2080 Baseball pro-side evaluators have been in the field since March getting up-close and in-person looks at the game’s top prospects. Below is a summary of all of our notes and video covering the participants in this year’s Carolina League All-Star Classic. We hope you enjoy! –Adam McInturff
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Dylan Cease | RHP | White Sox (High A Winston-Salem, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2018): 22y, 3m
Cease has been tough to get a read on in the early going this year. He has put together a few starts where there has been enthusing developments to his control, allowing his loud raw stuff to dominate games. Other times—like my first look at him this season (six walks in 3.2 innings)—he’ll run into the same spurts of wildness that he has struggled with in the past.
The fastball sat 96-to-97 mph in my look, reaching the 98-to-99 mph range a handful of times. If he runs into trouble at higher levels as a starter, it’s because of fastball command that still is a grade worse than his walk rates (4.5 BB/9 in 2017, 4.0 this year). Even when he’s technically in the zone with his fastball, he misses spots often and can occasionally miss to the wrong side of the plate altogether. Cease has the arm-strength to bail the in-zone location out to some degree, but the development of the actual command likely is the determinant in the “starter versus reliever” debate. His 75-to-77 mph curveball is the primary off-speed pitch, showing above-average potential with flashes of sharp, late action when he finishes it. A new wrinkle as a mid-80s slider that shows hard cut action to his glove side. Cease’s changeup is still a work in progress: there’s separation on the pitch at 82-to-84 mph, but it’s at the expense of arm speed and deception. He telegraphs the change and it straightens out over the plate.
I wouldn’t close the door on his future as a power mid-rotation starter, but there’s a ways to go with his command, his third pitch, and his ability to make it through lineups numerous times. If he does figure it out in the rotation, I expect him to be more of a late-bloomer who still needs at least a full season in the minors, maybe two. He will get every chance to keep developing in a starting role, though I see a potential impact bullpen arm who could give 50+ innings a year in high-leverage situations. -Adam McInturff
Carter Kieboom | SS | Nationals (High A Potomac, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2018): 20y, 6m
Despite playing in less than 50 games last season, the Nationals showed confidence in Kieboom by challenging him with an initial assignment to High A Potomac to start the year. Just 20 years old for the entirety of the 2018 regular season, he’s already hitting third and manning shortstop for the P-Nats. He added muscle this off-season, now looking every bit of his athletic 6’2’’ and 200-pound listing. Kieboom’s batspeed has improved because of the strength gains, and he’s showing more consistent loft power in game situations. His swing path is lengthier than when I saw him as an amateur, but he’s doing more damage at the plate as well. Kieboom understands how to work himself into fastball counts, which is a good sign for a hitter who shows more present swing-and-miss against off-speed stuff. Defensively, I came away impressed with his improvements at shortstop: last year, I saw a player likely to move off the position, though he now looks to have at least some chance to stick at short. Kieboom will never be truly plus defender, but both his range and overall actions have taken steps forward since 2017.
One of the better infield prospects in the low minors, Kieboom’s offensive profile will be extremely valuable if he can remain up the middle on defense. The ceiling is an offensive-minded shortstop with above-average hit and power tools on top of a passable glove. Likely more of an everyday guy if he moves to the hot corner, the bat still could be enough to get regular playing time at third base. Washington has had great success developing left-side infielders like Anthony Rendon (3B, Nationals) and Trea Turner (SS, Nationals), and Kieboom has the tools and makeup to be the next name on that list. -Adam McInturff
Leody Taveras | OF | Rangers (High A Down East, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/175 B/T: S/R Age (as of April 1, 2018): 19y, 6m
The centerpiece of the Rangers’ 2015 J2 free agent class, Taveras signed for a $2.1 million bonus. As much noise as the industry makes about the variability of seven-figure international signees, Taveras has done nothing to make his bonus look like an overpay. He’s a freak athlete with developing baseball instincts, able to play a quality center field while showing a high-ceiling power/speed toolset from a switch-hitting profile.
He’s listed at 6’1’’ and 170 pounds, but at just 19 years old, he’s still growing into his body and he’s both taller and more physical than his listing. He flashed more raw power in BP than I have seen in previous looks, especially from the right side—though the game contact is more polished from the left side of the plate, where he shows a more fundamental swing. The power potential I saw on top of the speed and athlete tools were exciting, and it’s impressive he is holding his own in High-A at the same age as most college freshman. Taveras has excellent range in centerfield with long, effortless strides across the outfield grass. On a freezing cold night where everyone was stiff, he cold picked up a single to center and delivered a whistling rope to the third baseman to hold a runner at second; it is a no-doubt plus field and throw defensive profile.
Taveras’ bat is still a few years away from Arlington, but the physicality, athleticism, and well-rounded tool set gives him impact potential on both sides of the ball. Even if the hit and power tools finish more 50-grade than 60, his speed and elite defensive upside still project to add significant value. With more bat than that—especially in the power category—Taveras could be yet another homegrown Rangers hitter on his way to stardom. -Adam McInturff
Feature Reports (Including Video)
- Sam Hentges, LHP, Indians (High A Lynchburg) -Adam McInturff
- Khalil Lee, OF, Royals (High A Wilmington) -Adam McInturff
- Wil Crowe, RHP, Nationals (High A Potomac) -Adam McInturff
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