I was in Tampa for the June 18 matchup between the Tampa Yankees and the Palm Beach Cardinals. Actually, it was a doubleheader, due to Wednesday night’s rainout, with Game 1 starting at 10 a.m. I did not, however, make it through both games; 95 degree heat with 100 percent humidity, no clouds, and no breeze is only tolerable for so many hours. If you’ve ever wondered why the Marlins draw so poorly, there’s your A-1 reason.
Steinbrenner Field (which until recently, had been known as ‘Legends Field’) is complete with all the pomp and circumstance you’d expect from what is the second-most important site in the Yankees organization. You don’t typically find luxury boxes, monument parks, or 11,000 seats in the FSL. The offices are also quite posh; the Yankees direct a great deal of their administrative functions out of Tampa rather than New York. (I’m sure there are other good reasons, but don’t forget that the world famous Mons Venus is only six blocks from the stadium.)
It was a somewhat dry day as far as prospecting is concerned, with Austin Romine clearly the headliner. Ranked by Baseball America as the fourth-best prospect in the Yankees’ system preseason, he’s a name you’re likely to hear in trade talks along with Jesus Montero, their No. 3 prospect, since they’re both catchers projected to come along at a similar pace.
Austin Romine, C, NYY
Background: Romine was a second-round draft pick out of a California high school in 2007. He hit .300/.344/.437 with 10 home runs, 27 walks, and 56 strikeouts in 432 plate appearances in the Sally League last year.
What I saw: Romine seemed a bit taller and lankier than I had imagined. He’s an above-average athlete by the standard of catchers.
His defense was a mixed picture. Watching him throw to second during warmups and the only stolen base attempt during the game (in which the runner was successful), I gauged his arm as a bit sub par. Then I saw him uncork a throw to second attempting to cut down a runner advancing on a throw to home, and he unleashed an absolute cannon. That tells me he’s either a long-arm guy (as in, loses more velocity than average in a typical catcher’s throwing motion), or he’s having trouble establishing his base (footwork). The footwork didn’t strike me as awful, however. The scout next to me timed his ‘pop’ at 2.1 on the stolen base attempt, which struck me as quite a bit generous in Romine’s favor.
Offensively, Romine has an upright, leaned-back stance that crouches a bit as the pitch is being delivered. The swing is short for a guy with his long arms, and well-leveraged, which bodes well for power. I had only taken a cursory glance at his numbers before the game, so I was surprised that he’s drawn so few walks this year. He struck me as incredibly well-composed at the plate; he was off-balance very little, despite a steady diet of off-speed pitches. And he was as still as a statue for anything that turned out to be a few inches out of the zone. There’s a theory that pitch recognition is a tool that doesn’t immediately lead to strike zone control, but that it’s a strong precursor. If that’s the case, I like Romine in this respect.
Outlook: Romine is just 20 and already well polished. The defensive flaws aren’t crippling as is, and he has plenty of time to shore them up. The bat is exciting now, and the offensive package is well-rounded.
The one comparison I could not get away from all day was Javy Lopez. His body type, his stance, his mannerisms, and his offensive profile (and even the defensive shortcomings) are all incredibly similar. He may wind up a bit more batting average an less home run oriented than Javy, but that’s what I envision as an ‘if-everything-goes-well’ comp.
William ‘D.J.’ MItchell, RHSP, NYY
Background: Drafted out of the 10th round from Clemson in ’08, Mitchell is a rising star in the Yankees organization. Recently promoted to Tampa, he started ’09 with a sub-2.00 ERA and 42:6 K:BB ratio in six starts (37 IP) in the Sally League.
What I saw: Williams has an athletic body, with some moderate projection left. From 30 yards away, he could be mistaken for Mariano Rivera.
His fastball sat 87-89, hitting as high as 91 several times. It has good sink, and gets a lot of groundballs. Thus, the ‘stealth weapon’ (home run prevention) figures to be an asset. His slider was 78 and nothing special, though he controlled it well. The few changeups he threw also came in at 78, and that’s a pitch with some potential for him. That’s a nice velocity disparity, and he didn’t telegraph it much. It has decent 3B run. He even mixed in a couple cutters to left-handed batters, which came in around 85 and were effective. Smooth, controlled delivery. Command and control were on this day, although control has apparently been an issue at times.
Outlook: Mitchell is solid across the board. He’ll never dominate, but for a guy who converted to pitching just a couple years ago (in the middle of his college career), he’s got an impressive feel for his craft. The sinking fastball and potentially plus changeup will play in the majors. His ceiling is only that of a third starter, but it’s not so hard to envision him fitting in to the back of a major league rotation in mid-2011.
Blake King, RHRP, STL
Good stuff, bad mechanics, bad body. King sports a 91-93 mph fastball with good downward plane, as he throws from a high angle. Slider sits around 80 with huge tilt and good break. He shows a workable changeup. Mechanically, his head tilts heavily toward third base during the load phase, then he kind of flies open, then his landing leg starts pushing the body back towards third base as he is releasing. It’s like his body is trying to go in several different directions.
This has two natural consequences: 1) Control issues, and King’s got ’em. When the head and the eyes are jerking around so much, you throw to areas, not spots. 2) Arm issues. Everyone is unique, but in general, so much herky-jerky tends to catch up with people.
King has major league stuff, and a monstrous strikeout rate, which is the best indicator a pitcher can have. But he sure does have some work to do.
Aaron Luna, 2B, STL
Lot of Clint Barmes here. Impressive pull power, but the swing is long and has some holes. Decent pitch recognition, but he just plain old whiffs a bit more than you’d like to see. No read on his defense—just didn’t have the chance to see much.
Jermaine Curtis, 3B, STL
Great athletic body, although the lack of height leaves little hope for future power. Good short stroke with quick hands, though it’s a bit more of an uppercut than you’d like to see from a guy with little power and great speed. He’s a gritty guy who is easy to like. His numbers this year are awful, but a lot of that is BABIP-driven. He’s going to hit for average with those hands. I see little more upside than a utility player, but such a thing has value.
References & Resources
Due to the double-header, I didn’t watch all of both games. I largely missed two guys said to be on the prospect radar; STL RHRPs Reifer and Mulligan. Normally, I wouldn’t bother making note of a relief pitcher who I did not see. But I don’t want any readers looking at the box score to take the lack of notes about either player as meaning I found them uninteresting.