Thursday, January 31, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #8 Ismael Guillon, lhp


DOB: 2/13/1992
HEIGHT: 6-1 WEIGHT: 200 B/T: L/L

It's been a while since the Reds had two legitimate southpaw starting pitching prospects, but Ismael Guillon joins Tony Cingrani to give the organization just that. Guillon is younger and less polished, which gives him significantly higher development risk than Cingrani, but his current performance level is strong and his future upside is considerable.


The Reds signed Guillon out of Venezuela back in 2008 for $220,000. A subsequent physical exam revealed an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery. The Reds voided the original contract and re-signed him to a second contract for less money (a point well worth remembering as we move through this write-up). Some organizations were considering him as a position player, but the Reds saw him as a pitcher and were content to wait out the rehab process. Guillon didn't take the mound until 2010, but immediately rewarded the Reds for their judgment and patience. He spent 2010 in the Arizona rookie league and 2011 with the Billings Mustangs, acquitting himself fairly well at both stops, though his control was problematic for the Mustangs. The Reds sent him back to Montana for a return engagement to start out the 2012 season.


In 2012, Guillon split time between the rookie Pioneer League Billings Mustangs and low-A Dayton. He was equally effective at both stops, maintaining a high performance level throughout the season.

For the Mustangs, Guillon worked 51.0 innings during which he posted a 4-1 W/L record, 2.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 0.81 GB/FB ratio, .210 BAA, and a 63/24 K/BB ratio. He appeared in 11 games, including 10 starts. His strikeout and walk rates were 11.1 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 respectively. His FIP was a stellar 2.51, while his BABIP was .309, so the peripherals support his performance level. His performance earned him a selection to the Pioneer League Post Season All Star team and a promotion to low-A ball.

For the Dragons, Guillon tossed 24.2 innings, which included a 2-0 W/L record, 2.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 0.91 GB/FB ratio, .247 BAA, and a 27/7 K/BB ratio. He posted a 9.9 K/9 rate and 2.6 BB/9 rate. Once again, his 2.92 FIP and .323 BABIP support his overall performance level. He started 4 games and averaged a little over 6 innings per start. His final start of the season may have been his best. On September 3rd against West Michigan, he worked 7.0 full innings, giving up 6 hits, 2 earned runs, and posting a 9/1 K/BB ratio. It's impressive to see a 20-year old with his injury history work so deep into games, which is a sign of durability and pitch efficiency.


Prior to the 2012 season, Guillon had already made some refinements to his mechanics to smooth out some of the rough edges, including reducing (though not entirely eliminating, see photo below) a wrist wrap that he previously utilized.

In his pre-pitch stance, Guillon stands tall on the rubber with his feet close together. His hands are up high in front of his face as he peers in for the sign. He starts his windup with a step back towards second base (for ease of reference, let's call it the "Rocker Step", a term I am borrowing from the excellent "The Physics of Pitching" by Solesky and Cain), while simultaneously bringing his hands up over his head. When his Rocker Step back towards second base finishes and the weight is fully transferred, the knee of his stride leg actually straightens and locks, which is unusual. The completion of the weight transfer allows him to shift his left foot down onto the rubber. He then brings the right leg up into the leg kick, which comes up past parallel and includes body coil from turning the front hip inward. His movements are effective in generating force to transfer to the baseball.

The modern trend in pitching mechanics is towards efficiency in movement. For example, you no longer see the extreme windmill arm action in the windup that was typical of the Satchel Paige era. Obviously, there was wasted movement in that extreme type of motion and there certainly are benefits to be reaped from economy of movement. These benefits include fewer moving parts to control and coordinate, as well as improved stamina from reduced physical exertion. However, I do wonder if we have now gone too far in that direction, possibly sacrificing improved generation of force in favor of more economical movements.

For example, the Rocker Step back towards second base (as opposed to a Rocker Step that simply shifts the leg-kick foot down in front of the rubber) and bringing the hands up over the head (as opposed to bringing them only up in front of the chest) are likely more effective in generating force than their more economical counterparts. A Rocker Step back towards second base and bringing the hands up over the head both operate to shift the center of mass of the body farther back, which creates a greater distance to travel when driving to the plate. The greater distance to travel means that there is a better opportunity to generate and gather force prior to the apex of the leg kick. There's a reason why cricket bowlers utilize a running start in their deliveries, as it enables them to more effectively create force through better incorporation of their bodies in the delivery. For my money, Guillon's Rocker Step and hands-over-the-head movements are more advantageous in the generation of force.

From the apex of the leg kick, he begins to impart the generated force to the baseball. He drives towards the plate with a solid stride, which is of good length and aggression. While his stride length isn't quite ideal, it's long enough to permit full and complete rotation of the hips. Further, any attempt to lengthen his stride to reap added benefits in force could potentially be undone by an inability to get out over his stride leg. He may already be using the longest stride that his athleticism can handle.

Courtesy: Bob Zellar/Billings Gazette

The differential between the rotation of the hips and upper body is a key to the effective and efficient generating and imparting of force. The differential used by Guillon is acceptable, but short of optimal (see photos below). He doesn't delay the upper body rotation quite long enough to maximize the force, which creates more work for the arm.

