Prospect Watch: Toolsy Outfielders

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Ryan Cordell, OF, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 252 PA, .336/.402/.543, 8 HR, 23 BB, 41 K

Summary
A strapping outfielder with a full set of tools, Cordell has ripped South Atlantic League pitching apart in his first full season.

Notes
From a statistical/outsider vantage point, Ryan Cordell came out of nowhere and is slowly sneaking up on people. He hit an unremarkable .261/.310/.391 as a junior at Liberty, managed to get picked by the Rangers in the eleventh round despite those poor numbers, and then went out and hit .241/.322/.358 in short-season ball as a 21-year-old. If you wanted, you could note that he stole 47 bases in 55 attempts in 129 games between college and pro ball that year, but otherwise, there was nothing remarkable about him, to the point that the now-22-year-old didn’t break camp with a full-season team in 2014.

Then, suddenly, he showed up in Hickory on May 3 and has gone on to post a .425 wOBA in the past two-and-a-half months. He’s old for the level, but that sort of performance is starting to get his name brought up more frequently in Rangers prospect discussions.

The interesting thing about the slow rise of Cordell’s name recognition in the prospect world is that he’s the sort of guy who immediately stands out on a baseball field, even without doing anything. He’s got the sort of body–6’4″ and not too far from his listed 205 pounds–that just looks good in a baseball uniform, the sort of build that suggests both power and speed. Lo and behold, Cordell has both a .207 ISO and fifteen steals in eighteen attempts this year, so the athleticism his frame suggests is not a mirage.

Further, Cordell is a defensive asset. He’s played all three outfield positions and first base in pro ball, and he looks comfortable in all four spots. He’s athletic enough to handle center field, though he’s probably a 45-grade defender there in the long term. He does, however, project to be a plus defender in a corner with a tick above average arm; he could also be an asset at first base if a roster configuration happened to put him there.

So Cordell clearly is at least average in four tools–power, speed, defense, and arm strength–but there are actually quite a few players out there who have that combination and never do much of anything, because the other tool–the hit tool–is the most important. Thankfully, Cordell isn’t lost in this regard either, as his batting average and 16.5% strikeout rate suggest.

One might be tempted to assign some credit for Cordell’s breakout to the hitting environs of Hickory’s L.P. Frans Stadium, a park that is very friendly to righthanded hitters. However, his .339/.400/.527 road line essentially matches his .333/.405/.559 mark at home, and he’s hit half of his eight bombs away from Hickory. Here’s one I saw in May that was in Hickory but would’ve left just about any park but maybe Fenway:

That’s a heck of a laser. You can see that Cordell’s swing does have some length to it–he employs a slight bat wrap–but he actually takes his cuts on a fairly level plane rather than trying to add a ton of loft to the ball. StatCorner lists him as having just a 28.6% flyball rate on the season, reinforcing that Cordell’s approach revolves more around stinging the ball than launching it. As time passes, he may begin to leverage his natural strength more, but at present, he focuses more on hard contact, which allows his hit tool to play solidly.

In sum, Cordell is an intriguingly athletic player with few weaknesses and production that mirrors his broad skillset, which is sort of a starter-kit Jayson Werth. He has the potential to be an solid everyday outfielder in the bigs if he can maintain a stroke that takes advantage of his natural strength without creating holes. While players that come out of nowhere have their fair share of skeptics, Cordell is quickly making believers out of scouts who cover the Hickory team, and his name could start to be a frequently mentioned one this offseason in list discussions.

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Dylan Cozens, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 20   Top-15: 12   Top-100: N/A
Line: 409 PA, .249/.308/.421, 13 HR, 32 BB, 104 K

Summary
This behemoth is holding his own in full-season competition.

Notes
A second-round pick in 2012 out of an Arizona high school, Dylan Cozens hasn’t particularly wowed statistically in his young career. He’s a .255/.326/.440 career hitter, including .249/.308/.421 this year as a 20-year-old in his first year of full-season ball. The .180ish Isolated Power marks show some promise and befit a player listed at 6’6″ and 235 pounds, and the overall numbers are decent enough that Cozens isn’t in the bust heap like fellow Lakewood outfielder Larry Greene, but he hasn’t done enough to really raise his profile to anything beyond “big toolsy guy who was drafted in the second round in 2012.”

That might be changing lately, though. Cozens recorded a notorious Golden Sombrero on June 29, after which his season line stood at .224/.283/.390 with nine homers and an 87/24 K/BB in 322 PA (27% K/7.4% BB). In twenty games since, he’s hit .346/.402/.538 with four big flies and a 17/8 K/BB in 87 PA (19.5% K/9.2% BB).

Small sample and selective endpoint caveats are in full effect with that, but Cozens also recently impressed me from a scouting standpoint. I sat in on a July 15th game in which he recorded four hits, including these two big flies:

That’s a nice survey of his power output–he takes a first-pitch fastball away to the opposite field and then hits a breaking pitch to right-center. The second one is especially interesting because the breaking pitch fools Cozens somewhat, getting him out on his front foot, and he basically pokes a ball that still ends up as a no-doubter. That’s impressive raw strength, and Cozens could be an impact power threat down the line. Lakewood isn’t a great place to hit, and in fact, Cozens has stroked the ball at a .314/.365/.514 clip away from home, including putting up 26 of his 35 extra-base hits, further backing up how impressive he is in this area.

