It’s not often I head to the park having never heard of a catcher only to leave believing he was a future big leaguer. The last time it happened was in 2010 After seeing Giants Hector Sanchez gun down an opposing runner at second base with a 1.93 second rocket from his knees and swing the bat from both sides of the plate. More recently, Gabriel Lino left a similar impression in April as the starting catcher for Dylan Bundy’s professional debut as a member of the Baltimore Orioles organization. With his being dealt to the Phillies as part of the Jim Thome deal, Lino finds himself in an organization that has had quite a knack for developing young catchers in recent years.
Having recently turned 19, the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Lino has the frame to become even bigger at full physical maturity due to his being a bit disproportionate through his upper body when compared to his lower half. In fact, Lino may already be 20-30 pounds heavier than his listed weight as my game notes indicated his being thick through the hips with a need to “lean up”. And while this does raise some questions about his ability to remain behind the plate, his being a bit awkward as a young man still growing into his body leaves me thinking there’s room for increased athleticism. An increase in athleticism would serve as a counterbalance for additional size gained allowing him to still project well defensively as a catcher.
Additionally, Lino’s defense is still a work in progress which also bodes well for his continuing to improve. His arm strength is his best asset, but a poor transfer resulting in a slow release including a bit of “wind up” in the back of his arm action mitigates the ability to cut down an opponents running game. In terms of receiving and blocking, the foundation is there for Lino to be strong in both areas, although I’d like to see him do more to protect his bare hand in a squat. One aspect of his defense which really stuck out is his ability to stay low and sway left and right to frame pitches without having to move his mitt. It’s rare to see that kind of agility through the hips for a player of Lino’s stature – Especially at the Single-A level.
Beginning with batting practice, Lino displayed impressive power potential with bat speed to spare. He also has an idea of how to stay inside the ball and I was impressed by the way he utilized his hands in his swing. On a Delmarva team including multiple second rounders and an over slot bonus baby, Lino’s batting practice session was the most impressive.
Fast forward to game action and Lino hit a line drive double down the left field line and followed it up with another hard hit fly ball which ricocheted high off the right field fence. He mixed in a few unbridled swings-and-misses as well and displayed a weakness chasing breaking balls low-and-away. Lino’s swing was noticeably harder than in batting practice causing a longer swing path and I suspect he’d still have power to spare if he ratcheted down the aggressive cuts a notch or two. Additionally, his coiling like a snake and cocking his hands two, three or even four times is simply a timing mechanism Lino was not repeating which makes any sort of consistency nearly impossible. Quiet the moving pieces and teach Lino to trust his explosive hands to generate power and he could morph into a quality minor league hitter with a fall revamping his mechanics in instructs.
Newest Phillies prospect Gabriel Lino is still an embryo in his development and will require significant time and patience if he is to realize his potential. With a .218/.282/.340 line in full season baseball, the South Atlantic League has proven to be an extremely aggressive placement for the young catcher. Maybe a demotion to Williamsport of the New York Penn league will jump start his bat, but don’t let the poor numbers fool you. Lino has the tools of a major league catcher and a good one at that. Without question, Lino ranks as one of the top-5 catching prospects I’ve scouted in person in terms of talent and ceiling. The Phillies did well to turn a cheap, one year stopgap in Jim Thome into a talented teenage catcher. Many of Ruben Amaro’s moves have drawn the ire of the Fangraphs crowd and rightfully so. But for as small as this move looks on paper, it’s a big move for an organization thin on minor league talent.