There are two potential issues with Guillon's stride. First, he lands in a closed off position, which causes him to throw slightly across his body. Second, he lands on the heel of his foot, which can cause instability and inconsistency. The ball of the foot cushions the impact in ways that the heel does not, as a result landing on the heel can lead to an erratic release point and problems with control. In addition, the combination of these two issues means that he frequently spins out on his heel in his follow-through, falling off to the third base side to finish (see photo below). Obviously, such a finishing position creates problems for properly fielding the position.

Guillon throws from an over-the-top arm slot with a quick arm action. His elbow maintains good position relative to the shoulder throughout the delivery. Further, his arm gets up into proper position by the time the stride foot lands, which keeps the arm in sync with the body. In his delivery, Guillon uses a quick tempo, which creates an appearance of both high energy and looseness in his movements. The quicker tempo may be unsettling to hitters and increase the deception on his pitches, but may also be part of his struggles to find consistency. At times, his quick tempo makes it appear that he is rushing his delivery and not consistently repeating his movements.

Overall, Guillon does a nice job in both phases of the delivery. He generates force well in the first phase and imparts it to the baseball efficiently in the second phase. Here's a look at Guillon in action, including a slo-motion view at the very end, courtesy RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube:

Guillon has already knocked some of the rough edges from his mechanics, which are now fundamentally sound and provide him with a solid pitching foundation, but he still has refinements to make. If he can tighten up a few aspects of his delivery, then he may be able to find the consistency he needs in order to achieve sustainable success.


Guillon features a three-pitch mix, including a fastball with minimal movement that sits 89-92 mph and touches 94, a legitimate plus-change-up, and a below average curve ball. His change-up is a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch and it helps his fastball play up. I am always encouraged when a pitcher features a plus change-up, as it's a pitch that requires both good feel and fundamental understanding of how to effectively change speeds. A lot of young pitchers simply want to throw hard, harder, hardest, but a change-up is evidence of a different mindset.

Currently, Guillon's repertoire is plagued by inconsistency, including in both fastball velocity and command of his curve ball. Unlike Tony Cingrani, who only has to develop an effective breaking ball, Guillon has to refine two pitches. While Guillon clearly needs to improve his arsenal, time may not be on his side.

Unfortunately, as of now, Guillon's development is in a race with his option years. The Reds were forced to add Guillon to the 40-man roster early as a result of voiding his original professional contract. By rule, because he signed a second contract with his original team, Guillon was eligible for the Rule 5 draft every year until he was added to the 40-man roster. The Reds left him unprotected for as long as they could, but in November 2012 they added him to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft.

Accordingly, from this point forward, sending Guillon to the minors will burn an option year. Players typically have three option years, though in some select circumstances a fourth option year is awarded. As a result, Guillon, who has four levels to master and only three years to do so, will have to pick up the development pace to avoid running out of option years prior to being polished enough for the majors. It's certainly feasible, but any setbacks could become very problematic. If his option years outrun his development, then the organization might be tempted to shift him to the bullpen to speed the development process.


The 2013 season will provide a telling data point for Guillon's career path. He's an interesting prospect with a solid current performance level and enough upside to project as an impact pitcher if all goes well in his development. At the same time, there is some development risk, a risk that's heightened by his injury history and truncated development period. In fact, he brings more risk to the table than I anticipated heading into this write-up.

So, the risk of flaming out is high, but the ceiling is considerable. If everything breaks right, he could be a #2/3 starter down the road. For now, Guillon's combination of upside projection and downside risk lands him at #8 on the list, though that combination also creates greater potential for rising/falling on next year's prospect list. It would be encouraging to see him both reach high-A in 2013 and log some quality innings.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #14 Ryan LaMarre, of


DOB: 11/21/1988
HEIGHT: 6-2, WEIGHT: 205, B/T: R/L

Generally speaking, Ryan LaMarre is the type of player I like. In fact, he's a player that I wanted the Reds to draft. Unfortunately, his professional career just hasn't played out like I hoped it would.

We all have our own built in set of preferences and favorites. When it comes to baseball players, I have always preferred certain attributes over others; certain things I simply appreciate more than others. I like a blend of tools and skills, including a healthy dose of on-base ability. I like well-rounded players, not one dimensional hitters or pure glove players. I like players who play premier defensive positions, and who play them well. And, maybe because I've always been a fan of the college game, I like college players.

Over time, I have come to recognize my preferences/biases and to guard against them improperly influencing my write-ups. They'll always be there, but since I'm aware they exist, I can minimize their influence and take a fresh look at each player being evaluated. Obviously, Ryan LaMarre ticks a lot of the aforementioned boxes, but he just doesn't grade out as favorably as I would like when evaluating him.

Even though LaMarre is a player I should and do like, the development path down which he has traveled is creating a career trajectory that is both lower and less impressive than I had originally hoped. In baseball, it's difficult to determine whether credit or blame for a player's performance should fall properly on the scouting department or player development department. In this instance, while his career is far from over, I have to question whether the player development department, more specifically the minor league coaching staff, has made the right choices with respect to LaMarre.  


