Hudson saw a transformation in Maikel Franco this season from raw player to prospect; will the momentum carry into 2013?
Watching players throughout the season, I tend to develop prospect crushes. It started with Jesus Montero in 2009, and then continued with him in 2010. In 2011 it was Domingo Santana, who had huge five o’clock power and fit the classic right field profile. This past season, I had several reasons to plant myself behind home plate in Lakewood. Maikel Franco might have been the most fun of those reasons.
Franco probably won’t appear on many lists of top prospects this winter, but I loved what he showed me throughout his season. Early in 2012 he was a raw baseball player who was a bit overexposed in a full-season league. Later in 2012, he looked more like an impact prospect.
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Today we kick off a series spotlighting top names eligible for the 2013 Amateur Draft.
Almost immediately after the Amateur Draft is held in June, work begins anew for amateur scouting departments all across baseball. From June through August, area scouts (and in many cases cross-checkers, scouting directors, and even general managers) take in collegiate summer leagues and high profile prep showcases and tournaments, getting looks at the next crop of draft-eligible talent working its way towards draft day.
Over the coming weeks we are going to review some of the top names and performances from this past summer. The eight-part series will have two entries each week, covering four categories of players and forty players overall (full schedule at the bottom). The goal is not to cover every name worth knowing for next June; we have plenty of time to bring you full reports on the top draft-eligible players for 2013 over the next eight months. This is meant to serve as an introduction to the draft class for those who have not yet begun following the action, and to pool in one place a rundown of some of the top performances over the past three months once we start parsing the class in more detail.
Jason's been thinking about the offseason, including rankings, playoff performances, and pre-playoff non performances.
I’ve been thinking about….. prospect rankings. The time of year is near, and I’ve started to make calls and I’ve started to take notes and I’ve started to put the parts of the machine together. One of the reasons I was never keen on prospect ranking had more to do with the process than the finished product, which, I will admit, has value despite a shelf life that makes it obsolete before you can find comfort in it. The process is the real creature here, as the definition of prospect value is always up for debate, with some offering grand rewards for high ceilings, some for skill maturity, some rewarding proximity to the majors, and some ranking prospects based solely on statistical output. Because value is in the eye of the value beholder, there isn’t a wrong way to organize and rank prospects, as the subjective nature of the process keeps us tied to individual philosophies and category weights. But one shouldn’t assume that all rankings are therefore created equal, and that throwing darts onto a board with prospect faces is a better method of classification than picking up a phone and talking to the industry tasked with prospect evaluation.
Or is it? My eyes have been privy to a few teams’ internal prospect rankings, compiled by their scouts on the ground and their analysts in the office, and even though the process of the product is more complex, I’ve been just as bewildered looking at a team’s list as I have been looking at a Bleacher Report slideshow of the top prospects in the game. The truth is that I’m not sure how the new BP rankings will be received, and even though they will be thoroughly researched and examined, the weight I assign to any specific attribute or characteristic will be based on a personal preference, and as a result, the BP list that I put a bow on will look different than the one Nick would compile, or Jason, or Mark, or Chris, or anybody else who decided to make a list. That uniqueness is both valued and open to exposure, with the latter stemming from the aforementioned subjectivity of the process itself, as each list, regardless of author, is different and therefore inaccurate at some level when judged against the reader’s personal preferences and experiences.
The AFL is upon us, and here are 10 players to keep an eye on this year.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Reds (Double-A Pensacola/Peoria Javelinas)
Few players in the 20-year history of the Arizona Fall League have reported with as much buzz as Cincinnati Reds' prospect Billy Hamilton. Coming off a season where he broke a minor league record by stealing 155 bases and having posted an overall .319/.418/.431 line between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, Hamilton would have already been targeted as an exciting player to watch closely, but there is more on his plate than most of the other prospects this Fall.
After playing shortstop in the Reds' system since being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, Hamilton is listed as an outfielder on the Peoria Javalinas' roster. With shortstops Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius already in their stable, Cincinnati is going to attempt to convert Hamilton into a center fielder in the AFL. This type of strategy is what Roland Hemond had in mind when he came up with the idea of the Arizona Fall League, because winter ball teams in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico cannot afford to risk conversion projects in their highly competitive environment laden with roster limitations. The Reds' Arizona headquarters are a short ride from any of the AFL sites, so their instructors will spend a lot of time with Hamilton and observe every game.
