May 15, 2012
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Colorado Rockies
Prospect #1: 3B Nolan Arenado
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Arenado is a great prospect, and every team in baseball would welcome him into the fold with open arms, but what could go wrong in 2012 is that the realities of the skill set start to become more representational against more advanced pitching, leaving the picture of a good prospect, but not one with impact level talent at the next level. I really like Arenado’s approach to hitting, as he’s aggressive without being reckless, and he shows pitch recognition skills and the ability to adjust in sequence. He’s a smart hitter that can stay inside a pitch and drive the ball, and manipulate the barrel to match the plane of breaking balls. But his swing wasn’t built for over-the-fence power, as his linear stroke works better in the gaps, despite the raw strength and bat speed necessary for power. Some scouts think the power will develop down the line, as Arenado learns to introduce more loft in his swing, but how much hit tool utility will be sacrificed for the sake of power? I asked around to get ceilings on Arenado, and the majority saw him as a potential .275+ hitter with 10-15 home runs and a truckload of doubles. I like this projection, as it's reasonable and realistic, but it’s not a first-division talent, is it? A few other sources saw a .300+ hitter with 25+ bombs a year, which would make Arenado an All-Star and one of the most valuable players at his position in baseball. Because he’s taking his licks at the Double-A level, we are going to get a better view of what Arenado will be able to bring to the table in the future, as the major leagues are very much within his reach. We all know Arenado can hit, but the questions will be: how much can hit, and how much power will he be able to bring into game action? Again, I think he’s a great prospect, but I tend to think his future is closer to a solid-average regular than an All-Star, which is still a very valuable player to have.
Prospect #2: LHP Tyler Matzek
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: We all know what could go wrong in 2012, as it's what has gone wrong in previous campaigns. Despite being athletic, Matzek’s delivery is often anything but, with stiff, mechanical movements, and inconsistencies in everything from release points to landings. When he’s off, Matzek struggles to correct the mechanical hitches in the delivery and falls out of rhythm and goes forward with a schizophrenic pace. When he’s on, he’s a monster, as his stuff can live in the zone without much exploitation, and he can pitch off his fastball and miss bats with a variety of offerings. I’ve seen Matzek several times, and I’ve yet to see him make it look easy, which makes repeatability difficult, which in turn affects command and secondary utility. Everything stems from the delivery, and if Matzek can’t throw strikes, he can’t give his stuff a chance to play. This is his reality. When I asked around, several scouts saw the issue as being more psychological than physical, working under the “if he did it before, he can do it some more” logic. This has floated around the industry for a while, mostly because Matzek can dominate in bursts, working with clean and efficient mechanics one inning, only to have the next inning be a nightmare, with a suddenly noisy and uncoordinated delivery, diminished stuff, and little-to-no strike-throwing ability. It’s a Jekyll and Hide profile, and the more it flashes and fades, the more it looks like an issue in Matzek’s head rather than a problem with his arm. Aside from the obvious mechanical issues that occur when he’s off, I can’t speak to what exactly is going on in Matzek’s head, but I do know that when he’s on, he flashes star potential, and that promise buys a lot of patience. I’m going to stay on-board because of the ceiling, but this bus could be empty after another season of statistical setback.
Prospect #3: SS Trevor Story
What Can Go Wrong in 2012: Story has a good bat, but he doesn’t have a great bat, and several sources did raise some concerns about his ability to hit quality stuff. The hands are very solid and the bat speed was praised and not questioned, but several sources did mention his swing mechanics, suggesting that velocity can chew him up because he has a tendency to bar his arm and achieve premature extension, the latter making me chuckle because I have the maturity of a 5th grader. The better the battery, the better the ability to recognize and exploit weaknesses in a swing; in the case of Story, if you shove quality fastballs into the hands, you should be able to beat the bat. This is just one recipe for exploitation, and one that might not even be utilized at the present level. Despite these minor concerns, my sources seemed confident in Story’s ability to make the necessary adjustments and to figure out how to find utility from his tools in every game situation. Again, this isn’t a light bulb prospect, one that we all sit around hoping will eventually turn on and illuminate the room with his brilliance. Trevor Story's light is already on, with the biggest drawback being that the light emanating from his prospect status is neither bright nor brilliant. It's just….solid.
Prospect #4: C Will Swanner
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: Swanner is showing game power and he’s making good contact, but several sources were skeptical of the hit tool, saying that the swing can get too long and his taste for fastballs makes him susceptible to quality off-speed offerings, most notably, curveballs. This is the rub for most young hitters, and it will take more than a few hot months to erase the doubts that have formed in the mind of some observers. Despite these doubts, I found quite a few people who really liked Swanner, mostly on the back of his power potential and his position on the diamond, with one source going as far to suggest Swanner could eventually emerge as one of the top backstops in the minors. This lofty prognostication prompted another source to question the blood alcohol level of the aforementioned evaluator. I love baseball. At the present, Swanner is playing in a full-season league, he’s crushing the ball, he’s showing a mature approach, and he’s attempting to develop at a premium defensive position, so he has a lot on his plate. It’s not going to be an easy road, but just look at the basics: 20 years old, good body, good baseball mind, promising power potential, raw tools to stick at catcher. We all know what could go wrong with young players, even more so with young catchers, but we also know the significance if everything happens to go right, which is something worth remembering when looking at a player like Swanner.
Prospect #5: RHP Chad Bettis
What Could Go Wrong in 2012: For the sake of argument, let’s just assume Bettis returns to the field in good health at some point during the 2012 season and continues on his journey to the majors. One of the central points in the starter/reliever debate is the grip-it-and-rip-it approach Bettis shows on the hill. Some observers see a pitcher that excels when he can throw hard, leaving the necessity of touch and feel on the sidelines. As a result, his changeup is a below-average offering that gets marginalized in the sequence, which in turn removes a dimension from his game that is vital to success at the higher levels of professional baseball. Bettis has two plus pitches and can throw strikes, but without added feel and nuance to the arsenal, it’s hard to see a pitcher that will find sustainable success as a starter. Again, we have to see what Bettis looks like after he returns to game action, but it’s easy to see a future major league reliever and it’s becoming more difficult to see a future major league starter. I really like the promise of the fastball/slider combo, and if healthy, Bettis has the stuff and mentality to reach the majors in short order.