July 1, 2009
When making a number of calls to scouts over the past two weeks, one of them began with, "do you want the good news or the bad news?" With plenty more to come in a more positive light, let's start with the bad news, as professional scouts get critical of some big names in the world of prospects.
The second overall pick in last year's draft, the pro debut of Pirates' third baseman Pedro Alvarez has been a mixed bag at best. He's hit 16 home runs in 268 at-bats between High- and Double-A while drawing 38 walks, but he's also hitting just .235 with 80 strikeouts while committing 17 errors in the field. One scout who recently saw him at Double-A Altoona was not overly impressed. "Obviously, he has massive raw power, but there's so much swing-and-miss in him, and he has as much of a chance to stay at third base as you do of dunking a basketball," he joked. "I'm not predicting it's going to happen, but I am concerned about the size, and could see him just getting bigger and bigger in a Mo Vaughn kind of way."
After making a huge splash last year by winning MVP honors in the Arizona Summer League, Padres outfielder Jaff Decker continues to put up huge numbers, batting .298/.462/.523 at Single-A Fort Wayne, thanks in part to 41 walks in just 151 at-bats, but scouts remained nonplussed about the short and stocky outfielder's ultimate upside. "I can't classify myself as a believer yet, and he's going to have to hit an awful lot," said one scout. "He's 19 years old with the body of an out-of-shape 39-year-old, and so it's hard not to question some things," he concluded, while admitting that the production is awfully impressive. "Look, those numbers are going to give him every chance to prove me wrong."
Another player putting up big numbers recently is Oakland slugger Chris Carter. After leading the minors in total bases last year, Carter hit just one home run in April, but he's been especially hot of late, as he goes into the final day of June with a .324/.440/.558 batting average on the month. Still, one scout had more concerns about Carter's propensity to swing and miss than anything positive to say, noting that he's "so big and strong, and it is absolutely enormous power. But if the ball is not in his immediate bat path, he misses." The scout added, "He's bad at seeing the slider, and bad at laying off the slider, and that's a very tough combination to overcome," admitting there are some fears that Carter will be just an up-and-down player in the end. "He's going to keep putting up big numbers, but he has holes above and below the barrel, and lots of areas that big-league pitchers can go to get him out. With what the A's have done with Jack Cust, you'd never want to say never, but I think when he gets to the big leagues, he's just going to strike out a ton."
One first-base prospect who has really seen his stock slip is Lars Anderson, who entered the year almost universally considered to be the top prospect in Boston's system. This spring, he's been generating disappointing reviews while putting up a middling .258/.355/.411 line at Double-A Portland. One scout called him, "the most overrated prospect in baseball," while another explained that while he saw many positives in Anderson's game, the overall hype seemed misplaced. "I like him, but I don't like him with a number-one status as the best guy in the organization," the scout explained. "He has plate presence and has some power, but there are a lot of moving parts in his swing, which is also a little long, so there are some real timing issues with him. I don't see him as a star, I see him as just a pretty good player."
One pitcher with numbers that are impossible to argue with is Giants righty Tim Alderson. After leading the California League in ERA during his full-season debut last year, the 20-year-old has a 2.36 ERA in his first nine Eastern League starts for Double-A Connecticut. Scouts still find it difficult to warm up to Alderson, however. "It's not an insult at all, he's a for-sure, big-league starting pitcher for me," said one scout who saw him recently, "but it's strictly back of the rotation for me," he added, while explaining that Alderson's backwards style of pitching is not one that is usually conducive to major league success. "That plus breaking ball is his calling card, and he's a guy with plus-plus control and average command, but he can't pitch off his fringy fastball, and you don't really see many changeups out of him."
Quote Book: Accentuating The Negative
Alan Dykstra, 1B, Padres (Single-A Forth Worth): "The on-base percentage is phenomenal, but he's big and stiff, and that's the definition of slider bat-speed."
Anthony Gose, OF, Phillies (Single-A Lakewood): "The guy can absolutely fly, but he's taking this big hack at balls and popping them up... it's like Willie Mays Hayes out there."
Kyle Skipworth, C, Marlins (Single-A Greensboro): "He struggles to get the bat started, and then expands his strike zone when he gets behind in the count. I can see him making some adjustments and getting to the big leagues, but it isn't going to be impact, and it's going to take awhile."
Nick Weglarz, OF, Indians (Double-A Akron): "It's old-player skills, way too early. Even guys who look like that in the big leagues were at least athletes when they were 21 years old in the minor leagues."