Prospect Spotlight: Best In The West v1.0
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on April 18, 2006
High among the recent annals of prospecting is a rather large section of blue chip talents wearing the minor league uniforms of the teams from the American League West.
The decade began with high-ceiling pitchers from Oakland and Seattle pushing their way to the top but that pristine group has turned into a quartet of position players in the Angels organization; a trio of arms blooming in the Rangers farm system, of all places; A big time power bat that's less than a year away from stealing a big-league job from a former Pacific Coast League MVP and a couple of position players in the Seattle system that each play premium defensive positions.
Can you name the above 10 players?
Here they are, sorted by team –
LAA: Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood, Kendry Morales.
TX: Edinson Volquez, Thomas Diamond, John Danks.
OAK: Daric Barton.
SEA: Jeff Clement, Adam Jones.
We'll discuss all of them at some length this season, but the two subjects for today are Oakland Athletics first baseman Daric Barton and M's center fielder Adam Jones.
Both are just 20 years of age and each player was challenged with a start in Triple-A this spring and both in the PCL. Barton is in Sacramento and Jones is roaming the green pastures of Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
While Jones has struggled to find his stroke and re-define his defensive role, Barton is soaring high above all expectations.
"He's a very polished hitter," said Sacramento River Cats manager Tony DeFrancesco. "He's got a lot of potential and I think we'll end up seeing a lot of power from him, too."
Barton has always shown the ability to work the count and force the pitcher to groove one, but the only question heading into 2006 was centered around how much he could make the pitcher pay for that mistake.
"He just pounds fastballs," said DeFrancesco. "He's still young and has some learning to do yet but the kid can hit. That's why he's here and still only 20."
Barton has taken very well to the pitching at the highest level of minor league ball, hitting .355/.512/.581 through the first two weeks of the year. He has just the one long ball but he's added a triple and two doubles to his line. The SoCal native has drawn 10 walks in the 10 games he has played, striking out just five times.
That's a strong sign that Barton has the necessary plate skills to consistently hit quality pitching in the long term.
At 6-feet even and 225 pounds, Barton has the raw physical strength to hit 30+ home runs per season but has managed a minor league best of just 13, accomplished in each of his two full seasons since being drafted in the first round by St. Louis in 2003.
"I don't think there's much doubt that he'll hit for power up there," said an American League scout. "You see this sort of thing quite a bit. A kid is three or four years younger than the average player at his level and his power is a little short. But after a summer or two of working on creating the proper lift on the ball while the body matures, the long balls start to just happen.
"That kid with Anaheim is a good example – Kotchman (Casey). He wasn't hitting for a lot of power – just .370 every year and then he began to really knock the ball around – and out of – the yard with regularity. This kid (Barton) will do the same."
Oakland acquired Barton from the Cardinals two winters ago in return for left-hander Mark Mulder. The A's also received RHP's Kiko Calero and Dan Haren, making the trade a big-time steal for GM Billy Beane.
Haren, 26, out-pitched Mulder, 30, in his first year in Oakland and Calero is a quality relief arm capable of setting up closer Houston Street. But the key to the deal was Barton, a converted catcher, whose offensive ceiling is very high.
"I think they have an all-star there," said the scout. "He understands how to hit and he never appears over-matched. Teams seem to struggle finding ways to get him out and that tells me he can think during at-bat and take away the strengths of the pitcher. That's rare, and even more rare in someone who isn't old enough to legally crack a brewsky after a hard fought victory."
Strengths: Plate discipline, natural line-drive stroke, ability to make proper adjustments, pitch recognition, plate coverage. Barton is loaded with natural offensive skills and is destined to smack doubles and homers into the green seats at Network Associates Coliseum.
Weaknesses: There aren't any glaring weaknesses for Barton at the plate. There are times when he gets a little bit overanxious and gives up an at-bat after reaching for a pitch that he couldn't drive, but that doesn't happen much and with more experience he'll lay off the 1-0 change-ups without thinking twice.
Defensively, he's still acclaimating himself to first base after being drafted as a catcher and spending his first year in pro ball donning the tools of ignorance.
Tools – Now/Future
Hitting for Average/On-Base Skills: 65/70
Hitting for Power: 60/70
Speed and Defense: 40/45
Staying Power: 60/65
Overall Future Potential: 67
Fans like to give players nicknames. In every sport, it's always fun to call your favorite player by a forged moniker that in some way represents his talent or his character and personality.
A beat reporter said to me last week, "Adam Jones needs a nickname." I replied, "I already have one for him," and I told him why I gave Jones that nickname.
I described the scene in which I had conducted the interview for this piece, and it explained everything.
Here I am dressed like it's 45 degrees outside, because it is 45 degrees outside, and am preparing for the clouds to burst, because this is Tacoma and that's what clouds do in Tacoma, and I'm standing on the top step of the dugout steps on the outfield side of the walkway, waiting for Jones to come off the field after batting practice ended.
But the kid was dressed for the big time, beyind the blue and white iniform. More on that in a minute.
We got to talking about his place on the Triple-A roster, his goals for the year and how he came about playing center field, among many other things.
He spoke of his workout regime and those who have helped him get where he is today, and about those he admires most in the game of baseball.
