Scout's Notebook: Florida International

Kiley shares notes on the upstart FIU Panthers and their surprisingly deep lineup of prospects.

The big name here is junior C Aramis Garcia, which is why there were four scouting directors at a midweek game at lowly USF. Scouts were a little disappointed that Garcia started at first base, but after a double switch, he came in to catch the last three innings, so we all got a full look. Garcia was impressive at the plate in the game, as he has been all year, with a .431/.519/.769 line through 77 PA this year, with 5 homers and an 4/11 K/BB ratio.

Garcia has a near ideal swing mechanically, given his limited physical gifts. He only has average bat speed and his 45 raw power comes mostly from his upper body strength, most of which he's developed since he got on campus. To make the most of this, you want a simple swing with a timing toe tap and load, but nothing too big or complicated along with not loading his hands too high or too far back.

Garcia isn't the most fluid, but does all of these things mechanically, does an excellent job keeping his hands inside the ball and taking a direct path to contact with an aggressive but controlled approach. His natural power is to right-center field due to this simple, compact stroke, but he pulled the ball a couple times when it was placed there, as you can see on the video.

I think his 12-15 home run power could play up if he keeps doing these things so effectively. I'd like to see him keep his front foot anchored a little more consistently, but that's a nitpick as Garcia is firing on all cylinders at the plate right now. He's a decent runner for a catcher, although I didn't get a great time for him to first base--he looks like a 40 runner, maybe 35.

I had a quick look at him defensively, but he looks comfortable behind the plate, with at least average hands and feet and an above average arm. Some scouts that have seen him longer mentioned some small tweaks he needs to make with the finer points, but they all lauded his makeup, so I don't think there's much to worry about here.

Garcia compares favorably with former Ole Miss catcher Stuart Turner (who went to the Twins near the top of the 3rd round last year) and also former Miami-Dade JC catcher Victor Caratini (who went to the Braves near the end of the 2nd round last year), both signing basically for slot. Garcia is similar to Turner, but I think Garcia is better offensively; Garcia isn't very similar to Caratini, but I think their overall values are closer.

This was my first time seeing Garcia and I had been told before the year that Garcia was a 3rd-5th round fit, moving up with his strong early spring. I think he's a late 2nd to 3rd round fit and could creep up a little higher if he keeps hitting like this, as it's hard for scouts to question a guy's hitting ability when they haven't seen him fail before.

Sophomore 2B Edwin Rios is the name on the tip of many tongues in the agent ahem advisor class, as a solid prep follow has blossomed from a below the radar guy into a top 5 round prospect in the heavily-scouting Miami area. He reminds me physically at second base to former LSU and 2013 Pirates 3rd rounder JaCoby Jones physically (in that he looks to big to play there), though Rios isn't nearly the same kind of athlete, and won't play second base in pro ball. Rios is 6'3/205 and a below average runner, but has smooth hands, good footwork and at least an average arm, so third base should be a solid fit for him long term.

He separates himself at the plate, where his smooth lefty stroke creates effortless power that's at least a 50 and probably 55. It's hard to tell a player's power ceiling when they never put it all into one swing in BP: the 4 swings on the video were his last round, with the most effort. Rios can hit the ball to all part of the field pretty naturally in BP and also did that in the game. His numbers are solid and he'll be on the Cape again this summer, with a chance to make himself a lot of money. He sometimes bars out his front arm and can get a little jumpy, coming out of his stance at the plate, but both are fixable if he's open to coaching. I'll slap a 2nd-3rd round follow on him right now, but the tools are here to go even higher.

There were a couple other players worth mentioning in the deep FIU lineup, like senior 3B Josh Anderson and freshman C J.C. Escarra. I told a scout at the game that Anderson looks like every AA third baseman I write off during BP because he's old and fat with just okay power, but then I see him rake in the game, he has great stats and then he makes the big leagues in two years. Anderson raked in the game and has the last two years, while the 6'0/220 third baseman has just enough agility to play 3B in pro ball and a plus arm to make up for some shortcomings (and maybe pitch if the bat doesn't work). He's a really solid senior sign in the latter stages of the top 10 rounds for $100,000 or less and I think the gaudy stats will help him sneak into the single digit rounds.

Escarra played on the same high school team as Cubs prospect Albert Almora, Miami freshman RF Willie Abreu, my #20 high school junior in the country (and Florida commit) LF Daniel Reyes and FAU freshman catcher Kevin Abraham. Since Abraham was the best defensive catcher on the team, Escarra mostly played 3B, but fit at 1B in college/pro ball. Scouts talked about possible putting him behind the plate and the Mets drafted him with that intention, but Escarra went to school instead. He's been splitting time with Garcia behind the plate and looked surprisingly good yesterday for a guy back there for the first time. The arm is about average and the actions are still a little rough, but there's an ability to stick behind the plate in pro ball. Escarra has a solid lefty swing and the same raw power (45) as Anderson, but that looks much better from the left side and from a catcher, so Escarra has a chance to work into the top 5 rounds in 2016 with continued progress.

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