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March 28, 2013

Notes from the Field

Four Prospects with Work to Do

by Chris Mellen

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Each year I head down to spring training to begin building my scouting knowledge base for the upcoming season. This year I saw four organizations over the course of a week in Florida, which gave me a large pool of players to cover.

With two or three games going on at once out on the backfields, the scouting looks are a little less in-depth than the opportunities you get during the regular season, but it’s still possible to pick out strengths and identify areas of weakness. For today’s report, I’ve highlighted a player from each of the teams I saw who needs work in one particular area. I’ll be watching for signs of development in those areas during subsequent trips to the field throughout the season.

Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
The tools really stand out when watching Buxton on the diamond, but what stands out equally is his raw pitch recognition. The 19-year-old outfielder is in the early stages of developing this aspect of his game. Buxton’s body language when being thrown breaking balls points toward a player who’s still learning to differentiate between pitch types. Often, he commits his weight early, which leaves him off-balance as the swing comes through the hitting zone. He also gets caught guessing.

The smoothness of Buxton’s stroke, his ability to create bat speed via explosive hands, and the strength in the forearms are impressive. This is a prospect with offensive ability, but to translate that ability into in-game performance, he’ll have to pick up the spin out of the pitcher’s hand more quickly. That’s going to take some time.

Henry Owens, LHP, Red Sox
The 20-year-old left-hander showed a 90-93-mph fastball, a 72-74 mph curveball, and a developing changeup. Owens also displayed trust in all three of his pitches, using them at any point in the count. The difference maker for the young pitcher could be throwing downhill. Currently, he suffers from an inconsistent finish to his delivery, which affects both the crispness of his stuff and his command of it. It’s something I’ve seen before from Owens, whom I’ve scouted on multiple occasions.

When the lefty gets leverage and stays above the ball, the heater shows late life and works down in the zone. The curve flashes tight break and bite down through the zone as well. However, Owens does not repeat his arm slot well at this point in his development, and both offerings have a tendency to get flat. That leaves the fastball elevated and causes the curve to roll. Progress toward gaining a better feel for his delivery and reaching his ceiling will go hand in hand.

Nick Delmonico, 3B, Orioles
Delmonico’s frame and strong body stood out. The 20-year-old also has some thump in his bat, driving pitches hard with backspin and lift. There’s a distinct sound when Delmonico squares an offering up, but it remains to be seen how often he’ll be able to do that. The left-handed hitter’s swing shows a lot of early extension and lacks enough hands; the head of his bat can loop around the ball, causing hook and yank.

I took it as a positive sign that Delmonico sees the ball well and also has an idea of what he wants to accomplish when he’s at the plate. He’s on the advanced side for his age in those areas. However, he needs to do a better job of driving his hands down and through the ball to stay inside of it. That will be important for him as the level of competition rises, especially with better pitchers putting rising velocity on the inner third of the plate. Delmonico’s ability to make that adjustment to his swing and improve his extension will be leading indicators as to whether his hit tool is progressing.

Alvin Toles, OF, Rays
The young outfielder showed premium athleticism and an impressive amount of fluidity during A-Ball game action. Toles is short to the ball with his stroke, and he’s able to get the head of the bat moving. His bat speed graded as plus, with the ball coming off his bat nicely. Although home run power is not going to be a part of his game, as the 20-year-old’s frame is on the small side, he can still sting line drives from gap to gap.

However, Toles’ timing needs work. The outfielder begins in a deeper crouch, with some pre-pitch bat wiggle. He then straightens up and utilizes a leg kick to get himself going. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing, and he doesn’t consistently keep his hands back in a good position to explode on the ball. Toles showed both ends of the spectrum in consecutive plate appearances. During the first one, he perfectly timed a 95-mph fastball, rocketing a double into the gap. His hands were well positioned, his stride was smooth, and his swing was pretty. But on his next trip to the plate, the left-handed hitter got caught striding toward the pitch early and came way far forward with his hands, resulting in an ugly swing and a weak grounder to second. Keeping his hands back will help his game move forward.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Chris's other articles. You can contact Chris by clicking here

Related Content:  Spring Training,  Prospects,  Scouting

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