Featured Photo: George Valera, OF, Indians
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John Eshleman recently spent time at the Arizona complexes taking in extended spring training and came away with notes on some interesting low-minors talent. Below are a collection of spotlights pulled from our library highlighting four of these players.
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George Valera, OF, Indians
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/160 B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1, 2018): 17y, 5m
Born in the United States, Valera relocated to the Dominican and was eligible to sign with Cleveland as a 16-year-old in 2017, signing for $1.3 million. The massive power he generates from a 5’10’’ frame has turned heads on the backfields in Goodyear, AZ—his hit and power combo is advanced for his age (won’t be 18 until November), and the bat stood out in both my Spring Training and Extended looks in March and May.
The carry tool is his current 60, future 70-grade raw power, putting on a show in BP with pullside bombs and flashes of all-fields power. To put the power in perspective, Valera is as old as most high school juniors, and he’s showing plus big league raw power right now—though it’s partially a byproduct of a mature frame that developed quickly and is close to filled out. Valera’s low hand set-up and launch angle help him get to the zone quickly, but against higher quality fastballs, he is likely to be challenged by fastballs elevated. Valera shows enthusing ability to ID secondary pitches for a teenager, but what is a bigger swing overall might always be vulnerable to swing-and-miss, even within the zone.
Though he plays centerfield right now, the body and toolset fit a right field profile long-term. He gets good routes and jumps in center but lacks the raw straight-line speed to stay there, though those defensive attribtes translate well to a corner, where Valera projects to be an above-average defender. He shows an above-average arm that is plenty for the position. There’s risk in the profile given his age and whiff potential, but the power is special and there are signs of feel to hit. I think he can get to the power enough such that he reaches his ceiling, a first-division regular with prototypical right field tools.
Elvis Luciano, RHP, Royals
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/184 B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2018): 18y, 1m
Although he’s only 18, the physical righty has already logged time stateside. He opened last season in the DSL, followed by two strong innings in the Rookie-Level Arizona League before two Pioneer League appearances with Missoula. He will likely head back to Short-Season ball in the Pioneer League when the season opens in June. I saw Luciano in Extended Spring Training in May.
Luciano has a moderate-effort delivery with a strong, fast arm. There’s not an issue with his mechanical operation or the lines in the delivery; the effort lies in arm recoil after a high three-quarters release. He worked in the 92-to-94 range, touching 95, showing average life and command. The fastball can be an above-average pitch right now when he extends through the pitch and gets life and angle on the ball. When he doesn’t, the pitch flattens out and is hittable in the zone, especially up. A strong athlete with a compact delivery, I project the fastball to a future 55-grade pitch with development, with enough velocity (60-grade) and movement to consistently play above-average. His curveball also flashes above-average, showing sharp 11-5 break with two-plane depth at best. It can back up on him at times, but it’s very enthusing to see feel for hard spin from a fairly on-line delivery at this age. Like most teenage pitchers, the changeup lags behind the other two pitches. He throws it with modest separation from his heater at 85-to-86 mph, and there’s less feel to keep it around the zone.
He will need to continue developing pitchability and a changeup to profile as a starter, but there are big league ingredients abound. Luciano is a potential breakout prospect that could put himself more firmly on the map with a strong showing this summer. The fastball and curveball are big league pitches at best right now, and that gives some floor in the bullpen if he falls short of a ceiling in the rotation.
Emmanuel Clase, RHP, Rangers
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/150 B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2018): 20y, 0m
The sturdy reliever—filled out and closer to 185 pounds than his listed 150—was acquired by the Rangers in early May to complete the trade that sent catcher Brett Nicholas to the Padres. Clase has spent time in the rotation and the ‘pen, but he’s squarely a relief prospect right now.
I saw Clase’s last start as a Padres prospect, a May viewing in Arizona Extended Spring Training. His carry tool is arm-strength, as a heavy fastball angled down at hitters at 96-to-98 mph from an over-top slot. He commanded his fastball well despite some effort throughout the delivery, spotting to both sides of the plate with impressive ability to hit gloveside targets. He pairs the plus fastball with an 85-to-87 mph slider that flashes swing-and-miss when he keeps it down in the zone.
I see the ceiling as a future middle relief option, able to face mostly same-side hitters in a righty specialist role. The slider can miss bats against right-handed hitters, but I didn’t see a bat-misser against left-handed bats as it lacked the sharpness and feel to backdoor. He throws hard enough he still can match up against lefties with his fastball, though developing even a wrinkle third pitch to work against them would be in Clase’s best interest moving forward. A future big league reliever that’s numerous years away doesn’t sound exciting, but this was a savvy pickup by the Rangers for the low cost of a third catcher.
Jesus Lujano, OF, Brewers
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/160 B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1, 2018): 19y, 1m
Lujano signed with the Brewers out of Venezuela as a 16 year-old in the 2015 IFA class. He came stateside in last summer, struggling at the plate in his first taste of the AZL to the tune of a .255/.321/.324 triple-slash. Nonetheless, Lujano carries some big league tools, kept his strikeout rate in check, and did damage on the bases–stealing 29 bags for Milwaukee’s AZL club. Lujano was held back in Extended Spring Training to start the 2018 season, and I saw him twice this May on my swing through Arizona backfields.
Lujano is a smart and aggressive baserunner, getting the most out of average speed and athleticism. He’s fringy in centerfield right now and might not stay at the position, though he would be solid-average defensively on either corner. His 55-grade arm fits fine in right field and won’t preclude him from lining up at any of the three outfield spots. Offensively, he makes lots of contact and shows a feel to hit, working deep into counts and able to use the other field. Homerun power isn’t absent, but he’s a hit-over-power type bat that doesn’t project out as a prototype corner slugger.
If he can find a way to stay in center, the ceiling could be that of a lesser everyday regular at the position. It’s unlikely that what’s just average straight-line speed is enough to man a big league center every night, however, and Lujano’s more realistic future role is that of a fourth outfielder. He falls into the “tweener” category—lacking the thump for a corner without the wheels of a true center-diamond player—but his on-base skill and defensive versatility fit well as a spot-starter or late-inning reserve.