ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE PLAYER PROFILES #5

Khalil Lee

Every week since the Fall League began I have provided scouting profiles of league players. This is Edition #5 with at least one more to come next week.

The Fall Stars Game is the AFL version of an All-Star Game. However, not all the best performers in the league are invited to play. Often the rosters are made ahead of the league beginning with players assigned by scouting departments of major league clubs. Some very good players are left off the rosters, like Juan Pablo Martinez of the Rangers who is having an outstanding fall.

You can follow me next week on Twitter as I attend the final week of the season as well as the Championship Game on Saturday, November 17 from Scottsdale, Arizona.

DAULTON VARSHO-C-ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

AGE: 22 B/T: L/R HT: 5’10” WT: 190 pounds

Varsho, the son of former major league player Gary Varsho was a 2nd round pick of the Diamondbacks in the 2017 draft out of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Varsho has several things going for him as a highly regarded catching prospect. The fact he hits left-handed sets him apart from most catchers and helps him balance a lineup.

Varsho is a good hitter. He has a measured swing that allows him to take the ball to the gap in right-center as well as pull the ball down the line. His hit tool is above average, making him an attractive option behind the plate. When he arrives with the parent club, as a .301 career minor league hitter in parts of two seasons, Varsho will be looked upon to bolster the offensive production of Diamondbacks catchers, an area of weakness in the past couple seasons. I like the way Varsho can pound high velocity pitches and take the ball where it is thrown, using the entire field on fastballs in particular.

I have seen power in his bat and we may see some increase beyond the 12 homers he hit in the California League this past season. Any home run production from Varsho would be a welcome addition to an already nice package of playing tools.

Varsho is also much faster and viable on the bases than the average big league catcher. He can be called upon to steal bases, something he has done in his career and a factor of his game I am watching in the Arizona Fall League. In 2018 for example, Varsho stole 19 bases in 22 attempts in Rookie League ball (only 3 games) and in 80 games at Class-A Advanced Visalia in the California League.

Varsho is a good defensive catcher with work to be done coordinating his footwork and with his throwing motion. His arm strength is below average. He has had a bit of difficulty throwing out runners in his career, with a 37% rate of success. He needs to work on improving the carry of his throws, if possible.

The Diamondbacks will be patient with him, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we see Varsho get a September 2019 call and then win a full-time job in 2020.

Varsho appeared in the Fall Stars Game and went 0 for 3, striking out twice.

Scouting summary: An athletic, good left-handed hitting catcher with work to be done on the mechanical aspect of catching. His speed is an asset.

Scouting grade: 50

LUCIUS FOX-SS-TAMPA BAY RAYS

AGE: 21 B/T: B/R HT: 6’1″ WT: 180 pounds

The switch-hitting Fox was signed by the San Francisco Giants as an international free agent out of the Bahamas. However, he did go to high school at American Heritage High School in Delray Beach, Florida.

When I first saw him as a raw rookie I took note of his much better than average defense at shortstop. But for some reason, probably because they had Brandon Crawford waiting in the wings, the Giants traded Fox to the Tampa club along with third baseman Matt Duffy and pitcher Michael Santos for pitcher Matt Moore.

Fox has an outstanding trio combination of excellent defense, a very strong and accurate arm and tremendous speed as tools that can carry him to the major league roster. He is showing all of those tools in the Fall League.

It is his quickness and range at shortstop that set him apart. He gets to balls without wasted motion or without losing any time. That quick first step allows him to plant his feet and fire off a terrific throw with excellent carry on a consistent basis. Even in a shift situation, Fox gets to balls that could normally be base hits.

On the offensive side of the ball, Fox can be counted upon to control his bat well as he usually finds the barrel. He can be a dangerous gap hitter capable of turning a sure double to a triple with his good speed and well above average base running technique. I believe he is a candidate to steal bases on a club that lets him run.

