Throughout March, the BP Prospect Team is invading both Arizona and Florida to get some fresh looks at players as they prepare for their 2015 assignments. Between now and the start of the minor league season, they’ll be providing updates (and videos) on the prospects you know and love—and quite a few that you may not.
Notes From the Field:
Wilmer Difo, SS, Nationals
There are two ways to look at Difo’s breakout 2014 campaign. Some see a 22-year-old who should have dominated his Low-A competition, while others saw him as a late bloomer finally having the success many thought he would have had as an amateur. One American League scout told me, “We loved him as an amateur and was surprised it took him this long to find success.” Regardless of when or against whom, Difo is firmly on the prospect landscape now and could move quickly. One former pro scouting director that I spoke with called him, “the best position player prospect in the Nationals system.”
Sometimes pigeon-holed because of his size, Difo attacks the game like a bigger man. He’s short, but he’s not small, with a solid build and a thick lower half. He keeps his hands low in his stance with an exaggerated load that could be cleaned up, but he unloads with plus bat speed and good extension. It’s a big swing for a little guy but he has the strength and athleticism to control it.
In the field, the Nationals split Difo between second base and shortstop last season, but that shouldn’t be seen as an indictment on Difo’s abilities. Any positional change in his future will be due to organizational depth and need, not ability. Difo has the lateral range and quickness to handle the diamond’s most non gear-wearing defensive position and enough arm to stay on the left side. His actions are smooth and his body remains under control despite an ability to move more quickly.
Difo will be tested moving forward and could move quickly because of his age. He’s naturally an aggressive player and that approach will be challenged against better pitching. Still, his raw abilities are that of an everyday, up-the-middle player, and one who could possibly allow the Nationals to let Ian Desmond walk after this season. –Jeff Moore
Jake Johansen, RHP, Nationals
My second look at the live-armed right-hander gave me much of the same as my first. Johansen has an intriguing arm, but below-average command, and the lack of a solid secondary option leave his future as a starter in serious doubt. Add in the fact that he’s already 24 and only heading to the Carolina League, and makes it just about time for a bullpen conversion. He’s touched 95 mph in the past, and in this spring look he sat 91-94 with the fastball with more cut on the pitch than usual. Everything ran in on left-handed hitters, giving the pitch some natural deception and him a weapon against off-handed hitters. However, his curveball and changeup were still well below average and he was working exclusively from the stretch, perhaps foreshadowing things to come. The fastball alone gives him a shot as a reliever with its cutting action, but even there he’ll need something else to go with it. The arm is live and remains interesting, but there’s a lot of work to do for a 24-year-old in A-ball. –Jeff Moore
Anthony Alford, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Had it not been for a Division-I football commitment, Alford would be entering his fourth full season as a pro, but the former third-round pick has only managed to accumulate 110 plate appearances over the past three seasons, drastically cutting into precious development time. Now that he's given up football, it's finally time to see those loud, raw tools of his to shine.
After getting a couple in-game looks at him already this spring, you can see he's much more comfortable and relaxed at the plate. The strong and athletic frame looks as good as ever as well. I saw a much more selective approach at the plate, which will allow his solid bat-to-ball ability to play up. Timing was his biggest issue when I saw him, but this early in spring, that should be expected. In the field, Alford has the speed to cover an insane amount of ground, but he shows a natural ability to get great reads on the ball right off the bat, only amplifying how dynamic he can be defensively. While there is plenty of risk still involved here, you'd be hard pressed to find another prospect with his breakout potential this year. –Chris King
Victor Robles, OF, Washington Nationals
The back fields in spring training require a creative eye and lots of projection, but none more so than a field with last year’s Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League teams on it competing against a team of French Canadian amateurs. Still, in the context of his age-appropriate contemporaries, the young-even-for-this-field Robles stood out based on tools alone.
Naturally, he’s thin and needs to add weight, but so do most 17-year-olds. However, most don’t have plus bat speed, a mature swing, an above-average arm, and the range to play center field. That’s a pretty good start to any prospect, and a brief look at in-game action gave a sense of him understanding how to use it on the field. That’s even better.
Robles has yet to appear stateside in regular season action, so excitement should be quelled for the moment, but keep it in the queue. This is a name you’re going to hear a lot about soon. –Jeff Moore
Rowdy Tellez, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays
Tellez has been on the hot seat in the prospect world since signing for a record amount ($700,000) for a 30th-round pick back in 2013. I got a brief glimpse of him when he debuted in the GCL late in the 2013 season and came away with some serious mixed feelings. On one hand, you have a kid with ridiculous raw power and the willingness to work to all fields, but on the other hand, you see a kid with a long swing, massive frame, and a lot of questions of whether or not he could keep in enough shape to make it work.
On my first trip to the Blue Jays backfields this spring, the very first thing that stood out was Tellez and his slimmed down frame. While he's still a very large human being, the body looked trimmed and stronger. Once in the cage, Tellez put on a very impressive show during his BP session. His hands weren't dropping as much as they had in the past and his swing had a more fluid look to it. Tellez was hitting loud and working on driving the ball on a line while using the entire field. It doesn't take much for him to send balls out to any part of the park and to see him making a conscious effort to keep his barrel on a more even plane was very encouraging. –Chris King
- Nick Pivetta (Nationals) has a great pitcher’s frame and a curveball with some tilt, but his fastball doesn’t have the movement to avoid barrels consistently.
- Davinson Pimentel (Nationals) is an intriguing 18-year-old with a great swing and an already developed body, but the major-league track record of 5-foot-9 players without a defined defensive position isn’t strong.
- Edwin Lora (Nationals) is extremely skinny and doesn’t show much with the bat, but made a few big-time plays at shortstop and shows great actions in the field.
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