12) Alexia Amarista, 4/6/89 - 2B, A-Ball
Ranking in a Nutshell: Defense. According to Sean Smith's TotalZone metric, Amarista turned in the finest defensive season by a Halos infielder in the last five years. He also won the Midwest League batting title, walked almost as often as he struck out, ran the bases well, and showed enough pop to rank 8th in his league slugging, but in my mind all of that was secondary to the fine work he put in around the keystone. He played centerfield in Arizona in ‘08 and will undoubtedly work out at other positions in upcoming seasons to increase his defensive flexibility. The Halos just resigned Maicer Izturis for three years, which sounds about right, because at that point Amarista may be ready to replace him as the Angels' next undersized super-utility player.
Track Record: More substantial then you'd think, spanning 1114 AB's across four leagues and three countries. He is a .329 career hitter, has slugged a cumulative .473 with 117 extra base hits, and his lowest professional OBP ever was this winter's .382. He controls the strike zone expertly, owning a 132 SO/118 BB ratio over his career. He even bunts well, converting 14 of 19 attempts into hits in 2009. Amarista isn't flawless, managing only a .670 OPS against lefties in 2009 (though he did rebound to hit .397/.453/.586 against southpaws in 58 winter ball at bats). He has work to do improving on his career 65% stolen base success rate, and matching last year's 4 HR's might be a struggle at the higher levels. However, his combination of contact skills, batting eye, and surprising pop suggest that he'll hold his own against upper level pitching, and the glove will be an asset anywhere.
Win-the-Lottery-Ceiling: A Maicer Izturis-type super sub who can outplay a fair number of regulars. Amarista hasn't seen time at shortstop as a pro, so there's little reason to think he'd be more than adequate there, but he makes up for it somewhat by playing all three outfield positions.
Scouting Report: (beneath the jump)
Over the course of the season, Amarista evolved from a guy who hits the ball the other way into a pull hitter. April scouting reports and photos disseminated the notion that his offensive game was all about using good bat control and an inside out swing to exploit the opposite field (this photo, taken in April, was my first look at him - note that his hands are inside the ball, the point of contact is out in front, and he's pushing the ball to the left side). His April stats supported the premise: he hit 46% of his balls in play to the opposite field, and on those he managed an impressive .400 avg. (batting average) and .733 slg. (slugging percentage). He pulled only 25% of his balls in play, hitting just .188 avg./.250 slg. in that direction.
By August, Amarista was a very different hitter. He pulled the ball a full 46% of the time, hitting .444 avg./.833 slg. with 2 HR's to right field. He went the other way with 32% of his balls in play, hitting just .200 avg./ .320 slg.*** I suspect that once he attained the reputation of being an expert opposite field hitter, the defense and pitching shifted to take that away from him. Pitchers likely tried to knock the bat out of his hands with hard stuff in, and Amarista responded by pulling the shit out of the ball. The league adjusted to Amarista, and Amarista adjusted right back - that's a promising sign in a 20 year-old.
You can see Amarista use both approaches in Stephen Smith's footage of him here on the Future Angels top prospect list (Amarista ranks 10th there). In the first of three at bats, Amarista rolls over on a pitch, poking a grounder through the right side. In his second at bat, you get a perfect view of Amarista going the other way, keeping his hands in and lining the pitch into left. However, it's the last at-bat that I'm most interested in, because you can see him really turn on a pitch and extend his follow through. He misses, popping the ball up, but the pull power that manifested in the second half is clearly visible in the sequence.
Amarista has excellent actions in the field, only everything seems to happen in fast-forward because he moves so fast. The guy excels at putting his quick-twitch athleticism to use on both sides of the game.
*** The evolution of Amarista's bat is striking even in larger sample sizes. In the first half, he emphasized going the other way, hitting to the left side of the field 37% of the time with a .341 avg./.484 slg. in that direction. He pulled the ball 32% of the time and hit just .266 avg./.342 slg. on those balls in play. In the second half, he was much better at pulling the ball, yanking 39% of his balls in play to the right side and hitting .390 avg./.720 slg. with 4 HRs in that direction. He went the other way only 31% of the time, hitting just .242 avg./.394 slg. on those balls in play.
A special thanks to Stephen Smith, who posted the footage of Amarista that I linked to above.