Jumping into the minor leagues today again and looking at some of the outfielders who played at low Single-A Hagerstown last season. Manager Patrick Anderson, now with short-season Single-A Auburn, saw some good growth and potential from his outfielders.
We have already talked about all the tools Cody Wilson has shown. Wilson, 23, played 77 games for the Suns in 2019. He’s still working to get better at the plate (.215), but hit nine doubles, four triples, five homers and 23 RBIs.
Anderson said Wilson looks a lot like another outfielder the Nats had in their system recently who got up to the big leagues for a couple of seasons.
“His speed tools, his arm strength and his work ethic remind me a lot of Rafael Bautista with regards to how they were so determined in getting things done,” Anderson said. “They both have lot of same type of skill sets with regards to their foot speed. Cody might have a touch above average arm strength, a bit more than Rafael.
“He is a center fielder. He can play all three spots in the outfield. He’s like our defensive guy that can play all three. His arm and speed play at all three. He does everything.”
Anderson said the main focus for Wilson, as with Bautista, is to get better at hitting. An injury slowed Wilson down at times last season, but he has looked good ever since.
“Both are a work in progress with their swing,” Anderson said. “Very strong, just trying to see if Cody can get that barrel head squared up there without flying open. That’s the bottom line. His approach is good. He can bunt for a base hit. His short game is really good. Just got to get the mechanical side of it where he buries his hands just a tad. He has worked his tail off.
“He got hurt and that really kind of set him back. His skill set is definitely is average to above average with pretty much every single one of his tools. If he can figure it out swinging the bat, he is a big league player.”
Also in the outfield for Hagerstown is 21-year-old Justin Connell, who played 120 games for the Suns. Connell slashed .249/.337/.321 with 20 doubles, one triple, three homers, 13 stolen bases and 38 RBIs for Anderson’s club. The organization is looking to add power to Connell’s swing.
“He is young, very raw. He has got some tools,” Anderson said. “His arm strength got better. I was really impressed. His arm was below average for me when I saw him in spring training the year before. He got better with that. The kid is a grinder. He gets after it, blue collar type of kid. He puts the ball in play.
“We are just trying to get him to where he drives balls. There’s something in there but he would go two-strike approach a lot of times with one strike. We are trying to unleash the fury a little more. He is mainly a left fielder right now. He could play other positions but his reads and routes have got to get better.”
Joining Connell in the outfield was Jacob Rhinesmith. The 23-year-old from Western Kentucky played in 133 games for the Suns, slashing .264/.351/.405 with 33 doubles, three triples, 10 homers, 19 stolen bases and 67 RBIs in 2019. Anderson said Rhinesmith started to get rolling as the season played out.
“He intrigues me,” Anderson said. “I thought he had a slow bat, but I watched him and the ball started jumping off there a little more as you just keep watching him. He kept getting better. He needs to get a little bit stronger, that’s the biggest thing for him. He did a real good job in the outfield. He is mainly a corner outfielder, probably a left fielder.
“But routes-wise, he’s good to put anywhere. His throwing has gotten better. He has got a good arm. It is just a matter of unleashing it and letting it go. Because he’d start thinking about it, placing balls here and there and being too perfect. That’s really what was a little bit of his downfall. But the kid is a really good player.”
Anderson said outfielders like Rhinesmith have to learn to make quick decisions and just fire the ball instead of trying to make the perfect throw every play.
“It’s more of a mentality. It’s hard in the sense of them buying into it, getting over the hump and letting the ball go,” Anderson said. “He’s got to be willing to do that. He wants to make sure it’s done right and he thinks too much about it. But when he lets it go? It’s good, it’s very playable. He has shown 45, 50 and a tick above at times for arm strength when he lets it go.”
Anderson liked Rhinesmith’s ability to run and move up a base or two every time he got to first.
“He is a good baserunner,” Anderson said. “He’s not a burner, by any means, but he stole some bases. He was pretty smart on the bases. Just a Steady Eddie player. He is intriguing, waiting to see him at Double-A and see what he does from there on out.”
Rhinesmith has been named a mid-season All-Star in 2018 (Auburn) and 2019 (Hagerstown). The next step would likely be a chance to play high Single-A for Fredericksburg in their brand new stadium when the season gets underway (or in 2021).