After about a half hour, I had taken up enough of his time and had gotten plenty of quotes for this feature.
But I took notice of what Jones was wearing from the minute he stepped onto the field for BP through the moment I shook his hand and thanked him for his time.
Shades. Jones was wearing dark sunglasses the entire time. He never took them off, not even for a second. I think they may be super-glued to his face.
He's always worn sunglasses, which is why I tagged Jones as "Showtime." Adam "Showtime" Jones.
His play on the field isn't far from being a show, either. Just give him some time. He'll remind many of Mike Cameron in the field and quickly become the same sort of fan favorite.
The Seattle Mariners were chastised, however, for drafting an "athlete" with their first rounder in 2003, but the San Diego native has made the organization look pretty darned good after just two full years in the minors.
Adam Jones, like Barton, is just 20 years old and won't be 21 until August, also like Barton.
The similarities may end there, but the two have more in common than the fact that both are big time prospects.
"Yeah, I know Barton pretty good," said Jones. "We've played on some travel teams together and I got to know him pretty good. We talk some during the season and now we're both here."
Jones was first approached about his position change last August, and he wasn't really thrilled about the idea. He'd been a shortstop for years and his first reaction was in disappointment.
"I was a little surprised," said Jones. "I thought I'd be a shortstop all the way through, but I'm okay with center field. When they told me I was going to move to the outfield I just said 'okay' and went on about my business. I was disappointed inside, but I never said anything about it.
"But Betancourt (Yuniesky) has short locked up. He's amazing and I understand the move."
Jones spent this past fall playing his new position in the Arizona Fall League and worked closely with a former center fielder whose own playing career was all about speed and defense.
"I worked with Gary Pettis down there," said Jones. "He was a really good center fielder, so it was great to work with him. I think I learned a lot from him and I just need to keep working at it."
Aside from trying to master another premium defensive spot on the field, Jones is trying to make sure he is capable of handling things from a physical standpoint. Not only when it comes to performance, but also durability and endurance.
"I stayed in Arizona a lot this year and worked out with Willie Bloomquist," said Jones. "I am trying to add some weight and get stronger and condition myself better. My first year I was tired in June and last year I started to get tired in August. This year, I don't want to get tired at all.
"Bloomquist really helped me with that. He knows how to prepare himself for the season and with his three full years in the majors, he knows what he's doing."
Jones isn't trying to become a muscle-bound power hitter, but at 6-foot-2, his frame can handle a few more pounds. He began the 2005 season at 194 pounds and is currently playing at 206. But he doesn't want to stop there.
"I'd like to add about 7-10 more," he said. 'But I want to do it right, I want it to be good weight and as long as I don't lose my speed, I'm okay. I just can't lose my speed."
At the plate, Jones has started off the season a little slow, but that was to be expected. He's got work to do covering the plate and his plate discipline, while not terrible, needs polishing. He's also prone to thinking too much in the batter's box and letting hittable pitches go by, putting him in the hole.
"I need to be more aggressive," said Jones. "Sometimes I'm trying to do too much and I start thinking a lot when I'm up there. If I'm more aggressive I won't get into bad counts."
Jones hit his first two home runs of the year against Fresno on Monday night, and raised his average to .257 for the year. Judging from his performance at the plate in his first two weeks in the PCL, he's over-matched at times, but can really crush a mistake – a good sign for Jones' power potential.
"He's got the skills and the tools to be a major league hitter," said an AL scout. "He's got good bat speed and quick hands to go with a good work ethic. I don't think he's a 35-homer guy but I would be surprised if he doesn't end up hitting 30 doubles and 25 bombs in his peak years."
Jones is probably at least a year away, probably closer to two seasons, from regular duty in Seattle. But all of his shortcomings are due to inexperience, not from lack of skill, physical ability or desire.
Defensively, Jones has a ways to go but is really showing off his speed and agility when he gets the chance. He's made a few errors after misreading fly balls and liners – mostly those hit right at him – but he's also dazzled the crowd with some nice running catches.
When he improves his routes and cleans up that first step he's going to have plus range to go with that tremendous throwing arm. (Yeah, ya know, the one that was clocked as high as 95 mph in high school)
Even at 20 and with all the attention and pressure upon him to succeed, "Showtime" Jones already knows what he needs to finish off his game and get him ready for a long big-league career.
"I think I just need more experience," he said. "I need to get more at-bats and keep working as hard as I can. If I keep doing that I'll be fine."
At this rate, if he continues to do that, he'll be more than fine. He'll be a multi-millionaire.
Strengths: Speed, agility, bat speed, athleticism, throwing arm, work ethic, coachability. Jones' tool box is full of above-average to plus skills and he's just learning how to put them to use on the field. So far, so good.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience, plate coverage, pitch recognition, defensive instincts. None of the above are likely to stop Jones from becoming a solid every day player in the majors. Not because they aren't critical hurdles, but because Jones is fully capable of jumping them all in a timely fashion.
Tools – Now/Future
Hitting for Average/On-base Skills: 50/60
Hitting for Power: 45/55
Speed and Defense: 50/65
Staying Power: 50/60
Overall Future Potential: 65
Daric Barton: Scout.com
Adam Jones: Max Waugh @ maxwaugh.com