Q: So, while scouting the stat line is never recommended, it just so happens that some of the best prospects happen to do very well in the minor leagues. With that said, I’ve noticed Ian Rice is off to a very nice start, but as a 29th rounder, there is little to nothing to find on him. Is he merely off to a hot streak, or is this a significant bat who was drafted late for other reasons? – Jack C.
A: I appreciate that you acknowledged the scary nature of scouting stat lines right up front, so thank you. As you alluded to, Rice has put together a tremendous first half in 2016, and since this question was submitted he was promoted to High-A, where he has continued to hit in a very limited sample.
From a scouting perspective, Rice is worthy of some attention as a prospect, despite his low draft round and lack of pedigree. Known more for his glove than his bat, Rice has the defensive chops to provide big-league value. Most scouts I have spoken with think highly of Rice’s ability to work with the pitching staff, call games, receive all variety of pitches, and block those in the dirt. He’s a solid all-around defensive backstop that with his only drawback being fringy arm strength. He’s able to make up for some of the arm strength challenges with a clean transfer and quick release.
Offensively, Rice carries a reputation for putting together strong at-bats, including a willingness to work deep in counts to find a pitch he can handle. Rice’s bat speed is below-average, but he has a knack for getting the barrel to the ball, though I suspect his hit tool utility could be limited by a bit of a pull-happy approach. As he moves up the minor league ladder, expect Rice to continue to draw walks, limit strikeouts, possibly hit for a little average, and his power output will likely decline.
In trying to forecast Rice’s developmental arc, I believe it is reasonable to project him to a backup role at the big-league level. Expecting more than that would be ambitious to say the least.
Q: Is Mike Soroka the best pitching prospect no one is talking about? What kind of upside are we looking at? – David W.
A: Soroka has certainly put together an outstanding full-season debut with Low-A Rome, and it’s a bit surprising he hasn’t garnered more national attention just on the back of his numbers. That said, I’ve noticed Soroka gaining momentum in discussions with scouts and there’s a good chance he’s more of a household name by year’s end.
In terms of ability, Soroka has all the ingredients to develop as a mid-rotation starter, including the potential for a quality three-pitch mix, durability, and a solid command profile. The low-90s fastball with strong leverage and life down in the zone is the headline right now, but the curveball has the potential to steal the show at the end of the day. If both pitches max out as above-average to plus offerings, Soroka could see a spike in his ability to generate swings and misses; a must if he is to reach his ceiling. Both the changeup and command must continue evolving , but the quick progress shown since draft day suggest there’s more to come with both tools.
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