Name: Vin DiFazio
DOB: May 15, 1986
Acquired: 2009 Amateur Draft, 12th round
The first portion of this article originally appeared on October 20, in an interview with DiFazio near the conclusion of Fall Instructional League. The original link can be found between the feature story and the scouting report.
The Texas Rangers focused on adding pitching depth to their system in this past summer's MLB Draft, as 19 of their top 23 picks were pitchers.
Of those four position players, one stood out above the rest during his debut season.
Catcher Vin DiFazio, the club's 12th-round pick, posted a .278/.417/.526 line between short-season Spokane and Single-A Hickory. Remarkably, he was even better during his late-season stint with the Crawdads, as he batted .290 [18-for-62] with five doubles, five home runs, 17 runs batted in, and 12 walks.
While DiFazio is a very talented player, he slipped in the draft because professional teams simply didn't know much about him.
The backstop played his freshman season in 2005 at the University of Connecticut, where he batted .306 in 42 games. DiFazio then transferred to Indian River Community College in Florida before eventually moving on to the University of Alabama.
Unfortunately, that's when the injury troubles came.
The New Jersey native played in a total of nine games–getting eight at-bats–between 2007 and 2008. As DiFazio explained to Lone Star Dugout after the draft, he developed an unusually serious form of neuritis that left his baseball career hanging in the balance.
After over two years of rehab, DiFazio not only returned to the diamond for his senior season in 2009, but he also won the starting job. DiFazio was one of the Crimson Tide's top hitters, batting .329 with 14 doubles and seven home runs in just 140 at-bats.
The 23-year-old has a solid approach at the plate, and he is a good enough natural hitter with plenty of strength. DiFazio was a man amongst boys at the Rangers' Fall Instructional League, particularly in batting practice when he consistently laced balls into the gaps and over the fence with relative ease.
But all the time off has left him behind the curve defensively, and the catcher has been playing catch-up. During his debut summer, scouts came away impressed with his bat, but questions remain regarding his defense. DiFazio has the ability to become a solid defender, and he made catching his primary focus both during the season and at instructs.
Also See: DiFazio putting focus behind the plate (October 20, 2009)
Rangers Instructs Report (October 13, 2009)
Sizing up the catching prospects (September 21, 2009)
Q&A with Rangers 12th Round Pick Vin DiFazio (June 29, 2009)
Batting and Power: DiFazio's bat made him an immediate prospect to watch last season. He was extremely impressive in the regular season [particularly after a late promotion to Hickory] and followed it up with a solid showing at Fall Instructional League. DiFazio is a very strong hitter with plenty of raw power. The University of Alabama product has great gap-to-gap pop, and he'll knock his share of home runs along the way as well. He also has a good feel for the strike zone, with 41 walks in just 230 official at-bats last season. DiFazio's swing tends to get a bit long at times, and he is prone to swinging and missing. He may not be challenged offensively until he reaches the Double-A Texas League.
Base Running and Speed: The catcher has below-average speed––meaning he runs like a traditional backstop. He isn't much of a threat on the basepaths, stealing just one base in five attempts over 95 career Division I collegiate games. DiFazio swiped three bags in 47 games with short-season Spokane last summer.
Defense: Injuries and missed time have hurt DiFazio's defensive tools, but he still has a chance to improve as he gains valuable experience. During his early collegiate days, DiFazio's arm was regarded as above-average, but he has since lost some raw strength. He also must clean up a few mechanical issues, such as his footwork. DiFazio does well with some of the position's nuances––handling a pitching staff, game calling, and receiving––and he should only improve in the coming years. In his 41 games between Spokane and Hickory last season, he gunned down 16-of-58 base stealers (28%), committed six errors, and had nine passed balls. His plus makeup and tireless work ethic should allow him to maximize his tools behind the plate.
Projection: DiFazio's bat certainly has an opportunity to carry him to the Major Leagues, and he just might hit well enough to land an everyday job in the future. But whether or not that will be behind the plate still remains to be seen. If he doesn't develop enough as a catcher, he could end up like Max Ramirez, where he plays a lot of DH and first base with the ability to fill in at catcher when necessary.
2010 Outlook: After a dominant showing in Hickory last summer [to the tune of a 1.068 OPS in 62 at-bats], DiFazio has proven his bat is more than ready for the High-A California League. The performance, coupled with the Rangers being relatively thin behind the plate at the lower levels, should land him an opening day job with Bakersfield. DiFazio turns 24 years old in May, and he'll need to move through the system quickly, but his bat may allow him to do just that. He should get a crack at Double-A Frisco at some point this summer.