Altoona Curve manager Carlos Garcia is very enthusiastic about the development of catcher Elias Diaz and says that Alen Hanson reminds him of a more offensively-skilled Alfredo Griffin. He likes the "bulldog mentality" of Adrian Sampson and sees him developing into a big league pitcher. According to Garcia, Willy Garcia has a ways to go in terms of plate discipline, and Joely Rodriguez should advance in the system.
When I began chatting with Garcia following Saturday's doubleheader against the Portland Sea Dogs, he immediately mentioned Alen Hanson. When we were finished talking about Hanson, I was somewhat surprised when Garcia mentioned Diaz next. I knew Diaz was having a nice season offensively (.307/.349/.422 in 210 plate appearances), and in Friday night's game he threw out a base stealer from his knees (which got the attention of everyone in the press box), but I had not considered Diaz a top prospect. Yet Garcia was the most animated when discussing Diaz's development.
"He put some things together and learned how to fight from behind the dish defensively and at the plate offensively," Garcia said. "He dominates the middle and right field part of the field. When you do that, good things will happen. Believe me, I see good players doing that."
"Definitely the offense is going to be there, because it is not hard for him to do the things that we stress to hitters [hitting to all fields]. For him, it is natural. So, we have a good one with him."
Garcia said Diaz still needs to gain a more mature understanding of the tactical side of catching, so that he can help pitchers navigate their way through lineups and pitch deeper in games.
"[He needs to] keep learning about leadership. The most important thing for him is to make sure the guy on the mound gets through five, six innings. He's got to learn how to work with the pitcher to get them deep through games."
But Garcia reiterated that Diaz has the raw tools to be a solid catcher, comparing his throwing to that of one of the game's strongest arms.
"Good arm strength. Benito Santiago, you remember him? There you go."
Finally, I asked Garcia if Diaz had had the opportunity to work with Russell Martin on the tactical and leadership side of his game yet.
"He has not had a chance to get together with Martin because he was not in the big-league camp, but he definitely has the potential to be one of [Martin's] favorites," Garcia said. "He'll give some tips to this kid. He is [a] very mature kid. He understands what he needs to do in order to go to the next level. And, he's doing it, man."
It sounds like Tony Sanchez may have some organizational pressure coming from below in a few years.
Garcia described Hanson as "a kid who is still working on some things, but he definitely has the potential to be a shortstop at some point in the big-leagues."
When I showed some surprise and pressed him on whether he projects Hanson as a major league shortstop, he said, "For now, he is a shortstop. That's all I can tell you."
Earlier in the afternoon Hanson had told me that organization wanted him to work on his focus. Garcia said that it was something they constantly stress to him.
"If you are going to become a good infielder, then you have to be able to focus on every pitch and every play, anticipating where you need to be when the ball is whacked and that type of thing. You know, it is something that he needs to learn, to execute it when situations arise. We definitely keep stressing that with him."
Finally, I wondered if Garcia noticed any similarity between Hanson and Deivi Cruz., in terms of his quiet body and quick hands, Garcia paused, and then smiled:
"You know who he reminds me of? Alfredo Griffin. I see the same type of body. Alfredo was a switch hitter. Alfredo didn't hit very much, but this kid has the chance to be a better hitter."
Garcia likes Sampson's mental approach, and he sees him as developing into a big-league pitcher:
"The mentality. I mean, he is a bulldog, man. When he is on the mound it is all about him. He makes his pitches. He takes pride in what he does. He is a workaholic. I mean this kid has the potential to develop into a good pitcher in the big leagues. It's just a matter of time for him."
Willy Garcia had a nice weekend defensively and he launched a home run to Canada on Saturday. But he swings and misses a ton, and strikes out far too much (31.9 percent K-rate). Garcia said that plate discipline is Garcia's biggest issue:
"At the plate, he needs to become more disciplined and understand how to work the pitching count," Garcia said. "Right now, his bat is in and out of the strike zone very quickly. And when that happens he doesn't recognize nothing that may be backdoor or something like that. He has a lot to work on offensively. But defensively he is pretty good."
The team was starting to head to the bus when we finally got around to talking about Rodriguez. That afternoon I saw Rodriguez pitch and, while he struggled early, he did fight through six innings and look fairly sharp at times. He has a slingshot delivery, and the fastball has lots of life and is pretty good when he locates it. But it seems like the secondary stuff isn't enough of a threat yet. He doesn't get many swings and misses on anything but fastballs, from what I saw. And too often, the count would swing out of his favor after jumping ahead early.
Garcia said that Rodriguez has a "good chance" to advance in the system and he is impressed with his "live arm."