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Farm Report: David Fletcher, Austin Riley and other notable prospects

Entering the season, Angels infield prospect David Fletcher wasn’t listed at or near the top of anyone’s rankings of minor league talent. In fact, he may not have been considered a top-five middle-infield prospect within his own organization. Fletcher projected as perhaps a utility guy. He hit a respectable-if-not-spectacular .266 in the high minors last season at age 23, with 20 steals and 25 extra-base hits. Nice, but nothin’ special.

This year, with 42 games in the books, Fletcher has been one of the most dangerous hitters in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He leads all PCL hitters in hits (64), runs (42), total bases (107) and doubles (18) while slashing .354/.401/.591. Fletcher has swiped six bags in seven attempts and he’s struck out only 13 times. He’s up to 28 XBHs already, though his power is more of the line-drive/doubles variety.

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Sure, the PCL is a hitter-friendly circuit, but, again, Fletcher is a leader in multiple categories. He’s emerged as one of the most difficult outs in the league. His improvements followed a winter spent working on his swing:

“I made some adjustments in the offseason and in Spring Training, too, and tried to get my bat path a little better,” said Fletcher, who worked with Bees hitting coach Donnie Ecker. “Not trying to hit balls in the air, but trying to drive them for sure.”

So far, the new swing seems to be working just fine — perhaps well enough to get Fletcher to the big leagues this summer.

Of course the Angels are paying a lotta million dollars to Ian Kinsler, Andrelton Simmons and Zack Cozart, so it’s not entirely clear where Fletcher might play. But he’s started games at second, short and third this season, so multiple paths are available to him.

Jalen Beeks continues to humiliate hitters at Triple-A Pawtucket, leading the International League in Ks (65) through eight appearances. The lefty hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any start, his WHIP is 0.99 and his K/9 is an obscene 13.5. Beeks was perhaps not supposed to be this dominant, but here we are. When he gets a shot with Boston, give him a look.

Atlanta Braves prospect Austin Riley has been a monster in the high minors this season. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Austin Riley is up to nine homers, 24 XBHs and 33 RBIs for Triple-A Gwinnett. As if the Braves need yet another high-achieving prospect. There’s a very good chance that Riley will finish this season as Atlanta’s regular third baseman, now that the Jose Bautista experiment has concluded. Riley is slashing .327/.382/.605 for the year and hasn’t struggled since making the jump to Triple-A.

For a minute there, we thought Colorado might call up Garrett Hampson to cover DJ LeMahieu’s absence. It hasn’t happened just yet, but Hampson is nonetheless a prospect worth knowing — particularly if you have a desperate need for steals. He stole 51 bases at High-A last season and he’s already up to 22 steals in 24 attempts across two levels in 2018. Hampson is slashing .293/.391/.443 with four homers, too. He also has more walks (28) than Ks (22) to this point.

Arizona prospect Taylor Clarke had a rough April at Triple-A Reno, but he’s been awfully good in his five May starts. So far this month, the righty is 4-1 with a 1.04 WHIP and 35 Ks in 29.2 innings. The Diamondbacks have a collection of starters on the DL at the moment, so Clarke could soon get a look.

Rest assured, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is still raking…

I’m not supposed to headline this feature with Guerrero every time we publish. It’s not Vlad Report, after all. But he remains, without question, a top-of-the-ranks prospect.

Also still raking: Eloy Jimenez. He’s 8-for-14 over his last four games at Double-A Birmingham with a homer, three walks and three runs scored. He’s hitting .328/.369/.602 for the year. Eloy is an absolute beast, a priority fantasy stash.

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