The MLB draft is an experience that can either be the highest of highs or the lowest of lows, especially for a ballplayer in the middle of his collegiate graduation season. In 2016, Harrison White felt both ends of that spectrum.
“To be completely honest, I remember telling someone a couple days before the draft that we had a better chance of the ceiling falling in on us than me being drafted. It wasn’t that I didn’t have confidence in myself as a player, but I hadn’t received any contact whatsoever from anyone affiliated with pro ball or indy ball,” White divulged. “After my final game in college, I broke down in tears in right field after our team meeting because I thought my baseball career was over. Every time I think about that moment, the emotions come rushing back to me.”
It wasn’t that White couldn’t do great things outside of the baseball world. After all, he went to Yale and graduated with a major in political science and a would-be minor in pre-med (Yale doesn’t provide minor degrees). However, baseball was always Harrison’s first love and, if given the chance, he would commit to giving his heart to it.
“I realized that doing what you love is an absolute necessity. And I’m doing it,” White said.
White is still doing what he loves after he was selected by the Marlins in round 31 with pick number 929 of 1,215. White, who was busy preparing himself for life away from the game, didn’t even hear his own name called. Instead, it was a former teammate and fellow draftee who told him the news that fateful day, June 14, 2017.
“I was in my car and my buddy Richard Slenker, who was drafted a couple rounds earlier by the Astros, called me. I expected he was calling me to thank me for congratulating him on getting drafted, but when I answered the phone, he yelled, “Congrats dude! You just got drafted by the Marlins!” So I immediately went on my phone and checked the draft tracker and, sure enough, there was my name,” White said. “Words can’t express the thrill I felt in that moment, especially after thinking my baseball career was done forever. I think that was the first time in my life I’d ever felt shock and I still get goosebumps when I tell that story.”
When he wasn’t reviewing Supreme Court decisions, turning the pages of Marx, Locke and Paine and/or prepping for the MCAT, White spent his time at Yale on the baseball diamond slashing .289/.374/.404 with 26 career doubles and a 114/56 K/BB. A guy who went from a .266/.356/.297 slash line in his first 26 games at the collegiate level all the way up to a .293/.369/.479 line in his junior season and rounded it his tenure out by posting a career high .380 OBP via a 13.51 walk rate and getting his attached to an Ivy League championship, White lends his growth as a hitter at Yale to the attentiveness of his hitting coach Tucker Frawley.
”[Frawley] was really into statistics and metrics – what types of changes made each player attain the highest exit velocity at the plate and what made each player field the ball with the highest efficiency, that kind of thing,” White said. “I definitely started thinking about the game a little differently because of that.”
In addition to the positive impact Guarino left on him via his knowledge of the analytical side of the game, White says his time at Yale was paramount in teaching him the intangibles and in — you guessed, Ivy League aficionados — making him a more astute and heady player.
“On top of all the metrics, I think the four years of college ball I played only helped me develop a higher baseball IQ,” White said. “You can talk about metrics and do everything in your power to optimize them but at the end of the day you still need to know how to play the game and play it smart and I think my time in college helped me develop in that aspect.”
While posting respectable numbers at the plate, White also built positional flexibility by moving from the infield to the outfield, a process he describes as new and unique but overall, natural and comfortable.
“My entire life I played infield. I really don’t think I even logged an inning in the outfield until the season between my sophomore and junior years at Yale,” White said. “That transition was pretty easy, though. I worked hard in the off season, played every summer ball game in the outfield, took extra fungoes, and watched lots of videos of Mike Trout and Kevin Kiermaier. The toughest part was learning the new footwork for fielding out there as opposed to the infield. Fly ball reads, line drive reads, all that stuff – it came pretty easily to me. By no means was I perfect from the start but by the time my junior season at Yale came around, I was comfortable in right field.”
White rode his solid college career into the professional ranks last season with the Marlins. There in Batavia, he proved that his catalytic type offensive skill set wasn’t exclusive to the collegiate ranks nor to metal bat hitting. As a Muckdog, he slashed .280/.379/.348, almost identical to the .285/.380./.386 line he posted in his senior year as a Bulldog. According to White, his ability to turn in the same quality numbers despite the change in competition level which lead to the late-round pick opening eyes both inside the organization and out was a product of him staying within himself and not allowing himself to become hurried in his further development. However, he also felt as though he had something to prove. According to White, that’s what has kept him grinding.
