July 28, 2014

Washington Nationals Prospect Preview and Scouting Report: Brian Goodwin

Brian Goodwin
Center Field
Bats/Throws: Left/Right
Height/Weight: 6’1″/200lbs
Comparable MLB Players: Ray Lankford, Grady SizemoreAndy Van Slyke, Michael Tucker

 Present  Future
 Hitting Ability  4  6
 Raw Power  5  6
 Power Frequency  4  6
 Plate Discipline  5  6
 Running Speed  7  7
 Baserunning  4  5
 Arm Strength  6  6
 Arm Accuracy  3  5
 Fielding  4  5
 Range  6  7
 Overall  5  6

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

In a system that’s featured a large portion of the MLB’s elite-level prospects over the past half-decade, it’s obviously more difficult for a young player to really shine. Brian Goodwin however, is shining and he has needed only one season of pro ball to establish himself as a probable future star. Though he still isn’t receiving the amount of recognition from outside the organization that his talent warrants–getting ranked outside of the top-50 prospects by most major baseball publications–he’s blessed with the mixture of tools and present skill to be every bit as good as more widely-recognized prospects like Oscar Taveras and Jorge Soler.

Like Rendon and Harper, Goodwin is the rare prospect that offers both extraordinary athleticism and polish and feel for the game. He proved during his amateur career that he had the skills to outperform nearly anyone on the big stage, and if it wasn’t for off-field slip-ups, he likely would’ve earned a top-ten overall pick come draft day 2011.

At Rocky Mount High School in North Carolina Goodwin put together a formidable career. He broke on to the scene as a sophomore in 2007, batting .356 (31-87) with 17 RBI, 29 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. He also racked up seven doubles and four triples, while leading the Gryphons to a 20-5 record. His performance earned him a spot on the NEW 6 All-Conference First Team, as well as All-Area honors from the Rocky Mount Telegran. 

Goodwin then put together a monster season as a junior, and climbed the national prospect ranks all the way to the top-10 on most prep boards. He also led his team to the Class 3A State Championship–the program’s first in almost three decades. He hit .473 overall with 21 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and 27 walks, and he led the state of North Carolina with 15 doubles, and ranked second with 45 runs scored.

Goodwin’s performance earned him a spot in the ’08 Aflac All-American game, alongside the nations’ top high school players.  On the national stage playing for the East team, he ended up winning the contests’ MVP award. With two-out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Goodwin broke-up a no-hitter with a bloop-single, and drove in two runs for a walk-off win.

A Rawlings and Under Armour Pre-Season All-American heading in to 2009, Goodwin’s senior campaign solidified him as one fo the nation’s elite prospects. He took home the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award after he led the Gryphons to a 20-3 record and to the second-round of the Class 3A state tournament. He hit a whopping .413/.532/.680 with 25 runs scored and 18 RBI, and also posted a 3.5 GPA in the classroom.

Goodwin’s performance earned plenty of Major League attention, and he was considered a top-20 draft pick heading in to June 2009. However, a strong commitment to play baseball in his home state, for UNC’s top-notch program, scared teams off and he wasn’t drafted until the 17th round by the White Sox. He ultimately followed-through on his scholarship and enrolled at North Carolina.

Goodwin played very well during his freshman season at UNC. He hit .291 with a.409 on-base percentage, 7 homers and 63 RBI though 60 regular season games, and led the club with 28 extra-base hits, 45 walks, 8 triples and 63 RBI. His .511 slugging percentage also ranked second on the team to future Minnesota Twins first-round pick Levi Michael. Defensively, though he played a lot of right field in deference to upperclassman Mike Cavasinni, he looked solid. He threw out eight baserunners in 60 starts (including one double play), but did make five errors. Then over the following summer, he continued to perform well and led his Cape Cod League team in batting average (.281).

Unfortunately, Goodwin wasn’t allowed to build on his top-notch freshman campaign at North Carolina.

Though he’d always been a good student previously, Goodwin was suspended by UNC in the fall of 2010 for academic disciplinary reasons. Rather than sitting out the entire 2011 season, he transferred to Miami-Dade Junior College and decided to re-enter the draft following the spring.