The Reds selected LaMarre out of the University of Michigan as a draft eligible junior with the 62nd overall pick in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft.

As a Wolverine, LaMarre posted the following slash lines:

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

For purposes of this write-up, the power production is particularly noteworthy. Not only did LaMarre put up numbers, but he's also a superior athlete. In high school, LaMarre earned 12 varsity letters for Lumen Christi, including four each in football, baseball, and hockey.

In short, LaMarre is a strong, fast athlete with a track record of power production.


LaMarre had a cup of coffee at double-A at the tail-end of the 2011 season and returned to that level for the entire 2012 season. For double-A Pensacola, LaMarre hit .263/.356/.353/.708 over 133 games and 482 ABs to go along with 22/3/5 2b/3b/HR, 30 steals in 40 attempts, and a 119/60 K/BB ratio.

There are a number of things to like about his performance, including an OBP that was 0.093 higher than his batting average, a solid 75% success rate on stolen bases, and a 19% line drive rate. He offers an encouraging blend of speed and patience, which is rarer than it should be in professional baseball players. At the same time, the primary problem is obvious and glaring: there's no power.

Prior to the 2012 season, LaMarre said the following:

"I feel like I am still finding out what type of player I am," LaMarre said. "In college, I hit the ball a lot harder, and some of that came with that learning curve. I changed a lot of things mid-season last year (2011) and never really found something I stuck with. This year, I'm hoping to be consistent, stay with something, and I think you'll see the power numbers go up this year." 

Unfortunately, his power actually declined in 2012. In his three seasons of professional baseball, LaMarre has yet to slug over .400 in a season. And, the trend line is heading in the wrong direction. In 2010, split between low-A and high-A, LaMarre slugged .398. In 2011, split between high-A and double-A, he slugged .370. And, in 2012, exclusively at double-A, LaMarre slugged only .353. As the competition has gotten tougher, his ability to drive the ball has gotten worse.

Just for comparison sake, Billy Hamilton, who people have long feared would have the bat knocked out of his hands at the professional level, has already had seasons of .456 and .420 slugging percentages. Granted, Hamilton's speed turns singles in extra base hits at an absurd rate, so part of his slugging is speed based rather than legitimate power, but he's still showing the ability to gain bases in bunches. Something which LaMarre has yet to do.

Whether intentionally or not, LaMarre has embraced and adopted a table-setter offensive profile, but that doesn't mean that he can get away with such minimal power production at the MLB level. If he doesn't show an improved ability to drive the ball, then pitchers have no reason to fear him. If they don't fear him, then they'll just groove fastballs down the middle, which will drastically reduce his walk rate. Even table-setters, in order to be effective, have to keep the opposing pitcher honest.

While LaMarre hasn't shown any power in the past, the real concern is whether his swing will even allow him to hit for power in the future.


First, it's instructive to look at what LaMarre was doing at the plate back at the University of Michigan and compare it to what he's doing at the plate now. I'm having a very hard time seeing the wisdom of taking a swing that looks like THIS (courtesy of prospectjunkies on YouTube):

And, turning it into THIS (courtesy RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube):

Quite frankly, he looks like a completely different hitter up there. When looking at his swing coming out of college, I thought he probably needed to tighten it up (shorten the stride, get quicker to the pitch), but overall I liked what I saw. It seemed like a tweak or two might be needed, but not a major overhaul. LaMarre opted for the overhaul.

LaMarre uses a significantly wider than shoulder-width stance and a very high back elbow. In fact, his back elbow position is so high that affects his shoulder level, as his back shoulder is higher than the front, causing his bat to tilt towards the pitcher (see photo below). This tilting of both the shoulders and the bat gives him a longer path to the ball, as he has to drop the elbow, level the shoulders, and straighten the bat in the early part of the swing.

Like Jeff Gelalich, LaMarre utilizes a two phase stride. However, unlike Gelalich, LaMarre's stride is disjointed, with two separate and distinct phases. LaMarre's stride, which contains two parts, prevents the lower body from working in proper sync with the upper body. The stride seems isolated and detached from the rest of his swing. LaMarre strides forward, landing on the ball of his foot with his heel in the air and holding his foot in this position. He then rolls off the ball of his foot and brings his heel down to the ground as his hips rotate. So, he interrupts the generation of force from the transfer of the weight from back to front, then lingers in the weak position of being on the ball of his front foot before firing the hips. Also, it's questionable how effective his stride is in cocking the hips to generate load in the swing.

To complicate matters even further, before the heel of his stride foot hits the ground his arms are frequently already in motion to start his swing. He is simultaneously moving his stride foot and firing the arms to swing the bat, which is problematic considering how important a solid foundation is to the swing.

For comparison, at the plate Albert Pujols starts in a spread out position, then uses a stride that consists of raising his front foot up onto the ball of his foot and putting it right back down where it started as his hips fire, but it's one continuous, uninterrupted motion. On the other hand, LaMarre's stop-and-start stride makes the lower body action herky-jerky, robbing it of torque and power. He starts wide and gets wider, then tries to fire the swing while standing on the ball of his front foot. You can't effectively fire the hips if there's a pause between the landing of the stride foot and the firing of the hips.

