Scouting notes on Sunday’s MLB Futures Game participants

Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt has one of the few true 80-grade tools in the game. (Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

With MLB’s Futures Game popping off at 5 p.m. ET Sunday, I thought it’d be useful to share scouting notes I have on the game’s participants. I took these almost verbatim from the notebook I’ve used for the past year, so they’re not the polished prose I’m used to publishing. Bear with me. I’ve seen all of these guys in person over the last few months unless otherwise noted. Enjoy.

Travis d’Arnaud C (Blue Jays) – Tools are average and above, across the board (except speed), with reason to believe some of them could become plus as he matures. He can hit — it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll hit 25 HRs in the big leagues one day, and he’s a lock to stay behind the plate. I just hope he stays healthy. He’s the total package.

Tommy Joseph C (Giants) – What I love about Joseph is his balance at the plate. The base in his swing is … I can’t believe I’m saying this … Pujolsian. No, he’s not that kind of hitter, but he does have a ton of raw power, and he started tapping into it last year before struggling this season. His swing has a ton of leverage, so much that it’s a concern he might strike out too much in the bigs. His approach needs work. He’s okay behind the plate, body is a little on the bad side, but you live with it back there. It’d be interesting if Brandon Belt could play a passable outfield corner so Joseph and Posey could split time at first base and catcher so both bats could be in the lineup all the time, and both could stay fresh by only catching part time.

Nolan Arenado 3B (Rockies) – He can really hit. The bat speed and plate coverage are very impressive. The raw strength in his wrists and hands give him most of his power and it’ll play up at Coors. He doesn’t have as much raw pop as you’d expect from a kid with his build, which is mature, and he lacks projection. His defense at third is alright. He’ll have to keep his body lean and agile to stay there. The arm is plus. Much of the stuff I’ve read on him lately lends optimism to his defensive future, and I’m not full-on bearish that he has to move. I’m cautiously optimistic he stays.

Scooter Gennett 2B (Brewers) – Scooter is difficult to be objective about because of his name and the energy with which he plays. He tracks the ball beautifully and barrels balls hard to all fields. He doesn’t have any raw power, and he doesn’t walk but he doesn’t strike out either. The defense at second is just okay. He’ll be a useful major leaguer but not a star or anything. I’d like to see the Brewers move him around and see if he can play some other positions. He’d make a fun super utility guy. He’s an above-average runner.

Mike Olt 3B (Rangers) – I saw Olt a few times in the AFL, but he never jumped out as someone who I thought was going to be a special player. I’m likely in the minority here as Baseball America placed him at #11 on their midseason prospect rankings. He’s going to stick at third where he’s a terrific defender, light years better than he was as a shortstop at UConn. Olt’s raw power is comfortably above average, but I have questions about whether he’ll tap into it. There’s plenty of swing-and-miss to his game thanks to inconsistency in his swing. He’s hitting a clean .300 at double-A right now, the level where stats start to matter a little bit, so maybe the hit tool has improved. I see a pretty good major leaguer, but not the stud others seems to see.

Michael Choice CF (A’s) – A ton of raw power but lots of swing-and-miss in the swing. Choice has crazy bat speed and a ton of leverage, but there’s lots of noise from the shoulders up, and I think he loses sight of the ball sometimes because his head moves so much. He’s thick and muscular and might need to move to an outfield corner one day, but he runs well enough for CF right now. He actually has a similar offensive skill set to Yeonis Cespedes. Cespedes is a slightly better runner and no doubt CF with a 70 arm though. I never got a good look at Choice’s arm.

Anthony Gose CF (Blue Jays) – I don’t believe in the bat. He doesn’t recognize good breaking stuff and is late on good velocity. I’d like to see him eliminate the high step he takes before his swing, which I exacerbates his timing issues. I don’t care what his raw power grade is because I don’t think he’ll hit enough to tap into it. He’s so good in center field that he’ll be a useful big leaguer anyway. I’d put 7s on the rest of his tools. Run, arm, defense. All of it is magnificent. He touched 98 mph on the mound in high school, so maybe if the Jays think he’s going to become Greg Golson, they’ll stick him on the mound instead.

Wil Myers RF/CF/3B (Royals) – Saw Myers in Fall League and was beyond impressed by his plate discipline. Actually wrote in my notes “walks fine line between patient and passive.” Bat speed and plate coverage are impressive. He’ll post .300+ batting averages and .400 OBPs. The power he’s shown this year, I did not expect. His swing was very contact-oriented in the fall, and while he has a frame that has room to add muscle, I just didn’t think he’d hit a ton of HRs without tweaking his swing to add more loft. Maybe he has. Defensively, he belongs in RF, where he’ll be solid yet unspectacular. The arm is above average but he’ll slow down as he fills out and won’t cover a ton of ground.

Matt Barnes RHP (Red Sox) – I haven’t seen Barnes yet in pro ball but got a good look at him while he was at UConn. At the time, he showed plus velocity and a good breaking ball. His development depends on the development of a change-up and improvement of his control. Based on how he’s performed to this point, I’m assuming at least one of those has improved.

