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May 20, 2006

Future Shock

Texas League Scouting Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Don't know what to write? Spend the afternoon on the phone with the people in the trenches every day and let the scouts do all the work. Here's what some of the people with their eye on the Double-A Texas League have to say about some of the top talents from Tulsa (Rockies), Midland (Athletics), Frisco (Rangers), and Corpus Christi (Astros).

  • Even with Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart batting just .164 (9-for-55) in May with no home runs to drop his season averages to .252/.343/.455, one scout who recently saw him in Tulsa thinks Stewart will be just fine in the end. "He crowds the plate as much as any hitter I've seen all year," said the scout. "I don't know why he doesn't back off some because it's really affecting his ability to deal with inside pitches. But the bat speed is there and the power is there--he just has to quit being so stubborn." The scout had nothing but good things to say about Stewart's glove work, however. "Defensively, Stewart has just been outstanding--easily as good as I've ever seen him," he said.
  • Also impressing is Stewart's double-play partner, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who is batting .293/.357/.464 for the Drillers. "Defensively, he's not exceptionally fast, but he moves well and he a good arm," said the evaluator. "At the plate he's a little too aggressive, and swings at too many pitcher's pitches, but he has good bat speed and good power, and he's young--he'll learn." he added.
  • Evaluating Stewart and Tulowitzki's teammate, catcher Chris Ianetta, gave the scout an interesting question. "I don't like the body and he has a slow bat," said the scout. "But he has great pitch recognition. So what's better? Good pitch recognition and slow bat, or bad pitch recognition and quick bat? I'm not sure I know."
  • The pitching staff at Tulsa left one scout more frustrated than anything. "There are so many arms on that staff that throw not just hard, but very hard," said the scout. "Yet, to a man, they have no idea what they are doing out there." The scout referred to big righthander Juan Morillo as having "no clue whatsoever", though he did see some promise in righty Ubaldo Jimenez, with some caveats. "He has some feel for a change-up, which gives him a chance, but his arm action is horrible--so he could get there, but will he break down first?"
  • Also having a tough May is Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, who is batting .189 in his last 14 games, and whose .287/.387/.426 averages are now more in line with expectations. One scout sees some adjustments in his mechanics, but not much in the way of results. "He's raised his hands and opened up a little bit and you think it's a good thing. But then you watch him and it's still not a very live bat." Another scout who recently watched Suzuki at Midland was surprised at his sub-par defense. "I know what his numbers are right now," said the scout, referring to Suzuki's 56% caught stealing rate. "But he's just not a good catcher--he doesn't block balls and he has a long throwing motion. I thought he'd catch more than hit, but it's just the opposite."
  • Another disappointment at Midland is second baseman Kevin Melillo, who led the organization in home runs last year, but is off to a rough start at .264/.352/.347. "He's been a major disappointment for me," said the scout. "I just don't see that strength and explosiveness from last year." The scout added that if Melillo is going to get to the big leagues, it's going to have to be on the strength of his bat. "He's a sub-par defender--not awful--but without the juice in his bat, it's trouble."
  • With Midland going through a recent five-game losing streak in which they scored just eight runs, the lineup got a boost with the promotion of outfielder Travis Buck from High Class A Stockton. The 2005 first-round pick hit .349/.400/.603 for the Ports with 17 doubles, and with five doubles in six games since the promotion, he now has 22 to lead the minor leagues. And while one scout would like to see more over-the-fence power from Buck, he still had high praise for him. "I like his hand path, and how he's always staying inside the ball--and he always plays hard." Another thought Buck's athleticism separated him from some other A's prospects. "He's got a good body and he's actually a plus runner, so you can throw some projection on him, as opposed to guy like [Midland teammate] Danny Putnum."
  • While Texas lefty John Danks has come on strong lately for Frisco, one scout still is disappointed. "He's still a thrower for me--there's just not a lot of feel and command there. He's still power, power, power and working way too high in the zone," said the scout. "He throws strikes, but it's not enough command to start for me. I've always felt he's a reliever. I know teams need relievers, but for a top pick to end up there is disappointing."
  • Speaking of Texas relievers, one scout really likes what he's seen in righty Wes Littleton, who has an 0.37 ERA in 16 games while allowing just 11 hits in 24.1 innings. "I'm a believer in him--he had a great fall league, and I don't really understand why he's back at Frisco," said the scout. "He's nearly ready--he knows what he's doing with his funky stuff."
  • The Frisco bats left much to be desired. "It's awful," quipped one scout. "When's the last time you saw a Double-A team without a prospect in the lineup?" When presented with this question, another league observer joked, "Um, last year's Frisco team?"
  • In Corpus Christi, outfielder Hunter Pence is tied for the minor league lead in home runs, but one scout said he's still going to need to make some adjustments. "Teams are going to figure him out--he just looks for fastballs and when teams don't give them any, he really struggles," said the scout. "He'll figure that stuff out. He plays hard, and puts out a lot of effort. When he stays balanced he's fine, he just needs to avoid getting too pull happy."
  • Also gaining some positive reviews in the Corpus Christi lineup is shortstop Ben Zobrist. A sixth-round pick as a senior in 2004, Zobrist is already 25, but is batting .320/.426/.469 and has more walks than strikeouts at every level he's played at, including a 27-21 mark this year. "His hands start high and he's leaning way back with his front shoulder a good ten inches higher then his back shoulder and you say to yourself, 'How is he going to do anything like that?'" said the scout. "But when he steps and lands he's balanced out and it works with his slappy stroke."
  • Despite a batting line of .340/.390/.432, Hooks leadoff man Josh Anderson did not garner the same praise as his teammates. "I know his numbers are good and he steals lots of bases, but he's going to get worn out in the majors," said the scout. "All of his hits are jam shots and bunts and whatnot. I know they count, but I'd like to see some hard contact." The scout was also disappointed with his defense. "I was told he was outstanding, but he gets really bad jumps--he's very timid with his first couple of steps. He doesn't play with the center field mentality of 'it's my ball unless I say it's not.' He's just the opposite."

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

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