In fact, LaMarre's stride seems disassociated from the rest of his swing to the extent that any force generated by the lower body largely bleeds out of the swing. This is especially problematic due to the fact that most of the power in the baseball swing is generated by the lower body, so if you hinder that action or eliminate it entirely then you are left largely with an upper body swing. And, upper body swings simply don't generate much power. The fact that LaMarre's swing significantly restricts his lower body action almost necessarily means that the generation of power will be restricted.

Overall, I still think the components are there for a fundamentally sound swing that will play at the MLB level, but the swing continues to develop in the wrong way. The swing that produced significant power in college is still in there. The ability to drive the ball still exists. In the following photo, LaMarre is actually in a very strong hitting position:

In the photo, LaMarre exhibits a solid foundation, a firm front side, his lower body action has him up on the toe of his right foot, and his right elbow is in close to his hip. In short, he's in good position to unleash the force generated by the swing. The problem remains, however, that the lower body action that precedes this position is not effective in generating the force necessary to power the swing: He simply hasn't generated enough force to impart to the baseball. There's nothing there to unleash. Instead, the lower body action creates a disjointed swing where the upper and lower halves are out of sync. So, by the time he reaches the above position, he hasn't generated sufficient rotational force to power the swing. It's very difficult to generate power without effectively incorporating the lower half, especially strong hip rotation, into the swing.

I still really believe that LaMarre would benefit from effectively reincorporating the lower-half back into his swing. He has far too much power potential to consciously sacrifice it, especially since the benefits to be reaped from his restricted lower body action are negligible, at best. Until he commits to rediscovering some power, it's difficult to project him as anything more than a 4th or 5th outfielder.


LaMarre is a very good defensive centerfielder due to his plus speed and very good athleticism (before becoming a professional baseball player, he excelled in both football and hockey). Billy Hamilton gets all the ink for his stolen base exploits, and rightfully so, but LaMarre also runs very well. While Hamilton glides over the turf, LaMarre has more physicality to his running.

LaMarre covers a lot of ground and reads the ball well off the bat. In his minor league career, he has played 270 games in center field and 45 in right field. His throwing arm is both strong and accurate and would also play well in right field. In 2011, across two levels, LaMarre tallied 16 assists. In 2012, at double-A, LaMarre collected 20 assists. So, he does well at preventing runners from taking the extra base.

Courtesy: Chris Martin/Bakersfield Blaze

Defense will always be a value-driver for LaMarre, which takes some pressure off the development of his bat. While he's versatile enough to handle all the outfield positions, it would be hard to justify him as a starter in a corner spot unless his power production improves.


LaMarre does so many things well that it's frustrating that he's being undone by the one thing that he isn't doing well. He has top flight athleticism, good tools across the board, the baseball specific skills necessary to translate those tools into production, and good makeup. So, the potential is there, but for him to become an impact talent, he needs to drive the ball better. He doesn't need to hit 30 homers, but 15 a year, when combined with his other attributes, would put him on track to be a potential starter at the MLB level.

For now, the best hope is that GM Walt Jocketty proves prophetic when he said this prior to the 2012 season:

"For a lot of guys, power comes later on in their careers," Jocketty said. "Right now, we want him to focus more on his hitting ability and getting on base. He eventually will hit with more power."

As it stands, the power outage lands LaMarre at #14 on the list, but if he reworks his swing and starts driving the ball consistently, then he'll quickly become a very interesting player.

2013 Top Prospect List: #20 Jonathan Reynoso, of

DOB: 1/7/1993
HEIGHT: 6-3, WEIGHT: 177, B/T: R/R

Unfortunately, I don't quite have the resources or coverage that MLB organizations have, so every once in a while a prospect (usually very young and signed out of Latin America) comes along that presents a problem. And, this year, Jonathan Reynoso is that prospect. The problem is that all reports indicate that he's simply too good not to be in the top 25 prospects, but there's very little information available on him. These prospect write-ups, for better or worse, are my own objective take on these prospects. I rely on as much information as I can find, but I like to form my own opinion, so I don't often read or utilize the analyses of others.

All that said, Baseball America just rated him 9th, Keith Law rated him 7th, and John Sickels rated him 13th. So, I either have to leave him out when he likely should be included or include him based solely and exclusively on the opinions of others. I'm not wild about either option, but in this case, I'll go with the latter.

In 2012 in the Arizona Rookie League, Reynoso hit .311/.328/.411/.739 in 190 AB to go along with 30 steals in 39 attempts and a 23/6 K/BB ratio while holding down center field. The previous two seasons he spent in Dominican Summer League, so 2012 was his first season state-side.

According to reports, Reynoso oozes tools, but he has a long way to go in the skills department. So, he's a boom-or-bust type prospect. High ceiling, very low floor. A lot of risk and a lot of upside. The lack of plate discipline is a very large, very real concern for me, but for now I'll slot him in at #20 on the list.

Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #9 Jeff Gelalich, of

DOB: 3/16/1991
HEIGHT 6-1, WEIGHT 180, B/T: L/R

The Reds continue to rebuild the farm system after trades and promotions populated the big league roster with good young talent. In the 2012 draft, the Reds brought in two well-rounded outfielders with very good on-base skills. Jesse Winker currently ranks higher, but Jeff Gelalich (pronounced JELL-uh-litch) is also intriguing. 

