Image credit: Nick Senzel (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
Boomer Prinstein is a former Orioles pro scout. He’s writing for Baseball America about players he’s seen in spring training in Arizona this year. Today, he’s looking at young pitchers who stood out. Yesterday, he looked at 11 pitchers who caught his eye.
To qualify for a spot on this list, the player either needs to be a minor leaguer, yet-to-be-established or rising Major Leaguer. A few of the position players may not be considered young in prospect-terms, but in the case of a few, they have yet to establish themselves or realize their potential in the big leagues.
1. Nick Senzel, 3B/OF, Reds
Senzel has a tendency to drift at times, but he looks solid and he’ll project to improve with more experience because he has the requisite instincts and athleticism. Senzel shows great balance in his swing, outstanding eye-hand coordination, plate coverage and plus bat speed to turn on above-average velocity with ease. I’m impressed with the way he gets the barrel of the bat into the hitting zone so quickly, as well as his ability to take pitches where they are pitched. With two strikes, he adjusts by cutting down his swing with a more contact-oriented approach, making him an extremely tough out for pitchers while still maintaining the ability to hit the ball hard to all fields.
After watching him this spring, Senzel is an easy Role 6 with the potential to be a Role 7 player when it’s all said and done. I think he’s a present 60 hitter and a future 80 with present 40 and future 50 game power. He’ll be with at least an average defender wherever you put him with above-average speed.
2. Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers
When I first saw Hiura, he was not playing in the field as he recovered from an injury to his throwing arm. I still liked him, however, and I put a big league grade on him, but it came with some concerns. The main concerns were over which position he could play, as well as if he had enough bat beed to catch up to plus velocity consistently considering his exaggerated front leg lift at the plate. He’s now back at second base and he had shortened his leg lift enough to where he was turning on balls with ease thanks to his plus bat speed and rather compact bat path. He elevates the ball with ease and his swing/body type reminds me of Brian Dozier. He’s not an exceptional athlete by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t see him being able to play on the left side of the infield with his adequate, at best, arm strength, but he can hit.
In an early March at-bat, Hiura got into a two-strike count with the bases loaded. He shortened his leg lift a bit more and drilled a down-the-middle, 87 mph fastball (something he should drill) beyond the left field wall for a grand slam. There’s no doubt this guy is going to hit, and he’s already done it at every level in the minors. He hits more doubles than home runs, but that’s something you like to see out of young hitters since game power in usually the last thing to come. I see Hiura as an everyday second baseman with above-average power and slightly above-average hit tool, but I still have some concerns with his timing and his ability to cover the whole plate.
3. Jo Adell, OF, Angels
I was able to see Adell for the first time this spring before he went down with a sprained ankle and strained hamstring. I came away very impressed. He has a lean, athletic frame that should continue to fill out, and he has a really nice, handsy swing with plus bat speed and impressive contact ability. Adell showed advanced plate discipline for his age and worked counts well, never letting his swing get to big. He consistently made pitchers get him out with quality pitchers instead of expanding the strike zone and chasing pitches. He’s the type of player you definitely notice at the plate with his approach and swing. He kind of reminded me of a young Gary Sheffield. It’s maybe not quite the same bat speed—Sheffield had some of the best bat speed of all-time—but there’s a lot to like. Even before the injury, Adell was never going to break camp with the club since he’s still so young, but his future is very bright.
4. Christian Walker, 1B/OF, D-backs
A righthander slugger in the D-backs’ organization, Walker is no longer blocked by Paul Goldschmidt. He had a great spring, and even his outs were hard contact. In 2017, he clubbed 34 home runs and drove in 114 runs to lead the Triple-A Pacific Coast League while playing home games at hitter-friendly Reno. Walker has always been able to hit and just needed an opportunity. I love his compact swing, and his path to the ball allows him to create really good backspin and carry. He only has really needed to work on his approach, and so far this spring it’s been great.
Walker has improved by making sure his swing never gets too big, and he’s hitting balls where they’re pitched while doing damage in both hitter and pitcher counts. With the chance at everyday plate appearances with the D-backs, Walker will have a chance to hit 30 home runs this year. He’s slated to platoon at first base with Jake Lamb moving over from third base, but with his excellent spring he is a potential breakout candidate for me.
5. Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers
Verdugo shows no fear at the plate and takes hacks against both righthanders and lefthanders. He recognizes the breaking ball early and does a great job of keeping his hands back. Finally, the Dodgers may have found a lefthanded hitter who doesn’t have extreme platoon splits and can be an everyday outfielder regardless of the opposing pitcher. He went 0-for-3 with a walk in the first and only game I saw him against the Rangers on March 18, but here’s a great point between scouting and analytics. He never looked overmatched. He got his barrel into the hitting zone every time, he was a tough out and he made solid contact versus lefthanders.
The spring training numbers don’t jump out at you, but for me it’s how he swung the bat and how comfortable he looked in the batter’s box. Verdugo is going to break camp with the big league team, and if he gets the requisite at-bats, he’s definitely a NL Rookie of the Year candidate for me.
6. Nico Hoerner, 2B, Cubs
Hoerner looked both confident and comfortable at the plate this spring. In the last game I saw him play on March 7 against the Rockies, he had four at-bats and reached base all four times. He had a bloop, RBI single in his first at-bat, and in his second AB he hustled down the line in 4.0 seconds to beat out a grounder on the left side on the infield from a two-strike count. In his third plate appearance, he smashed a triple to right-center field for what normally would have been a double, but he ran hard with plus speed and good angles around the bases to make it all the way to third. By his fourth at-bat, the Rockies just plunked him for good measure.