In 2018 Fox played for Class-A Advanced Charlotte (89 games) and Double-A Montgomery. He hit a combined .268 with 3 home runs, 20 doubles and 2 triples. He struck out only 99 times in 524 plate appearances, an amazing accomplishment in this day of uppercut swings and high strikeout rates. He walked 50 times, which is a very good sign. Fox stole 29 bases in 38 attempts.

Fox could be ready for a promotion this coming season. However, with the combination of Willie Adames and Joey Wendle as the shortstop/second base combination in Tampa, perhaps Fox would have to assume a utility role or even be part of a trade. Stay tuned.

Fox appeared in the Fall Stars game and went 0 for 2 with a walk.

Scouting summary: An excellent defensive shortstop with range and a strong arm. Hit tool is coming along with sneaky power and plenty of foot speed to make things happen.

Scouting grade: 50

LUIS ROBERT-OUTFIELDER-CHICAGO WHITE SOX

AGE: 21 B/T: R/R HT: 6′”3 WT: 185 pounds

Robert was an international free agent signed by the White Sox out of Cuba. He made his first appearance stateside in 2018 when he played for the White Sox Summer Rookie team in Arizona, their Class-A team in Kannapolis and their Class-A Advanced club in Winston-Salem. He hit .269 combined for those three teams in 208 plate appearances. He had zero home runs and 17 RBIs. He struck out 52 times and walked 12 times.

Robert’s progress has been slowed due to thumb injuries that have occurred twice to the same thumb. He appears to be healthy now playing for Glendale in the Fall League.

When healthy, Robert looks like a special athlete. Big, strong and very fast on the bases and in the outfield, Robert can become a special player with time and patience. As much as White Sox fans want to see Robert patrolling in the outfield, he needs lots of repetition and development to get the most out of several high quality tools.

To date I have seen an average hit tool with a high need for more repetition and experience against high quality pitching. But eventually, I think he will be able to hold his own at the plate. He is big and strong enough to hit the ball out of any park, but Robert will have to learn how to hit breaking balls and off-speed pitches to succeed.

Defensively, Robert closes quickly on balls hit in the area, using his great speed to track the ball and cover ground. He has a solid arm with good carry from the outfield. I project him as a left fielder for the White Sox in an outfield that also includes Alexander Basabe in center and Eloy Jimenez in right. That would be a very formidable group. But make no mistake, any of those three can play anywhere in the outfield, so I may have it all wrong.

While his offense is a work in progress and his defense plays well, it is his speed that can win games. He can steal bases and take an extra base, putting pressure on the pitcher. I have him as a grade 65 runner, well above the major league average.

Robert has many more minor league at-bats to look forward to in his immediate future. Due to the fact he is still a bit “raw” as a player that is still adjusting from his Cuban homeland, I feel it would be optimistic to see Robert at the big league level any time prior to late 2020.

At the present time I see a player who is overmatched against good pitching and struggling to hit high speed fastballs and crisp breaking balls.

Robert appeared in the Fall Stars Game and went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

Scouting summary: A very athletic, speedy outfielder with lots of work needed to hone his hit tool. A solid defensive outfielder with a strong arm and good defensive instincts.

Scouting grade: 55

NATE PEARSON-PITCHER-TORONTO BLUE JAYS

AGE: 22 B/T: R/R HT: 6’6″ WT: 245 pounds

Pearson is a very big, very strong right-handed flame throwing pitcher selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the 2017. He had attended Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in Strong Hill, Florida. He then went to Central Florida Community College in Ocala Florida and Florida International University.

I have seen four of Pearson’s Fall League starts to date, including the Fall Stars Game when he pitched for the West Division team. He went one inning in the game, yielding a home run to the Mets Peter Alonso. In that inning, Pearson threw pitches that were clocked at 100, 102 and 103 miles per hour. While that was impressive, it appeared to me that those fastballs were fairly straight and easy to hit.

