For the next installment in the instructs series, I’ll run down some thoughts on the two top hitters I saw (and quick notes on one pitcher). Keep in mind as I’ve mentioned before that these are limited looks with no more than a game or two look and no batting practice, so this doesn’t constitute a full standard scouting report from a multi-game look during the minor league season.
While I saw what amounted to basically one game of Wuilmer Becerra, he seems like the most relevant prospect to lead the article off with since he was included in the R.A. Dickey deal just a few days ago. Becerra is a real prospect in his own right, signing for $1.3 million on July 2nd, 2011 and that means youth is still on his side, as he turned 18 during instructs this year. His minor league debut was cut short after 36 plate appearances in the GCL this season after he broke his jaw from an errant in-game fastball.
Becerra has a long frame, listed at 6’4, 190 but he isn’t the typical super-slender projectable tools monsters of July 2, as there’s already some thickness to his frame and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is or will soon be well over 200 pounds. He runs well for his size and I didn’t get a great time but Becerra looked to be a below average runner, a far cry from when he had put up above average times in amateur workouts. His arm wasn’t overly impressive and my read was a left field profile, which is where he played exclusively in instructs.
Becerra’s swing is solid for a guy of his size, with a good, fluid load and hands at a medium height. He showed some patience in games and a direct bat path, along with some performance: he showed off his above-average raw power by tomahawking a fastball up in the zone off the left field wall for a double and hooking a fastball away over the left field wall.
Becerra could get a little passive and would be late on some good fastballs but appears to have the tools at the plate to make adjustments to that. Becerra also is pull-conscious as many young power hitters can be and he’ll hook the ball (take a longer path to pull pitches away from him) more than you’d like, both fixable problems as well. The pedigree, swing, power, frame and athleticism are all there for a power-hitting, potential above-average regular but there’s a long way to go and almost no performance history to look at.
The most high-profile hitter in camp was recent first round pick (17th overall) D.J. Davis, who signed soon after the draft for a slightly underslot $1.75 million out of a Mississippi high school. For reference, Davis was young for his draft class, turning 18 after the draft, and is just a few months older than Becerra. Davis’ scouting reputation was predictive of his pro debut: rare power-speed combo with some rawness and contact questions.
The 5’11, 170 pound athlete is very similar to Kenny Lofton, but the way Davis currently uses his tools makes him a different kind of player, though there’s plenty of time to adjustment. Davis’ log line is an attention-grabbing one: plus-plus speed, potential above average lefty power from a loose, quick twitch athlete. The tools are there to be an above average defender despite a below average arm but the real question is Davis’ feel for the game and how his impressive offensive tools will play in games.
Davis has cleaned his swing up significantly since the beginning of his senior season in high school but still has some work to do. His current approach is to attempt to wring all the power of out his athletic frame, but Davis is such a good athlete that he can still keep his balance and make good contact doing something that extreme. His athletic ability may convince him to stick with this approach longer than he should, but his debut performance (70 K, .250 AVG in 255 short-season PA) indicates adjustments will be coming soon.
Davis’ load is conservative in depth but his hands are a little higher than most leadoff types, helping to create backspin for power. His feet are set up wide, he has a slight bat wrap, his hips lead his hands to maximizes his torque and extension, he has a high finish and Davis takes a very healthy cut, like most power hitters. He has good bat speed and takes a direct path when he isn’t barring/locking his lead elbow, something he must fix to succeed even in the lower minors. Davis needs to ratchet down the effort in his swing to make more contact, as that could be enough to solve his contact problems.
Davis shows the ability to handle the bat head and make adjustments, which leads me to believe that unless his pitch recognition is terrible (I’m chalking many of his strikeouts to approach/mechanics) that a Kenny Lofton-type offensive approach is doable and likely his best choice. The ceiling with this approach (.280, 15 homers, 20+ steals, above average defense) is still an above average regular and would remove some of the risk associated with Davis’ future.
Jairo Labourt is a 6’4, 205-pound lefty that grew on me over two outings. Labourt signed last March on his 17th birthday for $350,000, playing in the DSL last season and making his American debut in the GCL for his age 18 season. He’ll sit 89-92 with his fastball and touch 93, mostly four seamers, often up in the zone. Labourt throws a slider with three-quarter tilt that he’ll get around at times and have inconsistent action, but flashes solid-average potential at 82-85 mph with tight late bite at times. He only threw a few changeups at 84-85 and they lacked life.
The development of a changeup will be key as his flat fastball shows a strong flyball tendency and his lack of a changeup also gives him a strong split. Labourt’s frame is basically maxed out and he’ll show some effort to get to 93 from his simple delivery, so while he’s still young there likely isn’t a lot more arm speed coming. He also doesn’t have a ton of deception on a longer arm circle and his command will suffer at times from the occasional effort and stiff land leg that will elevate his pitches. Labourt is young enough that growing into his frame and gaining body awareness/control could be enough to remedy many of these problems. Labourt is a big lefty that will hit 93 with a good slider, clean arm and won’t turn 19 until spring training but needs to mature and clean up a few mechanical issues to reach his big league future.