2012 Spring Training Notes: Dore, Tate, Domoromo, HedgesPosted by in Player Update | Spring Training
This is the first installment of our 2012 Spring Training Notebook, which chronicles time spent on the backfields in Arizona watching Padres prospects. Check back for more notes and observations on top players and batting practice, game and bullpen videos still to come.
Jose Dore – Dore has always been a bit of a personal favorite of mine. Great athletes with some idea of how to play baseball and great makeup don’t come along too often and the Padres have been encouraged with his progress – as slow as it has been – since he joined the organization as a 2010 draftee.
Dore’s swing is much cleaner and more organized than when he first joined the Padres. He keeps his hands high with a quiet load that leads to a nice, balanced swing that allows Dore to square up balls and make the type of consistently hard contact his game had been missing.
The final piece in completing his swing overhaul will be to better incorporate his lower half. At the moment, Dore’s swing is based on smooth actions with his arms meaning that his legs are just there to keep him balanced. Once he learns to use his legs as a source of power Dore’s swing will begin to benefit from better leverage, which means more extra base hits and overall consistency.
He has a great history of patience and decent contact rates so there are definite reasons to feel positive about Dore in 2012. He popped a 400-foot home run to right center during batting practice when I saw him and consistently was spraying line drives to mostly right and center field.
Defensively, Dore has the tools to play in either corner and didn’t embarrass himself at first base when the Padres moved him around to accommodate more limited players on the backfields.
A return trip to Fort Wayne is likely in the cards for Dore in 2012, and at just 20 years old there’s still a lot to be excited about.
Donavan Tate – It’s not enough to just say that Tate stands out physically when standing next to the other early-20s players on the field. He is an absolute physical monster whose elite athleticism and raw tools give him the highest overall ceiling in the system.
This spring Tate has looked much more confident and aggressive at the plate, meaning his physical tools may finally be turning into baseball skills. Still, there is little if any consistency to his offensive game.
During batting practice sessions you’ll see swings where Tate features a quiet load that leads beautifully into him planting his leg and turning on balls with his plus bat speed. Unfortunately that represents about 20% of his batting practice swings with the other 80% looking more like an über athlete that just picked up a bat last weekend. It’s a harsh observation, but an absolute reality.
There are enough of the well-balanced swings where he’ll pepper the gaps or crush a ball over 400-plus feet to left center to give you a lot to be excited about in 2012. Although the raw power is very real, Tate looks to be a year or so away from showing it on any sort of regular basis in game situations. In his most interesting at bat while I was in Arizona, Tate got a chance to step in against a rehabbing Brandon League. Tate’s approach was impressive, going after anything he saw that was hard and hittable, but he was unable to figure out League’s timing and couldn’t square up the ball.
Defensively, Tate played all three outfield positions getting good reads on balls and showing off his plus arm strength. He’ll likely play center field this season in Fort Wayne, but with Cameron Maybin firmly planted in San Diego it’ll be interesting to see if Tate will be able to hit enough to play full time in right.
Luis Domoromo – Domoromo may have had the most impressive batting practice sessions I saw while in Arizona. His approach at the plate is quite good for his age and overall athleticism is evident in his swing.
Domoromo was consistently lacing balls to the left field fence (as a left-handed hitter) and showed why he could be a huge power guy in the California League this season. One thing to keep an eye on this year will be Domoromo’s energy level late in the season. Last season he tired down the stretch and lost a lot of bat speed.
He wasn’t playing in the field in the games that I saw, but there’s no reason to think his plus arm and average speed have deteriorated.
Austin Hedges – Let’s get the obvious part out of the way: Hedges’ defense is beautiful. I hadn’t seen Hedges in person, and – needless to say – he didn’t disappoint.
The guy is a absolute statue when set up for a pitch. After flashing the pitch call to his batterymate Hedges will slide into position behind the plate, extend out his glove to show a crystal-clear target and then remain completely still until the balls pops into his glove. As recent studies have shown, catcher framing is a huge part of the position that we – the public – are just starting to be able to measure.
It gets better.
When a runner does decide to test Hedges’ arm the scene just becomes more of a spectacle for everyone in attendance. The 19-year-old backstop will consistently register pop times – the seconds measured between the ball hitting his glove and it landing safely with the either the shortstop or second baseman on a steal attempt – in the 1.75-1.90 range. To put that in perspective, an average major league catcher needs to at least be able to register a 2.2-2.25 pop time to remain a viable defensive option.
One area where Hedges will need to improve is blocking balls in the dirt. There are always going to be balls that are legitimate wild pitches by no fault of the catcher, but Hedges does have room for improvement in this area. His instincts when leaving the crouch position are top notch, so it should just be a matter of experience, which isn’t a shocking conclusion for a teenage catcher who is just about to begin his first full season as a professional.
Since I’ve been asked for this kind of comparison before, I’d say that right now Hedges is probably a better technical defender than about a third of major league catchers. Give him two to three seasons in the minors and the only thing in the way of a major league career for Hedges will be his bat.
Speaking of his bat, there are a lot of things to be encouraged about. Hedges’ bat speed holds up well to premium velocity and his swing is technically sound enough that I wouldn’t be shocked to see him succeed right away in the Midwest League.
Hedges’ stance is upright, yet athletic with his hands held high and a front-foot trigger that when engaged widens his feet up a bit allowing him to drop down into more of an aggressive, line drive bat plane.
Hedges has great speed for a catcher, consistently clocking times to first in the sub-4.3 range. Ideally his lower half will fill out a bit – giving him what scouts affectionately call “catcher’s ass” – which would help improve his durability behind the plate and give his legs more strength to work more power into what is currently a gap-to-gap singles approach.
The Padres’ coaching staff’s affinity for Hedges is obvious. He’s got a great attitude towards the game and everyone I heard from said he has taken well to instruction and should be an organizational leader from Day 1.