Monday, July 8, 2013
Scouting Eastern League prospects
By Keith Law
Some notes on a pair of Eastern League (Double-A) games I saw in the past week, featuring prospects from the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
• Phillies third base prospect Maikel Franco has broken out with his performance this year, building on the strong second half he had in low Class A Lakewood in 2012 to earn a promotion to Double-A in mid-June, where he's continued to hit for average and power, with a .423/.431/.718 line through his first 17 games at that level. (Reading's a good place to hit, especially for power, although Franco's hitting on the road so far, as well.) He homered in his first at-bat on Saturday night, showing very easy power, but overall there are some major deficiencies in his game, and only a few of them can improve with experience.
Franco is a right-handed hitter who gets his hands very high and deep at the plate, nearly locking his right elbow right before he brings his hands forward, and his above-average bat speed can only go so far in getting the bat head to the zone in time. He's very strong and when he gets his hips started early enough he's got 65 or 70 raw power (on the 20-80 scouting scale), although the timing of his hip rotation varies from pitch to pitch.
His approach, however, is a disaster right now -- not only does he struggle to recognize off-speed stuff, especially changeups, but he's only interested in pitches he can crush, making no adjustments to where the pitch is located or to its type. If you signal that you're just trying to murder fastballs, you're not going to see many fastballs in the zone. That approach shows up in his lack of patience, with just one walk in Reading, on June 23, but it will show up soon enough in his batting average, as well.
At third, he's a below-average defender, with heavy feet and slow reactions to go with a plus arm, better than he was when he first came into the system but unlikely to ever be a neutral (average) defender at that position. He's a below-average runner who didn't run out any ground balls on Saturday night -- that's not critical, but it's nice to see a prospect who puts in 100 percent effort in case a fielder boots a routine play.
Phillies fans have asked me if Franco is a top-50 prospect, but the answer is that he's clearly not, even with the performance this year; even top 100 might be a stretch, because he's not a good athlete and the value in his bat will be held back by his approach. He's definitely behind lefty Jesse Biddle, whom I should see in Wednesday's Eastern League All-Star Game and in Sunday's MLB Futures Game, within the organization, and Lakewood shortstop Roman Quinn has the higher ceiling even with the seemingly inevitable move to center field in his future.
• Reading outfielder Kelly Dugan was the Phillies' first pick in the 2009 draft, a year in which they lost their first-round pick to give Raul Ibanez a three-year deal, and has started to emerge as a potential regular with a boost in his power output so far in 2013.
Dugan's tools are pretty average across the board -- he's a 45-50 runner with a 55 arm and might be a 55 glove in right -- but he's got a good feel to hit thanks to fast wrists that allow him to accelerate his bat very quickly. A left-handed hitter, Dugan has no stride, just raising and lowering his front leg, and crouches more than you'd like to see, but with good hip rotation and solid results so far I wouldn't argue for reducing any of the noise in his swing until it becomes a problem.
The lack of tools is a little bit of a concern, but his plan at the plate is better than Franco's and he's a good enough athlete to stay in right and perhaps end up above average there, making him a potential everyday guy in a system that could use a few more of them.
• Trenton had two of the Yanks' top prospects in its lineup, outfielders Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin, neither of whom is performing up to expectations this year.
Austin looked awful, with a very slow bat and indifferent approach, as if he were either exhausted or dealing with a nagging injury. Heathcott looked better physically, but he's changed his weight transfer from last fall -- in the Arizona Fall League, he had a strong stride where he started his forward momentum, but now he's striding while keeping his weight back and ends up drifting forward during his swing, producing a less consistent path and sometimes letting his front leg go “soft” (turning outwards through contact). He's in the midst of a small hitting streak, mostly singles, but the power might be bottled up until he gets back to the way he was swinging last October.
• On Tuesday, I headed to Bowie to see Orioles prospect Eduardo Rodriguez make his Double-A debut. My No. 100 prospect heading into the year, the lefty showed very good stuff but had some early jitters that led to 2-0 counts to the first three hitters.
Rodriguez was 91-94, starting the game with 14 straight fastballs (another problem), and flashed two above-average off-speed pitches: A 82-84 mph slider, which he'd throw to right-handers as a backdoor strikeout pitch and at their back feet, along with a hard changeup at 85-88 with good arm speed and sharp fading action. His arm swing is sound, although he's not consistent off the rubber, staying over it on some pitches and drifting forward on others, with more effort in his delivery when he drifts.
The raw material is that of a No. 2 starter, although he hasn't missed a lot of bats yet -- just seven strikeouts per nine innings at high Class A -- and I'd like to see Baltimore slow him down until he shows the command and confidence to do so.