Some notes from minor league camps the past two days.
• Kyle Zimmer (the No. 27 overall prospect) threw on Monday afternoon in Surprise in a minor league game against Texas, and showed the same assortment of stuff that made him a top-five draft pick last year, but still found himself squared up a little too often.
He was 92-96 mph without sink but with some riding life on his arm side. His curveball was plus (or better), 81-83 with tight rotation and downward break; he threw what looked like a slider/cutter at 85-86 with more tilt to it, although he may have been getting on the side of the curveball. He flashed a changeup at 85-86 with good arm speed but didn't use it as much as he should.
The fastball's lack of sink or tail combined with a very clean arm action makes it a little easier for hitters to see than you'd expect for a pitch at that velocity, and when he tried to bury 94 in on the hands of Lewis Brinson, the Rangers' first-round pick last year, Brinson turned on it and drilled a line-drive homer out to left. Zimmer, duly chastened, struck Brinson out on curveballs the next time up.
• John Lamb threw for Kansas City, as well, now two years off Tommy John surgery, but the stuff was ugly, mostly 85-87 with no arm speed and bad body language, as if he's hesitant to throw the ball at any speed.
• In the other A-ball game, Miguel Almonte, the No. 10 prospect in the Royals' system and one of several sleeper prospects I named for Kansas City, was 93-96, up from 91-94 when I saw him last summer, with an above-average changeup at 84-85 that he just needs to stay on top of better through his delivery. He turns 20 next week, and even though he has only 27 innings in the U.S. so far, I think he'd be ready for some kind of role in full-season ball.
• On Monday evening, the Los Angeles Angels held their annual prospects game, with two teams comprising most of their best prospects, with just one major omission, shortstop Jose Rondon, who's out with a broken hamate bone. The Halos also used the game as an opportunity to get Tommy Hanson some more work, and he looked solid, sitting mostly 88-89, getting some cut on the fastball when he went to his glove side, with a plus curveball all night that had depth and 11-to-5 break, and, more importantly, that he could throw for strikes. The slider, once his best pitch, was more average at 81-83. His key going forward will be to drive the ball down more consistently, because when he leaves the fastball up, he's going to get whacked.
• Other than Hanson, it was a parade of power arms for the Angels. Austin Wood, who hit 101 mph in a minor league game last week, was 92-96 with very good plane, flashing a plus-plus slider at 82-85 that just needs to be more consistent and even an average or slightly above-average changeup, as well. This is night and day versus what he was at USC, where the Trojans had him pitching like a finesse guy and he wasn't letting go enough to get that kind of bite on the slider.
• Mark Sappington, their fifth-round pick last year (one round ahead of Wood), started out around 94 and by the end of his first inning was sitting at 96, with a hard slurve at 81-83, coming out like a slider but with more depth like a curveball. He's got a great pitcher's build and stays on line toward the plate, with some effort that might eventually leave him in the bullpen.
• Two Angels arms from the Dominican Republic impressed in one-inning stints. Yency Almonte was 92-94 with a big-breaking slider at 77-79, showing a very loose arm that he hasn't learned to harness yet. Victor Alcantara threw just a handful of pitches but sat 93 and touched 95, showing a very quick arm and a little more body control than Almonte had. Both will probably spend the summer in Tempe.
• Other than Rondon, the Angels' top hitting prospects all played, with Kaleb Cowart (their top prospect and No. 23 overall) lining a triple down the first-base line and taking an 0-2 slider on the outside corner to the left-field warning track for an impressive fly out. Taylor Lindsey (No. 2 in their system) also did what he does, singling and tripling, both to right field, and even running a little better than he had in the past. Randal Grichuk (No. 6) was the one standout on the other side of the ledger, with two ugly punchouts, one on a curveball down, one on a fastball up.
• On Tuesday, I caught a few innings of Chris Stratton, the Giants' first-round pick in the 2012 draft and the No. 3 prospect in their system, in a low-A game. He was just 87-89 without much arm speed, although both his curve and slider were above-average pitches. Stratton had been 90-94 most of last spring at Mississippi State in a breakout season that saw him among the SEC's strikeout leaders thanks to that slider; at this point in spring training, however, I'd expect to see a little more velocity than what he showed.