Things were a little different today. After spending Sunday spinning vinyl records in Old Town Scottsdale at this hip place called Scapegoat – I needed to provide some evaluation/insight for an agent friend looking at a potential client on the minor league side of things at the Oakland Athletics complex in Mesa. (I also wasn’t opposed to having a break from the noise and fanfare of the big league games either). This type of scouting is a bit of a throwback – there’s no scoreboard, there’s no roster, you really just let your eyes gravitate to the players that show you TOOLS on the quiet backfields, away from the TV’s, PA’s, fans, and hype. Here in the backfields, you might see someone you’ve never seen before, you might “discover” someone before they become a prized prospect, you might see an already prized prospect be humbled, or even a former or current big leaguer “working on things” away from the pizzazz. You might even see a player, who once upon a time you saw in the town of Novara, Italy, when he was a skinny 15-year old catcher, and caught your attention for the first time because of his pitching framing and keen batting eye (more on that later).
Today’s set-up was stripped down and action packed. On 3 of the 4 fields, pitchers threw a “live bullpen” to catchers and hitters swang against them with no fielders and no real count. This was one of my favorite uses of practice time when I was a head coach in Europe and Australia (albeit, not accepted very well in either place). The “mono-e-mono” structure allows for efficiency and allows for pitchers to work on things while hitters get comfortable/familiar with the live pitching instead of your standard BP. The fourth field saw a live intra-squad game from a higher level group of Oakland minor leaguers. In this capacity, I could walk around and view match-ups seamlessly. I also had cover from the constant and unusual drizzle in this normally dry time of year.
Two Right-handed pitchers caught my attention – Malik Jones showed an easy Fastball with good life that ate up the batters he faced and produced a couple of consecutive broken bat swings. Nick Highberger showed a nice 3-pitch arsenal and low to mid 90s FB with quality movement and a somewhat deceptive release.
I also had a chance to see aforementioned Italian catcher Cesare Astorri from Parma Italy. A shameless plug here but after noticing Cesare back at the small European tournament in 2014 (where I was the only scout in attendance), I followed him for a couple of years and then after he hit his growth spurt and showed me a 1.9 pop-time and legit game power at the 2017 Prague Baseball Week tournament I tried unsuccessfully to sign him to an Orioles contract. I then invited him to participate in the 2017 International Stars College Showcase held every October in Mesa/Glendale Arizona in hopes I could help him land a college scholarship. He was so good at the week-long event, I invited some scouting friends to take a look at him and that’s where Oakland scooped him up on a Free-Agent contract. I pegged him as a young Yan Gomes with the body type and profile projection. He has legit pull power from the Right-Hand side but even more impressive is his ability to receive and his strong throwing arm from the catching position.
Last year, playing mostly at age 20, he hit .289 at the Rookie-Level and threw out a number of runners. I think this kid has a real shot to play in the big leagues and he even though he is a bit raw still because he doesn’t have the same exposure to the amount of games that most Latin and North American players do, he holds is own in this environment. He caught and blocked well in the rain today and in his first live AB’s he put some good balanced swings on the ball, with a good eye at the plate, even if his timing was a little off. Just as important he displayed maturity and a grasp to handle his pitchers both in English and in Spanish, which is really a great attribute to have as a catcher.
When the live BP ended, I took a look at the intra-squad game and saw a number of guys who I have evaluated in the minors over the past couple of years and who I have already seen appear in the Major League Spring Training games for the A’s. Lefty Tyler Alexander, with his side-arm slinging lefty delivery, was interesting enough – showing some quality movement and command that warrants some consideration as a match-up specialist. He was signed as a free-agent this past off-season after bouncing around the Independent and Foreign Leagues the past couple of years. Former Orioles and Rays catching prospect Jonah Heim stood out with some impressive swings and a solid defensive showing behind the dish. Lefty swinging Outfielder Luis Barrera, who I’ve been impressed with on both sides of the ball since seeing him last October/November in the Arizona Fall League, was up to his usual tricks – playing hard, making solid contact, and hustling everywhere. Even top-prospect Jorge Mateo was on hand to get some work in.
After a couple of hours of walking between the fields and trying to stay dry I felt like I did enough spying for the day. A ball rolled to my feet as I was getting ready to leave, no one chased it down or yelled at me to give it to a kid and then as I was walking out I took a photo for one of the players and his girlfriend. I smiled. This is baseball on the backfields.
When you go to games every single day (last year I did over 150 games total), sometimes you lose track of the day of the week. Today, I forgot it was Saturday, which means increased attendance and longer lines getting into the ballpark. While in standstill traffic trying to enter the ballpark I can hear my mentor, former Big League Pitcher, Pitching Coach, Advance Scout, and General Manager Ron Schueler, in my head telling me I better not be late. By the time I was rerouted to the back of the stadium then rerouted to the front parking and a bit of a walk away from the ballpark I knew I was going to miss the first pitch. Luckily I had seen both starting pitchers before and when I settled into my seat in the bottom of the first inning I was treated to a pitching clinic by Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff.
I first saw Woodruff at the High-A level pitching for the now defunct Brevard County Manatees in 2015. I saw him again in 2016 at the same level and he was much better. I changed my opinion on him (this is allowed, because players DO CHANGE) and I turned in a very good report on him, I thought maybe I was even a little high on him it was so good. Here’s my report:
Delivery: Full-effort and unbalanced delivery from 1B side. Falls forward and never fully gathers to balance point in wind-up. Good drive forward to plate but tends fall-off towards 1B at finish and doesn’t land in good fielding position. Has large scapula load. Shows ball early to hitter, lacking deception in delivery.
Stuff: FB – Serious hop to it. Firm sink and arm side run at times. Needs to harness movement better. Pitches inside effectively to RHH and LHH. Shows ability to paint corners. Maintained comfort velo – 96 into the 7th inning of start. Tons of swings and misses and very few hard contact against. SL – Good shape, just needs to be more consistent to be plus offering. Freezes RHH when he starts it inside on them and swing and miss down and in to LHH. Swing and miss offering to both. CH – will throw to RHH and LHH – gets some swing and misses from both due to deception and movement but still developing feel and command to both sides of the plate.
