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October 1, 2012

Monday Morning Ten Pack

October 1

by BP Prospect Staff

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Daniel Norris, LHP, Blue Jays (Short-season A Vancouver)
Norris was an over-slot second round signing for the Blue Jays in 2011, boasting three potential plus pitches: his 91-93 mph fastball, a slow 1-to-7 curve with big depth and bite, and a solid change with some cut-and-tumble. Norris throws with an easy arm out of a three-quarter slot, creating good angles and plane on his pitches, but there is some wrap on the back side, which can lead to drag in his arm and inconsistency in release. The quality of his stuff pops when on, but in order to more consistently tap into it he will need to find a way to standardize the delivery mechanism. Through extended spring training and just over 42-innings between rookie (35 IP) and short-season A ball (7.2 IP), Norris had his moments but was unable to build any momentum from start-to-start. He missed plenty of bats while flashing the goods that landed him a $2 million signing bonus, but he was too often betrayed by his timing and mechanics, with command and pitch execution suffering as a result. It may not take much for Norris to flip the switch and make the jump to a top pitching prospect, but it is at least a little disappointing to see a good athlete and student of the game like Norris continue to struggle with the same inconsistencies that haunted him as an amateur.—Nick Faleris

Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers (Single-A Hickory)
One of the most physically gifted and athletic catchers in the minors, Alfaro has the profile of a future superstar, with a middle-of-the-order bat and the weapons behind the plate to develop into an above-average backstop. The bat speed is extraordinary, and the raw strength puts his power potential in the plus-plus range. The hit tool doesn’t share the same lofty ceiling, as the appetite for fastballs makes off-speed offerings his kryptonite, and his preference for the right-center gap shrinks his hitting zone and allows pitchers to work him inside. As a teenager in a full-season league, Alfaro was expected to struggle, but a cursory glance at the numbers might suggest his season was a success. Developmentally, the road was bumpy, with approach issues that soured some of his support, and along with a few minor injuries, limited him to only 74 games. Based on his tools, I expected Alfaro to emerge as a premiere prospect in the game, a frontline player with a legit major league floor to go along with the cathedral ceiling. I often stress patience when asked about young players, and perhaps I need to take my own advice. I’m just so enamored with a catcher that has a near-elite arm, plus speed, plus-plus power, and the kind of athleticism rarely found in a catcher. It’s an abnormal package and I expected to see the monster break into the village and start scaring the town-folk. It didn’t happen in 2012, but if it happens in 2013, Alfaro has a chance to go from top ten prospect in the Rangers system to top-tier prospect in all of baseball. The skill set is that terrifying.—Jason Parks

Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
Although the scouting reports were uneven during his first professional season, I thought Ranaudo was in position to take solid strides forward in 2012. The package stood out to me when seeing him in early 2011: big frame with room for growth, plus 78-82 mph curveball, live fastball, and a developing changeup. Ranaudo’s season started late due to a groin strain so I got my first look at him in late May in Double-A.  He showed the same tight power curve that can miss bats, but there was regression with both his fastball command and velocity. Ranaudo struggled considerably to keep his front shoulder from flying open, causing the heater to stay up in the zone. There was the lack of velocity, sitting 89-92 mph, due to his arm dragging. The stuff overall was unimpressive. I initially chalked it up to him not throwing well for me in that start, but the pattern continued in reports passed along from a couple of veteran scouts in subsequent outings; lack of velocity, below-average command, and not much finish to the change. Ranaudo ended up on the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” before I could follow up on those reports, which ended up finishing his season after 37 2/3 innings. Whether it was an actual injury, a move to shut him down as a mental break, or a combination of both, the steps forward I expected in 2012 never happened.—Chris Mellen

Dillon Howard, RHP, Indians (Arizona Complex League)
Howard entered the season as a solid candidate to log time in the Midwest League, but saw his stay in extended spring training lengthened due to a dead-arm period and he never made it out of the Arizona complex. He sputtered through twelve starts in the Arizona League, logging just over 40 innings with few successes along the way. As a prep arm, Howard scored high marks for both a lively low-90s fastball that was difficult for hitters to elevate and a solid 6-foot-4, 210-pound pro body. Both the fastball and the body are still impressive, but the rest of the package has yet to progress as expected.  At the center of his struggles was an arsenal that too often found the center of the plate; in particular, his work-in-progress breaking balls.  His changeup remains the most advanced of his secondaries and has the potential to be a legit 55-60 offering on the 20/80 scouting scale, but his curve and slider are both still below average with soft action. The first step in growing and refining his repertoire is finding more consistency in his mechanics, as he currently fails to repeatedly get out over his lower half, producing some shoulder tilt and preventing him from driving the ball down in the zone.  His quick arm helps produce good velocity on his 4-seamer and sink on his 2-seamer, but he still struggles to get his arm in sync with his body, making timing and release problematic.  Fall instructs will be key for the 2011 second-rounder, as he needs to start addressing these issues and progressing through the system. At age 20, Howard is already behind the developmental curve with little actual development to show for his first full year of professional ball.—Nick Faleris

