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March 21, 2012

Future Shock

Arizona Scouting Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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After last week's look at some prospects making noise in Florida, we shift focus this week to Arizona, where I've just returned from a tour of several camps.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Diamondbacks
Much of the focus on last year's third overall pick is on his unorthodox warm-up routines, but scouts are focusing on him as a pitcher, and even though he has less than 30 professional innings under his belt, many were surprised to see Bauer lose out on the final spot in the Arizona rotation. “He won't be in the minors for long,” said an American League scout. “I just don't see any reason he can't get big league hitters out right now. He's coming at guys with three average or better pitches and throwing strikes with them.” While it looks more and more like Bauer will begin the year in the minors, he's one of the rare prospects who could simply force his way into the big leagues with his performance, and not need the help of an injury or poor performance to get him there.

Chris Bostick, 2B/SS, Athletics
While it might be hard to get excited about a 44th-round pick, Bostick is worth keeping an eye on. Bad weather prevented many scouts from seeing him last spring, and a $125,000 bonus–more commensurate with a sixth-round pick–convinced him to spurn St. John's for a professional career, which began with a .442 batting average in 52 complex league at-bats. There is pressure on Bostick's bat, as his arm will likely limit him to the right side of the infield, but he's one of the best athletes in the system with above-average speed, smooth actions and the potential for a bit of power. “He really just stands out on the back fields,” said an American League talent evaluator. “Without the names on the back of the jersey, you'd guess he was one of their top prospects, and I can't wait to see what he can do in games.”

Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Royals
Cuthbert was one of the talks of the Midwest League during the first half of the 2011 season, in which he showed the ability to hit for average and power as an 18-year-old, but he finished the year in a brutal slump, going 13-for-96 after July to drop his season-ending OPS by more than 120 points. While the Royals minor league camp is one of the most talented in baseball, Cuthbert has stood out not only for his performance, but for his improved physical conditioning. “He'll never be a physical specimen,” said one National League scout about the 19-year-old Nicaraguan (listed at 6-1, 190), “but he's clearly both trimmer and bigger, if that makes sense, and that shows me some lessons were learned in the off-season about commitment.”

Didi Gregorius, SS, Reds
When one thinks of Reds shortstop prospects, ultra-speedy Billy Hamilton is the first name to come to mind, but it was Gregorius who impressed in big league camp this Spring, especially with the glove. “Every time I saw the Reds, I hoped Gregorius would be in the lineup,” said a National League scout. “He's nearly big league ready defensively, and seemed to make one or two standout plays every day.” A career .273/.322/.370 hitter in the minor leagues, Gregorius has yet to take that big step forward with the bat, but the scout believes he could at least turn into enough of a hitter to play every day. “He's athletic, and he makes contact,” he said. “That's a good starting point for improvements.”

Ronald Guzman, 1B, Rangers
The Rangers have became the biggest player in baseball when it comes to signing talent out of Latin America, and Guzman has been the most impressive this spring among their bevy of 2011 signings. Already six-foot-six and getting bigger, Guzman has already been moved to first base, but scouts who have seen him believe he could have more than enough bat for baseball's most challenging offensive position. “He's incredible. He just looks like a 21-year-old out there,” said an American League scout. “The swing is so good, and mature, if that makes sense, in that he's not just standing up there flailing away. There's a plan, and an ability to go the other way, and a calmness in that he knows he doesn't need to jack his swing up to hit for power.” Still just 17 years old, Guzman will likely head to short-season ball come June, but an American League official thought he might even be able to handle a full-season assignment. “He at least wouldn't embarrass himself there,” he said.

Nathan Jones, RHP, White Sox
A fifth-round pick in 2007, Jones has always intrigued scouts based purely on his arm strength, but the results have always been somewhat pedestrian due to a lack of secondary stuff and so-so command. Now 26 and entering his sixth pro season, Jones has opened some eyes this Spring by not only touching 97 mph out of the bullpen, but complementing it with a power breaking ball that has generated swings and misses against big league hitters. “They're not always there,” said a National League scout about Jones' pitches beyond the heater. “But they at least sometimes are, which is real progress from the past. I could see him pitching in the big leagues this year.”

Lucas Luetge, LHP, Mariners
While just a handful of Rule 5 picks are still battling for roster spots, Luetge got some good news when the Mariners released Hong-Chih Kuo. While plenty of left-handers remain in the Seattle bullpen, Luetge has dazzled hitters by striking out seven betters over five innings while allowing just three hits and a walk. All of this by throwing more pitches in the lower 80s than the upper part of that register, rarely touching 90 mph. “It's all deception, location and movement,” said and American League scout on the former Brewers product, “He's pitching backwards by using his breaking ball early and fastball late, but he can make it work for him well enough to be a situational reliever.”

Taylor Lindsey, 2B, Angels
While it's rare for a player who has yet to play in a full-season league to get more than an at-bat or two in big league games, Lindsey earned a few extra by going 8-for-10 in early games before being reassigned to a more reasonable level. A supplemental first-round pick in 2010 out of an Arizona High School. Lindsey hit .362/.394/.593 in 63 games for Orem last year, and one National League scout thinks he'll be a much more well-known name by the end of the 2012 season. “If you watched those at-bats, you'd think he's a kid getting ready for the upper levels of the system as opposed to just getting started,” said the evaluator. “He goes up there hacking, but he gets away with it because he can really hit.”

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
The eighth overall pick in last year's draft, Lindor was the talk of the instructional leagues in Arizona last fall, and this Spring, he's been generating the same type of buzz with his performances so far in minor league camp. “I heard all of the rumors about how Seattle almost took him with the second pick in the draft,” said an American League scout. “Now I understand why. What a player. He can do it all and he could come very quickly. There's a quiet confidence in his game that goes with all five tools, and that's a rare combination.”

Joe Wieland, RHP, Padres
One of two pitching prospects sent to San Diego from Texas in last July's trade for reliever Mike Adams, Wieland has always been known for his ability to throw strikes. He walked just 21 batters last year in 155.2 innings, and he's yet to walk a better this spring while throwing four shutout innings against Arizona in his most recent outing. One American League scout indicated that what impressed him was not his trademark 88-92 fastball with laser-like precision, but rather his ability to using his other offerings when getting ahead in the count. “He's getting out with his breaking ball and changeup, and he's getting those outs against big league hitters,” said the evaluator. “If that was his issue, it sure doesn't look like one anymore.”
 

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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

12 comments have been left for this article.

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