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.
Red Sox 2B Mookie Betts, Double-A Portland
Betts has been one of the hottest prospects in the Minors, slashing .407/.459/.651 through 20 games and reaching base in 50 consecutive contests, dating back to last year.
In order to figure out what's made Betts so good this season, I watched 18 of his recent at-bats via MiLB.TV in games from April 19, 25 and 26. He was 8-for-18 in that sample, and two things in particular stood out in his first taste of Double-A -- his pitch selection and contact ability.
Betts took the first pitch in 16 of the 18 at-bats I watched, including seven of them for strikes. The only first pitches he swung at were fastballs near the middle of the plate -- one he fouled straight back and the other he lined sharply to center for a single. Some pitches he took were hittable, and he does border on passive early in counts. That said, Betts is stepping to the box looking for specific pitches, and he's sticking to that gameplan strictly, which is impressive for a 21-year-old.
When he did swing, he literally never missed. Betts took 23 cuts during the 18 at-bats I sampled, and connected on every one. This was in large part because he didn't appear to chase any pitches outside the strike zone -- just one swing came on even a borderline pitch, and that was a quality 2-2 curveball from Trenton's Matt Tracy. But he also showed an ability to speed his bat when behind on fastballs or to hit off his front foot if he was out ahead of offspeed pitches.
Making contact is a strength for Betts, and though much of that contact was sharp, his swing produced mostly ground balls and low line drives. He also hit two homers in these at-bats, and both were line drives that just cleared the outfield wall. The first was on a 2-1 curve on April 19. Betts had jumped ahead 2-0, then fouled a fastball straight back with an aggressive hack, indicating he had right-hander Matthew Summers' heater well-timed. Summers came back with a curve but hung it, and Betts punished the mistake.
The other homer came in the 14th inning of Portland's 9-8 win over Trenton on April 26. That blast also came on a 2-1 pitch, this one an 86 mph fastball. The ball was left over the plate, and the swing was by far the most aggressive Betts used on a ball in play out of the sample I viewed.
Twins RHP Alex Meyer, Triple-A Rochester:
Meyer was outstanding in his start last Wednesday against Pawtucket, striking out 11 over seven shutout innings, then followed that with another 11 strikeouts against Charlotte on Monday.
Notable in the Pawtucket outing was that Meyer thrived using a new variation of the changeup. The right-hander talked after the game about how he's struggled this season with his circle change, giving up a homer to Toronto's Juan Francisco on the first one he threw this season and losing all confidence in the offering after that.
About a week before the PawSox start, teammates Deolis Guerra and Yohan Pino pulled Meyer aside and told him to ditch the circle change, showing him a three-fingered grip. Meyer tossed a few in the 'pen, decided it felt far more comfortable, then broke it out in his April 18 start at Syracuse. He only threw a few in that outing, but built a little confidence between that start and the bullpen session prior to the Pawtucket outing.
That day, catcher Dan Rohling told Meyer he was going to force the pitcher to throw the change, and after building some early confidence, Meyer ended up throwing 15 of them.
One of his first was to Pawtucket's No. 2 hitter, Ryan Roberts, who was playing his first Triple-A contest after being demoted from Boston. Roberts became Meyer's first strike out victim, and he went down in a way that summed up Meyer's start perfectly.
As the video shows, Meyer started by spotting a fastball on the outside corner for strike one -- a pitch and location he used for nearly every batter the first time through the lineup, clocking in between 95-98 mph. He then got Roberts to swing over a change down and away. It's tough to tell on this video, but the pitch appears to have some good downward movement and definitely caught Roberts off guard. Not all the changeups he threw were that sharp -- this may have been the best, in fact -- but he did use the pitch to keep hitters off balance effectively.
After that change, Meyer comes back with a fastball that Roberts is behind but fouls off, chokes a curve into the dirt but then finishes the veteran infielder with another curve, which he took for strike three.
On Monday, Meyer again tried using the changeup early in counts but had less success getting Charlotte to swing. Instead, he used his curveball heavily, picking up eight called third strikes primarily with the breaking ball, like this punchout of Matt Davidson.
Rangers 3B Joey Gallo, Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach
Gallo is a unique prospects, boasting outrageous power but also a track record of massive strikeout rates. The power has come with him to the Carolina League, but his plate approach has sharpened notably through the season's first month.
The Las Vegas native has nine homers through 24 games with a .317/.434/.744 triple slash line. Last year, he struck out in 37 percent of his plate appearances with Class A Hickory. This year, that number is down to 26.4 percent, as Gallo has been more selective. He's still prone to swing and miss, but by stepping to the plate with a clearer gameplan, he's managed to cut the whiffs down by a massive amount. Gallo said last week after his three-homer game that his improved approach is largely a credit to Jason Giambi, who worked with the budding slugger extensively this offseason in Las Vegas.
Angels RHP Cam Bedrosian, Double-A Arkansas
Bedrosion, a 2010 first-round pick (29th overall), moved to the bullpen full-time in 2013 after having Tommy John in 2011 and struggling mightily in 2012. His control was poor in '13, walking 29 batters in 63 innings, but he showed promising stuff and posted an 11.1 K/9 rate.
He's returned to the 'pen this season and began with Class A Advanced Inland Empire, but after 5 2/3 innings, he jumped to Double-A. He's been outrageously good at both levels, striking out 26 batters in 10 2/3 innings while walking three.
White Sox 3B Matt Davidson, Triple-A Charlotte
Davidson was acquired by Chicago in the offseason and was expected to get playing time in the big leagues sooner rather than later. That didn't happen out of Spring Training, and Davidson hasn't forced the issue in the International League. He's struck out 40 times in 100 plate appearances and is hitting just .167 with a pair of homers.
Padres SS Franchy Cordero, Class A Fort Wayne
The 19-year-old was a popular sleeper prospect for prognosticators before the season. Nobody's suggesting jumping ship on Cordero after 20 Midwest League games, but the Dominican infielder has struggled in his full season debut, striking out 34 times in 86 plate appearances with the Tin Caps.