|REPORT FILED: SEPTEMBER 1
The Orioles have been trying to rebuild their farm system for most of the '90s. While prospects like Calvin Pickering and Rocky Coppinger have failed to develop, the Baltimore front office remains optimistic, at least publicly.
One player they are rightly proud of is Ntema Ndungidi, who has made major progress this year.
Position: OF Height: 6-3 Weight: 190 Born: 3/15/79 Bats: Left Throws: Right
No one will deny that Ndungidi has made great strides in 2000. But scouts and sabermatricians differ on the reasons for his improvement. In this sense, he's an inkblot prospect: you see in him what you bring with you in your own mind.
Ndungidi is a native of Zaire who grew up in Montreal. A tremendous athlete, he attracted scouts despite limited baseball experience, and was a supplemental first-round pick in 1997. Blessed with raw power and excellent speed, Ndungidi was a scout's dream, the ultimate inexperienced-but-physically awesome player who could hopefully be turned into something special on the diamond.
He hit well in rookie ball in 1998, batting .295 with decent peripheral numbers for Bluefield in the Appalachian League. But his 1999 season was a near disaster; he split the season between Delmarva in the South Atlantic League and Frederick in the Carolina League, and was impressive at neither stop. He did show good speed and surprisingly strong instincts as a baserunner, but he didn't hit a single home run all season, and his .194 Sally League batting average was particularly disturbing.
This season, Ndungidi is doing fine. He continues to show speed, but his power is starting to develop; he hit very well at Frederick, and has held his own since promotion to Double-A. He is already a sound defensive player, and if he maintains his offensive improvement, he will become a multi-skilled outfielder, perhaps not a superstar, but a very good young player, something which the Orioles can use.
What has been the reason for his improvement? Here's where the inkblot test comes in. Ask a scout, and they'll say things like "improved consistency," "learning how to use his tools," "better swing," "more self-confidence," etc. That's all true to some extent, but it misses a key component of Ndungidi's skill package.
Even when he was stinking up the joint in 1999, Ndungidi showed good strike zone judgment. He drew 88 walks in 1999, and while he did have trouble sculpting a swing that could turn his strength into power, the fact that he already knew the difference between a ball and a strike was a huge factor in his favor. He wasn't someone with 20 walks and 130 strikeouts. This season, he has maintained command of the strike zone, and with more experience under his belt, the rest of his hitting has come around.
While Ndungidi may have proven the scouts right about his tools, he's also given us another strong indication of how important strike zone judgment is. Scouts will call him a Five Tool player, but I think he's a perfect example of the utility of the Seven Skill approach I use to evaluate prospects. The Seven Skills include strike zone judgment, which Ndungidi showed even during his poor 1999 season.
Brett W. writes: Among Eric Hinske, David Kelton, and Ryan Gripp, who do you think has the best chance to emerge at the third sack for the Cubs in the not-too-distant future?
Good question. In my mind Kelton and Gripp rank about even, with Hinske a notch behind. Kelton has the best tools and the highest ceiling of the group, but he also has the worst strike zone judgment. Gripp has a much better idea of the strike zone and is hitting over .330 this year, but he's a bit old to be in the Midwest League, whereas Kelton is in the harder Florida State League. Hinske has hit for power this year in Double-A, but has also struck out a lot, although he draws more walks than Kelton. Basically, we need to see what Gripp can do at higher levels before we know who has the best bat. All three have 20-30 homer power if they control the strike zone, although only Gripp looks like a potential .300 guy.
Defensively, none of them are Gold Gloves but none of them are awful either. Their error totals at third this year range from 25 to 27. Kelton probably has the best range. The Cubs like all three of them, but they seem to be a bit higher on Kelton due to his better athletic ability.
If forced to bet, I would guess that Gripp will end up having the best bat, although we can't be sure of that until he reaches Double-A.
Angel F. writes: Hi, I was wondering what you thought of Reading Phillies outfielders Eric Valent and Josue Perez.
Perez has athleticism and good fielding ability, but his hitting record is not especially impressive. He looks like a reserve at best to me. Valent has more of a future ... although he's hit just .259 this year, he shows power potential from the left side, good strike zone judgment, and has played well defensively. I doubt either will become stars, but I do expect Valent to be a decent regular outfielder, since he gets on base and has some power.
John Sickels is the author of the STATS 2000 Minor League Scouting Notebook. You can email your questions to him at JASickels@AOL.com.
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