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2012 Draft Prospect Position Players at MLSB Showcase

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February 15, 2012

Ron Miller’s got raw power. I wrote over the summer that this guy has the bat speed to kill a guy and I’m right.

I was standing alongside the first base dugout with a bunch of other guys Saturday when he cut loose a swing and rifled a foul ball thataway. I mean, this ball was ON YOU. At first, Miller smiled, I am sure he was thinking, either, a) oh crap, I killed a scout, or b) if I killed a scout, maybe it’s one who doesn’t like me, or c) Nobody hurt? Then it’s all good.

But wait, there’s more. A pitch or two later, he fouled another one off the light tower. Literally, the glass from the broken light bulb showered down upon us. It was as close to The Natural as I’ll ever get, so I’d like to thank Ron for that. I sort of felt like hobbling around the complex and pumping my fist in the air, but resisted the temptation. The guy next to me was actually shaking broken light bulb bits out of his air. It was awesome, thanks for the memories.

If the rotting outfield signage is any indication of MLB’s commitment to the upkeep of its wonderful Academy, I’m sure that bulb will be replaced sometime in the year 2018, at which point, Ron might be mashing in the majors and the Academy will be watching him in that big screen in the conference room and putting his name in all its press releases. It is wise never to walk away from raw, plus, plus, right-handed power.

Back to the scouting. Miller’s body looks a lot trimmer. I’ve seen the underground video of him jump roping and lifting weights – I think he ought to take that jump rope out to the on-deck circle in front of all the scouts who go to see him and jump. Do it. Show them the feet are enough for first base because the question they are all asking is what position are you going to play? Miller took ground balls for probably the first and last time at shortstop and his hands were fine. His feet were completely adequate for first. His arm is enough for first. Hey, guess what? From what I saw, I think if he put his mind and body to it, he could train himself to play third, though most people would tell him his feet don’t work well enough for that and he’ll never get the chance. I say, get the jump rope, and check back in a few years. At the very least, the guy can play first base in the National League, so I think he’s helped dispel the notion that he’s an AL or nothing guy. That’s a big step ahead at this stage of his career.

Let’s talk about the raw power. Two BP balls he hit – one a towering belt to straightaway center field – and one a moon shot to left – were not cheap. He doesn’t know how to drive the ball to right field yet, and that’s because he doesn’t know how to let the ball travel yet. The right-hander should get it with time and at-bats. He’s not fast, but he’s not as slow on the bases as his ice age 60 makes him look. Hey, look, this guy is a power right-handed hitting corner, and the power is here.

I’m sure some people who write these sorts of things probably will rip the crap out of him for his at-bats. I see a guy who recognizes different pitches, though not completely consistently yet. He needs to let pitches get deep to him. It will be the make or break factor in his career. It makes him look like he doesn’t trust his hands, which of course he does, because he loves to grip and rip. This is the kind of guy who needs to go into pro ball right away and start learning to hit every day. I like him a whole lot more than last year’s pure right-handed power guy, Travis Harrison. There’s no comparison for me. When he learns how to apply that as a more professional and polished hitter, he’s got a chance to be a guy.

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If Ron Miller is a monster, Tim Lopes is a mouse. This kid has grown on me. He was, without a question, the best infielder here, and it wasn’t even close. The feet move, his feet are in proper position on ground balls, he has lateral range and though he might be just a tad short to his right to stay at short at the faster levels, I wouldn’t put it past him. His arm is just enough, I’d fudge his 4 and go 5 because I like him and I know he’ll be the kind of infielder who learns how to compensate and cheat. That’s the kind of infielder who fools inexperienced scouts as a kid, because when he gets to the faster levels, he’ll know how to make that 4 play like a 5.

He’s got little quick steps, which prevent him from burning, but he’s an adequate runner who can beat out lazy infielders, steal a base and go first to third. The more I watched him, the more I really liked him. And I decided two things about him.

One, Tim Lopes absolutely has no reason to go play college ball. He’s not a seven-figure player in this or any draft, so I can’t see the monetary gain. Seriously, all college will do is make him stronger, but his quick-twitch muscles are strong enough now. He won’t hit a ton when he first goes in, but that’s OK. He’s a slap hitter with zero raw power, I mean, Ozzie Smith frequency, 10 on a scale of 20 to 80. I like that he’s not one of these bonehead middle infielders who hits one home run and then think they’re power guys. Here’s my comp, ready? Maicer Izturis. A MOUSE. I only wish he ran as well, but he certainly ain’t gonna be a clogger.

