Both Deik Scram and Brennan Boesch looked like better players than when I'd seen them in the past. Scram has added some muscle, though still remains lean and fast. The added muscle allowed him to routinely drive the ball to the gaps (and even out of the park) in the game I saw, and he put on more impressive displays in batting practice. The blazing speed that was his calling card coming out of Oklahoma State is still evident and he can get down the line and swipe bags with plus-plus speed.
After a miserable overall 2008 season in Lakeland, Boesch looked like a more confident player that was more focused in all facets of the game. His swing looked quicker than last year, and he was making more solid contact. He flashed some of the enormous raw power he has in his swing, by blasting a bomb nearly onto the road down the right field line, in one game. Defensively, I liked his routes better, though his arm didn't seem to play as well as it had in past seasons. After seeing him in the spring, and talking to several coaches and scouts that had seen him more extensively this spring, I believe he may be in line for a pretty big year.
Keep an eye on Andy Dirks folks. He's always profiled as a fourth outfielder, with an extremely high likelihood of reaching that projection, Dirks may be transforming himself into someone capable of becoming a legit center fielder. He has tremendous defensive instincts and a dirt dog mentality in the outfield that plays extremely well. He's added some muscle and his swing is quicker now, with fringe-average power to the gaps and an ability to use the entire field. I firmly believe Dirks could fly through this system, and with his makeup and work ethic, he could have a very lengthy big league career.
Kody Kaiser and Chris White may have been working on different fields most of the time I was in town, but both showed similar skills. They were both above-average runners both out of the box and in the outfield, with solid instincts that allowed them to get to most balls. I liked their swings, though Kaiser generates a bit more bat speed and ultimately more power. The one area where both still leave me scratching my head, is in their ability to routinely make contact; I'm not sure either will ultimately hit for enough power to keep moving up the ladder.
I left last fall's instructional league impressed with Chao-Ting Tang's outfield defense and poise, and I left with a similar impression this spring. However, I did add a greater appreciation for his ability at the plate. He seemed to stay back on the ball better in the games I saw, and there was an uptick in his ability to drive the ball. I'm still not a believer in the hit tool, but there are at least signs of life right now.
Luis Salas is determined to get squarely on the prospect radar. Despite thickening up in the lower half some, he has maintained his quickness and improved his outfield instincts, demonstrating an ability to stick in center field. His arm is plenty strong, and he has an uncanny accuracy with his throws. He's still struggling with contact, but his raw power and concept of the strike zone are both tools that give him ample opportunity to move well into the TigsTown Top 50 this summer.
We have all been discussing Londell Taylor's athleticism for a while now, and while that is still there, the baseball skills don't seem to be coming along too quickly. I wasn't a fan of his instincts in the outfield yet again this spring, and I'm not sure he'll be able to handle much more than left field defensively. His arm has plenty of strength, but it lacks accuracy, and he doesn't always seem to know where he needs to be throwing the ball. Offensively, his concept of the strike zone is still absent, and it negates any ability to flash his above-average raw power and projected average hit tool. He's a long way from being a legit baseball prospect.
Alexis Espinoza was very impressive this spring. If there were box scores, he wouldn't have showed up with impressive numbers, but he was working out and getting at-bats with the Double-A squad for the bulk of the spring. He was caught chasing better breaking balls on many occasions, but he still showed an improved knowledge of the zone, along with outstanding raw power. He hit two towering shots in the games I saw; one held up by the wind in center field, and the other just foul down the left field line. He has slimmed down some since he showed up last year, and he was working quite well in center field. The instincts are still rough, but he is learning and there's a slim chance he could stick there. I like him better on a corner, but there's no reason to move him there quite yet.
Two other Latin American outfielders that were making their stateside debut were Avisail Garcia and Luis Castillo. Garcia is a beast at his young age. He already has an MLB body, and it is scary to consider the idea that he could still grow and develop more physically. He was very rough at the plate in terms of pitch recognition and strike zone judgment, but he did show an ability to make hard contact on a variety of pitches, and good raw power to the pull side. He'll need to learn to use the entire field better, but that should come with time. Defensively, he has the speed for center, but he looked better on a corner, with better reads and routes to balls. He may not explode this year, but don't ignore the talent.
Castillo didn't get any game action while I was in Lakeland, but he impressed with his blazing speed during workouts. On the bases in drill work, he was one of the fastest players on the field, and he showed an ability to track the ball and chase them down with ease. He's a true leadoff, and center field type who should be entertaining to watch this summer.
There were a few other outfielders that weren't on the field enough to make any definitive judgements, including Josh Workman, Jeff Frazier, Joe Tucker, Kyle Peter, and Keith Stein. Workman continued to work out with both his infield and outfield mitts, and he could see time at both positions this summer. Stein won't be on the field any time soon after blowing out his knee just before we got into town in late March.