Rancho Cucamonga, California —— Los Angeles Dodgers first base prospect Ibandel Isabel is really having a remarkable season with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes: in 111 games (402 at-bats) entering play on Wednesday, Isabel has 27 home runs, but also an eye-popping 153 strikeouts. He is pacing the California League in bombs and only two guys, including Rancho teammate DJ Peters (who himself is having an incredible year) have struck out more than the big 22-year-old first baseman.
I caught up with Peters yesterday about his MVP-caliber season in Rancho Cucamonga, but I also wanted to ask him about Isabel, who is a maddening fringe prospect with unbelievable raw power but very little consistency in actualizing it thanks to poor pitch recognition and below-average contact skills. Peters, who himself is a prolific power hitter and currently sits second in the Cal League in homers, was enamored with Ibandel Isabel.
“Whenever you have me and Isabel in the same lineup, the two best power hitters in the entire league, one and two in home runs, it’s hard to lose those close games,” Peters said, grinning. “Whether I’m on and he’s off, or he’s on and I’m off, we really like to pick up each other’s slack. And we keep it light. If he’s up by one or two [home runs], I’ll come in the next day and be like ‘slow down, man. Let me catch up and then you can hit a couple more.’ When he’s playing well, we play well. It’s really good to have him in our lineup, because he can hit the ball over the scoreboard on any given pitch, any given count, whether he’s 0-for-3 or 3-for-3 on the day.”
Ibandel Isabel is a notable feast-or-famine hitter who’s liable to strike out in multiple-consecutive at-bats only to turn around and hit a ball high into the trees in left-center field. And while he made the Cal League’s postseason All-Star Team at first base, I’m skeptical that the first baseman will have much success with the Los Angeles Dodgers beyond High-A, because he struggles mightily against off-speed pitches and he has yet to rein in his long, loose swing mechanics to prove he can adjust to being pitched down and away and still hit the ball with authority. Plainly put, he’s all or nothing—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it just makes him ripe for being exploited by better pitchers at higher levels.
That said, though, if you make a mistake on Isabel with a fastball, he’s just not going to miss it. Here, you can watch him swing in the videos we’ve put up so far this year, including two shots of home runs with slow motion and freeze frame clips included:
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More from DJ Peters on his impressive, powerful teammate:
“He’s looked so much better and more comfortable in the box lately,” Peters told me on Tuesday. “Today in BP, he looked a lot better, and I asked him what he was doing different. He told me ‘I’m just being more relaxed and confident.’ I think he’s just chilling. When he’s relaxed, it’s scary. And when you have him the lineup with some of the other guys we have, like Keibert [Ruiz], it’s really hard to beat us.”
Maybe that’s true, regarding Isabel’s recent comfort in the batter’s box; he does have 11 hits, including three home runs, in his last six games before Wednesday. I’m skeptical that Ibandel Isabel will ever be anything more than a forever-enticing raw power mirage that plateaus in the upper minors, though. Even though we’re now in an era of the strikeout, Isabel’s poor contact issues and struggles to recognize spin out of the hand will ultimately doom him before he can really show off his ridiculous raw power in the big leagues. Admittedly, though, I wouldn’t mind being wrong — Ibandel Isabel is one of the most exciting players I’ve ever watched swing the bat, and his power can seriously put on a show.