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August 23, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

I've (Also) Been Thinking About...

by Jason Parks

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I’ve been thinking about...Francisco Lindor. The precocious talent has cooled at the plate in the second half of his first-full season of professional ball, and when the numbers start to head south, the optimism of the fan can turn in a similar direction. When looking at immature talent at the lower levels of the minors, proper context and perspective are as necessary as radar guns, stopwatches, and bad fashion choices that involve tan pants with pleats and polo-style shirts with moisture wick technology. In the case of Lindor, his recent struggles are only considered “struggles” relative to his first half performance, where the 18-year-old hit for average with a mature approach and some juice in the bat. It’s rare to find such a young player offering such production in a pitcher-friendly league, and it becomes even more impressive when you factor in his defensive responsibilities at a premium defensive position, one that he plays at a very high level. In his first 60 games of full-season ball, Lindor hit .285/.369/.410, with 20 extra-base hits and 14 steals. If you put all the factors together, that performance is nothing short of remarkable.

The point is that Lindor’s first-half performance was so good that his somewhat lackluster second-half performance only appears to be bad. It’s not. It’s really, really good. Given his age, his level of physical developmental, and his body of work, it’s quite common to see the long-season grind on a player who won’t even turn 19 until November. His contact hasn’t been as consistent or as loud, but his plan at the plate remains extremely advanced; Lindor doesn’t often give pitchers an advantage by letting them expand the zone or force him into cheap swings, and he has drawn more walks in the second-half than he's struck out.

For me, Lindor is a top ten prospect in the game and a player that could end up playing in the major leagues for 10+ seasons. I’m not sure if he will be a star, but his floor is remarkably high for an 18 year old, and even if he only develops into a solid major league regular, the teams that failed to select him in the 2011 draft will get to chew on that regret for a decade.

Fun with perspective: Francisco Lindor was selected out of high school with the 8th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Byron Buxton was selected out of high school with the 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft. Buxton is only one month older than Lindor.

I’ve been thinking about…Cory Spangenberg. Back in March, I was quite smitten with Spangenberg, having spent several days watching him on the backfields of Arizona. I saw something in him that I thought was special, a certain knack for putting the barrel onto the ball. I was pleasantly surprised by his overall athleticism, which is a great attribute to possess, especially when it comes to making adjustments at the plate and in the field. I remember talking to a scout at the time about his [Spangenberg's] hit tool and how I thought he could hit .280+ someday, given the characteristics of the swing and his coordination. The scout countered my aggressive projection with an even more aggressive projection, offering that the hit tool could end up as a 7 on the 2-8 scale, making the former first-round selection a future .300 hitter. Based on this conversation and my own notes, I evaluated Spangenberg for Baseball Prospectus on March 22, 2012:

“More naturally athletic than expected; body was good, with well-proportioned frame, good hips, strong legs, and core; player was both quick and fast, showing efficient exit from the box and full speed after a few strides; clocked player (left side) in the 4.15-4.2 range on multiple looks; assigned speed grade as 6 (60 on 20/80). With bat, player was balanced and athletic in swing, showing well above-average hand speed, triggering quickly and efficiently; made hard contact and worked with pitch offered, taking outside pitches to left field and balls thrown middle-in were barreled to the pull-side; easy plus hit tool; potential to hit .300 thanks to contact ability, approach, and speed component; confused by plus breaking ball late in game, but stayed on all fastballs and didn’t chase outside of zone; hit tool could develop into 7; shows strength in swing and some loft; swing plane wasn’t linear; don’t see big power, but line-drive stroke will play in the gaps; 5 power is possible; glove was solid at 2B; no fundamental mistakes; lacks flash, but plays hard; arm can make all throws from position and handles pivot on DP without max exertion; gamer type with legit tools; future 6 player at maturity.”

Spangenberg was assigned to the California League in 2012 and I thought he was set to explode in that environment, and I thought his prospect status would hitch a ride on that explosion. This has not been the case. Not only are the numbers pedestrian, but the scouting reports aren’t exactly romantic comedies, with more pessimism than promise. The same hit tool that I raved about has been getting average (at best) reviews, as Spangenberg really struggles against quality stuff (velocity/sharp breakers) and lefties absolutely chew him up. He isn’t driving the ball with much authority and he isn’t putting himself in good situations to exploit pitchers. One source suggested that he allows the opposing battery to play him too often, and that Spangenberg won’t make the necessary in-sequence adjustments to counter the opposing team’s plan against him.

I’m not off the bandwagon completely, but the expectations have been altered and the realities cast a gloomier shadow than I originally foresaw. Back in Arizona, I saw a very instinctual and athletic hitter, one capable of hitting for average all the way up the chain. I was very impressed with the total package. Fast forward a few months and a trusted scout source tells me that he doubts if Spangenberg has the hit tool to ever produce in the major leagues. I’m left shaking my head.

I’ve been thinking about…Anthony Rendon. I absolutely love his swing. His hands are special. It all starts with his hands. He owns one of the best bat-to-hand relationships I’ve ever seen. They aren’t separate beings. Some hitters view the bat as their weapon in the war against the ball. They see the ball and they swing their sword and they hope to chop the enemy’s head off. Rendon’s bat might as well contain his own ligaments, blood, and bones. When he swings, the bat is an extension of his own body. The bat speed and the bat control are off-the-chart, and if he can stay healthy, this is going to be a big time hitter. I don’t see much over-the-fence power, but lots of batting average and lots of doubles from squared-up hard contact. I was slow to believe the hype about his hitting prowess, but this is going to be a very good major league hitter.

I’ve been thinking about…Roger Clemens. I always loved him. He didn’t seem remotely likeable or pleasant to play for or against, but I loved his style of pitching and I loved the results he achieved. I think most baseball fans enjoyed the ride he provided, and as a result, we reserve a spot in our fandom chest cavity for his name and his achievements, regardless of the stink left on his legend by his involvement with performance enhancing drugs and his vocal reluctance to admit to any wrongdoing despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. In all honesty, I care much less about the steroid issue than most people, and I’m almost to the point of indifference as to whether or not he injected himself with modern means to get ahead. But I am bothered by his so-called comeback, as it presents a tale that isn’t wrapped in a moralistic narrative about the definition of cheating and/or the need for purity in our heroes, but a sad reality of the ego and the state of perception. Roger Clemens tainted his once historic career in the eyes of many and he is trying to fix the problem by applying a fresh coat of perception and optimistic redemption over the ubiquitous taint. The problem is that you can’t paint the taint. Everybody knows this, Roger. 

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

Related Content:  Scouting,  Minor Leagues

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