As promised, there’s only a few instructs reports left but it’s lasted me the (most warm in Florida) winter as junior colleges started this week and I was in the Dominican last week to see the top July 2 players. Along those lines, this wrap-up from Phillies camp will lead off with a high profile American but finish with three recent international signees that caught my eye.
Larry Greene signed with the Phillies for $1 million as the 39th overall pick in the supplemental round of the 2011 draft. Greene is from the South Georgia, the same area that has recently produced Buster Posey, Kaleb Cowart and Byron Buxton. Unfortunately, Greene isn’t the same kind of prospect but, as the signing bonus suggests, he has the tools to be a successful big leaguer. The first thing you notice about Greene physically also stands out on the roster—the Phillies updated his height and weight to 6’1, 259. That should create a certain mental image, but Greene isn’t fat and runs better than you’d expect; think NFL fullback. And don’t think Ryan Howard because that’s really lazy.
Greene has a slower first step but runs better underway, although that means his lateral movement is limited in left field, so he’s a first base fit long-term. As a first base prospect that will be 20 this season and hasn’t played in full-season ball yet, there’s a lot of pressure on Greene’s bat to deliver. He earned his bonus with plus left-handed power that isn’t just to his pull side but the question is if the tools and approach are there to hit for average and unlock the power.
It was a short look and he’s still a teenager, but I’m going with unlikely. While Greene is a good athlete, he doesn’t have a great feel for his swing right now. He’ll often leak his front hip and lean back as cheats to get to his power, but they undermine his ability to make consistent contact. A solid power-oriented swing turns into an unbalanced uppercut and Greene also will occasionally bar out his lead out, creating more length to his swing. Some of these issues, along with a soft front side at contact are fixable issues and Greene comes from a rural area where he didn’t see a lot of elite velocity but every professional at-bat he takes without fixing these things makes it less likely he ever does.
The player I saw is a lower average, late-count hitter with solid on-base ability that doesn’t tap into his game power often enough. He has the tools to make adjustments and rise above this projection, but doesn’t have the loud athleticism or bat control you want to see to feel good about going out on a limb. While his stats were fine in his pro debut, the late-count hitter will succeed at the lower levels more than an early count hitter as the late-count hitter is forcing sub-standard pitching to throw more pitches. Once the pitching talent catches up to Greene’s talents at higher levels, his numbers will nosedive if he can’t make adjustments.
Players with the big power/questionable bat/no defensive value profile are tricky as there’s no margin for error and, being from Tampa, Michael Burgess is one local example of a prospect like this that didn’t work out. Greene’s power should carry him to the upper levels but I’m not sure he’ll go much further.
The Phillies didn’t bring all their top prospects to instructs but did bring some recent international signings that jumped out to me, yet another testament to international director Sal Agostinelli, one of the best in the business. Lewis Alezones is a 6’3, 170 pound Venezuelan 16 year old that’s signed for next season that showed good stuff, particularly for his age. The righty signed for a $320,000 bonus and checks the scouting boxes with a clean, medium arc arm action, high three-quarters slot, long limbs, projectable frame and a solid delivery. Alezones has narrow shoulders and is very thin, so he may not fill out as much as other pitchers with those measurables.
He sat mostly 87-89, touching 90 mph with a four-seamer that showed occasional cut. Alezones threw a short changeup that looked like a splitter, that had late sink and fade at 79-83 mph. It was best at the higher end of that range and consistently showed average potential until one at 83 mph really darted down in the zone and was above average. That’s enough to make a solid prospect but Alezones also threw a curveball at 74-76 mph with 11-to-5 tilt that showed average potential but has a long way to go. It’s a clear third option as his feel came and went, casting the pitch and having it back up on him with soft, rolling action. Alezones’ ultimate projection depends on his body development and curveball, but he’s definitely a guy to monitor.
Carlos Tocci signed for $759,000 out of Venezuela and whose future may also come down to how much he can fill out a narrow, thin frame. He tweeted out a recent picture for your reference and he’s listed at 6’1, 148 pounds on the instructs roster. He opened eyes with a standout performance in the GCL, notable for his contact and defensive ability against players that are years older than he, but also for his lack of power. While lack of power is forgivable for a 16-year-old center fielder that’s advanced in other areas, projecting players at 16 is all about projecting something that’s near impossible to do. So, when projecting too far into the future to be comfortable, scouts like to have physical growth on their side as a margin for error; i.e. it turns out he can’t hit AA pitching but he grew, has greater power and has a chance to succeed as a power hitter.
Tocci has an advanced feel at the plate with good bat speed and bat control. These types of quick-twitch skills tend to age well, as does defensive instincts. All the elements are here for a standout everyday center fielder but it’s impossible for anyone to know how this one will turn out just yet.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.