Opinion

Recently-acquired Red Sox prospect Eric Filia is worth watching

The Boston Red Sox may have gotten a steal for Roenis Elias

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (Nov. 6, 2017 – Source: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images North America)

Back in late April, the Boston Red Sox dealt left-handed pitcher Roenis Elias to the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named later. Normally, the mysterious PTBNL is nothing to be excited about, an uninspiring prospect with a near negligible chance to make an impact at the big-league level. Couple that with the fact the Red Sox were trading Elias, a depth starter/reliever who had not made a positive contribution to an MLB team since 2015, and the idea of getting an interesting piece seemed laughable. However, yesterday it was announced Boston will be receiving outfielder/first basemen Eric Filia from the Mariners almost a month and a half after the deal was struck.

According to MLB.com, Filia was the 11th-ranked prospect in an admittedly barren Seattle Mariners’ farm system. He also is coming off his second suspension for using a “drug of abuse” during the offseason. Since he has returned from the 50-game suspension, though, the 25-year-old has been mashing, posting an insane .426 AVG/.508 OBP/.537 SLG slash line in 63 plate appearances in Double-A this season. Yes, it is just a little over 60 opportunities at the dish, so the sample size is small, but there still is a lot to like about this kid’s game since he’s arrived in the Mariners’ organization in 2016.

The 2016 20th-round draft pick out of UCLA has impeccable plate discipline. In three partial seasons with Seattle’s minor league affiliates, Filia has never posted a strikeout percentage over 8.0%. Check out this table, showing his K% and BB% over the course of his professional baseball career.

PA BB% K%
Single A- (2016) 292 13.4% 6.5%
Single A+ (2017) 567 11.5% 7.9%
Double-A  (2018) 63 14.3% 6.3%

He has consistently drawn walks at an above-average rate and strikeouts demonstrably less than the average player. For a frame of reference, the average MLB player has posted an 8.6 BB% and 22.4 K% in 2018. Despite the difference in competition level, the discrepancy between an average big leaguer and Filia’s ability to not give away free outs (strikeout) is noteworthy and commendable. While there has been a shift in the league-wide philosophy to start trading strikeouts for power, Filia has been steadfast in his approach and has experienced success in doing so. Plus, it is atypical a player walks more than he strikeouts, let alone at the rate he is doing it.

Filia has accumulated over a .400 OBP (on-base percentage) at every stop, which can be accredited to not only his copious amount of walks, but to his ability to hit for a high average. Last season’s sample was a bit more illuminating than this year’s meager one, so, using that, he batted for .326, which was the lowest of his minor-league career. Correspondingly, he has run high BABIPs (batting average on balls in play) at every single level. To get a better feel for his offensive abilities, read this glowing review coming into this season about the left-handed hitter courtesy of Baseball Census, which was preceded by a 70/75 Hit grade.

Flat out best prospect hit tool I’ve seen entering my fourth year of covering minor leaguers. Very unique stance and approach with remarkable penchant for contact; mechanics are a mix of Craig Counsell and Tony Batista, to say the least. Very, very wide open stance with low crouch before stride; hands extremely high — literally up and over the top of his head — but remarkably consistent to get into a hitting position at load with enough bat speed and top-level pitch recognition to track pitches deep and still fire off in time. Preternatural contact ability; absurd feel for putting the barrel on the ball and making solid line drive contact gap to gap with a predominantly back-up-the-middle orientation.

It is not as if Filia is purely a disciplined and patient hitter, rather, he blends that with his outstanding contact ability. He has an increasingly rare line-drive swing and is still able to barrel the baseball, despite not featuring an uppercut swing. Filia is able to use all fields, spraying more balls to the opposite side (37.7%) than the pull side (37.5%) last year. Moreover, he definitely has a tendency to hit the ball on the ground, with a GB/FB ratio of over 1.50 in every season. He does have decent speed, especially for a corner outfielder/first basemen, so he probably is able to leg out more hits on groundballs than some other hitters. Still, groundballs are not a very effective outcome, especially juxtaposed to flyballs and line drives.

Anyway, back to the speed, he swiped 19 bags in his 2016-2017 seasons but has yet to attempt to do this year. Even if his foot-speed is not great, he still seemingly has the ability to be a quality base-stealer, only getting caught 11 times in pro ball.

On the defensive side of things, he is not anything special, according to reports, but still profiles as a decent fielder. Baseball Census anointed him a 45/45 Glove and 45/45 Arm grade, which are supposedly below-average grades on a 20-80 scale for a potential MLB player. Regardless, they are close to average grades and people have been bullish on his ability get to read, track and get to the ball. For a corner outfielder with an incredible hit tool, this could be a valuable mix.

It is important to acknowledge, however, that Filia does not have much power, particularly in-game pop.  He has been able to rack up doubles in the minors, so he possesses what some call “doubles power” but lacks the long balls on his resume. In approximately 900 pro-ball plate appearances, he has hit just 10 homers, with a below-average ISO. Apparently, he has a bit more power than what he has flashed, but his swing is not very conducive to the deep ball. Is it worth sacrificing some of the lauded hit-tool to bolster power-tool? I have no idea, but his offensive numbers look pretty good down in the minors, in spite of the fact he has not hit for much power.

Eric Filia is 25, a tad old for a Double-A player, and looks like he has a realistic shot to make some sort of impact in the bigs at some point. His hit tool is alluring, the thing that stands out about his game and makes him an interesting prospect. Well, that combined with his plate discipline, of course. Most everything else about his game is average and that is probably why Boston was able to get him for Elias in the first place. With that said, the aforementioned combination of his hit tool and plate discipline are so advanced and polished that this could end up being a steal for the Red Sox. Whether he starts his BoSox career with Portland or Pawtucket, Filia is a guy worth monitoring and one that strengthens a presently weak farm system.

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