Since I am spending the offseason in Sydney, Australia, I will be scouting and posting reports on the ABL this offseason. This is the first post in this "Scouting the ABL" series.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Australian Baseball League is a six team league in Australia with teams in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Canberra. Backed by Major League Baseball, the league, now in its fifth season, serves as both an opportunity for prospects to get more game repetitions and for native Australian players to showcase their talent in the only professional baseball league in the country.
ABL rosters, like many winter league rosters, are unique in that they consist of players in varying stages of their careers. Though there are exceptions, most ABL players fall into one of three categories:
1: Players signed to contracts with affiliated teams (both native Australians and imports)
2: Recently released players looking to play their way back into affiliated baseball
3: Top local players that have either never signed or have signed and been released
The roster composition can vary greatly from team to team, and like all minor league teams, the best teams aren’t always the ones with the most interesting prospects. However, each team has at least a few players worth watching, especially for those who have player deals with Major League teams.
After winning three of the first four Claxton Shields, Perth entered the 2014-2015 ABL campaign as the favorite to claim another crown. Things haven’t quite gone as planned for the Western Australia club, as they currently sit in fifth at 7-9, but some of the talent that has made them the class of the ABL is still present on the active roster.
Perth features only a few players signed to affiliated contracts on the active roster, but have many notable omissions. For example, none of Tigers’ prospect Warwick Saupold, Pirates prospect Sam Kennelly, Reds’ signee Jake Turnbull, or Astros’ prospect Jake Bowey played in this series. All four are currently protected by the club, so it is possible that they may eventually suit up for the Heat this season, but either way I did not get to see them in Sydney. As the Heat continue their campaign, the aforementioned names will be worth watching.
As for the active roster itself, Perth features a strong collection of veteran ABL talent, including many of the players that have helped them to their success over the past four years. This is good from a winning perspective, but from a prospect perspective, as rosters of the same minor league veterans are not the most interesting in the league. Nevertheless, Perth’s collection of high end prospect talent, namely Joey Wong, Brian Pointer, and Jorge Marban, is among the most interesting in the league.
This collection of scouting reports, like all I will post this Australian summer, will focus on players in affiliated baseball or with the potential to join a team.
That said, let’s get to the reports. If I missed anything or if you would like to know more about the structure of the league, feel free to ask in the comments or refer to my previous article on the league.
Jorge Marban, RP
Status: Signed with Boston
Recently signed by Boston scout and Perth Manager Steve Fish to a deal with the Red Sox, Marban has the tools to succeed in a late-inning relief role. Serving as the closer for the Heat, the 6'1" fireballer features a 92-96 MPH fastball with life, a quality breaking ball, and dominant splitter. He lacks good command of his heater and often works up in the zone, but the pitch has some hop and with improved command, could play to plus. The breaking ball has two plane break and is probably classified as a slurve, but don’t let that label fool you into thinking that it is a below average pitch. Marban has the ability to throw it for strikes early in the count or bury it late, effectively keeping hitters off of the fastball. His out pitch is his splitter, which is thrown with plus arm speed and truly drops off the table. Marban's splitter is a legitimate swing and miss pitch that could strike out Major League hitters right now.
The Bottom Line: Marban has the arm and the stuff to carve out a prominent role in a Major League bullpen. His command currently holds him back and was likely the reason why he was still available until recently. However, if the Sox can help him improve his command, Marban could prove to be a very wise investment.
Joey Wong, 2B/SS
Status: Colorado (AA)
The shortstop and leadoff hitter for Perth, Wong is a steady middle infielder whose game is built on defense and on-base skills. He may not have the range to stick at short full time, but Wong has good hands, terrific awareness, and at least an average arm. At the plate, his flat swing from the left side is geared towards line drives, which he can spray to all fields. His plate discipline also stood out, and is rather necessary for a hitter who lacks the physicality, swing plane and batspeed to be a consistent source of power (he did hit one out in this series, however).