Gelalich provides a very nice blend of tools and skills. Given the new spending caps imposed by MLB on both the amateur draft and international free agency, organizations, more than ever, need to be right in their draft choices. Commonly, "tools" drive a player's ceiling, while "skills" determine his floor. How many elite athletes (players who could run, throw, hit for massive power) have struggled to find baseball success because they struggled to make contact, recognize pitches, or be patient enough to dictate the terms of the At Bat? You can't get to elite tools if you don't possess underlying baseball-specific skills. For hitters, pitch recognition and plate discipline can significantly reduce the risk of flaming out.

Gelalich features both good pitch recognition and a disciplined approach, which should effectively raise his floor, while offering enough tools to give him a good ceiling. His combination of tools and skills makes him a good addition to the organization, especially in light of his significant college experience.


The Reds selected Gelalich as a junior out of UCLA with the 57th overall pick in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. He was previously drafted out of high school in the 41st round by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009.

In 2010, Gelalich hit .321/.460/.474 in 78 ABs with 2 homers, 7 steals in 7 attempts, and a 23/15 K/BB ratio as a freshman. He made 24 starts, including 15 in left, 6 in right, and 3 as the DH.

In 2011, as a sophomore, Gelalich hit .268/.389/.415 in 183 ABs with 2 homers, 10 steals in 12 attempts, and a 58/25 K/BB ratio. He made 53 starts, including 16 in right field and 37 as a DH.

In 2012, as a junior, Gelalich hit .351/.444/.535 in 245 ABs with 11 homers, 16 steals in 21 attempts, and a 45/34 K/BB ratio. He started 63 games in right field and 1 at DH. His performance netted him first-team All America honors from Baseball America and second team honors from Perfect Game USA.

All in all, it was a successful collegiate career defined by a nice blend of consistent on-base ability and solid speed. As a junior, he flipped the power switch, resulting in a slugging percentage over the .500 mark for the first time and a climb up draft boards around the league. The Reds didn't let him slide into the second round.


Courtesy: Paul Ruhter, Billings Gazette
Gelalich signed his first professional contract, for $897,800, in time to make his professional debut in the rookie Pioneer League. In 35 games for the Billings Mustangs, Gelalich hit .244/.336/.378/.714 with 7 doubles, 2 triples, 2 homers, and a 42/12 K/BB ratio over 127 ABs. He also managed 4 steals in 5 attempts.

Obviously, an inauspicious start and not the type of performance you'd expect out of a polished college prospect in a rookie-level league. Elite collegiate programs, of which UCLA is one, face competition that is widely regarded as being of significantly higher quality than what resides in rookie leagues. So, in theory, Gelalich was facing weaker competition than he faced in college.

On the plus side, he hit line drives at a 22% clip, which arguably supports a higher BABIP than the .337 mark he posted. On the downside is obviously the strikeouts, as he whiffed in 28.8% of his plate appearances, which is an alarming rate considering the level of competition. He simply shouldn't, in light of his experience, have had that much trouble making contact.

The sample size is too small to support any meaningful conclusions, especially since he was both (A) getting his first taste of professional baseball at the end of a long collegiate season and (B) playing through a variety of nicks and bruises, including a hand injury. 


At the plate, Gelalich uses solid, fundamentally sound mechanics. He starts from a crouch with a slightly open, wider than shoulder-width stance. He uses a high back elbow and a small bat waggle in his pre-pitch stance, holding his hands in front of his back shoulder. The defining characteristic of his swing mechanics is an unusual stride.

Gelalich's stride is unusual for two reasons: 1) there is very minimal movement involved, and 2) at first glance it appears almost disconnected from the rest of his swing. He starts his stride early in the swing, lifting his foot off the ground a minimal amount and then, rather than falling naturally, jabbing it back to the ground. When he jabs it back to the ground, his heel frequently appears to touch before the toe, which gives the movement an awkward, jarring appearance. All of this motion occurs somewhat before the rest of the swing, which raises the question of how he can effectively sync the movements of the upper and lower body to generate power and avoid being a largely upper body hitter. To do so, Gelalich has incorporated a second phase to his stride.

After Gelalich jabs his stride foot back down into the ground, he immediately rises up onto the toe of that foot. In so doing, he also rises up out of his crouch, standing somewhat taller, and rotates his front hip inward to generate load. His stride almost looks like a quick jab step followed by a bounce up onto the toe. This second phase, rising up onto the toe, is more timely and more closely resembles the strides of other hitters.

Once he gets up on the toe, his weight has shifted towards the back foot, he has drawn his hands back into proper hitting position, his hips have cocked, and he's ready to drive forward to meet the pitch. As the heel of his stride foot returns to the ground, he fires the swing. 

