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Polish. That’s the word that first came to mind as I sat watching Seattle’s draft last June. In an attempt to preempt any confusion, no, the Mariners didn’t draft a bunch of players from Poland. They did draft a player from nearby Germany, but we’ll get to him in a bit. I’m talking about polish in the highly refined baseball skill sense. Let’s talk polish…
Everything interesting about Virginia LHP Danny Hultzen’s amateur career has already been written, so let’s take a more timely approach and discuss his most recent body of work with a little help from a pair of authors from two of the best Seattle sites in the universe. The esteemed Jeff Sullivan’s hot sexy update of Hultzen’s AFL progress confirms that the young lefty’s velocity has maintained his junior year gains (92.5 MPH average, 95.1 MPH peak) while marc w provides interesting details on the progress of his change (spoiler: sharp as ever) and slider (spoiler 2: shows flashes of greatness, but inconsistent). It is silly to compare every lefty with a great changeup to Cole Hamels, but that’s a pretty logical ceiling here, at least in terms of potential performance.
Virginia JR LHP Danny Hultzen: plus command of all pitches; 88-91, will definitely touch 94; velocity jump due to 20 pounds of added muscle since high school, currently sitting 91-93, peaking 94-95; will throw upper-80s two-seam FB with good sink; 77-78 CB; plus 78-82 CU; quality 82-85 SL that he leans on at times
I can really appreciate the types of middle infield draft prospects that Seattle seems to target each year: athletic, versatile defensively, known to have a good approach to hitting. Clemson SS Brad Miller is/does all of those things, plus comes with a little bonus pop. In a weak class of college bats, Miller has the chance to really stand out as a middle infielder with starter’s upside. He’s Kyle Seager with more defensive upside.
Miller goes coast to coast as this season’s top collegiate shortstop prospect, beginning the year at the top spot and very deservedly finishing at number one as well. I’ve long held the position that the current Clemson shortstop has what it takes to stick at the position, an opinion tied far more closely to his defensive tools — most notably the speed and athleticism that give him well above-average range up the middle — than his present, sometimes erratic, ability. At the plate, he’s done everything expected of him and more. I’m admittedly more bullish on his power upside than most and can see him further tapping into said upside to the tune of 15+ homers annually. Even if the power doesn’t quite reach those levels, Miller’s consistent hard contact and good approach should help keep his batting average and on-base percentage at more than acceptable numbers for a starting middle infielder. It may be a popular comp for a lot of players, but I think a comparison between Brad Miller and former ACC star and current Oriole Brian Roberts is apt.
Mountain Pointe HS (AZ) 1B Kevin Cron is now at TCU after a deal with Seattle fell through. As a prospect, his power will define him…but you knew that already. What may or may not be known is what position he’ll be playing by the time his name is called again in 2014. Whispers about a potential position switch – I’ve heard both 3B and RF mentioned as possibilities – linger, but any defensive change would be contingent on his college conditioning program helping him firm up and shed some weight. Luckily for Cron, first base might be alright for him if his bat takes care of its end of the bargain. As mentioned in the pre-draft profile posted below, I can’t wait to compare and contrast Kevin’s college performance with his older brother CJ’s.
Cron has made headlines this spring, first as the younger brother of the amazing CJ Cron and then as a pretty damn good draft power hitting draft prospect himself. He’ll likely be picked too high to honor his commitment to TCU, but, man, I’d love to see him take a crack at the college game – the direct statistical comparison you could then make to his brother would be fascinating, I think. Cron the younger caught some in high school, but, like his bro, probably doesn’t have the requisite athleticism to catch at the next level. I’ve heard some quiet buzz about an attempted move to third, but I think that is probably from people who would hate to see his plus arm go to waste at first. Even working under the likely assumption he’s a first baseman in pro ball, Cron is a top five round prospect due to his highly advanced hit tool and gigantic raw power.
A copy/past fail left Mount Olive RHP Carter Capps off my list of the draft’s Top 250 prospects, but I’m sure the third round selection and half a million bucks helped him get over the unintentional snub. Capps is one of those guys – Stanford/Dodgers LHP Chris Reed is another – with both the frame and stuff to start, but, who, for some reason or another, looks so much better in shorter outings. I know almost all pitchers look better out of the bullpen, but Capps looks like a different pitcher altogether. At his best he’ll throw two plus pitches including a fastball that approaches triple digits (in short stints only) and an upper-70s to low-80s slider that flashes plus. He’s far too young to label him a reliever now and forever, but I do think the bullpen is his eventual home…and that’s a good thing.
