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October 2, 2012

Fall Instructional League Report

Rays/Twins

by Chris Mellen

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Fall Instructional League, or “Instructs,” is great for several things: doing follow-up scouting from the season, getting a first look at recently signed players, or getting a first glimpse at players coming over to the United States for the first time. The teams in Instructs are typically composed of  the younger prospects from the lower levels and rehabbing players from the upper minors. Teams go through workouts in the morning, then play games in the afternoon against the other teams in the area. So between the morning and the afternoon, you have plenty of chances to lay the eyes on the developing prospects.

Fort Myers has served as my home base for Instructs since I’ve been coming down, and it’s always a productive trip. This year, the Twins, Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays have been playing a rotation of games against each other; for the last six years, I was covering the Red Sox and no one else, so this year sees me expanding my scouting base considerably. It’s been challenging given the large volume of players to see and heightened sense of attention needed, but it’s been fun getting outside of my comfort zone. So these reports will be of selected players from each organization who have stood out for one reason or another. Today we’ll start with the Rays and Twins, with the Red Sox and Orioles to follow later.

Tampa Bay Rays

RHP Parker Markel: I saw Markel throw with Hudson Valley in 2011 and he stood out as having some potential.  He’s gone through some mechanical tweaks since then, as he’s now throwing from a mid-to-low three-quarter arm slot; he has a much easier time keeping his arm there than the previous higher three-quarter slot. The stuff’s been enhanced, especially the ease with which he throws the fastball and movement created.  Markel showed a heavy 93-96 mph heater in his outing, touching 95 and 96 with frequency. He breezed through the Red Sox lineup he faced by spotting it on both sides of the plate and pounding the lower tier of the zone.  His fastball’s a tough ball to elevate due to its downward movement. Markel also showed a tight 83-85 mph slider with late bite and an 81-83 mph fading changeup. The slider has the type of depth to miss advanced bats. I’d like to see more of the changeup in future scouting opportunities, but it looked like an offering that can eventually develop into one that produces weak contact by keeping batters out front. With his stuff profile, I feel Markel can project as a late-inning leverage reliever. With further tightening of the slider and increased power, he could potentially push as an above-average one.

OF Bralin Jackson: As Jackson walked up to the plate, the first thing that jumped out was the body. He is filled out, chiseled, and has plenty of muscle packed onto his frame. Both the upper body and lower half are powerful. He whips the head of the bat through the hitting zone, creating easy bat speed via his strong hands, making a distinct sound when he makes contact. The overall game is very raw presently, however, and Jackson’s progression is likely going to take time. He doesn’t see secondary offerings well and over-compensates when he’s behind in the count, which leaves him susceptible to fastballs with two strikes. Jackson will run into some heaters early in his career, but the progress building an approach and training his eye to differentiate what is coming out of opposing pitcher’s hands are key to progressing out of the low minors.  Defensively, he has the speed and agility to play center field, but he’s weak with his reads off the bat, freezing on contact; he’s especially rough with balls hit right at him. If he’s going to stick in center, there's a lot of work to do, as while the package of tools does stand out, the amount of development he needs stands out equally.          

3B Tyler Goeddel: The body makes Goeddel an intriguing player, but he is relatively rough on both sides of the ball, so I came away from this view mixed on him going forward. At 19 years old, Goeddel’s very lean, with a lot of room to pack muscle onto his 6-foot-4 inch frame. He needs strength to enhance his swing, as the bat presently drags through the zone. Physical development alone won’t make him a better hitter though, as there isn’t much upward plane or leverage to the point of contact. He pulled his hands in against an inside fastball well, but there was little backspin created despite squaring it up. So the swing needs work to produce both lift and backspin to drive pitches consistently. Defensively, Goeddel wasn’t overly fluid at the hot corner, and I also didn’t see the reactions and foot speed that the ones who typically stick at the position display. Combined with projected physical development, a move out of the infield to a corner outfield spot could be in his future, which is going to put more of an emphasis on the bat.    

LHP Blake Snell: Two things jumped out at me when scouting Snell: the fastball movement and ease in creating velocity. His heater operated at 90-93 mph, with the type of run and life to attack right-handed hitters on the inside third. A lot of young lefties fall into ruts of working away, away, away from righties, but Snell showed the confidence to bust them in and, most importantly, the ability to do so. I liked it. His command of the fastball is presently fringy and the progress he makes repeating his delivery more consistently will be key. The breaking ball worked 79-83 mph, with shallow break, and he tended to roll it. Consequently, it needs tightening to become a viable offering to miss quality bats. Snell dropped his wrist under the ball when delivering it, but that’s correctable with repetition. I see him as a level-to-level guy, who will need development time to iron out the rough edges. There’s projection with the body, though, with any added strength potentially helping him squeeze out a tick or two more velocity. It’s a nice package for a development staff to work with and could end up churning out a back-end starter at the major league level.

