I was really fortunate to see a lot of impressive players over a three day trip to Quad Cities. I’ve had weekend trips before that felt like a total bust but this one was pretty good. The starting pitchers were most impressive, relief pitchers were underwhelming and it is something of a mixed bag for the position prospects.
The most important thing I can share from this weekend is that Kolten Wong can do back flips. While I’ll probably muddy up the details, the team generally enters the field from some faux corn and I guess Wong was not a fan of that. He tried to barter his way out of that by promising a back flip. They collected on the back flip but still made him exit from the faux corn. Tragically, I was scribbling the lineup furiously and failed to see the flip. Bgh assured me that it happened. Wong only did it on Friday night despite my pleas to his teammates that he repeat it more frequently.
Wong really has a great swing. He loads well. It’s exceptionally quiet as he loads his hands with a very steady hand. The only minor complaint I might have is that he starts with the bat resting on his shoulder and his hands loose but that is largely cosmetic and when the pitch comes he starts from the right setup. He has good pop given his size as we witnessed several long flyballs over the three game stint. His homerun on Sunday looked to be about 360′ to right field.
There will probably some hand wringing over his secondary skills in much the same way there is about Matt Adams. The counter argument in both cases is that the players simply hit the ball. Often and hard. That “hitting tool” that scouts look for is something that Kolten Wong exudes. His defense looked solid at second base with no obvious miscues and no tremendous plays. He showed above average speed while running the bases.
Walsh is something of an Andrew Brown/Allen Craig type as he’s in the lineup for his bat but lacks an obvious defensive position. Walsh hit a monster homerun on Friday night that was reported to have made it into the river. If he hit it an inch he hit it 400 feet. Walsh made a pretty bad glove to hand transition on a hit to left field during Friday’s game. He looks new to the outfield and looked mediocre at 3B. If he can hit, he’ll move up but the club will often be plugging him into the least bad defensive spot they can find.
Gil is a slick fielding shortstop with great range and a strong arm. He made some impressive plays ranging to his left to snag balls up the middle (specifically in the 2nd inning of Saturday’s game). His game isn’t as refined as Ryan Jackson but is at least comparable in raw athleticism and probably exceeds Jackson.
The question for Gil will be whether he can hit enough. His singles were all bloops to shallow CF or seeing eye singles that found holes. There was no display of power and he looked like a slap hitter that would be overwhelmed by better pitchers in advanced leagues. I don’t think the bat plays at a high enough level even with his impressive defensive abilities.
I’ve written about Swinson previously and not much has changed. He’s incredibly fast. His triple on Saturday was a thing of beauty. Swinson can simply fly around the bases and his speed helps him tremendously in the outfield as well. Offensively, his swing is a little weak and his pitch recognition wasn’t quite what I’d hope it would be. The bat will be the question for Swinson moving forward.
Defensively, he’s got the range to handle center but the arm was an average showing. During the first inning of Saturday’s game, the Kane County shortstop hit a homerun to straight away centerfield. It was a very high hit and, while both myself and bgh thought it would clear the fence with no problem, it was only out by a couple of feet at the most. Swinson never moved. While you never expect the player to steal back a homerun, given his speed, Swinson had the opportunity to make a showing for that ball. He looked pretty bad just standing there unconcerned by what was a shallow homerun.
I’m surprised by Stanley’s somewhat tepid offensive performance. I really like his swing and his plate approach. He fouled off a lot of pitches when he was at the plate and wasn’t often caught looking. Pitchers can get him to chase the breaking ball low and away but generally he has a swing that I would have thought would produce more offense. For a catcher, he’s still hitting well though.
I thought Stanley did a good job receiving a wild Zach Russell on Saturday. Russell had trouble hitting spots but Stanley was able to block or reposition to prevent errant pitches. Stanley is smaller than some catchers but also more athletic and is at least an average runner on the base paths.
Longmire swung at some ugly breaking balls during the first two games. He got corkscrewed into the ground on a slider during the first inning of Friday’s game. The swing is long and a little handsy. It was basically what I feared it would be. I’d love to see some video comparisons between last year’s swing and this year’s because something seems to have changed. I think Longmire has some work to do if he wants to move forward.
Defensively, he looked fine in the outfield (excluding a bad misjudgment of a ball’s depth in right field on Saturday). The arm should hold up for any outfield position and he’s got the range to cover centerfield. Based on the swing, he’ll probably fall off my top 20 list next year after an egregiously aggressive #8 ranking.
Taveras looks the part of top prospect and projectable outfielder. He’s got a tall frame that is muscular rather than lanky but still has room to grow. He looked like a slightly taller, bigger version of Tommy Pham. Taveras showed impressive speed all weekend beating out a double play at first and making his outfield catches look easy. He made a nice over the shoulder basket catch in the 3rd inning of Saturday’s game. He gets good reads, has plenty of range and could stick at all three outfield positions.
His swing is compact and the bat head spends a lot of time in the zone. He sits low in the batter’s box with deep crouch but a steady eye level as he strides forward. His swing isn’t as quiet as Kolten Wong but there’s little that I saw from Taveras to make me doubt his ability to hit a baseball.
This is where things get a bit dicey for me. During Saturday’s game, Taveras came up short on a ball and seemed to limp a little when he got up reaching for his hamstring. He didn’t signal a trainer but the coach and trainer called for time and headed toward him. Having seen the coaches coming, Taveras proceeds to throw his glove to the ground and make a bit of a scene in the outfield. He stayed in the game but limped off the field after the inning was over. In the dugout, he seemed to be, surprisingly, less bothered by the limp.
What was the most frustrating aspect of Taveras over the weekend was his rather casual lack of focus. He was always the last player out on the field. While the left fielder was long tossing with a reliever, the infield was tossing the ball around and the pitcher was warming up, Oscar Taveras was clowning around in the dugout joking with teammates, messing with his uniform and generally taking his time. In particular during Sunday’s game, Michael Swinson was often left standing in the outfield, ball in hand, waiting for Taveras to make his way out for warm up tosses.
I don’t know Taveras and I can’t directly speak to personal interactions with him. I hope I’m reading the situation incorrectly. What was disturbing was just how blatant his antics, joshing around and tardiness was. I say this as someone who is appreciative of players who still look like they enjoy the game. There was a different player in the system last year that I had teammates and a beat reporter remark on that individual’s lack of drive and casual approach to the game. Taveras’ actions and other person’s remarks from the weekend remind me very much of that situation.
To be clear, Oscar Taveras has all the physical tools to be a top propsect. He looks the part and is the type of player that visibly stands out compared to others on the field. At 19, he’s very young and I think that shows. Part of his maturation as a player and hitter will have to include the organization coaching him through his maturation as a person as well.