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March 26, 2009

Future Shock

Florida Scouting Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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While spring training is always a relaxing and fun time, yet one where you still get worked up over the upcoming season, it's an even more intense time for pro scouts, who often spend a month or more away from home camped out at a ballpark every day bearing down for the first time of the year. The settings in Arizona and Florida give them an opportunity to take a look at entire organizations in one place, and to establish the building blocks they'll need for their reports throughout the year. I was able to talk to a number of scouts as they wrapped up their initial work, and here's what they're saying about some of the top prospects in the game (as well as a struggling veteran), beginning today with the camps in Florida.

Pirates top prospect Pedro Alvarez has received for more attention for his signing dispute last summer and his lack of conditioning last fall, but with a fresh season and the chance to finally play, he's earning nothing but raves from scouts, as he's in outstanding condition and absolutely mashing. "He already has an advanced approach and a very quick bat," said one talent evaluator. "He's got a quick trigger, and consistently puts the fat part of the bat on the ball," he added. "I know he's starting the year at High-A, but based on what I've seen, I'd be shocked if he wasn't on their 2010 Opening Day roster."

As per usual, the Marlins will have a very young team with some rookies getting everyday playing time, and one veteran scout had very different opinions of two such players, their likely first baseman, Gaby Sanchez, and center fielder Cameron Maybin. While Sanchez has put up solid numbers in the minor leagues, the question is whether he'll hit enough for the position, and the scout was not convinced. "He's a bit of a head-scratcher for me, really," said the scout. "He's pitchable, and I see holes, and his two-strike approach is suspect. I'm not ready to say he's the answer there for them-I certainly haven't seen that this spring." As for Maybin, the top prospect in the system, the scout had nothing but good things to say. "Right now he's swinging early and he's hot and cold, and sometimes the situation gets the better of him, but he's young and he's going to get it," said the scout. "He's just trickable right now, but he's going to be a classic power/speed guy who can also win games for you defensively." While he might begin the year as the Marlins' leadoff hitter, the scout sees a possible career path similar to Hanley Ramirez, at least as for as roles go. "He'll be a three-hole hitter by the time his career is done-I think he's on the brink of something pretty special."

As for one of the key pieces that Detroit received in return for Maybin, lefty Dontrelle Willis continues to be anything but special in Tigers camp, and one evaluator isn't sure that he'll ever be able to return to All-Star form. "There are three things that stuck out for me when I saw him this spring," he began. "First, he's a lot heavier-his thighs are enormous, and I think that impedes his athleticism on the mound, as he can't contort his body the way he used to. Second, his mechanics are different. They've 'cleaned up' his delivery, but that actually makes him less effective, because it's taken away his deception. He was a freak before, and would never throw the same pitch from the same slot, but now he's just an ordinary three-quarters [delivery] guy." Using his final point to explain how these physical issues may be effecting him mentally, he continued, "Third, his mound presence and demeanor are different. He looks content to survive and does not display any confidence out there. He worked behind most hitters and would shake off his catcher-almost as if to say 'it's OK, I got it'-whenever he would fall into trouble." The bottom line, the scout summarized, is that Willis is nowhere near ready for a rotation job. "His line was awful when I saw him, and the opponent bailed him out with some double plays and hard-hit balls right at people," he said. "If that was the regular season with a full big-league lineup, he would have had no shot."

Over at Cardinals camp, top prospect Colby Rasmus has had an up and down spring, but some tough roster choices and the move of Skip Schumaker to second base still give him a shot at significant big-league playing time this year, including a possible Opening Day role. As always, his scouting reports remain outstanding. "I like everything I see," said one scout. "He has all five tools, and his instincts for the game could be a sixth. His swing mechanics are outstanding, as he uses the whole field and is compact and direct to the ball. He works the count, is even a good bunter, and knows how to use his speed in the game-I think he could do some big things." The scout also came away very impressed with Cardinals #5 prospect Jess Todd, who went from High- to Triple-A last year in his full-season debut. "He's so young, but he's commanding the mound like a veteran-just really aggressive with a good pace," said the scout. "It's not huge stuff, but it's upper 80s with real top-heavy sink, and he can also cut it and sometimes throws a two-seam splitty thing. He looks like a guy they'll have to consider soon."

In Sarasota, the Cincinnati Reds are hoping that this is the year that Homer Bailey turns it around and begins to deliver on his once remarkable promise, and one scout is optimistic about his chances now that he's made some mechanical changes to his delivery. "They've shortened his stride, and it's making a huge difference," said the scout. "There's less of a circle in the back of his delivery, so it's a better arm angle, better plane, and he has way more tilt on his fastball and breaking ball. He looked like the guy we used to talk so much about."

The Braves have given a number of prospects surprisingly long looks in their camp, with outfielders Jordan Shafer and Jason Heyward, along with first baseman Freddie Freeman, all generating a lot of buzz. Schafer, who could win the big-league center-field job almost by default, has been especially impressive, with one scout stating, "He just looks like he belongs, I'd certainly give him the job." And while Heyward and Freeman are likely heading for High-A, they also have left a strong impression. "They both can really hit," added the scout. "Heyward is especially impressive, as he puts on a show in batting practice, and then that power shows up in games. It's a John Mayberry body with way more athleticism and speed. It's clear on just a short look that he's going to be pretty damned good."

Sunshine State Scout Snippets

Andrew Brackman, RHP, Yankees: "He was very impressive-an easy 93-96 mph, very heavy pitch, and when they weren't swinging and missing, they were hitting weak ground balls."

Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Phillies: "He has a chance to be special with that changeup."

Jason Donald, MI, Phillies: "He gets a lot of hype, but I'm just not on that. He's a bench player at best."

Ryan Perry, RHP, Detroit: "He was 96-98 mph for me, with late life. He lacks the off-speed stuff right now to keep guys honest, but it's hard to ignore that kind of arm."

Travis Snider, OF, Blue Jays: "I was sitting on the Yankees, but the most memorable thing I saw was Snider take Ian Kennedy out of Legends Field in Tampa-one of the longest spring training home runs I've ever seen."

Sean West, LHP, Marlins: "I wouldn't be surprised if he was able to help the Marlins as early as this year if he can figure things out, because when he's on, he's dominant."

Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, Nationals: "His performance is very real. He was 94-95 mph, with a nasty mid-80s power slider. When I saw him it was a really dominating performance, and the opponent had no chance."

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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