“I really tried to minimize the pressure I put on myself by reminding myself that I was a late round pick from Yale that I don’t think many people thought could be a serious player. Obviously I was drafted for a reason, but there were a variety of labels on me that signaled to everyone else not to expect much from me as a player,” White said. “I took that mindset into the season and sought to disprove those labels. If I didn’t do well, fine. That’s sort of what everyone expected. But if I did do well, then maybe I’d have a chance to open some eyes and get myself noticed.”
As content as he was with his output in his rookie campaign, White understands there’s still a ton of work to be done for him to become a standout prospect. He intends to bring the same compete level this year as he continues to build toward his future.
“I’m happy that I was able to do what I did but by no means am I satisfied,”, White said. “Last season is last season and I can’t rest on a decent performance in 2017. I need to continue to make a name for myself this season.”
Overall, White is a contact-first threat who possesses a good eye, a good barrel path to the ball and extremely quick hands, giving him the ability to get inside any pitch. He also has the ability to adjust his approach anywhere in the count, making him an advantageous two hole hitter that reaches base for power behind him. For the often power-needy Yale during his tenure there, White was often moved around and pressed into action spots that did not necessarily match his skill set, which might’ve cost him some points off his average and OBP. Now back in his proper element, White is clear as to what his role is in the offense and plans to let his natural abilities as a count working line drive hitting run scoring on base spark plug take over full time.
“Ideally, I’d like to hit second. That’s been my favorite spot in the lineup since I was 12. That said, I also see myself as a leadoff hitter as long as I continue to work on my speed and get faster and also as a bottom of the order, 8 or 9 type of guy. I’m a table setter,” White said. “At Yale, I was more of a middle of the order, drive in runs and split gaps kind of guy who was also expected to put a few balls out of the yard each year. I think the biggest transition from Yale to pro ball was realizing that I’m not supposed to be a power guy. That’s not my role. If I run into a ball now and again and it happens to sail out, fantastic. But that’s not my game. I’m going to leave that to the guys that are over 6 feet. My goal this year is to focus on line drives with backspin to all parts of the yard. Hopefully that will lead to a consistent and successful season in Greensboro.”
White is a small but athletic 5’11, 175 lefty hitter who gets low in a semi-split stance, minimizing a strike zone that he knows very well. Early in ABs, he gets ahead in the count almost exclusively and from there, lets his body go to work for him. Despite being undersized he gets his entire frame involved in his approach, stepping into the ball nicely from a slightly off-center and backloaded split stance on pitches on the outer half and shows the ability to shorten up and get inside pitches thanks to quick and strong hands on the inner half. After a small front foot timing trigger, White engages a quick straight through line drive cut with excellent speed, allowing him to wait out the break on pitches advantageously. White’s knack for finding the proper path to the ball that allows him to put tons of balls in play including many of them on the ground and his plus speed make him a challenging out an on-base threat nearly every every time he puts wood on leather. One area of focus for White should be in replicating the great vision and line of sight and solid contact he shows against righties to his ABs vs same side pitching. Last season, nearly all of his success came against righties (101 ABs, 337/.417/.426 17/14 K/BB) while his 31 ABs against lefties (small sample aside) were nearly a total bust (.097/.263/.097, 15/7 K/BB). However, with more professional experience and coaching, this issue should rectify itself.
Defensively, White played a fine right field both in college where his strong arm actually even earned him some time pitching and in Batavia last year where he committed just three errors in 32 games. However, given his offensive background and the fact that he has good range to both sides I would expect White to make the transition out of a power heavy defensive position and back to his natural spot on the infield at shortstop. Though he hasn’t played it much since high school, White says with some reconditioning and practice, he’d welcome the switch back to the infield and believes it would be good for his career to prove he could be more versatile.
“I’d be fine with that. I love the infield,” White said. “I’d need a little while to get back in the groove and work on taking grounders but I’d definitely be excited to show everyone I have another facet to my game.”
Although he has a ways to go in his development, White is a possible diamond-in-the-rough type find by the Marlins. His floor should be placed at a super-utility type bench player and his ceiling should be that of a 70 grade for average threat and similarly graded defender. An extremely humble kid with leadership qualities by way of an outgoing, infectious personality which makes him a fantastic team player and with great athleticism and the raw tools to match it, if White turns puts in similar work and output as last season in what should be his first full pro year this year in Greensboro, he won’t fly under the radar much longer.
