Florida State League scouting report

I was in Clearwater, Florida on June 11 for the matchup of the Clearwater Threshers (PHI) and the Jupiter Hammerheads (FLA).

I had been to Bright House Field at least twice before, as far as I can recall; as a player (I believe for a high school or summer ball tournament), and as a job seeker during Spring Training ’07. Like most parks in the FSL, it is about the most fun a baseball nut can have with a $20 bill, whether there are hot prospects on the field that day or not.

While buying tickets, I asked for “anything behind home plate,” knowing the ushers aren’t at all strict in High-A, and I would likely jump around a bit to suit my preference. She printed my ticket; row 1, seat 1, directly behind the dish. The cost? Nine bucks. Beat that. (And if anything, that’s on the high side for the FSL.) I didn’t actually sit there; scouts tend to sit 8-12 rows back, as the added height gives you better perception on pitches. (Plus, if I sit with them I don’t need my own radar gun.)

First, a note about the guys I didn’t get to see.

Logan Morrison had been with Jupiter for the previous series. He’s rehabbing a broken wrist, which can cause lasting problems for a hitter. All indications thus far are that Kensing is fine. Top Phillies prospect Dominic Brown was also on the seven-day DL. Mike Stanton, regarded as one of the game’s top power-hitting prospects, has recently been promoted to Double-A.

Fortunately, there were still some well-regarded prospects on the field.

Drew Naylor, RHSP, PHI.
Background: Naylor is well-regarded by the Phillies, and usually shows up as one of their top 15 prospects. He’s got an interesting background too, being that he was signed out of Australia (as was his catcher, Joel Naughton, whom I’ll get to in a moment). He put up a relatively impressive 2008, striking out 156 against just 52 walks in 165 IP between Low-A and High-A.

What I saw: Naylor’s fastball sat at 87-89 mph, and he hit 91 twice. The pitch has decent life. While his control is an asset, his command within the zone could use a bit of work. His curveball is MLB-caliber, and his best pitch. It’s slow with a big break, coming in at 71-72 mph. The knees of right-handed batters were buckling all night.

As far as I could see, he only threw two changeups. The first, thrown to a left-handed batter in the third inning, came in at 81 with great downward and third-base bite. The hitter was well out front. The next changeup he forced a bit and left high. Thus, it flattened out and deception left a lot to be desired. If the first was more representative of his changeup than the second, I assume I would have seen it more. But it’s at least encouraging that there’s something to work with there, even if it’s very inconsistent at this point. He seemed very intense on the mound, but I was left with a vibe of composed intensity as opposed to one who lets that get out of control.

Outlook: Naylor pitched a great game. But long term, I don’t see so much upside here. Naylor just turned 23, and is sitting in High-A with a fastball that struggles to break 90. As far as remaining projection, he’s pretty well filled out. In fact, he’s got a bit of an atypical pitchers body, in that he’s got biceps and pecs as much as he has quads and glutes. He may be the type of guy who could sit at 91-92 for an inning at a time out of the pen, which coupled with his plus-curveball could make him an asset. But there are 100 guys about which you could say the same.

Alejandro Sanabia, RHSP, FLA
Background: Just 20, Sanabia’s star has risen considerably this year. Coming into the game he was sporting a sub-2.00 ERA and nearly four-to-one K:BB, striking out 42 and allowing just two home runs in 57 IP. He’s started to garner a fair share of attention as an intriguing sleeper prospect.

What I saw: If I met Sanabia on the street and he told me he was a high-school second baseman, I would believe him. The 6’1” listing on the Hammerheads website seems generous, and he’s quite skinny. He fields his position very well and is athletic.

Sanabia seemed to be overthrowing a bit. He needs to break the habit of flying open with his front shoulder, which leaves the fastball high. I can’t blame him for trying, though; the fastball was mostly sitting between 85-87, and he only got up to 89 twice. It’s got good run, but not a lot of sink.

It took me (and two of the scouts I was sitting with) a couple innings to get a read on his offspeed pitches. What turned out to be a changeup, we first thought to be some sort of Brad-Lidge-esque slider (where it’s more vertically oriented than most sliders). Later, he started throwing his real slider more, and the difference became obvious.

The changeup, despite coming in only a few clicks off his facebook (80-81), is a darn good pitch. He doesn’t telegraph it a bit, which is the key, and he commands it decently. It’s got strong dive to it. The slider (also 80-81) was effective when down in the zone. The problem is, he was missing high with it quite often. Sort of “getting under it,” as they say. It’s not looking like a future plus pitch right now, but if he learns to harness it, it will give right-handed batters a little more to think about when facing him.

Outlook: The lack of velocity is a problem right now and will probably leave Sanabia badly exposed as he starts to move into leagues where one is less likely to get by on good offspeed pitches alone. However, he’s half a decade and 25 pounds short of his peak. The command and strong changeup are great places to start; if he fills out and can get his fastball velocity more in the 88-91 range (which isn’t so hard to imagine), he’s got a future. But for now, he’s someone to keep an eye on, not someone to pin hopes upon.

Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA
Background: Easily the most highly-touted player on the field that day, Dominguez was the 12th overall pick of the 2007 draft out of a California high school. He is consistently ranked in the upper crust of an impressive Marlins farm system. He hit .296/.354/.499 with 18 HR last year as an 18-year-old in the Sally League, which is quite a remarkable performance.

What I saw: Dominguez has a bit of a strange body. Listed at 6’2″ 180, he looks like he has the legs of a 200-pounder and torso of a 160-pounder (though his arms and wrists are thick and strong). But it’s also kind of a soft body. I don’t know how much of this is conditioning as opposed to genetics, but I’m not sure it’s going to look great at 30. Right now, he looks like a more squat version of Garrett Atkins.

He looked a bit lost his first at-bat, and pitch recognition seemed to be an issue in each at-bat. He kind of buckled and leaned back on a Naylor curveball that went for a called strike (though in his defense, Naylor curveballs are impressive). He struck out on three pitches, the third being an 89 mph Naylor fastball on the inner half. Obviously expecting something offspeed, he was frozen, and managed only a feckless checked swing about a half an hour late. He found himself embarrassingly out front on two more curveballs later in the game.

I viewed his second at-bat from a side angle (I like to get different angles on all players when possible). One mechanical issue that became quite obvious; he’s got a bit of a hitch in his hand load. It causes his bat head to flatten out right from the start, which can sap some power and will leave you long through the zone. This should be correctable. He popped out to short on a chest-high fastball.

Later in the game, Dominguez took an 88-mpg Naylor fastball on the outside black, and hit a high liner to right center which one-hopped the wall. That’s a good thing to see; he went with the pitch, didn’t try to yank it, and squared up nicely.

Defensively, I didn’t get to see any plays that challenged Dominguez in terms of range. But he’s a slow-footed guy, so perhaps that’s a good thing. He appeared to have good reflexes (which I consider separate from quickness), smooth hands, and plenty of arm for third base. I’ve heard great reviews of his defense, but man…that’s a slow body, and it’s not going to get better.

Outlook: This is a tough one to call. On one hand, Dominguez is so young, and his performance in ’08 is well beyond what the vast majority of players his age have in their track record. On the other hand, he’s got some significant issues to overcome right now, and his body scares me a bit.

I’ve heard a lot of Scott Rolen comparisons thrown about, but I just can’t see that. He’s got miles to go in terms of pitch recognition which, coupled with the slow feet, leads me to believe this is a guy who will not get above the .265-.275 batting average range in the big leagues. He’s got some power potential in his bat, but this is not going to be a 30-home run type guy.

In other words, I don’t see Dominguez as a guy who does anything exceptionally well in the future, and there are meaningful holes in his game right now. So I’m lukewarm on him at best.

That said, we’re talking about a guy who won’t be 20 for a couple months. He could fill out just right, shore up the lackluster pitch recognition, get his swing shorter, etc etc…the lack of exceptional tools don’t mean he can’t achieve a meaningful value. But for me, he’s not one of the top 50 position player prospects in the game right now.

Quick Hits

A few guys who may not be prime-time prospects, but could be on their way there, or are at least worth keeping tabs on.

Jhan Marinez, RHRP, FLA
Marinez, recently promoted to Jupiter, came on to mop up Sanabia. This 20-year-old has some big-time stuff. His fastball sat 94-96 and was lively. Had a Jekyll and Hyde slider; he throws from a high ¾, so he had a bit of a tendency to get under it, leaving it high and flat. But when he gets on top of it, it’s pretty filthy. During warm-ups, he flashed a changeup with strong third-base-side movement, though he didn’t use it in the game. He’s got an athletic body with some filling out left to do.

He’s struggled with control in the past, but not on this day. He struck out 5 in 2.2 IP without allowing a walk, and was simply blowing people away. The delivery is pretty high in terms of effort, but not so jerky or violent that it’s a major injury concern. He’s got closer-caliber stuff for sure. He’s got plenty of time to learn to harness it, and he may even add velocity. He’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Joel Naughton, C, PHI
Naughton, catching his fellow Aussie Mr. Naylor, has a very smooth left-handed swing with good leverage and loft. His numbers prior to this year have been very pedestrian, but something seems to have clicked. He hit a towering 420’ home run to right-center off of Sanabia, and had easily the best-struck ball of Marinez, a 380’ flinout to the left side on center field. Very solid pitch recognition. He’s got a slight hitch in his throwing motion. But I ccould easily see him developing into the offensive half of a catching platoon.

Miguel Fermin, C, FLA
Maybe I just have an affinity for guys who break the mold, but unique guys like Fermin occasionally develop into something valuable. He’s got a shortstop body all the way; scrawny, athletic, and wiry. He’s got great speed, and even bunted for a base hit as a right-handed batter. He had ‘pop’ times of 2.09 and 2.10…he didn’t get either runner, but that’s MLB quality. Now, Fermin is 23 and still in High-A with the pitch recognition of a high-schooler. But he absolutely mashed in the New York Penn League last year (despite an ugly K:BB rate), so there is a pulse in that bat. He’s just a unique collection of tools, but he’s worth keeping tabs on.

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