Scouting in Durham this past week at the home of the Durham Bulls was an outstanding experience.
The ballpark where the film "Bull Durham" was made still exists. It is down the street a bit and still in use for high school and community games.
The park that hosts the existing Tampa Bay Rays' Triple-A team is one of the most bustling and busy minor league locations I have seen. In fact, each day the team store was so busy I didn't even get in the door.
Downtown Durham is dominated by the presence of bulls. Of course, it was the home of Bull Durham tobacco and various other brands. None are still produced in the environment of the park where cigarette brokers used to receive tobacco from nearby growers. The Lucky Strike Building is bustling with restaurants. The L&M Building was a bit off in the distance from my hotel. "Tobacco Road," a development of trendy shops and restaurants, hosts a very successful performing arts center.
During my visit, I scouted the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, (Chicago White Sox) the Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles) and the Durham Bulls.
Charlotte Knights - Chicago White Sox
Of the three teams I saw, Charlotte was clearly the one with the fewest prospects and most uninspired players.
While I don't think the White Sox's farm system is filled with exciting players of the future anyway, most with promise are still in lower classifications.
Two or three players did catch my eye - a couple with positive performances. Josh Phegley, 25, is a top catching prospect with a very strong and accurate arm. He has consistently thrown out over 45 percent of would-be basestealers. Last year, he won a Gold Glove when he nailed 46 percent. This year he is above that figure.
Phegley was an outstanding hitter in high school, winning Indiana Mr. Baseball honors. He attended Indiana University and continued to hit with authority and win All Big Ten honors. The White Sox used a sandwich pick in the first round (No. 38 overall) of the 2009 draft to select him
As spring training concluded this year, some thought Phegley should have won the back up catcher role to new White Sox receiver Tyler Flowers. He didn't, and thus he landed back at Triple-A where he played last season. Phegley had missed 2010 with a blood issue that lowered his platelets.
Phegley is a barrel of the bat hitter, but he doesn't project to hit many home runs. Using a rather flat swing, he has the ability to hit the gaps and get his share of doubles. He won't walk much because of fairly poor plate discipline. He goes to the plate to hit. A solid contact hitter, I think Phegley will give your fantasy team a solid .275ish batting average with some RBI and a few line-drive homers, but not many. He will serve primarily as a backup if he remains with the White Sox.
21-year-old shortstop Carlos Sanchez is capable of playing major league baseball. He has quick feet, a good first step to the ball and will likely play both middle-infield positions.
Sanchez will offer some pop with the bat, hitting his share of extra-base hits and home runs. What I like about him from a fantasy standpoint is his ability to steal bases. If, in fact, his manager lets him run and if he gains some confidence in his running ability. He is a better hitter than he is showing so far at Charlotte.
Like Phegley, Jared Mitchell, 24, was drafted in the first round (No. 23 overall) in 2009. Unlike Phegley, I don't see progress in Mitchell's game. He is striking out in bunches. In 65 plate appearances at Charlotte, he had whiffed 27 times. He had only seven hits, for a .132 batting average including two doubles – his only extra-base hits.
At the conclusion of Charlotte's series in Durham, Mitchell was demoted to Double-A Birmingham where it is hoped he will find his stroke. In his first 10 at-bats in his new home, he had one hit.
Mitchell is fast and he appears to be athletic. However, he has not shown an ability to hit breaking balls. Until he does that, he will not have value as a fantasy player to target.
Luis Durango is lightning fast, but he can't get on base. It seems that lately, every team has a player or two capable of stealing bases, but they can't get on base to ply their trade. They can't steal first base. That's Luis Durango.
Durango has had a good look by San Diego. He would get his shot and not produce. His role then became pinch-runner. It just isn't enough to justify a 25-man roster spot or a spot on your own fantasy roster. However, if you see that Durango was promoted to Chicago or traded to a team that promotes him to their parent club, he will be there to steal bases. Surprisingly, he's 3-for-7 as a basestealer this season. Not good.
Brent Morel is on the Charlotte Knights roster. He was hurt in a previous game and did not play in the series I scouted. I have never been a Morel fan, and I probably never will be.
Deunte Heath is a relief pitcher that may show some promise. He has been in four Charlotte games, throwing a total of eight innings so far. The results have been good. If there is any issue with Heath out of the pen, it is the fact he tries to throw way too hard and loses command quickly.
David Purcey and Daniel Moskos, two former left-handed "team changing" draft hopefuls are both on the roster. They are both scuffling. Big time. Neither has value for your club at this point, but they are left-handed. That means they are likely to surface at some time in the future.
Norfolk Tides - Baltimore Orioles
Norfolk is a step or two above Charlotte in terms of Triple-A talent. They actually have some players I think would help a major league club or your fantasy team.
