Instructional league is a tough place to get a complete look at a player but a great place to get a broad sense of a number of players. In the regular season, a scout will sit on a minor league team for 5-6 games and get a full look at all the notable prospects. In instructs, the same 5-6 day look will get you 2-3 games and 2-3 camp days. The rosters are typically larger than the normal 25, with the Pirates listing 93 players on their instructs roster. Most clubs sub out the whole lineup around the 5th inning, so even seeing a prospect start 3 games only amounts to a 1-2 game look.
Where a full report from a pro scout could be up to a paragraph on each tool and a summary, instructs reports are typically a handful of sentences in total. So, my reports from instructs will be these abbreviated impressions, unless it’s a player I got a full look at during the spring. The Yankees recently closed camp, so I’ll start this series with a three part look at their players from instructs.
Tyler Austin is a guy I saw a number of times this spring and wrote a full report for ESPN Insider (sub required) earlier in the year Most of the games I saw of Austin this spring were when he was fresh off a three week DL stint, so this was a good setting to update my report and take out the qualifying language, knowing he was fully healthy.
Austin keeps growing on me with his hitting ability. The thing I really like about him is that, unlike many young hitters, he doesn’t get pull-happy and hook the ball. Every couple at bats, a pitcher will throw a good fastball on his hands and jam him or tie him up. The next time a fastball comes in that area, Austin has made the adjustment. Good hitters have to get jammed sometimes or else they’re getting too conscious of pulling the ball and Austin is the rare guy that showed this skill in A-Ball.
One reason why this may be the case is that Austin’s natural power is to the opposite field gap, though I’ve seen him pull an inside fastball out to left field a few times. Austin has a smooth swing with a direct path that creates above-average to plus raw power from a deep load, high finish, above-average bat speed and strength. Austin is a below-average runner with a choppy stride (expected from a former catcher) but has good defensive instincts in right that make him average to slightly below with the glove and a solid-average arm. He may eventually move to first base down the line, but not anytime soon.
Going back to the three elements of the hit tool I covered last week, Austin is above-average in tools, bat control and plate discipline but isn’t elite in any of them. While he can adjust to pull the ball when the pitcher goes there twice, he often won’t get a second chance versus MLB-caliber pitching and he doesn’t have the raw bat speed to cover the entire plate while hitting for power. He should start 2013 in Double-A and if he continues progressing, could be big-league ready by the end of the year. Putting a 55 to 60 grade on his hit and power tools gives Austin a realistic upside of .275, solid OBP and 20-25 homers that, along with a fringy defensive package in right field, could give the Bombers something to think about when Nick Swisher becomes a free agent this offseason.
I saw Angelo Gumbs a handful of times this spring and after a quick look in instructs, still have roughly the same evaluation of the toolsy second baseman. He catches eyes with his plus bat speed, above-average foot speed and average raw power all while playing in the middle infield. Gumbs has a loose swing and some feel to hit, barreling up pitches with good eye-hand coordination. He’s still raw defensively, though—relatively new to the position, letting balls play him at times and his footwork can get a little choppy. Gumbs has the tools to stick at second, but can play center field if it doesn’t work out. The real issue is the bat and while Gumbs has the tools and some feel for the bat head, his plate discipline is holding him back. It will be passable at times and horrendous for stretches.
Every day that Gumbs struggles to adjust lowers the odds that he’ll figure it out and there are some objective reasons to believe he will not. Some hitters will have loose plate discipline early in the count by choice, then have a tight zone when forced to, with two strikes. This proves they’re capable of having good plate discipline but choose not to; Gumbs’ zone has looked about the same to me, regardless of the count. The other issue is that Gumbs more than a few times has committed to swing at pitches right out of the pitcher’s hand—normally reading fastball and getting off-speed, out of the zone—suggesting he has trouble identifying pitches. While I’ve still only seen about 5-6 full games of Gumbs, a game or two at a time, he’s been the same player each time. His ceiling is a solid everyday 2B with some exciting tools but it’s starting to look like he won’t get there.
Hayden Sharp signed for $200,000 out of an Oklahoma high school as a 18th rounder in 2011 and is still raw, but has a projectable skill set. Sharp is a towering 6’7, 230 and worked 90-92 with his fastball, touching 94 mph and playing up due to his plane and length. He occasionally uses an 88-89 mph two-seam fastball and maximizes his plane with a simple tall-and-fall delivery from a high three-quarters slot. Sharp has a clean arm action that he hides pretty well behind his body and is showing some signs of turning into more of a pitcher than thrower.
Sharp is still gaining more feel for his 81-83 mph slider as the tilt and bite will vary but he will frequently show a solid-average pitch that has the potential to be above-average. He didn’t show a changeup and his 77-79 mph curveball was just a slower, lesser version of the slider. There is still work to be done to allow Sharp to be a starter long-term and become the workhorse the Yankees envisioned when they drafted him, but the 19 year old has youth and raw talent to see it happening.