One common refrain I've heard from those in the scouting industry is that the most important they look for with any prospect is that they continue to make progress.
So I decided to look for some of that progress.
Sometimes it's easy to measure and is apparent in the numbers and at other times it's better to see the player in person. In this piece I've done a little bit of both and took a look at 10 prospects who I think have made progress in at least one area this year.
Jorge Soler's ability to adapt
When I wrote about Jorge Soler's bat incident and later his benching for not running out a couple of grounders, I noted that mistakes are going to happen -- especially when we're talking about 21 year old kids trying to adapt to a whole new culture. What's more important is how they react and respond to that kind of adversity.
Well, in the 9 games since his benching, the quiet Soler has responded loud and clear. He has hit .313/.421/.781 with 3 HRs and 5 walks. 8 of his 10 hits have been for extra bases.
Sometimes you learn more about a player when he fails or more accurately, how he responds to those failures, and I think we're learning a lot of good things about Jorge Soler right now.
Dan Vogelbach's all-field approach
The Cubs power hitting 1B prospect can hit the ball a long way and his debut last season was outstanding. If there was one weakness at the plate, however, it was his tendency to try and pull everything. The short season level pitchers weren't able to exploit it consistently enough to make it matter much, but it was going to be a factor as he moved up.
This year Vogelbach struggled at the outset of the season as teams tried to stay away from him. But if pitchers thought Vogelbach was just getting by on brute strength, they were sadly mistaken. Vogelbach started taking those pitches the other way, hitting to left and left-center with power. What you like about Vogelbach is that he is an intelligent hitter with an idea of what he wants to do -- and, most importantly, the ability to adjust when pitchers start approaching him differently.
Jeimer Candelario's defense
Some have questioned whether Candelario would be able to stay at 3B. He has a bit of a thicker build and there was concern as to whether he would get to big and lose range. Well, one of the first things we noticed this year at Kane County was how fit he looked. He has obviously put in some work this past offseason and it has paid off. I've attended enough Kane County games now to see Candelario make all the plays -- to his left and right as well as charging slow rollers. He's made them all and I have little doubt right now that he'll be able to play 3B long term. And that's a good thing because Candelario's real strength is his bat and his approach at the plate.
Arismendy Alcantara's plate discipline
This is something we've talked about in the past and it continues to be the case as we head into the 2nd week of May. Alcantara drew two more walks yesterday and now has 13 on the season, more than he had in the first 3 months of last year. Formely a free-swinger, Alcantara is now seeing 3.60 pitches per plate appearance, which isn't outstanding, but it is an improvement. Alcantara has quick wrists and makes hard contact easily, so I don't expect his current slump at the plate (.239 for the year) to last all season.
Michael Heesch's fastball movement
I follow a lot of minor league players so I'm not surprised that easily, but Heesch is an exception. I was immediately impressed by his 90-91 mph fastball which showed good arm side run and is a weapon against lefties and righties. He also has good command of that fastball. He works quickly and throws strikes (career 1.21 walks/9 IP) and keeps his defense in the game. The movement on his fastball induces a lot of weak contact, but he's not just a pitch to contact guy, he does have 8.2 Ks/9 IP, so the ability to miss bats is there as well. If he can refine his breaking pitch and his change, Heesch could stick as a starter with multiple pitches moving along different planes. If he doesn't, he has a good enough fastball and command to be a reliever.
Zach Rosscup's control
Rosscup has always had the ability to miss bats. He throws a 90-91 mph fastball with good deception, so that hitters react to it as if it's at least 5 mph faster than it is. He's also had a solid curveball to complement his heater. What's improved this year is his control. Rosscup has walked just 2.35 batters per 9 innings this year -- and he continues to miss bats. Going into yesterday's game, Rosscup has struck out 13.86 batters per9 IP, a 27.1% K rate swinging, and a very low 73.7% contact rate in the strike zone. At this rate, Rosscup may be helping the team by the end of this season and should certainly get a long look next spring.
Roderick Shoulder's 2-strike approach
Shoulders has always had good power and a good eye, but he struck out...a lot. In fact, he struck out 29.1% of the time last year at short-season Boise, which is a cause for concern considering it's not yet full season ball. Things can only get tougher as he moves up. But whiile you might expect that K rate to rise as he faces tougher pitching, Shoulders has stayed ahead of the game and made an adjustment to his two strike approach. He's done a much better job of fouling pitches off or simply just taking the ball where it's pitched. The result is that, early on, Shoulder's K rate has dropped significantly, down to 21.8% so far. That, in turn, has helped impact the rest of his game as Shoulders was named the organization's player of the month for April.
Willson Contreras power
Contreras has become much more selective at the plate and has already walked 8 times (10.4% rate) after walking just 11 times all of last year, when his walk rate was just 4.1%. The selectivity has also meant that he has done a better job of waiting for pitches he can drive. Despite playing in hitter friendly Boise last season, Contreras had just 3 HRs, a slugging percentage of .357, and an ISO of .084. This year through the first week of May, he has already matched the 3 HRs and has improved his slugging to .492 and his ISO to .215. If Contreras can use his athleticism to become a more consistent defender, then he suddenly looks like a catcher who will draw some walks and provide a little pop on offense.
Dallas Beeler's pitch location
Beeler isn't an overpowering pitcher who is going to miss bats, so location is key for him, both in terms of keeping the ball down and in the strike zone. Because hitters will put the ball in play, he can't help them out with free passes or leaving the ball up in the zone. This year Beeler has been a groundball machine. He has improved his GO/AO ratio from 1.84 to 3.22. He has a 67.8% GB rate and has also reduced his walks, from 3.18 to 2.37 BB/9. He'll likely need to miss more bats as he moves up, but we'll take it one step at a time for now.
Dustin Geiger's situational approach
I realize that RBI doesn't tell you much about a player other than his opportunities, but Geiger has done a better job of capitalizing on those opportunities this year. He has 28 RBI in 31 games this year as he's toned down his approach in RBI situations and has been looking to get runners home. Last year he tended to get a little home run happy regardless of the situation. His plate discipline also suffered from that approach (6% walk rate). This year he has been willing to see pitches and it has resulted in more walks (9.7% rate). As a bonus, he has also mad better contact, reducing his K rate from 23.8% to 16.1%. He's also hitting .293 with a .371 OBp this year after hitting .251 with a .301 OBP last season. All of these trends have made Geiger a more productive and consistent hitter this season.
In all of these cases, it is early, but I like the trend that is developing with all these players and pitchers. If you want to move forward in this league, you have to make individual progress and it seems so far that these 10 players are doing just that.