Is a tendency to favor fire-breathers a bias, or sound wisdom?
“Doesn’t pitch with enough fire.” He’s soft.” “Doesn’t attack.” “Lacks fortitude on the mound.” “Doesn’t pitch with confidence.” “I question the sack.” “Doesn’t act the part of a number one starter.” These are all descriptions found in various scouting reports on pitcher Mark Appel going back to his amateur days and continuing in the present. Validity of the scouting assessments aside, the number of evaluators questioning the fortitude of a recent 1:1 player is significant for several reasons, but for this particular article, I want to focus on the role fortitude plays in the scouting process, and why some pitchers take a hit based on such a subjective and often biased means of categorizing talent.
Updates on Gregory Polanco, Mark Appel, Dalton Pompey, Joey Gallo and six others.
Dalton Pompey, CF, Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)
During the offseason, Pompey’s name was in the running for the Jays top 10 list, and after falling short of that distinction he was in the running (but not chosen) to be named a prospect on the rise in that organization. The omission is our mistake—and a foolish one at that—as the 21-year-old outfielder has blossomed into arguably the top position prospect in the Blue Jays organization, a toolsy dream of a player who is finally healthy and putting the pieces together on the field. A relatively unknown 16th-round draft pick in 2010, Pompey has struggled with injuries, most notably a broken hamate bone, but he has always flashed the promise, especially the plus-plus speed (and plus-plus baserunning) and defensive chops in center field. A switch-hitter at present, Pompey is superior from the left side of the plate, with a quick to-the-ball stroke and gap pop. While he’s far from a finished product—the right-side bat can look like a mess, with poor balance and bat control, and the defense in center is still more raw athleticism than crisp reads and routes—the step forward in 2014 is legitimate, and if Pompey can stay healthy, he should reach the Double-A level at some point during the season and emerge as a nationally recognized prospect. –Jason Parks
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With their roster low on left-side infielders, the Rangers turn to a top 101 prospect for help.
The Situation: The Rangers need a warm-bodied athlete to fill a temporary void on the 25-man roster, and Sardinas’ left-side-of-the-infield skills, speed—and more importantly—existence on the current 40-man roster make the call-up a simple solution.
The Background: Considered one of the slickest gloves available in the 2009 international amateur class, the Rangers made a sizeable investment in the Venezuelan shortstop with a $1.5 million bonus. Signed in the same class as former top prospect and current disabled list darling Jurickson Profar, Sardinas struggled to carve out his own identity in the early going, logging more time on the shelf than he did on the field, and his stock slipped as a result.
Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell or Javier Baez? We polled front office types and our prospect staff.
The rise of the superstar shortstop prospect prompts preferential inquiries, as my email inbox, Twitter feed, and chat queues are continually maxed out with questions about Bogaerts, Baez, Correa, Lindor, and Russell, and if forced to choose, which one would I choose? The five chiseled heads on the modern Mount Rushmore of shortstop prospects (six if you go high on Mondesi) present a daily challenge of preference, a subjective exercise of forced selection tied to the realities of the present and the fantasies of the future, a tug-of-war we play with ropes made of tangible data, scouting memories of on-the-field motions, and the conceptual ideas of value and who will be most likely to achieve it.
Raimel Tapia, Carlos Correa, Julio Urias, Clint Frazier, and other prospects we can't wait to scout this summer.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Rockies (Low-A Asheville)
Internet evaluators have a tendency to overcomplicate the scouting process, focusing too much of their attention on what players will do in the future rather than simplifying the explanations of what they actually can do in the present. We can dream on athletic bodies and cite physical projection to justify our fantasies about future accomplishment, and I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to attaching my name to body-beautiful types regardless of current skill level. But a good rule of thumb—in the particular context of evaluating position players—is that good hitters hit and bad hitters only project to hit.
Rockies outfielder Raimel Tapia can hit. He accomplishes this with a combination of balance and bat speed at the plate, allowing him to consistently drive the baseball, but there is an innate component at play here that goes deeper than any breakdown of his setup or swing. He excels at putting the barrel of his bat on the baseball, recognizing the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand and using his excellent hand-eye coordination to finish the connection. This natural ability to hit has been evident at every stop in his professional career, and is likely to continue as he climbs toward the highest level. We can wax poetic—and I have—about his other physical gifts, like plus run, a plus arm, and the potential to stick up the middle with the glove, but the name of the game is bat-to-ball, and Tapia can hit. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. –Jason Parks
The minor leaguers who made a major impression this spring.
LHP Julio Urias (Dodgers)
A 16-year-old pitching in the Midwest League can turn heads, and when that pitcher can pump a fastball in the 91-96 range in each start, backed up by multiple breaking ball looks and a quality changeup, the heads start spinning. I watched two spring starts from the now 17-year-old southpaw, and I came away knowing that this was the most polished young arm I have ever seen.
Looks at Mark Appel, Miguel Almonte, and others on Jason's getaway day.