If you happen to make the pilgrimage through the small Central Florida town of Sorrento, you will hardly even recognize that you were there. However, in the near future, the baseball world is sure to recognize one of the town’s 765 residents’ names. That name is Colby Lusignan.
Lusignan was born in 1992 in the unincorporated township of Sorrento, a city that houses just 765 and encompasses just 1.3 miles. Because there are no schools in Sorrento, Lusignan was forced to make an 11.2 mile, 17 minute trip down State Road 46 every day to attend high school in Eustis. Being one of few out-of-towners at Eustis High, Lusignan admits his days there were a bit of a grind, but that staying close to both his immediate family as well as his extended baseball family stregnthened both his personal relationships as well as his professional relationships.
“High school days were pretty uneventful. I was a home body andjust liked hanging with the family,” Lusignan says. “Growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone rraly makes you try to stay on top as well as respect the people around you.”
Upon his graduation in 2011, Lusignan made the decision to attend college at Sante Fe Community College, slightly upstate in Gainesville. Two hours away from Sorrento, it was not too far from home but it was just far enough for him to get the full college experience.
“Gainesville was one of the top junior college schools in Florida, and I just felt like it was the right place to go,” Lusignan said. “It was an hour and a half from home so I felt like it was far enough and close enough at the same time to be a college kid.”
After two years of placing within the top seven in OBP, the top 10 in SLG and the top five in BB/K, a combined 73 game span in which he slashed .329/.426/.488, Lusignan was recruited to Lander College in South Carolina. Depsite being as far away from his family and as far out of his comfort zone as he had ever been, Lusignan says making the choice to attend Lander was made fairly easily.
“The decision to go to Lander really was a family oriented decision in the sense that the coaching staff and community approached the team with that mindset,” Lusignan said. “Distance and not seeing loved ones is obviously not ideal, but knowing that they supported me chasing my dream, and that they made the trip to come see games made it much easier.”
Benefiting from the close relationships he had with his coaches and teammates including the one he had with his head coach Kermit Smith whom he describes as “a second dad who had great relationships with all the guys and made you feel very at home” and labels as a the leader of an extremely positive clubhouse whose “ideology spread through the other coaches and really made the team a close-knit group”, Lusignan hit .325/.429/.591 that season with the Peach Conference’s 10th best OBP, seventh best SLG and ninth best OPS (1.020). He also slammed the third most homers in the league (10) and drove in it’s eighth most runs (41).
With an overall .328/.425/.528 career collegiate line, Lusignan declared for the MLB Draft in 2016. He spent draft day back where it all started in Sorrento surrounded by his biggest supporters, his family and his best professional influences, his Lander coaches. It is those individuals that Lusignan credits most for having heard his name called. Selected in the 28th round at number 833 overall, Lusignan is just the eigth player to be selected out of Lander University. Even though he had to sweat out a lot of nervous hours waiting for his phone to ring that weekend and even begin contemplating his situation should he go undrafted, Lusignan recalls his draft experience as a picture perfect moment.
“Draft day was pretty surreal, spending it with my family who has been there all along was great,” Lusignan said. “My coaches at Lander were awesome, they really helped me develop my offensive game, and we had a really good team while I was there. Those two things really helped me to get exposure, and I’m proud that I can say I was drafted from Lander University.”
Not only was his draft day setting perfect, the setting of the result of his selection was nearly as ideal for the easily homesick 23-year-old. Being selected by the Marlins meant that Lusignan would spend time in the Carolinas, within a stone’s throw of his Lander coaches whom he could still look to for professional support and in Florida where moral support from his family would also be within very accessible reach. Asked what he thought of being drafted by the Marlins, Lusignan said his preference would not have had it any other way.
“It was exactly the way I pictured it to happen,” Lusignan said.
After beginning his career in the Gulf Coast League last season where he hit .319/.422/.469/.894, marks that ranked fifth, fifth and seventh and third on the circuit, Lusignan made the jump to full season ball in Greensboro this year. There, he has gotten off to a .299/.357/.442 start with a BA that ranks 26th in the Sally and an SLG that ranks 22nd. Most recently, he broke a 2-21 slump by going 5-5 with two doubles and three RBI. The five hits were the most Lusignan has recorded in a single game at any level he’s played at. In order to keep his current pace, Lusignan is learning to pace himself and let his body adjust to the rigors of, for the first time, playing 1,260+ innings in 150 days.