The best appearance I saw was early this week (November 7) when Pearson went four hitless innings. He toned down the velocity and pitched as opposed to being just a thrower. He was outstanding sitting in the high 90’s. Pearson struck out five in the game without yielding a walk.

Basically, everything works off the fastball. He also throws a slider, a curveball and a changeup. His secondary pitches are more meaningful when he reduces his velocity to 97 and throws his slider at 91 and his curve at 78. Those are three dynamic pitches. Basically, he uses his fastball/slider combination in a 75/20% mix to keep the hitter off balance and change the eye level. The curveball is around to show to hitters, but he doesn’t use it often. He has flashed a changeup, and I’d like to see him use that pitch more often.

Pearson has innings to make up this fall. A back injury slowed his debut. Then a come-backer broke his right forearm in his first start in the minor leagues this past season. He was in a cast for five weeks. He also had an oblique injury that cost him time. Finally, in August this year Pearson took the mound again for Dunedin in the Florida State League.

There is no question Pearson has the high intensity and high velocity power pitches to succeed. But in my observations, he needs a great deal more time in development to work on his command and control and his maturity on the mound. It seems he wants to toy with his arm strength and see how fast he can heave the ball to the plate. But this week, that may have changed.

Pearson has tremendous upside and is the Blue Jays highest rated pitching prospect. It really is all about being able to throw that blazing fastball for strikes and confusing the hitter and altering the hitter’s balance with a fine repertoire of secondary and off-speed pitches.

If Pearson can repeat a good delivery and use his height at its true advantage, he can become a solid rotation starter working his way from the middle of the rotation to the top of the rotation as time goes by.

Scouting summary: A power pitcher still learning to command and control his repertoire. Potential to be dominant if he repeats his delivery and takes the mound with the maturity of a pitcher rather than a thrower.

Scouting grade: 55

WILL CRAIG-FIRST BASEMAN-PITTSBURGH PIRATES

AGE: 23 B/T: R/R: HT: 6’3″  WT: 212 pounds

Turning 24 on November 16, Will Craig was chosen by the Pirates in the 1st round of the 2016
draft out of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was the 22nd player taken in the draft.

Craig has finished parts of three minor league seasons in the Pirates organization. He has a combined .263 minor league batting average, but he hit only .248 this past season at Double-A Altoona. He had 20 homers and drove in 102 runs. He struck out 128 times in 549 plate appearances which is commendable for a power hitter. He also stole six bases in nine attempts, which isn’t bad for a big man the size of Craig.

I have seen Craig’s power on display this fall. There is little question he can take the ball out of any park with strong wrists and forearms. As I write this he had hit four home runs in the Fall League, one behind the league leaders.

Craig has to step it up in the power department to carve out the type of career the Pirates expected when they drafted him. He had won the Atlantic Coast Conference Triple-Crown as a junior at Wake Forest prior to his selection in the draft. The Pirates now look for him to pound the ball and earn his 1st round status. In fairness, he may be a bit of a late bloomer, but his 2018 season has given the Pirates promise.

Relatively solid contact for a power hitter and making the most of every at-bat will continue to be important for Craig. He has shown plate discipline and patience this fall with a strikeout rate that is less than one might expect for his size and overall profile.

Craig is rather limited on defense due to a lack of quickness and a lack of range. It isn’t likely he could play either third base or any outfield position, so first base it will have to be unless he is traded to an American League club where he can serve as a DH.

I haven’t seen much bat speed or much that excites me about his game. Craig did not make the Fall Stars Game roster.

Scouting summary: Dependent upon emergence of additional power to progress beyond being a journeyman player. Few tools other than promising power from the right side. Limited to first base defensively.

Scouting grade: 50

KHALIL LEE-OUTFIELDER-KANSAS CITY ROYALS

AGE: 20 B/T: L/L HT: 5’10” WT: 170 pounds

Khalil Lee was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft out of Flint High School in Oakton, Virginia.

