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October 4, 2012

Fall Instructional League Report

Red Sox/Orioles

by Chris Mellen

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One of the major reasons I like Fall Instructs is that I get to see a cluster of prospects that would otherwise be spread out during the season. It also serves as a nice way to close out the year, while also building a scouting base for the next one. Despite the positives, though, finishing up with Instructs is always bittersweet, since I know it’s my last time out at the field until spring training. Like I mentioned on Tuesday, this year’s Instructs were particularly exciting since I was expanding my coverage, and I’m already eager to go again in 2013.   

Today’s report focuses on the other two organizations I covered during this past week’s trip down to Fort Myers. Given my familiarity with the Red Sox, the featured players are ones I was either targeting for follow-up looks, or players I knew I’d be getting my first crack at and who I feel may begin to make some moves this coming season. I usually see the majority of Orioles’ prospects in the Eastern and International Leagues, but the lower levels were uncharted waters, so today’s Orioles players are those who left an early impression out of the ones I was able to see.      

Boston Red Sox

OF Manuel Margot: Margot’s a relatively unknown player, but that’s going to change, as the toolsy 18-year-old didn’t really look out of place at all on the diamond amongst the more experienced guys. I set out to study his swing during batting practice and the consistency he showed with keeping his hands in a good hitting position really jumped out. There’s separation during his stride, which allowed the hands to stay back and quickly explode through the ball with some leverage to create backspin. This ability also carried over into game action, along with the makings of a relaxed approach in the box, two positive signs that Margot’s hit tool can begin to translate during the early career as his level of experience builds. Presently lean, there’s projection for moderate physical development and growth into his 6-foot frame. It likely won’t cut much into his athleticism or speed, the latter being his best present tool. I didn’t get a good opportunity to time him down the line, but Margot accelerates fluidly making the turn at first; he was also showing solid closing speed tracking down fly balls in center field. My early feel is that the skill set is there to potentially develop into a top-of-the-order type, capable of sticking defensively in center, with a stress on “early” and the amount of development time ahead.  

RHP Francellis Montas: The highlight of Montas’ package is arm strength: it’s impressive and he lit up my radar gun. He easily cranked his fastball up to 98 mph, with explosiveness and ride when elevated, and he flat-out beat the Twins hitters with 95-98 mph heat during his outing. The delivery is on the crude side, though; Montas is rough finishing, which causes the ball to sail on him at times, and he lacks the ability to execute both in the lower tier of the zone and on the corners. Presently a thrower, as both the fastball command and control are below-average. He’ll get away with pure velocity in the near future, but he needs refinement to continue to progress against more advanced hitters or else he risks topping out around Double-A. Already well-filled out at 19, especially in the lower half, maintaining the body will be an area of focus too, as it looks like one that could get away from him without work. He showed an improving slider at 83-84 mph, with more depth and tilt than the last time I scouted him. Montas is not a max effort guy, but I see his likely path as a reliever eventually. There’s a lot of body to control in the delivery, which may always hinder his command, and the secondary stuff will have to make some big developmental leaps to stick in the rotation at higher levels.

C Blake Swihart:  I’ve had a chance to see Swihart since he signed with the Red Sox last year and my thoughts always come back to whether he is going to stick at catcher. After first seeing him, I was hesitant on whether the frame was going to be able to handle the position, but it looks like the physical development of the body is beginning to make progress, as Swihart’s lower half looked noticeably stronger and more filled-out this week. His actions behind the dish were more powerful, too. Is this enough to erase my doubts about sticking? No. But steps forward are the name of the game. Offensively, I like his overall feel for hitting. There was also more drive behind the ball and loft produced during batting practice sessions. The big need is progress with secondary offerings; he transfers his weight too early and gets fooled often by breaking balls due to picking them up late. It’ll be the area I key on when following up on Swihart next season to see where the projection is heading.