Minnesota Twins

OF Byron Buxton:  Conversations about Buxton all tend to feature a familiar phrase: “super toolsy.”  He oozes talent. I got my first look at Buxton during batting practice, which consisted of a lot of line drives from gap to gap. The hands are quick, paired with strong forearms that generate plenty of bat speed and allow him to control the head of the bat through the hitting zone. The swing is a bit rough during game action though, mainly opening early with his hips that cause his hands to move too far forward during his stride. Still, there is drive behind the ball and backspin created when squared up.  I saw a player just beginning to scratch the surface offensively, with the hit tool to grow into a plus hitter for average and power that can approach 20 home runs. However, the offensive development is going to take some time due to a raw approach and below-average present pitch recognition. He needs time to marinate in the professional ranks. The speed and defense are also impressive:  Buxton got timed at 4.09 seconds down the line on a bunt attempt where he was a little slow getting started. He glides after flyballs out in center field, reading them well off the bat. There’s a lot of development to go, but the package is there to become an above-average major leaguer.

3B Miguel Sano: It is hard to miss Sano on the field because he is a physical monster. At 19, he looked a bit firmer as I remembered him being softer in the past. On the field, he showed a plus arm at the hot corner, but I don’t see either the foot speed or hands for him to end up sticking there. The reads off the bat aren’t great either, frankly, and he’ll likely move over to first base or to the outfield given the arm.  He puts on a power display in batting practice, though, with raw power that grades at the top of the charts. Sano stays back on fastballs, but gets fooled easily by sharp breaking balls.  The swing does get long, too.  He yanks over the top of breaking stuff and I also see higher velocity fastballs on the inner third giving him trouble in higher levels without adjustments. Sano likes to get the arms extended, handling offerings middle-to-away well.  He may end up a hitter who can be busted inside consistently, but will make pitchers pay for mistakes. If the approach develops with continued experience and instruction, Sano slots as a five-hole hitter for me.  30-plus home runs are not out of the question, but that will probably come with mediocre batting averages and a lot of strikeouts.

RHP Jose Berrios: I was surprised when I looked at the roster and saw that Berrios was only 18 years old, because he repeats his delivery well for a pitcher his age and was more polished than the young arms I typically see at this point in their development.  Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Berrios keeps on top of his downward-moving fastball well.  He touched up to 94 mph, averaging 92 mph in the outing. The command of the pitch was about fringe-average, as he leaves it in the middle of the plate too much, but he showed the ability to move it around the strike zone and hit some corners after a slow start. There isn’t much projection with his body, though, and I just don’t see the stuff likely to go through a big transformation. Berrios’ development will be about fine tuning and becoming more consistent. Both the curveball and changeup flashed plus potential, but he was especially inconsistent staying on top of the curve. It worked 79-82 mph, at times deep and also at times loopy as it rolled to the plate. The tighter version can definitely miss bats. Overall, Berrios is an interesting arm. The level of polish leads me to believe that he can track with lesser resistance through the low minors, performing well in the process. I’m in the “wait and see” category with him though because the stuff could hit a wall in the upper minors where the more advanced hitters will press him to live on the corners in the lower-tier of the strike zone consistently.                                       

RHP J.T. Chargois: The righty came out of the gate lighting up my radar gun with a lot of “94s” and a high of 97 mph. The fastball simply explodes out of his hand, with downward movement and run. Chargois’ command is about average, but he has the ability to beat hitters, especially elevated. The delivery is extremely jerky and full of effort.  He gets just about every ounce of energy behind each pitch, which at times amounts to over-throwing. It is hard to see Chargois being able to maintain his stamina due to all of the effort he expends, and so multiple innings are going to take their toll on him. Ultimately I see him as a reliever, with the potential to develop into a late-inning one. He was fastball-dominant in the outing, only throwing an 81-83 mph changeup twice, so I didn’t get a good look at what he has for secondary stuff.  There was good separation with the change from his heater and the arm speed was similar to create some deception. The ceiling looked like a closer, but I think a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever is more likely and that there is volatility in his projection due to him presently still being on the rough side.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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