The Baseball Spy Podcast
Boomer and Louie recap the week of Major League Baseball action every Sunday, “From The Scout’s Seat” – brought to you by 3n2 Sports and hosted on SoundCloud at:
Boomer and Louie recap the week of Major League Baseball action every Sunday, “From The Scout’s Seat” – brought to you by 3n2 Sports and hosted on SoundCloud at:
It’s opening day and it’s the first time since my college days in 2006 that I’m not either playing, coaching, or scouting professionally. Now I’m writing about baseball professionally for this site and publications like Baseball America. It seems that everyone likes to make predictions before the season starts so with opening pitch just a few minutes away, I’ll join the parade. Check out my predictions below:
AL Playoffs: This is fairly predictable. A lot of people are saying the Twins but I think Oakland for the last wild card spot is a better team.
New York Yankees
NL Playoffs: A really good race for the final wild card spots that should have the Cubs, Reds and Dodgers all in the mix.
New York Yankees
Washington Nationals (I also debated having the Rockies here)
World Series Winner:
New York Yankees
Cincinnati Reds. I see Yasiel Puig going for 40 homers and Jose Peraza and Eugenio Suarez hitting over .300 and scoring a lot of runs. This will be a fun offense to watch, especially with rookie Nick Senzel entering into the fold and their new assistant hitting coach, Donny Eckert in the dugout. I have concerns that there still isn’t enough starting pitching to get them to the playoffs though. Still they’ll be a force in the NL Central this year and should make a good run for the playoffs, just falling a bit short this year.
AL MVP: 3B Matt Chapman. Oakland’s gold glove fielder has been increasing his offensive production steadily over the past couple of years. He’s a the ripe age with requisite experience and he has the physical tools necessary to put it all together now at the dish too. He is already probably the best fielder in the AL according to the metrics and I see him having a Josh Donaldson type of offensive production now as well. With apologies to Mookie Betts, my favorite player in baseball (and probably the most talented), it would have been easy to pick him or Mike Trout, but I wanted to go with a dark-horse candidate here. My original pick would have been Frankie Lindor but he’ll start the season on the DL – and I’m not sure how much time he’ll miss.
NL MVP: SS Javier Baez. The ridiculously talented and fun to watch Cubby was AWESOME when I saw him this Spring. Considering he was tops in the NL last year in RBI’s and also just a few homers shy of winning that crown, I predict he’ll continue that trend of destroying the baseball while playing marvelous defense and stealing bases for a Cubs team that will miss the playoffs by a game (if they don’t make it at all). I think Baez’s bat speed and contact ability are probably the best in all of baseball and although he’ll never be known for taking a walk – I can see him hitting well over .300 and leading the league in homers. His teammate Kris Bryant should rebound and be in the conversation and you can’t sleep on Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado or last year’s MVP Christian Yelich either and then you have Yasiel Puig who will get everyday AB’s in the best hitter park in baseball. I was also thinking of Bryce Harper here with his new launching pad in Philly but he may need a year to adjust before getting back his MVP award next year.
AL Cy Young: Carlos Carrasco. A ridiculous 22:2 – K:BB ratio in Spring Training with elite stuff across the board all he has to do is stay healthy. Initially I was going to pick Yankees Luis Severino but he’ll begin the season on the DL and I don’t know how much time he’ll miss. Cookie’s teammates Corey Kluber, Trevor Brauer and even young righty Mike Clevinger would all be solid picks here but I’m taking the guy with the best stuff and pedigree.
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer. Even more ridiculous 34:3 – K:BB ratio this Spring, I see him continuing his run of dominance for at least one more year. Walker Buehler could have been a guy here but the Dodgers are set to limit his innings and I think Brewers RHP Brandon Woodruff will be in contention.
AL Rookie of the Year: LHP Jesus Luzardo (with apologies to a crowded field of Eloy Jimenez, Rowdy Tellez, Vlad Guerrero Jr, I think Luzardo’s stuff right now projects to be a well above average starter while some of these young hitters may go through some ups and downs).
NL Rookie of the Year: OF Victor Robles. The tooled up Nationals CF has all the ingredients to bust out after losing last year to injuries. It’s another close call over Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes who will start the year working out of the pen, the Padres uber-prospects RHP Chris Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr, the Dodgers Alex Verdugo, and even Cincy’s Nick Senzel should factor in the mix.
AL Breakout Star: RHP Mike Clevinger. He may have been a breakout guy last year but this is is the year he becomes one of the games elite pitchers with his funky delivery and above average 4-pitch mix. Apologies to Jurickson Profar of the A’s who I think will have a wonderful season in a new home with less pressure than he did as the #1 prospect in Texas who hadn’t really lived up to all the hype yet.
NL Breakout Star: OF David Dahl (with apologies to Brewers RHP Brandon Woodruff and DBacks 1B Christian Walker), I wrote about Dahl’s expanded role and abilities this spring here – https://baseballspy.com/2019/03/07/chicago-cubs-vs-colorado-rockies-mesa-az/
Today’s article is a summary of top position player who are either minor leaguers or yet-to-be-established Major Leaguers. Click the link below to read it – https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/scouting-11-hitters-who-stood-out-this-spring/
And make sure to sign-up to Baseball America’s premium content – which will have great insight on prospects (minor league, international, college, and amateur) all year ’round!
I made my Spring Training debut at Baseball America today with this little ditty – https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/scouting-11-pitchers-who-stood-out-this-spring/ – a summary of top pitchers who are either minor leaguers or yet-to-be-established Major Leaguers. Click the link above and make sure to sign-up to Baseball America’s premium content – which will have great insight on prospects (minor league, international, college, and amateur) all year ’round!
Let’s start with the Bonus nugget. On the way to Goodyear for the first time this Spring to catch the big league game between the revamped Reds and slightly revamped Sox, I made a pit stop at Mesa Community College to check out the first two innings of 6’8 Right Handed Starting Pitcher Carter Robinson start vs. Scottsdale Community College. I had been tipped off by the Mesa coaches on Carter’s start and I had seen him last Fall when my International Stars prospect team scrimmaged Mesa. He came out throwing 88-90 mph in the first inning and really using his leverage well. At times he would be down in the 83-85 range but I later found out this was his change-up (this is a great sign that the two pitches looked so much like each other). He also showcased a Slider from 79-83 mph that he used both in the zone for a strike and out of the zone for chases. None of the Scottsdale hitters really had much of a chance in the 2 innings I saw. He generated lots of swing and misses with his FB, especially up in the zone and generally showed a solid command of his stuff. I think he’s still raw and needs some work on the breaking ball (who doesn’t though?) but there’s pro potential for him either to be drafted this year or head to a good D1 program next Fall. I left in the 3rd inning to TRY to beat the traffic to Goodyear but he ended up going 7 innings, allowing no walks or runs and yielding just 4 hits with 6 K’s on the day. I’ll probably be back to check-in on him again next month.
Now, about that traffic. WOW. If I thought driving to Surprise yesterday during rush hour was bad, the almost 2 hour bumper to bumper that eventually led me off the freeway and onto the side-roads was pretty brutal. Don’t worry Schu, I made it in time for first pitch.
Starting on the bump for the Reds who I was seeing for the first time this Spring was 24-year old righty Lucas Sims, who has a grand total of 23 games and 73.1 big league innings under his belt over the past two years between Atlanta and Cincy. He showed a 93-94 fastball today with some run and some sink but was missing up in the zone quite a bit. I really liked his tight 3/4 breaking curveball from 80-82 mph that had late movement at times. He used it as both a “get-me-over” offering for a strike and to finish batters as well. It mostly was ML average for me but some of them flashed plus. Overall he showed a fringy command of it. Sims bowed out in the 3rd inning after giving up a oppo homer to Jose Abreu of the Sox and finished the day with 3 hits, 2 walks and 2 earned runs allowed. He was overthrowing a bit for me and might just be a case of him trying to impress too much. Either way he probably factors into the Reds bullpen or as a spot-starter at some point this year if he doesn’t break camp with the club.