The Twins have signed a few players from unlikely countries recently. Is this a new direction, and is it going to pay off?
Baseball teams often look for market inefficiencies when they acquire players. In recent years we’ve seen some teams target players with excellent defense, some spend aggressively in the draft, and some invest in off-the-fieldtalent. By examining these things, we can often extract specific organizational strategies: team X trades controllable players for plenty of prospects; team Y employs a specific draft strategy. It certainly looks like the Minnesota Twins might be employing a new strategy in the international market, as in recent years they’ve expanded their efforts to include Australia, Africa, and Europe.
Part Two of Chris' four-team Fall Instructional League visit sees some top prospects and some unknowns from two AL East teams.
One of the major reasons I like Fall Instructs is that I get to see a cluster of prospects that would otherwise be spread out during the season. It also serves as a nice way to close out the year, while also building a scouting base for the next one. Despite the positives, though, finishing up with Instructs is always bittersweet, since I know it’s my last time out at the field until spring training. Like I mentioned on Tuesday, this year’s Instructs were particularly exciting since I was expanding my coverage, and I’m already eager to go again in 2013.
Today’s report focuses on the other two organizations I covered during this past week’s trip down to Fort Myers. Given my familiarity with the Red Sox, the featured players are ones I was either targeting for follow-up looks, or players I knew I’d be getting my first crack at and who I feel may begin to make some moves this coming season. I usually see the majority of Orioles’ prospects in the Eastern and International Leagues, but the lower levels were uncharted waters, so today’s Orioles players are those who left an early impression out of the ones I was able to see.
Back from Arizona, Jason sifts through his remaining FIL notes on talent from the Dodgers, Rangers, Royals, and Indians.
After ten days of standing in the sun, eating food that comes in bovine feed bags, chewing sunflower seeds like they contained the secrets of love and happiness, and falling asleep in a motel room whose game experience was visible to the senses, I’m finally back in New York, sitting in a small apartment thinking about the activity taking place at the Fall Instructional League. I miss the baseball. I miss the rush of walking up to a sparsely attended field, finding my spot on a deserted island of bleachers, removing a towel from my bag to cover my neck and head, placing a beach hat over said towel to provide further protection from the sun, placing a stopwatch in my left hand, and going to work for three hours. My gaze rarely would leave the action on the field, except to chat with a friend or to enjoy a taste of water from a cooler that provided the coldest water on the planet. A few more days in the sun and I would have attempted a romantic maneuver on that cooler.
The FIL (fall instructional league; you get it) was a little strange this year, as I didn’t get a chance to see many of the teams I consider to be standards during my backfield adventures in the Spring; teams like the Padres, Mariners, Indians, and Reds. Not every team located in Arizona plays a full fall schedule, and with only ten days to score prospect dope, I had to take advantage of the talent playing games in my vicinity. I saw a ton of Rangers and Royals action, which is to be expected for multiple reasons: 1) I stay in Surprise, AZ, home base of the Rangers and Royals, and the complex is familiar and minutes from my hotel; 2) the talent on the Rangers and Royals FIL rosters might be able to beat the Astros major league team; and 3) Jorge Alfaro doesn’t workout in Glendale.
Recent BP addition Chris Mellen files from the Instructional Leagues, where he covers other people's recent additions.
Fall Instructional League, or “Instructs,” is great for several things: doing follow-up scouting from the season, getting a first look at recently signed players, or getting a first glimpse at players coming over to the United States for the first time. The teams in Instructs are typically composed of the younger prospects from the lower levels and rehabbing players from the upper minors. Teams go through workouts in the morning, then play games in the afternoon against the other teams in the area. So between the morning and the afternoon, you have plenty of chances to lay the eyes on the developing prospects.
Fort Myers has served as my home base for Instructs since I’ve been coming down, and it’s always a productive trip. This year, the Twins, Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays have been playing a rotation of games against each other; for the last six years, I was covering the Red Sox and no one else, so this year sees me expanding my scouting base considerably. It’s been challenging given the large volume of players to see and heightened sense of attention needed, but it’s been fun getting outside of my comfort zone. So these reports will be of selected players from each organization who have stood out for one reason or another. Today we’ll start with the Rays and Twins, with the Red Sox and Orioles to follow later.
Prospects have a long way to climb to reach the majors. After their 2012 efforts, these guys need to keep climbing.