Dylan Bundy RHP (Orioles) – Saw Bundy a few weeks ago. Yes, he’s on the short side, but he compensates for the inherent disadvantages that come with his diminutive stature through other means. For starters, he uses his monstrous lower half (he has Brian Westbrook’s thighs and ass) very efficiently. He really drops and drives hard off the mound, which I like since you know he’s not just generating oomph with his arm. Usually I’d be concerned that the combination of his height and this drop-and-drive would suck the downhill plane out of his stuff and he’d be flyball prone, but he comes over the top enough that he still generates a good angle. He sat at 95-97 mph with it in Wilmington, even when he was spotting it at the knees. The secondary stuff is fine. Curveball in the upper 70s that I identified out of his hand, but it’s probably a lot harder when you’re 60 feet away and worried about getting ear-holed by 98 mph heaters. The change-up is alright. He maintains his fastball arm speed, but it doesn’t fade and run.

I’m not as hyperbolic about Bundy as other guys seem to be. He pitches up with the fastball way too much right now. He gets a ton of swing-and-misses with it right now, and he probably would at double-A, too, but it won’t fly in the big leagues. Anyone who says, “he could pitch in the majors right now and dominate” is kidding themselves. He wouldn’t embarrass himself, but he needs refinement.

Gerrit Cole RHP (Pirates) –  The stuff is ridiculous; saw him touch 101 mph in Fall League. The change-up flashes 70 grade and the slider, while a tad short when I saw him, is hard. What he doesn’t yet have is an idea of how to pitch. It’s probably a big reason why his numbers never matched the scouting reports while he was at UCLA. Sequencing is lost on him. Joe Terdaslovich popped one off him in the AFL Rising Stars game because of poor sequencing. There’s number-one stuff, for sure, but let’s see if the secondary skills come along.

Danny Hultzen LHP (Mariners) – Fastball is a tick above average, sitting in the low 90s. Change-up is comfortably plus with identical arm speed and disappearing fade, a good 10 mph less than his fastball velo, too. The slider, mid-70s, is just average, but I think it’ll play up against lefties because of Hultzen’s delivery. It’s a true three-quarter delivery, and he cuts himself off a bit, so he delivers the ball well behind lefties. It’ll be tough for lots of them to pick up the ball out of his hand. It’s not wow stuff, but he’s going to be very good very soon.

Yordano Ventura RHP (Royals) – The only pitcher on the roster I’ve currently seen, Ventura has some serious thunder in his tiny frame. He’s only 5’11” but sat – yes, sat – at 95-97 mph when I saw him a few weeks ago, and he gets some run on it when he throws is arm side. It’s as if someone attached a howitzer to a tricycle. His arm works well; there’s not a full, violent effort. His release can get inconsistent as can the spot where his front foot lands. As such, he struggles with control in spurts. His height limits plane on the fastball. Curveball is in the low 80s and flashes plus but is relatively inconsistent. He’ll throw it for strikes early in counts and then start burying it for swings-and-misses later in the game. The change flashes swing-and-miss potential, too, but only once every blue moon. I’m usually pessimistic about pitcher role projection, but I think he’ll end up in a bullpen. Still, there’s no reason to move him until he forces your hand.

Christian Bethancourt C (Braves) – Might be the best defensive catcher in the minors. Everyone’s gotten pop times in the 1.8 second range for him. His body is lean, and he has long arms, a lot like Benito Santiago’s was when he was young. He’s almost too agile behind the plate, and he can become fundamentally cavalier. He often backhands balls in the dirt instead of properly blocking them with his entire body. The bat might never develop. He has physical tools to be a viable, even good, offensive player, but he struggles mightily with breaking stuff. His performance this year doesn’t seem to indicate an improvement, and I’m not sure why the Braves continued to promote him when he had not shown he could hit at Hi-A. They’re aggressive with their guys, though.

Yasmani Grandal C (Padres) –  Switch-hitter whose defense leaves a bit to be desired, but the bat is interesting. He has more pop from the left side, while his right-handed swing is very contact oriented, very inside out. He has a good eye and approach, but when I saw him in Fall League, he struggled with receiving. He may have just been exhausted from the length of the season. I didn’t get an extended look at him since Phoenix carried four catchers in the AFL.

Jesus Aguilar 1B (Indians) – Can hit but not enough to profile at first. Power before hit, and a 4.7 seconds from home to first means he’s one of the slower players I’ve ever timed.

Jean Segura SS (Angels) – Segura is a lot of fun to try to evaluate because you have no choice but to project his body over the next five years to decide if he sticks at shortstop. When I saw him, he showed everything you’d want to profile there. Quick-twitch reactions and instincts, comfort attacking balls in on the grass and a plus arm. But, he’s had injury issues that might continue and slow him down a bit, and he has a short, stocky build that worries you his legs are going to get big and heavy and suck some juice out of his range. I say you leave him at short until he makes you move him. Even if he’s a tad below average there, replacement level is so low at short that his bat will make up for defensive deficiency. He has terrific bat speed and makes hard contact. He has poor balance at the plate; it looks like he’s selling out to try to hit bombs sometimes and that might be the cause. He’s a slightly above-average runner, posting times in the mid-4.2s from the right side. He’ll be a useful major leauger.

Oscar Taveras OF (Cardinals) – I wrote a lengthy scouting report on Taveras for this site already, but I’ll condense it here. He has sublime control of a violent, high-speed swing that forces you to consider putting a future 70 on his hit tool. The power might come, too. He has a chance to be scary with the bat. Defense profiles in an outfield corner, but nobody cares because they’re too busy drooling over what he can do with the stick.

Enjoy the Futures Game, everyone. I know with the drafts in all four major sports now complete, this is the prospect nut’s last hoorah until the Fall League. I’m going to drink in all nine innings.

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