Aaron Judge has long arms. Hitters with long arms have swing-and-miss issues. Do two sentences make a destiny?
Few things scare scouts off a hitter more than high strikeout totals. We’re trained to look past the numbers and to see just the player, rather than be swayed by, for example, gaudy numbers in an extreme hitting environment or against inferior competition—or the reverse. But high strikeout totals are one number that can set off scouts’ alarms. Even the most successful minor-league hitters can, and usually will, struggle when they get to the majors if they have extreme swing-and-miss issues. As George Springer showed this year, a hitter with extreme strikeout tendencies can still be productive; that production might just come with a painfully low batting average.
A few weeks ago, I talked about how predetermined biases about a player can affect the evaluation process, especially with prospects for whom expectations play a large part. In the case of Yankees outfield prospect Aaron Judge, however, even if we can strip away all of the background information, forget about his success in college and forget that he was selected in the Yankees in the first round, we can’t ignore that he is a tremendously large human being. I mean, he’s just massive.
We know certain things that are generally pretty true about tall hitters. They typically hit for more power than their shorter counterparts, and at the same time, they generally swing and miss more. Part of that is due to the aforementioned propensity for power (as powerful swings tend to bring whiffs), but part is due to physics. Taller hitters have longer arms, and long arms make for long swings. The longer a swing, the more holes in it.
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What are we talking about when we talk about disappointment?
"(A box score) doesn't tell how big you are, what church you attend, what color you are, or how your father voted in the last election. It just tells what kind of baseball player you were on that particular day." –Branch Rickey
If only it were still that simple. Back when Rickey was making personnel decisions for major-league organizations, and those last three traits were actually factors in how people were judged, it was a lot easier to evaluate a ballplayer without knowing too much about him. But with phones and tablets now as essential to the scouting toolbox as a stopwatch, with three different prospect rankings appearing on players’ Baseball-Reference pages, with signing bonuses public (and publicy debated), with the conversation about some players’ draft stock now rivaling the lifespan and intrigue of a presidential primary, that’s no longer the case.
Colin Moran is not a bad baseball player. The University of North Carolina doesn’t recruit bad baseball players. Bad baseball players don’t get popped sixth overall in the major-league draft. And bad baseball players don’t hit .296 between High- and Double-A, as Moran did in 2014, his first full year among the professional ranks.
Yet to hear many evaluators talk—to hear me at certain points during this season—you might think Moran is just terrible. Throughout a season of sitting behind home plate, I saw no player inspire more head shakes, shoulder shrugs and eye rolling than Moran. "How was this guy the sixth-best amateur player in the country last year,” I heard from more than one scout. I wasn't terribly kind in my initial write-up of Moran, saying "I came away feeling very underwhelmed with the player."
The prospect team tackles the year's disappointments, including Aaron Sanchez, Mark Appel, and Luke Jackson.
Alberto Tirado, RHP, Blue Jays (Short-season Vancouver)
Tirado entered 2014 the no. 3 prospect in Toronto's system and no. 76 on our Top 101, fueled by strong reports on his stuff. It was noted, though that his command needed work and the delivery was inconsistent. Fast forward to the end of this season and those highlighted areas are exactly what came to the surface. We need to remember Tirado is only 19 and developmental paths are often jagged when isolating short-term sections. I’m labeling Tirado's 2014 a “disappointment” more because his present weaknesses were too much for the strengths to overcome than due to a long-term decline in forecast. Still, some of the initial shine has diminished and warts were exposed. We now have concrete areas of focus when evaluating Tirado next season. –Chris Mellen
Austin Hedges, C, Padres (Double A San Antonio)
Hedges was the top-ranked catcher in the minors entering 2014, and he maintained that title when the midseason Top 50 rolled out in July. While the Junipero Serra (San Juan Capistrano, CA) prep product continues to outstrip his contemporaries on the defensive side of the ball, Hedges ran into a buzzsaw on the offensive side in the form of Texas League pitching.
The Mariners' top pick talks about transitioning from catcher to outfield--and from prep baseball to the pros.
Those who sit in this Loge Level openly admit to having an unprofessional bias favoring pitchers and catchers. That mindset really finds itself challenged when the realization hits that a talented prospect can work on either end of the battery but instead heads in a different direction. Twins no. 1 pick Nick Gordon was the top high school bat grabbed in the 2014 draft, but don’t overlook that he once touched 94 on the mound. Then there’s Alex Jackson, who was up next at sixth overall to the Mariners, and left the prep ranks as the nation's top catcher. A pitcher and a catcher are now a shortstop and an outfielder? How can this be? I guess we’ll get over it—after all, the brats and dogs are really unforgettable at the stand at the top of aisle 105, and this always seems to distract us.
Having a chance to speak with Jackson in June 2013 at the Perfect Game National Showcase, and then again this past Sunday night as part of the SiriusXM show MLB Roundtrip with Baseball Prospectus presented by Perfect Game, provided a unique perspective into this prospect’s development. First of all, the move that I sarcastically scolded above was a move that did not come as a huge surprise. He ran a 6.83 60 at the showcase and threw 98 mph from the outfield as well, proving as a catcher that he was truly athletic enough to move. But heading into his senior year at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo HS, he was all in on wearing the gear.