Mount Olive FR RHP Carter Capps (2011): 94-96 FB with good movement; more commonly 87-91; saw him 90-92; 84-86 SL with plus upside that has lost some velocity, now upper-70s; upper-70s CU; 6-5, 220
There is no question Seattle went into the draft hoping to bolster their organizational depth behind the plate. Selecting Virginia C John Hicks was a good first step of the plan. He has above-average power upside and a knack for hitting the ball hard. I think his defense is fine, but if catching doesn’t work out he might be athletic enough to contribute defensively at a few other (corner outfield and first base most likely) spots.
Not too long ago I compared Hicks to teammate Kenny Swab and said I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a similar career path, i.e. become an unsignable mid-round pick and go back to school as a senior to boost his stock. I was obviously wrong as it now seems Hicks’ athleticism, plus arm, and emerging power could make him a top ten round selection.
I’ve talked about draft stacking™ before, but I like discussing the idea so much that I’m going to repeat it here. Draft stacking occurs when a team drafts multiple prospects from the same position (pitchers excluded) within five rounds of each other. Bonus points when the prospects come from different places (i.e. one is from college and the other from high school). Double bonus points when the prospects are selected in back-to-back rounds. After selecting college catcher Hicks in the fourth round, Seattle turned right back around and nabbed Hagerty HS (FL) C Tyler Marlette in the fifth. Well done, Mariners. The only thing holding me back from publicly declaring my undying love to the Seattle front office is Marlette’s questionable future behind the plate. Draft stacking doesn’t work if one of the players is going to switch positions! Hopefully Marlette’s substantial defensive tools are actualized so that last summer’s breakout star can continue his ascension from showcase standout to big league catcher.
Marlette has as much upside at the plate as any high school catcher sans Swihart, but questions about his defense continue to suppress his stock. The shame of it is that he has above-average defensive tools – he’s surprisingly natural behind the plate – but lacks the polish that comes with years of practice at the position. The aforementioned upside as a hitter works in much the same way. In batting practice Marlette is a monster, but he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter in game action thus far. A solid defensive catcher with plus power is a heck of a prospect, of course. An iffy defensive catcher who may or may not stick with gap power is less exciting. This is where teams who have seen Marlette multiple times over a couple of years have a huge leg up on what I do.
I had Rancho Cucamonga HS (CA) OF James Zamarripa down as a college guy, so I lost track of him somewhat this past spring. He’s more advanced than a typical prep prospect, but his ceiling (fourth outfielder) isn’t that exciting.
Virginia 3B Steven Proscia also isn’t especially exciting, but he’s a solid prospect with the chance to be a starter down the line. His strengths – arm, athleticism, power – mesh well with what most teams look for out of a third baseman.
Most people love coffee. Every few months I’ll try a little sip, but it just doesn’t work for me. So many people enjoy it every day that I’m smart enough to know that it isn’t “bad” per se, but rather a specific taste that I just don’t enjoy as much as others. Proscia is a little bit like coffee for me. His defense at third is very good, he’ll show you a nice potential power/speed combo most days, and his athleticism is well above-average for the position. He’s a good prospect by any measure. Yet somehow after taking everything I’ve heard about him and having seen him play a few times myself, I remain unmoved by his upside. Solid player, no doubt; he wouldn’t be on this list otherwise. I just see him as much more likely to wind up a potential four-corners utility player than a starting third baseman.
Texas State RHP Carson Smith is similar in many ways to Carter Capps. I prefer Smith, however, due to his more impressive fastball (the movement he gets on the pitch gives him the edge), more consistent third pitch (a changeup that could be quite good with some work), and better command of his breaking stuff. The eighth rounder is my second favorite prospect taken by Seattle this year.
Texas State JR RHP Carson Smith: very good athlete; 91-93 FB with great sink, 94-95 peak; sits 95-98 out of bullpen, 91-94 as starter; above-average potential with SL; CU with plus potential; commands CB well; 6-5, 215
Patch HS (Germany) SS Cavan Cohoes is a great story (Germany!) and a fun gamble for the Mariners to take. He’s also super raw at the plate, tremendously athletic, and really, really fast. Any more info than that would be me making stuff up because I’ve never seen the guy play and haven’t talked directly with anybody who has seen him either.
Tenth round pick Siena 2B Dan Paolini wound up beating my Dan Uggla draft comp (see below) by an entire round. I have a friend who has seen Paolini a lot who compares him to former big leaguer Mike Stanley as a hitter. Weird comp, right? My friend does this for a living – the baseball evaluating part, not the comp making part – so I’m not quite ready to say he’s crazy for the Stanley/Paolini comp but…well, let’s just say that I’m here to reiterate that I’m not the one going out on a limb suggesting a tenth round pick will play 15 seasons and hit close to 200 home runs. I’d take my Uggla anecdote to heart (again, see below) before getting too worked up about Paolini’s future one way or another, though I do want to profess my love of watching Paolini swing the bat.
