March 15, 2012
Florida Scouting Notes
Now that we're approaching mid-March, early cuts have begun at spring training sites. For some this makes the games more interesting, as the big leaguers play more innings; for others, the earlier games are the ones to watch since the younger players get to play more, even if they're not as polished. Many scouts fall into the latter group, as early games mean extended looks at 2011 draft picks, or introductions to big-name prospects who play for organizations the scouts don't normally cover. So before all of the prospects head down to minor league camp, here are some players opening scout's eyes–for good or bad reasons–in Florida so far.
Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals
Adams hit .310/.355/.541 for Low-A Quad Cities in 2010, but got little attention for it. As a 23rd round pick out of a Division-II school, he still had plenty to prove, and scouts began to take notice last season; he earned Double-A Texas League MVP honors with a .300/.357/.566 season that included 32 home runs in 115 games. Two scouts with no exposure to him prior to this spring have walked away from brief looks seeing him as the Cardinals first baseman of the future. “I like the approach, I like the way he tracks balls, stays on them, and does need to loft the ball for power,” said a National League scout, while an American League evaluator was even more gushing. “It's not just that he hits, there's violence in his swing,” he said. “He's on the ball and he pounds good velocity. I couldn't be more impressed with the swing and how hard he hits the ball.” To nobody's surprise, the praise wasn't as glowing when it came to the massive slugger's speed and defense. “Look, he's a big dude,” continued the AL scout. “Yes, he could trim up a bit, but it's not a terrible body . . . it's better than Brett Wallace.”
Manny Banuelos, LHP, Yankees
Banuelos had a coming out party for Yankees fans last spring, but while he enjoyed his first fully healthy seasons in 2011 while reaching Triple-A, he also struggled with his command and control; he walked 71 batters in 129.2 innings as part of a 3.75 ERA spread across Double- and Triple-A. Still, he's impressed once again this spring. “I had not seen him since last Spring, and he just looks strong and more poised,” said a National League scout. “He's at 93-96 mph and showing three above-average pitches right now. I saw Pineda the following day, and while I know that's not the same Pineda we saw last year, based just on those two looks, I'd take Banuelos.”
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
He's arguably the most hyped prospect in the history of the game, and while a strained left calf has left him sidelined for a bit, there is still plenty of talk that manager Davey Johnson wants to break camp with the 19-year-old prodigy in the big leagues. When scouts see Harper, they want to talk about him, and one American League scout says that while he's great, he wonders just how unique a player he is. “Look, I have no issues with the guy at all, but he's going to be a .290 hitter with 35-40 home runs, and, while that's awesome, there are probably 10 or so players capable of that, and I find the potential of a guy like Mike Trout or Jurickson Profar more unique.” As far as Harper's readiness, a National League scouting official agreed that Harper could put up MVP-type numbers, but he's not quite ready to do that yet. “He's 19, he's still going to get bigger and stronger, so for now he's kind of like a young puppy,” he explained. “He'll kind of fall down at times when he knows what he wants to do but just can't do it yet.”
Jose Iglesias, SS, Red Sox
While it's hard to be a prospect when coming off a season in which both your on-base percentage and slugging were well under .300, Iglesias is just that. He's not only the best defensive shortstop in the minors, he's the best defensive prospect we've seen for years, earning obvious comparisons to fellow Cuban Rey Ordonez, and new manager Bobby Valentine broke out the hyperbole recently with an Ozzie Smith comp. Scouts have always believed in the glove, but while he's temporarily sidelined with a groin strain, he's making his case for a big league job this spring. One National League scout who is assigned to the Red Sox system sees real progress: “He's not only physically stronger, he's playing the game on a more mature level,” he said. “There's more poise there, both at the plate and in the field. If the Red Sox play Mike Aviles and Nick Punto at shortstop, those players are going to be exposed. Once the Red Sox feel Iglesias can hit enough to bat ninth, he'll be up.”
J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins
A third-round pick in the 2010 draft, Realmuto was an infielder in high school, but the Marlins moved him behind the plate as a pro, and while he's a relative unknown still, his first full season in 2011 was a rousing success, as he hit .287/.347/.454 while throwing out 42% of opposing base runners. One American League scout thinks the 20-year-old is on the verge of becoming far more universally known. “He needs to work on his receiving skills still, but he's new to the position and he's just so very athletic,” explained the scout. “The swing is kind of funky but it clearly works for him, and a year from now we could be talking about him as one of the better catching prospects in the game.”
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Braves
While the talk of Braves camp should be Tyler Pastornicky, the expected rookie shortstop in Atlanta this year, much of the focus has turned to Simmons. A second-round pick in 2010, Simmons hit .311/.351/.408 at High-A Lynchburg last season with outstanding defense, and is generally considered the Braves shortstop of the future. But with Pastornicky going 3-for-26 in his first eight spring games, could Simmons' future suddenly be now? “With Simmons, you are talking about special defense,” said a National League scout. “He's potentially better defensively than Alcides Escobar or Elvis Andrus. He doesn't have power, and he isn't a classic burner, but he makes contact, runs well, and could be every bit as good offensively as Andrus.”
Aderlin Rodriguez, 3B, Mets
While there was plenty of good news on the Mets farm last season, Rodriguez was a disappointment. Coming off a huge season in the Appy League in 2010, Rodriguez never got things going in his full-season debut; while he hit 17 home runs, he consistently scuffled both at the plate and in the field, finishing with averages of .221/.265/.372. Still, one American League scout still has faith in the 20-year-old. “I thought he'd hit last year,” said the evaluator. “And if you look at all of the numbers, the strikeouts were not out of control. After seeing him again this Spring, I still believe in the bat.”
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Blue Jays
As slick-fielding, weak-hitting shortstops who defected from Cuba and signed big money major league deal with American League East teams, both Jose Iglesias and Hechavarria have been the victims of constant comparisons, and while Hechavarria finished with a 25-game flourish at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, one National League scout says he's still not seeing much progress at the plate. “First off, he can really play shortstop, but I just don't think he's going to hit,” the scout said. “He's fine on fastballs, but he really struggles with anything off-speed, and I have not seen any progress in that area.”
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Nationals
Ryan Zimmerman's extension led to all sorts of questions about what this means for Rendon, despite the fact that the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft has yet to play a professional game. While he'll begin his career at High-A Potomac and was used at multiple positions this Spring, one American League scout says that shortstop is not where Rendon's future lies. “I don't believe he can play there,” he began. “There is arm strength, but there is length in his throw and he can't get rid of it quickly, and he hasn't read ground balls well.” In addition, the scout saw issues with Rendon's total package. “He's getting beat with good velocity right now, and it reminds me of Gordon Beckham in that there is a late hitch in his swing,” the scout explained. “The approach is fine, and I see the tools, but he just doesn't jump off the page at you.”
Jacob Turner, RHP, Tigers
When camp opened, Turner was in the lead to earn the final spot in the Tigers rotation, but the 2009 first-round pick hasn't done himself any favors with some lackluster early performances. While he doesn't turn 21 until May, Turner was seen as an exciting combination of stuff and polish, but older prospects Andy Oliver and Drew Smyly have already passed him for the No. 5 starter job in the eyes of one National League executive. “I've seen Turner twice, and he couldn't throw strikes,” said the exec. “I also thought I would be blown away on a stuff level, but he was 90-92 mph and the curveball was just all right.” Meanwhile, Turner's main competition has impressed. “Oliver is 94-97 and he's broken out this plus slider, and while Smyly isn't sexy, he throws strikes and really knows how to pitch. Turner doesn't look as ready as those two do right now.”
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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