The next pitcher in for the Reds was former Braves top pitching prospect Matt Wisler, who I had seen back in 2015 or 2016 with the Gwinnett Braves (AAA). He comes at batters with a different look than I remember – with an almost over-the-top slot. His delivery was balanced, yet powerful. His fastball was 91-93 with arm side run and was effective due to his natural plus plane and how he sequenced it with his 12-6 drop curve that was tight and had a nice late break. He hung it to a LHH but was also freezing RHH with it in the zone with a velo from 79-81 mph and he showed a bit better command of it than Sims did of his. Wisler went 1.1 innings without allowing a hit or a walk or a run and struck out one batter as well – lowering his Spring ERA to 1.93. The 26-year old one-time starter was used primarily out of the pen last year pitching for the Braves and then finishing the season with the Reds. He looks like a long relief/bullpen piece for me right now.
The Reds finished the game with 3 young guns who I had all seen previously in the minors in years past.
First in was Sal Romano, a broad, well built flame thrower who up until this year was always a Starter but now being tried out in a bullpen role. I saw him at High-A Daytona Beach back in 2015 and gave him a big league grade as a solid reliever due to the max effort delivery and 2-pitch mix. That’s what he’s turning into with a 95-96 FB and a 87 mph SL that’s longer and bigger than it is sharp and late but still throws with same arm speed as his FB giving him some deception on it. He got 2 punch outs in his only inning of work, coming at hitters very aggressive and with a high 3/4 slot he has natural plus plane. The delivery reminds a bit of Michael Fulmer from the Tigers, but it also gives me some concern as he doesn’t land particularly stable on his stride leg and there’s some recoil action in the arm. The stuff plays though and he can be a solid bullpen piece this year for sure.
Robert Stephenson, the former first round pick by the Reds in 2011 is now 26 years old and has spent 3 seasons up and down from AAA to the Majors, including 2016 when I first saw him as a starter with really good stuff early in April at Louisville. He only pitched 1 inning tonight out of the pen but he broke two bats on a heavy fastball that was also 95-96 mph and a true slider at 87-88 mph that breaks longer and gradual similar to Romano. His delivery is fairly clean and he gets good extension on the front-side but doesn’t have the same plus plane as Romano with a slightly lower slot and more of a drop and drive delivery. The stuff will definitely play in the bullpen though and he looks like another solid contributor in that role this year.
The last Reds pitcher for the evening was big lefty Cody Reed who I had also seen at AAA in 2016 and spent last year contributing to the Reds as a starter and reliever. He also looked like a solid bullpen piece with his 1 inning of work featuring a plus FB and a tight 3/4 breaking ball.
The Sox started Reynaldo Lopez who I wrote about 2 weeks ago here: https://baseballspy.com/2019/03/04/chicago-white-sox-vs-los-angeles-angels-of-anaheim-glendale-az/
His velo and overall stuff was down a little bit from the previous outing I had seen but he pitched somewhat effectively into the 7th inning looking like the Sox are stretching him out to prepare for the season. He might have just had things on cruise control for a bit, trying not to overdue it in what’s probably his final spring training tune-up and with nothing to prove right now, you really can’t blame him for that. The Reds hitters generated plenty of hard contact against him tonight but he worked well with new catcher James McCann, sequencing his pitches well and not giving up a run for the first 4 innings.
The last guy in for the Sox was righty Dylan Covey, a former starting pitcher who they Ruled 5 back in the winter of 2017 after a tremendous showing in the Arizona Fall League. I had actually recommended to the Orioles that we take him in the Rule 5 draft that winter and was told by our front-office personnel that we were going to had he made it to us (alas he didn’t). I really liked Covey’s pitchability, movement and his plus change-up that he complimented well with a fringy curve. I was never really high on slider but I had him pegged as a solid rotation piece at peak with his 4-pitch mix and ability to command. Thus far he has struggled a bit, primarily as a starter across the past two seasons and it looks like he’s trying to reinvent himself as a reliever for the Sox now.
The FB velo tonight was a legit 95-96 with solid natural cutting action and he also showed a 2-seam with plus arm side run at times. His delivery looked different than I remember, throwing from an almost over-hand slot and his FB velo I never had above 93 mph in the past. His change-up still flashed plus, and a little quicker in the 87-88 mph range, with the bottom falling out at times but he didn’t use quite enough for me, instead really trying to use his 87-91 mph slider/cutter that I don’t feel is as conducive to his slot/release as a curveball would be. The cutter, especially at the 90-91 range wouldn’t do very much at times, and acted more like a 4 grade FB and it didn’t generate any swings and misses, instead batters made some pretty solid contact against it. He was mostly around the zone but seemed to tighten up and tried to pitch around guys too much with the game on the line (that he ended up losing in the 9th). The stuff definitely still works but he will need to realize his FB/CH are his best offerings that he should feature the most and I would like to see him challenge hitters a bit more in the zone with his above average movement.
Reds Position Players:
Yasiel Puig – Always a favorite of mine, it looks like he will finally receive everyday AB’s again after moving from the Dodgers this off-season where they used him more as a platoon player the past couple of seasons. Puig was locked in and hit some absolute lasers, just missing a homer earlier in the game and hitting rockets around the field in other AB’s. He only recorded 1 base hit on the night but every AB was comfortable for him and he is a guy that I’m pegging for 30-40 homers this year with 81 home games at a hitter friendly ballpark. He is a spark-plug and plays the game with such flair that I can really see it igniting a new-looks Reds team.
Nick Senzel – the Reds top prospect who I first saw make his Low-A debut in 2016 at Dayton has moved from 3B to CF and looked really comfortable and graceful out there this evening. He has a tendency to drift at times but he looks solid overall and he’ll project to improve with more time out there because he has the instincts and athleticism for that. More impressive was his ownership at the dish where he went 2 for 5 with 3 runs scored at the top of the Reds lineup. He looked super comfortable at the plate against all the Sox pitchers, displaying great balance in his swing, outstanding eye-hand coordination and plate coverage and plus bat speed to turn on above average velo with ease. I’m so impressed with the way he gets the barrel of the bat into the hitting zone so quick and his ability to take pitches where they are pitched. With 2-strikes he shows a great approach but adjusting and cutting down a bit on his swing with a more contact oriented approach and making him an extremely tough out for pitchers while still maintaining the ability to hit the ball hard around the field. In his 2nd to last AB he was in a 1-2 hole and stayed back long enough on a Curveball – hitting it hard down the LF line for a 2B. He also stole 3B later on. This guy is a baseball player, simply put.
White Sox position players:
Jose Abreu – my former International Director when I first started with the Orioles (who has signed over 70 Major Leaguers in his career), once called Jose Daniel Abreu, the best hitter he’s ever seen. The 32-year old Cuban had his first “down” year last year and he missed some time with various ailments. Sitting next to an advance scout for a Major League team we were discussing how to pitch Abreu these days. He’s such a strong hitter, with a great eye and plate coverage – he’ll punish your mistakes and he’ll make you work very hard to get him out. Even with some declining bat speed and reaction time, he can still hurt you. The approach to get Abreu out is to bust him in but if you miss your spot he will hurt you. Tonight, Abreu hit 2 opposite field homers and I honestly don’t think he was trying to go there either time. The first homer I think he was just late on a pitch middle-away and it crept over the RF fence. The second homer was a little more right center but I think Abreu was just trying to get a good piece on it. 32 is a tough age to predict for a hitter – especially with some injury history and declining athleticism. The aging curve in baseball differs from player to player, much is based on genetics, and although analytics would like to tell you that based on previous history of and most comprobale players – a certain batter will hit x and y at age 32, we know from SCIENCE that no two people are the same genetically and given the ebbs and flows in the game, you really need to get the trained human eye on a player’s movement to see HOW they’re swinging, how they’re moving, etc. I only had 1 game with Abreu and he’s not turning on the ball for me, which is indication that the bat speed is in decline – he is however, adjusting his approach and having success with it. For now, he’s definitely still got something there.
