Prospect Watch: Youth Up The Middle

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.

In this piece, I look at three 18-and-under up-the-middle prospects.

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Carlos Tocci, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 18  Top-15: 6   Top-100: N/A
Line: 456 PA, .248/.299/.340, 2 HR, 21 BB, 83 K

Summary
This athletic, projectable glider has made moderate inroads at the plate and has plenty of time and projection to allow for additional progress.

Notes
For a kid who turns 19 later this month, Carlos Tocci sure seems like he’s been around for a long time. That’s largely because he was assigned to full-season ball last year as a 17-year-old, opening 2013 as the youngest player at the Low-A level before some guy named Julio Urias was assigned there. After a very poor performance there (.209/.261/.249), Tocci was slowed down to repeat the level this year, but his numbers obviously still fail to jump off the page.

The natural question with a player like this is wondering how much of his failure to put up numbers is due to his youth and how much is just due to a lack of skill. While Tocci clearly has a long way to go before he’s ready to approach the big leagues, he provides plenty of intrigue.

First, while he’s obviously a long way off with the bat, Tocci is already a very solid center fielder. He has smooth actions, reads the ball well, and covers a significant amount of ground, and his arm is at least a 55 on the 20-80 scale. He’s also an easy plus runner who has legged out eight triples this year despite his lack of power (more on that in a minute), though he has yet to figure out how to use that speed in stealing bases (9-for-20 this year). Since he projects to be at or at least near plus defensively and on the basepaths, Tocci doesn’t need to be an impact hitter to have significant value at the big league level.

At the plate, Tocci has always made a reasonable amount of contact, with strikeout rates of 16.8, 16.8, and 18.2 percent in his three professional seasons. His swing is relatively simple and short to the ball, so he projects to continue to put the ball in play at a reasonable amount all the way up the chain. At 6’2″, he has the frame to suggest some future leverage and strength, but calling Tocci “skinny” is an understatement. He’s listed at 160 pounds and isn’t a pound heavier, and he’s actually had to add some weight from last year even to get there. Discussions of Tocci’s future largely center on how much he’ll fill out and how strong he’ll be. If he adds another 25 pounds of muscle, he’ll likely have enough strength to hit for at least some gap power, but if his body stays largely the same, he’ll struggle to get the bat knocked out of his hands.

The added weight in the past offseason, more than any sort of adjustment, is what’s responsible for Tocci’s improved production this year, as gaining some semblance of strength at the plate has allowed him to increase his BABIP and Isolated Power by 50 points. He’s also hit his first two professional home runs in the past month, continuing to signal the slow emergence of a sliver of pop. He’ll need to keep making strides in those areas, and he could stand to improve his selectivity along the way as well, but if those elements of his game improve to even fringe-average, he’d project as something like a .270/.320/.390 hitter with good defense in center, putting him in the Leonys Martin/Desmond Jennings class of outfielders. That wouldn’t be a bad outcome, and he’s young enough that there’s a chance that he could add in a few extra twists and be even more than that, but his distance to the majors also means expectations are best kept realistic.

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Richard Urena, SS, Toronto Blue Jays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 188 PA, .322/.364/.460, 2 HR, 12 BB, 39 K

Summary
Extremely young and already producing, Urena offers a bit of everything.

Notes
Who isn’t intrigued by a shortstop hitting .322/.364/.460 as an 18-year-old in something other than a complex league? To put it another way, Urena is four months younger than fifth overall pick Nick Gordon, who plays in the same league, and Urena has the better wOBA by 65 points. Statistics don’t mean too much when they’re coming from the Appalachian League, but it’s hard not to have your interest piqued by Urena’s production.

