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May 6, 2010

Future Shock

Scouting Notebook, Part 1

by Kevin Goldstein

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With the 2010 minor-league season now a month in, I spent this week talking to a myriad of scouts about their first four weeks of coverage. As fun as it is to talk about the big names, the real enjoyment in generated by the surprises, as players seen as mid-range prospects take a step forward, and even the occasional player one has barely heard of generates big interest. Here's part one of the best of those conversations, focusing on some of the bigger-name prospects. In Friday's report, we'll delve a little to find some surprising names that are brightening their blip on the prospect radar.

While Mike Stanton has been one of the biggest stories in the minors with a .337/.480/.821 line and a minor league-leading 13 home runs, one scout who recently saw him thinks the Marlins shouldn't be so quick to get him to the big leagues.

"I'd like to see him get out of some of his current funks and get back on track before moving him to Triple-A," said the scout. "He's still getting himself out on some bad pitches, and that's not something you see from prospects that are ready. I'd give him another month here and let him work on his breaking-ball recognition for another month or so before moving him up to Triple-A."

While a good start from Ryan Theriot has calmed the movement for the Cubs to bring shortstop Starlin Castro to the big leagues, Castro continues to be lights-out at Double-A Tennessee, batting .356/.407/.545 heading into Thursday night's action. One scout who recently saw him is very high on him, but wonders if there are some misconceptions about what kind of player he is.

"If people are expecting some lively, athletic middle infielder, he's not that," explained the scout. "He's an average runner, and his body is thickening up, so for me it ultimately comes down to his bat."

The scout went on to praise Castro's defensive instincts and plus arm, and did find some room for improvement offensively, while still projecting a star-level offensive play.

"Right now, he steps in the bucket and he can be vulnerable to off-speed stuff," the scout said, "but he'll make adjustments. He has great hand-eye coordination and squares so many balls up. He's going to get stronger, and there's a chances you could end up with a 70 hitter (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with 50 power."

The Braves called up power reliever Craig Kimbrel on Wednesday, after the 2008 third-round pick struck out 21 over 15 Triple-A innings while limiting International League hitters to a .143 average. One scout who recently saw Kimbrel and Gwinnett compared the right-hander to a mirror image of the current Braves closer, Billy Wagner.

"It's Wagner's body, similar arm action, he uses his legs like Wagner, and he has the same explosive fastball and wipeout slider," said the scout. "He's over-the-top competitive, pitches with no fear, and seems to amp up his stuff when the game is on the line, and I love to see that."

As to whether Kimbrel could end up with a career resembling Wagner, the scout was optimistic.

"Once his command arrives consistently, he's legit," said the scout. "When all is said and done, he's a big-league closer, and a well above-average one for me."

The scout was equally impressed with Gwinnett's Freddie Freeman, who could be Atlanta's everyday first baseman in 2011. After a slow start, the first baseman has racked up 19 hits and 14 RBI in his last 15 games to raise his season averages to .286/.343/.500 while alleviating concerns that the 20-year-old wasn't ready for Triple-A.

"The only reason he might get some mixed reviews right now is that he's not letting his power enter his game by jamming his swing," explained a scout. "He doesn't use his arm span and can get beat on the inner half, but he'll learn how to make the right adjustments there. The way he shoots the barrel through the zone and uses all fields, he's really going to hit and be an above-average regular."

Left-hander Jacob McGee was once one of the top left-handers in minors, but he hasn't been the same since 2008 Tommy John surgery, and he currently has a 4.50 ERA in four starts for the Rays' Double-A Montgomery club. One scout who recently saw McGee work said he's downgraded the 23-year-old's projection significantly.

"He used to touch the upper 90s, but now he's 90-94, and touching 95," the scout said. "It's still a special fastball with deception, and he gets a lot of swings and misses with it, but he doesn't have much else. The secondary stuff is so-so at best, he's inefficient, and just not particularly impressive. I've seen him good and I've liked him in the past, but he's a lefty specialist in the big leagues at this point for me."

Another scout who recently saw Montgomery was very impressed with southpaw Alex Torres. A 22-year-old Venezuelan who came over from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade, Torres has a 3.12 ERA in five starts for the Biscuits, but his peripherals are more impressive, with 30 strikeouts and just 18 hits allowed in 26 innings to go with a ground-ball ratio of nearly 2-to-1.

"He's exciting," said the scout. "He's got a 91-94 mph fastball with good late sink, and above-average curve with late downer action and he'll flash an average change as well. He has great poise and mound presence, and is death on left-handed hitters. He's going to be a solid bottom-rotation starter for them."

While A.J. Pierzynski has a sub-.300 on-base and slugging percentage so far this year while drawing the ire of manager Ozzie Guillen, one scout says fans shouldn't be so sure that Tyler Flowers is the future behind the plate for the White Sox. While the massive backstop is batting a healthy .284/.391/.527 for Triple-A Charlotte, it's his defense that is cause for concern.

 "He just looks terrible behind the plate... he's really scuffling back there," said one veteran scout. "I saw him last year at Birmingham, and thought I could live with it considering the bat, but he's now bad enough for me that I don't think he's close to stepping into an everyday job in the big leagues. I just can't see Ozzie being happy with that kind of ability behind the plate."  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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