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May 2, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Aneury Tavarez, Danny Mars and Cole Sturgeon

Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Dates Scouted: April 7-9 vs. Reading, April 22 vs. Trenton (Doubleheader)

Over the first few weeks of the season, I’ve had a chance to see five Portland games and get an extended look at most of the position players. Here is my Scouting Scratch on Portland's outfielders.

After a strong 2016 campaign with Portland and a solid winter playing in his native Dominican Republic, outfielder Aneury Tavarez was selected by the Orioles in last December’s Rule 5 Draft. Unable to make the already crowded Orioles outfield, Tavarez was returned to the Red Sox, and somewhat surprisingly was assigned to Portland once again to start the season. Through 14 games, he has done nothing but hit, showing he is more than ready for a promotion to Triple-A, slashing .377/.473/.475 in 74 plate appearances (Tavarez was in fact promoted to Pawtucket on Monday, May 1st). Over the course of the five games I scouted, Tavarez impressed, reaching base at least twice in every game.

Physically, Tavarez doesn’t stand out, especially for a corner outfielder. He is listed at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds and has a filled out frame with minimal projection remaining. He is a solid athlete with above-average speed, but that doesn’t translate on the bases due to below-average instincts on the bases.

Tavarez has most improved over his seven years in the organization at the plate. Even back in 2015, Tavarez was a free swinger who rarely walked, but now he is showing solid pitch recognition skills and knowledge of the strike zone. In the games scouted, he was aggressive early in the count, attacking fastballs, but almost all were in the zone and good pitches to hit.

Tavarez has above-average bat speed and advanced feel for hitting. He keeps the barrel in the zone for a long time and his bat control has greatly improved over the years. Once primarily a pull hitter, Tavarez has been making hard contact to all fields. He isn’t forcing anything; if the pitch is away, he is comfortable extending and going to left field, but if it is inside he can pull his hands in and stay inside the baseball. Tavarez’s swing is primarily geared towards line drives, but he did show some game power, pulling a home run deep to right field in the season opener. Home runs won’t be a major part of his game long term given his below-average power potential, but his hit tool projects as average and he should be able to add a handful of extra base hits if given enough at-bats.

Tavarez’s bat doesn’t profile in a starting role, but would be more than adequate for a bench outfielder role. Therein lies the problem, however, as bench outfielders usually have the versatility to play all three outfield positions. Tavarez hasn’t played center field for a Red Sox affiliate or his winter league team in the Dominican since 2015 when he played only 14 out of 109 games there for Salem and Portland and another couple of winter ball contests. Interestingly, the Orioles tried him out in center field a few games during Spring Training, but the Red Sox don’t seem to have any plan to do the same. This year, he has split his time evenly between left and right field and has shown plenty of range, but a slow first step.  His arm has shown below average and would profile better in left or center field than in right. If Tavarez even showed he could be an average center fielder, he would be a much more intriguing prospect. Even with only a corner outfield profile, he is still interesting, especially if he continues to improve at the plate.
Switch-hitting outfielder Danny Mars is listed at 6-foot-0, 195 pounds, but looks smaller than that. He is very thin at present and his frame doesn’t look like it can support much added weight. Mars starts vertical and slightly open from both sides of the plate, starting with his hands low and utilizing a leg lift. From the left side, Mars’ swing is short and he slashes at the ball with quick hands and slightly above-average bat speed. From the right side, Mars’ swing is longer with a slight uppercut. He showed off his power when hitting right-handed in the first series of the year, opening up his hips and ambushing a cutter up and on the inner half, depositing the ball over the replica green monster in left field in Portland. Power isn’t a big part of his game, however, and he doesn’t project to hit for more than five or so home runs a year in his peak.

Mars has above-average speed and solid instincts. Defensively, he has a below-average arm that profiles best in center or left field. He gets good reads and showed off a quick first step and above-average range during the games scouted. Because of his lack of power, Mars doesn’t have much upside, but at worst he looks like a solid organizational player with upside for a tick more if he can get stronger and prove he can hit upper-level pitching.
Over the past few years, Red Sox amateur scouts have done a very good job identifying senior sign college players, and outfielder Cole Sturgeon is another player who fits the bill. Sturgeon, who was selected out of Louisville in the 10th round of the 2014 draft and received just a $10,000 signing bonus, has defensive versatility and has shown above-average defensive potential at all three outfield spots with an above-average arm. He has solid instincts and has shown plenty of range, with the ability to track down fly balls in the gap. At the plate, Sturgeon has minimal power potential, but puts together quality at-bats and makes a lot of contact. He starts open and utilizes a leg lift, closing down as the pitch approaches. He has a short swing and has shown an all-fields approach with a level swing path. Sturgeon doesn’t have huge upside, but could be a very solid organizational player who sticks around the high minors for a long time, providing strong defensive ability at all three outfield spots and a professional approach at the plate.

Photo credits: Aneury Tavarez, Danny Mars and Cole Sturgeon by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.