The Mets acquired two minor league players for Marlon Byrd and John Buck the other day, and they belong to my favorite category of minor leaguers: guys who have intriguing talent but also potentially fatal flaws. If they can figure out how to overcome the flaw or work around it, they can become impact big leaguers. If not, they’ll struggle to graduate. These are your B-/C+ prospects, and most guys who fit in between fifth and twentieth on your prospect lists fall into the category. I’m often shocked at how little actually separates prospects between these two terminals on lists. So I thought I’d give a couple scouting reports on these two acquisitions and point out what prevents either from being better prospects.
We’ll start with Dilson Herrera, who is the younger of the two at 19 years of age, which is entirely what makes him the better prospect. Herrera doesn’t have a lot of size at 5 feet, 10 inches, and he’s not a true speedster. I’d probably classify his speed as solid average and leave it at that. His arm is also lacking, the reason his domicile is to the right of the second base bag and not the left. But Herrera does have enough in the tools department to project as a solid starting second baseman. There’s some surprising juice in his bat, especially to his pull side, and I love hitters with quick hands, which he has. And while he probably won’t be a threat to steal 30 bases, he does have enough speed to swipe 15. Defensively, he looks to be an above average defender at the position. He has more than enough range, his actions look fluid, and scouts have generally been quite impressed. And while the arm wasn’t enough for short, it’s fine for second base.
So we have a good defensive second baseman with a little bit of speed and a quick bat. What’s the catch? Strikeouts, strikeouts, strikeouts. Herrera struck out in roughly 19% of his plate appearances between the Gulf Coast League and the New York-Penn League in 2012, and this season, the rate’s kept on climbing, up to 23.0% this season. If the trend continues as he climbs the organizational ladder, he’s going to struggle to hit .220. And while I like the bat overall, .220 isn’t going to cut it with his skillset.
Now, here’s the big question: can he cut down on the strikeouts? I think he can but maybe only to an extent. The first part of the puzzle is pitch recognition. This often comes with experience, and Herrera is just 19. As he ages and gets more plate appearances, he’ll hopefully learn to read breaking balls better--right now, he’s just too prone to chasing those down and away. He’ll also need to just ease up on his approach and tighten up his strike zone.
The tougher part of the puzzle, or at least the tougher part to predict, is his swing. Right now, it’s not exactly a swing geared toward contact. It has too many moving parts and requires him to commit too early rather than simply trusting his bat speed to drive the ball into gaps. Herrera begins by rocking his whole body far backwards and then tapping his front foot down before bringing his hands around and his weight forward. It does generate that surprising pop--I do love the weight transfer--but it also prevents him from adjusting on the fly. It’s also a big reason why he will pull balls on the outside portion of the plate rather than going with the pitch. Finally, he also needs to watch a tendency to wrap the barrel of the bat behind his head--this causes the barrel to trail behind his hands and forces softer contact. Coaches need to be careful here before messing with his swing: you’d hate to lose that weight transfer, but if the strikeouts continue to cause problems, something will have to give.
If everything works out for him and he develops a little more patience, I could sort of see him evolving into a .250/.320/.420 hitter with good defense. Sort of a Rickie Weeks with less pop and a better glove. But if it doesn’t work, the strikeouts could keep him stuck at Double-A.