How he pitches: Uses velo and movement to get outs. Lacks deception in delivery against LHH but his stuff/velo still get them out. All his pitches can act as ML out-pitches at peak. Commands zone and both sides of the plate with FB/SL. Totally different pitcher than last year (April 2015) – velo was 88-94, sitting 91 and off-speed wasn’t sharp with well below avg command.
Profile: Power pitcher with avg feel to pitch. Currently has avg command of solid-avg stuff while maintaining 96 on FB deep into games. Projectable upside of abv avg major league starter when everything clicks.
Essentially I had Woodruff as a Present-Future 4-6, meaning he could pitch in the big leagues effectively that day I saw him back in 2016 and he had the projection of being an above average Major League Starter at peak. Well, based on what he did last year at the end of the season and in the playoffs, he has found his groove and today he was even better than I projected. He’s adjusted his delivery to be more balanced and more on-line and that helps his velo get into the 96-98 range at times, while sitting 95-96 with plus arm side run and sink during the 3 innings I saw him today. He also has much more deception due to staying closed at landing. His slider is tighter and sharper with true break at 86-89 mph, his circle change-up continues to play from 85-89 mph, although it can be a little too hard at times, it still has quality movement, and he caps this off with a quality power 3/4 breaking ball that’s both tight and deceptive. With three 6-grade off-speed pitches, an elite fastball and solid command of all of it – he’s easily a Role 6 (above average starter) right now and if he can improve command of his off-speed (and I think he can) there’s a potential for him to be a Role 7 at his peak.
Oakland couldn’t get much going today against Woodruff or the Brewers relievers all of whom have big league experience besides #6 rated prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) RHP Zack Brown. I saw Brown in 2017 at the Low-A level pitching for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and I liked him giving him a Present-Future grade of 2-5. Here’s what I said:
Delivery: Athletic, full effort drop and drive with lots of head whip and tilt to release as he explodes to plate – almost looks like he’s jumping at times. Able to stay on top consistently for solid plane despite blw avg prototypical pitching size and long stride. Mostly linear. Extreme scapula load. Sometimes his arm moves too fast in delivery and gives him some control problems. Throws everything with same arm speed. Stuff: FB – 2-seam sinker 88-93 with some cut and late run mostly 91-92. Movement is inconsistent. 4-seam has hop and cuts a little 92-96, mostly 94-95. Sat mostly 92-93 (90-95 range) in 1st outing on 7/19 with 3 command and 4 movement. On 7/24 velo was 92-96 and mostly sat 93-94 with 5 movement and 4 command. Showed ability to maintain velo and even sitting 94-95 later in game (6th inning). About same number of swings and misses as hard contact against. SL – calls it a curveball but it’s really a tight power slurve with decent shape. Throws to both RHH and LHH. Can be a little long at times when it’s harder 85-86. Works best around 82 mph. Works as a backdoor pitch to LHH. Shows ability to add and subtract from it. Better command in 2nd outing. CH – tendency to cut it. Pronates to RHH when ahead. Throws with good arm speed. Didn’t throw many. How he pitches: LHH see well but RHH have some trouble picking him up. Has some swing and miss offerings and hitters are overall uncomfortable against him in the box. Showed better command, velo and stuff in 2nd outing than 1st. One Line Summary: Profiles as real solid league avg starter @ peak
Today, Brown was solid and showed enough stuff that he can be long-reliever or spot-starter right now in the big leagues, even though he has never pitched above AA. His fastball was in the 91-94 range, sitting 92 overall with solid sink and average arm side run and some hop at the top. His 2-seam he really pronates and it goes from 89-90, but also tends to stay a bit more up in the zone.
He showed a fringe-average 12-6 curve from 80-82 mph and flashed a 2-plane circle change-up that he used to RHH as well at 86 mph. Because of his shorter size and the drop and drive delivery his fastball and his curve don’t have consistent depth. The Curveball can have a tendency to hang and Marcus Semien, the Oakland batter, just misses on crushing this mistake up in the zone (see video below).
Brown does do a fairly decent job of staying on top and his Fastball does have solid sink to it when his timing in his release is proper and you can also see the quality of movement (in the video below) getting Oakland’s Matt Chapman to ground out to SS.
He actually got stronger as his outing went on and finished the day with 3 innings pitches, no hits and no runs but also no strikeouts and 2 walks. I like the tenacity that he showed and he really gets after it, but sometimes at the expense of his command. He’s going to have to work on his command but with an assortment of fringe to average offerings right now, there’s no reason to think he can’t be up with the big league club by the end of the year and contributing to the Brewers in some fashion.
The guy to lock in on today was Brewers #1 rated prospect, second-baseman Keston Hiura, a first round pick in the 2017 draft who I saw make his debut at the A-ball level that same year and then I saw him again this past Fall in the Arizona Fall League. When I first saw him he was only DH’ing after suffering an injury to his throwing arm in college and he looked a little tired from a long season that started for him with games back in February of that year. I still liked him though and I put a big league grade on him, just with some serious concerns about what position he could play AND with his exaggerated front leg lift if he had enough bat speed to catch-up to plus velo consistently. Those concerns were mostly maligned by the time I saw him last Fall playing 2B in the AZ Fall League and he had shortened his leg lift enough to where he was turning on balls with ease thanks to his plus bat speed and rather compact bat path to the ball. He elevates the ball with ease and his swing/body type reminds me of Brian Dozier a lot. He’s not an exceptional athlete by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t see him being able to play on the left-side of the infield with his adequate arm strength, at best, but boy, this kid can hit the ball. With 2-strikes on him and the bases loaded he shortened his leg lift a bit more and drilled a 87 FB (something he should drill) that was down the middle, beyond the left-field wall for a grand slam (see video below).
There’s no doubt this guy is going to hit (and he’s already done it at every level in the minors) mostly with more doubles than homers, and that’s something you like to see out of young hitters, since game power is usually the last thing to come once they reach the big leagues. I see him as an everyday 2B, with above average power and slightly above average hit tool. I may be a bit low on him because MLB Pipeline grades the future hit tool as a 70, but as I mentioned I still have some concerns with his timing AND with his ability to cover the whole plate.