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
Jason has some scouting notes on Miguel Almonte, Taylor Jungmann, and Bubba Starling.
RHP Miguel Almonte (Royals): Wiry frame; stands close to 6-foot-3, can’t weigh much over 155/160 pounds; extremely loose arm; easy delivery; features some drag, but very fast arm and doesn’t rush the acceleration and doesn’t finish out of control; worked at 92 mph and touched 94; good extension; some late jump on the ball to the arm side; 6 movement, 6 velocity; more will be there at maturity; big fan of the way the ball is delivered; long arm action; three-quarter slot; high front side helps with deception; will need to add strength to hold velocity, but it’s not hard to see the frame supporting more mass; curveball was tight, thrown in the 77 mph range; pitch had 11/5 shape and some depth; was thrown in the zone; room for improvement; could develop into above-average offering; changeup was money, working at 83-84 with arm speed deception and good fading action; forced bad front-foot/fastball timed swings; easy 5 pitch at present, and flashed enough to be plus; stayed in the zone with all offerings; showed feel for pitching/feel for sequence; best arm I’ve seen so far in camp; three pitches, good, athletic delivery and a loose arm that screams arsenal projection; based on physical attributes, performance, and discussions with scouts, I feel comfortable labeling pitcher as Top Ten talent in Royals system; reminded me of a young Julio Teheran, with slightly less arm strength, but similar feel for changeup, similar fluidity in delivery/arm action; similar size; not in same class as Teheran (at present), but the similar characteristics aren’t a stretch; total surprise for me to happen upon; I love this stuff; he’s very legit; mark this name down and follow his progression.
Culver’s: Not a bad burger; high grease level, but manageable; plus beef; lots of excess beyond bun shape; great bun; I think it’s a butter bun; fries are okay; fringy when they take the air for too long, but solid right out of the fryer; larger, crinkle fry; can hold more grease than normally called for; clean indoor facilities in Glendale, AZ; friendly; offers both sweet tea and unsweetened tea at the beverage center; total package is an everyday 5, with enough beef quality to play up to easy 6+ if the grease plays down.
While he's not yet tested at the upper levels, the Angels might have something in third baseman Kaleb Cowart.
Chone Figgins had an amazing season in 2009: he posted a .289 TAv and, because of a lofty defensive rating (16.7 FRAA), finished the year with a remarkable 7.2 WARP. Baseball Prospectus 2010 put it best: “Talk about a walk year: in the final season of his contract, Figgins burnished his credentials as an elite leadoff hitter by leading the AL in bases on balls and ranking second in both times on base and runs scored, third in steals, and fourth in pitches per plate appearance.” Figgins would decline the Angels’ offer of arbitration and would instead sign with Seattle, leaving the Angels with nothing. Nothing, except for a pair of draft picks, one of which they used on Kaleb Cowart.
The Angels nabbed Cowart with the 18th overall pick in the 2010 draft out of Cook HS in Adel, GA. He wasn’t a monster, but he was a switch hitter, had excellent tools, and was something to dream on. A late signing limited his time on the field in 2010, so he was still in rookie ball for 2011. With the Orem Owlz, Cowart posted a modest .283/.345/.420 line with seven home runs. He struck out 81 times and picked up just 25 bases on balls in 72 games, so there was some cause for concern about his approach.
Do the fall instructional leagues make Arizona feel less hot?
Every fall, I board a plane, drink myself into tranquility, and dream of my upcoming arrival in the morbidly warm state of Arizona. Since 2007, I’ve spent a few weeks each September watching underdeveloped talent on the backfields of the instructional league, an awesome hoard of projection so satisfying to the scouting process that I look forward to the adventure 11 months out of the year. But I really dislike this state. I really dislike standing in triple-digit heat. I really dislike fast-food consensus. I really dislike being away from my selfish and overweight cat Mr. Drummond. I really dislike subjecting my sanity to the toxic environment of a hotel lifestyle. I really dislike feeling this isolated. I would trade this experience for anything in the world. I dislike not being able to like this with greater intensity.
My head is on a swivel and water is escaping my pores like my insides are an oppressive fascist regime. I’m taking notes and I’m making conversion, all in the name of information procurement. My job is to learn, and I’m surrounded by teachers in multiple forms, from scouts, to front office personnel, to coaches, to players, to the play on the field. I’m in love with the intellectual overload; I’m dizzy from the lesson plans. It might also be a heat stroke.