Paolini has more present power than any college middle infielder. The question that remains to be answered is whether or not his long swing will lead to enough hits to make that power useful at the next level. If he doesn’t hit, he’s in trouble – only his power rates as above-average at this point, with the potential for an average hit tool down the road his only other tool of note. There’s a little sleeper Dan Uggla upside here, if everything breaks right. Of course, think about the original Uggla before getting too excited – how many things had to break exactly right for him to become the Dan Uggla we know and love (even as a long-time fan of a rival division team I have to admit his uppercut corkscrew swing is fun to watch) today? Paolini will probably start out around the same place as Uggla, a former 11th round pick.
Dayton LHP Cameron Hobson (Round 11) is hot and cold from outing to outing. When he’s going well, his fastball sits in the low-90s and he’s able to throw three pitches for strikes. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mariners view him as a starter or a reliever in the long run.
Dayton JR LHP Cameron Hobson: 87-91 FB with movement, sitting closer to 90-92 this year; good SL; solid CB; developing CU with potential; plus makeup; 6-1, 205 pounds
Franklin Pierce C Mike Dowd (Round 12) is fairly simple to understand. His arm is big league quality, but his other tools all come up a little bit short. In completely unrelated news, Henry Blanco has played 900 career games with an OBP of .293. Alright, back to Dowd: if he hits even a little bit, he’s a legitimate backup catching prospect.
Dowd, our lone Division II star on the list, has managed the strike zone brilliantly for Franklin Pierce while also ranking second among qualifiers in both BA and SLG. His arm may be his only above-average tool, but his bat, gap power, and defense should all play just fine at the next level.
UAB OF Jamal Austin (Round 13) can run, field, and take a pitch. I like that skillset. For as much shit as Juan Pierre has gotten from fans over his career (most, but not all of it justified), he’s now at the tail end of a twelve year career that has made him over fifty million bucks. Jamal Austin would be incredibly lucky to have anywhere close to as good a pro run. My worry with Austin remains the same as it has always been: will his inability to drive the ball prevent pitchers from throwing him anything but strikes? If that’s the case, I worry about him losing his greatest offensive asset, patience.
Love his speed/defense/approach, but do have some doubts about his almost complete lack of power and questionable arm. He sort of reminds me of a college-aged version of Juan Pierre and I’m not sure how his game will translate to the pros. The higher up you go, the more difficult it is to get away with having little power.
Local (to me) product LaSalle RHP Cody Weiss (Round 14) has a fastball that touches 93 and an upper-70s curve that comes and goes as an effective second pitch. His spotty command and lack of physicality limit his upside, so, um, consider his upside limited.
SO RHP Cody Weiss (2011): 90-92 FB, peak 93; high-70s CB; iffy command; 6-0, 195
Loyal readers know by now that I have a huge weak spot for college seniors with outstanding four year track records at the plate. Florida State OF Mike McGee (Round 15) might be stretched in center, but he’s a good defender in either corner, and his elite plate discipline should make him a favorite to many as he rises up Seattle’s organizational chain. Whether or not Mike McGee makes it in pro ball is irrelevant to me; the guy has proven time and time again that he is, and please excuse me for the terrible cliché, a ballplayer. I hate that I’ve been reduced to such a hacky turn of phrase, but that’s what Mike McGee does to me. Check him out if he visits a minor league ballpark near you and you’ll understand. You can break down his individual tools and try to project what kind of player he’ll be once fully developed, or you can just watch him and appreciate that he plays the sport the way it ought to be played. Hey, better yet: do both! Or neither, whatever, do what what you want: it’s a free country.
[great approach; average speed; 88-90 FB, 92-93 peak; very good upper-70s SL; CU; drafted as a pitcher last year; good CB]
I devoted an entire post to Oregon C Jack Marder (Round 16) after the draft, so, yeah, you could say I like him. I was totally on board with Billy Beane when he made his “not selling jeans” comment – good players come in all shapes and sizes, after all – but I also think athleticism, and more specifically how athleticism relates with mechanics, muscle memory, and coordination is important. You don’t need to look good in a uniform to be a good athlete, but athleticism as a whole shouldn’t be ignored. Marder is an outstanding athlete, but more impressive is how he is able to channel his athleticism towards relevant baseball skills. His athleticism helps his defense behind the plate, his swing, and his throws to second and third. I’m intrigued.
SO 2B Jack Marder (2012): average runner; legit plus bat speed; very instinctual, high energy, just a fun player to watch; plus defender at 1B, one of the best I’ve seen at college level; has experience playing every position on diamond; with time should be above-average at either second, third, or an outfield corner, as well as average at shortstop; strong arm; will be tried at C this spring (5/11 update: soft hands, plus mobility, well above-average pop times, natural footwork, accurate arm, positive reports on feel for pitch sequencing and leadership of staff); great line drive producing swing, textbook front shoulder rotation that I love; above-average athleticism; easy top ten round guy, could go as high as round five; 6-0, 180 pounds; R/R
Miami OF Nathan Melendres (Round 17) has the tools to be remembered someday as a complete steal who had no business being taken as late as the seventeenth round. He can run, throw, and defend as well as any college outfielder in his class, but his crude approach to hitting has kept him from being labeled a legit five-tool player by the experts. He’ll need to work on his plate discipline – not just taking more pitches, but swinging at better pitches – if he hopes to be remembered at all.
[serious tools, but very raw; potential plus defender in CF; hacker; plus speed; above-average to plus arm; 5-11, 185 pounds]
Horizon HS (AZ) LHP Nick Valenza (Round 18) reminds me a little bit of Indians draft pick Dillon Peters. He’s short, throws hard, and shows the makings of enough pitchers to start at the next level. Once you get past his lack of physical stature, you can see that his stuff is pretty interesting. His biggest bugaboo at the pro level may be his inconsistent control.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Palm Beach CC C Luke Guarnaccia (Round 19) is a Mariners draft pick with good athleticism and a strong defensive reputation. Picking a favorite out of Hicks, Dowd, Marder, and Guarnaccia comes down to little more than personal preference at this point, as all four share fairly similar strengths and weaknesses as prospects.
Did I get carried away after three weeks of performances from Emporia State 2B Dillon Hazlett (Round 20) or what? Whenever anybody starts thinking I know what I’m talking about, I’m going to refer them to the passage below. Silly hyperbole aside, Hazlett is a nice prospect who can handle the bat just fine. Not Ackley-level fine, of course, but good enough to consider his bat, defensive versatility (like Ackley, I think he’s best in CF), and speed/base running instincts worth following through his minor league travails.
Name to know = North Carolina JR 1B Dillon Hazlett. I first heard the poor man’s Dustin Ackley comps coming out of Chapel Hill a few months ago, but dismissed them as nothing more than a coaching staff excited about a junior college transfer ready to step in and help fill the gigantic hole left behind by Ackley’s departure. The comp, like most are, was built on convenience – both players are way too athletic to be college first basemen, run well, and have questionable power upsides. That’s what the comp was trying to express, I think. Nobody actually meant that Hazlett would step in and show off a hit tool quite like the one Ackley had shown. Hazlett, though impressive so far, has a long way to go to even enter Ackley’s prospect stratosphere. Then again, Ackley’s final junior year line was .417/.517/.763. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT, but Hazlett has put up a .467/.541/.700 line through 9 games. Just store the name way, way, way in the back of your mind.
Stanford RHP Jordan Pries (Round 30) is a pitchability righthander who relies heavily on a near-plus upper-70s breaking ball. That makes sense because his mid-80s fastball alone wouldn’t cut it. I hadn’t expected Pries to be a high draft pick or anything, but it was a surprise to see him fall all the way to the thirtieth round. Used as a starter at Stanford, Pries could experience enough of a boost in stuff pitching in relief to make him interesting. His numbers were better across the board in six long relief outings than they were in his six pro starts, whatever that means.
Stanford JR RHP Jordan Pries: 86-87 FB; very good 76-78 breaking ball
Kansas State LHP Kyle Hunter (Round 31) is easy to lose among the influx of college pitchers with the same first name/last initial combination. There’s Kyle Hallock, Kyle Hald, Kyle Hendricks…and Kyle Hunter. Hunter has been on the prospect radar for years as a lefthander with solid stuff. He mixes his pitches well and has above-average command. With luck, he’ll carve out a home as a lefty reliever somewhere, someday.
I was happy to see Seattle give a chance to Miami C David Villasuso (Round 42). His power could help him sneak into the big leagues as a backup, but only if can first convince teams he can handle quality pitching behind the plate.
SR C David Villasuso has the power teams often consider gambling on, but his defensive limitations keep him from being a definite draft selection for me.
