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December 23, 2011
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: My Own Prognostications (Part 2)
Who: Cheslor Cuthbert (Royals)
Heading into the 2011 season, Cuthbert so impressed me that I took to Baseball Prospectus and professed my love for his present and future.
He has excellent offensive promise and a good glove. Cuthbert lacks elite-level tools and therefore an elite-level ceiling, but the young third baseman has really turned heads so far in camp, particularly with the bat. At the plate, Cuthbert is balanced, with a quiet load and smooth weight transfer. He hands and hips work very well, and his bat speed is impressive. He is able to keep his hands inside and fire through the ball with good hip rotation and secondary extension. From the look of the swing and the strength of the body, Cuthbert projects to have plus power down the line. With a present line drive stroke (natural loft and ability to barrel) and a comfortable approach, the hit tool should allow the power to live beyond batting practice. Cuthbert lacks straight-line speed, with clocks in the 4.4-4.5 range to first base. Thanks to his stocky lower half, Cuthbert is only going to slow as he continues to physically mature, so the legs won’t assist much in the hit department.
Cuthbert backed up my beliefs with a very strong full-season campaign. He faded down the stretch, but he more than held his own as an 18-year-old in a pitcher-friendly league. I’ve revised my scouting report on the Nicaraguan third baseman, but only slightly. I’m not sold that he’s likely to develop plus power at the highest level; despite his strength, Cuthbert’s profile is more gap-to-gap, and it’s hard for me to see him knocking 20-plus bombs against elite pitching.
I’m still a very big believer in his defensive profile, even if I’m not in love with his athleticism. His lateral quickness is sufficient, and his instincts put him in good position to make plays. His hands at the plate are still his best physical attribute, as he can square inside velocity and control the bat in the zone. With a mature approach at the plate and good pop, Cuthbert looks to be a hitter capable of batting average, 10-15 home runs per season, and a ton of doubles. He’s moving to High-A in 2012, and I fully expect to see him once again hold his own against players two or more years his senior. Cuthbert is a total gamer with tools, and he profiles as a 6 (on the 2-8 scale) player at the highest level.
What Could Go Wrong with My Documented Observations and Prognostications: I’ve already revised my power projection on Cuthbert, feeling more comfortable throwing a 5 on his power than a 6. Since he’s physically mature for his age, I don’t see Cuthbert experiencing the kind of hyper growth that can affect coordination, but I do see his overall athletic profile diminishing somewhat as he ages. Cuthbert isn’t a burner at present—the fastest I’ve ever clocked him to first base is 4.45—and that isn’t what I would classify as quick. The better the level, the better the arsenals Cuthbert will face, and even though his approach and hit tool should allow for success in High-A, the quality of breaking stuff he will face in Double-A should present a considerable challenge. I’ve seen him square major league-quality velocity and stay back on low level-quality off-speed stuff, but I’ve yet to see him negotiate a pitch sequence that featured an above-average major-league breaking ball. I feel confident that he can handle sharp stuff, but I’ve also seen better hitters than Cuthbert fall victim to the challenge, so it’s certainly possible that plus secondary stuff eats his lunch in 2012.
Who: Angelo Gumbs (Yankees)
From a BP report filed after a Staten Island Yankees game:
Based on the snapshot, Gumbs’s athleticism stands out, as I was able to see a few routine ground-ball executions, and one nice glove-side play where Gumbs was able to flash his first-step quickness and reactions. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Gumbs wasn’t able to show off the full range of his physical abilities, as I was at the mercy of the balls in play, and Gumbs only touched the ball a handful of times. I would have paid extra to see him take flies in the outfield. His skill set belongs in the vast wilderness of center field.
What Could Go Wrong with my DOP: Gumbs will no doubt be advancing to the Sally League as a 19-year-old. The jump to full-season ball can often trip up the most polished teenagers, and Gumbs is far from polished. He has a very quick trigger at the plate and his bat speed is evident, but the swing itself has some miss in it, and his aggressive approach could lead to high strikeout totals against more advanced pitching. Gumbs has a very long way to go, and it could take several years before the athlete transitions into the baseball player, but I’m still higher on Gumbs than I am on Mason Williams, and I have Williams graded out as a solid-average regular. Gumbs has 6 potential if it all comes together, but it could get a little ugly before the clouds part. His prospect status could take a dip in 2012, but given his age and his collection of tools, the finished product will be worth the extra patience.
Who: Jordan Akins (Rangers)
In the field, Akins has both quickness and speed, although he often relies too heavily on his athleticism to recover from his unrefined routes to the ball. His arm is very strong and could easily play in right field, but his accuracy still has some catching up to do.
Akins’ batting practice displays are still more impressive than his in-game production, but the raw power projects to at least plus, and based on some of the opposite-field shots I’ve seen him deliver, it’s easy to dream a little higher. The hit tool isn’t nearly as sexy, but Akins shortened his swing in 2011; his path to the ball is cleaner, allowing for more time in the zone and more contact. His speed is a 7, and his second gear can compete with any player in the Rangers system. (That’s even more impressive when you consider Akins is 6-foot-4 and close to 200 pounds.) I’m on record saying Akins has the tool-based projections to grade out at the all-star level, with four tools that could measure plus or higher. He’s simply one of the most impressive athletes I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, and just the thought of some of his raw tools developing into usable baseball skills is enough to warrant excitement.
What Could Go Wrong with my DOP: In 2012, just about everything could go wrong with my DOP on Akins, as the space between the present and the future is extreme. Akins will either be moving to the short-season Northwest League or jumping to full-season ball in 2012, and either assignment could expose his weaknesses. Despite taking steps forward in 2011, Akins is still very aggressive at the plate, looking fastball early and often, and is vulnerable to off-speed pitches of any variety. In the complex league, establishing comfortable and consistent mechanics at the plate takes precedent over drawing walks; it’s not uncommon for teams to encourage hitters to be aggressive and attack fastballs early in the count. Keep in mind, most complex-league pitchers are working on their arm strength, and as a result you will see heavy doses of four-seam fastballs early and often in counts. But as hitters move up the professional ladder, refining their approach starts to take on more importance, and one-dimensional fastball hitters struggle to function in an environment where deeper arsenals exist. It’s just a matter of making adjustments, but when a player is still learning how to transition from athlete to baseball player, sometimes those adjustments can be more daunting and slow to transpire. Akins’ transition is still very much ongoing, and the product on the field in the coming years will surely be labeled as a work in progress. But when the raw tools suggest a middle-of-the-diamond defensive talent with middle-of-the-order power, a work in progress can still be a tantalizing prospect, especially if there is, in fact, progress being made.