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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."

Scouting Report

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 goes:

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.

Scouting Report

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

Photo Credits:

Daric Barton: Scout.com

Adam Jones: Max Waugh @ maxwaugh.com


19 Responses to “Prospect Spotlight: Best In The West v1.0”

  1. johnB said

    A tremendous amount of work goes into putting this stuff together each day. You do a great job!

  2. Thanks, JohnB.

  3. marc w. said

    So Jones hit a HR off Casilla last night – if that doesn’t illustrate the scouting report’s talk of batspeed, I don’t know what does.
    What are these two guys’ MLB comparables? It’s hard to find guys who held their own (or more, in the case of Barton) in AAA at 20… Do you think Giambi (minus a, let’s say ‘questionable’, power spike) is his ceiling? At 20, you’ve got to think power will come, but even if he just turns into early-period Tino Martinez (the 17-25 HR guy, not the freakish 44HR guy he was with the Yanks), that’s pretty good. Maybe Will Clark is a better example, although guys like Clark and Olerud were tremendously valuable with the glove, and that’s not likely w/Barton.
    I was thinking Jones may become Torii Hunter. Power, speed, just not a great deal of plate discipline (but who cares? That’s still an all-star when you factor in defense). Agree/disagree

  4. I agree, definately superior information.

  5. I like the Barton comp to Giambi minues that power spike. I think Barton is very similar to Giambi in a lot of ways.

    I liken Jones more to Mike Cameron than Hunter, because of Cameron’s pure speed. and physical makeup.

    In the end, Jones will not whiff as much as Cameron did.

  6. Willmore said

    Not that there is a big difference in comparisons, but I thought of Jones’ potential being as that of Carlos Beltran minus the 2004 season. Hit .280/.350/.470 with 30+ Stolen Bases. Decent plate discipline though not out of this world.

    I wonder who Clement can be compared to ?

  7. Beltran isn’t far off Willmore, though he’s a switch-hitter with better power from the left side – and he also can steal bases at the highest success rate in the game.


    I think he’s Jorge Posada with the ability to have Jason Varitek’s clubhouse skills.

  8. marc w. said

    I picked Hunter just because he was another pure ‘athlete’ or tools guy who surprised some people. He’s probably a better CF than Jones will ever be, though Jones pure speed will probably help.
    Beltran, to me, always had better plate discipline and (probably) power potential (though he’s never actually hit 30 MLB hrs!). I would *love* to be proven wrong here, so keep it up, Showtime…

  9. Beltran is a pretty polished bat, and he was even in the minors.

    Jones is more Hunter/Cammy.

  10. Willmore said

    Wait, did you say that Beltran never hit 30 homers in a season ? What happend in 2004 ?

  11. He didn’t hit 30 in 2004.

    He hit 38.


    and he hit 29 a few years before.

  12. Willmore said

    “The M’s took Lowe with the thought that he could serve in one of four roles in the future; starter, closer, long relief or setup. ”

    Just out of curiosity, what other roles are there ?

  13. Situational relief, middle relief, spot-starter… left bench.

  14. Willmore said

    So the M’s thought that he could be a setup guy or a closer but not a situational guy. And he could be a starter and long-reliever but not a middle reliever or a spot-starter.

    Ah forget it. No real point to this, except that I was bored.

    It does get me excited about Lowe though, even with the small sample size, I can’t help it. Every year you get someone who just looks like he’s busting out and you can’t help but feel all tingly inside … (insert beer/vodka joke here)

  15. Why would you WANT him to be a situational guy or a middle reliever if he could be a setup, starter or closer?

  16. Willmore said

    It’s in the wording of it – that he “could” be a starter, closer, long-reliever or setup man, which implies that he could not be used in other roles.

    Forget it, it’s a silly thing to even bother arguing about. Good write-up on him though, very informative.

  17. No, Willmore, It’s in your misdirected interpretation.

    Name me a legit big-league starter that is NOT capable of being used in a middle relief role.

    Name one closer that is NOT capable of pitching the 8th inning instead – or in a situational role.

  18. Willmore said

    Fine, fine, I’ll concede.

    And now, for something completely different.

    What’s more interesting is the complete crapshoot that the MLB draft is. I know, I know, it’s been said a thousand times. But how about some illustration:

    Roger Clemens, selected 19th overall in the 1983 MLB draft. Pretty high, but consider that 2 picks earlier, the M’s passed on the future hall of famer and selected Terry Bell, who had 0 career hits in 4 major-league at bats.

    Randy Johnson (for good reasons) was selected in the middle of the 2nd round in 1985. That year, the Mariners picked with their first round picks … Mr. Bill McGuire who finished his career with a line of .182/.265/.250 and pitcher Mike Campbell who compiled a career ERA of 5.86 with Seattle, Texas, San Diego and the Cubbies.

    Albert Pujols, selected is perhaps the best example of crapshoot drafting. He was selected in the 13th round of the 1999 draft. He went on to bat well, but not spectacularly in the minors before starting for the Cardinals the very next year and starting a likely hall of fame career. To put it in perspective, 7 picks before Pujols, the Mariners drafted Justin Leone. And in the first round of that draft, the Mariners were the lucky owners of 2 picks. Using them on the recently released Ryan Christiansen and Jeff Heaverlo.

    Sure, you get the likes of Griffey, A-Rod, Chipper etc., first pick wonders who go on to reach and exceed the expectations levied on them.

    Jeff Bagwell, a likely hall-of-famer, was on the board until the 4th round. Before Bagwell, the Mariners made 3 selections, picking pitchers with all three. 2 of them never made it to the majors, the last compiled 45 appearances at the Major League level, becoming a hitters’ favorite during his brief stint in the show. In fact, only 2 players who were signed by the Mariners after that draft every made it to the majors. The other player being outfield Brian Turang, who spent two seasons with the Mariners before returning into obscurity. Players available to the Mariners with the #3 pick in that draft ? Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn, Chuck Knoblauch, Todd Jones, Tim Salmon and Jim Thome, up to the 13th round and Brian Giles up to the 17th.

    Among the pitchers, John Smoltz was selected in the 22nd round. Curt Schilling was selected in the 2nd round, after the Mariners picked Jim Pritkin and Jim Blueberg.

    Barry Zito was selected 9th overall in the 1999 draft. Very nice pick – Cy Young winner, steady producer. With the first overall pick that year, the Devil Rays selected Josh Hamilton, who is now out of baseball with substance abuse problems.

    The crafty left-hander Mark Buehrle was selected in the 38th round of the 1998 draft. 3 years later, he was posting the 4th-best ERA in the AL.

    Kerry Wood has great potential, and hindered by multiple injuries, he is still able to put up great numbers when he’s healthy. In 1995, the Padres passed on Wood with their 2nd overall pick, letting Wood drop to #4. Instead, the Padres selected Ben Davis.

    Having rambled on for long enough with little reason, but for my own enjoyment, I leave thee be. Excuse any errors, omissions and typographical mistakes, I am simply too lazy to read my post over and find them.

  19. That argument could go on for days. So many draft picks, so many bad selections – BY ALL TEAMS.

    For many years the M’s passed on players for financial purposes.

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