Ryan Cordell – I can’t remember seeing this guy before today and with just 4 hits in 37 lifetime big league AB’s (all coming last year) – I honestly wasn’t even aware that he had big league time. He got one AB tonight and lined a single into LF on a 1-2 Slider, showing the ability to keep his hands back. He then promptly stole 2B. That was all the info I got on him but at the ripe age of 26, guys with some bat speed and athleticism (aka “tools”) who stick around, they may start to “figure it out.” Hitting a baseball (at the Major League level) may be one of the hardest skills in the sporting world and sometimes it takes a lot of time for the mental component that is required (pitch recognition, approach, learning from past AB’s, moving on from past AB’s) to catch up with the physical component before that begins to deteriorate. I didn’t see enough of Cordell, especially against big league caliber pitching to predict anything but I did see enough that I now know his name.
Top Pitching Performance: Wisler & Romano
Top Hitting Performance: Senzel & Abreu
Most Intriguing Prospect: Senzel
Biggest Takeaway: I have to say, for my first time making the trek to Goodyear this is probably the best scout seat/view and the closest action I’ve had in Spring Training all year. The ballpark is beautiful.
NOTE: Do not try driving across the valley (from Mesa to Surprise) during rush hour. It will take a hour and 45 minutes on a normal 1 hour drive.
Luckily, I allowed plenty of time today. I made it for the Dodgers batting practice actually. The game wasn’t starting until 705pm, which felt more like regular season than Spring Training. All of you who know me, know how a 705 start is music to my ears. I’ve been working in baseball my whole life – which means lunch at 230 before batting practice and dinner at 1030/1100 after the game. Spring Training day games are like everyday being a Sunday during the regular season – up at 10am, rushing out the door by 1130am, not hungry yet, getting really hungry during the middle of the 5th inning. I hate Sundays during the regular season because you have night games for 6 days straight and then Sunday throws your whole schedule completely off. I’m not complaining, #justsayin.
But you didn’t click this link to read about my eating schedule, so let’s get into the evaluations. Both starters, Ross Stripling for the Dodgers and Mike Minor for the Rangers figure to be steady rotation guys for their respective teams this year. Stripling has bounced a lot between AAA and the bigs the past couple of years but the dude knows how to pitch even with slightly below average FB velo. All his stuff moves and he spots it up real well. His Curve is probably his best pitch, a big 12-6 bender from 78-80 mph. Everything is either fringe to solid average and he has plus command. He pitched into the 5th and was effective. Minor, who is on a pitch limitation coming back still from TJ showed really good velo of his FB, sitting comfortably from 94-95 mph and a solid breaking ball that looked to blend at times in the lower 80s but would go as high as 87 and low as 79. His change-up was very solid with fading action from 86-88 mph. Minor ended up going 3.1 innings with 3 K’s, 3 BB’s and no runs. He struggled to finish guys at times and his walks weren’t wild, he was just missing his spots. Then as we have accustomed to in both Spring Training and in the regular season now, a slew of 10 different relievers joined the parade.
Noteworthy from the Dodgers side was soon-to-be 33-year old righty Luis Vasquez who was signed out of the Mexican league last year. He has been pitching professionally since 2007, and has gotten as high as AAA with the Braves in 2017 but has yet to appear in the Majors. He only recorded one out this evening (the only batter he faced) and only threw FB’s but they ranged from 92-96 and all from a side-arm slot, not enough work to properly grade out but still…. INTERESTING.
Noteworthy from the Rangers side was they used a couple of guys that appeared in the game yesterday – prepping some of their relievers for the back-to-back grind of the regular season. Jose Leclerc showed the same velo he did yesterday, 95-96 with the FB and a slightly better change-up from 85-86 mph but was too much in the middle of the plate and without much depth, he got hit a little bit in his only inning of work. Kyle Bird who I discussed in yesterday’s recap also came in again – this time recording just one out, left-handed hitting prospect Alex Verdugo (more on him later). This situation, by the way, the lefty vs. lefty match-up only will be obsolete next year because relievers will be required to face a minimum of 3 batters, however, if it ends an inning, like this situation did, I’m not sure if that requirement is still in effect?
The most interesting pitcher to evaluate from the Rangers tonight was 23-year old 6’4 lefty Brett Martin who I saw last year in AA Frisco. He’s almost a splitting image of Cole Hamels and with good velo and plus natural plane. The biggest issue I saw from Martin last year was his timing and consistency of his release. He had a high leg lift and was frequently up in the zone and missing arm side because he has long, wrapping, action with his arm swing on the backside of his delivery. Today, his delivery has totally changed, as if the Rangers had somehow read my report. Last year I said about Martin: “Delivery is long, deliberate, methodical, cross-fire delivery from 3B side. Throws downhill with some drift. Long backside with short stride, hand wraps behind his head before delivery, causing poor timing and meaning his command won’t ever be very good. Really lacks deception in delivery, hitters see ball real well due to his over-the-top slot but lots of tilt in order to get arm into throwing position. Showed ability to utilize a slide-step – and would greatly benefit from this being his consistent delivery, similar to Andrew Miller – dropping his slot, adding some deception and better timing with more natural slot for SL.” Well, today he was exclusively going from the slide-step with mostly a very short stride. His slot was still over the top and he still wraps on the backside and he gets the side of his release at times, but his timing and overall command was better. At times, his stride would wander out and I would still like to see him drop his slot to give his breaking ball better, more natural movement but the FB velo and command was good enough to at least warrant an up and down role this year as he pitched 2.1 scoreless innings with 3 strikeouts to pick up the win in relief. Check out the videos below to see the difference between last year and this year and in the last video how he is still battling his stride/timing still.
Texas started about half of their regulars – Delino DeShields keeps getting on base and each of their first four batters (Choo, Odor, Andrus, Mazara) all collected hits. Their “prospects” really didn’t factor into the game so let’s move on to the Dodgers position players, who I was seeing for the first time this Spring.
Justin Turner – he went 3 for 3 and raised his spring average to .483. Some people don’t put much stock in Spring Training stats but for a guy like Turner, who has been an elite hitter for a couple of years now, this kind of start should carry over to the regular season. The way he looked today showed me he has a legit chance to win the batting title. His timing is perfect, he has no wasted movement in his swing and his pitch recognition is PLUS PLUS. He uses all fields and hits the ball where it’s pitched with great bat speed and the ability to crush mistakes in addition to hitting pitcher’s pitches due to his approach. What I really like about his swing is how he starts his back foot, if you can see in the video below. His back foot is on an extreme angle, meaning he is really engaging his hip torque early in his swing and allows his upper and lower to work together in synch.
Max Muncy – DISCLAIMER – you don’t hit 35 homers as a slouch. This guy can probably hit RHP pretty well and he probably kills mistakes and sits on pitches middle in. But from an advance scouting standpoint there are holes to exploit, up and especially away. Also he doesn’t look super comfortable vs. LHP in general (see video below). His bat path is grooved for middle in and I’m not sure if he’ll be able to replicate last year’s success now that there’s a better “book” on him. Again, it’s tough to judge a guy on a few AB’s in Spring Training and especially with the success he’s had last year but I’m also worried that he might simply be more of a straight platoon guy than a breakout star.
