Though there are some intriguing prospects at first base on the minor league level, they are clearly blocked by stud Miguel Cabrera in Detroit. Jeff Larish was still in big league camp, so there was little to be seen on that front; though we are all well-versed in his capabilities. Ryan Roberson has spent the bulk of the spring working with the Toledo team (though he could go to Erie if Larish is optioned to Toledo), but I personally still maintain serious concerns over his long term prospect viability.
In the workouts and games I witnessed last week, Roberson's swing still seemed long and he seemed more of a mistake hitter than a true power hitter capable of maintaining his assets against stiffer competition. To his credit, his movements in the field looked improved and his presence around the bag was fringe average. He's a nice power option at the minor league level, but I think we might have seen the best of what we will see from Mr. Roberson.
Ryan Strieby was roaming around and seen during workouts, but lingering issues with his wrist prevented him from getting game action or taking extensive fielding/batting practice. The limited time he was seen in the field he showed improved reactions and footwork around the bag, and a strong arm. He has always been capable of prodigious power, but FSL scouts and managers weren't sure how much of that power would translate long term. I spoke to one scout this spring who seriously questioned his ability to hit for even a modest average at Double-A, and with the wrist not back completely, we may not be able to see what translates to Erie until after the season is underway.
Two other players that have played both first and third base in the past, Michael Bertram and Ronnie Bourquin, are guys that just failed to stand out in workouts and games. Bertram is a quality organizational type who will do what is needed to win games, both offensively and defensively, but his ceiling is severely limited. I liked his approach at the plate, but Double-A looked like it could be a stretch for him. Bourquin's offensive approach appeared lost to me, as well as another coach I spoke with before going to Florida. He seems unsure of how to approach his at-bats, and his power seriously suffers as a result. He was clearly stretched against potential Double-A pitchers, and I was left with the uneasy feeling that he may be on the wrong side of the bubble.
Watching the potential first sackers with the High-A workout group was very interesting. On one hand you have a prospect trying to prove he is capable of mashing against full-season pitchers, in Chris Carlson. On the other hand you have a converted catcher in Devin Thomas who looked raw but demonstrated promise. It has been two years since I had seen Chris Carlson live, and I disliked his swing even more than I did while he was at Oneonta. He is not quick to the ball and his pitch recognition seems to be evaporating before my eyes. I'm highly skeptical of him – though that has been the case for a while now.
The Tigers still like Thomas' bat, and that is evident by their desire to get him consistent at-bats at another position. His above-average power from both sides of the plate showed well in every venue I saw him last week, and his defense showed promise. His hands were solid and his instincts took strides each day. I think this move helps his prospect status.
Rounding out the significant observations at first base, I'll touch on Billy Nowlin and Jordan Lennterton. I left the fall instructional league impressed with Nowlin's power but thinking he was a DH in waiting despite the move to first base. My opinion may quickly be changing. He put in some work this offseason, trimming down and tightening his body, lending to better actions at first, and improved range. His instincts were markedly better than last fall, and he showed solid-average footwork around the bag.
This was my first exposure to Lennerton, and he was exactly as described in previous discussions with coaches; an organizational player capable of playing a role for an A-ball club. He doesn't have a ton of power, but he can turn on a pitch and get it out to right field, but he can be exploited pretty easily with good breaking balls.
At the hot corner, I got a chance to see five guys during my time there; Santo De Leon, Luis Palacios, Bryan Pounds, Brett Anderson, and Francisco Martinez. De Leon still has a ton of room in his frame, but I'm not sure we're going to see much addition there. He's still showing gap power and a desire to swing at lots of pitches. I loved his defensive actions at the hot corner and think he might be able to carve out a lengthy career at the upper reaches of the minor leagues on his defense and modest power alone.
Both Palacios and Pounds saw action for the High-A group, though I'm not sure either really belongs there this year. Palacios has plenty of defensive versatility with good all around actions and above-average hands. I still like his defensive profile better at second base, but he can be a good gloveman at third. Offensively I may have caught a couple of poor days, but I wasn't as pleased with what I saw as I was last fall. He didn't show the same bat speed and consequently lacked the pop he showed in October. I still like him going forward as there is plenty of potential in his frame and approach to the game.
Pounds was a guy I loved last fall, grading him a notch higher in every tool than I had previously based on conversations with coaches from college and the NYPL. I still liked what I saw this spring, with him putting in a very nice defensive showing, average speed, and enough pop to be a threat in the lineup. He has limited big league potential, but I think he is a solid organizational third baseman with a slim chance to be more; but he's got the work ethic to make the most of that slim chance.
Brett Anderson might be the big sleeper from the 2008 draft. I knew about the raw potential last fall, but it showed on the field this spring. He was limited by a sore arm in the fall, but he flashed tons of arm strength on throws across the diamond and he has absolutely improved his instincts after moving from short to third base. He has a chance to be a plus defender. Offensively, I saw very little last fall, but quite a bit this spring. He showed above-average raw power, particularly to the pull side, and an improved ability to recognize pitches. He has breakout potential for 2009.
Rounding things out is possibly the one player I was most excited to see this spring; third baseman Francisco Martinez. Martinez has a wealth of talent, and I will say right now that we have not even seen him scratch the surface of what he has to offer. He showed an amazing knack for making contact, while also an uncanny ability to recognize pitches for a player his age. He understood the strike zone and didn't show a desire to chase pitches. Though the power isn't there right now he has an enticing frame that screams projections and added strength and loft down the line. He could be a lethal offensive player.
At third he looked a bit rough but took to instruction well and showed soft hands and a cannon arm. I love his potential to stick at the hot corner, but he will need to work hard to get his instincts and footwork to an acceptable level. In short, nothing he showed me last week has dissuaded me from believing he is one of the organization's top prospects.
As I wrote in the State of the System article recently, the corners are not a strength of the system, but there is some intrigue. I still carry that opinion after seeing nearly all of our prospects at the two positions, side-by-side. There's a fair bit of power, but a ton of questions about how it will come through against advanced pitching.
Keep an eye on Martinez, Anderson, and Strieby in 2009, as they are the guys that stood out the most for various reasons. Check back for the next installment of this position-by-position review, as I dive into the middle infielders and catchers on display in Lakeland.