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Prospects vs. Suspects


Prospect vs. Suspect

Just like the cold thawing in the northeast and the Knicks embarking on another “rebuild”, each winter into spring brings us a list of the next “can’t miss” baseball prospects.

It was only 10 short years ago that Baseball America rated Jesus Montero as the 5th best prospect in baseball. That same year, they ranked Domonic Brown of the Phillies as number 1, and young man named Mike Trout as number 2.

Prior to the 2018 season, Brown signed with the Sultanes de Monterrey of the Mexican League, was released on April 29, 2018 and on June 26, 2018, he signed with the Tecolotes de los Dos Laredos.

Montero? I think we all remember him. Traded to the Mariners for Michael Pineda in the big 2011 trade, he soon put on weight, his performance dropped, he ended up being traded several times and was ultimately released by the Orioles in April of 2018. He played for two teams in the Venezuelan Winter League 2018-2019 season.

Mike Trout? Since his debut in 2011 he has hit.305 with 285 home runs, and is clearly the best player in Baseball, in my opinion.

Baseball is unique in this respect, as many factors play into the development of the young players. Put this into perspective; Mike Piazza was the 1,390th player selected in the 1988 draft, Don Mattingly was the 493rd player selected in 1979.

How did their careers turn out?

There are some exceptions, for example in 1987 the Seattle Mariners drafted Ken Griffey, Jr. number 1 overall. The next best pick that year was at number 22, Seton Hall’s Craig Biggio. FYI, in case you’re wondering the Yankees lost their first round pick in the 1987 draft to the Texas Rangers as compensation for signing free agent Gary Ward. That was the 19th pick. In concept, Biggio could have been a Yankee.

Although the gap is shrinking in recent years due to expansion and the dilution of the talent pool, Baseball still remains the toughest sport to evaluate talent and project what skills will translate from the High School and NCAA levels to the Minor leagues, and then to the Major Leagues.

Scouting is so multifaceted and boundless that despite having had more than a century to observe and perfect it, baseball still hasn’t come to a consensus regarding what is the most effective way to evaluate and project skill levels.

Branch Rickey established the 20-80 scale which is commonly accepted, but it is more of a linguistic tool, like the Voynich manuscript, than it is a system of measurement and evaluation.

The 20-80 scale permits scouts to communicate efficiently and succinctly with one another and with their superiors about a given player’s pertinent physical capabilities. The scale and language became more universal as baseball evolved in the 1970s and 1980s making it easier for teams to manage scout turnover, because trained scouts were already fluent in the language of talent evaluation and easily maneuvered into new departments and to transitions with new teams.

So, scouting is not an exact science, and in many cases is nothing more than a gamble.

As a result, major league teams are loaded with “prospects” that their scouting departments at one time or another, saw as the next great player. The Yankees are no different.

Having said that, when we look at the current crop of prospects in the Yankee system, the questions become, who is a prospect and who is a suspect? And what is a realistic ETA?

I will evaluate others as the winter continues, but let’s take a look at three that we have been hearing about lately.

Let’s start with the most recent “top prospect” Deivi Garcia, a 20 year old 5’9’’ right-handed starting pitcher. According to MLB Pipeline “Garcia’s best pitch is a high-spin curve ball with so much depth that he’ll have to prove he can land it for strikes when more advanced hitters don’t chase it out of the zone as often. He also gets good spin on his fastball, which plays better than its 91-96 MPH velocity with deceptive riding life. He made strides with his fading change up, creating optimism that it can become at least a solid third offering.”

The main criticisms on Garcia are his size and his command. At 5-foot-9, 163 pounds it puts him in a unique fraternity if he can make the rotation. Since the last round of expansion, there have been only three pitchers shorter than 5’ 10’’ and lighter than 180 pounds that have made at least 30 starts in the major leagues; Marcus Stroman, Mike Leake, and Jesus Sanchez.

Good players. Not exactly aces, and not exactly what we hear Garcia can develop into.

So is Garcia a true realistic top end rotation prospect, or are we looking at another propaganda campaign designed to entice trade partners?

It is possible, over time that he can become a member of that group, but keep in mind that he did walk 4.4 per nine innings in three levels of the minor leagues in 2019. A number that just doesn’t work in the major leagues. He has a reputation of being a good athlete and hard worker, which may help him throw more strikes. However when you analyze his delivery, he uses a throwing across the body delivery with a recoil on the follow through approach. That type of delivery has been proven to diminish command on many pitchers.

