Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.
Jahmai Jones, CF, Los Angeles (AL) (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19 Org Rank: 1 Top 100: 92
Line: 3-for-5, 2 2B
After a prolonged period of failure that resulted in a .167 batting average as May began, Jones has begun to hit as well he did on the complex each of the last two years. He has 11 multi-hit games in May and has raised his average to .250, possibly a sign that he has made some adjustments. Jones has had issues with covering the outer half of the plate this year and has struggled to lay off of or spoil breaking balls down and away from him.
Michael Rucker, RHP, Chicago NL (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 23 Org Rank: NR Top 100: NR
Line: 3.1 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 6 K
Rucker has terrific command — especially to his glove side — of a deceptively hard fastball that will creep into the mid-90s, and he mixes in two slurvy breaking balls and a moving changeup, all of which are fringe to average. He largely lives off of his fastball and his deceptive, slingy delivery, but he’s pitched well enough in long-relief stints to generate conversation about how he might look in a rotation. His pitch counts have been ticking up since he was promoted to Myrtle Beach and his outings have been more spaced out, a sign the Cubs are having that discussion, as well. Rucker is old for the level, largely because he was drafted as a redshirt junior after transferring from Gonzaga to BYU and sitting out a year.
Notes from the back fields
Louisville LHP Brendan McKay pitched on Thursday night in the Cardinals’ ACC tournament opener and was impressive at times, frustrating at others, but clearly the best prospect at a tournament that featured several likely first-round picks. McKay’s fastball was 91-93 with late tail early in the game before backing down to the 88-91 range later in his start. Overall, he was mostly 90-92 but there’s some disagreement among evaluators about the way the cement is going to dry on McKay’s fastball. Some think McKay’s two-way duties are taking their toll on his body and, once he’s pitching full time, he’ll settle in with the above-average fastball we saw early in the game. Others think we’re more likely to see him sit in the lower end of that velocity range once he’s pitching every fifth day instead of once a week.
McKay’s curveball flashed plus once or twice but was rather inconsistent in both shape and quality. It sat mostly in the 80-83 range with varied bite, depth, and tilt, looking slurvy when he tried to locate it to his glove side. Feel for the pitch is clearly there, and McKay has had starts where he dominates by simply locating his curveball. I still think it will be an impact big-league pitch despite the way it looked on Thursday.
McKay’s changeup also looked promising, flashing bat-missing movement at times while coasting in at a firm 84-86 mph. His very new cutter — something he only began working into his repertoire mid-year — was largely ineffective. It’s fairly easy to project three above-average or better pitches and 55 or 60 command here. (McKay struggled to locate at times on Thursday but has worked east and west with his fastball and curveball very consistently most of the year.) While I have a future 45 on the cutter right now, it might be better than that as McKay continues to work with it.
On offense, I saw McKay hit a wind-aided grand slam on a hanging slider from a low-slot lefty. (The ball was getting out regardless of the wind but landed in the upper deck because of the strong breeze blowing out toward the MLK Expressway.) He also took a patient at-bat that ended in a hard ground out to second base. He has substantial raw power that he generates with ease, and there’s enough natural loft in the swing that I think he’ll get to most of it if a team decides to draft him as a first baseman. His hands are loose and whippy and, despite a deep load, he wasn’t late on anything all weekend, though he saw very little big-league velocity. I prefer him as a pitcher but, as I wrote here, I think it’s close enough that you should continue to evaluate him on both sides of the ball for as long as possible.
Virginia CF Adam Haseley looked terrific in center field, gracefully going back on several balls near the wall and comfortably dealing with the high winds. He tracks pitches well and has excellent bat control, but took poorer at-bats than I anticipated, expanding the zone at times, and taking hittable pitches at others. As a likely above-average defender in center field, he need only make lots of contact to yield big-league value, and I think he will. I think he could be drafted as early as seventh overall.
First baseman Pavin Smith, also from Virginia, has good bat speed and generates pretty extension through contact but I’m not sure how much in-game power he’s going to generate with his swing path which, for a first baseman, concerns me.
North Carolina SS Logan Warmoth absolutely raked. He looked solid, if unspectacular, at shortstop during infield drills and in-game while making strong, all-fields contact in games. He played well enough in front of a host of decision makers to solidify his place in the middle of the first round. Center fielder Brian Miller showed inconsistent swing length but good power on contact and seemed fine in center field, though he wasn’t able to deal with the windy conditions as well as Haseley.
I also got a look at Phillies and Reds prospects in Allentown, PA, over the weekend. Phillies SS J.P. Crawford took four good at-bats during my look, showing good feel for the strike zone and the same physical tools he has in the past. His timing was inconsistent, his front foot coming down late at times and the rest of his swing firing late as well, which caused him to take some defensive-looking swings in hitters’ counts when he should be hacking. Crawford’s footwork has been altered several times throughout his pro career and, while it’s somewhat discouraging that it’s still an issue, it’s comforting to know nothing is physically wrong with him. At least it didn’t appear that way to me.
Righty Tom Eshelman was mostly 87-90 with an above average cutter and below average changeup and curveball. He throws a high volume of strikes and is naturally deceptive but has the stuff of a fifth starter.
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.