While the stride is unusual, the rest of the swing is not. Once he finishes the stride, the swing becomes very simple and very fundamentally sound. The hips fire first, generating good rotational energy driving him up onto toe of his back foot. He firms up the front side properly in order to effectively transfer that energy to his swing. He maintains good balance throughout and keeps his head still and on the pitch, both of which are benefits of using a wide-base. He does a nice job of consistently getting the barrel of the bat on the pitch and effectively utilizing all fields. He has become more adept at turning on inside pitches with power and driving outside pitches to the opposite field. After contact, his left hand typically comes off the bat, his body rotating to allow a complete follow-through which leads directly to his first step out of the box.

Some scouts feel Gelalich has a hitch in his swing, but I don't see it. When a hitter uses a hitch, it's frequently a movement of the arms that serves as a timing mechanism, but Gelalich's timing mechanism is his stride. The two-phase stride is somewhat unusual, but his upper body movements are smooth. He drops his back elbow as he completes his stride and drives forward to meet the pitch. He keeps his arms in close to the body as he brings the bat into the zone, which reduces drag on the rotational force generated by his body, but his arms have a tendency to drift too far forward to reach the contact point (see below photo). The drift occurs when he doesn't let the pitch travel deep, instead reaching to contact the pitch well out in front of the plate.

Consistently reaching for the pitch to make early contact could have negative consequences, including (1) acting as a drag on the force generated by the body and thereby reducing power generated by the swing and (2) leaving him susceptible to good offspeed pitches, as he could be caught out on the front foot much more easily and have less time for pitch recognition before firing the swing. More advanced pitching could exploit this tendency if Gelalich does it on a consistent basis going forward. 

Here's a look at Gelalich in action during his 2012 junior season courtesy rkyosh007 on YouTube:


And, another look at Gelalich courtesy of rkyosh007 on YouTube:

Overall, Gelalich has simple, fundamentally sound mechanics. He maintains good balance and has a line-drive swing that enables him to drive the ball to all fields. His stride is minimal and unique, but he still gets into proper position to fire the swing. It's possible that his unique stride will impact his ability to hit for power, but the second phase of his stride is likely to sync up his upper and lower body to allow for sufficient power production at the professional level. The only other possible issue, which is more likely to prove problematic, is whether his arms consistently drift too far forward to accommodate an early contact point.

In addition, like Jesse Winker, Gelalich's on-base ability will give him a reasonably high floor. He has good pitch recognition, which should reduce his performance risk, while his intriguing power/speed combo gives him a potentially high ceiling.


For the Mustangs, Gelalich played in 35 games, including 34 in right field and 1 in left field. During his time at UCLA, he improved both his reads and routes. He has a solid arm that plays in rightfield, but could ultimately be better suited to left field.

Given his speed and athleticism, I wonder if giving him a look in center field would be worth the organization's time. It might be a stretch, but it would also take pressure off the development of his bat. College players aren't always slotted into the highest defensive position that they can handle on the defensive spectrum. For example, Jed Lowrie played primarily second base at Stanford, but was moved over to shortstop at the professional level. It might be worth a shot and it certainly wouldn't harm his development.

Courtesy Paul Ruhter/Billings Gazette Staff

At the very least, defensively Gelalich should be a solid-average corner outfielder with the reasonable possibility that he'll provide even greater defensive value.


Gelalich has a lot to recommend him. For a college player, he has nice tools. Overall, I like his swing mechanics and his ability to consistently hit hard line drives. His disciplined approach is very encouraging, as is the organization's decision to select disciplined hitters with back-to-back picks in the 2012 draft. The organization is in good shape at the Major League level with significant young talent holding down key spots. However, at some point reinforcements will be needed and, ideally, when they arrive they'll bring a disciplined approach right along with them. If everything breaks right and he reaches his projected ceiling, then Gelalich would be a dual threat, solid power and solid speed, with the ability to get on-base at a high rate.

Gelalich's substandard debut raises questions that he'll need to answer with an improved second act, but there are enough mitigating circumstances (tired from long season, switched to wood bats, nicked up by injuries, first taste of pro-ball, etc) to warrant the benefit of the doubt. For now, his solid blend of tools and skills lands him at #9 on the list.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #7 Jesse Winker, of

DOB: 8/17/1993
HEIGHT 6-3, WEIGHT 200, B/T: L/L

If you have followed the Reds for any appreciable amount of time, then the organization's ability to continually restock the farm system is remarkable. The organization's efforts on both the international market and via the draft have been highly successful and a major reason for the organization's MLB success, as they ensures both a steady flow of cost-effective talent for the major league roster and the availability of surplus assets for use in trade. Despite trading away three top prospects last offseason, the organization has yet to even feel their loss, instead continuing to methodically stack the farm system with impact talent.

Jesse Winker is next in line in this flow of talent. Winker is a bat-first player whose offensive upside made him one of the most sought after amateur players in the country and which could, ultimately, make him an impact hitter at the highest level of the sport.  


The Reds selected Jesse Winker with the 49th over pick in the compensation round of the 2012 draft out of Olympia High School in Florida. The Reds received the pick as compensation for the loss of free agent Ramon Hernandez. Winker joins the growing ranks of Reds players selected from the state of Florida. After landing two top 5 prospects in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft (Stephenson and Cingrani), the Reds land two 6-10 ranked prospects in the 2012 draft (Travieso and Winker). 

