There’s nothing like seeing baseball up close and personal. After the long, baseball-less winter, just about any baseball action will do. I remember trying to stream Caribbean Series games a few weeks back and even though they slowed my computer down and froze every thirty seconds, it was worth every crappy pitch thrown by a nameless reliever. It was baseball, and damn I needed it.
A week ago I reflected upon my time spent in Spring Training scoping out major league camp. Today I get to do something I’m even more excited about: sharing the glimpses and impressions I took away from minor league camp. The baseball season starts off with prospect season as the focus over the winter tends to shift to prospects. The Diamondbacks have some prospects, if you recall, and seeing them all collected in one place on the back fields at Salt River Fields was totally awesome.
Catching a few minor league games here or there is great, but back field scouting is a whole different animal. Everywhere you look is a guy you’ve read or, in my case, written about. I didn’t have to make any long drives to find out someone was scratched before game time or catch three at-bats where the best hitter, the guy I came to see, was pitched around and walked three times. It was constant action and something I’m already sorely missing.
So with that said, I’ll share some notes and impressions on a handful of guys. There were surely more that caught my attention, but I’ll limit my comments to those I know best and was most interested in seeing. And there’s some video, too, so that’s cool. Let’s begin.
Sergio Alcantara, SS
Alcantara was the highest-rated prospect I got a chance to see. After some trades this winter, he rated as our #8 prospect in the system. I got a chance to watch him at short during infield drills and he was as advertised: quick, clean and sure-handed. He’s projected to stay at short and it’s easy to see why. He never mishandled a ball and showcased a strong, accurate arm. He’s still a thin, wiry guy but has added a little bit of weight, albeit not much. As he matures, he’ll likely develop the kind of body we saw in Didi Gregorius.
In the cage, he showed a fluid stroke with average bat speed. The small stride he takes and the amount of time he takes to load will limit the offensive upside, although I’d expect that to continue to improve as he grows and gets stronger. He made a lot of solid contact and showed gap power. He’s never been considered a guy who’ll hit a ton, but I think there’s enough fluidity and bat control for him to become an average bat at shortstop were the output ins’t expected to be all that high. He’ll be tested in full season ball in 2014 as a 18-year old where he’ll face consistently older competition as he has already. The batting line may never look pretty, but it should be enough to keep his glove in the game.
Domingo Leyba, 2B
Acquired this winter in the Gregorius trade that also netted Robbie Ray, Leyba was known as a fringy defender who can hit. After the trade, Leyba ranked somewhere right around 10th in the system. He took reps at short and at second base, where he’s slated to play primarily. He’s not nearly as quick as Alcantara but showed soft hands and plenty of athleticism to play up the middle. The glove won’t be All-Star quality, but it doesn’t have to be. He should be an adequate defender at the keystone.
At the plate is where Leyba will make his money, and honestly, no one in the cage impressed like he did. His ability to barrel up the baseball was something to behold. He mad the most consistent, solid contact of any minor league hitter and it wasn’t even close. While he didn’t show much power, he put plenty of balls deep in the gaps during batting practice. His stoke is silky smooth and he was able to adjust to pitches in, down and away during his cage work. If he can add some strength, he’ll be a threat at the plate. The homers will never reach impressive totals, but he could make enough loud contact to be a high batting average player who may find his way near the top of the batting order some day. If he starts the year in Visalia, he could put up some crazy hit totals as a 19-year old. When it’s all said and done, he could be a near-average defender with a plus hit tool, something that’s not as easy to find as one may think.
Marcus Wilson, OF
Wilson was a second round choice this summer out of a California high school. He’s a long, rangy, fast outfielder who should be able to run down nearly anything in the outfield. His speed is his best tool and he’s expected to be a terror on the bases. With his frame and speed, he could immediately be an asset on the bases and in the field. Those tools put him in the latter part of our top-30 prospect list.
His swing is another matter as he looked uncomfortable in the cage and was noticeable tweaking his stance and swing throughout camp, working with his coaches to make adjustments. He struggled to make consistent contact He’s got a lot of hand movement during the load phase and takes a noticeable stride. With all of the moving pieces, it’s no wonder he’s struggling to barrel up the baseball. Coaches will work with him to shorten his swing and make it more consistent, hoping to quiet it down. His frame gives some hope to power development and he looks a lot like Cameron Maybin from a physical standpoint. Until he makes some serious adjustments, he’ll struggle with professional pitching. He’s young, however, and has a ton of time to make the improvements, and with his other tools, he won’t have to hit a ton to be a useful player. The raw 18-year old will likely begin the year in extended Spring Training where he’ll receive a lot of help.
