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This rankings season, the Baseball Prospectus in-house mechanical experts will be sharing their thoughts on select players featured in our Top 10 rankings. In our first entry, Ryan Parker provides insight into a promising power-hitting 2014 draftee and two bats that stood out in the High-A Florida State League, while Doug Thorburn examines a righty straddling the future-starter/reliever line, as well as perhaps the best power arm in all the minors. As a bonus, Doug includes a quick look at the top signing prep arm in this year’s draft class. We’re excited to fold this series into our regular prospect rankings content and hope you enjoy! –Nick J. Faleris

Braxton Davidson, OF/1B, Atlanta Braves

Rankings Summary (Braves Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 4th
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Davidson offers a unique profile for a high school bat. It’s not quite plus-plus power, but scouts rave about the utility of his power profile. He’s more than just a batting practice all-star. He also features a very advanced approach for an 18-year-old, showing a willingness to work a walk and a feel for the strike zone. Davidson offers plenty of physical tools and, while not very projectable, his frame still allows for added strength.

In short, Davidson has physical gifts, an understanding of the game, and could profile as a middle-of-the-order bat.

The first thing that jumps out is his build as Davidson appears to be every bit of his listed 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Even with his size, it good to see that his swing isn’t just about muscling up. He has quick, explosive hands and his hips work well but show room for improvement. How his upper body works is a major plus. He starts his hands deep and high, then loads by simply moving his hands down and back just a few inches. This creates a good bat angle and is an easy movement to repeat.

There are two small issues with his upper body. The first is that his hands and feet don’t quite match up, they are timed well—meaning they move at the same time—but the time it takes his hands to go from his initial position to a slotted position happens quicker than the time it takes for his stride to go from launch to foot strike. This leads to his hands getting a bit ahead in his overall sequence, leaving him prone to off-speed offerings. The other issue is a tendency for Davidson to hunt for extension. At times he will extend to the ball rather than post contact. The latter issue is less worrisome as many high school power bats fall into this habit due to seeing nothing on the inner third throughout their prep career.

Davidson’s lower body is more of a mixed bag. His initial move is a sway backwards, meaning he has to make up ground at some point in the swing. It’s hard to repeat this move and not throw off the timing of his swing. I tell my hitters that the pace they start their stride should be about the same pace at which they finish. Davidson fails to do this, starting out very slowly then speeding up his lower half throughout his swing.

Davidson offers a very interesting mechanical profile. The movements themselves are pretty clean, but his internal timing and pace will need to be refined. These adjustments take time and are hard to make in season as Braxton needs quality reps to establish a new timing pattern. With this in mind, don’t put too much stock in his less than stellar 2014 numbers, Davidson has already started to make some adjustments, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he really begins to take off in 2015. –Ryan Parker

Jose Urena, RHP, Miami Marlins

Rankings Summary (Marlins Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 5th
Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (set-up)

The Marlins have been methodical with Urena's development, promoting him up the minor-league ladder one rung at a time, and he passed the test of Double-A with virtually the same marks that he had posted in each of the previous two seasons (fun fact: he has walked exactly 29 batters in each of the last four campaigns). The numbers paint the picture of a control artist who is building the stamina to be a future workhorse, but the underlying mechanics and physical profile are such that some scouts project Urena for a future role in the bullpen.

Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

45

Torque

40

Posture

40

Repetition

55

Overall

C-

Everything is solid into max leg lift, with a good initiation of momentum to go with stable balance during his waist-high lift, but the warning flags start waving once Urena engages his second gear. The right-hander sits back with a combination of rock-n-roll and drop-n-drive, with a lowering of his center of gravity and a bend toward second base as the posting leg collapses, though neither imbalance is overly egregious. His limbs follow abrupt paths, and the perceived instability helps to fuel the doubts surrounding his future role. The landing leg invokes a saloon-door swing of rotation late in his stride, finishing with a slightly open stance at foot strike, while at the same time he cocks the throwing arm near his ear as the glove arm points straight at the plate (a bow-and-arrow pose) as he prepares to fire trunk rotation.

His delivery has multiple checkpoints rather than a fluid motion. The momentum slows just before foot strike, as Urena swings open the saloon door, and the volatile timing pattern creates an obstacle to repetition. The right-hander has been rather consistent despite the mechanical impediments, resulting in surprising command of the fastball, though he does not repeat his timing quite as well as the walk rate would imply. He has poor posture, engaging spine-tilt to force an elevated arm slot in the high-3/4 range, an element which adds to the mechanical obstacle course, yet helps to mask inconsistency due to the relative lack of lateral variation on his pitches.

The late posture change is paired with whip-like arm action into release point, and the combination of linear and rotational forces conspire to spin Urena off the mound to the first-base side during his follow through. He also uses a hip-whip strategy for torque, firing hips and shoulders closely together near the point of foot strike, and the technique often leads Urena to fire the upper half too early and thus prematurely open the front shoulder (this occurs more often on breaking pitches). Finally, he finishes out in front with an imbalance that causes the back foot to pop off the ground prior to release point. The secondary pitches lag behind his fastball at present, a factor which pairs with the overall lack of stability in his delivery to fan the fires of speculation that his future is in the bullpen. –Doug Thorburn

Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets

Rankings Summary (Mets Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 3rd
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

There are three things I like in Nimmo’s swing: He has great balance, he sets his hands correctly, and his bat comes through the zone quite nicely. While the movement of the bat through the zone is strong, it’s tough to like how he initially gets to the zone. The biggest issue is his poor lower half.

First, let’s take a look at the good. Balance is like the foundation to a house. You can have a bad house with a good foundation, but you can’t have a truly valuable house with a poor foundation. Balance works the same way. Nimmo has always had good balance, even going back to his high school days. For a guy with speed like Nimmo, it becomes even more important so he’s not losing a step out of the box trying to find his footing.

His initial movement with his hands is solid. He syncs up his hands and feet, even with a terrible striding pattern (more on that later). He starts his hands high then brings them down to a better height by moving his bottom hand down and back. As he moves his hands, his back elbow is rising just a bit, this is a beautiful movement pattern.

When his bat comes through the zone he doesn’t show any major red flags. The movement is solid overall, but can get a bit “arm centric.” Arms should be brought through the zone following proper lower-half engagement, Nimmo is weak in this regard. The good news is that if Nimmo can fix the lower half he already has the movement on the correct path.

Nimmo hits from a fairly upright stance. Taken alone, there’s nothing wrong with that. The issue, however, is how he adjusts when pitchers throw him anything below his waist. Nimmo has an issue that plagues many young hitters, if the pitch is low, his first movement is to take his hands low. All hitters do that by instinct, to an extent, but the elite hitters don’t adjust to elevation with their hands and will change the angle between their hips and shoulders just prior to their bat launching


https://gfycat.com/gifs/detail/OrnateImmediateIguanodon

Earlier I mentioned concerns with how he gets his hands to the zone. Nimmo is very inflexible through his hips, and even though the angle changes a miniscule amount, it happens after he fires his swing. This is why lefties, particularly ones that can spin a breaking ball, ate Nimmo alive this past season. His hands are so busy getting to the zone that there simply isn’t enough time to make the tiny, inflight adjustments, a skill the best bats in the game have mastered.

This issue stems from a poor use of his lower body. The stride, which leaves much to be desired, is the sloppy “get the foot down early” move that robs hitters of rhythm and timing. His stride is a waste and accomplishes nothing. There’s no rhythm, he’s not getting the front hip forward, there’s very little coil, nor is he steepening the angle of his back leg. He is able to move his lower half decently enough after his heel comes down, but there is no force or drive stemming from these movements.

There are other minor flaws in his lower half, but 90% of them could be cleaned up by Nimmo learning a proper stride. It doesn’t have to be a big Jose Bautista-style movement. Look at Raimel Tapia, I have no love for his stride, but everything works.