RHP Miguel Almonte: Limby righty with a very fast arm; from 3/4 slot, slings the ball, achieving above-average movement to his pitches; delivery requires a lot of coordination and balance, and is torque-heavy with a power generating letter-high frontside and hip rotation; struggles with opening up early and missing everything to the arm-side; started to lose his delivery later in the start and couldn’t find his release point; excellent extension when he finishes and stays over the ball.
Fastball is easy plus offering in the 92-94 range; can show both hard boring action into righties and heavy dive lower in the zone; command could eventually push this pitch above the plus distinction; changeup is money offering; solid-average to plus at present; 83-85 with excellent arm speed and heavy vertical action; pitch has both deception and movement and can be deployed in any count against any stick; slider is below-average at present; could get to average with more command and a sharper break; pitch in the upper 70s with some tilt, but its more slurvy and loose than tight, and it often starts to break too early on the arm-side and sweeps across the zone; low-70s curveball is actually tighter pitch with more bite but wasn’t utilized in the start.
Eyes on Julio Urias, Nick Williams, Christian Arroyo and others.
RHP Cody Buckel: Half-windup; over-the-top slot; showed a lot of effort generating his velocity; fastball worked 89-91; lacked movement; very flat and visible up in the zone; plane when he worked down; found plenty of barrels; dropped several slow lollipop curveballs to steal a few strikes; loose and easy to track; not a legit pitch against better bats; fringy slider in the 82-84 range; lacked sharp break; body language was poor (slumped shoulders and sulked); didn’t record an out in his first inning of work; required several mound visits and encouragements; airmailed a few balls to the backstop; didn’t get a “yips” vibe despite some wildness; pitched with trepidation; find optimism in the fact that he was able to throw some strikes but the stuff and the body language on the mound left a lot to be desired. Didn’t look like a future major-league pitcher. –Jason Parks
OF Nomar Mazara: Lanky; a solid 6’4” at least; very lean and muscular; seemed very comfortable in the box; knew his strengths; laid off some spin down in the zone; got himself into good hitting counts; has big-time bat speed; hitchy timing mechanism; the way his hands load is reminiscent of Chris Davis; timing needs to be perfect, but when it works it’s explosive; pulled a middle-in fastball for a 420-plus-foot bomb; raw power is near elite; game power is starting to actualize; loved the way he hit—he looked for a pitch in a certain spot and demolished it when it came; in his third and last at-bat, he hit one over Terrance Gore’s head in CF for an inside-the-park homer, another fastball over the heart of the plate that he didn’t miss; showed off solid-average speed around the bases as well.
Eyes on Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Ronald Guzman, and others.
OF Albert Almora: Mixed production at the plate; squared a 95 fastball up in the zone for an opposite-field RBI single late in the game; fast hands and aggressive; loved the way he attacked the ball; earlier in the game, was sawed off by a fastball inside and hit an infield squib; clocked a 4.4 time to 1B. I like the setup and swing, with an open stance and very good balance through his load and stroke. Swing is more linear without a lot of lift at present, but he can make hard contact with the ball, especially against quality fastballs; in the field, looks the part of a plus center fielder; glides naturally to the ball; effortless ability to make quality reads.
Example: On a high sky, sun field, tracked a high fly ball that was tailing toward the right field side. It would be common to see young center fielders make a poor opening read and struggle to adjust to the ball because of the sky and tail on the ball. My eyes focused on Almora upon contact, and he glided to the spot on his initial read and made a catch at his left hip, which looked as effortless (and cool) as his route to the ball. For most outfielders, the appropriate response to the flair of this particular catch on a backfield would be, “Nice catch Hayes, don’t ever do it again.” But for Almora, its just natural baseball. –Jason Parks
Eyes on Rymer Liriano, Trevor Story, Tim Anderson, Myles Jaye and other intriguing prospects.
RHP Aaron Blair: Good frame, well built and athletic, with a high waist and broad shoulders; reminds me physically of John Lackey. Good delivery, repeatable, uses legs well, getting good extension and finishing on balance through the zone.
Eyes on Jorge Alfaro, Joey Gallo, Blake Swihart, and other prospects of repute.
I spent nine hours at the fields yesterday; morning workouts and then backfield games on the Rangers side (Extended, Low-A, High-A). Dropping notes on several prospects, some more detailed than others depending on the duration and significance of the look. –Jason Parks
C Jorge Alfaro: Noticeably stronger; way more athletic than people realize; easy plus runner when underway; arm is 80-grade; popped a 1.73 (on my watch) on a caught stealing early in the game; footwork was quick and coordinated; ball was waiting on the runner; controls the running game; intimidator behind the plate; not afraid to attempt back-pick at second or first; highly confident in throwing ability; best I’ve seen him as a receiver; was letting the ball get to him; wasn’t stabbing or drifting; previously, more balanced at the plate; swing is still torque-heavy but not as all-or-nothing or uncontrollable; bat speed is still well above average; right-center is still power core; can still beat him with spin but he is keeping his hands back better and not selling out for extension on everything thrown near the plate.