This post is syndicated from The Yankee Analysts.
With the noteworthy exception of ‘bust,’ I am unsure that there is a more dreadful label in the scouting community than ‘tweener’ – particularly when such a label is affixed to a prospect within your team’s organization. It may not quite evoke the kiss of death as we associate with a bust, yet it is almost always offered hand-in-hand with terms like ‘fourth outfielder’ or ‘utility infielder’ or ‘spot starter.’ While it is a matter of fact that a team needs players to fill such roles, it serves as a sobering reminder that the minor leagues are not brimming with potential franchise players and staff anchors.
Ramon Flores, signed for $775,000 in 2008, has been pigeonholed as a tweener. Standing at 5’10″ and generously listed at between 150 and 160 lbs., the 19-year-old Dominican lacks the range to play center field, yet his power and potential for power (or lack thereof) profiles best up the middle. As it stands, projections for double-digit home runs may be considered overly ambitious. Flores’ above-average to plus arm strength and average range will certainly allow him to be a solid-average left or right fielder, yet he does not offer the premium speed nor the awe inspiring glovework of Brett Gardner to enable him to shatter the mold.
None of this is to say that Flores is a non-prospect, or anything of that nature. Rather, what Flores lacks in flash, he makes up for in strike zone judgment, plate discipline, and contact skills. In 2010, he led the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League in OBP, and placed second in BB and BB/K as one of the youngest regulars in the league. This past season, Flores placed in the top-ten in BB and BB/K in Low-A, despite checking-in at roughly three years younger than the average South Atlantic League Regular. Only a handful of regulars younger than Flores finished the season with a higher OBP – the list includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jurickson Profar, none of whom should fall outside of the top thirty or so of most major prospect lists. It would be quite a stretch to suggest that Flores is within the same stratosphere of such prospects, to be sure, but it remains indicative of fine discipline and a discerning eye at the plate.
Flores’ contact skills and willingness to take a walk should also serve to mitigate his lack of power, and critiques of his power potential should not be taken as insinuations that pitchers can simply knock the bat out of his hands. The slight lefty utilizes the entire field, and his above-average bat speed allows him to drive the ball into the gaps, which should help him rack up extra-base hits. Aggressiveness and strong base-running instincts should translate into a surprising number of triples and stolen bases, as well.
To many, this may conjure images of Brett Gardner with twenty-pound ankle weights. For the less pessimistic observer, David DeJesus serves as an almost ideal comparison (or at least as ideal as a comp can be). The lack of over the fence power will likely leave much of Flores’ value tied into his BABIP, yet he should walk at an above-average rate while providing above-average glovework in either corner. In the best case scenario, Flores may well be an ideal two-hole bat.
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