He is still in my opinion, a work in process, but the bright side is he is extremely young.

There is no compelling real reason to rush him to the big leagues. I for one would like to see what his Triple A stats look like at the All Star break. If they continue on the trajectory of 2019, the Yankees might find it difficult to disregard his potential impact over the remainder of the 2020 season, and hopefully post season.

Intrinsically, the Yankees may have to make a decision on whether he’s best suited as a starter, reliever, or some kind of cross between the two before the year is out, or use him as a piece at the July trade deadline if his value is still at a premium.

Next on my list is Jasson Dominguez, 5’ 10’’ 195 lbs.

Dominguez was signed by the Yankees for more than $5 million in July 2019, and he doesn’t turn 17 until February.

He’s a switch-hitting outfielder with what people have said are ridiculous physical tools and enormous upside.

But at not even 17 as of January 2020, in reality he is years away from being on the radar for a trip to the Bronx. But that’s OK, at this point in time, they do not need him, he should be allowed several years’ of development beginning with the 2020 season.

However, he is a name we hear a lot about, which is unusual considering his age and experience level. What do we know about him?

They say his tools are phenomenal. A combination of power, speed and arm strength that all earn plus or better grades in scouting systems. He’s a superior, very strong athlete who plays a premium position; center field.

Danny Rowland the Yankees international scouting director and widely considered the Yankees top scout recently said “He’s possibly the best combination of tools, athleticism and performance that I’ve run across”. Now, there’s a whole lot of time, a whole lot of at-bats and a whole lot of proving it between now and hopefully reaching the major leagues. Given his baseball background, his baseball acumen, his desire, his competitive nature, his work ethic, it’s never an easy thing to drop $5.1 million on one player, but he made it pretty easy.”

Deservedly so, it’s very easy for us to get excited about his tools and athleticism. I have been researching him and Dominguez is more than just a raw athlete. At 16 he is already, relatively speaking, a polished baseball player.

A 16 year old who has been playing Baseball his whole life, he has established a proficiency for the game and a baseball IQ that’s off the charts for his age.

A legitimate solid prospect that just may move quickly through the system following the paths set before him by fellow very young Dominican players, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Wander Franco.

Time will tell, but he has all the tools, size, strength and desire.

Prior to the Yankees signing Dominguez, Estevan Florial was also one of the top outfield prospects.

Florial is a 22 year old lefty hitting outfielder at 6’1’’ 185 lbs who has excellent speed and defense.

The question has been whether or not he’ll hit enough to maximize those secondary tools.

He may have had the most disappointing 2019 season of anyone in the Yankee system. He suffered another wrist injury in spring training which ended up costing him a large part of the season.

When he did return, he hit .251 with 8 home runs at high A Tampa in 78 games. Not too bad, but the alarming stat, for me, is he also struck out 103 times in only 287 at bats, nearly 36% of his at bats.

In order to utilize his bat speed, power and running speed, he needs to make contact. His biggest battle at the plate is that he has trouble distinguishing between pitches, and the strikeouts come in droves.

Not a good combination. But is it fixable?

He needs time and health to work on pitch recognition, at only 22 he will be afforded that time.

There are plenty of good pitch recognition training techniques that I am sure the Yankees have used, and will continue to use. It is not unusual at all for hitters to have to continue developing that skill, but at 22 he should already have a good basic understanding of the approach.

Hitting is about seeing the ball well. Florial can still develop further by having an approach to seeing the release point, picking up trajectory, spin, and shade.

Whether he is a prospect or a suspect is still open for discussion. 2020 will be a big year for him and will determine whether he goes the route of Jorge Mateo or whether the team gives him a chance at the major league level.

In recent years the Yankees have benefited from a productive minor league pipeline which has developed All-Stars like Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Aaron Judge.

All of them very talented, but keep in mind if making it in baseball was only about talent, then every player ever drafted in the first round would have had long productive careers in the big leagues.

Obviously, that’s not the case. Moreover, there are many talented players who went undrafted out of high school and college, signed free agent contracts and worked their way to the big leagues while relying on their baseball IQ, reflexes and instincts.

There is a lot more to it than just God given ability. Whether or not the 3 we discussed today will do what it takes, we will know in the next couple of years, or sooner.

It will be fun watching!

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