At Miami-Dade, Goodwin worked with coach Danny Price–an old family friend and a baseball guru known for his success in turning-out professional ballplayers. He labored throughout the winter in coach Price’s cage, honing his swing and improving his bat-speed. And despite the adversity he’d endured just a few months before, the extra-work paid off in a big way. Goodwin ended up leading his club with a .382 batting average and a .500 on-base percentage in 2011, and also belted eight homers and scored 40 runs.

Goodwin re-entered the MLB draft in June, and ended up earning a first-round (supplemental) selection from the Washington Nationals at the 34th overall slot. After snagging blue-chip prospects Anthony Rendon and Alex Meyer with their first two draft picks, the Nationals knew that they had another steal when they were able to get their hands on Goodwin. They handed him a well-over-slot $3 million bonus to start his pro career, and waited until the fall before having him suit-up.

The Nationals’ front office sent Goodwin to the fall instructional league to get his feet wet before assigning him to A-ball to start the regular season. Goodwin impressed the club immediately, shining with extraordinary plate discipline and athleticism during his stint at their training complex in Viera, Florida. He impressed their player development office enough to earn a spot on the Hagerstown Suns roster the following spring–a relatively aggressive assignment considering his lack of professional experience.

Goodwin’s 2012 pro debut was absolutely phenomenal. He ran out of the gate at the start of April, mashing a double and a home run in his first game. And though a leg injury slowed him down mid-way through the first month, he recovered and caught fire by the beginning of the summer. He ended up hitting .319/.434/.537 through 58 games with the Suns,  and impressed the organization with his contributions in all areas of the game. He exhibited veteran-grade plate discipline with a 16.4% walk rate and a 1.1 BB/K ratio, premium power with a .218 ISO and the blazing foot speed to swipe fifteen bags and cover huge tracts of land in the outfield.

Playing like a superstar, Goodwin forced the Nats’ hand and earned an assignment to double-A Harrisburg by mid-summer.  In a league where the average pitcher is three years older and much more experienced than Goodwin, he still held his own. He hit a modest .223/.306/.373 in his 42 games there, but swiftly adjusted to the tougher competition. He finished the season strong with a .300 average, four homers and 8 extra-base hits in his final 15 starts.

After batting an impressive .280/.384/.469 during the regular season, Goodwin continued to perform well when the Nats shipped him to the Arizona Fall League to get some extra work against advanced pitching. He earned the AFL Player of the Week Award after just 12 games, and was batting a fat .313/.400/.667 at that point.  He ended up posting a .238/.340/.475 (.815 OPS) overall triple-slash line, and ranked among league leaders in triples (tied for third with 2), runs scored (tied for fourth with 16), and doubles (tied for 10th with 6).

Regardless of his numbers, Goodwin’s talent was on display throughout his AFL stint. In a small sample size, simple performance stats aren’t always so telling. The impression a player leaves on his peers can be more important, and Brian did that too. The league’s coaches named him a member of the AFL Rising Stars team, and he ended up shining in the game. He went two-for-five and wailed a home run off of Twins top prospect Kyle Gibson. And then in the outfield, he made a couple of impressive running grabs.

 

Scouting Report

 

Goodwin is a true five-tool player, with plus potential in every facet of the game. His best present tools are his foot-speed and his hitting skills, but he also has the power to hit 20+ home runs a year in his prime, the arm to rack up assists, and the glove to be a premium center fielder. The best part is–unlike the vast majority of toolsy prospects–Goodwin is pretty much as polished as they come.

A very smart ballplayer, he works the count and carries an extraordinarily selective approach in the batter’s box. After he posted phenomenal on-base percentages throughout his amateur career, he’s continued to get on base at an excellent clip in the pro’s. In the outfield, he reads balls well off the bat, and can track fly balls on the dead-sprint like a veteran with many more years of experience.

A left-handed hitter, Goodwin’s sharp, fluid swing is as graceful as they come. Some reports of an “upper-body” or “metal-bat swing” seemingly hurt his draft stock some–along with rumblings that he was considering a return to UNC. But they shouldn’t have. The fact is, it only took a few minor adjustments to perfect his swing mechanics in his first instructional league. He was an elite talent before and after the draft, he has the skills to be a formidable hitter to go with his top-shelf athleticism.