Alex Verdugo – I first saw this guy in 2015 at the Low-A level playing the Great Lakes Loons and he always showed an advance feel to hit. He shows no fear at the plate and takes hacks against RHP and LHP alike. What I really like in the video below is you can see him recognize the breaking ball real early and does a great job of keeping his hands back. Even though he grounds out, he gets the barrel to the ball on time for solid contact and that’s a great indication of future success. Finally, the Dodgers may have found a lefty who doesn’t have extreme platoon splits and can be an everyday outfielder for them regardless of the pitcher. He went 0-3 with a walk, but here’s a great point between scouting and analytics – he never LOOKED overmatched, he got his barrel into the hitting zone every time, he was a tough out, and he made solid contact vs. LHP. If he gets the requisite AB’s, Verdugo is definitely a rookie of the year candidate for me.
Brad Miller – I didn’t realize he was on the Dodgers, honestly. He came in the game with his high socks and no batting gloves and pulverized a pitch for a homer into deep right center. He has defensive versatility and is hitting .350 this Spring. Not sure if the Dodgers have room for him in their talented lineup but someone can definitely use this guy as a UTL player off the bench.
Edwin Rios – no idea who he is but I really liked his one AB (see video below). He only had 2 AB’s and so I didn’t get a chance to see him much but the soon to be 25-year old without any Major League experience looks like he can hit a bit (he hit .304 in 88 games at AAA last year). Someone to watch.
Top Pitching Performer: Mike Minor and Ross Stripling
Top Hitting Performer: Justin Turner
Most Intriguing Prospect: Alex Verdugo
Biggest Takeaway: WHY ARE BOTH TEAMS WEARING THE SAME SHADE OF BLUE AGAIN? No, I’m just kidding, I’ve already stated this every other day in previous posts. Actually, this one has to do with the fans sitting behind me talking about the Moneyball Oakland A’s and how great a movie it was. The conversation went something like “that movie was great, it really showed how a small-market team can win by utilizing statistics, blah blah….” I’m sorry but the narrative has been in place for a while, yet, people never seem to talk about their 3 stud starting pitchers who were all FIRST ROUND PICKS (Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder); their flame throwing closer who was a FIRST ROUND PICK (#4 overall, Billy Koch); the MVP Shortstop who signed by good scouting of the Dominican (Miguel Tejada); another MVP-caliber player at 3B who was another FIRST ROUND PICK (Eric Chavez); and the list goes on. Yes Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford contributed but they’re not the sole reason that the A’s won over 100 games that year. Nailing their first round picks and acquiring All-Star players in trades (like OF Jermaine Dye) is the biggest reason.
I’m not quite sure how to start this post. It is now Sunday evening and I have seen baseball from pretty much every level since Friday. From Friday at noon to Sunday at 4pm, I managed 5 games at 5 different levels. Let’s not waste too much space and just recap.
Friday March 15, 2019:
Went to see Oakland’s minor leaguers play against the Toros de Tijuana, a team from Mexico’s highest pro league. There’s no line to get into the stadium. No parking attendant. No one is at the gate. The scoreboard is off. No one is handing out scorecards. No announcer to announce the batters. It’s on the the Major League Spring Training field for Oakland that was just packed to capacity a few days ago when they played the Cubs, and before they left for Japan, yet it had this really eery emptiness while simultaneously having a very relaxed setting of just watching baseball. Also, my familiarity with most of the players on the field is at about 5%. So I sit back and let the game come to me.
An A’s pitcher with the last name Mora (research confirms it’s Jose Mora, a 21-year old big body righty who pitched at Short-Season Vermont last year) showed a 92-94 FB and a fringe-average change-up that he used to strike out a tall lefty #51 who had a decent swing.
The batter, #51 came up later and absolutely smoked some lasers to the opposite field looked soooo familiar. I later determined it was former Baltimore Orioles Major Leaguer, Henry Urrutia, a Cuban defector, now 32 and playing professionally in Mexico. I always loved his swing and never really understood how he couldn’t find more sustained success at the Major League level. Maybe it’s a little too late for him, but he looks in great shape and he still rockets the ball around the field with a great swing and approach.
My favorite Oakland A’s Minor Leaguer catcher, Cesare Astorri from Italy, came up for the 2nd time (after recording a double in his first AB) and battled a decent lefty with upper 80s velo before popping up. I like the balance in his swing and bat path to the ball.
Astorri has the makings of a solid professional hitter and with his above average receiving and arm strength behind the dish, I think he really has a chance to be a Major League contributor.
After sitting through 6 innings of the A’s vs. Toros, I hustled over to Mesa Community College where the Division 2 Junior College battled another JC, Dawson Community College, in town from Montana, but I spent most of the game talking to the coaches finding out when their “prospects” were going to play next.
Saturday March 16, 2019:
Made my way back to Oakland’s complex in Mesa where a different batch of A’s minor leaguers took on the Czech Republic National Team who I coach against every June in the Prague Baseball Week tournament and is comprised of a few players I coached in 2013 when I spent the season as player/manage for Hrosi Brno in the Czech league (in addition to scouting Europe for the Orioles), and also included a former teammate of mine from when I played for the Hamburg Stealers in the German League in 2011.
One Oakland pitcher caught my eye – 19 year old Dominican righty Angello Infante who had a nice, smooth, and linear delivery with plus command of a 88-91 mph fastball and a fringy slider from 80-82 mph. He’s small and doesn’t wow you but showed enough command and stuff to at least be a solid organizational guy.
A few Oakland batters caught my attention as well – skinny right-handed hitting OF George Bell (son of former MLB MVP George Bell, who was once traded for Sammy Sosa). Bell, who is 19 years old and has never played above the Rookie-League, looked comfortable in the box and has a decent swing with a quick trigger but is still very skinny and raw and has a lot of room to add to his frame.
Another OF, lefty swinging Mickey McDonald, who is 23 years old and hit .284 at Low-A Beloit last year, had a nice smooth swing that reminded me of Baltimore Orioles catcher Chance Sisco. One of Oakland’s top prospects, 19-year old OF Lazaro Armenteros was also playing and showed me a good swing, the ability to drive the ball, and a projectable body and athleticism in a few AB’s.
Oakland’s Catcher Cesare Astorri entered the game at catcher and showed his ability to steal strikes and frame pitches well – check out the video below.
Czech Republic’s national team, comprised of the country’s best players, is in town to warm-up for this year’s European championships and Olympic qualifier. The Czechs were energetic and happy to be in the Arizona sun and played with enthusiasm as they competed against the pro Oakland players despite having no current affiliated-ball guys on their roster. They had a couple of stand-outs including former Orioles minor leaguer, lefty starting pitcher Jan Novak, long-time national team 2-way player Martin Schneider, who came into pitch from SS and threw a scoreless inning of relief with moxy, composure, command and movement that I’ve come to expect from him.
Former Minnesota Twins minor leaguer and current Prague Eagles OF Matej Hejma smashed an opposite field double with a swing and strength that made him a very intriguing prospect in the past.
Finally, young Martin Muzik, who hit .407 with 12 homers at Wake Tech Junior College last year, looked REAL good – lacing a triple into the RF corner and racing around the bases with plus speed for a catcher. Muzik might still be a guy for pro teams to consider – he’s young, with a strong frame, compact swing and the ability to play the OF as well as catcher AND still developing his game.
I then jetted across town to Phoenix municipal stadium to catch the NCAA Division 1 baseball game between #19 ranked Arizona State and Pac-12 rival Washington State. I was treated to a back and forth game with high intensity and good baseball, with ASU coming back to win in the bottom of the 9th and remaining the ONLY defeated team in Division 1 college baseball.
Arizona State’s infielders were impressive to me. Sophomore 1B Spencer Torkelson crushed a first inning homer and finished 2-4 and across the diamond sophomore 3B Gage Workman belted a 2nd inning homer to deep left center to put the Sun Devils up 3-0. Both guys have the size and swings to project for pro ball. Being my first game watching NCAA this year (and in a while) it’s still WAY too early for me say exactly how good they are or what they will be but given that they’re both sophomores – as a scout, you circle their names, do your homework and come back again when it’s NOT spring training.
