Written by: Mark Lengieza (@Geezer9687)
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Hello baseball fans! Let me start by saying what an honor it is to be here to offer a few words to all the readers of Prospects 365. The work that Ray and all the other writers do here is impeccable and I can only hope to offer a sliver of the insight that they do. Their hard work has been as valuable a resource as any as far as following the tangled web that can be Minor League baseball prospecting. Be sure to thank them for all the time and effort they put in to putting out the best content 365 days a year.
A little about me, and then we’ll get down to the reason I’m here: I’m no scout by any means. I am, however, a huge baseball fan. Growing up in New England, I’ve been an avid Red Sox fan my whole life. I started playing fantasy baseball in my teenage years (going on my 15th season of the game, man does that make me feel old!) and I’ve long said that there is no greater way to get a feel for the entirety of the game, to learn the ins-and-outs of every team, than playing fantasy baseball. And there is nothing more exciting than finding a new diamond in the rough, future All-Star, potential five-tool talent currently playing in front of a few hundred fans in a minor league ballpark somewhere. That’s why I started my very own Dynasty-style fantasy league back in 2011. I’ve been mining for that youthful fantasy-gold ever since.
Let me tell you folks, it is an exciting time to be living within driving distance of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and arguably the best line-up in Double-A (and perhaps the entire minor leagues). Well, even though spring hasn’t quite sprung here in New England, I simply couldn’t miss being a part of the home-opener for what I think will be a very exciting season for the Fisher Cats. The headliners are obvious. If you’ve been following baseball since the 90’s, you can’t help but look at the roster and notice the familiar names littered throughout this lineup. Guerrero. Bichette. Biggio. Yes, all three the direct descendants of Major League All-Stars. The former two, I’d be willing to bet, will join their parents in that club in the not-so-distant future.
On the other side of the ball last night were the Hartford Yard Goats (don’t you just love Minor League team names? The Eastern League has some especially great ones). The Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies boasts a few potential players in its own right, including one of my very own (and Ray’s) “Prospect Obsessions,” Brendan Rodgers. I drafted Rodgers in the first round of my minor league draft of 2016, and it has been a pleasure watching him bloom into one of the finest shortstop-talents in the game. This was my first time getting to see him play in person (he’s easy to spot on the field, the hair is a dead giveaway) and while he wasn’t overly impressive in this admittedly extremely short sample size, it was still a treat for me. You can clearly see his aggression at the plate, and as many have said, it is something he’s going to need to work on. He swung at nearly every pitch in all of his at-bats. He’s certainly not up there to take a walk, a trait that works when you are clearly better than your competition, but perhaps patience is more of a virtue when you work your way up to the higher levels. Still, he managed to get on base twice, drive in a run, steal a base, score twice, and not strike out (while looking adequate in the field). Would I have loved to see him hit a mammoth home run while I was there? Sure, but maybe some other time. I believe this kid is going to absolutely rake for the Rockies someday.
The Hartford prospect who did most of the damage on this night however was second baseman Garrett Hampson (who’s ranked 168th in Ray’s top 200 prospect list). It was as if every time he stepped in the batters’ box, you knew he was going to end up getting on base. He showed a very real feel for the plate, going 3-4 with a double, an RBI, a walk and two runs scored. He was a pest at the top of the lineup that the Fisher Cats couldn’t figure out all game. I could really see him being a fixture lead-off hitter in the big leagues, an on-base machine who can wreak havoc on the base-paths.
Now onto the home team, who I hope to get to see many times over the course of the summer. I know there’s a lot of Vlad Guerrero Jr. fans out there, myself included. I believe he’s going to be an absolutely wonderful player, and I was so excited to be able to see the 19-year old legacy in action. However, maybe my expectations were too high. He had a very solid game, don’t get me wrong, making some decently-hard contact on his two singles, driving in one, but also striking out twice. Nothing really “popped” and made you say “wow” watching him play, but again, it is the smallest of small sample sizes and there’s plenty of video out there to show you the type of power he has in his bat. What did stand out from my seats on the third base line: You could absolutely tell what joy the kid has playing the game. His smile was evident, often chatting it up with the opposing players (who often reached third base in this one, as the Yard Goats put 8 runs on the board). He’s a very stocky, solidly built 19-year old in a man’s body, but he plays the game with every bit of youthful exuberance.
Now, all of that being said, the prospect who impressed me the most was FisherCats’ shortstop Bo Bichette. Not a surprise, as he’s Ray’s 17th-ranked prospect for a reason, but boy, does he ever look the part of a future big-time major leaguer. That’s one of the fun things about minor league baseball: In addition to the zany sideline activities they do between innings, it really is fun for the whole family to absorb the passion that minor leaguers have for the game. I strongly recommend taking in a game if you have the opportunity, and bring the kids. It’s a fairly inexpensive outing that they should love.
But I’m talking about from a baseball fan perspective, you can tell that many of these players are still learning, or don’t quite have the talent to make it to the majors. They are going to commit more errors and make more mistakes. It makes the ones who actually do have that talent stand out even more than they normally would. Bichette made one errant throw (that a better first baseman probably would have scooped), but other than that he was flawless at short in what was a very active night for him. He has smooth hands, a great transition on the double-play, and an arm that can reach first with ease from deep in the hole, which was fun to actually witness. It had all the fans around me commenting on the arm. Bo’s glove will play at the big league level, for sure.
Of course, he was no slouch at the plate either. Other than catcher Max Pentecost’s first home run of the season, the offensive highlight of the night came in the third inning when, with a man on first, Bichette absolutely roped a ball into the right-centerfield gap, over the head of Omar Carrizales, for an effortless triple. Here’s a link.
I almost jumped out of my seat for that one. You could hear that solid contact right off the bat and I immediately said “That’s a triple.” Perfectly placed to display the speed that netted him 22 stolen bases last season. It was his only hit of the night, but he made it count. The most exciting thing that happened in an 8-5 loss on a Friday night. I’m telling you right now: Don’t worry about the funky mechanics. This kid is going to hit.
So there you have it. I hope you’ve all enjoyed my little insight to the Eastern League of Double-A ball. Wish I could have been there on a night when another prospect that I actually own, Sean Reid-Foley, took the mound for New Hampshire, but I’ll have other opportunities for that. Maybe next time it will be Vlad who is the star of the game. Or perhaps another member of another team. Do I hear Tim Tebow? The Binghamton Rumble Ponies will be here soon! Until next time, folks, keep prospecting.
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Featured image courtesy of Minor League Baseball