Notes from minor league hitting camp

Here are my observations from hitting camp today, March 9th, with an emphasis on those players whom I did not discuss on Tuesday:

Chad Huffman excelled in all areas on Friday. I saw a very deep home-run to right and several strong line drives up the middle that likely would have netted him some base hits (possibly doubles) and RBIs. This is consistent with his 2006 performance, where he led the Northwest League in on-base percentage and placed highly in batting average, slugging percentage, and extra-base hits. He also showed an uncanny ability to place the ball where he wanted on both the infield-in and squeeze play drills.

Michael Campbell hit some balls to the depth of the right field warning track, a testament to some emerging opposite-way power. He looked quite uncomfortable in bunting drills, however.

Switch-hitter Chase Headley showed consistent mid-range power from both sides of the plate. I was more impressed by his left-handed hitting, where he smacked some very hard ground balls that got out of the infield in a hurry.

David Freese provided another solid performance. After excelling in bunting drills, he exhibited excellent gap-hitting power, solid situational hitting (infield-out, squeeze), and several monster swings to centerfield.

Craig Cooper had some nice power swings, but he only uses a small fraction of the field. If you put your money on right field with a dash of right-center, you're bound to win. He did well in the hit-and-run exercise and I see him as a contact hitter who shouldn't strike out much. But he needs to find some opposite-way power to complete his game.

Mike Baxter showed decent power up the middle, but a few pitches were in on his hands, giving him several grounders to the first base side. When he got the sweet part of the bat on the ball, he had some nice rips to first but seems to be no obvious home-run threat.

Rayner Contreras had several strong shots to right-center along with some hard-hit ground balls the opposite way. He struggled on the infield-in drill, though his .427 average with RISP in the AZL Rookie League suggests that his situational hitting is better than it looked today.

Kyler Burke showed strong power to left and center. I noticed a slightly pronounced hesitation in his legs – but hey, whatever works, right? His situational hitting was more than adequate, too.

Kyle Blanks demonstrated exceptional upper-body strength with some long balls to right-center even though he got under quite a few pitches. My concern is that he might be looking too hard for the home run hits.

Tom King had difficulty with the bunt drills (pop-ups, fouls) and I felt like he was crouching a bit too much in the batter's box. He had several solid line drives the opposite way and redeemed himself in my mind with a good squeeze-play bunt.

Brandon Powell also had strong opposite way liners that certainly could have been extra-base hits with a little speed. He also demonstrated power with several deep flies to the warning track. But he kept just missing the ball enough to keep it in the park. He certainly knows how to advance a runner, and his 52 extra base hits last year indicate some nice gap power.

The following are updates on three players mentioned in my Tuesday notes:

Jesus Lopez was much-improved on the bunt drills today. I also noticed more power to center and left-center than I perceived earlier this week, and he had several rocket line drives that would have almost certainly escaped the infield. This should be a productive hitter's camp for him.

Yordany Ramirez also performed better in the bunting drills today than earlier in the week, but he got under many pitches. Several would-be home-runs turned into shallow flies as a result. He has power but not placement.

Michael Johnson continued to show exceptional opposite-way and hit-and-run performances. He has a very quick swing; it gives him an extra split-second before committing fully to a pitch, so I would expect him to have high walk totals if he's patient enough.

-Brad Honigman

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