Swing Mechanics

Goodwin employs textbook rotational hitting techniques to draw power from his trunk and generate smooth bat-speed. But this wasn’t always the case. He’s worked long hours with his coaches–most recently Rick Schu, Eric Fox and Mark Harris–on over-hauling his swing. He has made multiple mechanical improvements since his days at UNC, and is now much shorter to the baseball. He greatly improved his ability to make quality contact, as well as his bat-speed and strength. Now that he has improved his set-up and shortened his stride, he’s able to catch his weight on his front foot better, thereby tapping in to more of his raw power.

Goodwin has spent a great deal of time re-tooling his swing since turning pro, and the changes are largely for the better. He’s focused on shortening his path to the ball, and syncing-up his lower and upper body. One of the issues he struggled with as an amateur was a tendency to over stride, and then pull-off inside pitches in order to catch up the ball with his hands. This problem caused him to rely more heavily on his arms than his hips for power, and also to drift away from the ball–as he was off-balance. He’s done a superb job of correcting this issue though, and is now one of the most fundamentally ideal hitters.

In his set-up, Brian has moved his feet closer together and is now employing a a more loose, athletic stance. He’s also lowered his hands from behind his ear, and now starts them down by the letters. These changes have allowed him to get his hands in a good hitting position and load more quickly–simply drawing back a few inches to fire forward.  Finally, he’s made himself even more efficient by scrapping a pop-up stride for a much shorter, more controlled toe-tap to load his hips and abdominals. Along with his much cleaner movement, his shorter, tighter lower half helps him accelerate the bat better, rather than pushing at the ball, and he’s able to get more weight on his front foot at contact.

Goodwin’s body control and athleticism are visible in his swing, particularly in his ability to get his weight behind premium heat. Now that he’s smoothed out his mechanics, he’s extremely short and sharp to contact. He loads by coiling his abs and drawing his hands back in one fluid motion, then explodes to the ball after his heel-drop–with the bat handle sling-shotting forward as his front shoulder opens. As he swings, Goodwin is so smooth that he almost perfectly synchronizes his hands with his back leg. He squares his wrists and pins his back elbow to his hip as he turns the corner and makes contact, finishing with a nice, high follow-through.

Transferring power from the ground-up, his swing’s mechanical parts link-up beautifully. After taking his stride, he opens his front hip, followed by his leading shoulder and then drives his hands across the plate. He uses his abdominal muscles in his swing much better than most young hitters, and he whips the bat-head across the zone with plenty of juice. He does a great job of keeping his back-elbow tucked in to his body, and gets great leverage on pitches in the lower-half of the zone.

Goodwin should be able to continue to hit for a high average as he moves up the ladder, and also to draw his share of walks. Not only has he exhibited an intelligent approach, but his mechanics will further help his already-keen batting eye. He is extremely quiet in his stance, and throughout his swing. His head moves minimally, and he takes a very simple cut–accelerating the bat effortlessly. The fluidity seemingly helps him keep his eyes trained on the baseball, and his minimal hand movement in loading should also afford him some extra bat control.

Goodwin swings with his lower body, but he also shows nice hands. He’s tremendous at handling balls in the lower-half of the zone, and sprays fastballs on the inner half with authority from the left-center gap to the right field line. He’s able to stay inside of premium fastballs on his knuckles, and does a great job of keeping the barrel in the hitting zone. And though he’s dropped his elbow in his new stance, he’s also hit with more authority in the upper part of the zone lately. He’s closed his grip on the bat-handle some–bring his elbows closer together from the start–which has helped him get rid of a bat wrap and some extra drag. That’s allowed him to initiate his hands immediately, rather than waiting to uncoil his fingers like many other hitters.

In terms of his hitting, Goodwin’s only weaknesses are: (1) his ability to take pitches on the outer half–particularly above his belt–to the opposite field; (2) his susceptibility to getting out in front. He’s had relative trouble to adjusting to same-side breaking stuff in the pro’s so far, and that’s a big reason his platoon split was so glaring following his promotion to double-A last summer. This issue appears to be part mechanical and part experience-driven. Considering this was his first season facing pro left-handers, he’s performing well, but he still has work to do before taking his game to the bigs.

