When I first laid eyes on Derek Fisher he was an awkwardly muscular, acne ridden high-schooler wearing a jersey that was two sizes too big. This past weekend, I saw a body-beautiful outfielder who’s as tooled-up as any position player in college baseball.
The physically striking Fisher currently patrols left field for the Cavaliers, not because his skill set relegates him to a corner, but rather because Virginia has superior options at other positions. A pro club will at least give the 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Fisher a look in center field as he has the requisite speed and arm strength for the position. The legs grade out just beneath plus-plus –- I had Fisher timed at 4.03 and 4-flat down the line from the left side, albeit with a little bit of a jailbreak –- more than enough to run down balls in the gaps, while his arm grades out around average. There’s room to solidify that throwing grade if Fisher’s sometimes-awkward throwing mechanics are made to be more efficient. Despite Fisher’s up-the-middle physical capabilities, there are serious questions about his feel for defense. His reads don’t always come instantaneously and his routes to balls are often circuitous and inefficient.
Whether or not the ills Fisher displays at times in left field follow him to center or right remain to be seen — some players just read the ball better from different spots in the outfield — but it would obviously be a boon for his value if he were to stick in center.
Offensively, Fisher shows impact bat speed and hand quickness with a simple, almost passive bent ankle stride. In batting practice Fisher shows solid-average power, though he’ll collapse his back side to get to it. In games, his swing plane is much more contact/groundball oriented and level. Fisher showed some issues with recognition of secondary stuff on Friday but tracked well the rest of the weekend. There are mechanical adjustments to be made here — lengthen the stride, emphasize torque, cut out the soft front ankle roll that occurs during contact, maybe alter the bat path to squeeze more power out of him — which makes projecting Fisher’s offensive potential rather difficult. He appears to have the athleticism to make adjustments like this and be an average hitter with solid-average power.
Still, Fisher requires more developmental attention than your typical college hitter and that fact will likely play Draft Stock Tug-of-War with his status as one of the draft’s few bonafide first round, everyday college talents. Former UConn outfielder and current Astros prospect, George Springer, was another toolsy college outfielder who lacked typical college polish and was covered with mechanical question marks. Things are working out fine there. Fisher isn’t quite as powerful and explosive as Springer and has different things to correct, but Springer is evidence that college players don’t necessarily come out of the NCAA kiln fired and done. We have to grade out Fisher based on his ultimate ceiling, and ceiling he has.
Raw Power: 50/55
Overall Future Projection: 60 (First-division player)
There’s more risk and variability here than you’ll usually see with a college bat. If everything comes together and Fisher can play center field, the ceiling is that of an All Star. Realistically, he profiles as an average everyday left fielder who may have some superlative seasons during his prime.
Other UVA Notables
Connor Jones (RHP)
The freshman reliever was pumping in sinking fastballs in the 88-91 mph range with a playable two-plane slider that sat between 79-81 out of the bullpen on Saturday. He showed good feel for locating the slider away from righties and got some swings and misses with it. The arm strength and athleticism are here. Check back in a few years after Jones deepens the repertoire.
Nathan Kirby (LHP)
Friday’s starter, Kirby pitched with a fastball that ranged anywhere from 87-92 mph and what, from my vantage point, looked to be nice armside run. The sophomore relied heavily on his secondaries, especially a loopy 11-5 curveball in the upper 70s, to get through a day in which he didn’t have the greatest command. He also showed a changeup in the low 80s. I’d like to see Kirby pitch off the fastball more. There might be a backend starter or swingman type in here, maybe more if he fills out some and adds velo. The 6-foot-2, 185 pound Kirby has another year to grow and develop before anyone truly makes an assessment.
Nick Howard (RHP)
The Hoo’s closer came in on Friday and sat 92-95 with the fastball and showed a curveball that had nice depth but noticeably slower arm speed than the heater. He’ll be drafted fairly high on arm strength alone by a team that thinks they can tighten up the curveball or get him to come around the side of it a bit and see if it’ll slide.
Jeff Sborz (RHP)
Another underclassman, Sborz sat 90-93 mph as Saturday’s starter and showed an inconsistent but intriguing curveball in the upper 70s. He’s a bit stiff and he looks like a reliever now but, 2015 is a long way away.
Mike Papi (1B/OF)
Papi doesn’t really look the part until he gets in the cage and shows the smoothest, most polished, left-handed stroke on the team. He has excellent control over the bat and sneaky, fringe-average pull power. His weight will be a tad heavy on the front foot at times but the bat has a solid average ceiling. He’s stuck at first base right now — where a 55 bat and 45 power don’t quite profile — thanks to an embarrassment of riches in UVA’s outfield but he has the arm and legs to play right field in pro ball.
Whether he has the feel for the position is unbeknownst to me as I have yet to see him play there. It’s his best shot at an everyday role. He may get popped in round two or three this June.
Brandon Downes (CF)
The star of Friday’s game -– he ripped two homers off of Jeff Hoffman – is another guy to watch out for in the early rounds come June. The right-handed hitting Downes showed playable bat speed and impressed with his ability to drop and pull the bat head down and in and still spank velocity. Despite simple, toe-tapping footwork, Downes looks like he’s going to swing and miss some because of some hand-eye and head movement issues, something we saw more of on Saturday. He’s an average runner –- 4.27 from the right side – who plays a pretty good center field. If a club thinks he can stick –- I’m cautiously optimistic about it, though I don’t think he’s elite there or anything – then he’ll be an early draft pick. He has a fringe-average regular ceiling for me, likely a fourth outfielder type.
Branden Cogswell (2B)
A fine defensive second baseman, Cogswell doesn’t look like he’ll hit for enough power to profile as an everyday player there. The bat is quick and in my opinion he’ll make enough contact and take good enough at-bats that in a few years I’ll be forced to tell people again that he doesn’t have enough power to profile at second everyday.However, if he can play some shortstop he’s got a chance to make it as a utility option. I’m not sure he has the arm to do it.
Daniel Pinero (SS)
At 6-foot-6, Pinero is the biggest player I’ve ever seen for whom I give any shot at playing shortstop. The gangly Canadian freshman looks freakishly natural and comfortable bending at the knees and waist to keep low to the infield dirt as he vacuums up grounders and shows soft and smooth hands and actions. Even though he’s likely to fill out and slow down a good deal more, I’d still project him to stick at short if it weren’t for fringe, underwhelming arm strength.
Offensively, players with levers as long as this are prone to strikeouts, and Pinero will be no different. You can already see issues with inconsistent bat speed and swing length. There is, however, a ton of power projection left here, and balls were screaming off Pinero’s bat when he squared them this weekend. He might hit enough to profile at third base, where’d he could be a plus defender despite the arm.