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My Scouting History: Ryon Healy, 1B-3B, Oregon (2013 Draft)

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February 11, 2013

Ryon Healy is a guy we have followed for some time on this here site, really, since we started. Most of the old scouts who influenced and instructed me could usually tell me the exact moment they really fell in love with a player that became a memorable guy for them. For me, I remember liking the BP at Area Codes back in 2009. But that fall, one very cold night at USC  sitting down the right field line in the empty ballpark, freezing my ass off on some Wednesday night, I saw him in a BP group. And I didn’t see it, I HEARD it. I can still hear that contact whenever I watch this guy hit with wood. I call those sounds of hard contact “gunshots.” Gunshots, you only get those from good, strong, hands, wrists and that top hand — it’s the ability to get the fat part of the barrell around the good fastball middle-in. You want to know what makes a big league run producer, that’s what it is. That’s what Healy has.

There’s something else. That group Healy was hitting in, he wasn’t the most “famous” player. You know who was? Yelich. Now I liked Yelich enough. But the ball sounded different coming off Healy’s bat than it did Yelich’s bat. I didn’t have any more history on Yelich than I had on Healy. Obviously the industry loved Yelich. But I never saw Yelich as an impact power bat. I saw a guy who could hit with modest power. That probably ran contrary to many people. But I saw Healy as the sleeping giant, the power bat just waiting to come alive in the coming years.

And to be honest, Healy has been compiling a pretty impressive offensive history since he won the Oregon first base job at mid-season of his freshman year — actually pushing the guy off the bag and into another baseball program. So very, very quietly this guy has been just hitting, plain and simple, hitting in the Pac-12, hitting on the Cape, flashing power in a tough conference in a tough ballpark. Do I think there’s more power there than the stats say? I sure do. I always, always trust my ears first, and I firmly believe that raw power with hand-eye coordination means a guy has a chance to do good things in the big leagues. When he’s going good, he’s very short to the ball, and can drive it. But what strikes me most is how much better this guy has become in college, and how I don’t think he’s done developing.

And here is Healy back in high school, his senior year. I wish I had video of the single against Taijuan Walker, but I don’t. What I do have is a loud, gunshot BP from that summer at Conejo Oaks. Listen and learn.

You can really see how much work this guy has put into getting better while in college. The body is better and the actions are smoother and easier. He’s taller, trimmer, stronger and as a result he moves better around the bag. This reflects good habits and decisions on and off the field. Most scouts in Oregon have only seen him play first base, but he played third base for Brewster on the Cape last summer and played there quite a bit in the summer of 2010 for Conejo Oaks. I stood behind the dugout at Brewster last summer and watched him take ground balls at third base. My impression was that I could dream on him playing third base as a pro for the following reasons — his feet worked. Period. Maybe it’s from all the ice skating from youth hockey. He’s a big guy but he moves laterally pretty well. He’s soft on his feet. He doesn’t get bogged down.

His hands work. His hands are soft. You know the oldest saying in scouting is that an infielder’s hands should appear to swallow the baseball with ease. I think Healy’s hands do that. I saw it on balls directly at him. I also saw it on balls to his left and to his right — his backhand side. I also saw him make in-between hops look easy, which is a huge factor when you’re looking at infielders. The thinking is the more he enters pro ball with, the less development he needs, the faster the path to the big leagues. So it all counts, every little ground ball. Do I think he will have 80 range over there? No. Do I think he’s got playable 50 range? Yes.

The arm is the part that requires the correct knowledge to identify why you can still project it. The old scouting adage again is, an arm is an arm. That means you cannot project arm strength. In most cases, I agree, espescially with a college player. But if you go back to his scouting history, you see that he was a standout right-handed pitcher in high school who threw in that 88-92 window, had 100 strikeouts in his junior year, and was actually listed as a right-handed pitcher in the 2009 Area Code rosters. So that means somebody in professional baseball thought this guy could throw.

I can already see how the pro development would go. That first short-season, you might see a little bit of third, first, corner outfield and DH. The good short-season managers, guys I learned from like Bill Plummer, know how to move kids around to keep them fresh as they get tired in August. But what happens when this guy goes to instructs after his short season? You plant him at third and find out what he’s made of over there. He gets instruction and he gets a chance for the arm to stretch out. The thinking ought to be that you’ll loosen up that arm in Arizona or Florida in his first fall ball season as a pro, a lot more than it’s had a chance to loosen out in the cold Oregon air.

I have always believed that if a guy had a 50 fastball, he should have at least a 50 arm at the corners. It comes down to how well a guy develops it. Playing first base in college, like pro ball, is about the at-bats, which means the bat has to become the priority. A guy has to hit to keep his job. But tools matter! A guy like Healy needs to stay with a throwing program to really learn the good full extension his arm would need either as a third baseman or an outfielder. Now I’m not saying he’s going to throw like Scott Rolen in his prime. He won’t. But what I am saying is that his arm strength at third base, with proper work and development likely to occur on the pro side, that he can be a 50 arm at third.

