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December 23, 2011

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

What Could Go Wrong in 2012: My Own Prognostications (Part 2)

by Jason Parks

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Who: Cheslor Cuthbert (Royals)
Background with Player: My own eyes
Documented Observations and Prognostications: I remember the first time I saw Cuthbert: He was standing at the hot corner on a hot afternoon in March 2010, his long, flowing hair intertwined with the shadows on the field, smiling as he used the leather attached to his left hand to fan his greatness toward all eyes cast upon him. Okay, I just made that up. But I did enjoy Cuthbert when I first saw him take grounders, even though his hair wasn’t long and flowing, and I didn’t see any shadows on the field, and I’m not sure Cuthbert was smiling.

Heading into the 2011 season, Cuthbert so impressed me that I took to Baseball Prospectus and professed my love for his present and future.

He has excellent offensive promise and a good glove. Cuthbert lacks elite-level tools and therefore an elite-level ceiling, but the young third baseman has really turned heads so far in camp, particularly with the bat. At the plate, Cuthbert is balanced, with a quiet load and smooth weight transfer. He hands and hips work very well, and his bat speed is impressive. He is able to keep his hands inside and fire through the ball with good hip rotation and secondary extension. From the look of the swing and the strength of the body, Cuthbert projects to have plus power down the line. With a present line drive stroke (natural loft and ability to barrel) and a comfortable approach, the hit tool should allow the power to live beyond batting practice. Cuthbert lacks straight-line speed, with clocks in the 4.4-4.5 range to first base. Thanks to his stocky lower half, Cuthbert is only going to slow as he continues to physically mature, so the legs won’t assist much in the hit department.

On defense, Cuthbert was better than I was lead to believe, with quick reflexes (despite having fringy speed) and good clean actions, especially the backhand pickup. The hands are soft and he is fundamentally sound, but although his throws were accurate, the arm didn’t wow me with its strength. Depending on how well he acclimates to full-season ball, the 18-year-old native of Big Corn Island (sounds like the DeKalb, IL of Nicaragua) could launch himself onto a higher prospect tier, especially if the present polish he is showing in Arizona finds its way to Kane County.

Cuthbert backed up my beliefs with a very strong full-season campaign. He faded down the stretch, but he more than held his own as an 18-year-old in a pitcher-friendly league. I’ve revised my scouting report on the Nicaraguan third baseman, but only slightly. I’m not sold that he’s likely to develop plus power at the highest level; despite his strength, Cuthbert’s profile is more gap-to-gap, and it’s hard for me to see him knocking 20-plus bombs against elite pitching.

I’m still a very big believer in his defensive profile, even if I’m not in love with his athleticism. His lateral quickness is sufficient, and his instincts put him in good position to make plays. His hands at the plate are still his best physical attribute, as he can square inside velocity and control the bat in the zone. With a mature approach at the plate and good pop, Cuthbert looks to be a hitter capable of batting average, 10-15 home runs per season, and a ton of doubles. He’s moving to High-A in 2012, and I fully expect to see him once again hold his own against players two or more years his senior. Cuthbert is a total gamer with tools, and he profiles as a 6 (on the 2-8 scale) player at the highest level.

What Could Go Wrong with My Documented Observations and Prognostications: I’ve already revised my power projection on Cuthbert, feeling more comfortable throwing a 5 on his power than a 6. Since he’s physically mature for his age, I don’t see Cuthbert experiencing the kind of hyper growth that can affect coordination, but I do see his overall athletic profile diminishing somewhat as he ages. Cuthbert isn’t a burner at present—the fastest I’ve ever clocked him to first base is 4.45—and that isn’t what I would classify as quick. The better the level, the better the arsenals Cuthbert will face, and even though his approach and hit tool should allow for success in High-A, the quality of breaking stuff he will face in Double-A should present a considerable challenge. I’ve seen him square major league-quality velocity and stay back on low level-quality off-speed stuff, but I’ve yet to see him negotiate a pitch sequence that featured an above-average major-league breaking ball. I feel confident that he can handle sharp stuff, but I’ve also seen better hitters than Cuthbert fall victim to the challenge, so it’s certainly possible that plus secondary stuff eats his lunch in 2012. 

Who: Angelo Gumbs (Yankees)
Background with Player: My own eyes; industry sources
DOP: On a short-season team that featured up-the-middle talent like Cito Culver and Mason Williams, second baseman Angelo Gumbs stood out as the athlete worth watching. I’ve been noisy about Gumbs’s athleticism and the projections he holds both on defense and at the plate. He flashed a bit of this promise in 2011, but his production won’t spark much prospect love. If you were lucky enough to see the former second-round pick in action, there is a good chance you witnessed Gumbs’ competitive fire take him out of games. Call it immaturity or give it another label, but when faced with a setback on the field, Gumbs’ own disappointment in the result was often visible, and on quiet nights, quite audible. Some industry sources I’ve spoken with question Gumbs’ makeup, but I’m not ready to call his competitive fire a flaw. It goes without saying that he needs to mature on the field. But Gumbs played the entire season as an 18 year-old, and at that age, I like to see a player who demands the best from himself.

