The Future is Unwritten: Carlos Tocci

In the modern era of baseball fandom, three years feels like an eternity. That’s how long we’ve been watching, scrutinizing and trying to shove food down the throat of Carlos Tocci, the now 18 year old Venezuelan center fielder who’s spending 2014 repeating Low-A Lakewood. Over that time, Tocci hasn’t produced statistics that have people clamoring for his promotion the same way JP Crawford has. As a result the once prominent buzz that surrounded Tocci’s advanced-for-his-age skillset has mostly evaporated. He is no longer the flavor of the month, no longer the shiny new toy and so 21st century prospect fans and their embarrassingly short attention spans are now aloof. It’s a mistake. Regardless of whether or not Tocci pans out he’s a must-follow just for the developmental intrigue involved.

I’ll tell you up front that Carlos Tocci isn’t going to be a star or anything like that. There isn’t that sort of offensive upside here. He might be a solid average everyday player (maybe), a lovely commodity to have for six years of pre-arb and arbitrative control. It could be another five years before Tocci is ready to sniff the Majors, and that would be just fine as Tocci would be just 23 years old at that point. As such, the scouting report you are about to read will be but a dog ear in the book of Tocci’s development which is going to gestate like a fine whiskey, not a Lime-a-rita. There are a lot of potential outcomes here and not all of them are good and I’ll do my best to outline all of them. First let us discuss the tools.
The 6’2”, 160lb Tocci has 20 power on the 20-80 scouting scale and only really projects to a 30 if you’re optimistic about his physical development. We’ve seen this before in the system (see: Gillies, Tyson) and it’s a potentially fatal flaw. Major League pitchers aren’t afraid to throw strikes to players with this kind of power which forces the hitter to put an overwhelming number of balls in play and limits their ability to get on base. The distinction that needs to be made between Gillies and Tocci and their commonality of 20 power is WHY they have 20-grade power. Gillies’ issue was his swing path, which was so devoid of loft that it almost had a negative slope to it. Tocci’s swing path is fine, he’s simply a weakling who had trouble hitting balls out of the infield last year. He still has to get bigger and stronger if he’s going to be anything. The Phillies tried to tweak Gillies’ swing but it didn’t take and, despite his rocked up physicque, the bottom-of-the-scale power was here to stay. Tocci still has a chance to add strength and power.

Tocci’s swing and overall bat-to-ball profile is profoundly interesting. Footwork-wise, Tocci has a pretty simple, standard stride to start but has trouble keeping his front foot planted and his front leg stiff during contact. It’s a sign of a guy who’s using a lot of his body to swing the bat while compromising the structural integrity of his swing in the process. He’s going to have to firm that up. Despite his weak frame, Tocci has amazing bat control and a precocious ability to take the ball the other way when it’s warranted. Any surge put into the ball off of Tocci’s bat comes from quality of contact and the snap of his deceptively strong wrists. The bat speed is just okay.

Maybe the most concerning thing for me regarding Tocci’s ability to hit is the way his eye-hand coordination has gone backwards this year. He’s not tracking the baseball quite as well in 2014 as he was last year. Right now I have Tocci graded as a 35 hitter with a chance to get to above-average. If the hand-eye issues continue he won’t sniff that.

Now onto the good stuff. This young man is a no doubt centerfielder with comfortably plus arm strength. Tocci is a plus runner and is currently fringe-average in center but once his feel for the game (which is already just swell for someone his age) matures he’ll be above average out there. The arm strength might be truly plus-plus but it’s marred right now by accuracy issues. That’s something that will have to be fixed.
So let’s talk potential outcomes.

Everything goes right: If everything goes right (Tocci thickens up thanks to the roux of proper nutrition, weight training and genetics, the baseball-specific things that are currently plaguing him are fixed {hand-eye, footwork, arm accuracy} and he develops as a defender) he’s a role 50/55 player who hits something like .280/.320/.390 and plays killer defense in center field.
Things that can go wrong, in order of likelihood:
1. He doesn’t get strong enough to have any real impact but develops enough that he’s a fourth OF type of player because of the defense.
2. He doesn’t ever get strong enough to compete with big leaguers at all.
3. The pitch tracking issues he’s had this year are here to stay and he strikes out too much to be useful. He might still be a fourth OF in this scenario if other things pan out.
4. Some unforeseen issue arises.
5. He doesn’t continue to improve defensively, is only a fringe-average defender in CF and that plus the bat does not equal a Major Leaguer. In my opinion, he’s going to have to be an above average defender in CF to merit a big league roster spot one day. I think the defense and arm will be there.
This is a truly mesmerizing player to watch develop and I encourage everyone to do so as he continues to grow.

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  1. JonCheddar

    June 25, 2014 04:03 PM

    Is the power projection only a 3 because the physical development hasn’t happened yet, and even if it happens, it won’t happen to the extent necessary for real pop (as in most 6’2, 160 pound 18 year olds don’t get muscled up like Mike Trout)? I assume bat speed plays in here, too, but that would also be affected by physical development.

    He’s a very interesting guy to follow, but one who I think is going to be somewhat unfairly squeezed by the 40-man roster timelines, as he’ll need to go on after the 2016 season.

    • Eric Longenhagen

      June 27, 2014 04:08 PM

      I don’t think Tocci will ever have more than 30 raw power based on me looking at him and deciding that he’s never going to fill out enough to do any more damage than that. The question is, “Does he fill out enough to to be passable.” and it’s always pretty much been that way. He’s like a coat hanger with legs.

  2. Dante

    June 26, 2014 08:26 AM

    Is he in danger of becoming lost in the Rule 5 draft? When would he need to be on the 40 man?

    • Eric Longenhagen

      June 27, 2014 04:06 PM

      After 2016 season as noted in the first comment. Good job, Jon.

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