Prospect corner: first half observations from the Cal League

For the past three-plus months, I’ve been able to see a lot of California League action. Now, at the halfway point in the season, there is a good enough sample size to begin to match the stats with the observations that I have been noting along the way. Here are some quick notes on some of baseball’s top prospects that I’ve seen with my own eyes.

Billy Hamilton, SS, CIN – One of the fastest players in professional baseball, Hamilton continues to excel at the plate and on the basepaths. His swing is fluid and quick from the left side, fitting for his line-drive, ground-ball approach, though his right-handed swing is slightly longer, but generates a bit more pop. One of the only issues I have with Hamilton’s approach is how he tends to lunge at pitches outside the strike-zone too often. His two-strike approach in terms of shortening up is great, but he won’t get away with chasing bad pitches as often at the higher levels against better pitching and better defense. Unless he improves this part of his approach, I foresee him struggling to hit for AVG early in his big league career. He also has very little power and won’t likely develop much in the future.

Defensively, Hamilton is a centerfielder trying to play shortstop. He gets to a lot of grounders due to his elite speed, but he lacks the hands, arm strength and arm accuracy to play everyday at the big league level. Sooner or later, he will move to the outfield.

Hamilton will be an impact major leaguer who can change the game with his speed, but his impact with the bat will be determined by how he adjusts when more advanced pitchers constantly try to expand the zone with two strikes.

Rymer Liriano, OF, SD – The first time I saw Liriano in person I could not believe that he was only 20 years old. He is extremely put together for his age with strong forearms and legs. His lower half looking like it does already leads me to believe that he’ll lose plenty of speed as he matures into his mid-20s. However, what he loses in speed he will likely gain in power. While his power hasn’t translated into game situations yet, it’s coming.

His swing is based on maximizing extension, which can cause him to get out in front too much at times. However, I saw a good swing path that will generate plenty of line drives and will provide the potential for 25-30 home run power at the big league level.

Defensively, he has a chance to be a slightly above average outfielder with a good arm and range.

Miles Head, 1B/3B, OAK – Head certainly does not have “the good face,” but he definitely seems to get the most out of what he does have. What he does have is raw strength, especially in his lower half, which he maximizes with a wide stance at the plate. His swing can get long and “swoopy” at times, which could lead to some struggles against advanced pitching, but he has enough bat speed to help compensate.

Head’s pitch recognition is still a work in progress, but he has a good eye for the strike-zone that should lead to above average OBPs at the big league level. Oakland is giving him a look at third base, the position he played in college, but his range is below average, so he’ll never be an asset there defensively.

The bottom line is that Head can flat out hit and his bat should carry him to the big leagues if his pitch recognition continues to progress.

Domingo Santana, OF, HOU – Just as the stats would indicate, Santana has a ton of potential, but some glaring weaknesses as well. His swing isn’t as long as I thought it would be — It’s actually rather compact with surprising bat speed — however, when he swings, he swings hard, very hard. As if he’s trying to hit the ball 500 feet every time up. This, along with a need for improved pitch recognition, has lead to constantly high strikeout rates in his young career.

Santana is still only 19, so there is time for him to improve his pitch recognition and perhaps tone down his swing a bit. He should develop 20-plus home run power as he hits his early 20s, but how impactful that power is will all depend on his approach going forward.

George Springer, OF, HOU – One of the best athletes that I’ve seen in the Cal League this season, Springer has shown the ability to hit for power and steal bases, but has also shown a propensity to swing and miss a bit too often. He collapses his shoulders when he strides, creating a loop in his swing that can be easily exposed by good fastballs. If he can focus on improving his contact skills, he could reach his star potential.

Chris Owings, SS, ARI – Owings has one of the quickest and most compact swings that I have seen from any Cal League hitter this season. That quick swing leads to a good amount of line drive and enough power to project 15-20 home runs per season at the big league level. However, Owings needs to lower the rate at which he chases pitches outside the strike-zone and be a bit less aggressive overall. Unless he can make a major adjustment in that area, he won’t likely hit for much AVG/OBP at the big league level.

Defensively, Owings might be forced to move to second base due to an inaccurate arm that lacks plus strength.

Bobby Borchering, OF, ARI – After a very slow start to his second season at High-A, Borchering has found his stroke, not only hitting for power, but hitting for power to the opposite field as well. While the power is certainly a part of his game, he still swings and misses too often. His plate discipline has improved throughout the first half up until his recent call-up to double-A. A switch hitter, Borchering has not faired as well from the right side, slugging only .375 on the year. His left-handed swing is much more fluid and powerful, though he can certainly hit for power from both sides.

Borchering was moved from 1B/3B to the outfield after proving he couldn’t handle the infield last season. However, the move to the outfield hasn’t done much to improve his defensive rating. Borchering has poor range, takes sloppy routes, and will likely be a liability no matter where he plays on the field.

According to my sources, Borchering has made a tremendous improvement in his attitude on and off the field from last season to this season. 

A sleeper: Johnathan Griffin, 1B, ARI – When it comes to raw power, Griffin has plenty. He seemingly flicks the ball out of the ballpark by utilizing the wiry strength of his 6'7"/250 lb frame. Though his swing is a little long, Griffin still manages to keep his strikeout rate in check while drawing a decent amount of walks. The bad news is that he's already 23, but I could certainly see him as a guy who's game comes together later in than most prospects.