Last week’s inaugural edition of Friday Scouting Chatter was a breakout star like Kendrick Lamar, so by popular demand this week I will highlight Myrtle Beach outfielder Nick Williams. Myrtle Beach is the High-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers and on a roster loaded with prospects and future major leaguers, Nick Williams has a chance to be the best of the group.
Nick Williams Outfielder Myrtle Beach
My current vote for “Best Swing in the Minors”, Williams has one of the most compact and prettiest left-handed swings you will find in professional baseball. Williams couples this with impressive plus raw bat speed, loose wrists, jackrabbit-quick hands, and reasonable balance at the plate. The 20-year-old has a prototypical major league physique, listed at a wiry 6-3 195lbs, with the ability to add additional strength as he matures. Williams has above-average speed and a fringe-average throwing arm, making him profile as a potential gold glove defender in left field and passable at the other outfield spots. Drafted by Texas in the 2nd round in 2012, Williams is a rare, true 5-tool prospect.
While Williams profiles to be a quality defensive outfielder, Williams’ reputation will be built off his excellence at the plate. Currently, the primary flaw in his game is his absurdly high strikeout totals, accruing 136 strikeouts in 435 at-bats this season and owning nearly a career 30% strikeout rate in his at-bats. These massive whiff totals run counter-intuitive to his ownership of a mesmerizing and sexy swing. Williams struggles with off-speed offerings and has extreme confidence in his ability to barrel the baseball, which leads scouts to believe he will improve this flaw as he matures.
Assuming Williams can refine his approach at the plate and eliminate some of the swing-and-miss presently in his game, Williams has the chance to combine a plus hit tool with plus power. This potential at the plate, along with his skills on the bases and in the outfield, give Williams the ceiling of a multiple time All-Star if everything comes together. He received a short cameo at Double-A to finish this season, and should return there in 2015, with the opportunity to reach the majors early in 2016. Given the opportunity to polish and refine his offensive skills, Williams has a chance to be a true impact major league player.
Rather than spending Labor Day weekend on the beach or sitting near a barbeque grill, I scouted the Potomac Nationals 4-game series at their local rival, the Frederick Keys. Mother Nature gave us her worst in terms of heat, humidity, and torrential rain, and although many of the players were showing obvious fatigue after a long summer, several future major league prospects emerged through the many rain delays. These three Baltimore Orioles’ players were particularly intriguing this weekend.
Steven Brault Left-Handed Pitcher
After watching an impressive performance last week from this under-the-radar prospect, I was eager to see his follow-up performance in his final start of 2014 for the Keys. Baltimore’s 14th round pick in 2013 from a small D2 school, Brault is a raw, athletic lefty with significant projection remaining in his listed 6-1 175lbs frame. Brault throws across his body during his delivery, which provides some deception to opposing batters but causes him to struggle to maintain his release point. He impressively pounds the strike zone, but this mechanical issue could hinder his velocity potential. Brault reminds me of a young Ross Detwiler, both physically and in his delivery to the plate.
In this limited viewing, Brault only pitched 3.1 innings due to a lengthy mid-game rain delay and looked weary in this outing. Brault featured a repertoire consisting of 4-pitches, an 86-89mph fastball with some natural sinking movement, an 80-82mph slider, an 83-84mph changeup with some arm-side wiggle, and the occasional high-70s curveball. His arsenal was less imposing than last week, when Brault was 87-91mph with late life on his fastball, a hard-breaking 82-84mph slider, a low-80s changeup, and a rare mid-70s overhand curveball. On a positive note, Brault particularly used his fastball to get ahead in the count and induced meek contact from the opposing batters.
This 22-year-old is still rather raw for a collegiate pitcher and his current below-average off-speed offerings cause him to struggle to put away hitters. But his youth, athleticism, and projection remaining in his lean body give me some hope that he can polish his delivery and improve his overall arsenal. Brault is an intriguing, talented young arm and is a quality sleeper prospect in the Orioles’ system.
Jason Esposito Third Base
One of the few players who does not want to see the season end, Esposito has come alive offensively in recent weeks and continued the hot streak this weekend, hitting a massive home run Sunday night and punishing the baseball throughout the series. Long a personal favorite of mine since watching him in the Cape Cod League, Esposito has struggled since being drafted in the 2nd Round in 2011. His defense has always outpaced his offense, where he struggles with large strikeout totals and a near allergy to drawing walks. His massive whiff totals and poor on-base percentages have caused him to spend two full years at High-A and has led scouts to wonder if he will hit enough to reach the majors. These weaknesses have caused him to fail to turn his average or better strength and bat speed into power production at High-A the past two years.
Esposito is a whiz defensively, as he has a strong arm, sure hands, and sound footwork at third base. In addition, Esposito is a surprisingly good athlete with decent speed for a big 6-2 200lbs player. The Orioles are showing faith in the now 24-year-old by sending him to the Arizona Fall League, and a solid performance there should vault him back onto the prospect radar. The physical tools are there for him to develop into a possible league-average third baseman, but Esposito will need to build on his late-season rally in 2015 if he wishes to reach the show.
Trey Mancini First Base
A truly massive human being and a physical presence, Mancini was selected by the Orioles in the 8th round in 2013 after a stellar collegiate career at Notre Dame. Offensively Mancini shows fringe-average to average bat speed, which combined with his size, gives him some true right-handed pull power, although this is shown more often in batting practice than game action. Mancini has a longish swing and long arm, which causes a healthy amount of strikeouts; conversely he does have a solid batting eye and draws a reasonable amount of walks.
In the field Mancini is surprisingly agile and athletic defensively, flashing soft, sure hands on throws in the dirt. He made several notable plays at first base during this weekend. Furthermore, although he possesses below-average speed, he runs better underway and should not be a base-clogger in the future.
2015 will provide Mancini with a difficult challenge, as the 22-year-old will likely be pushed to Double-A Bowie early in the season. As a polished collegiate hitter selected on Day 2 of the draft, Mancini shares some similarities to fellow Orioles prospect Christian Walker. However, if he cannot begin to manage his strikeouts or hit for more power, Mancini will struggle to climb the organizational ladder. A personal favorite of mine, Mancini is a name to remember in a system lacking many hitting prospects.
This weekend while most wise people in the Washington area were seeking shade and shelter from the uncomfortable heat, humidity and torrential downpours, I spent the time in Frederick watching the Keys host the Potomac Nationals. Labor Day marks the end of the minor league season, so nothing Mother Nature could throw at the area could keep me from Harry Grove Stadium.
Frederick entered this 4-game series against their local rival still in the hunt for a playoff berth, but a P-Nats doubleheader sweep on Sunday sunk their chances. Nonetheless, these weary young players muddled through the lousy weather and numerous rain delays to show future big league potential. Today I highlight three Potomac Nationals players that were particularly noteworthy this series.
Pedro Severino Catcher
Signed as an international free agent in 2010, the 21-year-old Severino is one of the better defensive catchers currently in the minor leagues. Physically Severino resembles a middle infielder, with an athletic, agile frame with projection remaining in his lower half as he matures. Armed with a strong arm, above-average blocking skills, and soft hands, Severino projects to be an above-average or better defensive catcher at the big league level. He is easily one of my favorite players to watch on defense in the minors.
In this viewing Severino showed progress offensively from earlier this season, hitting a monster home run Monday and showing an improved effort to lay off breaking pitches in the dirt. For the season Severino did not post overwhelming offensive numbers, although he has a reasonable swing with no obvious apparent flaws, and shows decent power in batting practice. Still young for this level of competition and with a strong chance to gain mass in the future, Severino could blossom offensively next season. Severino projects as a dynamic defensive backup catcher, with the potential to be a starting caliber player if his offense shows refinement with further experience.
Stephen Perez Shortstop
The difference between 2013 Stephen Perez and the 2014 version is as different as the winner on NBC’s The Biggest Loser, as he has improved more in one season than any player in recent memory. Last winter Perez gained 10-20 pounds of muscle mass while maintaining his above-average speed and overall athleticism. This has transformed his prospect profile from a dynamic defensive middle infielder lacking the bat to likely reach the majors to a possible future big league player.
The 23-year-old Perez possesses a strong, accurate arm and sure hands, which when combined with his physical skills makes him an above-average defensive shortstop. A switch-hitter Perez shows quality bat speed, especially from the left-side, and his increased muscularity has allowed him to pepper the gaps with doubles this season. While Perez’s reputation will always be as an exciting defensive middle infielder, this improved physicality could allow him to develop into below-average starter or valuable utility infielder at the major league level.
Ross Ohlendorf Right-Handed Pitcher
Sunday evening Ohlendorf was making a rehabilitation start for the Nationals, throwing 3 scoreless innings and allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk. Featuring his patented full overhead windup, Ohlendorf featured a lively 90-94mph fastball, an 82-84mph slider with tilt and late-breaking action, along with a rare, firm 83-85mph changeup. I was impressed with how he aggressively attacked the strike zone and his fierce demeanor on the mound, as he overwhelmed these hitters with his repertoire.
Ohlendorf is currently on the 60-day disabled list for the Nationals, but is on the 40-man roster so the team could choose to recall him to Washington to provide depth for the pennant chase this month. However, with several arms promoted to Washington yesterday and his current place on depth chart, the team may choose to shut him down for 2014. Either way I was intrigued by this brief outing from Ohlendorf and would strongly recommend a team sign him to a minor league contract this winter.
In this debut edition, Friday’s during the summer I will be highlighting numerous top baseball prospects I have personally scouted in a segment named Friday Scouting Chatter. I observe numerous elite prospects during the 50+ minor league games I watch each summer, yet for various reasons I have been previously unable to write a proper scouting report for them. This week I feature top prospects Jorge Alfaro of the Texas Rangers and Manuel Margot from the Boston Red Sox.
Often referred to as simply #TheLegend on Twitter, like a tween girl at a 5 Seconds of Summer concert, I was actually salivating to see Alfaro in person. Alfaro is one of, if not THE, most physically impressive catchers I have ever seen, with obvious athleticism and above-average speed. A powerfully built athlete at 6-2 185lbs, Alfaro resembles a high school nose guard yet runs like a college cornerback – it is almost difficult to comprehend until you see him in person.
Only 21-years-old Alfaro struggles defensively with his footwork and blocking wayward pitches in the dirt. However, his tremendous physical skills, along with a cannon-like throwing arm, give Alfaro a chance with refinement to be a future gold glove defender behind the dish.
Offensively Alfaro has apparent plus bat speed and obvious raw home run power, but like many young hitters, he is overanxious at the plate and racks up plenty of whiffs without many walks. His eagerness to swing the bat will hinder his future on-base percentage numbers, but the thunder in his bat should more than compensate with quality slugging percentages. Alfaro is still quite raw and needs another 500+ at-bats in the minors to refine his game, but he has the ceiling of a multiple all-star game type talent. Bottom line, Smarty Jones thinks Alfaro is a stud.
Manuel Margot CF Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)
Two weekends ago while attending SaberSeminar, a fellow audience member asked Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington to name a sleeper prospect in their farm system – after debating who would be considered a sleeper, Cherington and the other Boston representatives in attendance unanimously mentioned Manuel Margot.
One look at Margot and it is immediately evident why Boston’s front office is enamored with him, as he is an elite athlete with prototypical size and speed for a centerfielder. Armed with plus (or better) speed and a solid arm, the still 19-year-old projects as a potential gold-glove talent defensively, with game-changing ability on the bases. Margot’s energy for the game is simply contagious.
At the plate this right-handed batter shows apparent above-average bat speed, impressive balance through his swing, and a keen batting eye. The only obvious flaw in his game is his likely below-average power, though his wiry strength could allow him to hit 10+ home runs each year while peppering the gaps with doubles. Like any 19-year-old recently promoted to High-A, Margot needs further game experience to polish his rough edges and help translate his monster tools to game production.
Margot may have entered this season somewhat overlooked, but I expect him to be well represented on prospect lists this offseason. He is an easy top-100 prospect in baseball to me.