Russ Canzler, 27, Plays brutal defense in left field as well as some at first base. Teams played musical chairs with him this offseason. When the music stopped, he got to sit on the Orioles' chair.
Canzler can murder a fastball. And he looks woefully lost on breaking pitches. If teams do their homework and advance scouting, Canzler will see a steady diet of off-speed and breaking balls. Make a mistake and get it up in the zone, and he has power to drive the ball over the fence.
Jonathan Schoop (pronounced: Scope) is an athletic shortstop that may outgrow the position at some point. If he can hit with any authority, I think he might be better off at third base with Manny Machado playing shortstop full time. He is only 21.
Schoop has some pop in his bat, but his defense is better at this point than his offense. He still chases sliders and is overly aggressive at the plate. Even though he's playing at Triple-A, he could be a full year away.
Niuman Romero is a better baseball player than many people think. He has good hands and at the plate he is quick to the ball. While he makes contact, he's an easy out. I think he could be successful as a major league utility infielder - as he has been in the past. He can put the bat on the ball and run. I've seen him play both second base and shortstop and he isn't bad at either. Not a fantasy option - even if he is ever promoted. He has no power and won't hit for much average. He is, however, capable of playing.
Yamaico Navarro is very much like Romero but he's a better hitter. He will likely be more of a utility player if he ever gets the chance to play again at the major league level. Navarro is only 25, but he's already played eight seasons of baseball. He might offer a good batting average, but without much power. Romero and Navarro are "emergency" type Quad-A middle infielders that can come to the big club and play for a sustained amount of time without killing the team.
Jason Pridie to me represents the best major league non-pitching option the Orioles have at their Triple-A club.
Pridie has been around for 12 seasons, but he only has 252 major league at-bats with the Twins, Mets and Phillies.
I like the fact he has some real pop in his bat. He can drive the ball to the gaps and hit home runs if he gets his pitch. Only 29, I don't see why he isn't getting a chance to play in the a lineup like the Mets or Astros or Rays. He's the under-the-radar guy I look for as a scout.
Pridie has speed, is a solid outfielder with a good arm and he makes solid contact. At least he did when I scouted him.
Pridie has never put up numbers. Never hit homers, stolen bases or driven in runs, but I think he can. He needs a sustained opportunity. He needs the chance to show what he can do.
If you see Pridie promoted to Baltimore or traded somewhere else like to Tampa Bay, you may want to consider him.
Trayvon Robinson was supposed to be a good outfield prospect when the Dodgers drafted him in 2005. I saw a great deal of him when I was scouting. Like so many speedsters, he has trouble getting on base consistently. Enough said.
The Mariners thought he would help their anemic run production, so they got him from the Dodgers. It didn't work.
I see him as an adequate fourth outfielder that may gain a role as a center fielder at some point. It's a long shot. Not one I wish to take. He's only 25. I'm not convinced we won't see him again. In fact, I think we will because he's a .275 type hitter with wheels.
L.J. Hoes is a guy I just don't get. I've watched him in the Arizona Fall League and I don't see the tools. He's got a .282 lifetime batting average over six minor league seasons. That isn't bad. He has just never hit in my presence, but the club likes him. I think he's on their fast track.
Hoes is a singles hitter. He's a center fielder with very little, if any power. Only 23, some pop might develop. But he's a very thin 6-foot tall, 190-pound guy. He still has room to grow.
Hoes is an adequate outfielder with an adequate arm, but his best tool might be his speed. Getting a pattern here? We have lots of speedy Triple-A guys fighting to get on base.
Hoes is destined for the big league club. I will have to watch him again before I invest in any shares on my fantasy team.
Danny Valencia, 28, played at the big league level for both the Twins and the Red Sox. For the Norfolk Tides he hits in the cleanup position. I admit I was surprised at that. He mostly plays third base, but he can also play first.
Valencia has a slight bit of pop in his bat, but he is far from a home-run hitter.
With Chris Davis and Manny Machado hanging around in Baltimore, I see little chance of Valencia getting a call to the parent club unless someone is seriously injured.
Valencia is capable enough with a bat in his hand, but he won't offer much in the way of extra-base hits or RBI. I will say that if he ever gets another chance, his best fantasy category will be batting average.
First baseman Travis Ishikawa, 29, broke his nose in a collision at second base with Hak-Ju Lee. Ishikawa has had his trials with several major league clubs. He has failed to sustain any type of hitting momentum.
Ishikawa does have some power and he makes contact. But I put him in a category of "emergency only." I suspect that's where the Orioles have the left-handed hitter.
Right-handed pitcher Jair Jurrjens has lost his fastball. I don't think he'll get it back. He's 27 and he's coming back from arm surgery. The Orioles originally signed him to a big, major league deal. Once they saw him throwing no more than mid-80s they converted the contract to a minor league deal.
