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April 3, 2015

Going Yard

Top Power and Hit Tools From Arizona

by Ryan Parker

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In a previous edition of Going Yard, the author wrote about numerous players he was looking forward to getting eyes on. Today he breaks down what he saw in person from the Power Rangers and the Hit List.

Hunter Renfroe, San Diego Padres

While I didn’t see the power exhibition from Renfroe that I know he can display, I was still impressed by this young man. Renfroe keeps things loose and easy for most of BP, only gearing up to launch homers with his last couple swings. In game action, he swung the bat well, resulting in a few hard line drives and a few fly balls that he just missed.

Within his swing, there is plenty to like. His hands have improved since I saw Renfroe in rookie ball in 2013. One of the problems he used to have was that his hands would get steep. Instead of turning the bat behind him and having a nice swing plane, his hands would move forward too early giving his swing a V shape. Now his hands work in a great pattern. He gets the bat moving early and doesn’t stop it, giving his swing rhythm and flow.

I really like how his hips move during the start of his swing and as he launches the bat. Renfroe uses a double tap stride. As he makes the first tap, he starts to coil his hips. You can see he keeps that coil and rides it forward. He starts to uncoil as his front heel drops. This is the magic moment. Watch the relationship between Renfroe’s back hip and his front heel: When his front heel starts to drop towards the ground after his stride, his back hip starts to fire.

That is some seriously good timing within his swing. As his lower body goes through this movement, watch his upper body. The bat doesn’t come forward, rather it stays behind his shoulder and turns. This sequence takes less than a second for Renfroe to go through but is vital to his—and all hitters’—success.

Renfroe still has work to do in his swing. While it’s nice to have power to right field, Renfore’s whole swing is lined up that way. When he pulls balls, it’s all through his hands and his wrists. He is vulnerable to fastballs inside and hard breaking stuff away. If he is sitting on either, he can still do damage because he’s that athletic. He is very strong through his hands and wrists, and he launches through his hips so well that it’s not as big of a detriment that he doesn’t finish through his hips when compared to others. If he is able to tap into his backside just a bit more, it might get crazy.

Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies

Raimel Tapia is going to hit and David Dahl is going to be a physical specimen. McMahon had the most question marks of the notable Rockies prospects. He profiles as a future five-hole hitter thanks to his plus power. I like his swing overall, but I wasn’t keen on how he moved through his swing. Last season his swing looked like a progression of step one, step two, step three, aaandddd swing!! He hit all the mechanical checkpoints, but didn’t have good rhythm and flow in his swing.

His BP lacked the results of Dahl, but he has made noticeable improvements in his swing. He isn’t as rigid and mechanical as he progresses through his swing. He will still get too steep and arm-centric in his swing at times, but overall I was impressed. There is plenty of thunder in McMahon’s bat. When he decides to really sell out on a ball, he still keeps balance in his swing. It sounds minor, but too many young hitters end up falling over and losing balance just by swinging hard.

His game was highlighted by a long home run to right center. He got a fastball over the white of the plate and didn’t miss it. The improved flow he showed in BP carried over into the game. He seemed to track pitches better than last year and didn’t have any terrible swing and misses. Strikeouts will always be a part of McMahon’s game, but the 25-plus homers he could put up will help balance things out.

His swing still has its flaws. He is very long getting into the zone and depends on getting to the ball out in front. Look how his hands flatten out until they are well past his front hip. Obviously you hit the ball in front of you, but elite hitters begin building bat speed behind their back shoulder so they don’t have to push their hands. His current swing wouldn’t work in the big leagues, but if he can improve his mechanics like he has improved the pace in his swing, then he will be in a much better place.

Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals

I will always love how Dozier plays the game. He’s focused and does every single small thing correctly. What I saw in spring training was good, but not great. He still hits from the same upright stance with an extremely early stride onto a pointed toe. While on his toe he makes his read of the ball in flight and launches his swing once his heel hits the ground.

This striding pattern drives me crazy. It keeps Dozier balanced, but beyond that, his swing is being limited by the stride. There is no rhythm and his timing and batspeed are all based in his upper body. Dozier has real strength through his hands, so he still creates hard contact, but not enough to apply a plus grade on either his hit or power tool.

Even though I'm not the biggest fan of his swing, Dozier will find a way to hit in a big-league lineup. He will lack the power to hit third or fourth in a lineup, but should be a good option in the fifth or sixth spot. His approach is aggressive—he loves to go after fastballs early—but he knows how to take walks.

Dozier will find a way to be productive in the big leagues. His swing isn't the best, but Dozier has a great mix of (underappreciated) physical tools, approach, and above all, makeup.

Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies

Tapia is going to hit. And hit. And after that, he’ll hit some more. I've never felt more sure in a grade than Tapia's 7 hit tool. Tapia will need to add some mass to his long, turn-sideways-and-he's-invisible frame, but that can be a long-term project. Don't mistake his skinniness for awkwardness or a lack of strength. He moves around the field with ease and his bat packs a wallop.

At the plate, Tapia's BP sessions are a toss up. He hits everything on the barrel but how he hits it is a day-to-day change. Some days he will go through BP and hit nothing but low line drives to left field. Other days He will cut it loose and go for distance on all his swings. BP is like recess for Tapia and he wants to play on a different part of the playground each day.

Metaphors aside it takes a few viewings to "get" Tapia and how he approaches BP. Game action is where he makes his real introduction.

Tapia's swing is basically the same from last year, though he looks to have picked up a little extra batspeed in the offseason. He gets the barrel to all quadrants of the zone, but covers the lower half especially well. With two strikes he gets down into a deep crouch and shrinks the strike zone. While the stance changes dramatically, his swing holds its identity. He is still looking to drive the ball, but will protect when needed with a shorter path to the ball.

Hitting is about more than a good swing. Hitters need to be able to track the ball and put together professional at-bats. Tapia has improved on both of these aspects. Tapia tracks the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand—this isn't scout speak, you can actually watch Tapia's body and get a feel for how early he picks up the ball.

If the pitch is a strike or close to it, Tapia's body preps to launch before making its final decision. Tapia's body moves the same on a close take as it does on a swing, minus the bat moving through the zone. On a pitch several inches away from the zone Tapia shuts his swing down early. He still keeps his head on the ball to learn something about movement or velocity from the pitch, but his body will have gone into "take mode."

Tapia's approach is improving. He hits so well (and loves doing it) that he will never rack up high walk totals. It's more a matter of Tapia refining his own zone and not giving away at-bats by chasing early in sequence. Last year I thought Tapia had no shot to be a lead off hitter in the big leagues because of his approach. I still think he ends up a two-hole hitter, but just the notion he could maybe hit at the top of the order speaks volumes about the improvements in approach.

Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers

Mazara was the most impressive hitter I saw in camp. This young man has the potential to have plus grades on both his hit tool and game power utility. Rangers’ camp was buzzing whenever Mazara was near home plate. Every facet of his offensive profile showed improvement. Mazara was bigger and stronger than in years past. The strength showed in his improved swing, as he was putting balls out without needing to hit the sweet spot of the barrel.

The swing has gotten so much better. Mazara’s top half has always been solid—he has a bit of length with his hands that he shortens with an early forward push of his hands. I’m not a huge fan of this move, but Mazara makes it work. If he starts to struggle against soft stuff low in the zone, this would be the first thing I would focus on.

His lower body has gone from wild to robotic to strong and forceful. When Mazara first signed with the Rangers he had a huge leg kick. I am the first one to praise a leg kick, but even Mazara’s was a bit much for my taste. He then changed to a double tap. I liked that transition as he kept his lower body moving, but in a more controllable pattern. While it was better, it was apparent Mazara was going through his swing in steps rather than flowing through his swing.

This year he has kind of blended the two. He takes an initial tap very early and then gets a moderate leg kick working to get his energy going. I like this new leg kick, but his hips are the stars of the show. Watch how he coils through his hips as he’s going forward. He’s gaining rhythm while storing energy for later. When he launches the bat everything moves like it should. His lower half is now a model for proper sequencing.

Mazara must have had the offseason orgs dream about. He got bigger and stronger, the swing got better, and he learned how to apply that newfound strength in his swing. He has power to all fields and some idea of the strike zone. On top of all of this, his approach is improving too.

Mazara is the real deal.

David Dahl, Colorado Rockies

Dahl might be the best overall athlete in this group. He’s got speed, strength, and size, all on of top his sweet left-handed stroke. He looks to have added five to eight pounds from last time I was able to get eyes on him. This added strength showed up in his swing with fun results.

Dahl had the single best BP round I saw during my week in Arizona. On his second to last round, I’m not sure if something “clicked" in his swing or he just decided to show the futility of putting fences on a baseball field, but my goodness. He hit homer after homer with relative ease in his swing. These homers were rising line drives that rocketed over the fence. Most impressively he wasn’t just pulling these balls out. Left and center field were landing zones just as often as right field.

His swing was solid, but not elite. He was inconsistent with his stride and trigger in his swing. He appeared to be stuck between doing a traditional leg lift and an Anthony Rendon-style heel raise. His upper body creates big-time force, but isn’t done as efficiently as his big-league brethren. Rather than turn behind his back shoulder, his bat pushes forward a bit before beginning to flatten out. This means he ends up hitting the ball well out in front of his body. He gets away with this pattern now, but if he learns to time out his lower body and engage his top half better, the results are going to be downright electric.

In game action, his timing problems were too much for even his physical gifts to overcome. He never looked comfortable launching the bat. His lower half seemed to be well ahead of his top half. He would stride, plant, and then swing in distinct stages rather than a fluid progression of that sequence. Dahl will have no problems hitting fastballs, but his stride raised concerned about how he would do against quality breaking and off-speed pitches.

The physical gifts are off the charts and his swing has a solid foundation with a few correctable movements. The improvement he needs to make next is in his approach. Dahl is an aggressive hitter, but in the at-bats I witnessed, Dahl averaged about one and a half pitches per plate appearance. These weren’t fastballs laid over the middle. These were well located pitches that pitchers want batters to chase. Dahl had several ABs that ended quickly, with contact that “just missed” the barrel of the bat.

Maybe it’s Dahl being overly aggressive against spring training arms and will tighten his approach in season. I’ve seen Dahl have quality at-bats last season, so I know the ability is there. As he continues his progression through the minors, the pitching will only get better and his approach needs to match.

When you account for his defense and speed, Dahl has the highest ceiling out of all these gifted hitting prospects. With a few changes in his swing and a tightening of his approach, Dahl stands a chance to reach his lofty ceiling.

Wrap Up

Top 3 Future Hit Grades

Raimel Tapia: 70

Nomar Mazara: 60

David Dahl: 60

Top 3 Future Power Grades

Hunter Renfroe: 60

Nomar Mazara: 60

Ryan McMahon: 60

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

Related Content:  Mechanics,  Scouting; Prospects

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