At Olympia High School, in his senior season, Winker hit .488 with an OBP of .649, 19 extra-base hits, including 3 homeruns, and 30 RBI in 30 games. Winker also played both ways at Olympia High School, pitching and playing 1b/OF. During his senior season, his primary defensive position was centerfield. Between the summer of 2010 and the summer of 2011, Winker improved his athleticism, transforming his projected professional profile from that of a mediocre defensive 1b/lf into a solid defensive rightfielder with a strong arm. Winker's brother, Joe, also an outfielder, was selected by the Dodgers in the 28th round of the 2011 draft, so baseball is obviously in the family genes.

While talking to the media about the selections of Winker and 57th overall pick Jeff Gelalich, senior director of amateur scouting, Chris Buckley, stated that "Although one is from high school and one is from college, they're kind of similar. They're corner outfielders, advanced hitters, and have solid tools."

For me, one of the more interesting aspects of selecting similar players with back-to-back picks is that both seem to have very good plate discipline, posting very good OBPs in their amateur careers. If both players reach their respective ceilings, then the Reds could have two valuable, disciplined hitters in the organization.

Winker's play in 2012 made him a Rawlings 1st Team All-American. In addition, Winker played on the USA National 18U team that won the gold medal at the 2011 Junior Pan American Games Tournament. A shortage of pitching pressed Winker into service and he was ultimately named the top pitcher at the Junior Pan Am Games.  

Winker has had substantial amateur experience, both national and international, and has performed well at every stop. That experience obviously served him well as he hit the ground running in his professional career in 2012.


Winker signed his first professional contract quickly, forgoing his commitment to the University of Florida and giving him time to get his feet wet in the professional ranks. The Reds sent him to the rookie Pioneer League where he logged 62 games for the Billings Mustangs. Winker's advanced approach at the plate proved to be too much for the level of competition.

In 228 ABs, he posted a .338/.443/.500/.943 slash line with a 50/40 K/BB ratio, 16/3/5 2b/3b/HR totals, and 1 stolen base in 4 attempts. He hit line drives at a strong 22% clip, which, while good, probably wasn't enough to support his .410 BABIP, so some regression would be expected.

Winker's performance was strong enough to earn him a spot on the Topps Short Season-A/Rookie All Star team and set him up nicely to likely start out at low-A Dayton in 2013.  


Winker stands with a slightly a wider than shoulder-width stance with a small pre-pitch bat waggle. As the pitch is delivered, he utilizes a one piece stride, drawing his foot back and bringing his knee up before striding forward. While the distance covered by the stride is short, the stride itself is lengthy. It operates as a timing mechanism, effectuates his weight transfer, and enables him to cock his hips to generate load in the swing.

When Winker's stride foot lands, he fires his hips, generating power in the swing. Winker's hip rotation is fast, supplying good power to the swing. When his stride foot lands, he firms up his front side, which acts as an anchor around which the force generated by his hips can rotate. He maintains good balance throughout his swing and gets good extension, finishing high with a picturesque one-handed follow-through. Winker makes consistent, hard contact and has the ability to barrel-up the pitch and drive the ball to all fields. His ability ranked him among the very best high school hitters in the 2012 draft class. Despite the strong and efficient lower body action, his initial upper body action arguably works against the generation of force by the lower body.

When his stride foot plants, Winker actually drops his back elbow and brings it forward, a move which is illustrated in photos 1 and 2 below: 

The hitting position in the 2nd photo is somewhat unorthodox, as his upper body leans forward towards the pitcher and the early extension of his hands gives him the appearance of opening up early and coming over the top. A more traditional position is demonstrated in the John Olerud photo below:

Courtesy: Unknown

Of the two, Olerud's position makes it easier to envision him staying back and letting his hips work before the upper body rotates. Winker's swing, on the other hand, involves an earlier upper body rotation, as it's more top-hand driven, likely an attempt to drive the swing with his dominant arm. Whenever I hit a golf ball or a baseball, my swing thought is always one of pulling with the lead hand. Obviously, both baseball and golf swings effectively utilize both hands, but I always get into trouble when I focus on the back hand, as it creates too much "push" in my swing. Winker's heavier top-hand action gives his swing added length in the back and the appearance of some push.

This heavy top-hand action creates a swing that potentially suffers from a measure of "bat-drag", as his back elbow gets out almost ahead of his back-hip. As you can see in the second Winker photo above, one of the consequences of bat-drag is that the front arm straightens out into an arm-bar.  

As a result of Winker's early upper-body move, the differential between the shoulder and hip rotation is greater in the Olerud photo than in the Winker photo for the simple reason that Olerud hasn't opened up his front shoulder. This differential is largely what generates power in the swing. Further, the early top-hand action, and the arm-bar it creates, forces Winker to extend his arms earlier than is ideal, which can act as a drag on the rotational force created by the body.

To date, this top-hand heavy swing hasn't been a hindrance. In fact, he excelled in his first taste of professional ball. So, the other components of his swing may have developed in such a way as to effectively offset the drag on the force created by the lower body action. And, it's important to note that a mechanical issue isn't a flaw until it demonstrably impacts a player's performance level. That hasn't happened yet with Winker, though I wouldn't be surprised if it proved problematic in the future, but for now it's just something worth watching. However, bat-drag has other possible consequences for which he may be less able to compensate.