1. It’s funny to me that two schools with a pretty well established athletic rivalry would go to such great lengths to differentiate themselves from each other by coming up with two distinct hitting philosophies. That is what’s going on with Miami and Florida State, right? The two teams decided to employ completely different approaches to scoring runs in an effort to finally determine which offensive style leads to the most runs scored. In some seriousness, the current lineups at Miami and Florida State couldn’t be more different. Mike Martin’s Florida State squads are always at or near the top of the conference when it comes to displaying professional quality plate discipline. This year’s Miami team, a good hitting squad with the chance of having a half dozen position players drafted, sets out to hit any and all pitches that don’t actually hit themselves first. Not a single draftable Hurricanes hitter has a BB/K ratio close to 1:1. Of course, and this is hardly a scientific statement so don’t hold it against me later, it seems that many college prospects — legit prospects who are widely considered draftable by all the big boys in the industry — with poor plate discipline tend to be the toolsiest of the toolsy. A quick scan of my notes on Miami position players reveals this to be mostly true: plus raw power, plus-plus speed, plus range, plus athleticism, “serious tools, but very raw,” potential plus defender, above-average to plus arm, great range, plus arm, “big power, but very raw”…and it goes on like that. I realize the last three high profile Hurricane draft picks (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Jemile Weeks) don’t exactly fit the mold, but…alright, fine, I’m not sure how to finish this thought. Just thought the raw, toolsy, free swinging Hurricane subplot was worth pursuing…
2. A drawback or difficulty that is not readily evident. Something unspecified whose name is either forgotten or not known. Any clever maneuver. All definitions of the word gimmick, all definitions that make me wonder if I’ve been using the word incorrectly all my life. See, I wanted to use this space to talk about one of my favorite draft-related gimmicks, the “All [Fill-in-the-class/adjective/conference/whatever] Prospect Team” or “All Prospect [Fill-in-the-position-group].” In this particular instance, I was ready to marvel at Miami’s “All Prospect Outfield” of SR OF Chris Pelaez, JR OF Nate Melendres, and SO OF Zeke DeVoss. I was even going to remark on how cool it was that every member of Miami’s “All Prospect Outfield” comes from a different graduating class. I typically love gimmicks like this because, quite honestly, I hate writing and will look for any excuse to make the experience more bearable, for me and the unlucky saps who skim through these too long paragraphs until they get to the rankings. Now I have to reassess whether or not this is even a gimmick at all. It certainly doesn’t fit either of the first two definitions, and there is very little about prospecting that I’d ever call clever. Anyway, how about that “All Prospect Outfield” the Hurricanes will be trotting out in 2011? Pelaez (what makes him stand out: OF defense) should be a late round senior sign, Melendres (OF defense, arm, speed) will be a little bit more than that, and DeVoss (crazy speed, fantastic range) could vault his way up to the top few rounds with a big spring.
3. Ignoring the advice of wizened baseball men all over the planet, I just can’t seem to quit player comps. Love two recent JR 3B Harold Martinez comps I’ve heard/completely pulled out of thin air over the past few weeks. First, I’ve heard Martinez’s upside compared to former Pirate Al Martin’s. Like that one if only for a reason to have Al Martin back in my life once again. The one I’ve come up with is a better, slightly more patient Jose Lopez. If we remix the two comps, we could be looking a player capable of putting up a line of .250/.335/.450 with league average defense at third base. A quick look of the state of third basemen around MLB shows that a player like that would be a pretty darn valuable asset. I’ve also heard — very quietly, I might add — some that believe Martinez has what it takes to catch at the next level. An OPS of .800ish as a catcher would work.
Early 2011 Draft Guesses
Martinez and DeVoss are both easy top five round candidates, with Martinez possessing an outside chance of slipping into the late first with a big spring. Melendres and Pelaez are both solidly in the mid-round range. JR C David Villasuso has the power teams often consider gambling on, but his defensive limitations keep him from being a definite draft selection for me. Same goes for JR INF Rony Rodriguez, a potential sleeper with raw power second only to Martinez, who can’t really get a high grade without a position. On the pitching side, I only see JR LHPs Daniel Miranda and Sam Robinson as candidates to get taken. Miranda’s three-pitch mix and excellent 2010 numbers (12.17 K/9; 2.09 BB/9; 3.68 FIP; 47.1 IP) get him on the radar. Robinson’s numbers aren’t quite as dominant ((8.26 K/9; 1.91 BB/9; 3.53 FIP; 28.1 IP), but his reputation as a lefty killer could get him some looks as a potential professional LOOGY. At this point I’ll say Miranda gets taken while Robinson has to wait it out until 2012 as a potential senior sign.
So, to recap, my personal ranking of potential Miami draft picks: Martinez, DeVoss, (big gap), Melendres, Pelaez, Miranda, and Villasuso. Rodriguez and Robinson, two players I think will be on the outside looking in come June, round out the list.