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August 13, 2008

Future Shock

Scouting Notebook, Part 1

by Kevin Goldstein

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Detroit Tigers

Featured in a recent Monday Ten Pack, Tigers outfielder Wilkin Ramirez is finally staying healthy and has begun to employ the tools and develop the potential always expected of him. One veteran scout who recently evaluated Ramirez came away highly impressed. "I like the way he goes about everything," said the scout. "He has power, on-base skills, and don't forget that he's a 60 [on the 20-to-80 scouting scale] runner as well. His defense is adequate, but I think he's the kind of guy who is an everyday corner outfielder on a first-division team-he could be pretty special."

Recently joining Ramirez at Double-A Erie has been catcher James Skelton, who baffles scouts because there's just been no precedent for a player like him. Skelton hit .307/.468/.406 at High-A Lakeland and drew 64 walks in 282 PA there, but few players elicit more wide-ranging opinions. He has very little power, and at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, he's bone-thin and just doesn't look right when he gears up and crouches behind the plate. A scout who has been following Skelton for years remains unsure what to make of him, and finds it nearly impossible (as do many who have seen him), to get past the slender body. "He has me scratching my head twenty times and flipping coins," joked the scout. "He has a feel for hitting, there's no question about it, and he has catch-and-throw, receiving, and on-base skills. When you see him, there has to be durability questions-I don't even think he's as big as listed." Asked what could be done, the scout remained baffled, and admitted that he had some hopes of a position change in Skelton's future. "Hell, if he was a second baseman, I'd love him," he joked.


Boston Red Sox

Mixing a high-ceiling power prospect with the Southern Division of the California League usually results in some monster numbers, but that hadn't been the case for Red Sox first baseman Lars Anderson earlier this year. While it would be ridiculous to classify a .317/.408/.513 line as a disappointment, it still fell below some rather lofty expectations, but Anderson has been even better after a promotion to the much tougher environs of the Eastern League, batting .319/.422/.551 in 22 games for Portland. One scout who saw Anderson for the Sea Dogs found it hard to control his excitement. "I haven't fallen in love with a hitter like this since I fell in love with Travis Snider," said the scout. "He's one of the best hitters I've seen all year. I don't see anything negative in his game offensively-every at-bat is well-done, and he controls the count and always has an idea of what to do."

In addition to Anderson's advanced approach, the scout gushed about both his power and his natural hitting abilities. "His power from center to left is ridiculous. I saw him hit fastballs in and away, I saw him hit changeups, I saw him hit sliders, and I saw him hit curveballs-he's just a beast." Anderson remains below-average defensively, but the scout didn't believe that it would slow his progress to the majors. "There's some work that needs to be done with the glove-range-wise, he's just okay, and while I know there's some roster and contract issues involved, he could go into spring training ready to compete for a big-league job as far as I'm concerned."


Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates plus pitching prospects have usually equaled prolonged nightmares during this decade. Both of the organization's last two first-round picks are playing at High-A Lynchburg, and the results have been mixed. Looking sharp lately has been 2006 first-round pick Brad Lincoln, who missed all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery. That's despite a 5.54 ERA in five starts, but he's already recovered much of his velocity, sitting at 90-93 mph, and his curveball remains a plus pitch. Like many in their first year back from elbow reconstruction, Lincoln's command and control can come and go, and he'll need to improve in these areas if he intends to begin missing bats consistently. He no longer profiles as a mid- or front-end starter in a big-league rotation, but there remains the possibility that he'll get back to that level based on his progress so far.

The news is not nearly as bright for 2007 top pick Daniel Moskos. The fourth overall pick has a brutal 6.37 ERA in 24 games, allowing 160 baserunners in 100 1/3 innings while striking out just 68. The negative scouting reports coming in on Moskos align with those numbers; his fastball rarely even touches 90 anymore, he's basically broken mechanically from his college days, and he has also been putting on significant weight.


Oakland Athletics

Recently showing up on the roster of Oakland's High-A affiliate at Stockton is 26-year-old reliever Mike Benacka, who was utterly dominant this year for River City in the independent Frontier League, giving up one run in 26 innings while striking out 50 of the 100 batters he faced. After being tagged for four runs in his first two California League outings, he's been dominant once again, striking out 18 over 11 1/3 frames in his last six appearances for the Ports while giving up just one earned run. One evaluator who scouted Benacka during his indie league days thinks that Oakland may have found something. "Look, he's funky with fringy stuff," explained the scout. "He's 87-89 mph, maybe when he grunts it gets to 90, but he has a nice breaking ball, a nice changeup, and he'll throw any pitch at any point in the count in any situation, and he absolutely pounds the strike zone on the corners. I really like the guy."

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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Prospectus Q&A: Lars A... (08/13)
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Premium Article Future Shock: Monday T... (08/11)
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Premium Article Future Shock: Scouting... (08/16)
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