Summary: Torii Hunter Jr. is such a unique case among prospects that it’s no use trying to find any sort of a precedent. Torii isn’t the first ball player to leave the gridiron in favor of the diamond. In fact that’s becoming more and more common. He is the first that I’ve known about with the inherent advantage of growing up in a major league clubhouse. While these things don’t show up on a scouting report, the intangibles that come with it are invaluable. Watching the way dad and his teammates prepare for a game everyday. Watching the motion, seeing the workouts, being there for the long days, seeing the behavior in the clubhouse, noticing the subtle nuances of fielding or hitting, and watching how a team reacts to a loss or a win. In every sense of the word, Torii Hunter Jr. is as experienced as any veteran major leaguer in how to be a teammate.
It’s intangibles like this that made Hunter Jr. captain of the most prestigious college football team in America, the University of Notre Dame. It’s intangibles like this that will allow Torii Hunter Jr. to assimilate and to adapt to fit the needs of a prospect trying to make it to the majors.
But those aren’t the only reasons Hunter Jr. is unique. With Torii, you really have to throw out any age-development curve you’d expect to have for a prospect. Torii played wide receiver at Notre Dame for three years before deciding to give professional baseball a try. Sure, he picked up a bat and ran around the field a couple times playing baseball at Notre Dame, but it clearly wasn’t his focus. However, the Angels drafted him in the 23rd round, and because of injuries sustained on the gridiron, Torii decided to give baseball a try. He signed an overslept bonus of $100,000 to play for the Angels, and the Angels themselves thought this was a very worthy investment, given Hunter Jr’s tremendous upside.
And make no mistake, that is why Hunter Jr. is one of our top prospects. Upside. Many prospects are near finished developing age 23, or at least half way there. But not Hunter, he’s more in line with a high school junior or senior in terms of his playing experience and rawness.
Torii Jr. is more athletic than his father, which says something. He covers more ground in the outfield and is faster around the bases. But Hunter Sr. was a stronger prospect, more refined, with those his own set of intangibles (willing to do whatever it took to succeed).
Hunter Jr. in his first season of professional ball showed a ton of ability to make contact with the ball, but still wasn’t quite so comfortable in the box to take advantage of his strength. But he did show a very advanced feel for the strike zone given the lengthy layoff since high school. Tori did struggle with recognizing breaking pitches, which is normal at this stage of development. On the base paths, Hunter Jr. could absolutely fly, but wasn’t as aggressive at stealing bases as he could be. In the beginning, he had a hard time reading pitchers, but as the season wore on Hunter Jr. looked very comfortable. In the outfield, he covers as much ground as Trout or Bourjos did as prospects, which is to say he covers a HUGE amount of acreage. He’s got a quick first step and a solid average arm.
The most promising thing about Hunter Jr. has to be the adjustments he made as the season progressed. In the first half of the season in Orem, he hit a solid .310 and wasn’t walking nearly as often as he could be. The second half of the year he hit nearly .380 and more than doubled his walk rate. This suggests that Torii’s athleticism will allow him to make the adjustments and succeed in minor league baseball, if he wants it as much as his father did.
But again, with Hunter I won’t focus on if he makes it to the majors by the time he’s 24 as most solid prospects should, more that he’s ready to succeed at the major league level when he’s in his physical prime (age 26-32).
What to expect next season: This is a difficult one to write. The Angels may see that he’s embarking on his age 23 season and aggressively promote him to a more age-appropriate level and get him to Advanced A Ball and AA by the end of the season, or they may throw the age-development curve out the window and just go as quickly as Hunter Jr. is prepared for (the second one is much more likely). I’d expect to see Hunter Jr. likely split the season next year between A Ball and Advanced A Ball. As the pitching continues to get better and better, Hunter will likely need to make adjustments, so for me, I won’t be looking at the overall line as much as I’ll be comparing how he looked at the beginning, middle and end. I know it isn’t saber-friendly, but it is scouting friendly. I’ll also be looking for Hutner Jr. to begin feeling comfortable enough to put a charge into the ball more frequently and record more doubles and triples. Home runs may come later.