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Reports From Instructs: Big Tools, Little Experience

I had abbreviated looks at two more Blue Jays hitters with big, recent international bonuses and am tossing in the one pitcher with some prospect standing from the game I saw of the Red Sox. All three of these players have big bonuses, tools and expectations, but little experience in organized minor league games.

Two of the highest recent bonuses from the July 2 market have been handed out to hitters but the Blue Jays in 2B/CF Franklin Barreto (2012) and SS Dawel Lugo (2011). Barreto signed for $1.45 million, one of the top bonuses in the first year of fixed international bonus pools while Lugo signed for $1.3 million last season under the old rules.

Barreto won’t be 17 until spring training, is the equivalent of a high school junior and is actually younger than most of the top prep prospects for the 2014 draft. I point that out so you realize how much more projection is necessary to see what he’ll become and I’m guessing his age is a reason that Barreto barely even played in instructs. He obviously has plenty of instruction to absorb and I only saw him in part of one game.

The limiting factor for Barreto’s future is his size, listed at 5’9, 175 with a boxy frame. He doesn’t look like many big league shortstops and most scouts don’t think he’ll stick there. While he has legitimate 70 speed and solid actions, Barreto’s footwork and defensive instincts are rough and you have to be a ridiculous athlete (think Allen Iverson/point guard) to play big league shortstop at that size. Given Barreto’s age, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, so you have to assume he isn’t the exception to the rule. Some scouts prefer him at second base while his foot speed and easy above average arm could fit better in center field. You can’t rule out shortstop yet, but any of the up the middle positions allow his bat to profile well. From a short look, I think second base would be his best fit long-term.

Barreto’s bat has less uncertainty than his eventual position, as a long-time performer in international tournaments with good offensive tools and game-changing speed. Even from the right-handed box, I got Barreto at 3.75 to first base on a bunt. He’s still growing into his body and he has occasional awkwardness to his swing in games, such as a narrow base, but there’s some raw power present that could be average at maturity. Like fellow Blue Jay prospect D.J. Davis, that’s an athlete with a potentially above average bat at a premium position and Barreto isn’t even 17 yet.

Lugo turns 18 in a few weeks and his strength is that you know where he’s going to play. The lanky 6’0, 185-pound shortstop has the above-average feet and hands for the position along with a strong arm and solid instincts. Lugo has easy above-average speed and some bat speed to help his offensive profile, but he’s still developing strength and can get overwhelmed at the plate at times, as his stat line will show.

Lugo is mostly projection at the plate but will flash solid gap power at times, though he’ll never have even average raw power. Clubs have seemingly outsourced the shortstop position and Lugo has to tools to eventually become a regular, but has a ways to go.

The Red Sox drafted lefty Cody Kukuk in the 7th round in 2011 out of a Kansas high school, signing him late for a well over slot $800,000. He didn’t play organized ball in 2011 and only threw 10 innings in the GCL this season, though his numbers were excellent. He’ll be 20 when the minor league season starts and with almost no regular season experience.

That said, Kukuk impressed me with his raw stuff: a 90-93 mph sinker and slider and changeup that both flashed at least above average potential. Kukuk’s heater has above average sink and some run but his command was inconsistent. He would occasionally lose his release point and rush him arm, creating a cutter with no sink. He kept the ball down most of the time and has a chance to be a strong groundball pitcher. Kukuk’s slider has 11-to-5 tilt and shape like a curveball, but at 81-82 mph it has slider velocity. He flashed depth and occasional hard bite, but his feel waned; it’s a below average pitch now with above average potential.

Kukuk’s changeup could be a separator, as it gives him a solid three pitch mix that many his age don’t possess, and it flashes plus potential. At 80-82 mph, when he’s commanding it, Kukuk’s changeup turns over with good fade and depth but, like with all his pitches, Kukuk has trouble commanding the pitch. There are a couple things to point to for this lack of feel. First, Kukuk is a big kid at 6’4, 200 pounds with long limbs, projection remaining and a longer arm circle. Kids that size and age often need time to grow into their bodies to gain more control in their deliveries and a longer arm circle gives just another variable to keep under control.

As for more immediate, fixable issues, Kukuk tilts his body for a slight crossfire action, both complicating his timing and angle to the plate, but also giving right-handed hitters an even easier time following his arm stroke and hurting his deception. Kukuk also is a slinger with a three-quarters arm slot that he achieves by tilting his body 45 degrees toward third base. If he stood perfectly upright, he would be just above a sidearm slot. I don’t think Kukuk should start throwing at that low of a slot, but correcting his posture at release could go a long way to improving his command.

There are some obvious pluses with Kukuk’s delivery as well. He has a simple tall-and-fall delivery that’s low effort, his arm works well out front, he has good timing and natural arm speed and his front side is firm, all positive tweaks to try to gain consistency. Big lefties with this kind of stuff don’t’ come along very often and there’s middle of the rotation upside here, but plenty of things to work on and a long way to go before reaching his potential.