Farm Futures: Scouting From the Seats in South Bend

Farm Futures: Scouting From the Seats in South Bend

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

I returned to the road this week to take in two games between the Low-A affiliates of the Cubs and Brewers in South Bend, IN. The primary motivation was to see South Bend's impressive outfield, consisting of Eddy Martinez, Eloy Jimenez and Donnie Dewees, all of whom are ranked on the updated top-200. I was also fortunate enough to catch two pitching prospects in Justin Steele and Freddy Peralta, as well as the Brewers' impressive collection of Low-A hitting prospects, whom I analyzed in further detail two weeks ago.

Eddy Martinez, OF, Cubs

Of the prospects I saw this week in South Bend, Martinez is the most well known, and likely has the highest ownership percentage in dynasty leagues. He received a $3 million signing bonus from the Cubs in October after failing to sign when most of his J-2 class signed over the summer. Receiving poor advice from his representatives during the signing period led to the Cuban outfielder losing out on money, as he was the No. 1 international prospect available in that signing period, according to MLB.com. Unlike most of his class, Martinez was 20 when he signed, and he turned 21 in January, so in terms of maturity, he should be the most advanced player from that signing period. Lucius Fox, for instance, received a $6 million signing bonus from the Giants as the other most notable position player from that signing period, and he is 18 years old and

I returned to the road this week to take in two games between the Low-A affiliates of the Cubs and Brewers in South Bend, IN. The primary motivation was to see South Bend's impressive outfield, consisting of Eddy Martinez, Eloy Jimenez and Donnie Dewees, all of whom are ranked on the updated top-200. I was also fortunate enough to catch two pitching prospects in Justin Steele and Freddy Peralta, as well as the Brewers' impressive collection of Low-A hitting prospects, whom I analyzed in further detail two weeks ago.

Eddy Martinez, OF, Cubs

Of the prospects I saw this week in South Bend, Martinez is the most well known, and likely has the highest ownership percentage in dynasty leagues. He received a $3 million signing bonus from the Cubs in October after failing to sign when most of his J-2 class signed over the summer. Receiving poor advice from his representatives during the signing period led to the Cuban outfielder losing out on money, as he was the No. 1 international prospect available in that signing period, according to MLB.com. Unlike most of his class, Martinez was 20 when he signed, and he turned 21 in January, so in terms of maturity, he should be the most advanced player from that signing period. Lucius Fox, for instance, received a $6 million signing bonus from the Giants as the other most notable position player from that signing period, and he is 18 years old and also debuted at Low-A this year.

Martinez did not match my expectations in terms of physicality or tools projection. He is listed at six-foot-one and 195 pounds, and I have seen Andruw Jones' name thrown around as a comp for what he could become. First of all, I think his listed height and weight both seem generous. Martinez might have been the most physically fit player on the field, in terms of body fat, but he does not have the physical projection of a Jones-esque middle-of-the-order center fielder. He is very lean at the waist and down through his legs, resembling a typical shortstop's lower half, or possibly a speed-first center fielder. There is no denying that he has a muscle-bound upper half that could lend itself to above average pop down the road, but the whole physical package was more Starling Marte than Andruw Jones.

That said, he does not have Marte's wheels, and it would be generous to put a current 60 on his speed, and the future projection is certainly not a 60. He has the outfield instincts and arm to handle right field despite not having a typical right fielder's body, and he could probably handle center field in a pinch. However, the defense in center would be average at best, although that might be preferable as the offensive expectations would be much higher if right field is his eventual home.

Here's video of Martinez hitting a single up the middle:

View post on imgur.com

His setup is extremely quiet in the box, and he demonstrates above average bat speed. The swing is geared for power more than average right now, with a noted uppercut, which is the opposite of what I'd prefer to see from a hitter with his body at this stage in the developmental process. It seems like he is trying to live up the notion of him being a five-tool player, rather than just trying to get good at-bats in and take what the pitchers are giving him.

With this being his age-21 season, I had hoped for him to look like a guy who was too advanced for Low-A pitching and could move quickly to the upper levels of the Cubs' system. For instance, fellow Cuban, Yasiel Puig, hit .354/.442/.634 with eight steals in 23 games between rookie ball and High-A as a 21-year-old in 2012. While that seems like an unfair comparison, the two players had a similar amount of pedigree at 21 years old, and Martinez's game was supposed to be somewhat similar to a young Puig's. Not only is it hard to see him ever getting to that point, but he's nowhere near as advanced as Puig was at that age. It was just one look, but right now Martinez looks like he'll move at the same rate as the 19-year-olds and 20-year-olds at Low-A, and he does not appear to have five-category upside down the road. An optimistic projection would have him posting a couple of 20/20 seasons with a batting average around .250 or .260 in his prime years, but he could also be Rusney Castillo 2.0.

Eloy Jimenez, OF, Cubs

Even with players like Jake Gatewood and Monte Harrison on the field, Jimenez, 19, was the most impressive physical specimen on display. He has a prototypical right fielder's body at six-foot-four and 205 pounds, although he has played primarily left field this year.

Here's video of Jimenez banging a double to left field:

View post on imgur.com

While he wasn't dealing with elite velocity, he still displays plus bat speed. This ball was ripped off the barrel, and the exit velocity might have been the highest of any ball hit in the two games I attended. It's mostly pull-side power at present, but I would put at least a 60 on the long-term in-game power projection, and if he can improve as a hitter, it could be power to all fields. His .292 average is being bolstered by a .403 BABIP in the early going, so don't read too much into that. Long term it would be a pleasant surprise for him to post some .275 seasons in his prime, but he will likely be closer to a .260 hitter at the highest level. That said, if he's hitting 25-plus homers per season, he will still have plenty of value.

