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March 25, 2014

Notes from the Field

Backfield Scouting Notes, 3/25

by Jason Parks and BP Prospect Staff

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Chicago Cubs

OF Albert Almora: Mixed production at the plate; squared a 95 fastball up in the zone for an opposite-field RBI single late in the game; fast hands and aggressive; loved the way he attacked the ball; earlier in the game, was sawed off by a fastball inside and hit an infield squib; clocked a 4.4 time to 1B. I like the setup and swing, with an open stance and very good balance through his load and stroke. Swing is more linear without a lot of lift at present, but he can make hard contact with the ball, especially against quality fastballs; in the field, looks the part of a plus center fielder; glides naturally to the ball; effortless ability to make quality reads.

Example: On a high sky, sun field, tracked a high fly ball that was tailing toward the right field side. It would be common to see young center fielders make a poor opening read and struggle to adjust to the ball because of the sky and tail on the ball. My eyes focused on Almora upon contact, and he glided to the spot on his initial read and made a catch at his left hip, which looked as effortless (and cool) as his route to the ball. For most outfielders, the appropriate response to the flair of this particular catch on a backfield would be, “Nice catch Hayes, don’t ever do it again.” But for Almora, its just natural baseball. –Jason Parks

SS Javier Baez: Thick, muscular body; well-filled-out lower half, with tree trunk legs; stands out physically on the field; elite raw power; generates excellent bat speed via an explosive swing; lot of pre-pitch movement and timing to get hands into hitting position; cocks elbow as timing mechanism; swing is designed to get the head of the bat out quickly; looks to lift every offering; ball explodes off bat to both fields with force and distinct sound; prone to being out front; head can jerk, with hips clearing early; aggressive mentality—geared up for fastballs; concerned about willingness to shorten swing or change approach based on sequences; will swing and miss; must mature with approach to be more than mistake hitter against high-quality arms.

Will be tested by off-speed stuff; presently exploitable against changeups; will swing over the top of stuff buried away; ability to hit better than average in the majors is there with adjustments; 5+ hit tool; not overly fluid in the field; plus arm, but inconsistent setting feet; can stick at short for the short term; third base likely destination; high energy to his game—everything is 100 percent; lot of effort and wildness in overall game; at times looks like a bull in a china shop. –Chris Mellen

RHP Lendy Castillo: Athletic righty with reliever profile; worked 94-95 and touched 96 with the fastball; pitch showed above-average life to the arm side; mechanics had effort; slinger action from 3/4 slot; pitched from the stretch; 1.25 release with runners on; slider was a short, two-plane breaker at 84-86 mph; okay depth but wasn’t a bat-missing pitch; avoided some barrels but was thrown in the zone and not for chase; dropped one changeup at 88 that was firm and flat; overall command was fringe-average; middle-relief profile; role 4; lively fastball will play at highest level but slider wasn’t a plus offering. –Jason Parks

OF Junior Lake: When it comes to loud tools, Lake is a Mastodon record—minus any of the complexity and understanding of artistic construction. He has extreme raw power; extreme arm strength; extreme speed; and extreme rawness when it comes to the application of these well above-average raw physical gifts. Lake is a reactive, see ball-hit ball type of hitter. Unfortunately, I’m not sure he can see anything except fastballs up and over the heart of the plate, and any pitcher with a plan of attack and basic command execution can avoid his danger zone. But when you miss and he can extend, he can unleash hell with the stick and impact the game.

I’m not suggesting he can alter his approach, but if you allow yourself the opportunity to dream (take drugs if necessary), Lake has the tools to hit 30-plus bombs in a season, steal 30-plus bases, and be a weapon on the defensive side of the ball. Will this happen? I would bet against it. But we live in a world where this is possible—based on the physical evidence of the player, and if the present rawness in his game can find its way to a flame and mature a bit, Junior Lake could be a player to build around instead of a player to bust on. –Jason Parks

3B Christian Villanueva Filled out; strong core; shows some athleticism for size; quick and loose hands; easy, controlled swing; shows ability to adjust barrel; understands how to execute against what’s delivered to him; will go with and take what is given to him; approaches plate appearances with a plan; keeps hands back during stride—good sign ability to hit breaking stuff is there; 5+ hit tool; has strength to drive ball over the fence; needs to learn how to get more lift out of swing to drive with loft and carry for over-the-fence power to play to fullest.

Can hit velocity; learning how to turn on ball; will be challenged by stuff on the inner half; not afraid to go the other way; should develop into a gap-to-gap hitter; power will mostly play to the pull side; light on feet at third base; engaged in the game defensively; soft glove; needs some work not getting tangled with feet when going left; plus arm—has enough to make the long throw across the diamond; potential to evolve into a long-term regular –Chris Mellen

Cleveland Indians

OF Tyler Naquin: Moderate build; lean muscle; athlete; actions are fluid and smooth; average bat speed; bland swing, but compact and efficient; line drive stroke; twitchy against offerings with spin; concerned about ability to catch up to consistent high velocity fastballs; didn’t see a regular—likely path as fourth/bench outfielder. –Chris Mellen

INF Jose Ramirez: On the small side; not much projection to body; athletic; quick first step at third base; can range to both sides; fringe-average arm; more of a fill-in at the hot corner; ideal on the right side; front-foot hitter; tended to lunge at every pitch thrown to him, landing on front foot early and bringing hands forward too soon; bat dragged through zone as a result of wrists breaking; pushes bat to ball; 4+ hit tool; not much raw power to speak of; 4.23 down the line to first (left-handed); utility/bench guy projection. –Chris Mellen

Philadelphia Phillies

OF Dylan Cozens: 
Big and strong frame; moves better than you would think at first
 glance; stands tall and quiet in the box; stance is a little stiff;
 showed a patient approach in all of his ABs; did a good job staying
closed while facing a LHP who was attacking him inside; swing was 
short and compact; dropped the barrel on a couple fastballs away and
 drove them opposite field; was having trouble getting full extension
 though; he refused to take the pitcher's bait on off-speed 
away; had some trouble getting to fastballs on the inner half; swing 
got long and loopy when attacked with fastballs inside.

