I took in a Gulf Coast League game on Tuesday between the Mets and Cardinals squads, with Mets 2013 first-round pick Dominic Smith clearly standing out as the best player on the field. He got his own seperate write-up. GCL games feature younger players, sometimes as young as 16 or 17-years-old, and often times it's the first stateside league for international free agents. The baseball is a little rough around the edges, but the talent is there. These may not be the best-known prospects, but some of them could be soon.
New York Mets
Wuilmer Becerra - One of the few names fans might recognize from this game is that of Becerra, who was the final piece of the R.A. DIckey trade with the Blue Jays that was mislabeled as a throw-in because he's only 18 and entered the season with just 33 GCL appearances to his credit. But Becerra is a true talent, one that warranted a $1.3 million signing bonus from the Jays just two years ago. That talent was on display on Tuesday afternoon, as was the rawness of his game and the time it's going to take for him to develop.
Becerra is already built like a grown man, which stood out among the underdeveloped boys that surrounded him on the field. He has quick hands and generates good bat speed, an indicator of future power. He demonstrated a patient approach at the plate, doing a nice job of selecting out a pitch he could drive instead of just swinging at the first fastball in the strike zone. On breaking pitches, there were some inconsistencies, although nothing to be alarmed at from an 18-year-old. In his first at-bat, he stayed in on a curveball that had been left up in the zone and lined it back up the middle. In other at-bats, however, he was fooled by better breaking pitches, which is not surprising given the lack of quality breaking balls he's seen in game competition.
There is sill a lot of work to be done with Becerra, but the talent was evident and he stood out among the other players his age.
Jhoan Urena - The Mets signed Urena to a $425,000 bonus in 2011, but I purposely don't look at those types of things when I go to scout a game so that I don't let it sway my evaluations. Urena stood out on this afternoon on his own accord, not his background.
Urena stood out on the field because of how he moved for a guy his size. Listed at 6'1" 200 lbs., he's probably put on a few additional pounds since then. The additional size helps him generate a powerful swing, but he handles it well, especially at third base. Despite his size, he shows good range at the position, and while he still has the inconsistencies that come with being 18, his hands are soft enough to become a good, consistent defender there. He has a plus arm that fires the ball across the diamond with easy action.
At the plate, I only got to see his left-handed swing, but I like it. It's a smooth swing with strong bat speed and hand action that allowed him to drop the bat head on low fastballs with ease.
St. Louis Cardinals
Leobaldo Pina - The Cardinals signed Pina for $315,000 out of Venezuela in 2011. I actually knew of Pina ahead of time and of his bonus, which worked out well because otherwise I would have dismissed him entirely.
At the time of his signing, Baseball America said this of Pina:
A 16-year-old righthanded hitter, Pina has a lanky 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame with room to fill out. He stands out for his feel at shortstop, showing good hands, sound fundamentals and instincts, the ability to read hops, an average arm and a tick above-average speed. Pina shows surprising ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, though his glove is more advanced than his bat right now.
Other than still being lanky, I didn't see any of that. Not to say that BA was wrong at the time, just that he stood out to me in the wrong direction.
For a player whose glove is supposed to be ahead of his bat (and I agree that it is), I don't think Pina can stay at shortstop. He'll need to bulk up in order to hit (more on that in a second) and if so, he most certainly won't have enough range to stay at the position. As it is now, he got poor reads on balls off the bat and on this afternoon missed a number of plays to both his left and his right that he simple needs to get to in order to be a shortstop at higher levels.
At the plate, Pina's hands drag well behind his body, causing him to be late on even moderate fastballs. He has a huge load with his hands which causes them to begin his swing long after his weight transfer has taken place. He generates decent bat speed, but it's late because of his trigger mechanism. He also steps in the bucket, something which isn't typically a problem at this level. All in all, it's just a poor swing.
Pina needs a lot of refinement. He's smooth in the field and has a strong arm, so he can play somewhere in the infield, I just don't see the range for shortstop, and range decreases, not increases. He's still built like a string bean and will need to bulk up to ever hit for power, which won't help his range either. His best bet is to pack on some pounds and hope that power comes with it in order to try third base, but I don't see him ever having the power to play there.
For me, I left very unimpressed with Pina.