Of course, like with most young sluggers at Low-A, Jimenez has some swing-and-miss in his game, with a 28.9 percent K-rate in 97 plate appearances. Here's video of him getting fooled by a slider out of the zone:

View post on imgur.com

The contact issues should always be somewhat present, but given his age, I'm not too worried about where he's at right now in that department. If the K-rate gets above 30 percent against more advanced pitching, however, then there will be cause for concern.

It is not necessarily a pretty sight to watch him run the bases, but he's a better runner than his size and defensive profile would suggest. In fact, he's 3-for-3 on stolen-base attempts this year through 23 games, although the long term projection is for 8-to-10 steals at best in his peak MLB seasons.

Jimenez was the most impressive hitter on the South Bend Cubs, thanks to plus bat speed and a body that offers the potential for him to be a No. 4 or No. 5 hitter in a big league lineup in time.

Donnie Dewees, OF, Cubs

The truth is, we don't know much about Dewees as a hitter yet, other than that he should probably be getting more of a challenge at High-A right now. At 22 years old, the 47th overall pick in last year's draft should be doing exactly what he's doing at Low-A, hitting .330/.376/.549 with seven steals in 102 plate appearances.

Here's video of Dewees beating out an infield hit, where he goes home to first in 3.74 seconds from the left side:

View post on imgur.com

He has 65-70 grade speed at present, but his future projection in that department is a 60, at least in his first couple seasons in the big leagues. This will allow him to possibly hit atop a lineup, and offer 20-30 steals per season, but he would need to be getting on base at a high clip for that to be a reality. He will be able to post high batting averages in the lower levels simply by making a lot of contact, which he has so far with a 12.7 percent K-rate.

Dewees struggles with stuff up in the zone, but he has good plate coverage middle and down, and he can hang back and drive the off-speed offerings that he sees at Low-A. Here's video of him striking out on a low 90s fastball up in the zone that he knew was coming:

View post on imgur.com

It's at-bats like this that may give the Cubs pause when determining if he's ready for a promotion.

He made a bad read on one fly ball to center field, but it's a testament to what the Cubs think of his defensive potential that he has been getting the majority of starts in center over Martinez. That said, it would not be surprising if he ends up being a better fit in left field down the road, which would put even more pressure on the bat.

As with Martinez and Jimenez, the bar to clear for Dewees to be an everyday player for the Cubs will be very high in the coming years, given the MLB talent and talent in the upper levels with guys like Billy McKinney, Ian Happ and Albert Almora all a couple of years closer to the majors than any of the guys at South Bend. Dewees' ceiling is an Adam Eaton type of player at the highest level, which should get the attention of most dynasty league owners, but it's too soon to say anything with confidence about him as long as he's facing Low-A pitching. Look for him to be promoted in the coming weeks.

Freddy Peralta, RHP, Brewers

Peralta was the best pitcher on either side in the two games I saw, tossing five shutout innings and allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out seven. This was my second look at Peralta, and the diagnosis has not changed.

His low three-quarters delivery allows him to change planes with his fastball, and he is also adept at changing speeds while never reaching max effort, ranging from 88 to 92 mph in this viewing. The ability to throw a fastball that looks different from pitch to pitch allowed him to cruise through five innings while relying almost solely on that pitch (I'd estimate at least 90 percent of his pitches were fastballs). His offspeed pitch was clocked at 80-82 mph, and typically thrown at the hitter's feet, but it was still able to generate a couple of whiffs as the hitters were rightfully trying to time the fastball.

With essentially one and a half pitches, and a 5-foot-11 frame, it's really hard to project Peralta to be a starter, even though he should continue to post stellar numbers in the lower levels of the minors while working as a starter. I could see him possibly making it as a guy who can turn a big league lineup over twice before handing it over to the bullpen, but most MLB teams would be looking for more out of a member of the rotation, so he's more likely to just be a very effective late-innings arm.

Justin Steele, LHP, Cubs

Steele was a lot more interesting a year ago. He gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk while striking out four over three innings in the outing I saw, which marked the fourth time in five starts that he failed to log four innings.

The main factor in his struggles is the velocity and command on his fastball, as he topped out at 89 mph in this start, and was failing to consistently locate the pitch. He flashed a plus curveball and above average changeup, so if he was sitting in the low-90s and could command his fastball, the 20-year-old southpaw would be really intriguing. It's possible that the velocity will tick up in the summer months, but even at 91 mph, I'm not sure he'd have much success consistently setting up his secondary offerings, given where his command is at.

QUICK HITS

Isan Diaz, SS, Brewers

Diaz belted an opposite field homer, and continued to impress with his approach at the plate. He also looked better in the field on this second viewing, and I left once again with the impression that he was the best player on either team, despite being one of the youngest players at 19 years old.

Jake Gatewood, 3B, Brewers

Gatewood hit his first homer of the season on a meatball on the inner half of the plate. His approach was inconsistent from at-bat to at-bat, giving away some, while seeming intent on purposely not swinging in others. He'll continue to crush mistakes to the pull side, but I don't see anything close to a big league approach right now.

Monte Harrison, OF, Brewers

His at-bats were much more impressive this time around, especially against lefties, but it remains puzzling how he can't show off more pop in batting practice, given his physical attributes. Diaz, for instance, puts on more of a BP show than Harrison, despite being a year younger, five inches shorter and at least 20 pounds lighter. Defensively Harrison shows good routes and instincts.

Carlos Belonis, OF, Brewers

He really looks the part of a center fielder, and showed off his plus speed on the bases, notching two steals in the first game. At 21 years old, he's older than Harrison, but it's still impressive that he currently demonstrates more big league-caliber tools, given the gap in pedigree.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
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