Breaking Down the Outfielders – Part Two

Ratliff's reconstructed his swing last season

InsidePitchMagazine.com continues its look at the outfielders. After reviewing the prospects with the highest ceilings and those closest to the big leagues, Part Two runs down the sleepers, those who need to make a move to gain momentum and those whose long-term projection is still a bit unknown. Look inside for the details.

Sleepers:

Rafael Fernandez: The 20-year-old outfielder had a strong showing in the first prolonged playing time of his career. As the season wore on, his swing leveled out and his plate discipline improved which offered glimpses at the player he could become with a couple more years of seasoning. He will not be a true power-hitting outfielder, but has the ability to get on-base and use his speed as a weapon. He stings the ball but still needs to get more loft on his swing.

His quick bat could generate more power in the future, yet for now he looks like an Ezequiel Carrera-type player. Having an arm for right field and the range to play centerfield gives him an advantage. Fernandez will be in competition for a spot on a long-season roster.

Raul Reyes: Reyes was another victim of an injury hitting him at the wrong time as a broken ankle suffered in April temporarily halted his rising stock. How he regains his speed following such a nasty injury will be something to watch, but it is his bat that will tell his story. Right now, he falls into an "all or nothing" habit with his swing so gearing down a bit and building a swing for contact will add significant depth to his current big league power.

Everything goes back to his injury and how he returns from it. Had Reyes played the full season, he would likely be looking at a starting role in centerfield in St. Lucie but now faces competition for that role—competition that has cast a shadow on him. However, given his power potential and array of defensive tools—the most developed part of his game—Reyes could really take off.

Sean Ratliff: Ratliff had a bit of an up-and-down rookie season in Brooklyn, but still posted quality production while undergoing a complete reconstruction of his swing. Ratliff entered the system with established home run power but the swing changes should lead to greater contact skills and a higher average.

He does not have the one standout tool, and may never climb to the highest rankings on the farm, but his well-developed defensive skills and power give him a very solid base to work from. As he continues to improve his plate discipline and driving of secondary pitches, Ratliff should move up the depth chart.

Need to Make Their Move:

Gabriel Zavala: After a big 2006 season in the Venezuelan Summer League, a lot more was expected of the now 21-year-old who will compete to finally breakthrough on a long-season roster. Given his age and tenure in the organization, Zavala finds himself in a tenuous position of competing with many members of the 2007 and 2008 draft classes. He portrays power from time to time, but lacks plate discipline [48 K, 3 BB in 2008] which severely limits his ability to get on base with any measure of consistency. If he is to speed up his promotions, he will need a breakout season in A-ball.

Daniel Stegall: Stegall finally experienced a breakthrough during in 2008 after little to no productivity during his first two seasons. For the second straight year, he started the season in Savannah before returning to Kingsport but this time demonstrated the first signs of power [4 HR in 62 games] scouts initially thought would arrive upon drafting Stegall.

No one has ever questioned Stegall's terrific athleticism and ability in the outfield but his virtually non-existent bat disappointed not only coaches but the outfielder as well. Previously, he had his age to fall back on considering he entered the system as an 18-year-old. That safety net will disappear in 2009 as he will need to show significant growth with the bat to retake a spot claimed by younger and more recently drafted peers.

D.J. Wabick: Wabick has been a steady contributor throughout his time within the system but has yet to have one or two tools really stand out. He possesses good plate discipline and is aggressive and effective in his execution against pitchers' mistakes. He hit over .300 in 2006 and 2007 before hitting .289 in 125 games with St. Lucie last season. He has the ability to consistently make contact and put balls in play with comparable home run power.

In the field, Wabick possesses an average throwing arm and average range, but is a grinder who has a real nose for the ball. Couple those skills with what he can do at the plate and Wabick should hold own a corner outfield spot in Binghamton this season and retain a spot in the organization as long as he produces similarly to past seasons. However, given the growing competition in the corner spots, Wabick will likely need a differentiating season with his power to breakthrough a ceiling that lowers with each season.

Brahiam Maldonado: Coming off a Sterling Award winning season with Savannah in 2007, expectations were that the 2004 10th round pick would continue to make an impact. He never found traction early on with St. Lucie as he hit .217 with one home run [a walk-off shot] in April before a broken ankle—suffered during a post-game exercise—sidelined him for nearly eight weeks. When Maldonado returned, he struggled to hit breaking and off-speed pitches and remained in a funk over his final 44 games.

Despite his disappointing showing in the Florida State League, Maldonado—who ranked 46th in the 2007 Top 50—is still on the younger side as he will spend all of the 2009 season as a 23-year-old. He will likely gain a spot in Binghamton, but will need to regain his 2007 form to reclaim to such a ranking.


Jury Is Still Out:

Javier Rodriguez: Athleticism is the first trait that stands out when observing the 2008 second round pick. He is rather lanky and lacks much of a build, but possesses plus speed which allows him to cover lots of ground in the outfield and has a strong arm. Offensively, however, Rodriguez is very raw and needs to work on the fundamentals of his swing. There is potential for power there, but his swing is a long way off from competing at the higher levels.

He hit .193 with one home run and 20 RBI in 38 games in the Gulf Coast League. His bat is long through the strike zone which limits his contact and he still has much to do to improve his plate awareness. Whether he returns to the short-season leagues or Savannah will be determined by his Spring Training. For now, anticipate the former.

Carlos Guzman: Guzman, who went undrafted in 2007, followed up a .215/5 HR/24 RBI showing in 2007 in the Gulf Coast League by hitting .269, smacking eight home runs and driving in 33 runs with Savannah last season. His numbers exceeded expectations for a player with fairly raw skills, but he has likely earned a spot in St. Lucie. Guzman's production helps take the edge off concerns about his makeup, but he will need to show a track record before moving up the rankings.

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