When Goodwin struggled following his promotion last summer, he was pulling-off high heat and breaking pitches sweeping across the plate, leading to a lot of swing-throughs and pops against left-handers. At contact, his hips were drifting away to his right side, causing him to scoop the ball. He also fell in to some bad habits of relying too heavily on his front hand. The result was a casting motion in his swing as he barred his front arm in to contact. Beyond his lack of experience facing advanced left-handed pitchers, this mechanical issue largely explains his struggles against same-side breaking pitches. The bad habit makes it difficult to take pitches to the opposite field–which was presumably exacerbated by his falling-out of the box.

For the most part though, Goodwin is well in front of the pack as a hitter, and his swing mechanics are a strength. He re-found his groove by the end of the summer, and carried his momentum in to the AFL this fall. He’ll always be pull-side hitter, but he could take a leap forward if he learned to either lay off those outside pitches (especially up), or to do his best to stay closed and take them to left-field.

Overall Hitting Ability

Goodwin has all of the ingredients to hit for a high average, perhaps near .300 one day. He doesn’t have the all-fields, pure-hitting prowess of guys like Anthony Rendon or Nick Castellanos, but he shows great feel for the barrel and he takes a pretty swing. Not only does he have plus bat speed, but he also has great hands and bat-control, and he is seemingly able to get on top of any pitch.

A rare talent, Goodwin quietly accelerates the bat and shows great leverage, yet also stays extremely compact–making him particularly dangerous against fastballs. He can turn on premium heat already, and will only get better as he fills out and adds more strength. He can also hit off-speed well, despite some issues he had against left-handed breaking stuff following his promotion. He’s best against pitches in the bottom-half of the zone, and can tilt his shoulders and drive balls low-and-in over the right field fence.

Goodwin put up great numbers last year in his first taste of pro competition, and his peripherals suggest he could’ve done even better with a little bit of luck. He was actually much better against southpaws than his platoon split suggests, as his line-drive and fly-ball rates were almost identical against them as they were when he faced right-handers. However, his BABIP was over 50 points lower from that side, which probably means he ran in to some sample error. Regardless, it’s reason to believe his road to improvement will be that much easier moving forward. And as he gains more experience, he should also naturally learn to recognize and adjust to same-side off-speed pitches more consistently, which will lead to a better average overall.

Power

A former All-Conference football player, Goodwin is in tremendous shape, and he’s a rare athlete for the diamond. His body is taught with lean muscle, and he has a wide receiver’s fluid stride and body control. His swing is clean and loose, and he’s very good at hitting with a premium combination of leverage and bat-speed. To go along with his plus batting eye and contact skils, the ingredients are a recipe for a above-average power in the big leagues. His easy loft and line drive power could produce 25+ home runs annually in his prime, and will fill his batting average with plenty of extra base hits.

Following the “short to the ball and long through it” batting technique perfectly, Goodwin generates impressive power for a player with his kins of bat control and plate coverage. He’s extremely efficient, and he relies on his lower-body to create power. When he’s right, he leads with his belt buckle at the point of contact, and really gets behind the ball–easily lofting pitches low-and-in. He’s also eliminated some loop/upper-cut to his swing that he had as an amateur–partly by starting his hands and elbow lower– and he now gets into the ball better. He swings with a nice bat angle and shoulder-tilt. Not only can he pummel pitches skimming his front knee, but he can extend and drive low-and-away pitches to left-center with authority.

Goodwin is great at using his powerful core to whip the barrel at the ball. He sets up with a low elbow, but with the bat very close to his back arm-pit, and he gets loaded very quickly and smoothly. He keeps the bat tilted forward slightly, but never beyond his helmet–making it easier for him stay compact when he starts to slot his elbow. As he cocks his hands back, he takes a medium-long, toe-tap stride. After he finishes coiling, he shows tremendous hip-hand separation at heel-drop–a very good sign creating bat-speed. As his front hip opens, his bat stays pinned-back, allowing him to lengthen his abdominals just before firing. He then has his front shoulder lead his hands, creating extra lengthening of the larger core muscles before contracting. As he swings, Goodwin explodes to the ball with violent acceleration, but manages to stay firm and quiet, helping him made tons of hard contact.