Nimmo was a thorn in the side of High-A pitchers for two and a half months before being challenged with a promotion. Though, despite the strong numbers, he has played below his physical gifts. His approach is very good, but is being wasted on his poor mechanical profile. Nimmo still has a chance to be a solid-average outfielder whose profile is buoyed by strong outfield defense, but unless he refines his swing, his offensive output could underwhelm.

J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies

Rankings Summary (Phillies Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 1st
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Crawford is a maddening study. His batting practice swing and his game swing are very different, and both come with their inherent strengths and flaws. During BP, the swing is extremely loose and fluid, while during games, he widens out and becomes a bit more mechanical.

BP:


https://gfycat.com/gifs/detail/DifferentSociableBlackwidowspider

Game:

Though the swings are different, they share a few telling commonalities. On the positive side, he is explosive and flexible throughout his lower half. It’s more obvious in his BP swings than his game swings. It’s easy to like the movement of his back leg as he uses his big muscles to drive his knee forward and down. He only gets to the toe of his back foot after his leg has done the heavy lifting, and shows he can drive through the ball with his lower half rather than just spin on the ball.

Crawford displays the ability to use his lower body the right way, but the issue is he’s not tapping into that skill yet. Elite hitters let their lower body get to work early then torque their upper body through the zone split seconds later. In Crawford’s swing, his lower body and upper body are working at the same time. Crawford’s hips continue to rotate post contact and he’s robbing himself of power while making it harder to time pitches. Currently, he is relying on his quick bat and hand-eye coordination to bolster his offensive output.

Part of the reason his hips aren’t working as well as they could is his over-reliance on his top half. His hands get ahead of everything else in his swing, and every time he makes contact, his lead arm is very far out in front of his body. A little distance is okay, but Crawford is above and beyond what top-tier hitters showcase in their swings.

It’s hard not to like Crawford’s offensive future. While his swing has some flaws, his is more of a case of not as many things going as right as they could versus too many things going wrong. Should he clean up his swing, it will allow his physical gifts to really shine. –Ryan Parker

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals

Rankings Summary:
Current Organizational Rank: 1st
Overall Future Potential: 8; elite-level starter
Realistic Role: 7; no. 1/2 starter

Giolito is an imposing presence on the mound, standing 6-foot-6 and listed at 255 pounds. The right-hander parlays his size into an extremely tall release point, which is augmented by minimal flex in the knees as well as an elevated angle of shoulder abduction, allowing him to find a high-3/4 arm slot in conjunction with above-average posture. Giolito makes the most of his heightened release point with an exceptional ability to locate on the lower shelf of the strike zone, fueling a heavy fastball with a steep degree of downhill plane to go with its elite velocity. The 12-to-6 shape of his hook clicks well with an arm slot that approaches 11:00 on the clock, which effectively minimizes the lateral variation of his pitches.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

65

Momentum

40

Torque

60

Posture

55

Repetition

60

Overall

B

His posture grades as a solid 55 on Giolito's report card, spiking 60-grade at peak, though he will also exaggerate the spine-tilt on his breaking ball to manipulate the clock. He stands tall at maximum leg lift, with minimal drop during the stride phase as he maintains a strong foundation and a high center of gravity. There's a bit of rock-n-roll in his delivery, with Giolito rocking back toward second base just before foot strike and then rolling forward during the rotational phase, though he has quieted the volume this season. The right-hander finishes with heavy flexion of the spine and some flail on the glove side during follow-through, but the overall stability is plus through release point.

The most impressive development has been with his momentum, particularly from the windup. Giolito once had a glacial pace to the plate, with incredibly slow movements that required up to 1.7 seconds for him to get from initial lift to foot strike. He has since picked up the pace with a dose of early momentum and a smoother transition through the lift phase, cutting a quarter-second off of his lift-and-stride by getting more use out of his lower half. He shifts into second gear late in the stride phase with a burst into foot strike, and though the momentum is still below average, Giolito appears to have found a repeatable time signature. The quicker pace allows him to reduce the timing disparity between windup and stretch, and his efficient path of kinetic energy is personified by a follow-through that pursues a path toward the target.

