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Phillies Find Gem in Mitch Walding

The scouting highlight of my time in upstate, New York was not 2011 first rounders Taylor Guerrieri (Rays) or Larry Greene (Phillies). Nor was it Red Sox 2012 first round pick Deven Merrero. How about 2011 second round picks Roman Quinn (Phillies) and Williams Jerez (Red Sox)? No. Without a doubt, the most impressive few minutes of my five games scouted in New York was the batting practice display put on by Phillies third base prospect Mitch Walding. So frequent were the balls leaving Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays, that I was compelled to find the distance down the right field line as I kept having flashbacks of Asheville and its sub-300 foot porch.

Video after the jump

And while the power displayed in batting practice by Walding did not carry over into game action, his advanced approach allowed him to pepper line drives to all fields resulting in a multi-hit performance. Having seen the young third baseman at a time when his batting average sat in the .350’s, his current line of .280/.353/.374 is perplexing. However, Walding’s recent struggles are not enough to sway me from believing he is one of the best pure hitters I’ve scouted this season.

At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Walding has room to add an additional 20-30 pounds to his frame at full physical maturity. However, adding weight may not come easily considering his lack of natural size through the shoulders and hips.

In terms of athleticism, Walding’s long limbs cause him to look a bit awkward at times – especially when running and playing the infield. However, his swing is surprisingly short and quick considering his arm length leaving his bat more advanced than his glove at this point. Having already moved down the defensive spectrum from shortstop to third base, he is in no danger of having to move to a less valuable defensive position such as first base or a corner outfield spot.

In batting practice, Walding is able to stay inside the baseball better than just about every left-handed hitting prospect I’ve seen previously. Behind strong hands and a slight uppercut in his swing plane, Walding was able to let the ball travel deep into his hitting zone before tattooing baseball after baseball. And while his home runs were not tape measure shots, the natural backspin and loft he was able to generate was uncanny for a player his age.

However, that backspin did not carry over into game action although Walding consistently barreled the baseball with success. Instead of allowing the ball to travel and trusting his hands to do much of the work, Walding attacked pitches in front of the plate nullifying much of his impressive natural power. The contact skills are there for his strikeout rate to plummet, but Walding will likely struggle with identifying off-speed pitches until he makes an adjustment. Additionally, he was almost patient to a fault. It would benefit him to be a bit more aggressive – especially with two strikes – as about the only thing worse than short season pitching are short season umpires.

On defense, Walding’s throwing motion caused natural tail into the base runner. This led to an error early in the contest, as well another near mishap later on. His arm strength is at least average for the position, but he’ll need to develop a cleaner arm action to consistently make long throws across the diamond. With the glove, Walding picked everything in front of him and showed range to his left. As with many young prospects, his backhand side was a bit rough, but repetition and better technique should help. In time, there’s really no reason for Walding to become at least an average defender based on the skills he does have.

When totaling Mitch Walding’s signing bonus and future cost of a college education, the Phillies organization invested close to seven figures to sign the young third baseman. Based on other seven figure signings I’ve seen, Philadelphia made a wise investment as the potential is there for Walding to develop into a player with both an above average hit tool and power. In person, Walding presented far better than first round pick Larry Greene and is likely to be ranked as one of the better prospects in the organization this winter.

While much different in terms of build and being left-handed, my first impression of Mitch Walding is similar to that of Colorado Rockies third base prospect Nolan Arenado in terms of hitting ability. When I first saw Arenado in 2010, I was blown away by his feel for contact and focus on generating lift – down to the his bat flick when taking practice swings. Arenado hails from Newport Beach, a full six-plus hours from Walding’s stomping grounds in Lodi, California. But oddly enough, Walding had the same bat flick. The Phillies would surely be pleased if it yielded the same results.