“I was fortunate enough to break camp with a full season club, and it will definitely be the most taxing year of ball on my body to date,” Lusignan said. “I’ve really been making sure to stretch and foam roll, and make sure to get enough sleep. Just overall body maintenance is something I think is super important to making it through a full season.”
Lusignan is a massive physical presence who menaces opposing pitchers as he stares them down from his 6’4″, 230 stature. He is growing into potentially plus plus power potential that scouts rank at a ceiling of 70 on the 20-80 scale. He owns a mechanically sound approach in which he maintains his looseness well and utilizes a big front foot timing trigger by which he transfers his weight all the way through the ball. Partnered with rotational energy from his back foot pivot and active hips, Lusignan gets the most out of his extra large frame.
Due to his size, Lusignan’s swing looks effortless and fluid but the deception in that is revealed when he makes contact and the ball absolutely flies off his bat. During his collegiate days, his power numbers ticked up with each passing year until he was ultimately hitting a homer once in every 15 ABs. Of course as he adjusts to much more staunch competition that figure will given and has already given way to a heightened K rate. In 77 ABs, Lusignan has struck out 25 times. However, with a 1.45 career NCAA K/BB and a 1.75 K/BB last year in the GCL, Lusignan shows the potential to be much more than an all-or-nothing power bat. With a great baseball IQ, he also exhibits the knowledge of what it will take for him to become an all-around offensive threat.
“I think that really sticking to my approach, and looking for what I want to hit will help to boost my walks, as well as tap into my power potential,” Lusignan said. “Staying within myself, not pressing and trying to make something happen will allow me to recognize pitches, as well as take a free smooth swing at pitches I think I can drive out of the yard.”
A look at Lusignan’s hit chart from the last two years will reveal that through excellent plate vision, good bat speed and the ability to fully extend his long arms, he distributes the ball evenly to all fields and can turn any pitch in the strike zone into a hit. Even though said strike zone is large due to Lusignan’s extra large frame and straight up and down stance, he covers the plate magnificently and selects swings just as well, making him a contact-first hitter with budding prodigal power.
If he can maintain the same plate discipline as he realizes his power potential, there’s nothing against Lusignan becoming a 20+ homer/20+ double hitter at first base, currently a very thin position for the Marlins’ organization. For those reasons, the 24-year-old Lusignan is a candidate to fast track through the rest of his minor league career and contribute to the Marlins by 2019. Not too shabby for a small town kid with a dream.
Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff ERA IP H ER BB SO WHIP H9 SO/W 2013 23 Evansville FRON Ind 1.00 9.0 6 1 6 8 1.333 6.0 1.33 2014 24 Evansville FRON Ind 2.53 57.0 44 16 33 82 1.351 6.9 2.48 2015 25 3 Teams 3 Lgs A-A+ MIA-MIN 4.29 50.1 40 24 18 69 1.152 7.2 3.83 2015 25 Greensboro SALL A MIA 4.80 30.0 24 16 11 42 1.167 7.2 3.82 2015 25 CedarRapids MIDW A MIN 4.11 15.1 15 7 7 22 1.435 8.8 3.14 2015 25 FortMyers FLOR A+ MIN 1.80 5.0 1 1 0 5 0.200 1.8 2016 26 Jupiter FLOR A+ MIA 3.79 19.0 16 8 13 22 1.526 7.6 1.69 Minors (2 seasons) Minors 4.15 69.1 56 32 31 91 1.255 7.3 2.94 Other (2 seasons) Other 2.32 66.0 50 17 39 90 1.348 6.8 2.31 All Levels (4 Seasons) 3.26 135.1 106 49 70 181 1.300 7.0 2.59
From injury to Mike Dunn and the combined struggles of Craig Breslow, Cody Ege and others, the Marlins have had a rough time enlisting quality left handed relief help this year. But while things may be dim right now, the future is bright when it comes to southpaw relievers. One of the biggest reasons why is the guy I will take a closer look at in this prospect profile, the Hammerheads’ Jose Velez.