LHP Cody Kukuk: The 19-year-old lefty’s stuff made an impression on me when scouting him way back in last year’s Fall Instructs. I expected to track the development in short-season with Lowell this season, but discipline issues kept him back in Florida and landed him on the restricted list for most of the season; it’ll be interesting to see how the level of maturity progresses from here. This week, Kukuk showed a lively 91-93 mph fastball and an ease in creating velocity, though the previously scouted late arm-side tail was lacking a bit. The heater was flatter due to opening early with his delivery and drifting with his feet during the landing, causing some drag with his arm. It also hindered the control, leading to bouts of wildness during the outing; work controlling his delivery more smoothly is needed to reel the pitch in. Kukuk didn’t break out his slider, but he did feature an 80-83 mph changeup much more than when I saw him last. His feel for it was definitely improved, grading about fringe-average overall, and he showed more confidence in it. Kukuk’s an arm that can gain traction next season, especially if he proves this year’s DUI incident was an isolated mistake in judgment. The ceiling could push as high as a third or fourth starter, but continued improvement with the changeup is a must, as he won’t project as a starter without it.                       

Baltimore Orioles

OF Roderick Bernadina: I can honestly say that I had never heard of Bernadina before, given this was my first time really focusing on the Orioles. There’s plenty of bat speed created via quick hands, though with some wasted movement during his load that can throw his timing off. The swing shows leverage and loft to the point of contact, too. In one instance, the ball exploded off the 20-year-old’s bat, driving a fastball out and over the plate hard into the right-center field gap. Bernadina’s hands stayed inside the ball well, enabling him to barrel it up rather than push it; he can certainly hit a fastball. He’s rough when it comes to handling secondary offerings, as he’s yet to learn how to control both his swing and his weight transfer. I see this as an area needing a lot of refinement, and it’s the key to him progressing from a wild swinger into a hitter. The ability to stay back on the ball is important for him to make enough contact to rise into the upper levels. The projection is tough right now, given that Bernadina is presently a package of raw tools and very volatile, but he’s a player that gives a development staff a lot to work with, potentially paying out as major league regular.

3B Hector Veloz:  I first noticed Veloz taking infield at the hot corner during morning drills, another player who surprised me when I looked at the roster and saw he was only 18. The body is well-filled out, especially the lower half, but is one that is going to have to be maintained as he continues to mature. The arm scouted as above-average, though both the feet and hands need a lot of work. This carried over into game action, as he got a bit tangled moving to his left, while also allowing a couple of balls to eat him up instead of charging them. Veloz’s raw power is the real draw, grading as easy plus, with a lot of loft when he pulled drives during batting practice. The transition against more advanced competition wasn’t there yet, however. Veloz is ultra-aggressive in the box, utilizing a “grip and rip” approach with little plan at the plate. He chased elevated fastballs inside and waved at sharper secondary stuff diving into the dirt. The main developmental need right now is to begin to build a professional approach. With progression, he can potentially emerge as a power bat. It’s a tricky profile however, but enough to whet the appetite for a follow-up scouting look.                                           

OF Henry Urrutia: Going into things blind is certainly interesting. At first glance, when he was assembled with the outfielders during drills, I assumed Urrutia was a rehabbing player because he looked much older, but then noticed he was listed on the roster and was in fact 25 years old. It was then I finally realized that he was the Cuban import the Orioles signed back in July. He played above the level of competition, looking likely for an assignment in Double-A or outside chance at Triple-A to begin 2013. The stroke as a lefty is fluid and designed to produce line drives. Urrutia showed the ability to hit gap-to-gap, with quick hands that he slides inside of the ball to fluidly pull offerings hard into right field. The swing is smooth, but there isn’t a lot of leverage created. The present power looked average at best, though there is still a bit of room on his frame to fill into. As a corner outfielder it will be interesting to see how it plays out, as he could end up too light to profile as a regular. He’ll also have to adjust to more advanced pitching, testing his current approach.                  

RHP Devin Jones: I wasn’t sure what to make of Jones at first as it took me some time to get a feel for his stuff. The fastball velocity at just 89-92 mph, touching up to 93 mph, didn’t exactly jump out, but his ball has sink. Jones stays on top of the pitch well to create downward leverage with an easy delivery. He’s also very loose and the heater comes out of his hand well. This fluidity allowed him to throw to the lower of the strike zone, while consistently keeping the ball down in the process. I didn’t see much of the low-80s changeup, but Jones can snap off a tighter slider with late bite at 84-85 mph, and it flashed plus. The overall package, at present, looked likely to be strained multiple times through a lineup when reaching Double-A, but has a chance to play up in shorter stints. The slider can definitely miss bats, while the sinking action of Jones’ fastball makes it difficult for a hitter to elevate. With continued development, he slots as a potential sixth or seventh inning reliever for me.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor League Baseball

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