Mike Montgomery, LHP, Rays (Durham, AAA): 6 IP, 3 H, R, 6 BB, 6 K. The once highly touted southpaw has never quite put it all together, struggling with command and at times control thanks to poor mechanics that he's never been able to iron out. Now 25 and having repeated Triple-A for a second straight season, he hasn't made the progress the Rays were hoping for for when they received him from the Royals last offseason. At this point, he's not much more than organizational depth.
The Dodgers, and Kershaw, put some space between them and their competition; the Cardinals are building a cushion; a Twin struck out more than 10 batters; and baseball happened in all other corners of this great nation of ours.
The Dodgers came to AT&T Park for a three-game showdown with a two-game lead in the West. A sweep would bump Los Angeles from the top of the standings. Any other outcome would keep the Giants in second place.
Ten prospects who surprised the scouting staff in 2014.
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Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Henry Owens and Rio Ruiz.
Austin Barnes, 2B, Marlins (Jacksonville, AA): 3-7, 2 R, 2B, HR, K. I love players who have strong K:BB rates, and I love players with positional versatility, so it’s no wonder that Barnes has become one of my favorite prospects. His tools don’t jump out at you and his ceiling isn’t terribly high, but there is some pop in his bat and he controls the strike zone incredibly well, walking more often this season than he struck out. He was blocked within the Marlins organization as a catcher (which is the only reason he started back in the Florida State League to begin with), so after a mid-season promotion, he’s seen time at both second and third base as well as behind the plate. He’s got just enough power to keep pitchers honest, good bat control, and positional flexibility that includes being able to catch, which is a combination that will have significant value on a major-league roster.
Duane Underwood, RHP, Cubs (Kane County, A-): 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 8 K. Right now, Underwood features a mid-90s fastball and not a whole lot else, but there’s a lot there to dream on. He’s got good size, but he needs to take major steps forward with the command of his fastball and the development of his secondary pitches. He’s still a high-risk prospect because of the gap between his present abilities and his ceiling, but as a potential mid-rotation starter, he’s a guy the Cubs will be patient with.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Corey Seager and Adalberto Mejia.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Cubs (Kane County, A-): 2-4. As if it weren’t tough enough to make a name for oneself in the Cubs system, Candelario laid an egg in the Florida State League to begin the year, then rebounded only slightly after being demoted back to Kane Country, performing on par with his previous stint in the league. The good news is that he’s only 20, so there’s plenty of time to take another hack at the FSL and move quickly, but the obstacles in between him and Wrigley seem a lot less surmountable than they did at this time last year, and Candelario didn’t make things any easier on himself with a disappointing season.
Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (Chattanooga, AA): 2-4, HR, 2 K. Will he stick at shortstop or shift over to third base? That’s really the only question left for Seager, who has hit at every level and gives no indication that he will stop any time soon. It’s not just the home-run totals that are impressive, but the doubles power as well, which indicates a more balanced approach and the potential for even more power down the road.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Wilmer Difo, Edwin Escobar, and Clayton Blackburn.
Wilmer Difo, SS, Nationals (Hagerstown, A-): 3-5, 2 R, 2B, 2 HR, K. The South Atlantic League player of the year didn’t impress me in a short two-game stint earlier this year, but that alone should tell you why it’s important to see a player for a longer period of time. As word spread throughout the Sally League about Difo’s performance early in the season (five home runs in May), the league began to avoid him more frequently, and he took what they gave him. That wasn’t the best strategy, because, with plus speed, he made them pay quite often (49 steals on the season). I still don’t see him as a power threat long term, and his performance did come as a 22-year-old in Low-A ball, but it was a breakout performance nonetheless. He also features a plus arm at shortstop, giving him an interesting package of tools on which to build.
Danny Diekroeger, 3B, Cardinals (State College, SS): 3-5, 3 R, 3B, BB. Drafted in the 10th round this past summer out of Stanford, Diekroeger offers a solid skill set and tools to carve out a major-league career. He saw time at second base as well, though he primarily played third, and offered moderate pop and plate discipline while helping the Spikes to a title.
Cleveland catching prospect Francisco Mejia is still a tiny baby, but there could be something special brewing.
When I see a player for the first time I like to go in as cold as possible because it is important to put aside any preconceived opinions that can influence the initial assessment and, ultimately, the report. These days, that's easier said than done, but I do try to keep it to a minimum. Over the course of the season I target players on my “must see” list for various reasons. The goal is to cover the teams I see from top to bottom, leaving no stone unturned, but there’s also due diligence needed on certain players because of reports passed along from contacts or as follow-up from prior looks.
Cleveland Indians catching prospect Francisco Mejia was one of the top players I had circled this year. He caught my eye during our Top 10 discussions last offseason and his likely assignment to the New York-Penn League was going to provide me with the chance to sit on him for the first time. If you read my scouting report, you know I came away impressed and put high marks on Mejia's tools and potential, but there’s a lot more about why I liked him that goes beyond the framework of the reports.