Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Growing Pains For The Top Outfield Prospects

(Some early struggles for Mr. Austin.  Courtesy of Beverly Schaefer)

The Yankees entered this season with what appeared to be very good prospect depth in the outfield.  At best, 4 of their top 10 organizational prospects were outfielders, with 3 of them showing up in almost every respectable top 5 list.  Anticipation and expectations were high for this group based on what they did in 2012, and it was starting to look like the outfield was going to be one spot where the team would have good options for the future if they were planning on committing to a reduced payroll.  Almost 2 months into the MiL season, it appears as though the first potholes in this group's development have been hit.

Mason Williams- .229/.328/.331, .311 wOBA in 184 PA
Tyler Austin- .248/.365/.348, .340 wOBA in 192 PA
Slade Heathcott- .236/.292/.343, .293 wOBA in 155 PA
Ramon Flores- .244/.332/.318, .308 wOBA in 206 PA

That's as sobering a collection of slash lines as you'll see from top hitting prospects.  The biggest point of emphasis is the major drop in power that they've all experienced.  For projected gap hitters like Williams and Flores, it's not as big a deal and they still bring tools to the table with respect to speed, defense, patience, and contact.  For someone like Austin, however, the dip in power could seriously impact his ceiling as a Major Leaguer.  He's a guy who's going to rise and play on the strength of his bat, and whose role (starter vs. bench player) is likely going to be determined by how much power he offers.

There's also the non-statistical red flags that have popped up this year, namely Williams' DUI and continued negative reports on his body language and effort from scouts and Heathcott's health.  Slade has been banged up again, something that he can't afford as a Double-A player behind the learning curve.  His early poor numbers are easier to swallow because of that, and he's shown signs of life at the plate in the last week or two, but he needs to show he can stay on the field to maximize his 5-tool potential.

The good part of this situation is that it gives us, and everybody else, a chance to see how each of these players adjusts and evolves their game to improve their production.  It's great to see Austin raking in A-ball or Heathcott tearing up the AZFL, but the true test of a prospect's worth is what he does when he gets to the upper levels.  3 of these guys are getting a taste of that this season, with Williams likely to follow later in the summer.  The ability to still work walks and get on base is a good sign.  How they react to this challenge and play over the next few months will be just as good an indicator of their future ceilings as any of their tools.

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