October 21, 2015 at 7:30 AM
Recently, SoxProspects Director of Scouting Ian Cundall and Assistant Director of Scouting Chaz Fiorino traveled to the Fall Instructional League to report on the goings-on in Fort Myers. This is the fifth of six reports from the trip.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There was not much to see at Instructs when it came to hitters. Through a combination of injuries (Yoan Moncada did not play after being hit on the hand by a pitch the previous week), presumed rest (Andrew Benintendi) and the players only participating in the strength and conditioning camp (Rafael Devers, Javier Guerra, among others), there were not many high-upside bats left.
One of the hitters who received the most playing time and was one of the more impressive bats was first baseman Josh Ockimey. A 2014 fifth-round pick out of high school in Philadelphia, Ockimey had an up-and-down season with Lowell in which he showed off intriguing power potential but struggled with swing-and-miss, especially against off-speed pitches. Ockimey has a big body, listed at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, and has limited physical projection. Defensively, he is limited to first base only, which puts a lot of pressure on his bat to develop.
At the plate, Ockimey hits from the left side with a unique setup, crouching down with his hands away from his body and bat at an angle. He utilizes a toe tap and whips the bat through the hitting zone. During the four games scouted at instructs, Ockimey hit two home runs, both on fastballs from righties located middle-in. He did a good job getting his barrel out early, opening up with his hips and clearing the pitches out. One of the home runs was especially impressive, carrying into the bullpen in right-center field, just to the right of the triangle at JetBlue Park. Ockimey has a tendency to cheat on fastballs like those to get the bat out in front. Even when he does not cheat on fastballs, he is very pull-heavy, looking primarily to right field, and as a result he will roll over pitches away weakly to the right side.
While Ockimey does have power potential, there are serious questions associated with his hit tool. Ockimey has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, finishing third in the New York-Penn League in strikeouts. Ockimey’s pitch recognition and approach are works in progress, combining with the aforementioned tendency to get his barrel out early to make him susceptible to secondary pitches. Development of his hit tool will be key, as it will determine whether or not he can tap into his power. As a first base-only prospect and below-average runner, Ockimey will have to hit and hit for power at every level going up the ladder.
A 2015 15th-round pick, first baseman Jerry Downs had a solid debut season in the Gulf Coast League. Though not the highest-profile prospect, Downs flashed intriguing power potential at Instructs. He has a big frame, listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, with a large, sturdy lower half. There is not any projection left in his frame, though he is strong. Downs starts with an open stance and utilizes a slight leg lift. He has a long swing and a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but he showed off his strength and power on one occasion in particular, getting jammed on an inside fastball from a left-hander. He did a nice job hanging in, pulling his hands in, and with an inside-out swing, driving the ball off the Green Monster in deep left-center field. Downs has a first base-only profile, but the power is intriguing, and though he does not have a huge ceiling, he could hang around because of that tool.
In contrast to the previous two prospects, Jeremy Rivera’s potential value comes in the field. Rivera is very small, listed at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, with a skinny, athletic frame. He has some projection, with room to add strength without losing athleticism. In Lowell, Rivera showed off impressive defensive tools, playing a very solid, consistent shortstop. He carried that over to Instructs, making all the easy plays and making difficult plays with relative ease. Rivera has solid fundamentals and very good instincts, and he is sure-handed with solid body control, showing little wasted movement. He has soft, quick hands and is comfortable both charging the ball and ranging to both sides. He has a plus arm able to make all the throws, and is accurate throwing on the run, as his quick transfer allows him time to sort his feet out before throwing even when he has little time.
A switch-hitter, Rivera utilizes the same set-up from both sides of the plate. He has a slightly open stance and a short, compact, contact-oriented swing. He has solid feel for hit with an all-fields approach and has shown the willingness to shorten up with two strikes. His pitch recognition skills are solid and he is an above-average runner. Rivera lacks strength and has almost no present power or power potential—of his 55 hits this year, only five went for extra bases. Even as he physically matures, power does not project to be a part of his game.
Rivera’s future value rests on his defense. There is always a place in a minor league system for a player who like him who can play a plus shortstop (and likely second and third base if need be). Whether he can develop into a big league utility player depends on how his hit tool develops, but with the low bar at shortstop, he has a chance to make it even if he only is a .230 hitter with no power.
Jhon Nunez has a potentially unique skill set, though he is very raw at present and will take a lot of developmental time. Nunez is very small for catcher, listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, but he is very athletic for the position. The athleticism shows behind the plate, as he is quick moving laterally and getting down to block balls in the dirt. He does a good job using his body to cushion balls in the dirt and keep them close to him, and he has shown an average arm with pop times around 2.0 seconds. At the plate, Nunez is raw at present with limited bat speed due to his lack of strength. He starts with an open stance and has a smooth, level swing. He made some solid contact in games scouted at Instructs, including recognizing a changeup early, staying back and lining it hard into the gap in right-center field. Nunez has little-to-no power potential, but he is an above-average runner and has shown the ability to steal a base on occasion, swiping five in 35 games this summer. Nunez is a lottery ticket with a lot of physical development required, but he is the type of athlete you do not usually see at catcher.
Photo credit: Josh Ockimey and Jeremy Rivera by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.