Then you have the A’s – who had just 5 hits on the day combined. One of them came off the bat of Franklin Barretto who was playing CF. I noticed this only after looking at the box score following the game. I can’t remember him being challenged out there and so that’s both good and bad – good for him that he didn’t stand out and make a mess but also bad for me as an evaluator because I still can’t throw a defensive grade on him yet even after seeing him across 3 positions and approximately 5 games in the past 10 days. This remains one of the most difficult parts of this job – they tell you to work from pitcher to the batter to the catcher and then back up the middle. You can’t watch the flight of the pitch, the batter’s swing, the catcher’s set-up and read the instincts / first movement of a particular defender (or a few) all at the same time. It’s usually once you have the pitcher and catcher graded out that you start moving around the defense (that is, if you’re not focusing on the hitter either). In cases like Spring Training where there is seemingly a new pitcher every inning and someone that you most likely haven’t seen yet – grading out defensive skills tend to be reactionary (once the ball is hit – picking up where it’s headed and if there is a throw involved). Doing it this way will give you a fairly decent idea of actions/movements/arm strength but the missing piece to the puzzle is in the first movements and reaction time. Again, we are starting to get access to data that helps us evaluate the quickness, speed, and efficiency in a player’s defense but we still need to watch for other indications too. Barretto is playing 2B, SS, and CF thus far – and I want to figure out WHERE he looks most comfortable, where does he look most natural, where is he a liability (if at all)? His set-up, his footwork, his body language, his secondary set-up pre-pitch, his real time and in person first step as the pitch is delivered – these are all part of the evaluation process, that can’t all be measured, and takes years of watching a spectrum of players across those positions to understand what it is you are looking for. For example, last year I was in AA Midland Texas scouting Oakland’s farm team. The starting SS Richie Martin was playing there pretty much every day, on occasion he would move to 2B for a game and the normal everyday 2B would play SS. Now, I had graded Martin out as a plus defender with a chance to be elite at the Major League level (which is partially why the Orioles used the #1 pick in the Rule 5 draft in December), but on the day he played 2B he just LOOKED so unnatural and unsure there. It’s not something you can measure precisely with data but to the trained scouting eye, you could see the difference.
The Oakland prospect that I was trying to zero in on was Sean Murphy who I also saw last year in AA Midland. I believe he has the tools and makeup to become an above average Major League catcher at his peak, eventually. The swing is powerful, he displays good plate coverage and is showing a better ability to use the opposite field (as the video below shows).
He hasn’t done much damage at the plate yet this year and he is still learning the nuances of calling and receiving at the big league level, and that’s why he’ll probably be slated to start the year in AAA, but as he matures over the next year and gains more AB’s and experience at the highest level of the minors he’ll be in a spot to start contributing at the Major League level soon. I actually think he could start the year with the big league team but he shouldn’t get the bulk of playing time and given his youth and inexperience, even though the talent is of Major League caliber right now, he’ll be better served getting everyday AB’s in the minors for now.
Top Hitting Performer: Keston Hiura (MIL) – the Brewers #1 prospect had a day at the plate going 2-3 with a walk, 4 RBI’s (on the grand slam).
Top Pitching Performer: Brandon Woodruff (MIL) – the righty was his normal dominant self, working 3 innings and only giving up 1 walk and 1 hit while limiting the A’s to no runs and striking out 5. He the stuff, command, and composure to definitely be considered a top of the rotation starter for Milwaukee when they break camp.
Most Intriguing Prospect: It’s easily Hirua here as the top prospect but Oakland’s Sean Murphy, Milwaukee’s Lucas Erceg who came in late to play 1B, and the Brewers RHP Zack Brown are all intriguing for me.
Biggest Takeaway: Never assume you’re going to waltz into the ballpark at any Spring Training game, plan for and prepare for traffic backups. Also, never forget your headphones, so when the fan behind you think that he’s the next Vin Scully and starts doing the play-by-play on every pitch, you can just drown it out with your Itunes.
Due to the good graces of some scouting friends I am happily staying in Mesa for another Spring Training game today. I have a particular interest in the Padres (and I am not talking about Manny Machado here) because I have been scouting their system continuously since 2015 while working for the Orioles AND because they have arguably the most talented farm system in the game.
23-year old RHP Chris Paddack was on the bump to start for the Padres today. He is currently ranked as the #5 Prospect in the Padres vaunted farm system by MLB Pipeline (and #34 overall). I saw him make one appearance (his first one with the Padres) back in 2016 at the A-ball level for Ft. Wayne, right after coming over in a trade from the Marlins and only shortly after returning to the field after sitting out 2015 with TJ surgery. Paddack was as good as advertised and he dominated with a 91-96 Fastball with natural cutting action and a lot of hop at the top of the zone. He sat at 94 MPH throughout his 4 innings of work, generating plenty of swings and misses with it and showing the ability to go 95-96 when he was ahead in the count. He especially apt at pitching inside to RHH with it and due to his position on the 3B side of the rubber he really owned the inner half of the plate against RHH. The ability for a RHP to pitch inside vs. RHH is an incredible weapon. He also utilized a legit above average change-up to both RHH and LHH. He threw it in the 83-85 range with really good deception and quality 2-plane movement and commanded it to both sides of the plate. Again, his ability to command it low and inside to RHH (or as we say in the scouting community – “front-door”) was especially noteworthy. He only flashed his 3rd offering a consistent 12-6 curveball on occasion and really didn’t need it today on his way to 7 strikeouts with no walks or runs allowed and limiting Oakland to just 3 hits. His delivery was repeatable, linear and he hides the ball real well on the backside before a quick arm through the release-zone – giving him both plus deception and projectable plus command of all his pitches. Finally, he displayed really good mound presence and you could see he really had an idea of what he was doing. Check out these videos of his 95 FB and dirty change-up – both strikeouts.
The only real negative I saw was that he wasn’t always consistent to the glove side of the plate with his FB and so he may need to develop a cutter to get inside on LHH better, but with this arsenal as it stands, he clearly as the makings of a role 6 starting pitcher, good for the middle rotation of any MLB team at his peak (i.e. #3 starter). Without being able to grade out the breaking ball and without seeing a harder slider/cutter to get on LHH, that’s the only thing preventing me from going Role 7 (or top of the rotation type of starter). Again, it’s Spring Training and so putting a full report on him with this outing is a bit challenging.
