Jiwan James Scouting Report (2010)
Jiwan James‘ development as a prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies organization has been closely watched by prospect followers. Drafted as a pitcher, his transition to an everyday player has been a slow process as twenty-one year old’s in the “Sally” are often walking the line between prospect and suspect. However, James leaves much more to the imagination than your average prospect with a 1989 birth date. Lean, wiry, and projectable, his appearance draws ones eye almost immediately. After watching him play, I wonder just how much of a mulligan he receives simply because he resembles Domonic Brown? Is he a prospect? Most definitely, but the comparisons to baseball’s best prospect are, in my opinion, amongst the laziest in the industry.
Physical Projection: An impressive athlete, James certainly looks the part of former multiple sport star. In pre-game batting practice, he showed a fluid, relaxed stroke from both sides of the plate. While shagging balls in the outfield, his long strides allowed him to glide from gap-to-gap having to slow down and allow balls to roll past to practice fielding ricochet’s off of the wall.
In game action, James’ swing became much more rigid and looked like an entirely different player. Instead of his “oozing athleticism”, the speed of the game seemed to negate much of the perceived advantage he held over other players.
With his wiry frame, James’ ability to add size is in question as he has extremely thin forearms and calves. He has some size through the shoulders and quadriceps, but it’s more as if he has already built those areas up. Due to these factors, projecting future size is difficult. However, it does mean he should keep his plus speed and athleticism for a number of years allowing him to remain in center field and post solid stolen base totals.
Offense: In batting practice, James displayed a combination of fluid swing mechanics and some explosion through the zone. He peppered line drives to the gaps and even showed some ability to generate natural lift. Even more impressive was his ability to do this from both sides of the plate.
However, in game action James’ swing mechanics went significantly south. Instead of easy and fluid, his swing became rigid and and segmented. His swing begins with an often mistimed step towards the plate closing his slightly open stance. At the peak of his load, a momentary pause prior to swinging breaks up whatever fluidity was present in batting practice. James also has a tendency to drift onto his front foot which caused him to chop down on pitches leading to a number of weak ground balls and flails at breaking balls. Additionally, James does not throw his back hip during his swing leaving him looking very weak in the box. In one at bat, he did sit back nicely to punch a two-strike pitch to left field for a single, but James’ poor swings far outnumbered quality ones.
In James’ case, his .273/324/.371 line with a 127/34 K/BB ratio is an example of statistics matching the offensive skill set at this time. Being an excellent athlete who switched positions does give him an extended grace period to perform, but it doesn’t change the fact James is twenty-one and well behind the learning curve of legitimate offensive prospects his age.
Defense: In game action, James was not tested enough to accurately gauge his defensive chops. However, in speaking to scouts, the “plus-plus” defense and arm he is rumored to have was brought into question. Of course an above average defensive center fielder with plus range and solid average arm is nothing to sneeze at. James should have no problem remaining in center field over the long haul.
Speed: A long strider, James is a gazelle at full speed who has the ability to score from first on doubles with relative ease. After watching Anthony Gose in 2009 and now James, I wonder who the roving baserunning instructor in the Phillies organization is and how much time he spends with the young burners in the organization? In the few times I did see James on first base, he struggled timing the pitcher’s move to home plate to the point of looking uncomfortable on the bases.
Make no mistake, there’s not an organization in professional baseball which would not want Jiwan James a part of it. However, the helium he has received this season is somewhat surprising considering barely discussed outfield prospect Cesar Puello of the New York Mets is already a much better baseball player with similar projection and very little hype.
I remember the first swing I saw from Domonic Brown like it happened five minutes ago during the AFL Rising Stars game. His lacing a double down the right field line was an “a-ha” moment cementing him as an elite prospect in my mind. With James, that moment did not happen as I saw a good, but not great prospect with significant holes in his game. It’s hard to bet against an athlete like James who draws glowing reviews from a makeup standpoint, but at best, he’s a step-at-a-time prospect who will need a significant development in every aspect of his game before reaching Philadelphia. A more likely scenario is James’ bat fizzling out at AA if he can’t significantly improve his pitch recognition and becoming a glove/speed fifth outfielder type who kicks around as a AAAA player for a number of years.
23 Jan 2014 / Mike Newman /
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