He threw a ton of breaking balls in the game I scouted. They were slow and slower, but had very good rotation. Seasoned big league hitters will pound that pitch. I think he'll build his arm strength over the first half of this season and become a rotation option for Baltimore if needed.
Right now he's probably starter No. 8 or 9 - and that's right where he should be.
If he gets promoted, I'm not buying until I see some velocity consistency in the 90s. Why? His location isn't good enough with his fastball to get away with that velocity and the secondary pitches. I could see it if he could locate the fastball. Not yet, however. But remember - he is still building arm strength. Look for him later this season. Somewhere.
I saw right-hander Zach Clark start for the Tides. He is a marginal prospect that would have to climb over a number of pitchers before he gets a role in the Orioles' rotation.
He could possibly be helpful if he were traded to a very pitching poor club - and there are a number of those around.
Clark has some sink on the ball, but he has to be pretty fine to avoid walking hitters. In short, his command and control are far from being refined. He is very hittable because he falls behind in counts and has to come in with good pitches to hit. I do not consider him anything other than a Quad-A player at this time.
Durham Bulls - Tampa Bay Rays
Outfielder Jason Bourgeois has had limited opportunities with several clubs. His most recent 62 plate appearances were with the Royals. He hit .258 and stole five bases in nine attempts. Prior to that, he played for Houston where he hit .294 when he got 238 plate appearances.
I think Bourgeois is a major league quality fourth outfielder. He does barrel pitches to the center of the field. And he can run. He's every bit as good as several outfielders currently with big league jobs. Especially those playing with Houston.
Bourgeois is the type of guy I would recommend to my club as a sleeper to keep around. He's a tad better than a Quad-A player. But at age 31, he has to get that next chance soon.
Hak-Ju Lee has likely torn ligaments in his knee when he collided with Travis Ishikawa at second base last week. Lee is only 22 years old. In my opinion, Lee was the most ready for the major leagues of the players I saw on the Durham roster.
He's an outstanding defensive shortstop with a gun for an arm. He's so good that he moved former No. 1 draft choice Tim Beckham to second base. With Lee's injury, Beckham now plays short.
Lee has a good singles hitting bat with very occasional gap power. Because of his very good speed, he is working on bunting and it will help his game considerably.
Lee is an effective hitter with a chance to hit good pitching. I look for him to be around .275 consistently.
Tim Beckham is much better today then when I've seen him before in the Arizona Fall League.
I believe Beckham was highly overrated when he was drafted. He was young and far too much was expected of him.
Like Lee, he is learning to use his speed by bunting. Unlike Lee, he has power to his pull (right) side. His swing has become shorter and much more measured lately. I see much more promise for him now at age-23 than I did before.
I see Lee and Beckham forming an eventual double-play combination for the Rays in the middle infield. The timetable took a bit of a hit with Lee's knee injury.
Brandon Guyer is already 27 years old and his baseball time clock is ticking. We did see a bit of his power when he played for the Rays, but he's hit only .188 in his 18 big league games. I don't think he's on the radar.
Guyer is the type of outfielder that doesn't have any one true tool. He can steal bases. He has difficulty with breaking balls, however, making getting on base problematic.
He has always hit minor league pitching - showing a .297 career batting average in almost 500 games so far. I see little, if any fantasy future for Mr. Guyer.
Leslie Anderson is 31. A Cuban refugee, Anderson was one of those "can't miss" imported players that just may have missed. He has a tendency to pop the ball in the air. Especially with men on base.
Anderson, a left-handed hitter may have been a good first base option for a team like the Yankees with a short right field porch. One has to wonder, however, what his future is with the Rays. This is a franchise that went with Casey Kotchman and James Loney types before using their own internal option in Anderson.
Anderson has never played for Tampa. He is a career .295 minor league hitter. His clock is ticking. I think he will struggle with quality pitching if he is ever promoted.
Mike Fontenot can likely play utility middle-infield at the big league level. He's a .265 major league hitter. Defensively, the 32-year-old has lost more than a step of range. That itself will limit his opportunities. There are just too many younger, quicker infielders available.
Catcher Chris Gimenez handles pitchers well. His throws are inconsistent, but he has an average enough arm to be a serviceable backup catcher. At 30 years old, he can still show a club that he can play.
Offensively, Gimenez doesn't have a lot of power, but if a pitcher is going to hang a breaking ball, he can take it over the fence. He won't offer much at all in a fantasy league.
Wil Myers, only 22, was the subject of one of the most controversial deals in a long time. He came to Tampa Bay along with Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard from Kansas City in exchange for James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson.