To illustrate my point and thinking, let’s look at the Tigers last year when they signed Fielder and pushed Cabrera off first to third. Jim Leyland said he didn’t expect Cabrera to be Brooks Robinson. He just wanted him to field the balls that got to him and make the routine throws. And that’s what he got. Cabrera doesn’t have 80 range — in fact, he probably has 40 or 45 range — and that’s eyeballing him off the TV set and not getting into any defensive metrics. He doesn’t have an 80 arm. It’s probably a solid 50 when he wants it to be — in other words — when it has to be. Everyone in the know knows most big leaguers half ass throws every chance they get.

So it’s easy for me to make an argument that Healy deserves developmental time at third base, the time he won’t get at college. Tools do matter. The bat matters more. But the other tools matter, too. And because I have seen him grow taller and out of the baby fat into this long, lean, athletic dude whose body looks more Longoria, I can give it an argument. I think the soft hands and nimble feet go a long way. There’s a reason why Mark Trumbo, for instance, can’t play third base. The guy has trash can hands. Healy doesn’t. Healy’s hands work as well with the glove as they do with the bat.

As for the power, people might fight with me and say, Healy has four home runs in each year at Oregon. The first thing I would say is, OK, have you ever tried to hit with a BBCOR at PK Park in Oregon at night against Pac-12 pitching? So it’s not like playing in the West Coast Conference in the daytime against maybe one good arm per staff and the rest of the guys being high school fillers. Oregon is a cold, dank, rainy, mucky heavy air ballpark. But other than that, I love the place. Healy’s real power has been flashed for a few years now with wood during BP. You could see this on the Cape last summer — they lost track of the balls the guy hit into the trees at Brewster. So we’re talking a guy where I could drop a 70 raw present grade on him and I’d know I’m not overstating myself. That’s REALLY rare. Vladimir Guerrero taught me what eight raw is. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a tough, tough grader.

And, as long as we’re talking about long balls, go ask the guys at the University of Arizona who saw Healy hit a ball over the left field scoreboard at Hi Corbett Park last year. That is a fricking SHOT. I watched Healy put a ball where guys like Helton used to put balls when the Rockies played there many years ago.

Power is an extention of hitting. I don’t think I’m breaking any news here. Healy has a track record as a hitter that goes back to high school. Except for that summer on the Cape as a freshman, when he played part time for the Kentucky Fried Kettelers, Healy has been a .300 hitter every year and that’s something you can take to the bank. But there’s no way in hell this guy is a Jim Eppard slap hitting corner special. Nope. I’ve heard scouts over the years throw names on him — Longoria, Posey, Glaus. I can see a lot of Eric Karros in Healy. I also don’t think he is afraid of the work that goes into being a pro, and that’s another intangible.

What happens if this guy grows into his arm and grows into his power? The likely answer is that you end up with a third baseman with plus bat and plus power, and any GM in baseball would gladly take plus bat and plus power with average range and arm at third — any day. That’s an everyday third baseman, and we all know that everyday third basemen are a lot harder to find than everyday first basemen. So am I really out of line if I say out loud, you know what? 65 hitter, 65 power production in the future. I am telling you, I would take this guy over many other top prospects.

Dear old George Genovese used to say that we can grade a guy’s tools but we cannot measure his heart. God bless George, for he is right, and as he comes up on his 91st birthday, I am most certain that the scout with 3,000 major league home runs to his credit, a man who taught me much about evaluating power hitters in those long talks underneath the avocado tree, would agree with me. Many times in the course of this website, I have seen, learned, heard and observed a great many ballplayers who weren’t ready to go to work or really didn’t want to put the work into playing a new position. It’s easy to work on what you want to work on when you want to work on it. It’s even harder to fool me, because I’m here to tell you that you can’t put a dollar sign on my scouting instincts. I have seen so many guys fall in love with themselves. I have seen so many guys phone it in without really understanding that, no, they’re not working hard at getting better. They are only working hard at what they want to work hard on. And that weeds those boys out of professional baseball real quick and cuts them off from the promise they should have had. It’s why I say so many players play under their grades.

Grades do not tell you everything about a player. They can only tell you the physical, and while that may be what we buy players on, it does not begin to tell the complete story. Look at a guy like Healy as an example. Look at the video in high school and look at him now. Does that look like a guy who fears hard work? We all know working on your body SUCKS. So that’s an intangible, yes, a scouting moment, where we can clearly say — this guy might not be as famous as some of the other corners in his draft. But damn, he can hit. Damn, he ain’t afraid to work. And like his old pal, the highly creative, hardworking, often crazy insane and insane crazy, Jack Marder, Healy does have that intangible to push past the people in front of him. I’ve always seen him do it in the past. I think he’ll do it in the future.

That’s it for this season’s first installment of My Scouting History by Baseball Prospect Report. We’ll be back with more as we progress.

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