Getting first-hand reports for the readers from on the ground on the minor league affiliates is one of my top goals here at SeattleClubhouse. Getting those reports from scouts who are not part of the Mariners' organization makes those reports all the better in terms of getting true reads on where some of these prospects really stand in their development and where their ceiling could land.
I had that great opportunity recently and had a very lengthy conversation with a fantastic veteran Midwest League scout from an AL East team, getting his takes on several of the players that are with, or have been with, the Clinton LumberKings this season. Here are some of the highlights:
D.J. Peterson: "Stood out immediately."
Peterson, who the scout knew very little of coming in because he doesn't follow the draft anymore, had a bit of a slow start in Clinton. The first time our scout went in to watch Clinton after Peterson arrived he asked a few people how he was doing, "He's been alright," he was told.
That was the impression of quite a few people before D.J. got going, but he got going that first night, and what has been seen over the last six or seven views has made a big impression: "You just can't hide the very good bat speed. You can't teach that. And the plus raw power," said the scout. "You see the bat speed even on a swing and miss. And the fact that he's already showing that power -- with some guys, even college guys, that doesn't come so easy. Especially in this league. Without any previous bias, he created an impression on me. Once he got comfortable, he started hitting and then you saw the home runs come. He's going to hit and the power is already starting to play in games. Some guys can hit everything a mile in BP, but squaring up fastballs in games is different -- that is real power. He's already doing that now." Defensively? "He isn't plus there, but the arm is adequate and he handled third base." Summation: "I like the guy. He stood out immediately. The bat could be special and there are 6 or 7 grades in there. Reminds me of Bob Horner with a better body."
Victor Sanchez:"A very unique talent."
Sanchez is not a normal minor league pitching prospect. There is his size and build (6-foot, 255 pounds) and there is his age (18 all season). And he has already shown in Clinton this year and Everett a season ago that he 'knows how to pitch', a phrase that gets thrown around a lot but that is expanded on below.
Our scout has seen Sanchez several times this season and was in attendance for his no hitter. He likes what he's seen...a lot: "As an observer and just a fan of the game, it is very fun to watch him pitch. He's a really special player," the scout told me. "Certainly the first thing you notice is the age. He's a very unique talent, like [Julio] Urias," the recently turned 17-year-old Dodgers pitching prospect, also in the Midwest League. "You don't see a lot of guys even 21, 22, 23 with the type of command he has. That's not common. It makes it tough on the hitters because Sanchez can be 3-and-0 and he'll still throw all three pitches, and he'll throw it on the black." And about that maturity? "He knows in-and-out and changing speeds -- he's 91-92, but he has a little more when he needs it.. And the command is just always there. He isn't going to lose that. He may lose it for a hitter, but he isn't going to lose it for five in a row. He's like a 90-percent free throw shooter in basketball; you know what you're getting when he steps on the mound because he is consistent like that with the command. You can say 'pitchability', but I don't think that really covers it all." I asked if his early development made Sanchez hard to project, "A little, because you can't be thinking like most guys, five years down the road, because he isn't going to follow that normal path. He gives the organization an opportunity to do something outside the box."
Tyler Marlette:"He's a ballplayer."
Marlette is one prospect who I've been hesitant to move up my rankings too much because I've been left a little unfulfilled by my limited video looks of him and haven't received any very strong reports that like him with much conviction. Until now.
The impression isn't left immediately, however, as our scout tells it: "At first, he's a guy that you're like, 'OK, he's a nice little player', then you check back on the series and he was on once or twice in every game." And the defense is coming along, too. "He's receiving well. And he's always in the right place and he's smart defensively. And this is a tough league to catch in, especially just a few years out of high school. You've got 12 or 13 guys you have to learn, the league you have to learn and start building your own scouting reports while figuring out your pitcher's strengths. He's handling that very well. He threw out three guys in about four or five innings one time I watched him. Just very sound back there." But the bat is still Marlette's ticket. "He was a 5th rounder, right? That's a good find. They did something right there. He's not really a physical specimen, I don't even think he's 6-foot and the body isn't chiseled or anything, but he's a ballplayer. And I don't think I could give him a better compliment than that." Summing up his biggest strength and our scout's overall take on Tyler, he said, "He can hit a fastball. I haven't seen him overwhelmed by anyone [with the fastball] here -- and there are good arms here. He's showing a little pop, but the power will come. He kind of just won me over."
Ketel Marte:"High-premium athlete."
Marte, who is now up in the California League, has unquestionably taken big steps forward this season -- among the biggest in the entire organization. In the looks that our scout got earlier in the year he saw the progression of the switch-hitting middle infielder and likes what the future holds for him.
A lot of International Free Agents are signed based on tools alone, and a large percentage of those players never turn those tools into real baseball ability. Marte is doing that: "First off, he is a high-premium athlete. But the good thing that you notice is that it is already turning into baseball ability," he said. "The bat is definitely coming around and he was driving the ball a little more in my later looks. He reminded me a lot, physically, of Engel Beltre who was here a few years back when Clinton was still the Rangers' affiliate. Different positions, obviously, but physically they are similar." And about the long-term position for Marte? "I saw him playing on both sides of second base and he did pretty well. I think I liked him better at second. I'd say the jury is still out on where he ends up, but with all of that athletic ability there will be a lot of options."
Tyler Pike:"Already good, still good upside."
Pike, who Seattle signed away from Florida State with an overslot deal after taking him in the 3rd round a year ago got a pretty aggressive assignment to the Midwest League this year. The 19-year-old left-hander has pitched very well there and has proven up to the task, but he also still has more untapped ability in the tank.
Pike reminded our scout of someone who was pretty successful in the way that he works: "He has already learned to command on the outside corner very well. You remember Tom Glavine? Well, he does that at the Midwest League level -- everything away. And when he gets those calls, he'll work it a little bit more away, and a little more, and end up getting guys to chase." A standard 3-pitch mix for Pike is headlined by a fastball that is regularly 89-91 but works higher at times, the scout talked about his future. "He doesn't have that consistent breaking ball all the time right now so he's a fastball/changeup guy, primarily, but there is projection with his body. He has a good long body, good arm action. He's already good for them there, especially considering his age, and there is still good upside there."
Jabari Henry:"Player that grows on you."
Early in the Midwest League season there was no one hotter than Henry. Our scout was there and saw that and Jabari was one of the players he brought up without me asking. He hit leadoff for Clinton and was manning center field every day. And while his tools don't overwhelm, he showed enough to our scout to definitely grab his attention.
There are players who impress because of their tools or their body and then there are players who, like Marlette, impress because of their body of work. Henry falls in here, too: "Henry is a good player, one that really grows on you as you watch him in a series. He has some strength even though he isn't overly physical, he ran well, covered the outfield very well and just looked like a good baseball player. And early on for them he was just really, really hot. Hitting everything, hitting it hard and hitting off of good pitching."
Brock Hebert:"He makes all the plays."
Marte's replacement at shortstop, Hebert is another name that our scout talked about without my asking. The 14th rounder has played the middle infield at three levels for Seattle this season and is again showing very good plate discipline.
Our scout liked his approach and his sound defense: "I like Hebert. He makes all the plays and is confident in himself in the field. Not everyone has that. And he has a good approach offensively, too. He's another mid-round guy where they are obviously doing some good things. He's a good find."
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