Plate Discipline

Goodwin is very comfortable in the box and works the count like a veteran. Since his high school days in North Carolina, he’s always worked tons of walks and employed a selective approach. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t aggressive. Unlike a guess-hitter, he walks up to the plate with a plan in mind, but also reads and reacts to pitches. He sees the ball well, and understands his strengths as a hitter–limiting the amount of bad swings he takes. Against right-handed pitchers, he dominates his at bats and laces rockets consistently–to the point where they largely stopped pitching to him by the end of his SAL stint. Goodwin has some more swing-and-miss in his game against lefties, but still employs a patient approach. As long he learns to take some more balls to the opposite field, and lay off outside pitches above his belt-level, he should be in good shape.

A testament to his patience and ability to adjust to pitchers, his strikeout rate dropped at least 2% in each of the first four months of the season while his walk rate never fell below 14.5%. That trend seemed to disappear when he was thrown in to the fire against double-A pitching, but he ended the season on a hot streak and looked much better against southpaws. His pitch recognition should improve with more time, especially considering his hand-eye coordination and already-polished-approach, and his platoon split should shrink.

Speed and Baserunning

Goodwin is gifted with well-above-average speed. His pre-draft 60-yard dash times fell consistently in the 6.5 to 6.6-second range, and he ran a 4.43-second forty-yard-dash on the gridiron as a high school senior. Despite so-so stolen base totals last season, Goodwin did a fine job of taking his speed to the diamond in games. Lightning quick out of the box, he turned in four-second home-to-first times from the left side in two of the four games that I saw him play in Harrisburg. He gets rid of the bat quickly, and accelerates smoothly for a guy with long legs. Though he has more loft power than the prototypical slap-hitting burner, his wheels should help him leg-out his fair share of infield hits.

Though Goodwin’s baserunning instincts are raw, his speed is still game-changing. On gappers he stretches for the extra-base well, and should rack-up more doubles and triples as he becomes more aggressive. As a top-of-the-order hitter, his knack for getting to first base will also combine well with his wheels, as he’ll be able to go first-to-third, or first-to-home in a flash. His long, fluid stride and premium top-end speed makes him scary-fast as he builds up to his top gear, and when he’s at full tilt, he’s faster than many of the game’s premium base-stealers. Especially if his line-drive and loft power develops, he will consistently put pressure on opposing outfielders to make strong throws and get the ball in to the infield quickly.

As a base-stealer, Goodwin lacks polish. He looked tentative for much of last season and he clearly has trouble reading pick-off moves and getting good jumps. He did suffer a quadricep injury in April and at times he looked very sharp–swiping eleven bags in twelve attempts between May 30th and June 30th. Overall though, he appeared to get more reckless as the season went on. He needs to learn a smoother move out of his lead, and also how to pick his spots. His sliding technique is already solid however, and he’s comfortable diving head-first.

Goodwin lacks the quick first step, acceleration and instincts to be  a Carl Crawford or Brett Gardner-type base-stealing offender. Even though his pure speed will give him the ability to run on anyone, he’ll probably settle more in to a Randy Winn or Johnny Damon-type role on the base-paths–picking his spots and moving when he’s comfortable. The ceiling is there though, and beyond his ability to leg-out extra-base hits and go first-to-home on gappers, his speed gives him plus base-stealing potential if he refines his jumps and reads.

Fielding Ability and Range

To date, Goodwin has spent every one of his 102 starts in centerfield. That’s where he belongs long-term. Of course, the Nats are probably the deepest organization at the position, with Denard Span, Bryce Harper, Roger Bernadina, Michael Taylor and Eury Perez all capable of playing the position at a high level. If they do decide to move him, his range, coordination and arm strength should make him a Gold Glove candidate in either corner.

Though Goodwin’s graceful-but-long-legged stride slows his base-stealing game some, it also makes him a much more fluid outfielder. Unlike stockier guys like Victorino or Crisp, he accelerates smoothly and glides in to either gap. His range is already solid-average, and he has the opportunity to cover an elite amount of ground as he improves his reaction speed. He’s able to make tough catches on the dead run toward either line, and can extend to make high and low back-handed grabs. He’s also very smooth while moving towards the centerfield wall, and his days as a kick returner, safety and wideout have presumably helped him make football-style over-the-shoulder catches smoothly. Even better, he’s also a great leaper, and might be able to scale the wall at Nats park for a few takeaways one day.