Before we move on from Paddack’s great outing, there’s one more thing that happened that involved him that I would like to touch on. This really isn’t much to do with Paddack himself than it is emblematic of why pitching stats can be so misleading, at times. In the bottom of the 3rd inning, with 2 quick outs already behind him, leadoff hitter Robbie Grossman (batting left-handed) came to the plate. Grossman had already seen Paddack to lead-off the game and given his overall hitter profile the 2 courses of action would to be start him off with Paddack’s least featured pitch – his Curve, as a “get me over” offering to try to steal strike one and change Grossman’s eye level a bit OR try to bust him in with a mid 90s FB (I don’t care who is hitting, this is always going to be tough to barrel early in the count). Instead, Paddack questionably threw a 1st pitch change-up about 84-85 mph that Grossman singled into RF just to right of the second-baseman (see video below). Then the next batter, Franklin Barretto singled on a full count after seeing 5 FB’s in a row. Paddack got the next batter, Chad Pinder to ground out, but let’s say Pinder’s ball gets through and a run scores – the earned run is charged to Paddack even though he basically did what he was supposed to do – he pitched the pitches that were called to the location the catcher called for. So he may give up a run or two in an inning that he could have easily been out of – if the catcher calls the right sequence. Now, it’s Spring Training, and of course his catcher Chris Stewart, and in general the coaching staff may be calling pitches based on what they think Paddack needs to work on – we don’t know the answer to this question. But in a broader context, if the situation unfolds the way I just described and Paddack is charged with a run, thus raising his E.R.A., a lot of times the pitcher gets blamed for the run or for throwing the wrong pitch, when there are so many other factors involved. The sequence really made no sense from the point of view that here’s a pitcher with 3 quality pitches and 96 in the tank and he’s cruising and you open the sequence with a 1st pitch change-up to a below average Major League hitter. This is on the catcher, or whoever is calling the pitches and really there is no way for statistics to account for this.
Paddack gave way to a couple of relievers and a few guys caught my attention. First out of the pen was 29-year old righty Robert Stock. With only one season and 32 games under his belt, I honestly had never seen this guy but he was impressive with a 95-98 mph fastball from a low 3/4 slot and decent breaking ball that had plenty of shape from 81-84 mph. Now, Stock is a bit of a shoulder spinner (opening up early) and comes at the hitter with a lot of effort causing him to be a bit all over the place at times and he also was guiding his breaking ball on occasion. But there’s no reason to think he can’t be a solid bullpen contributor with the stuff he flashed today and what he built on last year.
Relieving Stock in the 6th inning was Phil Maton who I saw last year in AA San Antonio. So far this Spring Maton has yet to allow a run and last year he provided solid value in middle relief. This could be a potential closer candidate for the Padres. He doesn’t overpower guys but he throws predominantly a cutter with good shape at 88-89 mph and I’ve seen him run his FB with natural cut up to 93 mph and then more of a true slider back down in the mid 80s. He spots up all three of these pitches and with a somewhat funky delivery and the late movement of all his stuff, he has the requisite deception/command/stuff to get a lot of outs at the big league level. You don’t necessarily need big time velo to be a shut-down reliever. This is an example. I like this guy.
Meanwhile Oakland went with a number of contributors from last year’s teams and an impressive newcomer, veteran Joakim Soria. I mentioned Soria a couple of days ago where he was utilizing various slots to trick hitters right now. This is a much different Soria than I had scouted in the past (and a reason why advance scouting is so necessary still, in order to stay on top of players who are continually making adjustments to their game). Once again Soria breezed through his 1 inning of work utilizing various slots and an array of offerings to fool his opponents. Today he threw a few more change-ups in the mid 80s to lefties and continued to float a CB in from a high 3/4 slot and a low 3/4 slot from 69-75 mph. His Fastball was 90-91 today from both slots and with solid movement, including one that had nice arm side run back over the outside corner of the plate to a RHH. Somehow at 34 years old, when most pitchers are on the downturn of their careers, Soria has mastered the use of multiple slots and reinvented himself as a quality MLB reliever. Good pick-up Oakland.
The Padres brought a number of their younger starters and a few top prospects to this away game. Corner Outfielder Hunter Renfroe, a former top prospect who is now 27 years old was impressive today going 2-3 with 3 RBI’s and hitting every ball on the nose. I’ve seen him in the minors struggle with pitch recognition and have a lot of swing and miss issues at times. He still clears his hips early and kind of sells out for a pull swing but when he connects he hits the ball hard. The load isn’t that big, and he understands his own strength better now, so he can still tap into his power without needing much extra movement to get to that power swing. The opposite is the case for 20-year old former 1st Round Pick Hudson Potts. Potts has a body type and strength that profiles similar to Renfroe but the biggest difference is I don’t think he realizes yet just how strong he is and how unnecessary his longer load is. Even though he made some very solid contact driving some low 90s FB deep into the outfield, both were pitches he should have actually deposited over the left-field fence but in every at bat he was continually late getting to the ball on time with his bigger load. His back elbow drifts too much for me and even though he showed probably good exit velocity due to his natural strength and bat speed – his lack of timing means that he ended up flying out to the deepest part of the park in 2 consecutive AB’s. You still like the size and strength and he’s young enough to make the adjustment to cut down on his load, so I’m not giving up on him by any means, but these are interesting things you can factor into scouting evaluations when you really start to focus in on particular players.
The Oakland offense didn’t do much against the quality San Diego pitchers for the first 6 innings. Then in 7th they busted out – sparked by Dustin Fowler leading off with a 1B, one of my favorite catchers from scouting the past 5 years in the minors, Josh Phegley belted an opposite field homer. He had previously thrown out a base-runner attempting to steal 2B with his cannon arm (clocking a 1.85 pop-time) and I had turned to a scout behind me and sang his praises and concluded by mentioning I always thought he would be more productive at the Major League level because I figured his power that he displayed in the minors (30 doubles and 23 homers when I scouted him in AAA with the White Sox in 2014) would play more at the big league level. As readers of this website already know about me, I really value strong defensive catchers who can hit a little bit. Even at 31 years old, Phegley can still be coming into his own as a hitter and because he can catch, you simply can’t give up on that kind of power and arm. I’m not saying he’ll be an All-Star, but can he provide at least part-time value at the catching position? I still believe so. The Padres were still up by 3 runs when Oakland came to bat in the 8th inning. That changed very quickly when a number of guys I had never heard of before made the most of their “big league AB’s” capped off by 2017 2nd round pick Greg Deichmann, out of LSU, jacking a 2-run homer down the RF line to give the A’s the lead and eventually the win. I have no history of Deichmann and he only hit .199 in 166 AB’s at the High-A level last year, but he did hit the homer off a Major League pitcher and he did it with a fast-twitch, explosive swing that will be etched in my memory and now I have another name to circle and pay attention to.
