Instructs are a time for players to work on their weaknesses and become better players. One guy might be learning a new position, another might be learning to shorten his swing and make more contact, and still another might focus on taking more pitches. The result of such experimentation is generally marked improvement for these young players, but that wouldn't necessarily translate into high batting averages and fielding percentages during fall play.
This means that a more qualitative than quantitative approach is required to determine who the most valuable and most improved players on this Arizona Diamondbacks Instructional League roster were. While Jack Howell and the various coordinators settled on four players to single out for their awards, Howell made it clear that he was proud of his entire roster during the Instructional League, calling them all his MVPs.
"Let's play with some spirit, but also be focused on the task on you to accomplish," Howell told them when workouts began in mid-September. "They were willing to make changes and work on their game, and they all got better," he concluded this week.
But one position player did stand out as the most valuable of the bunch and one did make greater strides than the other 19 position players in camp. Here are Howell and his staff's award selections for the 2008 Instructional League position players:
Most Valuable Position Player: Collin Cowgill
The man who only needed 20 games to lead the Northwest League in home runs continues to impress. After struggling initially at South Bend, he picked up again in late August and then became the Silver Hawks most feared hitter in the postseason. The Diamondbacks front office felt that the 5th-rounder out of Kentucky still had something to learn in Instructional Ball, according to Howell.
"We brought him down here and said, 'You had a great year at Yakima, you made the adjustments at South Bend, and we love the way you play, but you need to cut down on strikeouts.' Especially hitting in the 1-2 spot in the order, because he can run pretty well and steal some bases. With two strikes, you need a better approach and to cut your swing down. He worked his tail off and ended up having right around the same number of strikeouts as walks, hit two or three home runs for us, and just had a heck of an Instructional League."
That near-1:1 ratio came on the heels of fanning 78 times and walking on just 37 occasions during the summer. The fact that he could reduce his strikeout totals and still hit for power is mighty impressive progress for three weeks of work. Cowgill is now a borderline five-tool player, with only his arm grading out as low as average, and he makes up for that by hitting his cutoff man well.
"[Cowgill is] not too bad as a leadoff guy, could be a two-hole guy, as well as could slot right in the three spot," figures Howell. "We tried him in all those spots. He's just a great team player."
Most Improved Position Player: Antonio Sepulveda
Supposedly just 16 years old, Antonio Sepulveda batted .230 this summer in the Dominican Republic, committing 23 errors in 43 games. "Slow bat, stiff hands, and no coordination," determined one international scout we spoke to. Still, even that scout marveled at his raw running speed and cannon throwing arm.
If Sepulveda is indeed 16 - which this particular scout strongly doubts - then he has plenty of time to harness his athleticism and learn the finer points of the game. But even if he is a bit older, he has a good shot to make the big leagues eventually based on the huge strides he made in three weeks of Instructional Ball.
"Probably the strongest shortstop arm I've seen in the organization," begins Howell. "He's just a little bitty shortstop with real good range and good hands. He's just learning our system and learning pro baseball. We brought him over and gave him a crash course."
"[Infield Coordinator] Tony [Perezchica] worked him extra every day at infield drills and taught him the bunt plays. His stroke started coming, and he started getting familiar with the plays and the situations, so we played him in some Rockies games. He was the most improved; I was very proud of him."
It may still be a few years before we see Sepulveda putting up impressive numbers in the States, but he is definitely a name to remember for the future. With Emilio Bonifacio's departure, he may be the fastest runner in the system right now.
Read about the most valuable and most improved pitchers here.
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