Matt Railey, OF
Railey was considered a steal when he went 70th overall to the D-backs last June. A 50-game suspension will delay his progress some, but the kid has plenty of upside. He’s fast and muscular with plenty of arm to play the outfield, likely in a corner but with enough speed to cover center in a pinch. He checked in at 13th on our prospect list this winter.
At the plate, he made tons of solid contact, but has some hitches in his swing. A toe-tap and some unnecessary hand movement gave me a little bit of pause. That said, the swing was fluid and he didn’t have trouble making loud contact, showing some pop to go along with his barreling up of the baseball. Batting from the left side, he profiles as an average or above hitter with enough defensive skills to make some noise. At 19, he’ll start the year in extended due to the suspension, and where he heads from there is anyone’s guess. He could jump to full season ball or be held back for one of the rookie leagues. He tore his hamstring shortly after being drafted, so he’s only accumulated 13 games at the pro level. The assignment he’s given once eligible will go a long way in determining how comfortable the team is with his progress. At this stage, he appears capable of being an every day outfielder.
Fernery Ozuna, 2B
Ozuna, the 24th-rated prospect for us, is a high-energy player with a ton of quickness and a surprising amount of pop for a guy of his size. He’s a second baseman now and although he’s quick enough for short, he lacks the physicality to play the position. He’ll slot at second just fine, however, and worked well there. Being a small dude (5’8″, 160-pounds), he made plenty of contact with a smooth stroke that’s short and clean. He used his lower half well in launching balls into the outfield and showed some solid bat speed. He’ll make a ton of contact and sneak a few homers in there, too. He probably profiles best as a backup infielder at this point, but if he can add strength and make strides with his approach, he might be able to do more. At 19, he should see full season ball in 2014 where he’ll be greatly tested.
Francis Martinez, OF
Martinez is a physical monster who’s listed at 6’4″, 187-pounds but looked heavier than that. It’s good weight on the 28th-best prospect, however, and he profiles as a corner outfielder with huge raw power. He showed some of that in the cage, but his swing is in need of some serious refining. It’ a big, long swing for Martinez, which signals some contact issues, but at just 17-years old with serious pop, there’s time to help him learn to tap into it consistently. He uses his lower half well and hit balls harder than anyone else in his batting practice group. Martinez will start the year in extended and should see American rookie ball after playing in the Dominican Summer League last season. The slugger signed for $350,000 back in 2013 and he’s a guy to keep your eyes on, but there’s a long, long way to go.
Jose Herrera, C
A short, stocky catching prospect, Herrera hasn’t hit a ton since signing for just over $1 million back in 2012. He’s geared up to make contact more than hit for power and he showed that in the cage. The 18-year old checked in at 19th on our prospect list and could see full season ball at some point in 2015. Considering the bonus he received, he didn’t show a lot at the plate, but he’s always been noted as a glove-first guy. I didn’t get to see him catch, but he has a catcher’s body and reports on his defense have been solid. He’s still incredibly young having just turned 18, so he’s a work in progress.
- Pitchers didn’t throw during my looks, instead using their time for fielding practice and pickoff moves. Unfortunately, highly-rated right-hander Jose Martinez pulled a hamstring fielding a bunt and left practice immediately. Having just recovered from an elbow surgery that shut down his 2014 campaign after only six inning, his body is clearly still not quite ready.
- Joe Munoz worked exclusively at third base and looked good there. He’s a big kid with some pop who looks the part. He’s had difficulty staying healthy in the past and a full season could do wonders for him. He could do big things in Visalia in 2015 and his stock could rise with a productive, full season of work.
- Outfielder Luis Veras and infielder Raymel Flores looked good in the cage, showing smooth swings with some pop. Both have had issues with their approach and will likely need to make major adjustments to hit steadily, but they have tools to work with.
- First baseman Kevin Cron showed the most power in his cage work, putting several balls over the fence in batting practice. A large, lumbering slugger, he has the power to warrant his defensive position.
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