Eventually, Myers will be an everyday outfielder for the Rays. When that will be is difficult to determine. My best guess? At least not until after this year's All-Star Game.
I have seen Myers play in lots and lots of games. From spring training to the Arizona Fall League to Triple-A, I have seen a five-tool player.
Right now, I am watching him press at the plate. He is trying to drive everything for a home run. It isn't happening. He's just missing the barrel of the bat and fouling balls directly behind him to the screen. He hit his first homer this past week when I was there. It went to dead center.
When Myers is at his best, he is relaxed at the plate. His hands are loose and he isn't stiff. He sprays the ball to all parts of the field. He's content with a single or a double.
Myers was drafted as a catcher. He told me once he will never play there again. He is now an outfielder, and he's getting better reading balls off the bat.
When he does get promoted, he will ultimately hit for average and for power. He will drive in runs and steal bases.
Target him in keeper leagues, but don't expect to see him next week or next month. I just don't think he's ready. But of course, the Rays' executives may not agree.
Right-handed pitcher Jake Odorizzi- This was my first look at 23-year-old Jake Odorizzi. There were things to like. There were things I didn't like. To begin, let me say he is not ready to face major league competition at this time. He will, however, be a solid back of the rotation starter (No. 4 or 5 for me).
Odorizzi, has four pitches he can use. His fastball sits in the low 90s at about 93 mph. He can turn to the pitch with some confidence and it's effective. However, for some reason he likes to pitch up in the zone. He continues to elevate later in the game as well. He loses command of the pitch quickly and it takes several pitches and maybe several batters to regain his release point. His slider is effective, his curve is good, and his changeup is a work in progress. He does not have faith in his changeup. He uses it very sparingly.
Right now I see Odorizzi as a guy that will throw lots of pitches and have trouble the third time through the batting order.
I see him getting a September call to Tampa if the club is in need of pitching help - even if they need a guy to throw long relief, but I don't see him in the rotation this year unless it is in September.
Right-handed pitcher Chris Archer is probably the first guy called to pitch in the Rays rotation this season - unless the team needs a lefty.
In my opinion, Archer is far more advanced and more polished a pitcher than Jake Odorizzi.
Archer has a very good 96 mph fastball. He generally sits at less than that, but he's effective and not wild in the high velocity numbers. He touched 98 mph in the game I scouted.
Archer is only 24, and he has swing-and-miss stuff.
Like Odorizzi, he has to give his changeup more attention. He has to learn the proper arm action for the pitch and then use it. Once he establishes the fact he can "finish" a hitter with a secondary pitch, he'll be much more effective.
Like Odorizzi, Archer has moments where he lacks concentration. He loses focus and fails to repeat his delivery. When that happens, he "pulls" pitches across his body and they turn out to be called balls.
He is best when he is changing eye levels, changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance. I've seen him do it. His short movement cutter is a fine pitch to change the perspective of the hitter and get the pitch in on the hitter's hands.
Archer's mechanics are generally not a problem at all. He has a nice, short first movement and then finishes in sort of a rush. The ball is instantly on the hitter with that fast forward motion.
He gets in the most trouble when he hangs breaking balls as he tires. He can weaken the third time through the batting order.
Archer will be a pitcher to target. He has enough of a pitching repertoire to be effective. When the Rays management feels he can get hitters out consistently, they will promote him. I trust their judgment.
If a left-handed starter is needed, it is likely that 25-year-old Alex Torres will get the nod. But then again, he has enough command and control from the left side to work out of the bullpen. He's a good pitcher.
Torres is impressive because he keeps his pitches away from the sweet spot of the bat. He does that by working hitters away and down in the zone, which has always been the secret of effective pitching.
Torres threw an extremely good game when I was scouting. His only blemish was a period of wildness when he walked a few guys consecutively. He will be somewhat umpire dependent.
He's a guy that can be trusted to make a quality start and keep his team in the game.
Alex Colome, 24 is another right-handed starter with a chance to improve as time goes along. Colome has a good assortment of pitches that begins with a nice mid-90s fastball.
What I liked about Colome's outing was his ability to throw his slider and curveball for strikes. Each is an effective pitch. He has more confidence in his secondary pitches than the other Rays starters I scouted. He isn't afraid to go to the slider or curve at any count. The changeup is still a work in progress.
Colome doesn't get the ink of Odorizzi or Archer, but he's a solid pitching option in a system very rich with pitching options. Keep your eye on him. He has the ability to get hitters out.
Josh Lueke came over to Tampa Bay from Seattle. He is serving as the closer for the Durham Bulls, and he's been very effective.
Lueke can bring the ball with both velocity and control. For me, he's a much better option than many of the closers now holding down jobs with major league clubs.
He needs a chance. He is striking guys out at the end of the game and he's actually making them chase his pitches.
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