His best tools – footwork, defense, soft hands, slap hitting ability to put the ball in play – are what they are. I’d cut him loose and let him get at-bats. He’d be a great college player, but I think he’d do better playing everyday and getting his nose bloodied a little bit. Seriously, he is his brother, minus a few inches of height and a few pounds of strength.

I think that if the Toronto Blue Jays have any brains whatsoever, they should sign Tim Lopes and pair him with his older brother. I think the two of them push each other along. I think Christian reminds me of Cody Ross in approach, swing and set-up and I think Tim reminds me of a smoother, more effortless looking Eckstein. You know, like Maicer Izturis. Tim ain’t the biggest guy, fastest guy, flashiest guy, but I can see him as a very serviceable complementary major leaguer, and that makes him a prospect for me. At the worst, that’s a guy who can be a damn good bench player. I mean, the skill guys, not the tool guys, are the ones who sneak in and stay forever because they know how to play better than the tool guys. I’m speaking of veteran pro side guys now, not draft kids and not college kids. The team that profiles him the best will get the most value out of him.

Trust me, he had to earn it, because I wanted to ditch him based on his height, too. But he’s just so much smoother in actions than so many of these infielder stiffs I see that he climbs up my preference list. We all need guys who can catch the ball up the middle and put the ball in play, because let’s face it, there just ain’t enough Tulos to go around.

I love Trey Williams’s hands but his hand-eye scares me to death. And I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this. Williams is physical and strong, he’s got a ruthlessly fast swing, but he doesn’t pick up pitches and doesn’t trust his hands against breaking stuff and doesn’t square up fastballs when I have seen him, here or at Aflac. I think he can lift the ball for power, but he doesn’t know how to do it consistently. His arm is adequate and his speed is nothing special but enough for a corner. Let’s put it this way – I’m less worried about Miller’s bat than I am Williams’s bat. This is a guy who needs at-bats and needs to show us he can make adjustments to unlock all the power potential that resides in that bat speed. I don’t know or care where he’s going to college, but this guy needs at-bats to find out what he can be. Otherwise he’s just a BP and travel ball legend.

Tyrone Taylor is a guy I have seen for three years. Taylor isn’t big or physical enough for power production at this point. He runs enough and throws enough for center field and can put the ball in play, that’s what he’s got going for him in terms of raw skills entering this draft. I’ve heard Hunter Pence offensive comparisons, but I’m not buying. That’s too gaudy of a comp for him. I saw Pence as a rookie and then talked to Biggo for 20 minutes about him after the game one night in the clubhouse in Anaheim in 2007. Pence’s hands were the thing – but Taylor is armsy. Taylor has an easy, fairly effortless swing, but he has trouble with anything hard middle-in and despite some home runs in high school, it’s a level swing tailored for the gap. He’s a straightaway hitter, which is a positive thing. But if you told me he was going to be a power-hitting center fielder, I would say no, and that means he should play college ball if he wants huge money out of the draft. If you told me he was a center fielder who could run slightly above average out of the box and make going first to third look pretty, I’d go for that. But to call him a power-hitting center fielder is incorrectly profiling what he currently is and asks a lot of what he might be. The Pioneer League home runs don’t mean a whole lot to me. He’s a center fielder with OK speed, who needs work in the outfield espescially on balls hit right at him (as do most young center fielders), and has never driven the ball in these showcase things the way, say, a Christian Lopes did all the time. He can make contact, but he’s got a long way to go to prove himself in the larger world.

CJ Saylor can catch and throw at a very solid level, and that will get him in the door. His size correctly profiles him behind the plate. He’s lucky he’s playing in an era where teams like smaller catchers. If he played when clubs had hard and fast rules about catchers not being under 6-foot-2, he’d be a college guy and that’s it. Offensively, his hands have always worked. It’s a level swing and he’s got just enough occasional raw power to get himself in trouble, so he has to make sure he stays within himself. If he does that, I suspect he’s going to be around for a while.

Tanner Rahier can hit. I believe that. What worries me about him is that I don’t think there’s enough power to be a pro corner. He works hard and appears to be nearing physical maturity. He puts the bat on the ball, and his arm is solid enough for the left side of the infield. He’s just enough of a runner. Really, he has a chance, I just know how picky pro scouts are for corners. They’ve got to have 20-home run power to stay in the big leagues. I guess time will tell, but I think he’s a gap hitter. Put him in the right place and that might be enough. Or perhaps he is one pro adjustment away from unlocking what may be in there. I think he’s too good a hitter for me to walk away from, but I think he’s got to lift and drive more balls.