Top Hitting Performer: Chad Pinder (OAK) – he had been playing DH in previous games and he had been stinging the ball. Today he filled in at SS and smoked 2 doubles against 2 big league caliber pitchers. He has a quick twitch swing with strength and solid plate coverage and he does not get cheated. I don’t know if he’s an everyday guy but he certainly is a bat with value at the Major League level.
Top Pitching Performer: Chris Paddack (SD) – final line of 4 innings, 7 K’s, 3 hits, 0 walks, and 0 runs. This guy has put up stats at every level of the minors in his young career. The Padres biggest weakness is their starting pitching. He proved to me today that he belongs in the big leagues. He’s old enough and even though he may not have the “requisite experience” I think the St. Louis Cardinals have showed over the years that if you have the STUFF and the COMMAND to pitch at the Major League level, then why the heck not bring the guy up? San Diego can use this guy in their rotation and I hope they do the right thing and let him break camp with the team.
Most Intriguing Prospect: Paddack with a special shout-out to Diechmann for getting us out of the ballpark a few minutes earlier by not having to play the bottom of the 9th.
I’m back at the Cubs complex today and got my parking situation figured out without any issues.
The issue today was that my seat was way off to the right side behind home-plate, not a good angle for the radar gun, for video, or for evaluating pitch movement, so I did the oldest scouting trick in the book – look for a nearby empty row in the first inning and hope that I wouldn’t have to play musical chairs. Luckily, I found myself in the Rockies family section – good for two reasons: 1) The players’ don’t typically use all their family allotted tickets and 2) you can hear some good stuff about players from their family and friends (more on that later).
This game was very interesting for a number of reasons. First, both teams were in the playoffs last year, and actually faced off in the wild card game that was won by Colorado on the road by a score of 2-1. Neither team made large splashes this off-season, neither in free-agency or by trade, but they both still feature potent offensive lineups, really good defensive standouts across the diamond – especially up-the-middle, competent starting rotations and solid bullpens, and that gives me no reason to believe that they both won’t be in the playoff hunt in September. This game was also interesting because unlike the past week of games I saw, today was NOT a pitcher’s duel. Both teams combined for 21 hits and 12 runs – meaning I got to see some action on the bases, in the field, and more AB’s for players. Overall, a total of 51 players appeared today! 36 position players and 15 pitchers were used. This makes the task of trying to evaluate so many players very challenging and the reason why I (and the entire scouting community) don’t necessarily write full-reports on players during Spring Training. The fact that there are just so many players appearing, and often for just 1 AB or 1 inning of work, the attention and focus required in order to evaluate a player properly, just does not exist in these circumstances. I find it a better use of my time, especially for these posts, to focus on a couple of players in-depth, and paint a broader, general picture of some of the players appearing. Otherwise, my head would be buried in notes and writing everything down and I would miss large parts of the action on the field.
Now with that out of the way – on to the game! Both teams rolled out a starting lineup of mostly regulars and both starters were rotation guys (Jon Lester and Antonio Senzatela). Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, but it’s SPRING TRAINING, and both had their requisite velocity and movement of pitches, so no real red flags there. After the Rockies relieved Senzatela, their 4 main relievers followed – of particular note RHP Wade Davis threw a 92-94 FB and a very sharp and late moving 89-90 mph, elite Cutter that is deceptive and he can pinpoint. He also featured an above average 84 mph Slider that is consistent and true shape. Just for fun he flashed one 81 mph Curve. Everything plays off each other well and he displays 6/7 grade command of everything. Lefty Mike Dunn came in next and sat 91 with his FB, threw a slider/cutter at 85-86 and a bigger/slower Curve at 73 mph. He’s tough on LHH but can get RHH out too. He had good depth to his pitches and his delivery reminds me of Tigers reliever Blaine Hardy who I have seen a lot over the last few years. The last pitcher to appear for the Rockies was RHP Jesus Tinoco, a guy I’ve seen in Low-A way back in 2015 when he was still with the Toronto Blue Jays organization (before he was part of the Troy Tulowitzki trade). Tinoco is a top Rockies prospect for me – he has great size and a big arm to go along with plus stuff and a mound presence that can be intimidating. He came out throwing his fastball 94-96 with plus movement (arm side run and sinking action, at the same time) that bores in on RHH. From the stretch he was down to 93 but when he got 2-strikes he was able to amp it up to 97 mph. He also threw a power slider at 88-89 mph that had plus movement and late action but the shape wasn’t always consistent today. He busted out one 12-6 (picture a clock to understand the movement) Curve towards the end of his outing at 81 mph but it stayed up. He’s only 23 years old (will be 24 in April) and he pitched his youth today – overthrowing at times and getting himself into trouble when he could have gotten away with challenging the replacement minor league Cubs lineup in the 9th inning. Once he got into trouble he showed some anger and a tenacity to get after it and finish the job. If Tinoco can harness that focus and command more consistently, he’ll be in the Majors contributing out of the pen very soon.
Out of the Cubs 8 pitchers today, I was really intrigued by righty Dillon Maples a 14th round pick back in 2011 who made his Major League debut in 2017 but has only amassed a total of 10.2 innings at the highest level over the past 2 seasons (and carried an E.R.A. over 10 as well). I saw Maples back in 2015 and 2016 when he was still in (and repeating) the Low-A level for the South Bend Cubs. With the stuff he brought today, he won’t be pitching for South Bend anytime soon. Maples only faced 4 batters and gave up a really solid hit to Rockies prospect Colton Welker but besides that one mistake he struck out two Rockies with an electric 95-97 FB and a late and big breaking cutter 88-92 mph. His slider had similar shape to the cutter, just a tad lower from 83-87 mph. It’s possible that I have misidentified the slider and cutter at the upper 80s velocity – but that’s a good thing! If I’m having trouble identifying it, imagine how the batter standing 60 feet and 6 inches away is feeling. Honestly, I had kind of forgotten about Maples as an impact bullpen guy but he’s still just 26 years old and if he brings this kind of stuff during the regular season – I can see him definitely helping out the Cubbies pen.
