Once a week this season, we're going to break down the prospects who have done the most to move the needle on their prospect stock, mostly highlighting players on the rise, but also pointing out a few who are struggling against expectations. Note: All stats are through games played on Monday.
Brewers C Clint Coulter, Class A Wisconsin
He doesn't like to use recycled phrases, but to explain his stellar numbers to date, it's really the best Milwaukee's 2013 first-round (27th overall) pick can do.
"It's kind of a cliche to say I've simplified things, but really, that's what it is," the 20-year-old Coulter said. "You have to let your eyes see the ball, be short to it and swing at good pitches."
That simplification has worked. Coulter's numbers to date have been outstanding this season. Through Monday, he's hitting .301 with as many walks (23) as strikeouts. He's slugged eight homers, including one in three consecutive games last week.
All of this comes after Coulter was limited to 70 games strung across three levels in 2013. The cause of his struggles was mostly injury. Coulter struggled with an injury in the cartilage of his right wrist that only healed with rest and rehab in the offseason. He also strained his MCL abductor and spent six weeks on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
Amid all of that, Coulter was trying to get used to facing 90-plus-mph fastballs on a regular basis -- a big adjustment from his days playing high school ball in Washington. In all, he hit .244 with seven homers, 60 strikeouts and 20 walks in the 250 at-bats he took.
Coulter credits his success thus far to a clearer head and more experience against the quicker pitching, but he's also made some visible adjustments to his swing since last year, too. The first two videos below are of Coulter with Wisconsin in 2013. Of note is that Coulter uses a fairly standard leg lift to start his swing, and as he pulls his hands into his load, he tilts the barrel of the bat toward the pitcher. His load is relatively short, though.
This year, Coulter has ditched the standard leg lift and is instead using a sort of double toe tap. The move is keeping him from drifting toward the mound, keeping his head stable and in better position to see the ball steadily from the pitcher's hand on its path toward the plate. He's also quieted his hands even more, using a minimal load and letting his natural strength and bat speed generate power.
"I was always kind of a quiet guy," Coulter said of his swing. "The first year, I got in trouble when I tried to go out and get the ball. I had more movement in my stride and everything. Being quiet, moving less, I'm a big believer in being able to see the ball. If i can see it, I can recognize breaking pitches but also get good pitches to hit."
Indians 3B Giovanny Urshela, Triple-A Columbus
The 22-year-old has a reputation as a fine defender at third base, boasting good athleticism and an outstanding arm. But heading into 2014, his bat had lagged behind his glove.
The sample is small, but Urshela has posted some eye-popping numbers so far this season. He opened the year with Double-A Akron, where he hit .300 with five homers and a .914 OPS in 24 games. Cleveland then bumped him up to the International League, where he's bopped three homers through 10 games with a .936 OPS.
The Cartagena, Colombia, native has some promising strength in his swing, evidenced by the video below, where he turned on a down-and-away fastball. Even though he was swinging off his front foot, he was able to rocket the ball over the wall in right-center.
Urshela appears to have made two small tweaks to his swing, using a higher leg kick and lowering his hands closer to his right shoulder during his load. The latter move is helping him create more loft, not unlike the adjustment Jose Bautista made with Toronto when he discovered his power stroke a few years back. Urshela is not Jose Bautista, of course, but the extra loft would explain the surge in his home run numbers.
The difference in the swings can be seen below -- the first video is from a homer he hit in 2013, the other from a recent blast with Columbus.
Orioles OF Dariel Alvarez, Double-A Bowie:
Last year at this time, Henry Urrutia put together a breakout first half as a Cuban signee getting his feet wet with the Baysox, ultimately hitting .347 in 81 Minor League games in getting a 24-game stint with Baltimore. This year, Alvarez is having a similarly notable campaign.
Whereas Urrutia is a bat-first corner outfielder with a promising hit tool but minimal power, Alvarez offers a bit more athleticism, and thus more promise. For one, Alvarez can handle center field, where his speed and arm (highlighted below) allow him to contribute value Urrutia can't.
At the plate, the 25-year-old was a bigger question mark when the Orioles penned him to a Minor League deal last summer. In 22 games split between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Class A Advanced Carolina League and Double-A Eastern League, Alvarez hit .342 with four homers, and he's continued on a similarly torrid pace this season with a .338/.356/.547 triple slash and six homers in 34 contests.
There's some violence to Alvarez's swing and the use of his lower body isn't as efficient as it could be, as you can tell by the way his hips drift in the video below. He also has an uber-aggressive approach that could use taming, though he's struck out just 14 times through 34 games.
Rangers OF Jairo Beras, Class A Hickory: The expectations for the 18-year-old have been high since reports surfaced he signed with Texas for $4.5 million out of the Dominican Republic. He's young for the level, but his initial exposure to the Class A South Atlantic League has not been promising. He's hitting .171 with 45 strikeouts in 31 games.
Braves RHP Lucas Sims, Class A Advanced Lynchburg: Sims' numbers haven't been all that encouraging this season, as pitchers with his stuff and resume should be striking out more than 5.3 batters per nine innings. Sims' fastball is still ticking toward the mid-90-mph range and there's no indication the rest of his stuff has taken a step back. The hurler cited some mental lapses and lessons he's learned jumping to the Carolina League, not all that unusual for a player who just turned 20.