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March 21, 2014

Notes from the Field

Backfield Scouting Notes, 3/21

by Jason Parks and BP Prospect Staff


I spent nine hours at the fields yesterday; morning workouts and then backfield games on the Rangers side (Extended, Low-A, High-A). Dropping notes on several prospects, some more detailed than others depending on the duration and significance of the look. –Jason Parks

Texas Rangers

C Jorge Alfaro: Noticeably stronger; way more athletic than people realize; easy plus runner when underway; arm is 80-grade; popped a 1.73 (on my watch) on a caught stealing early in the game; footwork was quick and coordinated; ball was waiting on the runner; controls the running game; intimidator behind the plate; not afraid to attempt back-pick at second or first; highly confident in throwing ability; best I’ve seen him as a receiver; was letting the ball get to him; wasn’t stabbing or drifting; previously, more balanced at the plate; swing is still torque-heavy but not as all-or-nothing or uncontrollable; bat speed is still well above average; right-center is still power core; can still beat him with spin but he is keeping his hands back better and not selling out for extension on everything thrown near the plate.

I’ve been watching Alfaro since he was 16, and from day one, I’ve been selling the hype created by his massive raw tools. Over the years, I’ve seen the developmental ups and downs, the immaturity and subsequent growth, the physical and emotional maturation from teenager to man. But this is the best I have seen Alfaro, both on the field and in the way he is carrying himself off of it. If he keeps taking steps forward, the Rangers could have a middle-of-the-order hitter who is an impact weapon at a premier spot on the diamond. The profile points to a superstar, a role 7 all-star player; 2014 will be his biggest test. –Jason Parks

2B Chris Bostick: I liked it. Quick hands at the plate; stinging the baseball; runs better than I remember when he was with the A’s; can make plays on all fronts; right-side (2B) profile, but could be a second-division type or utility option someday. –Jason Parks

RHP Marcos Diplan: Short righty with immature build and limited projection; narrow hips; higher butt/waist; some room to fill out/add strength (especially in the lower half) but limited physical projection overall; fast arm from 3/4 slot; high leg lift in the delivery and good balance; created some angle when he stayed over the ball; was overthrowing in one-inning look; worked 90-93 with fastball; lacked big life; upper-70s curveball had some bite and flashed potential, but he failed to find consistency out front and struggled to command the pitch; dropped a mid-80s changeup that was either a true changeup (gripped) that was too firm and flat or a standard fastball he lost the dick on; overall command was rough; arm strength was clear and impressive for age; delivery needs refinement but should end up a strength; curveball could be his pitch; fastball has velocity potential (plus); complex league consistency at present but could push to Northwest League with a strong extended spring training. –Jason Parks

3B Joey Gallo: Gallo was a large human being when he was drafted, and he's even bigger now; he has added somewhere in the neighborhood of one inch and 10 to 15 pounds. It appears to be all muscle as he still cuts a very athletic figure. I doubt there is a future for him at third base, as everything screams right field; he doesn’t have the great reactions or quick hands for third, and he throws like an outfielder, as he requires a long arm path before unleashing cannon-like throws.

Gallo’s calling card is his light-tower power. It didn’t show up in game action yesterday, but I did get some good looks at the swing that generates those tape-measure shots. He generates little momentum but attempts to compensate for this by creating high amounts of torque. His whole swing is built on loading his hips, then rotating through them, but he still has some mechanical impediments to making this style of swing work. His lower half ends up being a bit late in his firing sequence. In the video below, watch how his back knee actually points back and toward the catcher while his front foot is striding toward the pitcher.

Gallo has a fair amount of pre-swing “noise” with his hands. He starts them close to his body, then raises them up and away from his body during his loading phase and ends up pulling them back in during the gather portion of his swing. It’s a busy process, but he is much smoother with all these movements than he was in the prior looks I’ve had at him.

When the bat does launch, it’s with great bat speed and strength, and there's a different sound off of his bat when he connects with the ball. There is some length in the swing but nothing to be very worried about. He's young, big, and strong like an ox, so a little bit of length is expected. He gets great extension, which only adds to his power potential.

Gallo's strike zone awareness is improving, though he still expands the zone a bit throughout all counts. He is likely to swing at any pitch he sees in the zone rather than exercise some patience and wait for something to seriously crush. This is a hitter who has been pitched around his whole life, so I don’t totally blame him for being so aggressive with anything he can reach. He seems to have cut down on his swinging and missing at stuff in the zone and is tracking the ball better than the last time I saw him.

Don’t expect Gallo to be a quick mover. He may get a taste of Double-A this year, but he still needs tons of at-bats against quality stuff to hone his approach. The wait should be worth it, as this is a player with a legitimate shot to hit 40 home runs in the show. –Ryan Parker

LHP Victor Payano: Remains a frustrating prospect; long/lanky, with good athleticism on the mound; from high-¾ slot, pumps fastballs in the 91-95 range, sitting comfortably in the upper extreme without any additional effort; pace is erratic; comes high front-side in the delivery and can struggle to get over it and release out front; forces the ball up and upside; has to work down for fastball life; when he’s up, it’s flat and hittable; curveball can show tight rotation and big depth, but more often than not the ball comes out of the hand early and is trackable with a longer tumble rather than a sharp break; pitch plays better against aggressive lower-level bats than it would against more advanced hitters; showed a few changeups in the 81-82 range with some sink; overall command is loose; extremely good-looking when he works down with the fastball, showing velocity and some wiggle; easy to square and ineffective when he works up, despite well above-average velocity from the left-side; curveball can look the part, but I think it’s a 45/50 pitch when projected; changeup had some promise; late-innings reliever profile with some impact potential with better command, but the profile comes with a high risk. –Jason Parks

3B Yeyson Yrizarri: My favorite player from the Rangers' 2013 international class; good body but not an impact athlete; arm stands out; plus-plus from third; glove looked fine; made fundamental/routine plays; pays close attention during infield/game action; doesn’t just go through the motions; tracks the ball well at the plate; seems to pick it up and diagnose it early; shows good bat speed and hands at the plate; fights during at-bats and shows bat control to make contact even when fooled and out front; can’t speak to the raw power (yet); like the natural bat-to-ball ability, overall approach, and arm strength from third. I think he can play in the Northwest league as a 17-year-old without getting exposed. –Jason Parks

Baltimore Orioles

LHP Tim Berry: Berry is on the lean side and needs to add some muscle to his frame. That would go a long way toward helping him maintain his stuff over the grind of the season. I’m not sure how much more he is going to be able to fill out, though. His body composition doesn’t look like one that’s suddenly going to explode. On the plus side, Berry’s delivery is very loose and easy. The lefty doesn’t waste a lot of energy in delivering the ball, and the pace throughout his motion is consistent. I like to zone in on whether a pitcher speeds up a bit toward the tail end. This can reveal clues as to whether the arm slot can get inconsistent and lead to bouts of wildness. Berry showed as pretty clean in this area.

Berry's fastball worked 90-92 mph during the outing, with some tail. He was inconsistent finishing with his heater, though, which led to its staying up. He didn’t get hurt often on the pitch, but it has a much better look from the mid-thighs to the knees. I see Berry as having to live in that area to succeed against more advanced competition, because the fastball isn’t going to beat hitters often. He also showed a curveball and changeup, the latter used sparingly. Berry struggled to stay on top of his curve early, but it found more shape as the outing progressed. It can get deep, with some teeth, and shows solid-average potential. Based on this look, I saw a bullpen arm with back-of-the-rotation upside. –Chris Mellen

Boston Red Sox

3B Rafael Devers: It was a quick, first look at Devers, and there will be deeper follow-ups as his career gets going, but here's my early impression: The kid can swing the bat. Devers is a bit long with his stroke and can get messy, but the foundation is there. I liked the quick hands that fired fast to get the head of the bat moving. The third baseman unfolded well in driving the ball hard with carry to the opposite field, which jumped out given his age.

I expect Devers to need some time to get his feet on the ground. After all, he’s 17 years old and just beginning the pro journey. His pitch recognition is likely to be stress tested, and Devers did take a liking to balls up in the zone. However, for an inexperienced player he showed some calmness in the box. Devers was in sync with the speed of the game. I took it as a good first sign that the ability to adjust is there. –Chris Mellen

C Blake Swihart: The first thing that stands out about Swihart this spring is the physical growth he’s undergone. The catcher has definitely filled out in a good way in the lower half. In the past, when Swihart was more on the lean side, I had concerns about how well his body was going to hold up over the long haul behind the plate. His physical gains have lessened those concerns considerably, and I see him as having a very legit chance of sticking behind the dish. The skills have always been there and continue to progress.