From the Cubs position players a couple of guys really caught my attention. First, starting catcher Wilson Contreras. I have never seen him live before and I kind of followed him around the field for a while. I tend to do this with catchers because 1) it’s so hard to find good ones and 2) it is the most important position on the field for me. If you disagree with me, that’s fine, but go look at the past 15 years of World Series winners – unless you have a rotation of Cy Young winners and dominant bullpen (i.e. Red Sox 2018), the majority of champs have had a standout defensive catcher and just importantly – a standout leader. Posey, Salvador Perez, Yadi Molina, Pudge Rodriguez, the list goes on. Anyways, Contreras can really play on both sides of the ball. He threw out a baserunner with his cannon arm (I got a 1.9 pop-time on it) and he hit a LASER double to the LF wall driving in 2 runs with some serious exit velocity. Just as importantly you could see him working with Lester and the other pitchers when things weren’t going their way. He schmoozed with the umpire, coaches, and fans. He carried himself with confidence and played with enthusiasm. Maybe I’m late to the Contreras bandwagon but I don’t like formulating an opinion on players until I get to see them live because there’s so many things that baseball telecasts don’t show that helps round out our scouting evaluations.
Another guy from the Cubs who caught my attention was late inning replacement at SS, Cristhian Adames (yes, the spelling is correct). I have never seen him before and honestly didn’t realize he had 300 Major League AB’s (mostly with Colorado in 2016). For the second straight day he came in late and pulverized the ball in his only AB. Yesterday he crushed a 89 FB to right-center for a double. Today he turned around a 94 FB and deposited it over the left-center wall for a homer. Maybe it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors, he’s hitting FB’s and it’s late in Spring Training games. OR maybe at 27 years old, he has finally put it together offensively. He made a strong play at SS yesterday and the chatter in the scouting section is that he could always field it. With the Cubs pretty set at SS with Javier Baez and/or Addison Russell, this might be a guy for teams lacking in SS depth to consider (I see you Detroit, Toronto, Seattle, Texas, Miami, New York Mets, Pittsburgh) – oh wait, that’s quite a few teams. Adames looks strong and definitely warrants a more concentrated look.
The real Cubs standout today was the guy I mentioned in yesterday’s recap, who didn’t even get an AB. My top Cubs prospect, Nico Hoerner. I threw a Ryne Sandberg comparison on him yesterday, which prompted my dad to call me this morning and ask me what that was all about (THANKS FOR READING DAD!). Hoerner, last year’s 1st Round pick out of Stanford absolutely balled out today as the DH. He had 4 AB’s and reached base 4 times. He had a RBI 1B in his first AB that blooped into the OF. In his 2nd AB he hustled down the line (4.00 jailbreak) and beat out a grounder to the left-side for a 1B with 2-strikes on him. In his 3rd AB he smashed a triple to right-center, what normally would have been a double – he ran hard and with plus speed and good angles around the bases he made it to third. By his fourth AB the Rockies just plunked him for good measure. His swing is a bit unorthodox, with his back foot moving and more a natural dip from the right-hand side with a 2-handed finish but he has excellent plate coverage and contact skills. He was not overmatched by any of the Rockies Major League starters or relievers and this guy has the makings of a quick mover through the system. I saw him briefly last year in the Arizona Fall League where he hit well after not playing much after the draft due to an injury. You watch this kid and you just like how he plays the game.
Sitting in the Rockies family section was interesting. First off, they all know what you’re doing and you can catch a few of them trying to peak at your notes – hoping to read what you’re writing about their son or husband/boyfriend. And you also hear things that can help the evaluation process but you have to be careful as a scout not to let too much of the human element of “caring” cause any bias. Let’s say you strike up a conversation with a family member or partner and you like them, it’s natural to want their person to do well, it’s human nature. However, this is different than amateur scouting, in pro scouting you’re not supposed to be building relationships with players or their families – you’re strictly evaluating them based on their performance, their tools, and their makeup. The family section can lend some helpfulness to the makeup part, but it can also cloud the judgment of your evaluation if you let that bias start to creep in. For example, today I learned that David Dahl only recently began wearing his pants up. This became an interesting tidbit because he ended up going 3 for 3 with a homer and looked every bit of the DUDE he’s supposed to be with his lofty prospect ranking. Now, as a former player who would adjust between high socks and the full pant look depending on my winning streak as a pitcher (or lack thereof) it helps me learn that this player is a bit superstitious and maybe a bit more routine based. So let’s say they’re not getting everyday AB’s with their club but I know this aspect of their makeup, one could surmise that given a better routine or structure, or consistent playing time – it may alleviate the mental anguish that comes from not having success in a part-time role. I’m not saying this is the case with Dahl, but just using this as an example.
The other two young guys I wanted to lock-in on was 2B Ryan McMahon and SS Garrett Hampson. Both are natural at the 2B position but maybe slightly stretched to play SS. Both are 24 years old and only have 200 MLB AB’s between them. The biggest different is that they’re different types of players with different swings and Hampson is right-Handed hitting and McMahon is left-handed hitting. With Trevor Story ingrained at SS and Arenado at 3B for a long time, this seems to be either a competition for the starting 2B spot or a natural platoon situation. With uber-prospect Brendan Rodgers on his way up the ladder, it behoves one of these guys to grab this opportunity to carve out a starting spot this Spring. Both went 1 for 3 today. McMahon golfed a 2-strike pitch to RF with 2-strikes while Hampson belted a homer to left-center field. McMahon has a smooth looking natural loopy swing (see video below) that projects for some power at Coors Field. Hampson, with a smaller, stockier frame, has a shorter, quick twitch aggressive swing that profiles for a higher average. Interesting Hampson hit the homer and McMahon had the 2-strike single. With only a handful of AB’s seen – it’s way too early for me to say which guy is better suited to start and it would be easy for me to just throw up my hands and say platoon them because McMahon looked perfectly fine vs. LHP Jon Lester. This is not a bad problem for the Rockies to have.