Scouting 101 – always start up the middle and let your eyes gravitate towards the ball players. From pitcher to catcher and then SS/2B and CF. If a guy doesn’t show you at the plate why he warrants consideration he better be able to play up the middle defensively (or be a pitcher). The two guys that really stood out to me from ASU were the SS and Catcher. Sophomore SS Alika Wililams showed me a really impressive play up the middle fielding the ball behind 2B spinning and throwing a bullet to the 1B to get an out. I started focusing in on his actions and I really liked his small, choppy steps, good reads and overall range. He had good instincts and actions to project AT LEAST some defensive value in professional baseball. The San Diego kid who is skinny and not even close to being done filling out wasn’t a slouch at the plate either. He went 1-4 with a run scored with a nice inside-out swing and contact oriented approach. His one hit, was a double to the opposite field.
Another guy to watch up the the middle is catcher Sam Ferri. I noticed his strong throwing arm as he popped a 1.85 on a pitch-out. I also liked how low and flexible he squatted to receive the ball. Check out this video of him receiving a Curve –
The pitch framing needs some work (but who doesn’t?) but it’s not bad either. He hit two fly balls to RF in his first 2 AB’s but then came on strong late with a full-count RBI single in the 7th and the game winning walk-off homer in the 9th.
The real pro prospects for me were the starting pitchers – ASU Sophomore righty Boyd Vander Kooi (great name) and Washington State lefty A.J. Block. Vander Kooi featured a fastball between 88-93, sitting 89-91 for the majority of his 6.1 innings pitched. His best off-speed was a sometimes tight 3/4 curveball that worked to both RHH and backdoor to LHH. It was 77-80 mph but he didn’t always throw it with the same conviction and it didn’t always have the same shape. It’s a projectable offering and a pitch I think he could have used more in the outing. His third pitch was a turnover change-up that looked like a screwball at times from 84-87 mph. He has a broad upper body and there’s more velo in there – especially with a move to the pen in pro ball.
The best prospect though was Washington State’s starter, draft eligible Junior A.J. Block who the other scouts in attendance (Dodgers and Mariners) were zeroing in on. A lefty with a 87-90 FB and a tight 1-7 shape curve with consistent break in and out of the zone and command of both pitches. He will at least – or should at least – be able to get LHH out at the next level but the change-up will need to develop for him to continue as a starter and be effective against RHH. Overall he showed solid control (when he missed, he was just missing) and good composure and mound presence. Again, a move to the pen and more strength will allow him to get a little more velo out of his max effort delivery and 6’5 frame. He’s a guy to watch.
Sunday March 17, 2019:
The next stop on my weekend baseball tour through the valley was the furthest place on the map – Surprise Arizona, Spring Training home to the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals. Honestly, the hour drive seems long here in Phoenix but compared to Spring Training in Florida (where the furthest drives are over 5 hours), this isn’t bad at all! Today’s match-up between mostly Rangers regulars and mostly Diamondbacks reserves was a lot of familiar faces, a lot of new faces and a lot of action with a total of 48 players appearing.
First, the Rangers pitchers: 24-year old Lefty starter Yohander Mendez, with 17 games in the bigs over the past 3 seasons showed plus velo early at 93-94 but was down to 89-90 by his third inning. Something happened because he left the game after recording 1 out in the 3rd with an apparent arm injury.
Next up was lefty Jeff Springs who I missed last week vs. the Cubs but I really liked last year when I saw him at AA Frisco in June, before he was called up to the Majors. Here’s what I had to say about him last year:
Delivery: Quick, full effort delivery with tilt. Front side goes high in air, with lots of moving parts, can be distracting to hitter. Release is inconsistent. Gets on side at times and drops his slot but delivery also has some deception built in making it avg overall. Pitches from 1B side of the rubber.
FB – straight with some natural cut and hop at top. Tends to take off glove side. Every batter is late on it, deceptively quick. Locating better glove side than arm side. Sitting 90-91 on 6/10, 92 at end of inning when he needed K. Sitting 90 in 2nd inning. On 6/13 sitting 91 overall. Lots of swings and misses and no hard contact against. Plays up due to deception and how he compliments it with other pitches.
CB – 77-82 mph, firm, working front-door to LHH. Some roll more. Not getting consistent chases but it’s a fringy offering, more complimentary in nature.
CH – to RHH with lots of pronation. Pretty good depth to it and getting RHH to swing and miss down. Good deception to it but not all have the same sink/movement. Throwing to LHH as well front-door but works better vs. RHH.
How he pitches: Makes FB look better when he throws CH first. Mostly near or around zone with FB but not precise to spots. Looks better vs. RHH than LHH because CH is better than CB.
One line summary: Funky LHR w/ deception & solid stuff for mid-relief role
Springs was similarly impressive today. His delivery was unchanged, still deceptive with different levers but also gave him some timing issues that led to some erratic misses early in his outing before he worked through it and figured it out. He missed barrels with his fringy off-speed offerings but his FB continued to play up, being deceptively quick and making almost every hitter late, even in FB counts. He’s still a guy I have pegged for a solid relief role breaking camp.
Small 25-year old righty Jose Leclerc came in later and showed a 95-96 FB with life and an assortment of average off-speed offerings – a 77 curve, 84 slider, and 89 change-up all with solid action but not a ton of depth due to his below average plane. I don’t see him as a shut-down reliever because the fastball has a tendency to flatten out in the zone (see the video below) but he looks to be at least a role 4, solid-average ML bullpen piece.
After a quick 1-2-3 inning by Leclerc, 6’8 righty Chris Martin came in and struck out 3 of the 4 batters he faced and looked SUPER impressive. With an easy, linear, and balanced delivery his 94-96 mph FB had plus natural plane to it and showed really good carry through the zone, generating swings and misses. He was throwing his Fastball more in the middle of the plate but the natural depth and hop made it difficult for the Dbacks hitters to square up or get on time. He complimented the FB with a Major League average Slider with good tilt from 86-89 that froze RHH. He threw just one change-up at 88 MPH. After spending 2016 and 2017 pitching in Japan he finally had success at the big league level last year for Texas and looks to be another solid bullpen piece for the Rangers in 2019.
Finishing off the game for the Rangers was minor league lefty Kyle Bird, a 35th Round pick from the Tampa Bay Rays excellent scouting department. I last saw Bird at High-A Port Charlotte in 2016 and had recommended him to the Orioles as a Rule 5 selection in 2017. He was traded to the Rangers this past off-season in the 3-team swap with the A’s and although he is on the 40-man roster, he probably starts the year in AAA. In his limited work he looked like he can contribute at the Majors at some point this year – showing a solid Fastball from 91-93 and a big sweepy slider at 80 mph. I think he’s similar to another lefty I helped acquire while working for the O’s by the name of Paul Fry. Bird should be able to AT LEAST get most lefties out and has enough stuff and command to get some RHH out as well.
The Diamondbacks started their own lefty Rob Ray, who I haven’t seen live since he was in the Detroit Tigers organization bouncing between AAA Toledo and the big leagues in 2014. Ray was his normal solid self featuring a FB from 91-94, mostly sitting 92 and a bigger shape Slider with tilt from 82-84 mph that generated a lot of swings and misses against the Rangers lefty hitters. He threw a slightly slower version of this pitch from 78-80 mph that I guess you could call a curveball. The pitch was plus at times, and other times just average but he was able to get it to dive below the zone when he needed to when ahead in the count and able to locate it within the zone for a strike as well. His change-up was adequate from 80-84 mph but I don’t love it. His delivery is a bit herky jerky and full of effort, he even grunts on about 75% of his pitches (see video below). The grunting is something I actually like, as long as it’s consistent between his pitches (which it isn’t always) because it shows he’s exhaling during the pitch instead of holding his breath in, and that allows him to get the necessary blood flow movement and capillary expansion to maximize his arm speed. It also can be distracting to hitters as well. At times he has a tendency to rip his front side open too quick causing his fastball to be up in the zone and lacking plane and that’s where he’ll get hurt at times, but when he stays on-line and pitches off his breaking ball, he’ll have no problems being a dependable league average starter again this year.