The Bottom Line: Wong is a bit advanced for the competition, but his production has matched the heightened expectations. As a player with good contact skills who controls the strike zone and plays above average defense, Wong could carve out a career as a second division second baseman or a steady utility infielder.
Brian Pointer, OF
Status: Philadelphia (A+)
A left-handed hitter with a solid present build, Pointer has an open stance with his hands slightly away from his body. There is minimal noise in his clean swing, which is smooth but features a bit of length. His pitch recognition and approach were both quality, and though he picked his spots to sell out for power, Pointer’s swing is geared more towards a gap-to-gap approach. With his selective aggression, he could reach home run totals in the low teens, but his lack of much physical projection and lack of loud power tools may ultimately cap his output power there. Defensively, Pointer made the plays he was supposed to make, but nothing more. He will likely find a home as a roughly average defender in a corner outfield spot.
The Bottom Line: Pointer’s profile is far from exciting, but he has few weaknesses in his game. With a mature approach, on-base skills, a bit of power, and capable defense, Pointer could be a useful complimentary piece in the David Murphy mold.
Tim Smith, DH
A burly, bearded slugger from the left side, Smith looks the part of a bat-first player. Born in Canada, he was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in the seventh round in 2007 out of Arizona State University. Smith hit .296/.366/.429 in parts of eight minor league seasons, but never received a call to the majors despite hitting .303/.366/.449 in 255 Double-A games.
He has some length to his swing, but when he makes solid contact, the ball jumps off of his bat. He will get fooled at times, but he also shows good bat to ball ability; a result of his balanced stance and lack of a desire to sell out for power. Surprisingly athletic for his size, Smith was the full-time DH for this series but appears athletic enough to man first base or in the outfield.
The Bottom Line: He is much older than most traditional prospects and not currently in affiliated baseball, but there is an interesting set of tools here. For a minor league free agent worth taking a flier on, teams could do much worse than Smith.
Allan de San Miguel, C
Largely a known commodity at this stage in his career, the minor league veteran is not yet washed up. He has missed his best chance at the Major Leagues and doesn’t have impact tools, but de San Miguel earns high praise for his leadership and clubhouse presence. The right-handed hitter has a balanced stance and clean swing, and demonstrates knowledge of the strike zone and takes quality at bats. Defensively, he handles a pitching staff well and does nothing to hurt the team, which is to say that he is steady but unspectacular.
The Bottom Line: de San Miguel isn’t a prospect anymore, but he can provide value to a minor league club with his steady play, veteran presence and leadership skills.
Tim Kennelly, 3B
One of four baseball brothers (and one of two to suit up for Perth in this series), Kennelly ranks highest in terms to present talent. His star has largely faded and it seems doubtful that he will get another shot, but he is clearly one of the better hitters in this league. Armed with a short, quick, mechanically sound swing from the right side, Kennelly succeeds at the plate despite not possessing elite bat to ball or plate discipline. He is a sum-of-the-parts hitter without much projection remaining, but he does generate decent power from his slightly above average batspeed. The rest of his game, namely his defense, arm, and speed, is good, not great, and not projectable.
The Bottom Line: Kennelly is a present talent who is extremely useful on an ABL roster, but without much projection or upper-echelon tools, may be relegated to continued dominance down under.
Taishi Nakagawa won’t be suiting up in affiliated baseball for quite a while, as he is currently playing in the NPB, but he showed some pop. His hit tool lags behind and he is likely limited to first base or left field, but he could be worth watching if he improves his pitch recognition over the next few seasons.
Ben Shorto is listed as an outfielder but instead pitched game four, no-hitting the Blue Sox through five innings. The righthander lacks premium stuff, but kept the Sox off balance with plus command of a below average arsenal.
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Dan Weigel is an Author of Minor League Ball and a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on twitter at @DanWiggles38 or around Blacktown International Sports Park during Sydney's next home series.