I’ve been a believer in Swihart's hitting skills, so it’ll be interesting to see how his bat transitions to Double-A. One big thing that sticks out, though, is the difference between the look of the ball off his bat when put in the air versus on a line. Swihart’s drives tend to die when lofted, which happened on a few occasions during this glimpse. In one plate appearance while hitting right-handed, the catcher got what sounded like pretty good wood on a fastball about belt high, but it lacked carry and fell about 20 feet short of the track into the outfielder’s glove. For the home run power—which I project as capable of being average—to come, Swihart will need to improve how he uses his lower body when muscling up. –Chris Mellen

Houston Astros

RHP Rhiner Cruz: This former Rule 5 pick is an intriguing power relief arm. Easy 97-99 with a lot of arm-side run. Can't locate fastball anywhere near target. Can potentially be effectively wild with his heater in and around the zone. Batters don't dig in too deep when facing him. Best secondary is 75-81 mph slurve that works well when he stays on top of it. Firm change in the high 80s didn't show well. –Al Skorupa

Kansas City Royals

OF Bubba Starling: Starling is a big-time athlete, but I got multiple looks at him as a DH and I came away very unimpressed. Even the raw physical gifts don’t seem to have progressed in any significant manner since his draft day. His figure is essentially the same and doesn’t appear to have added any extra strength or speed. At the dish, Starling just looks uncomfortable. He hits from an upright stance and has no rhythm or momentum in his swing. His stride foot kicks out awkwardly in front of him, and he begins to fire his top half far too early. His back elbow tucks into his body much earlier than it should. There is very little separation in his swing, as his hips and shoulders fire together rather than the hips starting slightly before the upper half. On the plus side, he generates great bat speed through strength alone. He also gets decent extension with his hands.

Starling doesn’t read the ball well out of the pitcher’s hand. Everything looks rushed as he picks it up late and then tries to force his swing to “hurry up” to the ball. Breaking stuff really gives him trouble. Even on his takes he looks rushed. His swing has a surprising number of moving parts. That's okay as long as a player gives himself enough time to line things up in his swing, but Starling doesn't do this. Maybe something will click and Starling will turn into a guy with a legitimate big-league future, but barring some sort of baseball epiphany I have real concerns about his bat playing in the high minors, much less the major leagues. –Ryan Parker

New York Yankees

3B Dante Bichette Jr.: Bichette looks like he might be turning the corner this spring. While still rotational, everything in his swing has been simplified, and his good natural power hasn’t been depleted. His swing is now rock, identify pitch, and roll. Short and quick, don’t ask questions, just hit the ball. Previously, he was doing too much: It used to be huge rock, never identify pitch, enormous Javier Baez-type leg lift, front shoulder bails, hands drop and then roll. This new approach should definitely help Bichette and might allow him to recapture the prospect status he once had, assuming his issues with off-speed stuff stemmed from his swing rather than his approach. At third, he isn’t very good, his hands lack softness and he really doesn’t have any fluidity. He might make strides there at some point, but if not the arm is good enough for right field. Steffan Segui

OF Aaron Judge: Judge is big, similar to (actually bigger than) the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Kyle Blanks and, if you want to go old school, Frank Howard. As with all of those guys, Judge has prodigious BP power and can hit balls a country mile with ease. He also possesses a big arm, one that runners should be wary of. He runs and fields well enough, but the biggest question will be whether he hits enough for his large power to play large. The core of his problems with making consistent contact is bat speed. Stanton’s bat speed is elite, so he can sit back on off-speed pitches and not worry about getting a fastball thrown past him. Many big power hitters, like Judge, have only slider bat speed, which leads him to cheat—and which pitchers will learn and exploit. Judge has a noticeable separation at load, which I’m not sure he needs. He has so much raw strength that he can get away with just swinging. A load serves one purpose: momentum. It’s intended to get weight back to create potential energy to transfer into the ball. Judge is so strong that he doesn’t need momentum; he needs pitch recognition and a short, quick swing. If he can quiet his hands and use his natural strength, he will be a force who should be able to accidentally run into 25 home runs. If he struggles with timing and guessing and all of the typical problems big guys have, then his power will go to waste. –Steffan Segui

