Prospect Mahtook has drive, speed, strong instincts
Rays outfielder makes pitchers work, steals bases and forces defenses into mistakes
Tampa Bay Rays outfield prospect Mikie Mahtook is a scout's dream.
While Mahtook may not have superstar-caliber tools, he plays the game with an aggressive intensity that puts pressure on the other team's defense. His work ethic compensates for any shortcoming he demonstrates in his skill level.
Essentially, Mahtook is an average baseball player. But in his case, he makes average look very good.
Mahtook is the type of player that helps his team win, as opposed to concentrating on his own statistics or personal achievements. He plays with a big heart.
That's not to say that the 6-foot-1, 200-pound, right-handed-hitting Mahtook is short on tools. In fact, he has Major League style ability that will serve him well when his development time is complete. Mahtook will have to scrape, scratch and work hard to bring out the best in his game.
Mahtook was an award-winning athlete at St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette, La. He helped his baseball team win three district championships and his football team win two district titles in his role as the team's quarterback.
When I met with Mahtook during the 2011 season of the Arizona Fall League, he spoke passionately of his love for Louisiana State University, his alma mater. In fact, the Florida Marlins drafted him out of high school in 2008, but he chose to instead attend college and play baseball.
Matook played high-quality baseball for the LSU Tigers. He posted a .344 career average and created a very positive scouting profile in the process. Mahtook's collegiate performance earned him a first-round selection by Tampa Bay in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
No individual tool dominates Mahtook's game. He does a little bit of everything, and he does it well. Perhaps Mahtook's best skill is his speed. He is fast enough and has strong enough instincts to force defenses into making mistakes.
A less prominent tool may be Mahtook's limited arm strength, but he has enough oomph and carry on the ball to be a very adequate outfielder. He will make all the plays in the outfield, but he won't be flashy in the process.
Mahtook began his professional career in a bit of a different manner. He signed his professional contract too late to get any real playing time in the Rays' Minor League system. So they sent him to the Arizona Fall League instead.
In the 2011 Fall League, Mahtook began his professional career by hitting a very solid .338 against credible pitching. He hit three homers and drove in 14 runs. He also stole five bases. In 68 at-bats, Mahtook struck out only 16 times.
Defensively, Mahtook played both center field and right field, handling 30 chances without error.
Mahtook's first full season was 2012. He split the year at Class A Advanced Charlotte in the Florida State League and Double-A Montgomery in the Southern League. Mahtook hit a combined .277 with nine home runs and 62 RBIs in 555 plate appearances. He stole 23 bases and was caught stealing only nine times.
Mahtook started the season at Charlotte, where he posted a solid .290 average in 386 plate appearances. He hit five home runs, 15 doubles and seven triples. The triples highlight Mahtook's speed and ability to run the bases. He also walked 29 times.
He finished the year with a promotion to Double-A Montgomery and hit .248 with four home runs, 10 doubles and another triple.
Mahtook does not fritter away at-bats. He means business at the plate. Mahtook uses good plate coverage and a solid knowledge of the strike zone to spray the ball all over the field. His swing is rather short and compact, with a slight bit of uppercut. There is some movement in Mahtook's setup mechanics. While his body parts are in motion as part of his trigger, his head is rather steady, and his eye is fixed on the pitcher. His eye-hand coordination and quick hands help him get good wood on the ball.
Mahtook has some sneaky power in his muscular upper body. I'm not sure additional weight or strength will be coming his way at age 23. But he has enough raw power to knock the ball out of the park, especially if the pitcher makes a mistake and grooves a fastball. Mahtook can be a force hitting pitchers' mistakes.
As a consistent contact hitter, Mahtook has the ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball and create some backspin, hit the outfield gaps and takeoff running the bases. He will not hesitate to challenge the throwing accuracy of outfielders, as he heads for an extra base every time it's feasible. I place a high value on Mahtook's natural ability, intelligence and instincts for running the bases. He's a scrapper.
Defensively, I know that Mahtook has played exclusively in right and center field in his year as a professional. However, I project his best position to be in left field, where there will be less pressure on him to make throws that may be beyond his comfort level. Having said that, I can certainly see Mahtook as a center fielder who uses his range and speed to go get fly balls.
I have heard Mahtook's grit, gusto and intensity compared to that of Pete Rose. There may be something to that. While I think Mahtook will hit for a very nice career average, and I agree with the appropriately aggressive manner in which Mahtook plays the game, his hitting will not likely be comprable to Rose's.
With Mahtook, the Rays have used a very high Draft pick to select a capable, multifaceted player to shepherd through their system. Given the tenacity and game awareness that he offers, the ultimate reward should be substantial for the first-round risk the club has assumed.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.