Donavan Tate, OF, Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
I’ve been on Tate’s jock for a while, hyping him to the sky during spring training and then lowering the boom with a “Bring Me the Head of..” piece during the summer. For me, he’s one of the more fascinating prospects in the minors, a player with lofty expectations from Jump Street, a hefty collection of tools, and flashes of light so bright that even casual observers can write the scouting report. But the periods of suck cloud all the positives, as Tate simply can’t put the package together. The approach is solid and Tate isn’t a free swinger, but the hit tool isn’t up to snuff, and pitchers who know how to pitch can beat him. Tom Verducci could probably slug over .400 in the California League, yet Tate, a player of incredible physical gifts, managed to slug only .303, a depressing outcome for a prospect that some scouts thought had 30 home run potential. Tate’s only 22, and perhaps a change of scenery could help turn the light on, but a new team won’t change the fundamental problems with his game, and unfortunately, with every passing season, it looks like Tate will go down as a bust. I still think he could be a late bloomer and develop into a role 5 player, but this bandwagon is getting lonely.—Jason Parks

Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
I have scouted Bethancourt extensively over the last few years and it has been a pleasure to watch him every time. His defensive abilities are out of this world and worthy of extensive praise and even some drool when he fires to second base with his sub-1.70 pop times. Prior to the season I tabbed Bethancourt as a breakout candidate despite his raw offensive talents and promotion to Double-A. That may have been a lofty prognostication but I continued to believe in the offensive tools. He has strength in his swing and the ability to drive the ball, but his pitch recognition and control of the strike zone lags behind. Bethancourt has a path to the big leagues with his glove and his swagger and raw offensive tools still leave me rating him as one of Atlanta’s top prospects. Now he just needs to settle down and make the strides necessary for his production to match the lofty tools.—Mark Anderson

Jacob Anderson, OF, Blue Jays (Rookie Bluefield)
Anderson, along with Norris, was part of a monster 2011 Blue Jays draft class that saw a big influx of teenage talent into the system.  He made his biggest pre-draft splash at the Under Armour All-America game where he won the home run derby while showcasing big leverage and a solid eye at the plate.  Despite some sizeable holes (particularly on the inner-half) and struggles with off-speed stuff at the high school level, the Jays tabbed Anderson with the 35th overall pick in 2011 and saw him enjoy a brief but loud stay in the complex league to finish the 2011 season.  Projected as a corner outfielder with potential to hit for average as well as some power, 2012 told a different story, with early-season contact issues snowballing into a disastrous .198/.276/.310 triple-slash line and 72 strikeouts over 211 plate appearances.  Over the course of the summer, Anderson’s swing unraveled as he spiraled downward. The length in his path to contact was always long as an amateur, and this made it difficult for him to get the barrel to inside fastballs thrown by professionals. This caused him to cheat a little in order to compensate, often leaving him out in front of breaking stuff and producing soft contact or empty swings. As his strikeouts mounted, his at-bats became more and more defensive, leading to his lower half being utilized less and the leverage in his swing (a strength a year ago) all but disappearing.  As his playable bat speed decreased, his struggles with breaking stuff were amplified. In short, 2012 was a train wreck. Moving forward, all that Anderson and the Blue Jays can do is hit the reset button and look to fall instructs to help him get back to the basics. At this point there’s a lot to cleanup.—Nick Faleris

Wilking Rodriguez, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
It’s hard not to like the electric stuff Rodriguez shows when he’s on the mound. Finding him on the mound, however, has become an increasingly difficult task the last two years, and that leaves scouts wanting and expecting more from Rodriguez. He battled shoulder injuries in 2011 and missed extensive time in 2012 with what was reported as a rotator cuff issue. With a fastball that can reach 96 mph and a curveball that flashes sharp break, I entered the year looking for Rodriguez to establish himself as the next member of the Rays cadre of young power arms. I am a sucker for arm strength and won’t completely give up on Rodriguez, but at some point he has to stay on the mound and discover an improved feel for both secondary pitches and strike throwing.—Mark Anderson

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies (Double-A Tulsa)
Arenado is considered by many to be a top 50 prospect in the game, and after a solid campaign in the California League in 2011, his star was very much on the rise heading into 2012. It’s not so much that he failed, because his overall season was once again solid, but the scouting reports weren’t as favorable as the numbers, and the temperature of his prospect status has cooled. His bat is good, but it’s not great, and the four scouts I asked about Arenado put his projection below the first-division level. One source: “Yeah, good kid, competes, gets locked in and destroys then disappears and can’t find the ball with a net; hit tool could end up plus, but not an impact bat for me; down the order hitter at an offensive position; major league park will help.” This could be another player where the expectations created more hype than the reality could back up, as Arenado is more solid than special, and the fact that he might end up being average isn’t enough because average isn’t sexy despite the fact that even developing a major league-average player is an accomplishment.  2013 will be an exciting year for Arenado, as he will no doubt taste the major league level at some point. His issues with making the quick adjustment at the plate could prove problematic in the majors, though, where the book is written and read quickly, and hitters are constantly searching for ways to avoid exploitation.—Jason Parks

Jake Smolinski, LF, Marlins
Smolinski was taken with the 70th pick of the 2007 draft by the Nationals and traded to Miami the following year in a deal that sent Josh Willingham to Washington. He split time between second, third, and the outfield before subpar infield defense forced a permanent move to left field in 2011. The Marlins hoped that moving him to a less demanding position would allow Smolinski's bat to develop further, but two seasons and nearly 1,000 Double-A plate appearances has resulted in minimal progress (.245/.342/.364 in 2011 and .257/.388/.382 this year). Smolinski displayed a heavy platoon split this year, hitting 83 points better against left-handed pitchers, but has only moderately favored lefties historically. He possesses the organization's best plate discipline, but doesn't turn on pitches he can drive. If he refines his approach, some believe Smolinski could develop 40 (below-average) power, but that isn't likely to play if he's limited to an outfield corner. With no carrying tool, Smolinski profiles as an organizational player or, at best, a fifth outfielder.—Bradley Ankrom

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor League Baseball

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