From a BP report filed after a Staten Island Yankees game:

Based on the snapshot, Gumbs’s athleticism stands out, as I was able to see a few routine ground-ball executions, and one nice glove-side play where Gumbs was able to flash his first-step quickness and reactions. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Gumbs wasn’t able to show off the full range of his physical abilities, as I was at the mercy of the balls in play, and Gumbs only touched the ball a handful of times. I would have paid extra to see him take flies in the outfield. His skill set belongs in the vast wilderness of center field.

At the plate, Gumbs looked more comfortable than [Cito] Culver, with a natural feel for his swing and natural contact ability; it just seemed easy for him to pull the trigger, jump into the zone, and control the bat and barrel the ball with authority. Even the balls he fouled off were quality swings, as he was locked in most of the night. The statistical results of the evening run counter to my claims of quality, but he was putting good wood on the ball; he just wasn’t getting any help from the holes on the field. He also has more power potential than I realized. The kid has juice in the bat.”

What Could Go Wrong with my DOPGumbs will no doubt be advancing to the Sally League as a 19-year-old. The jump to full-season ball can often trip up the most polished teenagers, and Gumbs is far from polished. He has a very quick trigger at the plate and his bat speed is evident, but the swing itself has some miss in it, and his aggressive approach could lead to high strikeout totals against more advanced pitching. Gumbs has a very long way to go, and it could take several years before the athlete transitions into the baseball player, but I’m still higher on Gumbs than I am on Mason Williams, and I have Williams graded out as a solid-average regular. Gumbs has 6 potential if it all comes together, but it could get a little ugly before the clouds part. His prospect status could take a dip in 2012, but given his age and his collection of tools, the finished product will be worth the extra patience.

Who: Jordan Akins (Rangers)
Background with Player: 
My own eyes
DOP: I’ve had eyes on Akins since he was drafted in the third round in 2010, and upon first viewing, I wasn’t sold that he was anything more than a former Division-I football recruit trying to play baseball. In 2011, I was fortunate enough to see Akins in person for the duration of spring training, to get another look in the Arizona Rookie League during the summer, and once again see him during the Fall Instructional League. Each subsequent viewing saw Akins improve as a player; what started out as just an incredible athlete trying to play baseball is slowly transitioning into a baseball player with incredible athleticism.

In the field, Akins has both quickness and speed, although he often relies too heavily on his athleticism to recover from his unrefined routes to the ball. His arm is very strong and could easily play in right field, but his accuracy still has some catching up to do.

Akins’ batting practice displays are still more impressive than his in-game production, but the raw power projects to at least plus, and based on some of the opposite-field shots I’ve seen him deliver, it’s easy to dream a little higher. The hit tool isn’t nearly as sexy, but Akins shortened his swing in 2011; his path to the ball is cleaner, allowing for more time in the zone and more contact. His speed is a 7, and his second gear can compete with any player in the Rangers system. (That’s even more impressive when you consider Akins is 6-foot-4 and close to 200 pounds.) I’m on record saying Akins has the tool-based projections to grade out at the all-star level, with four tools that could measure plus or higher. He’s simply one of the most impressive athletes I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, and just the thought of some of his raw tools developing into usable baseball skills is enough to warrant excitement.

 What Could Go Wrong with my DOP: In 2012, just about everything could go wrong with my DOP on Akins, as the space between the present and the future is extreme. Akins will either be moving to the short-season Northwest League or jumping to full-season ball in 2012, and either assignment could expose his weaknesses. Despite taking steps forward in 2011, Akins is still very aggressive at the plate, looking fastball early and often, and is vulnerable to off-speed pitches of any variety. In the complex league, establishing comfortable and consistent mechanics at the plate takes precedent over drawing walks; it’s not uncommon for teams to encourage hitters to be aggressive and attack fastballs early in the count. Keep in mind, most complex-league pitchers are working on their arm strength, and as a result you will see heavy doses of four-seam fastballs early and often in counts. But as hitters move up the professional ladder, refining their approach starts to take on more importance, and one-dimensional fastball hitters struggle to function in an environment where deeper arsenals exist. It’s just a matter of making adjustments, but when a player is still learning how to transition from athlete to baseball player, sometimes those adjustments can be more daunting and slow to transpire. Akins’ transition is still very much ongoing, and the product on the field in the coming years will surely be labeled as a work in progress. But when the raw tools suggest a middle-of-the-diamond defensive talent with middle-of-the-order power, a work in progress can still be a tantalizing prospect, especially if there is, in fact, progress being made.  

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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