MMLN: Top Tools – Hitting For Average

Havens swing looked much better in 2010 than 2009

In this next look at specific tools, InsidePitchMagazine.com offers the best hitters for average in the farm system. This list is not about who had the highest batting average or who could ultimately hit for the highest average in the big leagues, but who has the best skills that lead to consistent and productive numbers with the bat. Look inside to see how they stack up.

10. Aderlin Rodriguez – Rodriguez had something of a breakout season in the Appalachian League showing off his strength, raw power and the nascent signs of his projectability. There is little doubting the raw power the third baseman possesses, but when it comes to contact and hitting for average Rodriguez is just getting started. Yes, he hit .312 for Kingsport this season but a lot of hand movement and weight shifting in his swing call for some cleaning up in his swing mechanics. He has excellent bat speed and strong hands and wrists, but the tweaking necessary for his swing keep him in the back of the pack—for now.

9. Matt Den Dekker - Den Dekker went straight to Savannah and showed age was not the only reason he was capable of tackling the level as a rookie. Den Dekker puts a lot of effort in his swing, but that is compensated by fairly basic mechanics that allow him to put the ball into play without too much noise. Though he can get a touch long at times and can be aggressive with pitches up in the zone, Den Dekker has a swing built for driving the ball for extra-base contact. Perhaps most important is that despite a hard-swinging style, Den Dekker shows the ability to turn on the inside pitch with good regularity which should bode well for him as he moves up.

8. Kirk Nieuwenhuis – Strikeouts are still a legitimate concern for Nieuwenhuis. He has a habit of chasing fastballs up and breaking balls down and out of the zone, but in between Nieuwenhuis does an excellent job of driving the ball to all fields. His swing too gets a bit long at times. Yet, when he stays compact and keeps his weight balanced, Nieuwenhuis displays the mechanics which have allowed him to hit at every level so far. Cutting down on the strikeouts would be a significant boost to his average.

7. Zach Lutz – Lutz's strikeout ratio went up in 2010 (63 K in 225 AB in Binghamton) but it is not enough to diminish the overall quality hitter he has grown into. Not only is Lutz's raw power a very attractive tool, but his vision and ability to adjust mid-swing make him a very intelligent hitter. He got a bit too aggressive at times, but when stable and balanced Lutz rarely finds himself beat. Lutz has a strong balance in the hips and legs that allow him to keep the bat back and drive the ball to the opposite field. But he also has the bat speed to turn on pitches either for contact or power.

6. Lucas Duda – Not only have Duda's strikeout totals decreased and his walk total steadied at an impressive amount the last few years, but, again, the adjustments to Duda's swing this season cannot be understated as to how important they were to his success in 2010. Duda is much quicker to the ball than any point in previous seasons and that is not only allowing him to extend at bats by fighting pitches off, but giving him the ability to adjust mid-swing and put a greater percentage of pitches in play. The extra lift and carry he created this season helped him grow into a more well-round hitter and of course improved his overall power.

5. Cesar Puello – Puello exploded in the second half of the season when his swing mechanics and comfort at the plate finally combined. Over the last two seasons Puello has diligently worked on an up the middle and opposite field approach which has given him more patience and better vision at the plate. Being a young hitter he has mostly focused on driving the ball into play while his raw power has remained comparatively untapped. Most observers expect his offense to take another jump in 2011.

4. Darrell Ceciliani – Ceciliani broke nearly every Brooklyn record this season with his outstanding year that should firmly plant him on prospect radars heading into 2011. There is little reason to believe Ceciliani cannot continue his march up the organizational ladder as a plus contact hitter given his ability to get the bat on the ball in every part of the strike zone. Now, it is hard to imagine he will hit around .350 every season moving forward, but his bat control is rare in this system. He simply knows how to get the bat on the ball and put it into play with somewhat deceptive alley power. Patience is still one foggy area for him as he has a habit of chasing pitches out of the zone.

3. Josh Satin – Perhaps this is buying the stock a bit high on Satin, after seeing him perform in Brooklyn and Savannah and then again in St. Lucie and Binghamton, color me impressed by Satin's ability to flat out hit. He has an unorthodox swing and hitting style, but he gets to the contact point with regularity regardless of pitch and a pronounced leg raise and waggle in his swing. Yes, his overall strikeout rate is high (24.4% in 2010), but his acute eye and ability to hit for average and take his walks plus somewhat deceptive power (especially to the opposite field) have turned me. If he continues to hit at every level, I don't see what will stop him from getting his shot.

2. Reese Havens – Havens notably missed much of the season, but even in his limited time showed why the organization continues to be high on him. His swing got back to the compact style that eluded him at times in 2009. He regained the balance and bat acceleration that project him to be a high caliber hitter for average. His posture, hand positioning and finish allow him to drive the ball with authority from gap to gap with power to the pull side. If he can stay on that track when back to full strength, there is limited cause why he cannot grow into a regular .285-.300 hitter.

1. Wilmer Flores – Flores' spot is still mostly on projection, but the development he showed in 2010 provided plenty of reasons why he should be this high. Flores had his dips during the season yet for the most part was very consistent even when moving up to St. Lucie. Right now, for Flores, it is all about hand and wrist strength and weight transfer. Those factors make Flores a proficient contact hitter while everyone waits for his power to arrive. Again, Flores still battles inconsistencies at time but when on he has the tools to project as a high-average hitter.

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