Like Gordon, Urena has a broad skillset that doesn’t feature any one incredible tool. He’s obviously stood out most to date for his hitting, showing an ability to sting the ball to all fields. He’s actually largely an opposite-field hitter right now according to his MLBFarm page. Here’s one of his many hits to left field, a double I saw on June 26:

It’s evident that Urena has above-average bat speed, though he has some excessive pre-swing movement that could stand to be toned down and he needs to stay in the box better rather than bailing out toward first base. If he can make those refinements, he has a chance to be a solid-average hitter who has enough strength and bat speed to reach double-digit homer totals, a .270 hitter with a .405 slugging or so. His approach wavers at times, leading to a 39/12 K/BB ratio, but he shows flashes of being able to recognize pitches and work deep counts, so at his age the aggregate plate discipline numbers shouldn’t be a concern.

The rest of Urena’s game is also solid. While he’s quite raw at shortstop with an .898 fielding percentage, he has the tools to stick there, with smooth actions, solid-average range, and an above-average arm. He’s still developing his feel for the position, but he should eventually become a sound shortstop or plus defensive second baseman, depending on his team’s needs. He also is an above-average runner, as you can see here:

As you can see, words like “sound” and “solid” are all over Urena’s scouting report, which doesn’t really have many pure superlatives. Some scouts have come away only mildly enthused as a result, but Urena seems primed to be the sort of player for whom the whole is more than the sum of the parts. As the sabermetrically inclined are well aware, there can be great value in players who do everything solidly but lack a “wow factor.” It might seem somewhat disappointing that an 18-year-old shortstop with this sort of production doesn’t have that single jaw-dropping talent, but he doesn’t have to; he’s a legitimately good prospect anyway.

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Meibrys Viloria, C, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Foreign Rookie   Age: 17   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 84 PA, .377/.470/.565, 2 HR, 12 BB, 10 K

Summary
An extremely long way off, but a potential impact lefty-hitting catcher, and those don’t come around often.

Notes
It might strike you as odd that I’m writing about a prospect in the Dominican Summer League, because a) those guys generally are so far off they’re barely worth considering and b) I’ve never been to a Dominican Summer League game. Earlier this year, though, 17-year-old catcher Meibrys Viloria had a brief stint in the Appalachian League, where he hit .200/.373/.325 before being sent down to the Dominican because he wasn’t catching enough with Chase Vallot and Xavier Fernandez in Burlington. When he was with the B-Royals, I happened to notice his name–he was the second-youngest player on an extremely young team (the youngest being Italian phenom Marten Gasparini), and yet I’d never heard of him.

Then he did this:

That was six weeks ago–Viloria was 17 years and four months old, and he already showed usable power in the Appalachian League. He’s got bat speed and a workable swing path to go with obvious present strength. Further, he has a developed enough batting eye not only to walk more than he’s struck out in the DSL, but also to post an even 10/10 K/BB in his Appy stint.

My viewings of Viloria consisted solely of one game as the DH and one relatively uneventful one behind the plate, so I can’t say much about his defense. He does have a prototypical catcher’s body even at age 17, and in my extremely limited viewing sample, his receiving and blocking skills appeared superior to Vallot’s. For what it’s worth, he has not been issued a passed ball all season between the DSL and Appy; even if it’s only 21 games caught, that’s still quite rare to see from a player this young. He’s also caught 27% of basestealers.

I didn’t get a long enough look at Viloria to hone in on real specific projections of his future, and being specific about his destiny is probably foolish anyway, given his extreme youth. But I saw enough to know that he’s a very interesting guy who’s worth keeping an eye on, because he might offer power and patience from the left side while being able to stick behind the plate, and you don’t need me to tell you that such a skillset carries premium value.




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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.


4 Responses to “Prospect Watch: Youth Up The Middle”

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  1. KyleZ says:

    Urena/Barreto up the middle for the Jays forever.

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  2. Jason Parks says:

    Appreciate the extra prospect coverage this year. #wet

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  3. senor_mike says:

    Any thoughts on Amed Rosario of the Mets / Brooklyn Cyclones? It seems like he fits in pretty nicely to this comparative group.

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