Giolito uses a slide step, shaving his lift-and-stride time down to just 0.7 seconds, but he has shown the ability to generate solid torque from both windup and stretch. He creates hip-shoulder separation with an exaggerated loading of the upper half (aided by the rock-n-roll), and though his rotational trigger occurs after foot strike, his late hip rotation and minimal delay put much of the kinetic responsibility on the upper body. A torque grade of 60 undersells his triple-digit velocity and his arm speed is similarly modest, a discrepancy that serves as an indicator of his tremendous arm strength. Giolito's dependency on his upper body creates an inefficiency in his delivery, but the glass-half-full crowd will see an opportunity for future development and the right-hander is taking steps in the right direction. –Doug Thorburn

Quick Hits

Tyler Kolek, RHP, Miami Marlins – Kolek is power personified. It starts with a charge of momentum that involves a build of acceleration through the lift-and-stride phase of his motion, followed by immense torque that relies on an equal distribution of upper-body load and delayed rotation, as Kolek utilizes his entire body to efficiently pump high-90s gas. He combines the forceful delivery with a stable foundation, with plus balance in all three planes and strong posture during the highest-energy phases of rotation. An extremely closed stride adds to his deception, and his ability to find ideal extension at release point indicates that the closed stance is in line with Kolek's individual signature.

Stability: B

Power: A

Thank you for reading

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beeker99
11/11
As if the prospect coverage wasn't already second to none - this is a wonderful addition! Even better than if you all returned KG's "Ephemera" section to the rankings, which I have missed the last couple of years (though I understood why Jason didn't do them).

Can't wait to see the rest of these!
frtitans28
11/11
When KG left he took his fedoras and his ephemera sections with him. They are now part of complex algorithms in the Astros front office used to evaluate obscure Chicago based punk rock bands.

Seriously though thanks for the feedback. We've got 5 more of these bad boys coming up and we hope you enjoy all of them!
NickFaleris
11/11
It's fun to finally roll this series out. Ryan and Doug do great work and this is a natural fit with the rest of the rankings content. Glad you like it!
JerryEBHI
11/11
Ryan, cool stuff again! The pace of the stride is really interesting. I hadn't given much thought to that but will take it back to the lab.
frtitans28
11/11
Thanks man. Most guys are going to speed up their stride as they come down naturally. Nothing wrong with some gradual acceleration. But you don't want a big "gear change" during the heart of your swing.
turbo7773
11/11
Do you think Giolito's mechanics have room to improve to the "A" range with further development or do you see his current "B" grade as his peak?
Webgems24
1/08
RP,
You mentioned elite hitters will adjust shoulder and hip angle as oppose to taking hands there on pitches down. You have any vids/pic of this? also, you mentioned Nimmo needs to steepen the angle of his back leg. and verbals/drills you have to accomplish this? Thanks! great work

#WinTheDay
frtitans28
1/08
Tulo middle-up http://i.imgur.com/1hyHvVv.png
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q8BCMBcwM0

Tulo low- http://i.imgur.com/Ch1ALgW.png
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgtJhmdbnU0

Drills- This is a tough one for some hitters to work on. My go to is instead of giving them a drill or cue simply tell them to hit a ball off a low tee while moving their lead up arm level to the ground or even up.

It will take a couple awkward swings but eventually they will learn in order to get to their low pitch without diving their hands they have to manipulate tilt in some fashion.

For the back leg thing that was bad wording on my part. That angle change is a due to the hips coiling and moving forward. Check out Jerry Brewer's video on controlling the rear hip in the stride. Reach out on twitter if you need the link.

Great questions!

#DucksOverBucks