Ray gave way to their normal bullpen guys Braden Shipley and Phoenix Rockstar Archie Bradley who both flashed some above average stuff but struggled with their command today, leading to some Rangers runs. Two interesting lefties finished the game for the DBacks, first Robbie Scott, a side-arm angle pitcher with a deceptively quick 88 mph FB that is just a tough look for lefty hitters. I didn’t really like his CB that he got around and casted from the side, changing the shoot from which he releases his FB from. Scott had some initial success when first appearing in the big leagues in 2016-2017 for Boston but he didn’t fare well last year for the Sox in limited action. After being DFA’d this off-season he was dealt to the DBacks where he may have a better opportunity to contribute but he’s already 29 years old, and that breaking ball needs to get tighter and coming from the same release window as his FB if he’s going to find more prolonged success. It’s always hard to give up on lefties in this industry who have some funk, command and the requisite velo and Scott fits that mold.
The last guy in for the Dbacks was 25-year old lefty Alex Young. Young pitched in AA and AAA last year and came out throwing 88-91, sitting 90 with some arm side tail to his FB. His 83-85 cutter was flat and didn’t do much in the zone or generate any chases out, but his 2-plane fading change-up from 83-85 mph looked really solid and the bottom fell out at times getting some swings and misses from RHH, especially ahead in the count. He gave up to hard hit balls to lefties though and it caused me to go look up his splits. My instincts were confirmed by his AA numbers last year as he feared much better against RHH due to his change-up than to LHH. His AAA numbers were about the same, evenly spread, but it’s still an interesting guy if he can figure out a way to be tougher vs. LHH – maybe moving over to the far 1B side, maybe introducing a slower breaking ball (maybe he has one and I just didn’t see it).
Because this recap is already WAY TOO LONG, here are some quick notes on position players from both teams:
Delino DeShields – speed kills. He beat out a bunt, going 3.7 down the line. I love guys that can do this (something that’s been lost in today’s modern game of homers and strikeouts). DeShields had another hit and ended up scoring 2 runs. Get on base at the top of the order and let your hitters drive you in. A recipe for success since the dawn of the game.
LeDarious Clark – speaking of speed, the former Adelaide Bite outfielder, who has yet to find success as a hitter in the minors but possesses legit 30 SB speed was clocked at 4.0 down the line from the RH side on a grounder. This rates him at the very top of the scale for speed. Now, if he just figure out a way to get on base…
Willie Calhoun – the former Dodgers minor league prospect who came over to Texas in the 2017 Yu Darvish trade has always been able to hit in the minors. He’s got a compact frame and is able to control the bat well through the hitting zone. He went out 0-2 today off the bench and in my opinion his swing is just WAY too big (see video below). They’re shifting on him and he’s trying to jack everything over the RF wall. When he finishes his swing his helmet comes off and his head ends up looking in the crowd. I’m all for taking hacks in hitter counts but with his hit tools he could really be a solid offensive weapon by staying within himself, using all the fields and picking his spots to swing out of his shoes. When he finally puts the ball in play, it’s the same swing and you can see him collapse down into his swing with isn’t helping him get the necessary leverage to drive the ball out of the park anyways.
Zack Granite – the 25 year old lefty swing OF who was traded just this month to Texas after being DFA’d by the Twins had a really nice hard hit 2B vs. a LHP. Never seen him before but looks like he’ll at least provide some solid organizational depth at the AAA level.
Christian Walker – the 27-year old righty slugger who always an Orioles top prospect and has seen action in parts of 4 MLB seasons is no longer blocked in Arizona by All-Star Paul Goldschmidt. He’s off to a hot start this Spring and had 2 hard hits today (see video below) to raise his average to .378. In 2017 he clubbed 34 homers and drove in 114 to lead the AAA Pacific Coast League. This guy could always hit and he just needed an opportunity. I love his swing (compact) and his path to the ball allows him to create really good backspin and carry. He only has really needed to work on his approach and I think given everyday AB’s with the Dbacks he’ll have a chance to hit 30 homers this year. This is a breakout candidate, you heard it here first.
Carson Kelly – the 24-year old top catching prospect who came over to the Dbacks in the aforementioned Goldschmidt deal this off-season has always been a been a little more hype than production for me. He was blocked in St. Louis by Yadier Molina and wasn’t sticking on the Major League roster as a back-up because he needed to get everyday AB’s in the minors. When he did come up he never really hit. I first saw him in High-A in 2015 when he was transitioning to catcher. The coaching staff raved about his work ethic, leadership and overall character. You can see that in the way he acts on the field. He’s turned himself into a solid defender behind the dish. There’s still some issues blocking (I saw him in Detroit last year with quite a few passed balls) because as a taller guy, he has some issues getting down quick enough. I do like how low and flexible he sits to receive pitches and you can tell he’s really worked hard and improved his pitch framing. He threw out a would-be-base-stealer with an absolute hose – about 1.85 on the money. That’s about as quick as you’ll see at any level of baseball in the world. I’ll give him a 4 on his defense now with the ability to be league average at peak, his arm strength and release will help that play-up a bit as well. His swing is still a bit too long/late trigger to do damage against better velo and when behind in the counts -but if he can improve his selectivity, and become a solid mistake hitter, he can end up being an everyday catcher at his peak. If not, with his leadership and defense behind the dish, he’ll still carve out a nice long career as a back-up.
Juniel Querecuto – the pudgy 27-year old 3B had 1 hit from each side of the plate today to raise his Spring average to .308. I can’t remember seeing Juniel before but he did have 11 AB’s with just 1 hit at the big league level for Tampa back in 2016. He’s at the right age to put it all together. I really liked how he hits the ball like he’s angry at it without getting too big. He’s got solid pitch recognition on top of that. Willie Calhoun could learn a few things form him.
Top Hitter Performance: Delino DeShields and Christian Walker
Top Pitcher Performance: Jeff Springs and Chris Martin
Most Intriguing Prospect: Carson Kelly
Biggest Takeaway: Apparently Matt Szczur’s name is pronounced “Ceaser” – I never knew this. Shoutout to the PA. I thought it was pronounced “Scherzer” before today. Oh, and if it isn’t apparent going to 5 different levels of games in a 48 hours span, I love baseball. Thanks dad.
Interesting game today between the Cubs and Rangers because it looked like an intra-squad game with both teams wearing what seemed to be identical colored uniforms. Also interest, one-time Rangers ace Yu Darvish was on the bump for the Cubs, looking to return to form after missing last year (his first with the Cubs) with injuries.
The first thing that stands out about Darvish (I’ve never seen him live before) is his imposing size. He’s massive. The delivery is fairly simple to start, he’s balanced and with slight hesitation at the top of his leg lift, he gathers well and can cause some timing issues initially for batters. He spits out mid 90s heat and a big breaking frisbee-like breaking ball that he adds and subtracts from 79 mph to 86 mph. Yet, for only giving up 1 run during his outing, he did not pitch well. He frequently bounced his FB that sat between 93 and 94 mph, topping out at 96. Really he displayed 2 command of it. He needed his breaking ball a lot in the 2nd through 4th innings in spots normally reserved for fastballs, especially one with kind of velo and hop to it. I took some video to further understand what was happening that I might not be seeing with the naked eye.
It appears, that on his breaking ball, he really gets around it with his release and his arm extends far from his body. Even though he’s rotational to the plate he stays on top of his 3/4 release and finishes out in front well. It looks natural. He shows the ability to command it for a strike and also get it too move off the plate when he needs to.
Meanwhile, with his FB, his slot changes and looks like he’s more “inside” his release and unnatural, like he’s trying to stay on top but it’s working against his natural slot. It almost looks like he’s short-arming his FB. This shows up at the plate where he constantly battled inconsistency with his FB command all day, literally bouncing or missing wide almost every other fastball he threw.