Philadelphia Phillies

SS J.P. Crawford: A special athlete, Crawford can really run and has excellent hands. Tall and slender but with muscle, I don’t see him adding too much more bulk, because he just doesn’t have a very big frame. On a bunt single, I timed him at 3.67 to first. That speed translates to his defense at short. He doesn’t have a great arm but is able to get to balls quicker than most. He is so athletic and smooth that he can get into excellent throwing positions and put enough on his throws from the hole to get outs. His hands are very clean and are really what allow him to stand out. At the plate, he has a noticeable drift that at times is even a lunge, but his hands stay back and work so well that he can be out in front of pitches and still be on the ball. The lunge will eventually be an issue, especially versus left-handed pitching. Right now he gets away with it because he's a superior athlete. In one at-bat he was out in front of an off-speed pitch but was able to keep his hands back and drive it the other way for a double. His approach is good for 19 years old; he works counts, sprays balls around the yard, and shows purpose in batting practice.

Crawford possesses a cool demeanor and plays with a lot of confidence, though he will definitely make his share of inexperienced mistakes. He was yelled at a couple times for lack of awareness of outs in the inning or where to go with the ball, but more baseball usually fixes those puppy errors. Overall, Crawford is an excellent prospect who should excel in his first full season. –Steffan Segui

RHP Tyler Knigge
Good size and quick arm. 3/4 arm slot. Fastball was a heavy 93-94, but he commanded it poorly. Also threw mid-80s slider with inconsistent shape and break. Showed problems repeating delivery and timing. Reliever mechanics and limited arsenal. More hittable than raw stuff indicates; hitters saw him well even though he hides ball and generally stays closed. Still a pretty interesting arm. Potentially useful bullpen piece. –Al Skorupa

CF Carlos Tocci: Tocci is only 18, so it's very early, but I’m not sure he will ever hit enough to be a big-league regular. He has a wide stance and makes contact with a good approach. The issue is that there isn’t any extension in his swing, so most balls he hits aren’t hard and are generally just rolled over. His frame is very thin, and his waist is tiny, so I don’t exactly know where muscle will go; it’s kind of a frail build. He can really run, he is graceful in center field, and he glides to balls, but overall his speed plays down due to poor instincts. He doesn’t get good jumps at all and is somewhat slow getting out of the box. Tocci has all the time in the world, but the package doesn’t suggest much more than a defensive specialist fourth outfielder. –Steffan Segui

Pittsburgh Pirates

C Carlos Paulino
Standout defender behind the plate. Very quick feet and strong arm; 1.94 pop on a caught stealing. Athletic behind the plate. Moves well side to side. Solid blocker. Soft hands as a receiver and frames well. As a hitter he lacks strength. Mediocre bat speed. Didn't square anything up. Singles hitter who doesn't drive the ball. May not hit enough to be a big leaguer, but could potentially help in right situation as a defensive specialist backup catcher. –Al Skorupa

Tampa Bay Rays

LHP Mike Montgomery
Slingy left-handed power relief arm. Good size and athleticism. Fastball worked 90-91 with arm-side run and sink when thrown down. Curveball (76-77) has good depth and movement, but he can't throw it for strikes. Slowed arm when throwing breaking ball. Showed very little feel for a firm change at 81-83, but pitch did flash good fading action. Back stab with elbow, head jerk and some effort in his delivery. Rushes at times and has problems finishing on line. Weak command and control; prone to leaving fastball in hittable spots. As a lefty with velo he's interesting, but Montgomery remains a project. Potential left-handed specialist. –Al Skorupa

OF Andrew Toles
Athlete with good bat speed. Busy, complex swing. Good hands allow him to recover and make hard contact. Sets up at extreme front of the batter's box. Free swinger; expands his zone in all directions. Undersized and often hits off front foot; limited power projection. Flat swing plane. Swing can get long and loopy. Obvious plus athleticism but didn't run hard for me. Picked himself off second base while the pitcher held the ball. Project with wide range of potential outcomes. –Al Skorupa

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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