Speaking of not bad problems for the Rockies to have – 3B prospect Colton Welker came on late in the game and smoked a double to Right-Center off of the aforementioned Dillon Maples (see video below). With the recently extended Nolan Arenado holding down 3B for Colorado (probably for the next 7-8 years) Welker may need to find a new position if he continues to hit. I don’t love the swing, it is a huge uppercut and that I don’t know how well he’ll be able to turn on inside heat with his bigger load BUT so far in his young career he has hit a robust .337 in the minors overall. Sometimes stats simply don’t lie. .337 anywhere will get you paid. He’s well built and he may end up moving to 1B and becoming a bona-fide slugger. Just 21 years old and yet to reach AA, the Rockies and him have some time – but the question is do you pull him off 3B now because of Arenado or just let him play there until you have to make that decision?
And speaking of well built players. Catcher Tom Murphy crushed a homer over the left-field berm and smoked a double to LF in another AB today. Veteran Chris Ianetta, not known much for his bat, is the projected starter but Murphy can give him a run for his money if he continues to hit like this.
One last point for this very long recap: Speedy 25-year old Raimel Tapia (who I heard from a front office executive call him the Dominican Ichiro), came in late and went to play CF. Although he didn’t do much at the plate the thing that stood out was how he handled himself in center. I don’t have much history with this player but part of the evaluations that I haven’t really discussed is a player’s defensive ability. In the video below you can see Tapia’s first step (good drop step), efficient route to the ball, and the way he gets under it and doesn’t drift catching the ball – with his back to the wall and facing the field. In 2019 the scouting community has statcast data to help us track player movements and route efficiency but one thing the data doesn’t tell us or show us is what the player looks like while doing this. Not every field is designed the same, not all weather conditions are created equal, and not all balls off the bat are hit the same way. What I’m trying to say is, even though we have the data available to rate out defenders, there is still A LOT of variables that factor in to a defender’s tools and abilities beyond the route efficiency. For example, let’s say your team plays 81 home games in a dome stadium, or in windy conditions, or more day games – the data may be skewed without the ability to account for all these different variables. So as a scout, you need to look for the unquantifiable information and in the case of Tapia – it’s the amount of comfort and confidence that he displays while he gets to this ball. It passes the eye test because it looks easy. This is what I write in my scouting report about his defense without access to the data that tells us the info about his route and speed.
Top Pitching Performer: RHP Dillon Maples (CHC) – the 95-97 FB and power cutter/slider for 2 K’s puts him above the reliable Rockies Closer Wade Davis who seemed to just be “working on his stuff” today.
Top Hitting Performer: LF David Dahl (COL) – 3 for 3 with 2 RBI and 1 run with the HIGH SOCKS while sitting next to his family gives him the edge over some other offensive standouts because HOW he did it (he really hit the ball hard and produced with 2-strikes) using the oppo field well.
Most Intriguing Prospect: DH Nico Hoerner (CHC) – if you didn’t know by the recap, when you get on base 4 times as a first full-year player against all Major League pitchers, you have had a day.
Biggest Takeaway: It’s noticeable in Spring Training that the coaching staff usually sits outside of the dugout on chairs. I like this. I like this so much I don’t understand why they can’t do this during the regular season. Like, in Hockey, the coaches stand behind the players and don’t sit on the bench with them. Why can’t baseball do something like this?
I decided to venture up the road from the A’s Spring Training Complex today in Mesa and check-out the Cubs vs. Royals.
Normally, as a Scout there’s certain designated parking. I pulled into the first lot at the Cubs Spring Training Complex, that looked like a scout/personnel lot, only to be told to go down the street and turn into another lot. I went to the that lot and there I was told it was only for Cubs personnel and instead go back to the lot in between the first one I went to and where I currently was at. At this 3rd lot they told me I had to go back towards the lot I just came from but keeping going and once I arrived there I would drive around the back of the ballpark and come into the media lot. It took me 10 minutes to get to the ballpark today and another 15 minutes and 4 different lots to find a parking spot. I did make it to the game on time though, don’t worry. I also saw Kris Bryant riding in a golf cart behind the stadium. It was 10 minutes before first pitch. That meant KB wasn’t playing today.
And what do you know… I was greeted to another pitcher’s dual between Cubs lefty starter Jose Quintana (who I had the pleasure of evaluating while he was still with the White Sox in 2016) and Heath Fillmyer the righty starter for KC who I had never seen before. Quintana was up to his usual good self today mixing 4 quality pitches: A Fastball with natural cut from 91-94 MPH and slightly above average command of it; a plus 12-6 curveball in the 76-77 mph range, that he would on occasion get a little on the side of for more of a 3/4 shape; a solid-average change-up from 86-88 mph with decent sink and occasional 2-plane movement but a little too close to his FB velo to be a pitch offering; and occasionally a cutter at 87-88 mph that he really didn’t throw much of. He was relieved by a number of the Cubs normal bullpen guys including Pedro Strop and Steve Cishek who were both their normal effective selves before giving way to newcomer and former Oriole Brad Brach who was making his first spring appearance after getting his Free-Agent contract restructured due to some viral infection (I heard mono). His stuff/velo was down across the board (FB 88-89 and SL 79-80) but this is the part of Spring Training that’s tough for evaluating – seeing a player for the first time this year who is coming off of a energy sapping viral infection, you can get lured into mis-evaluating, so it’s better to just take some notes, not jump to any conclusions and throw an outing like that out the window. Tyler Chatwood closed the last 3 innings for the Cubbies, mostly featuring a heavy FB from 92-95, sitting 93 that sort of jumped at the plate and was getting plenty of swings and misses on. He commanded his FB fairly well and only started throwing off-speed later in his outing – a tight 12-6 CB from 77-79 mph that didn’t have the requisite depth due to his shorter stature, but it moved pretty well. He flashed a cutter at 90 and what looked to be a change-up at 83. Tough to grade out because he really only featured 2 pitches in this outing BUT he showed enough stuff and command to at least be considered for a back-of-the-rotation starting gig.
The Royals rolled with some pitchers that look to be competing for the last spots in the bullpen or rotation. Fillmyer threw a 2-seam and 4-seam FB in the 90-94 range, a 12-6 rolly-polly curve with some shape to it at times but mostly moved out of the zone and not very deceptive, and a change-up from 86-88 mph that wasn’t very consistent to spots and tended to stay up at times. He really didn’t show enough swing and miss offerings or deception or the requisite command for me to consider him to be a lock for a roster spot when camp breaks, however, there was enough stuff and command that he’ll at least provide organizational depth if he starts in AAA and improve his off-speed and command overall. One thing that caught my attention was that he pitched from the far 1B side of the rubber, however, he struggled to pitch effectively to the glove side and locate his FB low and away to RHH. With some natural tailing action to it, I would like to see him actually move over towards the 3B side of the rubber, so at least he can offer a tougher angle on RHH. He could even experiment with moving between the different sides of the rubber to utilize better angles depending on if the hitter is a righty or lefty. When someone lacks the command or stuff, utilizing angles can at least become another weapon in their arsenal. Just a thought.