It became such an issue that he really just started throwing predominantly breaking balls to hitters. Even more remarkable was how good his breaking ball moves because batters could not barrel it despite sitting on it. Maybe his slot should be lowered across the board or maybe this type of issues really seems to be more mental than physical in nature. Indications from his body language on the mound (deep breaths, practicing his release) and walking off the mound (head hanging low and look of defeat) further that point. As it happens in scouting players, the stuff grades out to be plus across the board, but between his FB command, his history of recent struggles dating back to the 2017 playoffs, and his overall demeanor/composure – you have to knock him down a few notches in role grade because he’s simply not dependable in this current form. Can you he recover? For sure. The stuff hasn’t backed-off at all and if he can conquer these hurdles, he’s back to being a top of the rotation guy, however, I’m not betting on it either.
The Rangers, who brought about 2-3 of their regulars countered with big righty Connor Sadzeck as their “opener.” He sat 94 with a mostly straight FB, amped it up to 96 at times without much command and flashed a CH and/or a SL that blended together in the 87-88 mph range. Sadzeck, who has lots of moving levers in his delivery, kind of sticks his arm on the backswing and causes him to have timing issues.
Sadzeck recorded 2 outs and yielded a run before being relieved by another righty, Adrian Sampson who threw some fringy off-speed offerings (that also blended together for me) between 83-89 mph and a decent fastball that sat 93 (ranged 92-95). He pitched okay for me but didn’t really flash a finishing pitch in his arsenal. Both pitchers are 27 years old and both have a combined 8 games at the Major League level in their careers. From the looks of it, Sampson may be more of a Role 3 longman/mop-up guy that could potentially stick for a season in the bigs, while Sadzeck with the bigger arm and size, looks more of an emergency type reliever, probably too good for AAA but not enough command/feel to warrant a full-time big league gig.
Meanwhile, the Cubs rolled with what looked to be potentially their opening day (or a version of it) with just Anthony Rizzo at the DH spot and giving back-up catcher Victor Caratini more AB’s at the 1B position. The Cubs managed just 3 hits on the day, and all of their regulars received 3 AB’s (since we are at that point in the Spring where 25-man roster guys are going to be stretched out). Nothing earth-shattering to report but watching Javier Baez in-person again is a treat. This guy has a a pretty standard 1-3 but you’re always on the edge of your seat when he swings. Yes, he tends to expand the zone, and it seems like there is little to no approach at times but he has tremendous bat speed and eye-hand coordination. As a fully-developed man now at 26 years old, he also has the requisite strength to be one of the best power hitters in the game. I didn’t even realize he had 34 homers last year and just watching him swing it the past few weeks – how comfortable he looks in the box, his bat speed, and his strength – I can see him going over 40 homers this year, if healthy.
From the Rangers position players I really wanted to zero-in on last year’s Rule 5 pick Carlos Tocci and this year’s newly acquired prospect from Oakland, Eli White. Tocci, who I had seen in the Phillies system back in 2017 when he was picked in the Rule 5 draft (I also recommended him to the Orioles, full disclosure), looked overmatched and unsure of himself at the dish. His calling card is his defensive prowess in CF but he was DHing today and didn’t really impress me in his limited action.
Eli White, who was acquired in a 3-team trade with Oakland and Tampa this winter played 2B, his most natural position and also looked overmatched at the plate vs. Darvish and the other Cubs righty relievers. He was either pressing badly or not recognizing pitches because he had a number of bad check swings and the trigger was late getting going. He finally got a hit later on and stole 2B but he has more of a platoon / UTL player look to me. He’ll probably start the year in AAA and although I’m not necessarily down on him – I just think the skill-set is limited to a part-time / platoon vs. LHP or moving around the field to get as much value out of his defense.
Note: I left the game in the 6th inning to go catch a college game across town, so unfortunately I missed some Rangers relievers I wanted to see – C.D. Pelham and Jeff Springs, and Cubs off-season pick-up, former minor league slugger with a big arm and now a converted reliever, Rowan Wick. Therefore, I won’t post my “top performers” from today but once again, my biggest takeaway – why are both teams wearing the same color blue for this game? I can’t wrap my head around it…
With the battle of the Mesa teams today, I didn’t anticipate a mid-week sell-out in Oakland (which was also Oakland’s last game before heading to Japan for exhibition games and to open the MLB season there). Today had it all – parking in the mud, lines to get in to the ballpark, unseasonably cold and windy conditions (wind blowing out), and tons of offense. With a new assignment from Baseball America fresh in my twitter messages, I set-out to zero in on some pitching prospects. Instead I was greeted to a 3.5 hour game with 28 hits and 23 runs combined in front of the packed 10,000+ Spring Training crowd.
11 pitchers were used by both teams today (and most of whom I had seen before), including starters Jon Lester (Cubs) and Mike Fiers (A’s), who both got shelled, to put it nicely. Both pitchers, who are “Opening Day-type” guys, rely on pinpoint command, quality movement, pitchability and deception to get outs. With both guys command way off today and with the wind blowing out pretty heavy, it made the game into a slugfest pretty early on. At times, when you go to the Spring Training games, it feels like baseball, it smells like baseball, and it looks like baseball, but you have to continually pinch yourself that these games are only PRACTICE and you simply can’t invest too much in outings where both veterans, with years of success at the MLB level, are nowhere what you expect or think they should be. So instead of wasting energy and words on that exercise, let’s jump right into “prospects” who caught my attention.
Oakland’s last pitcher, Frankie Montas, who we’ve already mentioned in previous posts came on in the 6th inning and pitched the last 4 innings allowing no earned runs, striking out 5 against just 1 walk and 2 hits and lowering his Spring Training E.R.A. to 0.69 in a strong push for one of Oakland’s rotation spots. For me, Montas deserves it, and he showed better stuff, command, and equally as impressive – composure, across the board, when I compare it to the last time I saw him on March 2nd. Montas’ fastball velo was up in the 93-96 range consistently, sitting 94-95, which was up from the 91-95, sitting 93 that he had on 3/2. The Fastball had plus sink and run, and ate up almost all the Right-Handed hitters, as he owned the inside half of the plate. Against LHH he showed the ability to simply overpower them with the plus velo that plays up due to his easy/controlled delivery (see video below):
His power slurve, or Slider/Curve, had a true break mostly in the 85-87 mph range (up from the low 80s in his previous outing) and looked like a plus offering to me, able to locate it and very effective front-door to RHH. His change-up, with more velo than previously seen, had plus sink to it and he commanded it to both sides of the plate. Overall, his entire arsenal was better and he even utilized a quick-pitch, at times, to toy with hitters even more (see video below):
The most impressive thing to me was his repeatable and linear delivery to the plate, poised and in control of his movements, and he displayed a calmness even with runners on base and the game being close. The only time he really got hurt was when the catcher called for a slider to a batter with limited bat speed (or as we like to say in the scouting community – “Slider bat speed”) and the batter blooped a 1B down the RF line knocking in a runner who was on base due to an error. The slider he threw had quality movement and in the right spot, it was just thrown at the wrong time to the wrong batter, at no fault of his own. I can comfortably put a Role 5 grade on Montas right now (league average starter) but with his plus command of plus stuff across the board, he has all the makings to be a quality above average Major League starter very soon.