Lee brings a nice combination of tools to his game, but his best skill is a very strong and accurate outfield throwing arm with great carry and accuracy. I have seen that arm strength on display many times in the Fall League.

However, while a good defensive outfielder with a strong arm is important, it is also important to hit for average and/or hit for power on a major league club. So far this fall, Lee had done neither. As I write this, he has a batting average of .172 with only one home run and nine RBI.

As I have watched him this fall, Lee has impressed me far more with his defense and throwing arm than with his hitting and power.

In parts of three minor league seasons in the Royals development program, Lee has a combined .252 batting average with only 29 home runs. But his average is better than his showing so far in Arizona. Last season he hit a combined .263 while playing for Class-A Advanced Wilmington (.270) and at Double-A Northwest Arkansas where he hit only .245. It is the .245 and the Fall League .172 that are concerning as those are his most recent two stops. Lee stole 16 bases in 21 attempts this past season.

When he played in the South Atlantic League for Class-A Lexington in 2017, Lee hit 17 home runs, second in the league. He also drove in 61 runs and stole 20 bases. The regression as he has progressed in classifications has to be considered troubling.

A good overall athlete, it remains to be seen if the projections by scouts regarding his combination of power and speed are real, or is he overmatched?

Because he’s athletic and fast, Lee will be given time to develop into a complete player. He certainly projects to have the ability to convert his ability to true results. Time and development will tell. For me, the basics are in place. Time, experience and repetition against the good competition he is seeing this fall will help.

Lee made the Fall Stars roster based upon his reputation as a solid prospect. He walked and scored in the game.

Scouting profile: An athletic outfielder who is underachieving in recent opportunities. An excellent outfielder with a strong arm, but he has to prove he can hit quality pitching to advance his career.

Scouting grade: 50

EXTRA INNINGS

The Hot Stove is off and running with plenty of rumors and a big trade already. The Mariners will get speedy center fielder Mallex Smith from the Rays in exchange for catcher Mike Zunino in a five-player trade. Outfielder Guillermo Heredia and lefty Michael Plassmeyer also go to Tampa Bay with Zunino. Smith and outfielder Jake Fraley come to the Mariners. I think this is a very fair deal, as Zunino has some real pop in his bat. But I think the Mariners are getting a guy with a good on-base percentage and game-changing speed in Smith. This move really does allow Dee Gordon to return to second base with Robbie Cano serving as a DH, second baseman, first baseman and some believe third baseman.

Clayton Kershaw was able to extract another year from the Dodgers when he could have walked away as a free agent. He now has a three-year contract worth $93MM. This deal doesn’t have an “out” clause, but it does include incentives.

The rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants may have grown even deeper with the departure from Los Angeles of Farhan Zaidi. He now becomes the President of Baseball Operations for the Giants. Locked in to a gazillion dollars of guaranteed contracts, where will Zaidi look to change the once dynamic franchise? He has already stated it will take time to get back to where they were. Lots of time.

In a move I totally don’t understand, the Mets have hired agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager. I have no idea what is in his background that would lead the Mets in that direction. But good luck, Mr. Van Wagenen. Maybe now the team will be competitive and make the tough decisions they avoided in the past.

The Indians are stuck. The ownership will spend only X amount of money. With X amount of money, they don’t play in the free agent market. They don’t trade for expensive players. They try to find inexpensive (cheap) players who may have had a bad year or are returning from an injury and hope they strike lightning in a bottle. They need corner outfielders. They need relief pitchers. What do they have to trade? Starting pitching. They will deal from their strength. I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m not sure they trade Kluber or Carrasco. I’m more sure they’ll be content to win the American League Central and call it a year, bowing out in the first round of the playoffs and patting themselves on the backs as Division Champs.

Where does Greg Bird end up? I have no idea, but I don’t think it will be as the regular first baseman of the New York Yankees.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff.

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff