Kirk Nieuwenhuis opened many eyes with an unparalleled eruption down the stretch of the 2009 season.…
MMLN – Analyzing the Outfielders Part I
Kirk Nieuwenhuis: Nieuwenhuis shot up like a rocket with his second half performance in the Florida State League lasts season. Nieuwenhuis went from a fringy big league prospect at this time last year to very solid prospect with a big league feature and still room to grow. Nieuwenhuis, who is receiving valuable time in big league camp this month, is praised for his athleticism. But the biggest difference for Nieuwenhuis in 2009 was an important mid-season adjustment he made at the plate.
Nieuwenhuis had trouble pulling the ball in the first half of the season, but an adjustment with his hands and hips made him more explosive on the inner half. By the end of the season Nieuwenhuis sprayed the ball line to line and drove the ball with more authority. Struggles against left-handed pitching will limit his ability to hit for average, but his extra-base power and defensive strengths-including arm strength that will play in the big leagues-will give him the opportunity to grow into a starter.
Closest to the Majors
Fernando Martinez: There is not too much else that can be said about Martinez at this point. Obvious a Spring Training performance is not the final verdict, but we are seeing that when Martinez is fully healthy he has the skills and ability to be very productive. He is showing off his natural power and solid contact approach in camp and simultaneously giving the organization something to think about regarding Opening Day.
Martinez of course fits the description of highest ceiling but at this point in his career this category is more appropriate. It is still likely the Martinez will head to Buffalo when camp breaks, but his Spring Training performance should give the front office great confidence in his ability if/when they call him up early in the season.
Jesus Feliciano: Feliciano is not considered a prospect, but he has remained a very productive asset since entering the system for the 2007 season. Feliciano has hit over .300 every season and filled a valuable role as a leadoff hitter in Triple-A. He is a natural centerfielder and can steal his share of bases. However, despite his production, Feliciano has yet to earn any big league time with the Mets even with numerous outfield injuries over the past three years. Feliciano remains ever close to New York, but for whatever reason has yet to kick in the door.
Jury Is Still Out
Sean Ratliff: Ratliff had a positive year in Savannah in 2009, but the 2008 fourth round pick still has work to do. Developing more sound strike zone discipline and better execution on pitches away will solidify Ratliff's approach and will lead to tangible results in the box score. It will cut down on his strikeouts and make him a more efficient hitter. Ratliff heads to St. Lucie at 23 years old, yet he's already established as a flexible outfield defender so all of his concentration will go to his bat. Ratliff's got a bit of an uphill climb, but we'll know much more about him once he spends time in the Florida State League.
Carlos Guzman: Guzman, similarly to Ratliff, needs one more good year before confirming his rising stock. Guzman has very good raw power and plus arm in the outfield, but is completely deficient from the right side as a switch hitter. He is still too much of a dead pull hitter and could be exposed by more developed pitching in the Eastern League this season. Guzman continues to prove naysayers wrong and he comes off a very strong season in the FSL. Overcoming the Eastern League will erase any doubters.
Rafael Fernandez: Fernandez's stock dipped a bit after 2009 due to injury and lacking production when healthy. Fernandez is a scrappy player with a strong arm and plus speed, but he's got to do more with the bat this season. Fernandez has a solid contact approach and some sneaky power, but he remains a raw product who lacks plate discipline and pitch awareness to execute on a more consistent level. Fernandez should be off to St. Lucie this season where it could be a make or break season for him.
Chase Greene: One cannot take away too much from Greene's limited Gulf Coast League debut. Greene, a talent the organization paid overslot for, is unique to other outfielders on this list in that he is a speed/contact/defense driven prospect. He is not a ‘tweener like Fernandez nor is he a power prospect like Ratliff or Nieuwenhuis. Greene is very limited in his power, but could move quickly if he takes advantage of his best tools and becomes a general athlete/weapon for the organization.
R.J. Harris: Harris was only observed in small doses last summer, but Harris was put in the memory bank due to his athleticism and sound swing mechanics. Harris is a big guy without much speed, yet looks like he can develop into a solid hitter. His appearance outside the Top 50 list speaks to his ultimate ceiling, but he can develop into a strong organizational contributor with a positive second season.
ZeErika Hall: Hall is a 21-year-old outfielder who had a very nice first season in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .297 and drove in 10 runs in 38 games. Hall is another smaller outfielder at 6-feet, 175 pounds, but he demonstrated enough speed and pop in his bat to draw favorable first reviews from scouts. Solid strike zone discipline and a keen eye give him a strong base to develop his offensive game. Hall left an impression during his first season, but is another who will show a more definitive picture in his second season.
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