The power is Cozens’ best tool right now. Second-most impressive is his arm, which rates as a 55 and allows him to project as a playable right fielder. He also has managed to go 17-for-21 on the bases, though Cozens doesn’t have a ton of raw speed and won’t be an impact basestealer when he fully fills out. He’s error-prone in right field but will flash average range when he takes good routes; some think he ends up at first base, but I give Cozens a solid chance to be at least a fringe-average player in a corner outfield spot.

The hit tool is also a question. Cozens has above-average bat speed and shows the ability to barrel pitches at times, but his swing has considerable length, as his hands have a long way to travel to the baseball. His hitting mechanics are different now than those he showed in my viewings in April:

You can see that Cozens has moved his hands up and tilted the bat toward first base in the more recent clips. That doesn’t subtract any length from his swing, but it may be improving his timing, as he doesn’t have to tip the bat back before he swings with his current mechanics like he did in the April ones. As a large player with a long swing and a big strike zone, Cozens will battle strikeouts all the way up, so his ability to become an impact hitter largely depends on his developing good pitch recognition skills that allow him to compensate for the strikeouts with walks while also keeping him swinging at only pitches he can damage.

Given that he’s 20 and that he’s shown some ability to adjust and improve, Cozens deserves some patience as he tries to get the rest of his game to a level where it can complement his power output. He’s a fairly high-risk player, but he has a carrying tool and flashes enough ability in other areas to lend considerable hope to his prognosis.

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Adam Engel, OF, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Top-15: 15   Top-100: N/A
Line: 262 PA, .252/.332/.419, 5 HR, 24 BB, 69 K

Summary
One of the most freakishly athletic players in baseball, Engel is held back only by the hit tool.

Notes
Remember when I said that there are a lot of four-tool guys out there whose one below-average tool was hitting? Engel is the poster boy for such a player.

Adam Engel is a near-Mike Trout-level athlete. I know that sounds ridiculously hyperbolic, but I say it with unblinking sincerity. There are more 80-grade runners out there than one might think (largely because a lot of them can’t hit at all and thus never get any press), but very few of them have Trout’s dimensions of 6’2″ and 230 pounds. Engel is 6’1″ and 215, which is about as close as you’re going to get, and he was considered the fastest player in the collegian draft class last year. And boy, is he ever:

My rough timing has Engel home-to-third at about 10.9 seconds on the first video and 11.1 in the second, which are truly elite times–he may be the fastest player in an organization that includes Micah Johnson and Keenyn Walker. The speed translates to plus-plus range in center field, as Engel gets incredible closing speed on balls, and he also (unlike Trout) has an arm that rates as at least a 60 on the 20-80 scale. If Engel hits .240 with a few walks, he’ll be a valuable player thanks to his defense and baserunning as well as his possession of the strength to muscle some balls out of the park:

But can Engel hit .240 in the big leagues someday? He’s currently just hitting .252 in Low-A at age 22 and has displayed a disturbing tendency to strike out, amassing K’s at a 26.3% clip. Like Cozens, he’s caught fire of late–he was out from May 19 through the end of June, and since coming back on July 1, he’s hit .288/.374/.550 with four of his five home runs and three of his six triples (including the two above). He’s currently riding a nine-game hit streak in which he’s gone 15-for-40 with six extra-base hits, five walks, and seven strikeouts, so maybe something’s clicking. Also like Cozens, he’s made clear alterations to his hitting mechanics–note how much more open he is in the two triples videos (from July) than in the homer video (from April). He’s more crouched now and his hands start way in front of his body before being pulled back during his swing.

Neither set of hitting mechanics is ideal, though, as Engel’s stroke is stiff and gets choppy at times. His approach also needs considerable work. He seems to get overwhelmed when behind in the count and resorts to being a guess hitter, often appearing overmatched by mediocre pitches when he guesses wrong. Since he opened up his stance, he’s become mostly a dead-pull hitter, and while he seems to be making more hard contact with the new setup, his tendency to pull off outside pitches and try to rip everything to left field is going to get exploited when he moves up the chain. Engel’s inability to make consistent hard contact is what pushed him to the nineteenth round in the first place (why else would this grade of athlete slip that far?)–he hit .236 as a junior at Louisville. Engel is a hard worker who seems willing to adjust in the face of issues, but it’s an open question how much he’ll be able to put the ball in play, a key factor for a speed-reliant player. His below-average pitch recognition skills don’t help him when it comes to projecting plate discipline, though he’s managed a 9.2% walk rate and a .332 OBP.

Engel’s the sort of player who will get chances forever because of all the things he does well and his ability to occasionally flash some hitting talent. A popular comparison for him is Trout’s former teammate Peter Bourjos, and that seems pretty reasonable–a guy who would be a star if he could just control the strike zone, but still does everything else so well that he’s valuable even when accounting for the flailing. Engel could be anything from a poor man’s Carlos Gomez, to a frustrating but still valuable player like Bourjos or Cameron Maybin, to an outright tools bust like Greg Golson (or the aforementioned Keenyn Walker, for that matter). It bears watching how well his recent hot streak continues for the season’s final six weeks, as that may be indicative of whether Engel’s ready to start moving toward the big leagues or whether he’s more likely to languish like Walker has.



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Nathaniel Stoltz is a prospect writer for FanGraphs. A resident of Bowie, MD and University of Maryland graduate student, he frequently views prospects in the Carolina and South Atlantic Leagues. He can be followed on Twitter at @stoltz_baseball.


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This post could be all White Sox prospects from the last few years.

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