gordon is an average athlete with a sold build, but still needs to ad some strength to the frame. He was not at his best in my four-game look, going 4-for-21 in a homestand versus the Mississippi Braves, and striking out six times. He’s an offensive minded middle infielder, who can square up balls with a quick bat, and use the whole field with his line-drive oriented stroke. The swing is loose, with quick hands and some wrists, and some buggy whip action to it. While he’s hitting .296 versus righties, he has regressed this year versus left-handed pitching, hitting just .176, after posting slightly better splits last year versus LHP/RHP (.220/.315). The strikeout rate has also jumped to 22% from last year’s 19% at High A Fort Myers, and he needs to improve his two-strike approach and leverage his quick bat to generate more contact when down in the count.

In the field, he’s been primarily playing shortstop, and his fielding has been below average this year, with 21 errors and a .954 fielding percentage, following similar numbers last year (21 errors). He has the ability, but can sit back on balls and cause his throws to be rushed and lack accuracy. He’ll circle on balls with good first-step lateral quickness and the overall range projects as average. While he cold project to an average overall defender at shortstop, a move to second base, where he doesn’t have to wait on balls as much, would lead to improved fielding potential. His arm is average, and throwing from around the bag and throwing from angles can still use some development. On the bases, he has fringy speed at 4.28 seconds down the line, and he still needs to learn the nuances of base stealing to be able to grab a few bags.

Gordon still has youth on his side, and some patience is in order with his development, but the tools are there to become a Role 50 major league regular up the middle, with a floor of a Role 45 second-division player on some clubs.


Fernando Romero, RHP, Twins (Double-A Chattanooga, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/215 lbs.        B/T: R/R        Age (As of Aril 1, 2017): 22y, 3m

Romero, signed in November, 2011 as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, has a strong, compact frame, and throws from a low-3/4’s arm slot. He works without a windup and has a long arm action with a good arm circle and quick arm through the slot. He falls off when he finishes, and would benefit from a more online finish so he can consistently stay on top of the ball. While reports had his fastball in the 96-to-98 mph range, the velocity was down in this viewing to 92-95 mph, with most readings at a plus 94 mph. the decline could be some typical end-of-season fatigue as he’s thrown 125 innings to-date, or it could be an attempt to generate some sink and tail at the lower velo bands. The fastball showed some run and bore, but it can flatten out on him when he’s not locating down in the zone, which was the case in this view, where command was below average, and he surrendered 9 hits over five innings pitched. In fact over his last three outings he’s allowed 26 hits over just 14 1/3 innings while striking out just five in that span, versus 8.6 SO/9 for the season. The fastball projects to a 65 grade with the average movement and future average command. His slider was above average at 85-to-87 mph. Though it was seldom used, it showed tilt and ¾’s depth. His changeup was plus, coming in at 85-to-88 mph with late fade, and he front-doored it to righties with effectiveness, but it was over-used versus lefties in this viewing.

While the command/control profile flashed some erratic tendencies, the overall control profile is still fringy this year, with 3.2 BB/9 versus a double-plus 1.5 BB/9 last year. He should settle at average control at maturity, and he’ll need to throw more quality strikes to reach a ceiling of a Role 60 number three starter. His floor is that of a solid number four arm.