Dear Gary Sanchez,
I’ve made the two-and-a-half hour round trip to Rome, Georgia to watch you play baseball twice. On both occasions, you have had the game off leaving me with no choice but to dream of scouting your plus power potential without seeing it in person. Mr. Sanchez, the dugout is no place for a young man of your talents. On Saturday, I’ll be back at State Mutual Stadium and hope to see you in game action then. I enjoyed watching a number of your teammates perform well on Thursday, but their potent bats and steady glove work robbed me of seeing you make a token pinch-hitting appearance. Here’s to hoping you have a rightful place in the starting lineup this weekend so I may remove you from the list of “one’s who got away.”
In all seriousness, missing Gary Sanchez a second time knocked the wind out of my sails before the first pitch was even thrown. Fortunately, the other six Yankees prospects in the starting lineup made the trip worthwhile – especially Dante Bichette Jr., who chipped in three hits on the evening, including two with two strikes off of Braves Tim Hudson on rehab assignment. In some respects, Bichette Jr. reminded me of Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado who parlayed an approach combining strong contact skills and the ability to hit to all fields into top-50 prospect status. In looking at Bichette Jr.’s numbers, I’m surprised by his 10/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the early going. Yes it’s an extremely small sample size, but he hit like the kind of player who strikes out 10 times a month, not week.
Mason Williams stole two bases (plus one uncontested attempt) and made a tremendous diving catch in left-center field, exhibiting his top flight speed. However, he also dove wildly at a ball off the bat of Braves Kyle Kubitza leading to an inside-the-park home run. One has to appreciate the combination of agility and explosive baseball movement, but his learning how to harness those tools will go a long way in determining the young outfielders future ceiling. At the plate, his two hit performance displayed his ability to pepper ground balls and line drives to all fields, but not much lift is present in his swing and his striking out twice also left me questioning how much swing-and-miss will be present in his offensive game at the upper levels.
Angelo Gumbs showed some of the best bat speed I’ve ever seen from a prospect, but an unbridled approach including a few swings-and-misses in which he appeared completely lost at the plate. When Gumbs did make contact – even bad contact – his power potential was evident including a laser of a double to right-center field. On defense, he adjusted nicely to a poor hop behind second base that I was certain would eat him up, starting a 4-6-3 double play. On another double play ball, he displayed excellent arm strength in making a strong throw off his back foot to avoid an oncoming baserunner.
Right fielder Tyler Austin hit long home runs to both right and left field, showing impressive present power. However, both were on bad balls left up in the zone proving his ability to handle mistakes, but a longer look is needed to see how Austin makes adjustments to quality pitches as he beat balls from Tim Hudson into the ground. Of course an A-ball hitter facing a professional on a rehab stint who induces ground balls for a living isn’t exactly ideal to draw judgments from, but it’s the sample I have to work with.
Left fielder Benjamin Gamel resembled current Yankee Brett Gardner physically, only without the speed which allows the Bombers current left fielder to excel defensively and lead the league in stolen bases. This throws quite a wrench into his value as a prospect as Gardner might be a quad-A player without his most valuable asset.
Former first round pick Cito Culver spent the game doing his best to emulate Ichiro Suzuki‘s swing mechanics from the left side of the plate. Unfortunately, this led to an 0-4 performance with a couple of strikeouts, as copying Ichiro and being Ichiro are two entirely different things. On defense, Culver was a part of a couple of double play attempts, but his lower half was a bit thick for my liking, making me wonder if a position change will be in order down the road.
One other prospect worth mentioning is Anderson Feliz, who is repeating the league as a 20-year-old infielder. Not only does he share my birthday, but his tools were better last season than a player who posted an offensive line 20% worse than league average. Against Tim Hudson, Feliz laced a double to the right-center field gap in what was the hardest hit ball off of the 181-game winner. Feliz is a very deep sleeper, but one worth monitoring nonetheless.