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Quick Hits from Grapefruit League Minor League Camps

While pretty much the entire Fangraphs staff was in Arizona, your intrepid author eschewed the desert for the tropical breezes of Florida. Different teams. Higher chance of rain. Lots more driving!

Anyway, I traveled around the Sunshine State hitting up minor league camps, watching minor league games and also checking in on some of the best amateurs for the upcoming MLB Draft and International signing period. It’s very difficult to plan these things out ahead because teams haven’t really plotted much out by the time I booked my trip, but I managed to catch some of the better prospects in the game despite that. Today I figured I’d share some observations on players I saw:

Zack Wheeler (NYM RHP): Wheeler had been sidelined by an oblique issue earlier in camp and was still ramping back up to full speed. Even in a short outing it was clear that Wheeler is going to be something special. He comfortably sat 96-97 and the fastball has late life on it. His power slider was also working and features late, biting break. Wheeler throws almost effortlessly and it’s a low effort starting pitcher delivery. He was leaving his fastball up a bit and not locating all that well, but that’s not really unexpected considering he’s still working up to full strength. Wheeler is a big, strong kid who pitches on a tough downward plane. This is an absolutely dynamite arm that’s ready for the big stage.

Fantasy Impact: Wheeler will be a front of the rotation pitcher very shortly.

Miguel Sano (MIN 3B): Sano has big proportions and a thunderous swing. I was lucky enough to get to see him hit a long home run to left field. It was a no-doubter with plenty of loft that took forever to come down. The funny part? From the sound off the bat I’m not convinced he got all of it. He definitely doesn’t need to get all of a ball to drive it out of the park. Seeing Sano hit a home run wasn’t all that surprising to me since every swing he takes you’re expecting the ball to go 500 feet if he makes contact. The “making contact” part is an issue, though. This is an all or nothing swing with lots of natural leverage. Sano’s approach at the plate has been a question mark in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised on that front. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him “selective” but he was patient and had a plan of attack at the plate. Further, I think pitchers – even big leaguers – will always want to be careful with Sano and pitch around him a little and that should help him. Mistakes to Sano end up souvenirs very easily so pitchers are a little less likely to challenge him even with the swing and miss issues. In the field, he’s a big, lumbering third baseman without the agility or first step quickness you’d like to see at the position. The arm was excellent at least. Normally a player like this I’d think about putting in  right field, but Sano just doesn’t have the footspeed or straight ahead speed for the outfield. I think his range and actions in the outfield would actually be a bigger negative than his liabilities at third. In the end I think you play him at third base and just accept he’s going to be a negative defender there and bat first player.

Fantasy Impact: Sano is going to be a premium power source. The batting average probably won’t help you, but he’s still only 20 years old and improving.

Allan Webster (BOS RHP): One of the prospects players in Florida generating the most buzz this March is Allen Webster. Webster was acquired from the Dodgers in the Adrian Gonzalez-Josh Beckett-Carl Crawford trade. From the looks of it Webster’s name may be used as an example for some time to come of why you don’t both take on big salary in a trade and give up promising arms. Webster was an easy as can be 96-97 and hit 99 mph. It’s not a straight high 90’s either, as his fastball runs a few inches and sinks late. It’s a very difficult pitch to square up or do anything with. The secondaries both showed strong, too. Webster’s power slider (87-88 mph) had a tremendous amount of depth and breaks late. The changeup can also be a weapon and sinks and fades out of the zone. Webster has taken a huge step forward from last year. So what’s the cause (as pitching prospects everywhere are asking themselves)? Mike Newman and my buddy Chris Blessing saw Webster a few times last year and they have previously discussed the need for him to get physically stronger. Webster looks like he showed up to camp a lot more muscular and filled in. Another reason may be how new Webster was to pitching. He was primarily a shortstop in high school before converting to pitching as a pro. Whatever the cause, Webster suddenly compares favorably with many of the best pitching prospects around the game.

Fantasy Impact: Webster all of a sudden looks like a front line starter who can help very soon.

Alex Meyer (MIN RHP): Acquired from the Nationals for Denard Span, Meyer is a big power arm right-hander. I do have to say I was surprised by how many power arms I saw down at Twins camp. Since Terry Ryan returned to the G.M. position this has clearly been a point of emphasis and the results are beginning to show. Meyer ranks among the hardest throwers I saw this week. He was 93-95 and touched higher. I’ve heard he’s capable of greater velocities too, and its not difficult to believe. Meyer is a very large man at 6’9” and the ball comes in on a strong downward plane with life. The repertoire is 4 seam, 2 seam, slider and change up. The secondaries were stronger than I’d heard, especially the change up. He didn’t use the pitch all that much but some of them flashed some strong fading action with real promise. Meyer has many of the problems typical of big pitchers: long levers, difficulty repeating his delivery and inconsistent release points that lead to command deficiencies. Meyer especially had trouble locating the fastball, leaving it up and out over the zone quite a bit. It’s only spring (and everything on this page comes with this caveat!), but I was told this has been an issue for him all along. I don’t think these problems prevent him from becoming a good major leaguer arm, though. He’s a guy who can be effectively wild.

Fantasy Impact: Middle to back of the rotation starter with stuff that looks even better. He would fit great out of the pen in a late inning role, too.