The A’s rolled out a starting lineup that could very well be their opening day lineup as well. The guys I really wanted to zero-in on didn’t come up until later in the game. Prospect Franklin Barreto, who still has options and is competing for a backup role at the moment, came in to play CF, where he is still very much in the process of learning. He’s a natural SS by trade, and really profiles more as a 2B, but with somewhat entrenched regulars Marcus Semien at SS and Jurickson Profar at 2B, he’s learning how to play the OF on the fly, so the A’s can try to get some type of almost everyday value out of him by moving him around the field. After waiting a couple of games to see Barreto challenged in the OF, today was the day, with the wind blowing out. On 2 hard hit balls to either side of him, Franklin took some banana shaped, or somewhat circular routes to the ball. Both hits were into the gap and would be tough plays for even the best defensive CF’s but he really wasn’t close on either one. Seeing this made me question really just how much value he’ll be able to bring in the OF. I am in the school of thought that doesn’t believe you can take just any athlete or baseball player and stick him in the OF. Reads, especially with wind and sun, are difficult and with Barreto’s prospect pedigree I don’t believe he’s really had much experience in the OF before this year. The way he’s been hitting this Spring, I would honestly like to see him more at SS (instead of Chad Pinder, who has also been hitting well this Spring but who I think is much more limited with range and arm strength than Barreto is). If Semien doesn’t hit (and honestly he hasn’t looked very good at times this Spring despite the average being over .300), Barreto might be the guy to step-in and get everyday AB’s there but I just haven’t seen him used in that role, in the games I’ve attended so far.
The Cubbies started only 2 for sure regulars (Rizzo and Contreras) and the rest of guys either slated for AAA or competing for remaining roster spots to break camp. The guy who keeps standing out is non-roster invitee Cristhian Adames. He went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI’s on a 2nd inning homer off of A’s starter Mike Fiers (his 3rd of the Spring) and raising his average to .452 while also drawing a walk. Adames looks super patient, and getting himself into really good hitter counts to do damage. Could it be at 27 years old and parts of 4 different seasons appearing in the big leagues that Adames has figured it out? In the videos below watch first at the swing/bat path vs. starter Mike Fiers. In the next video he recognizes the spin early and stays inside the ball hitting a hard line-drive out to LF. Finally, in the last video watch HOW he tracks the outside FB, just missing the corner, all the way to the glove. These are great indications of a guy seeing the ball well (not that a .400 plus avg isn’t an indication enough, but even if he wasn’t, there’s enough here to see more offensive value than he’s shown in previous MLB seasons).
Adames looks strong, confident and defensively apt enough to play up the middle at either SS or 2B. The issue with the Cubs is they have a starting SS (Javier Baez) and 2B (Ben Zobrist) and plenty of UTL options with their “BIG” free agent sign this off-season Daniel Descalso being able to play around the field and up-and-coming prospect Ian Happ kind of appearing like a new version of Ben Zobrist. On top of that, they have former starting SS Addison Russell coming back from suspension. Adames has out-played all of them this Spring but that doesn’t guarantee him a spot and so you better believe the 15-20 other teams with Scouts in attendance today were also zeroing in on Adames, to see if he might be a fit with them.
None of the Cubs pitchers really stood-out to me today (sorry, 12 runs), but former Major Leaguer, RHP Matt Carasiti, a non-roster invitee worked a scoreless 1.1 innings after Lester left. He struck out 2 guys with a 91-94 mph fastball and showed a 4-grade curveball at 80-81 mph. Carasiti has 19 games of big league action back in 2016 with Colorado (and an ERA north of 9) and his fastball was mostly up in the zone with some life (hop) at the top. Now, a few years ago when I was first starting out as a pro scout I would normally crush these pitchers in the minors and say something to the effect of – “missing up in the zone frequently, better hitters at the MLB level will lay-off.” What’s so interesting right now, with the state of the game, is you can’t see or conclude either of those thoughts anymore. Now, with so many big league pitchers purposely pitching up in the zone and so many big league hitters chasing or trying to elevate pitches for homers – it’s becoming harder and harder to decipher whether a guy like Carasiti is doing this intentionally and with enough velo, it’s almost impossible to tell whether hitters at the MLB level will actually lay-off. He struck AL Home Run champ Khris Davis with a high heater and another bona-fide Major League slugger Matt Olson with the same pitch. You simply can’t write a pitcher like this off anymore and so I didn’t – because scouting must adjust and account for the changes in the game and how it’s played – but it’s still strange to me.
In the 9th inning Barretto walked, followed by A’s prospect Greg Deichmann walking (who I wanted to see swing it – since he’s been swinging it well with limited late-game action) and then catching prospect Sean Murphy came up, who I really like, but who has also looked overmatched at times too. Murphy hit a double to win the game but I was already out the front-gate trying to beat the 8,000 fans who remained.
Top Hitting Performer: Cubs 27-year old non-roster invitee Johnny Field had a somewhat quiet 3 for 4 but their other 27-year old non-roster invitee, the aforementioned Cristhian Adames, gets the top spot for me.
Top Pitching Performer: Oakland’s Frankie Montas
Most Intriguing Prospect: Oakland’s top catching prospect (and #3 prospect overall for MLB Pipeline’s 2019 pre-season rankings), 24-yer old Sean Murphy who had the game-winning double in the DH spot. Here’s what I had to say about him when I saw him in AA Midland last year as a 23-year old:
Make-up: Showing good leadership skills working with pitchers well. Guys like throwing to him. Good temperament, seems to have fun out there. Calm and relaxed. Doesn’t seem to get to low or too high.
Hitting: Simple swing, not a big load, hands start in good position and go mostly direct to ball with good bat path creating backspin at carry. Aggressive through zone with power swing and plus bat speed/strength. Base is stable and engages core/lower half well. Keeps front foot even with short stride and usually has good leverage in swing. Projectable strength and raw power, should be 7/8 raw at peak, has more filling out into frame and hasn’t developed man strength yet. Easy 6 raw now. Mishits ball to warning track. Hunts first pitch FB. Collapsing down on low pitch at times and not taking outside pitch to RF consistently enough. Not much of an approach, swings at 1st pitch off-speed out of the zone at times. Thinks he can hit everything because he does make a lot of contact and doesn’t swing and miss that much. Tends to get long and around the ball at times. Mostly trying to pull but shows ability to go up the middle and occasionally to opposite field. Makes consistent hard contact. Crushing LHP, and hits mistakes in the zone out of the park or to the wall for doubles with some consistency. Will be a power hitter more than avg hitter at peak.
Defense: Athletic and spry behind the plate, gets to bad pitches well and is a very good blocker. Gloves a lot of bouncing pitches with ease that most catchers would struggle to block. Picks well and corrals ball in front of him well. Works low to high when framing, receiving pretty well, fringy overall now and abv avg at peak when instincts catch-up. Has a bit too much movement pre-pitch with hands and they’re not always quiet to ball but once he gets it, he sticks pretty well. Has a pretty good idea what he’s doing behind the dish and instincts are projectable.
Overall Profile: At peak he’ll be a top 15 big league catcher with plus power, fringy hit tool, plus defense and leadership skills. Pretty close to big league ready but with more minor league AB’s his hitting will benefit.
Biggest Takeaway: I love watching Chad Pinder play. Dude hit a fairly routine grounder to 2B that ate up the infielder, he was going so hard down the 1B line when he saw the ball trickle into the OF he didn’t break stride, rounded first and slid in safely to 2B. Cliff Pennington then drove him in with a 1B to LF. Later Pinder clobbered a homer. He finished 1 for 2 but reached base twice, scored twice and drove in 2. Maybe he can’t play SS the way that I would like out of a UTL INF but the WAY he plays is what any team can benefit from and offensively he’s no slouch. Having guys like him coming off the bench is really the difference between similarly talented teams competing for and making the playoffs and finishing around .500 and lacking that energy/effort/production out of their bench guys.
Check out the podcast I did with Detroit Tigers beat writer Anthony Fenech. Beginning at the 40 minute mark I discuss this website, the state of the Detroit Tigers (my hometown team who I covered for 5 years for the Orioles), some of the top players/prospects I’ve seen in the Cactus League, some sleeper Fantasy Baseball picks, the scouting vs. analytics debate, and my non-profit organization – International Stars Baseball Academy of Detroit.