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June 2, 2012 at 11:25 AM

Scouting Scratch: Greenville first impressions

-Blake Swihart is presently on the rough side with his pitch recognition. After seeing him in spring training this year, I expected to see this during my next follow-up look. Swihart has trouble distinguishing secondary offerings quickly, and also can get caught in-between pitches due to guessing in counts. His hips tend to open early, which pulls his head off the ball and causes his bat to yank over the top of offerings. Swihart went down swinging against two sliders in the dirt where he was fooled pretty badly. He was also caught looking on a backdoor slider, with his body pulling out of the box towards first base. Had he offered at the pitch, he had little chance of making contact. It is going to take some time for Swihart to build his level of experience to pick up breaking balls early out of opposing pitchers' hands. He did flash his smooth, fluid left-handed stroke against fastballs. Swihart hung tough during his fourth plate appearance before driving a heater out and over the plate for a home run out to right field. He used his hands nicely to drive the head of the bat through the hitting zone and extended well to create loft after squaring the ball up. He also turned on an inside fastball in his last plate appearance to hit a hard grounder into right field for a base hit. It will take some time for Swihart to come up to speed with secondary offerings, but the hit tool is there to produce a lot of consistent solid contact as his level of experience builds.

-Garin Cecchini is considerably smoother in the field. His feet are moving much better after often looking stuck in the mud defensively last season with Lowell. Cecchini is also reading the ball off the bat better, which has enhanced his level of comfort with the position. He is relaxed handling chances and showing more trust in his glove currently. His defense has made rapid progress from where he was last season. Cecchini has the look of a player who can round into a solid-average-to-better defender at the hot corner. Offensively, I liked the way he controlled the strike zone in this look, but he tended to over-extend with his swing a bit. This caused him to get jammed a couple of times against fastballs middle-in and fail to pull his hands in enough to stay inside of the ball to get good wood on these offerings. When Cecchini was more fluid with his swing in his second plate appearance, he was able to get out in front of a fastball down-and-in to drive a hard double to right field. The stroke and hit tool are there for him, but there is some work for him to stay clean with his swing when tasked with facing more advanced competition.

-Although he is still very slight of build, Jose Vinicio generates good batspeed left-handed. But the bat does drag on occasion, especially when he is pulling his hips out early. Vinicio opened up way too early against a fastball moving downward in the strike zone in his first plate appearance, but was able to serve the ball off to left for a soft liner over the shortstop’s head. He used his hands to control the head of the bat to make enough contact and get enough wood on it. Vinicio would have had trouble against a fastball with better velocity though, due to his lack of strength. It will be interesting to see how much he physically develops over the next couple of years. The hitting tools are there to produce contact, but things can get tough for him in higher levels if he does not progress physically. Vinicio shows a knack for getting the bat on fastballs and turned on two of them to produce harder contact in hitting two doubles he legged out with his plus speed. I see him being able to develop into a high contact hitter as he physically matures into his early twenties.

-Keury De La Cruz’s physical development has enhanced his batspeed. He unleashes his swing much more quickly when attacking offerings and gets more torque with his hips than he did last season with Lowell. De La Cruz looks very confident letting loose with his swing in the batter’s box. There is a bit too much upward path through the hitting zone, which limits the zones he makes good contact in and causes him to produce too much topspin. This presently gives me some hesitation on how much he can hit in higher levels against pitchers with better fastball command. De La Cruz rolled over two fastballs, pounding the ball into the ground to second base in his final two plate appearances. He hooked heaters middle-to-away in both instances against these better spotted offerings. De La Cruz did get a good piece of a fastball in the middle of the plate when picking up a hard base hit to centerfield early in the game. His progress honing his pitch selection and continuing to learn what he can handle as a hitter is going to be the focus in follow-up scouting looks.

-Henry Ramos looks more comfortable at the plate, and has a better understanding of what is coming at him. In the past, Ramos has often been indecisive in the box and looked jumpy with his feet. During this look, he stayed more closed with his hips and kept his weight back better with his stride. Ramos has strong hands that allow him to unleash a powerful swing. He presently over-extends with his arms, though. This causes him to tie himself up against inside fastballs to either get jammed or be unable to get the bat on them. Ramos went down swinging on two inside heaters where his swing was very long and on the wild side. Now that he has begun to gain a level of comfort and come up to speed against the level of competition, his next steps in developing as a hitter lie with improving how he stays inside of the ball with his hands. Strides here will allow him to unlock more of his plus raw power and make more consistent contact.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen