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Small Sample Size And Spring Training

In a perfect world, every prospect piece would be written after multiple looks at a player including batting practice, infield and in game performance. Unfortunately, everyday life makes it nearly impossible to make that goal a reality as career, family and budget restraints limit the ability for a prospect writer to keep the same schedule as an affiliated scout. And while small sample size is always a concern when it comes to writing about prospects, spending only three days in Arizona watching players did more to confuse my positions than clarify them.

Videos after the jump

The best example of this would be Texas Rangers corner infield prospect Mike Olt who managed three outs in two at bats including a strikeout where he looked completely overmatched by a Dodgers pitcher I had never heard of and a tailor made double play. Earlier that day, Olt’s batting practice session was decent, but I heard little explosion off of his bat and found myself underwhelmed by the player I saw.

In the same batting practice group as Olt, Engel Beltre roped line drive after line drive showing explosion through the ball and impressive raw power for a prospect beginning to fill out. Later in the day, Beltre also logged two plate appearances and made solid contact in both of them including a single back through the box if my memory serves me correctly.

Engel Beltre’s triple slash in 2011: .231/.285/.300 in double-A

Mike Olt’s triple slash in 2011: .267/.381/.500 in high-A

And while Beltre did play the 2011 season a level higher than Olt, the former first round pick out of the University of Connecticut appeared on every major top-100 list and is considered a surefire major leaguer. Meanwhile, the Dominican born Beltre has lost much, if not all of his prospect steam after a forgettable 2011 season. If forced to write a detailed report on each prospect, Beltre would have rated higher and many would consider me more than a bit misguided for it.

Another Ranger, pitching prospect Neil Ramirez, toed the rubber versus the Dodgers with stuff not entirely different than what I scouted in Savannah as a member of the A-level Hickory Crawdads in both 2009 and 2010. From a physical standpoint, Ramirez had filled out considerably and looked the part of a major leaguer. However, his fastball was 92ish throughout – A far cry from the upper-90’s he is reported to throw when firing on all cylinders. Ramirez mixed in a curveball which lacked bite and a changeup he struggled to locate resulting in a poor performance including a long home run to Juan Rivera, the poster boy for league average at the big league level.

On this day, Ramirez was the fourth best pitching prospect for the Rangers in terms of stuff behind Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross and Martin Perez. However, off-season prospect rankings would place him behind only Martin Perez, a pitcher ranked between 17th and 31st on the Baseball America top-100 for the past three seasons. In fairness to Ramirez, he appeared to be fighting through the outing and never did seem comfortable on the mound. With his two inning stint being his first Cactus League action, one simply can’t take away too much from the outing and writing about Ramirez in a definitive sense would be downright irresponsible.

With the saturation of talent in Arizona each spring, no better opportunity exists to blanket scout a substantial number of top prospects within 45-minutes of each other. However, I wonder how much of the prospect coverage coming from spring training winds up being little more than throwing information gleaned from an at bat or two against the wall and hoping it sticks. And while small sample sizes are something prospect writers are forced to work from, I’ll feel much better about doing so in June and July when prospects are at their peak level of performance.