7/24/23 : Below the Radar
Ranger Suarez spent three years of his early career as a teenager in the Venezuelan Summer League. When he arrived stateside to begin his climb up the ladder he spent his first year in “short season” play. He was 21 years old in 2017 when he pitched at the single A level yet made his major league debut in 2018 (also pitched that summer for AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley) and became a fixture in the big leagues the following year. I don’t recall any of the major prospect rankings listing him early on. Yet for those of us who watched daily we could see he possessed the no fear, love to play approach and the ability to both spin the ball, locate it and add/subtract velo on demand, those were indications he could get there yet certainly not definitive ones. Just saying that projecting whether a player will ascend to the highest level is not a clear vision but neither is taking the pessimistic approach in stating that they can’t. It’s the spark that ignites the engine that each player must find to get to the show, whether they are considered to have top notch talent coming into pro ball or have to push their skill sets beyond the perceived limitations it’s the drive and passion that fuels the initiative.
Many players have to fight a little harder than others to garner playing time and recognition, they fly under the radar until the numbers start to pop. The player development process has progressed significantly over the years, current internal performance measurements are robust and development plans are individualized to account for all aspects of growth. Yet it’s still the stat lines that most external to the process note, perhaps simply because that’s what is accessible. From my perspective I’m fortunate to often get a first glance at players on the backfields or via video feeds from the Dominican Academy and I try to make mental notes of their initial approach, it’s interesting to see how that progresses. Here are three young men who’ve pushed their way into more of the public spotlight and my take on their performances to date.
1B/3B Felix Reyes - 22 years old - Birthdate : 3/26/01 - signed as an international free agent - 2/22/20 - Bani, Dominican Republic. Felix is a right handed hitter with enormous strength and power, when he connects the ball goes a very long way. We’ve seen him play now three seasons after he first arrived at Carpenter Complex in 2021. This year with the Threshers he’s posted his best numbers to date - .287/.339/.470 slash line with seven doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 44 RBIs in 45 games (185 plate appearances). He’s a big fella at 6’4” and before this spring he played defensively at either first base or in an outfield corner. Foot speed is a challenge however in extended spring training this year we saw him make multiple athletic plays at shortstop. It would be a mistake to label him as a “DH type” because of that and he’s transitioned to third base nicely this summer for the Threshers, has a decent arm and quick instincts. It’s that sound when a powerful hitter squares the ball up that gets ya off your feet to see how far it went that remains the intrigue, Felix has that capability, it’s something we noted the past two years in backfield FCL play and it’s come to light more this summer at the low A level with the Threshers. The key challenge ahead is maintaining consistency, can’t teach the power and strength he possesses. He’s also a favorite amongst his teammates, upbeat and a great attitude.
1B Dakota Kotowski - 23 years old - Birthdate : 3/26/00 - signed 7/25/22 as an un-drafted free agent - Missouri State University - it’s rare to see a player post double digit home run totals in the FCL, one because of conditions (fields are generally bigger and games are mid day in suppressing heat and humidity) but that’s what “Koto” (as he’s been nicknamed) has done with 11 bombs to go along with five doubles and a triple in 112 Florida Complex League plate appearances this season with a .313/.402/.729 slash line. He’s transitioned to a new position (first base) which is a primary reason he’s spent this summer on the backfields, progress has certainly been made in that regard, daily drills and ground balls each day. Dakota hit .306 with a .377 OBP with 4 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs in 20 games ( 69 PA’s ) for Clearwater and the FCL Phillies ( 11 games - FCL/ 9 games CW ) after signing last summer. He’s always been a standout home run hitter as he hit 44 home runs including 24 during his senior season in college. An imposing presence at 6’4”, the ball jumps off the bat, he’s fun to watch - balls leave the park quickly. There’s a bit of a systemic log jam at first base but hopefully a spot can be found on a full season squad that allows the big fella to hit bombs at higher levels. Quiet, dedicated and a baseball rat who loves to play the game.
Catcher Eduardo Tait - he’s just 16 years old (turns 17 in late August) which is the same age that Ranger Suarez began his pro career back in 2012. Eduardo was signed 1/15/23 from Panama City, Panama. That being said it’s far too early to project a big league future however when well respected baseball scouts and coaches tell me that he’s the real deal that’s not to be ignored either. Eduardo has posted a .350/.398/.578 slash line in his first 108 professional plate appearances with 14 extra base hits (eight doubles, three triples, three home runs). He has played international baseball for his country in multiple tournaments as a member of the under 18 national team. In his short professional stint he’s shown power to all fields along with the ability to consistently put the ball in play. Eduardo has shown progress behind the dish defensively and can also play third base, he’s a left handed hitter. It’s very possible that he could be stateside as soon as next year.
Just some notes on three ya might consider as flying below the radar.
Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️
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