Height 6-2, Weight 185, B/T: R/L, DOB: 11/21/1988
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: N/A
His career has barely begun, but Ryan LaMarre is already something of a rarity, as he's the unusual combination of righthanded hitter and lefthanded thrower, but he has an impressive blend of skills and tools that may soon make him noteworthy for his play.
While he hasn't been in the organization for long, LaMarre is already one of my favorite prospects. His natural athleticism and baseball specific skills could make him a very well-rounded player. And, if everything breaks right in his development and all the cosmic tumblers click into place, then he might be a special talent.
COLLEGIATE CAREER AND DRAFT POSITION
The Reds selected LaMarre with the 62nd overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft as a draft eligible junior out of the University of Michigan. Prior to the draft, he was projected as a late first round pick, so the fact that he was still available to the Reds in the 2nd round represents good value.
LaMarre wasn't drafted out of high school, but blossomed into one of the best amateur players in the country at the University of Michigan. In his collegiate career, LaMarre hit .356 with 20 home runs and drove in 125 runs in 140 games. He was a two-time winner of the Bill Freehan award as the the team's top hitter.
Freshman - .305/.376/.404/.780 with a 25/11 K/BB ratio.
Sophomore - .344/.468/.599/1.067 with a 36/33 K/BB ratio.
Junior - .419/.459/.649/1.108 with a 20/5 K/BB ratio.
As a junior, LaMarre missed some time when he broke his thumb diving for a ball in the outfield, but it wasn't enough to stop him from earning All Big Ten first team honors. In the final analysis, it was a stellar collegiate career.
As for high school days, it's worth noting that LaMarre earned 12 varsity letters for Lumen Christi, four each in football, hockey, and baseball. Maybe it's more common than I think, but I'm not sure I've ever actually heard of someone being a four-year varsity athlete in three separate sports. So, in a bit of understatement, I'll just say that he's a fairly good athlete.
LaMarre wasted little time in signing a professional contract with the Reds and quickly demonstrated the advantages of signing early.
The Reds sent LaMarre to low-A Dayton to start his professional career. For the Dragons, he played 60 games and collected 227 ABs in which he hit .282/.370/.396 with 5 homers, 18 steals in 25 attempts, and a 53/21 K/BB ratio. It wasn't an explosive debut, as his line drive rate was uninspiring at 14% and his stolen base success rate was only 72%. Even so, LaMarre demonstrated the ability to control the strike zone, which portends well for his future, especially with his strong set of tools. However, it is worth noting that his on-base percentage was boosted by a surprising 12 hit-by-pitches. Given his hockey/football background, it's not inconceivable that LaMarre is using the hit-by-pitch as an offensive weapon, a la Craig Biggio.
The Reds then bumped him up to high-A to finish out the season. For the Lynchburg Hillcats, LaMarre hit .222/.276/.407 with 1 homer, 1 steal in 2 attempts, and a 4/2 K/BB ratio. It's such a small sample size that it barely warrants mention, but he hit line drives at only a 9% clip. Even so, reaching high-A in the half season after he signed was a nice achievement for LaMarre and he'll likely return to high-A to start the 2011 season.
By signing early, LaMarre managed to get into 68 games and collect 254 professional At Bats, which is actually a fairly significant amount of experience, especially when compared to 1st round pick and late signer Yasmani Grandal, who only managed to get into 8 professional games in 2010. I'm all for players negotiating a contract number that they feel they deserve, but there is something to be said for signing early and getting your professional career started. If a player is confident in his abilities, then it may make sense to sign quickly and begin the climb to the majors. The quicker the player reaches the majors, the quicker they obtain their 6 seasons of service time and hit free agency.
Jason Varitek was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 1994 draft, but didn't sign until April 20th, 1995. So, he basically sat out a whole season and someone much smarter than I am calculated that his decision ultimately cost him millions. He may have gotten more money up front in his signing bonus, but he also likely cost himself an MLB season at free agency prices. Obviously, he couldn't have known that he would make it to the majors and have so much success, but holding out for a few hundred thousand more isn't always the best thing for the player.
That certainly won't be the case for LaMarre, who signed early and got the jump on his career. As a result, he put himself in a much better position to start out the 2011 season.
LaMarre starts with a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance, a low back elbow, and a calm demeanor. His hand position is in close to his body and in front of his right shoulder. To transfer his weight to meet the pitch, he uses a fairly high leg kick and a legitimate stride to meet the pitch. As his stride moves his body forward to meet the pitch, he draws his hands back into proper hitting position. He has good hip rotation, which helps power his swing. After he clears his hips, he fires his swing. LaMarre generates good bat speed and gets good extension out and through the ball, but keeps both hands on the bat during his follow-through.
However, his stride and swing both have a bit of length to them. In the professional ranks, he will likely need to tighten up his swing and shorten his path to the ball to reach his ceiling. If he doesn't, then he may be susceptible to hard fastballs in on the hands. He also may need to work on keeping his hands inside the ball, which isn't a type of swing you see all that often in the metal bat college game where pulling the ball is frequently the name of the game.
Overall, LaMarre has good swing mechanics that could enable him to hit for both average and power. He may need a tweak or two, but he has a sound foundation on which to build his offensive game.
In this second clip, LaMarre doesn't exactly flash good swing mechanics, but it does show his good speed out of the batter's box.
DEFENSE, POSITIONAL VALUE, AND INTANGIBLES
Early reports on LaMarre's defensive abilities are positive. He moves well in the outfield and should have the necessary range for all three positions. He also gets good reads off the bat and good jumps on the ball, which when coupled with his speed enables him to cover a lot of ground. His arm strength is only average, but he has good accuracy.
In 2010, LaMarre split time almost equally between centerfield and rightfield. Obviously, his value will be higher if he can stick in center, but his versatility is a plus, especially with Drew Stubbs likely entrenched in center for the foreseeable future. Overall, LaMarre seems a good bet to be able to handle centerfield, which would make him an intriguing talent.
LaMarre has a nice blend of tools and skills, but he also has something else working in his favor: intangibles. His background in hockey and football gives him an invaluable gamer type mindset which should serve him well in professional baseball. Players with a football background typically have a blue-collar type game. Hockey is a sport that values humility, sacrifice, and putting the team first. These types of intangibles should help LaMarre with the challenges of professional baseball and help his total game be greater than the sum of the individual parts.
Intangibles are important. Whether it's Pete Rose yelling "bunch of losers" at his Big Red Machine teammates to drive them on to victory or Johnny Bench playing through injury to help the team, intangibles are a key part of all great teams. LaMarre may have a few to bring to the table.
The Reds have had a lot of success in drafting University of Michigan Wolverines, including such luminaries as Barry Larkin, Chris Sabo, Hal Morris, and others. Hopefully, LeMarre is the next in a long line of Wolverine talent to suit up for the Redlegs. He has an intriguing blend of tools and skills, upside and polish. The fact that he also plays a premier defensive position and plays it well gives him nice total value as a prospect.
LaMarre was actually a player I wanted the Reds to select in the 2010 draft and I was ecstatic to see that they did. I have high hopes for LaMarre and his combination of polish and upside lands him at #11 on the list.