Goodwin is a solid fielder right now, and is getting more comfortable making reads off the bat. He reacts nicely, but still stutter-steps on line-drives occasionally. On flies that are fading toward either gap he shows great vision through. Running with loose hips, he has no trouble tracking the ball, ad he takes very smooth, direct routes without having to take his eye off the target as he accelerates. He also has nice body awareness for his age, and he knows how to play the wall and how to cross paths with his fellow outfielders. He’s still conservative on his dives–and that’s a good thing–as he always keeps the ball in front of him and knows when to take it off a hop.

In nearly any other organization, Goodwin would be the definite answer in center field long-term. He has soft hands, and doesn’t let balls sail over his head or creep up on him off the hop. He has tremendous range, and takes solid routes already. If he does have to move to a corner in deference to Taylor–or Span if he’s still there–he could be an elite fielder.

Arm Strength

Goodwin has a strong arm, and from the outfield, it was one of the best in the ’11 draft class. He can sniff 90 mph off the mound, and gets great carry. His throws are firm, and even from deep center field, he throws through the cut-off man. Mechanically, he has a nice, smooth release and gets rid of it fairly quickly. At times he’ll fall off his throws, but his delivery lends itself to accuracy when he maintains his balance. On hard grounders to the outfielder and one-hoppers, he knows how to run in to the ball with his glove, and use his forward momentum to make a strong throw. Although a couple of his errors were caused by him over-shooting the ball–after not bending correctly as he goes to make the pick. But as long as he gets his feet set and gets his body behind the ball he can make very, accurate, strong throws, and could play nicely in right field if organization decides to move him there.

Overall

Goodwin is one of the most underrated prospects in baseball. Despite getting graded as a mid-range Top-100 guy by many popular baseball publications, he’s a blue-chip prospect in my opinion. He’s a member of the elite, and is the rare five-tool player with an advanced feel for the game.

With top-shelf speed and athleticism, to go with a well-coached skill set, Goodwin is already a strong center fielder and has the opportunity to develop in to a first-tier gloveman in the Major Leagues. At the plate, he’s even better. He has smoothed out his swing and quieted his hands since his freshman season at UNC, and now takes an extraordinarily fluid and sharp cut. He has impressive power to his pull-side, exhibiting plus bat-speed, strength and a knack for barreling pitches. But he’s also a polished hitter, with the plate coverage and batting eye to hit .275-.300 and post high on-base percentages in the MLB. To top it off, his wheels should make him a base-stealing threat, and will combine with his loft-power for plenty of extra-base hits.

The Nationals’ roster is stocked with talent at the moment, so they have the luxury of slowing down Goodwin’s timetable. As advanced as he is, he’s not the type of prospect you rush to the majors–there’s just too much value to loose in the long run. The Nats player development team will likely keep him in double-A for the majority of this season and have him focus on improving his ability to hit off-speed and closing his platoon split. If he performs well, and starts hitting southpaws more consistently, he should make it to triple-A Syracuse by the end of the summer. After that, he’ll obviously be poised to make a brief pro debut in September. Unless something unforseen happens, it appears the Nats will stick to that plan for 2013.

Goodwin could play in the big leagues right now, offering solid defense at a premium position and enough offense to play against right-handers regularly. Given his remarkable athleticism, it appears there’s a very good chance he’ll be an All-Star somewhere down the line–as long as he continues to improve. Players like these don’t come around very often (outside of the Nationals organization at least), and Goodwin has the makings of a first-tier left-handed-hitting center fielder. He profiles as a Ray Lankford or Andy Van Slyke-type player, and if everything clicks, he could be even better.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Goodwin: The Nationals second-best prospect to Anthony Rendon in my book, Goodwin is off to a solid start with the Harrisburg Senators. [...]

  2. [...] of the more important improvements that Goodwin needs to make in order to reach his full potential as a superstar center fielder, is his ability to hit [...]

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