Jose Angel de Jesus Velez is a 26-year-old lefty who had quite the upbringing, spending time all over the country which readied him for the life of travel he has already seen and will continue to see in his baseball career. Born in 1989 in New York City, Velez made the move to South Florida for his high school days where he attended South Ft. Myers High School and where he was already reaching velos of 90 MPH and was described as a “no-brainer” athletically with the work ethic to match. Following high school, Velez made the move back north to Michigan where he attended the independent Alma College in the city of Alma, just north of Grand Rapids and just northwest of Detroit. In one season there, he appeared in 10 games (6 starts), tossed 44 innings, held down a 2.62 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and struck out a ridiculous 78 batters (15.72 K/9) but he also totaled 34 walks. Though the K total and the velo were plenty impressive, commitment to the game off the field as well as his obvious control issues nearly walking as many batters as innings he had pitched left him undrafted in 2013 and instead selected by another independent league team, the Evansville Otters. Velez’s history of not being able to apply himself off the field came to fruition that year when he suffered a multitude of injuries, only totaling 9 IP and finishing the year on the DL. After that wake-up call though, Velez returned with a vengeance. In better shape with a better daily regiment, a 24-year-old fireballer had one of the best comeback relief seasons in Evansville Otters history, tossing 57 IP in 30 games, holding down a 2.53 ERA, an 82/33 K/BB (13 K/9, 2.48 K/BB), and in one game, striking out a Frontier League record-tying 16 batters. His merits didn’t go unnoticed that year as in October of 2014, he was signed by his first major league team, the Minnesota Twins, a dream come true for Velez, undoubtedly but a short-lived one as after just 20.1 IP at a 4.29 ERA as a 25-year-old albeit at a still impressive 42/11 K/BB, the Twins released him. That is where his career with the Marlins began as on July 2nd, 2015, Velez was signed by the Marlins to a minor league contract. He was sent to Greensboro where, for the rest of the year, he didn’t have a great year from initial looks, running up a 4.8 ERA in 30 IP. However, delving a bit further into his stats shows he held down a 2.80 FIP. Also, away from NewBridge Bank Park which has proven to favorite hitters since 2008 producing a park factor well over 1 in homers (1.649) and slightly over 1 in hits (1.101) making it the most hitter friendly in the Sally League, Velez was much more effective. In the rest of the Sally League’s more neutral parks, Velez’s ERA was 4 points lower (2.63 as opposed to 6.61 at home) in nearly as many innings pitched (13.2 to 16.1). Fast forwarding to this season, in the much more pitcher friendly Florida State League including the extremely offensive suppressing Roger Dean Stadium, Velez has held down a 3.79 ERA with literally all of his damage allowed coming in 6.1 IP on the road. At the Dean, Velez has been perfect, allowing just 8 hits in 12.2 IP. While Velez is hard to gauge at the moment due to him never throwing in a truly neutral environment, the FIP differentials from last year in Greensboro (4.80 ERA, 2.75 FIP (+2.15)) compared to this year (3.79 ERA, 3.6 FIP (+0.19)) suggest that this year’s version of a still-improving Velez who has just 69.1 IP to his credit in his professional career is more on par with the type of prospect the Marlins should expect him to be: a slightly above average late inning reliever with the ability to become more.
Pre-pitch, Velez owns a mechanically sound repeatable and deceptive delivery. After going in to the wind up, Velez rocks back with a high leg kick placing all of his weight on his back leg and stretches his arm all the way back, reaching out for every bit of velo to be had before coming home from a low sidearm delivery from the left side. Throwing downhill with a long front leg stride, Velez holds the ball until his front foot is nearly on the ground, shortening the distance to the plate advantageously and also rewarding him with a great pick-off move to first. His velo usually sits in the 94-96 MPH range but when he ramps up, he has the ability to get the fastball up in the 98-99 MPH range. The rest of his arsenal consists of a mid-80s running changeup with good fade to the outside part of the plate and a pitch he has the confidence in to use interchangeably with the fastball early in ABs. The pitch compliments the fact that he has such control over his fastball that he is not afraid to use it to back hitters off the plate buzzing them with high 90s cheddar before using the change on the outside black. Velez’s out pitch is a still developing curveball that he piggybacks on the fastball and dips down in to the 75 MPH range, making it a downright unfair offering when it is hitting its spot. The pitch still needs a bit of refinement though as he has a tendency to hang it deep in long ABs making it a tasty morsel for opposing hitters. Velez has made strides this year since developing feel for the pitch last year. Should that continue, the max-effort reliever who is effective versus hitters from both sides and who has tossed shutout ball all year so far this season with the exception of two rough outings could become valuable late inning relief, setup and closing help in the upper levels of the minors before making an impact with the Marlins as early as 2017.