Rio Ruiz, I am just not sold on offensively. I know I’m in the minority there, but as a lefty against the righty Giolito, he was out of his league, and that’s a red flag for me as far as the pro side goes. I’ve seen a lot of him over the past three years. I think his hands are just average and his backside drags. The BPs always look great, but I can’t remember a moment where it translated into a game and really sold me. I did see him get around a 90-mph fastball for a hard single late in the game, but as a corner with slow infield actions, there needs to be more pop than this. I wonder if the double-dipping with football is hurting his offensive development. I’ve seen it happen before to other players. Oh, Joe Borchard, I put Larry Walker on you, and much as I love you, you couldn’t get football out of your system soon enough.

Sammy Ayala came from nowhere. I had never seen this guy. Here’s a left-handed hitter with some speed and arm. So if we get the bat, this guy has a chance. I liked the bat speed and I felt the swing was fairly easy. I think if you get power down the road, he’s got a chance. Don’t know much more or have more history than that.

Vahn Bozoian, I swear, scouts have a love-hate relationship with this guy. He’s an all or nothing guy. When they love him, they love him, and those who don’t, don’t. Here’s what I see. He can be a Dave Kingman type who has a lot of raw right-handed firepower who doesn’t do a whole lot of anything else. I think he looked looser this time than he did when I saw him over the summer. You might end up with a guy who has one tool, but it’s enough to keep him around. Somebody’s got to have power coming off the bench. Russell Branyan. These careers happen. It might profile him as a fringy guy down the road, but ask yourself, do you think a guy like Jason Lane looked so much different than this guy out of high school? How many times can I say “guy” in one sentence?

Jose Munoz played with a bad finger, but that bad finger doesn’t affect his long, lean and lanky frame. If you get a little bit more pop out of this guy in the coming years, then I expect the glove, arm, and speed will be enough to create a solid all-around package. I also think he’s growing into that body, which accounts for some of the awkward actions. He’ll smooth out as he grows and then I think I’ll have the cleanest read on him I can get.

I really want to see Kevin Maxey develop. At age 17, he has raw speed and raw power and raw arm strength, but in the two years I have seen him, I worry that there has been an inability to put these together at a level that can get him drafted very meaningfully. He might press at these big things, I’m not sure. I know I have seen some serious raw power in this guy’s bat. But I don’t think he is getting a lot of instruction or development at the local amateur level, period. That means you, Academy. This is the guy you were made for and he’s slipping through the cracks in the system, but here I see he’s a John Young guy all the way, so there is hope.

The second problem is that raw, under-developed tools do not get you very far in the states. It gets you signed in Latin America, but it buries you here. All that stuff Gary Sheffield used to yell about — spot on. So it’s not enough to lean on potential alone. He has to show some adaptions, somehow, some way, to have a chance, sometime soon. He has to become competent enough in the basic aspects of the game to make a scout willing to gamble his job for him. It’s that simple. Right now — and I pull for him — I see that as a hard sell UNLESS he gets the right club who takes the flier and says, OK, you got three years to figure this out. He’ll be an underground guy — and we’ll find out which clubs aren’t afraid to scout in black neighborhoods and which ones are.

I think the last time I saw Kamal Muhammad, he was playing varsity football as a freshman wide receiver at Serra behind Robert Woods – yes, that Woods, the guy at USC who is going to play in the NFL. My first thought was that Muhammad, offensively, reminded me of Desmond Henry last year, who had the same body and would always try to grip and rip in BPs, in other words, to try to be a player he wasn’t. If this guy tries to be the player he can be, he’s got a chance to be a switch-hitting, singles-hitting, plus runner threat. He won’t throw and he won’t have power, but if he works on what he has and ignores what he doesn’t have, he can avoid the Henry trap, and be more of a Trayvon Robinson type.

Daniel Robertson has nice, smooth actions across the board. I don’t have a lot of history on him, but my thought in BP was that he should be lifting the ball more. There were a lot of line drives, but the guy has the rangy body and arm strength for third. So if he’s a gap hitter, he’s closer to a Casey Blake type. I just thought there was more electricity in that bat than a gap-to-gap guy. A guy like this, a corner, I don’t really want to see anything but raw power from. And that’s all scouts will care about. Consistent long power if you’re going to play third.

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