The other Royals pitcher who grabbed my attention was Connor Greene, just 23 years old and already pitching for his 3rd organization, I remember seeing him in the Florida State League (High-A) back in 2015 and 2016 with the Toronto Blue Jays affiliate in Dunedin. He used to feature an upper 90s Fastball and a really hard breaking ball. Today he mostly pitched in the 93-94 range and his Curve/Slider was 77-82. It wasn’t until his 2nd inning of work – after he got his 2nd out and cleared the bases that he finally pumped a 95-96 FB and a sharper, better shaped Slider at 85 mph. If he can overcome some mental hurdles and figure out how to get that better stuff out of his hand more consistently – he has a Major League bullpen gig waiting for him. Given his youth and his size, he’ll have more chances and so this is a guy to file away and not give up on.
The Cubs starting lineup featured about half of it’s regular or consistent role players – Almora, Bote, Rizzo, Baez, Descalso and then a couple of fringe Major League / 4A (somewhere between 3A and Major League level) players. Decalso who is new to the club looked locked in and sprayed the ball around in his AB’s and hustled out of the box to turn a routine 1B into a 2B that eventually led to a run. This is the type of aggressiveness that scouts and fans like to see at this point in the Spring. It’s also fun to watch Javier Baez, he is just so tooled up – with his elite glove, arm, quickness, bat speed, and contact ability – there’s not much shortcomings to his game. He plays without fear and he plays confident. He looks like he’s headed for another MVP type caliber season.
The Royals on the other hand brought only a couple of regulars to this away game and those guys being young and in need of AB’s like Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier, and Jorge Bonifacio and new comer Billy Hamilton the speedster formerly of Cincinnati. DH’ing today was Bubba Starling the one-time top prospect and first round pick who has never really broke out as what was expected of him by now. Starling has the size, bat speed and look of a big leaguer but for some reason he just doesn’t seem to either recognize pitches well or do damage in hitter counts when he should. His swing looks good but when you really zero-in on it you can see he has a head jerk right at what should be his contact point and he tends to pull off frequently, not covering the outside corner well. He struck out in his first AB on a change-up down and in from Quintana. In his next AB he got behind in the count vs. Left-handed reliever Mike Zagruski but Zagruski made a mistake and left a 92 FB right down the middle that Starling muscled enough into left-field for a base-hit. Had the pitch been off-speed or a FB located away or up in the zone, I’m pretty sure Starling wouldn’t be standing on first base. This is a great example where scouting and analytics cross paths. Yes, Starling produced in this situation getting his hit and thus raising his average and on-base percentage, however, is Zagruski a typical big league reliever, and is that pitch a typical big league pitch given the count and scouting report on the batter? Is that 2-strike pitch over the middle of the plate a typical pitch that Starling would see during the regular season in that situation? When you evaluate the swing and the competition jointly, you can see where the statistics don’t always give the entire story. You tip your cap to the hitter for producing but you also know that the circumstances would probably produce a different result as well.
The most interesting player for me in the Royals starting lineup was catcher Meibrys Viloria, a 22-year old from Colombia, currently rated #19 on MLB pipeline’s 2019 Kansas City Prospect Watch. With the recent news of All-Star Catcher Salvador Perez missing the upcoming season, the Royals will most likely looking at a guy like Viloria who has never played above High-A (except for his 10 game call-up during September roster expansion last year) but may find himself in the starting or back-up catcher conversation with a good Spring. I’ve liked Viloria in the past when I saw him in Full-Season A-ball with Lexington back in 2017. I thought of him as a back-up catcher with fringy tools across the board but good arm strength behind the dish. He showed off good lateral movements in blocking pitches this afternoon and gunned a runner down at 2B (Albert Almora) as well. He blooped a single into LFC vs. a lefty on lefty match-up his first AB against Quintana and even though he didn’t look like a DUDE at the plate, he held his own. This will be an interesting Spring for him because if he does show just the slightest bit of offensive production against the certified Major League pitchers over the next few weeks – he’ll definitely have a chance to work his way onto the 25-man when camp breaks.
In the later frames the Royals brought in some of their prospects, which is really the most exciting time for the baseball spy. Most of these guys I have seen in the past and have extensive evaluations on, so I don’t mind just seeing what they do with 1 at bat towards the end of the game. Slugging 1B Ryan O’Hearn found himself with 2 AB’s in the later frames and after punching out looking in his first AB, he made the most of his last opportunity and laced a hard single into the opposite field. Known for his pull power, this is something you like to see as an evaluator – the ability to take the pitch where it’s thrown and still be productive.
The Royals hitter that I really wanted to get a closer look at was CF Brett Phillips a former top prospect with the Brewers org, he was traded to the Royals last summer in the Moustakas trade. Still just 24 years old, yet never really producing at the big league level, he’s a guy I wanted to get a better look at. Unfortunately he swang at the first pitch in his only AB – slicing a liner into left-field for an out. I did get it on video though so I could get a better look at the swing, which is something I typically do with all the players I’m attempting to evaluate. Utilizing modern technology can be a great asset for scouting players, and really helpful in instances like this where you might only see one AB and one swing from a guy you’re trying to figure out.
Top pitching performer: Jose Quintana (CHC) – 1 hit, no runs, and 2 K’s in 3.0 IP Top hitting performer: Victor Caratini (CHC) – hit an oppo homer to put game out of reach Most intriguing prospect seen: Nico Hoerner (CHC) – the Cubs 1st round pick out of Stanford last year was super impressive in the Fall League (comps to Ryne Sandberg) but today he only pinch ran and was thrown out stealing and then was standing on deck when the Cubs made their last out in the bottom of the 8th. He was in the DH spot so there was no action in the field for him either.
Biggest takeaway: Why on Earth, in 2019, are we having a Major League game where both teams are wearing the same exact color uniforms? Could we not send a text message in the morning telling the Royals to bring grey (gray?) or black or ANYTHING ELSE? Seriously.