 This was the first time I have seen him play CF, which is not a position he can play and magnified his awkwardness; lack of range more evident; arm is plenty strong. –Chris King

Texas Rangers

OF Jairo Beras: At this time last year I was very high on Beras after seeing the 6-foot-6 outfielder have one of the best days I’ve ever seen a prospect have. Batting practice was a laser show, and he battled pitchers many years his senior with impressive results. Fast forward a year and I have gone from giddy about his future to cautiously optimistic.

Beras' lanky frame appears not to have added any weight or strength, and he's not moving any more athletically or swinging any harder. On the plus side, he is repeating his swing better and keeping much better balance; the swing has some length but is not in need of major changes; the bat speed is solid; the torque is passable; innate sense of timing allows him to hit balls that seem to “stay hit.” BPs are impressive, but game action is another story; his swing shut down whenever a pitcher snapped off any kind of breaking ball; on fastballs, would taper down his swing if the ball wasn’t piped down the heart of the plate; will need more time on the complex before he is ready to tackle any sort of advanced assignment.

Behind the learning curve in the field; moves decently for his size but range below average; relies on long limbs to bail him out in the outfield; ends up catching the ball with his arms outstretched rather than taking a solid route and getting his body lined up correctly. His arm is strong for his age and could get stronger, but he was throwing wicked two-seamers from the outfield.

I'm still optimistic; you can’t teach size or the type of power he has. In his last at-bat he seemed frustrated about the diet of breaking balls he was being fed. He had decided to let it fly at the first fastball he saw. The end result was a beautiful swing at a chest-high fastball, and a 410-foot screaming line drive that smashed the middle of the elevated batter's eye in center. Moments like these and his routinely impressive BP sessions are why I still hold out some sense of (tempered) optimism about Beras' future. –Ryan Parker

1B Ronald Guzman: First base-only prospects at the low levels of the minors usually scare me. Guzman does not scare me. The bat is real. His body is starting to fill out, and he cuts a mean figure. He’s taller than his listed 6-foot-4 height and moves with fluidity and athleticism. He is not fast, but his feet aren’t heavy. He has no problem moving around the bag at first. He controls that long frame incredibly well over the course of his swing.

In the field Guzman is relaxed and smooth; fluid scooping throws; hands are solid; lower half is especially impressive; already has a feel for proper footwork at first base; enough hip flexibility to maneuver his whole torso to get scoops or groundballs rather than stab at the ball.

Swing is simple and powerful; with a wide stance and quiet hands, he is able to create ample bat speed and strength leading to loud contact; shows incredible coordination given his age and size; no problem keeping balance throughout his swing; even on takes he keeps his body from lunging or drifting; creates separation both between his hands and lower body and between his hips and upper body. I really like this swing.

More impressive is his overall process of hitting. During his at-bats he tracks the ball incredibly well. If the pitch is close (but ultimately a ball) his swing looks like he is about to fire, but he can calmly shut it down. If the pitch is far from the zone Guzman will read it and pump the brakes very early. If the pitcher paints a corner early, he'll track it, take it, and learn something from the pitch. He wants to hit strikes over the white of the plate until he is forced to expand his zone later in the at-bat. Guzman is a monster in waiting. –Ryan Parker

Toronto Blue Jays

OF D.J. Davis: 
Davis looks to have added some muscle this offseason, especially in
 the upper body; aggressive early in the
 count looking for fastballs to drive; fooled twice by breaking 
balls and appeared to have trouble recognizing them out of the 
pitcher's hand; showed good balance throughout his swing; kept the bat 
level through the zone; did a good job staying closed and pulling his 
hands inside the ball when pitched inside; sneaky power to pull side; 
aggressive and heads-up baserunner; able to score from first 
on a shallow pop fly to center. 

Defensively he was a little shaky; speed allows him to mask some 
questionable reads and routes in center; tracked down a ball in the left-center gap, then dropped it. In the past he was
 consistently out of position pre-pitch, and it was a point of emphasis 
with coaches; seems to have put that behind him, but still late getting read on the ball.—Chris King 

SS Dawel Lugo: 
Quickly becoming one of my favorite prospects to watch 
hit. He almost points the bat down over his back shoulder pre-swing,
 but he's able to gets the bat and his hands where they need to be once
 he starts loading up; very quick hands and bat speed; keeps his head
 very quiet; controls the barrel exceptionally well and unleashes on a
 direct path to the ball; swing stays level and in the 
zone; he lets the ball travel deep and still has enough bat speed to
 handle pitches with good velocity inside; excellent hand-eye 
coordination; stung two fastballs above the waist and inside with
 ease; did a good job of using his lower half as a strong and balanced 
base for his swing.

 Didn't have much action hit his way in the field. He did make a
very nice play charging straight in on a slow grounder, showing fluid
 motions and soft hands; quick transfer and maintained arm strength and
 accuracy on the run. –Chris King 

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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