1-19-23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Last week I did my best to breakdown exactly how hard it is for Major League Ball Clubs to find successful players and stars in the First Round of the MLB Draft; where they are choosing from an array of mostly 18 year-old high school players to 22 year college graduates.
Now imagine you are scouting 16 and 17 year-old kids, or even younger; just waiting until a certain date until you can sign them. Picture how difficult that has to be. It feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack; although, it’s possible that the level of difficulty has been slightly skewed by several international players working their way to the top of MLB’s Ranks.
For every Ronald Acuna, Jr., Rafael Devers or Shohei Ohtani there are hundreds of other players that never make it to the states; let alone to MLB.
The simple numbers game is often why it so hard to invest much energy, and excitement into young men that are inked during the International Signing Period; beyond the general joy for them and their families that is.
However, at times, there are certain prospects that cause you to forget all about the uncertainty that exists with prospects. Last season that young man was then 16 year-old Axiel Plaz.
Signed less than six months prior to his debut for $350,000 out of Venezuela, Plaz would put on a clinic with the bat; in spite of missing nearly a month with an injury. In a small sample size of 86 plate appearances, the young backstop slashed .382/.500/.706 with 3 homers, 15 total extra base hit and a 16K to 13BB ratio; all while throwing out 35% of the would be base stealers that challenged him.
Obviously performances in the DSL don’t always translate to success stateside. However, when contact skills were the main thing he needed to work, once again, it’s hard not to get excited.
So, what does 2023 hold for the Just Prospect Baseball Academy product?
Well, first of all I think we need to look at the work he has been putting in during the off-season.
Not only has Plaz continued to hone his approach at the plate, but he is also working on his defense by improving agility, completing countless drills and hitting gym; with the last activity also working toward adding more power at the plate, if that’s even possible.
For Plaz it is tough to be away from home, but the support of his family, friends and coaches, as well as his faith have helped him focus on the task at hand.
Now, it only remains to be decided if that distance will increase from the Dominican Republic to Pirate City in Bradenton for the Florida Complex League.
To the Pirates credit, they have reassigned Major League Interpreter/Translator, Mike Gonzalez to Pirate City/Bradenton to have him help assimilate younger players to pro-ball as a mental health skills coach. The skills he possesses will be invaluable for any prospect; but especially for any of the Spanish-speaking players in the organization.
Selfishly, I am hoping for the FCL so I can catch this young man on the backfields when I am down in Florida this summer.
A giant thank you to Axiel himself for not only being open to this post being published, but also for providing input on his off-season workouts and thanks to his friends, family and coaches for their suport.
Please follow him on his main social-Instagram-and show your support as well.