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.
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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.
Notes on a handful of prospects who stood out yesterday, including the Rockies' Raimel Tapia, David Dahl, and Ryan McMahon.
Viosergy Rosa, 1B, Marlins (Jacksonville, AA): 2-5, 2B. Rosa isn’t much of a prospect, but the playoffs make for a slow time for the Update, and I saw Rosa about 20 times this year, so this seems like a good time to talk about him. He’s old for a prospect and is limited to first base, but he lacks the massive power production required out of the spot. Power is his calling card: He has some, but not enough to profile as an everyday first baseman. He’s limited defensively, so the bat will have to carry him, but it’s probably not going to be able to carry him far enough.
Rob Zastryzny, LHP, Cubs (Daytona, A+): 3 1/3 IP, 6 H, 2 R, BB, 3 K. Coming from the left side with a little cross-fire delivers, Zastryzny brings some deception and a changeup with some diving action that gives him a chance. The offspeed pitch needs become more consistent, and he needs a breaking ball that he can trust, but Zastryzny has a chance to be a back-end starter if it all comes together. That ceiling, however, is still quite far from being a reality.