Since I’m running about 1,500 words over let’s go to the Lightning Round…

George Springer (HOU OF): Springer has continued to mold his body since college and has added muscle while remaining extremely athletic. He hasn’t toned down his huge swing much but his natural bat to ball ability is strong. Hit a few balls hard when I saw him and remains an electric talent. 

Fantasy Impact: Dynamic centerfielder with lots of home runs and stolen bases but a lower AVG.

Kyle Gibson (MIN RHP): Gibson was a nice surprise in terms of velocity and stuff. He was working 91-94 (95) and kept everything down. He missed a few bats, but it’s more about ground balls than strikeouts here. Gibson threw a few good sliders and changeups and has some solid feel for commanding his secondaries. 

Fantasy Impact: 3/4 starter who will be strong across the board but not a huge asset anywhere.

Brian Goodwin (WAS OF): Goodwin’s athleticism and loud tools stood out. Hit a ball very hard to pull and showed a selective approach at the plate. Not sure there will be a whole lot of over the fence power here, but it’s not going to be any sort of liability given that he’s a good glove center fielder.

Fantasy Impact: Goodwin has the chance to be a solid, 5 tool centerfielder who helps more in stolen bases than in home runs.

Delino DeShields (HOU 2B): This was my first look at DeShields, and while I had seen pictures and video before it was pretty striking what a stout, muscular body type he has. This isn’t a player that you would peg as a 100 stolen base guy if you met him in street clothes. All the same, DeShields has some loud tools. He hit the ball hard a couple times and does run really well. Showed some pitch recognition problems on soft stuff. 

Fantasy Impact: Potential to be a premium fantasy 2B with high stolen base numbers and some pop.

Byron Buxton (MIN OF): 2012’s 2nd overall pick is an impressive athlete who can really run and has a cannon for an arm. The swing and feel for hitting aren’t there yet, though. Buxton looked anxious, often getting caught on his front font. Buxton creates impressive bat speed but there’s some work to be done on his swing. There’s massive room for growth here. 

Fantasy Impact: Could be an elite, 5 tool center fielder but he’s a long way from realizing that potential.

Blake Swihart (BOS C): Very skinny last year, Swihart has filled in as many hoped he would. He’s added some muscle and bulk while still remaining athletic. I liked his swing a little better from the left-hand side. He was shorter to the ball as a lefty, but made some loud contact in bp from both sides and looks to remain a switch hitter. It’s a line drive swing plane and most of his power will be gap to gap.  Defensively, Swihart is very mobile and athletic behind the plate but the technique is lacking. Swihart has solid arm strength but his footwork is clunky and unrefined. He has the potential to stay behind the plate but there’s a lot of work to be done for it to actually happen and he may fit better somewhere else ultimately. 

Fantasy Impact: Swihart is a bit of a project but should be strong across the board in fantasy categories. If he stays at catcher that would make him a nice asset, but I’m not sure he’ll be any kind of standout at other positions.

Jonathan Singleton (HOU 1B): The big man waits for his pitch and can drive it a long way – even when he doesn’t square it up. Singleton is a selective hitter who goes up to the plate with a plan. The ball comes off his bat really well. He took some flyballs in right field pre-game, but I’m just not seeing it.

Fantasy Impact: Good 1B who can provide lots of HR and RBI help for your team.

Cory Mazzoni (NYM RHP): Mazzoni threw a lively little 91-93 mph fastball with late darting action. His primary secondary is an 85-86 mph cut slider with some late bite. There’s effort in the delivery that leads to deficiencies in command, but Mazzoni can get big league hitters out. He should be able to help the New York bullpen fairly soon.

Fantasy Impact: Mazzoni probably fits best as a non-closing reliever. He’s not a big strikeout guy and there are better options to turn to in most formats.

Asher Wojciechowski (HOU RHP): A former 1st round pick of the Blue Jays out of the Citadel. Wojciechowski’s stuff and velocity fell off after joining the pro ranks. I saw an 88-91 fb with some cutting action and he touched higher. Best secondary was an 81-82 big breaking slider with inconsistent shape. The slider mostly had good depth but broke early and lacked bite. Wojciechowski looks like a big, durable back end arm.

Fantasy Impact: Wojciechowski profiles as a fringy fantasy starter, but the Astros are desperate for arms so he might prove worthy of playing in favorable matchups at some point.

Henry Owens (BOS RHP): The big lefty worked in the 91-92 range and it plays up because he’s very hard to pick up. With a long, lean body and a free and easy arm action it’s easy to dream on more velocity coming, too. The changeup flashed as a strong offering. Owens’s curveball had it’s moments, too, but he seemed to have trouble snapping them off consistently and left a few spinners up. The command needs to be tightened up but  Owens works around the plate and keeps everything on a strong, downward plane.

Fantasy Impact: I’m not convinced Owens has real front of the rotation upside and the stuff isn’t all that dominant, but he’s still young and growing into his tools. Plus, a 20 year old southpaw throwing low 90’s with solid secondaries is already a really good thing to have in your organization. Looks like a middle rotation starter and there could be more.

Earlier this week JD Sussman had some reports on prospects from the Cactus League.

Mike Newman was also in Arizona and has some notes on prospect arms and bats

I’m travelling back home to the snow tomorrow so my responses may be a bit delayed but please feel free to ask any questions. I try to answer everything and appreciate you reading. Thanks! – AS