Bat-drag adds length to the swing, which is likely to move the hitter's contact-point forward. Instead of letting the pitch travel deep, the hitter is frequently forced to make contact with the pitch farther in front of the plate. In addition, bat-drag can impact the timing of the swing, changing when the bat head begins to whip through the zone. As a result, pitchers with better velocity may be able to exploit the longer swing, as the hitter will likely struggle to reach the contact-point in time to meet the pitch. To compensate, the hitter will have to start his swing earlier, which, in return, could make him more susceptible to good offspeed pitches.

Below is a photo of the hand position that potentially creates bat-drag in Winker's swing: 

It'll be interesting to see if Winker's bat-drag causes problems against more advanced competition or if he has built a swing that effectively compensates for this issue. In short, it doesn't matter if his hands get into an unusual position early in the swing just so long as gets them into proper hitting position when needed. Years of repetition and muscle memory may have refined his swing to the point that this is a non-issue. No two hitters swing the bat the same way and potential mechanical issues may never even become detrimental to a hitter. For example, Todd Frazier has an arm-bar swing that only a mother could love, but he tamed his arm-bar to the tune of 19 home runs and a .273 batting average at the MLB level. As the sample size increases and the competition gets tougher, the same may prove true of Jesse Winker.

Here's a look at Winker's swing to see how he gets from the unusual hand-position (top photo) into good hitting position (bottom photo):

In the bottom photo, Winker is in solid hitting position, as he (1) uses a firm front side, (2) has strong hip rotation that generates enough force to drive his back foot up onto the toe, and (3) has his back elbow in fairly good position. In the second photo, the bat angle is pretty steep and the front arm is really straightened in an arm-bar position, extending the hands away from the body. This extension could reduce the ability of the hands and upper body to work in proper sync, creating inefficiency in the swing. All the movement occurring between the first and second photo is hand movement (the upper body maintaining a largely static position until the third photo), which is necessary to compensate for the earlier unorthodox hand position. Regardless of the need for this compensating movement, as long as he can consistently get into good hitting position at the point of contact, then the unusual early hand action will likely prove inconsequential. If, however, it takes him slightly longer to get from the top photo to the bottom photo because of his unusual hand-action, forcing him to move the point of contact forward, then it could prove problematic as he faces more advanced pitching.

Just for comparison sake, here's a photo the best hitter in baseball at a similar point in his swing:

Courtesy: Unknown

In comparison to the second Winker photo above, you can see more flex in Votto's lead arm, the back elbow farther off the hip, a slightly less severe bat angle, and better synchronization between the upper-body and arms.

Part of what could drive Winker's success is strong pitch recognition and an advanced approach to hitting, which when combined enable him to both effectively utilize the entire field and control the strike zone. Getting a good pitch to hit is the most important aspect of hitting and far too few hitters do it well. Winker's selectivity will increase the probability of a successful outcome to his ABs. He should also be able to consistently supplement his batting average with strong on-base percentages, increasing the chances that he'll be a well-rounded, impact hitter at the MLB level.  

If you watch Winker's swing, it's actually very fluid and easy on the eyes. It's only closer study that reveals the usual top-hand action. Still, "unusual" doesn't necessarily equate to "detrimental". And, to date, Winker has had a great deal of success at the plate, so, taken in total, his swing may prove to be effective and productive against even the most advanced competition, though I wouldn't be surprised if he struggles as a direct result of his unusual hand-action.

Here's a look at Winker courtesy Baseball America:

And, here's his draft video, courtesy

Overall, there are a great many things to like about Winker's swing and approach at the plate. Whether the early, unorthodox hand-action creates bat-drag for which he is unable to compensate remains to be seen, but the early professional results do nothing to dispel the high baseline performance level he established for himself in the amateur ranks. 


The sample size is too small to make any determinations about the quality of Winker's defense, but in some respects he reminds me of a wealthy man's Danny Dorn. I was, and am, a fan of Danny Dorn, so that comparison isn't a criticism, but the cautionary tale I learned from Dorn's career path is that a player who is average (or less) at a defensive position that resides at or near the bottom of the defensive-spectrum REALLY needs to have a special bat to carve out an MLB career. If your defensive value is neutral or negative, then you have to be a highly productive offensive player in order to create enough total value for your team.

Based on early reports, it sounds like Winker may have enough ability to be an average or better rightfielder. If true, that would slightly lessen the need for his bat to carry him to the majors. There are, however, questions about his foot speed and range, which could relegate him to leftfield down the road, reducing his overall value. On the other hand, if he reaches his offensive ceiling AND provides solid defense, then he could become a true impact player at the MLB level.

To date, Winker has done nothing but hit everywhere he's gone. His swing is fundamentally sound, and while he has an unusual component to his swing, it has worked very well for him to this point. Until it doesn't work, there's no real cause for concern. Still, it's worth watching and if he begins to struggle on a consistent basis, then it might be the root of the problem. But, there's a great deal to like about his offensive game (including a disciplined approach that should significantly raise his projected floor) and reason for optimism going forward. For now, he slots in at #7 on the list.