Hoerner’s swing is a bit unorthodox, with his back foot moving and more a natural dip from the right-hand side with a two-handed finish, but he has excellent plate coverage and contact skills. He was not overmatched by any of the Rockies’ major league starters or relievers, and he has the makings of a quick mover through the system. You watch Hoerner and you come away liking the way he plays the game. He should move up the Cubs’ minor league system quickly.
7. Cristhian Adames, SS/2B, Cubs
Adames is another Cubs farmhand, but he’s no longer a prospect given his age and experience. The 27-year-old was frequently a late-inning replacement early on in spring training, but the switch-hitter made the most of his at-bats. Adames is very patient at the plate, consistently getting himself into hitter counts where he could do damage. Is it possible Adames is just a late-bloomer and has finally started to figure it out? Potentially. But it’s also possible that it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors, considering he was hitting mostly fastballs against predominantly minor league pitchers late in spring training games.
I saw Adames make some strong plays at shortstop, and the chatter in the scouting section is that he could always field it. Adames looks strong, confident and defensively apt enough to play up the middle at either shortstop or second base. The issue with the Cubs, specifically as it relates to Adames, is they have a starting shortstop (Javier Baez) and second baseman (Ben Zobrist) and plenty of utility. On top of that, they have former starting shortstop Addison Russell coming back from suspension. Adames is headed back to the minors, but there is something here.
8. Franklin Barreto, INF/OF, Athletics
A former top prospect who made his major league debut last year, Barreto has been squeezed from the Athletics’ middle infield plans with incumbent shortstop Marcus Semien and newly acquired Jurickson Profar taking over at second base. As a result, the Athletics have been trying Barreto in center field, where he is still very much learning a new position. He’s a natural shortstop by trade, and he really profiles more as a second baseman in the future.
After waiting a couple of games to see Barreto really challenged in the outfield, the wind was blowing out in tough conditions on March 13 against the Cubs. On two hard-hit balls to either side of him, Barreto took some circular routes to the ball. Both hits were into the gap and would have been tough plays for even the best defensive center fielders, but he wasn’t really close to either one. Seeing these plays made me question just how much value Barreto will bring in the outfield. I believe that you can’t just take any athlete or baseball player and stick him in the outfield. Reads, especially with challenging winds and the sun, are difficult. And with Barreto’s prospect pedigree at shortstop, I don’t believe he’s really had much experience in he outfield before this year. The way he’s been hitting this spring, I would honestly like to see him more at shortstop. If Semien doesn’t hit well enough, Barreto, with his projectable hit tool, plus bat speed and compact swing, might be the guy to step in and get everyday at-bats there. I just haven’t seen him used in that role.
Both McMahon and Hampson are 24 years old and only have a combined 200 major league at-bats between them. The biggest difference is that they’re different types of players with very different swings. Hampson hits righthanded, while McMahon is a lefthanded hitter. With Trevor Story entrenched at shortstop and Nolan Arenado at third base for the forseeable future, this seems to be a head-to-head competition for the full-time starting second base job or simply a natural platoon situation. And with top prospect Brendan Rodgers on his way up the ladder, either of these guys better act fast to become established big leaguers. McMahon has a smooth-looking, natural swing that projects for some power at Coors Field, while Hampson, who has a smaller, stockier frame, has a shorter, quick-twitch, aggressive swing that profiles for a higher average.
10. Meibrys Viloria, C, Royals
When I saw Villoria in 2017, I thought of him as a backup catcher with fringe tools across the board and a better bat than glove. He displayed good lateral movement when blocking pitches in the dirt on March 6 against the Cubs, and he threw out a runner trying to steal second base with an improved release as well. At the plate, he blooped a single into left-center field in a tough left-on-left matchup against Cubs starter Jose Quintana. And even though he didn’t look like an above-average hitter, he’s consistently held his own.
Later on this spring he continued to impress at the plate with patience and a knack for hard contact in hitter counts. He doesn’t look overmatched at the plate despite his inexperience at the higher levels of the minors. I’m still a little concerned with his fielding—he receives the ball OK but tends to drag on higher velocity to his arm side. His right leg also has a tendency to collapse, causing there to be too much movement while receiving. I don’t think he’s going to be a plus defender, but with a fringe-average offensive package and fringe-average defense—and given the scarcity of catching at the big league level—Viloria’s bat may end up carrying him into either an everyday or platoon-type role.
Special Backfields Bonus Edition: Cesare Astorri, C, Athletics.
OK, lets start by acknowledging there’s some bias here. A shameless plug here, but after noticing a then-15-year-old skinny Italian catcher walk four times in one game at a small European tournament in 2014, I followed Astorri for a couple of years. And then, after he hit his growth spurt and showed a 1.9-second pop time and legit in-game power at the 2017 Prague Baseball Week tournament, I tried, unsuccessfully, to sign him with the Orioles. I also invited him to participate in the 2017 International Stars College Showcase, which is held October in Arizona, in hopes that I could help him land a college scholarship. He played so well at the week-long event that I invited some scouting friends to take a look at him, and that’s where the Athletics scooped him up. I pegged him as a young Yan Gomes with a similar body type and profile projection. He has legit pull power from the righthand side, but even more impressive is his ability to receive and his strong throwing arm from the catching position.
I think Astorri has a real shot to play in the big leagues, and even though he is still a bit raw, he holds is own in games. After watching him on the backfields earlier in March, I ended up seeing him start for the Athletics’ minor league team last week against Tijuana de Toros, a pro Mexican team. He received and blocked well, and in the batter’s box he had a balanced swing and was able to get the barrel to the ball consistently. Perhaps just as important, he displayed a maturity and a grasp to handle pitchers in both English and Spanish, which is a great attribute to have as a catcher. I know I’m a bit biased here, but I thin this could be one of the next European-born player to make it to the big leagues.