Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Breakout player picks for 2013
By Keith Law
With a revamped swing, Domonic Brown is poised to fulfill his potential.
Every year there are a few players whom I expect, for scouting reasons or for analytical ones, to take some kind of step or leap forward in performance. I've got eight such names for 2013, with varying degrees of confidence that I try to explain in the comments below.
One thing you'll notice is that all of these players appeared at some point on my Top 100 prospects rankings, with only one failing to appear in the top 50 at least once. That's another way of saying that the skills that made me rate the player highly as a prospect are still largely intact, but now some developmental hurdles that held him back have now cleared -- or so I hope.
The Phillies have been messing with his swing since he first emerged as a prospect, but it looks like they might have found a formula, as new hitting coach Wally Joyner has altered the position of Brown's hands. Execs and scouts are telling me Brown looks noticeably better at the plate, and better able to drive the ball. He's still well below average on defense, but if he starts hitting and the Phillies don't try to re-re-rework his swing in late April, he'll hold on to the left-field job.
Moore's had a so-so spring as his velocity slowly creeps back up to normal, but I'm still confident he'll fulfill the potential that made him the top pitching prospect on my pre-2012 Top 100. Moore was better across the board in the second half last year, throwing more strikes with all three pitches and mixing in his curveball more often and more effectively. That said, I don't love reading about any pitcher showing below-normal velocity this deep into spring training, so keep an eye on reports (and Pitch f/x, when available) about his remaining starts in March.
Tillman's time in purgatory was a function of lost velocity and lost command, but in the second half of 2012, his fastball ticked back up to its old levels, as it was back when he was a prospect who would run it up to 93-94 mph with the promise of more down the road.
His ERA of 2.93 wasn't supported by his peripheral stats, but I think his strikeout rate will rise now that he's working with four pitches that he'll throw in any count and is back up into the low- to mid-90s, and he could post a more legitimate ERA in the mid-3s. I'm sure someone will ask about his teammate Brian Matusz as well -- I've always believed in his off-speed stuff, but he has to be able to pitch with at least an average fastball as a starter for me to buy into him fully in that role.
It's not so much that he's been effective this spring -- he hadn't walked a batter in 18-plus innings as of this writing -- but that he looks better -- throwing a little harder, commanding the ball better up and down and has a little more bite on the breaking ball.
He's dealing with an oblique strain but doing so in a smart way, sitting now so that it won't linger into the season. Once he's back, I think Lawrie's swing -- one of the best right-handed swings in baseball -- will combine with his solid-average power and above-average speed to produce a breakout season in the .290/.350/.470 range.
I'm expecting a small improvement on his overall line from last year; not as good as he was in the second half last year (2.16 ERA, .197/.242/.318 opponents' line across 87⅓ innings), but better than the near-6 ERA he had before that, something in the 3.75 ERA range. The main area for improvement is keeping the ball down and in the park, as I don't think he's going to rise to a strikeout-an-inning guy.
I've always thought the Reds didn't like Heisey, given how they've relegated him to super-sub duty in the outfield. But other execs have told me the Reds refused to discuss him in deals this winter, so perhaps they are likely to give him the playing time he deserves -- especially with no true center fielder on the roster. Heisey is a better pure hitter at this point than Ryan Ludwick, who isn't likely to hit 26 homers again at age 34.
Yes, I'm on record as saying I don't love what the Giants have done to his swing. So consider this a tepid recommendation on Belt. His hips still drift too far forward, and his head follows. Even if the small power burst in spring training is a March mirage, he has a strong approach and should be able to hit for average and doubles power, with the promise of 20-plus homers if he can keep his hips back before he gets his hands started.
And, anticipating another question, I am still a believer in Kansas City's Eric Hosmer -- but, like Belt, he has some mechanical adjustments to make to reach his full potential, which in Hosmer's case is at the All-Star level.