Derek Hill to be Pushed at Lakeland
As mentioned in an earlier spring training notebook, outfielder Derek Hill is currently working out with the High-A Lakeland team, and that has been the case since camp got under way. It’s an aggressive assignment for Hill, who got less than 50 games of playing time last summer between GCL rookie ball and short season-A ball in Connecticut. No plans are ever set in stone of course until final rosters are set (and much like the big league club, there is still roster flux going on for the minor league teams), but all signs point to Hill starting his full-season career at Lakeland.
Hill is only 19 years old, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him play or interact or carry himself. Mentally and physically, he’s mature beyond his years. While he’s still growing, he already looks filled-out physically with a good frame. He also has a very professional approach to the game. He’s not one to joke around, he’s constantly working and talking with coaches and trying to learn, and is putting in extensive effort on his game. On routine grounders, he still runs them out and runs hard. After a bad swing, he returns to the dugout and starts analyzing the swing. And that’s obviously in addition to already being blessed with extensive physical gifts that made him a first rounder last summer.
So, Hill is doing everything right to take on this sort of challenge. But, the jump from short season-A ball to High-A ball is a big one, especially for someone that’s only 19 years old and doesn’t have the benefit of college experience. There will likely be some growing pains as he adjusts to the level of competition.
Rough Outing for Turnbull
In addition to Hill, observers also got the chance to see last year’s second round pick, right-hander Spencer Turnbull, in action. It was a tough outing for Turnbull though, as he struggled to control his pitches, and got hit around quite a bit.
From a velocity standpoint, there are no concerns whatsoever, as Turnbull brings plenty of heat. His fastball was routinely sitting at 94-95 MPH, and one scout was getting readings of 96. The bigger issue with the fastball was that he was having trouble locating it, and it would frequently be up in the zone, in a hitter’s count, and hitters were able to catch up to it and drive the ball all over the diamond.
He was frequently in those hitter’s counts because he couldn’t throw his slider for a strike, or even get it near the plate at times. The pitch was biting hard, almost too hard, that it would frequently be in the dirt and very difficult to block.
Turnbull still did receive his share of swings and misses, as even without pinpoint control, the fastball and slider have the velocity and spin respectively to confuse hitters. So, despite the less than stellar results, the stuff that Turnbull has is tough to teach, even if there’s refinement needed, especially with his location.
Young Outfielders Getting Chance to Shine
Besides Hill, the Tigers have a number of talented young outfield prospects that were getting playing time in the A-ball game. On the Lakeland side, Tyler Gibson continued to flash his potential amidst some struggles, while on West Michigan’s side, Jose Azocar and Rashad Brown were making plays.
As many are aware, Gibson has been a work in progress for years now. He’s a talented athlete, but has struggled with a lot of the finer points of the game, and despite being drafted more than three years ago, has yet to make it through a year of full-season ball. Gibson did have a solid start to the season in West Michigan last year, hitting .272 in 92 at-bats, but a broken hand derailed his progress, and he hit just .107 for Lakeland in 56 at-bats after returning.
Gibson continues to appear like a prospect that is a work in progress, but every time you get discouraged, he shows signs of life that help you see the potential he still possesses. In his first at-bat of the day, he looked confused and off-balance the entire at-bat before striking out. The very next at-bat, he looked more comfortable, worked a favorable count, and when he got a pitch to drive, ripped a triple into right field that hit off the wall. He hit the ball hard, and used his speed to turn a traditional double into a triple. It was an impressive play, and why no one is ready to give up on him yet.
On the West Michigan side, the outfield is brimming with athleticism, with Jose Azocar and Rashad Brown putting their physical abilities on display. Brown is filling out and still looks like he’ll be able to swing for more power, but his swing isn’t yet at the point where he’s lifting the ball, instead making solid contact that consistently goes for singles.
Azocar doesn’t have the same athletic package as Brown does, and is on the smaller side. But his speed was impressive, creating opportunities on multiple occasions for the Whitecaps team. In one instance, after a single up the middle, he promptly stole second base, and then drew an errant throw that sailed into center and allowed him to take third. Even in a situation where he got caught in a rundown, at third base running on contact, he got into a pickle, keeping the back and forth going long enough to allow the batter to make it all the way to second base before succumbing to the tag out.
Finally, one name to keep in mind for when you’re seeing some of the younger players play; Ignacio Valdez. He might not quite be the same size as Steven Moya, but he’s close, and at only 19 years of age, has time to grow still. It can be hard to truly understand the size of a guy through a picture, but here’s the shot of him: