Monday through Wednesday notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
Brewer Hicklen, OF, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 22 Org Rank: HM FV: 35+
Line: 4-for-6, 2B, HR
Hicklen has some statistical red flags if you’re unaware of the context with which you should be viewing his performance. He’s a 22-year-old college hitter with a 30% strikeout rate at Low-A. But Hicklen hasn’t been committed to playing baseball for very long, as he sought, late in high school and throughout college, to have a football career. He went to UAB as a baseball walk-on and eventually earned a football scholarship as the school’s defunct program was to be reborn. But Hicklen’s physical tools stood out as he continued to play baseball (plus speed and raw power), so he was drafted and compelled to sign. He hasn’t been focusing on baseball, alone, for very long and has a .300/.350/.525 line in his first full pro season. He’s a toolsy long shot, but so far so good.
Brian Howard, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23 Org Rank: NR FV: 35
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 9 K
Howard was a $40,000 senior sign in the eighth round of the 2017 draft and has already reached Double-A. His stuff is pretty generic — 89-93 with an average cutter and curveball — but Howard’s size (he’s 6-foot-9) creates a unique angle on his pitches and hitters clearly aren’t comfortable with it. He also has remarkable control for a pitcher of this size. From a stuff perspective, Howard projects as a No. 5/6 starter and that’s my evaluation. That’s a great outcome for him and the A’s, given his bonus. But, once in a while, whatever weird attribute seems to be aiding players like Howard will continue to flummox big leaguers and suddenly you’ve got Doug Fister.
Randy Cesar, 3B, Houston Astros (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23 Org Rank: NR FV: 35+
Line: 3-for-5, 2B
Cesar is hitting .350/.390/.540 at Double-A, and such performance merits examination and re-evaluation. There are some signs that a portion of this is a mirage; chief among them is Cesar’s .438 BABIP and relatively impatient approach. But Cesar can hit and has the athleticism to play several defensive positions. He profiles as a bench bat at the four corner spots, perhaps even second base.
Alex Verdugo, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 22 Org Rank: 2 FV: 50
Line: 3-for-4, 2B, HR, BB
Verdugo may have made a subtle swing change as his lower half’s flexibility has improved. Here’s what his finish looked like when he homered on Tuesday juxtaposed against one from last year. It’s emblematic of the swings visible throughout the Dodgers system. You can see from the way Verdugo’s foot is bent in his older swing that he’s rotating hard, but the new, flexed front leg enables better balance and control of barrel depth via the lower half, as well as the hands. It’s a better, more athletic swing. Perhaps there’s suddenly more power here because of it.
Luis Oviedo, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Profile)
Level: Short-Season Age: 19 Org Rank: 17 FV: 40
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 7 K
Oviedo has a 34:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts. In extended spring training, he was 90-95 with three average or better secondary pitches, the best of which is a plus-flashing curveball. He has No. 4 starter stuff (and is pretty filled out for a 19-year-old), but perhaps the early-career strike-throwing is a sign the ceiling is higher.
Ronny Mauricio, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Rookie Age: 17 Org Rank: 17 FV: 40
Line: 3-for-6, 3B
I’ve been open about my preference for physically projectable players like Mauricio on the IFA market, though acknowledge the validity of the many other talent acquisition strategies that exist in that market now that pool space is finite. Mauricio, still just 17, is hitting .361/.338/.541 so far in the GCL. He’s a switch-hitting shortstop with power from the right side and a better chance to stay at short than most guys his size. He won’t turn 18 until April.
Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Baltimore Orioles (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 21 Org Rank: 7 FV: 45
Line: 3-for-6, 2B
Mountcastle has hit in eight straight. We were lukewarm on Mountcastle in the offseason because, while we bought the bat, we don’t think he’s a fit at third and he had one of the minor leagues’ most indiscriminate approaches. That hasn’t been his undoing at Double-A, and in fact Mountcastle has nearly walked as much this year in 212 PAs as he did last year in 540.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.