Monday, November 9, 2015

Quick impressions from the AFL All-Star Game

First of all it was great to catch a ball game with some of the group.  It is always interesting to see how others go about evaluating the game, what they look for, how they see things.  It's an opportunity to learn and share information on players.

I was focused on the bats on that day, though there are some notes on a few pitchers along the way.

That said, here are some quick impressions from the all-star game.

Gary Sanchez, C, NYY

I am re-thinking my stance on Gary Sanchez as a catcher.  The pop times were 2 seconds or better and he showed a powerful, accurate arm behind the plate.  There isn't much question about his bat speed and physical strength as a hitter.  

It was more the latter on his HR as Sanchez got out in front early of a hanging slider and was still able to hit a monster shot that landed deep beyond the LF wall.  That kind of strength in his hands to be able to adjust and still hit the ball a long way is what makes him such an intriguing power prospect despite the lack of big HR numbers in the minors thus far.

Rowdy Tellez, 1B, TOR

Tellez impressed on his first at-bat when he showed good control of the barrel, bringing in his hands and hitting a line drive double the opposite way.  But it was a tough day from there as Tellez faced a series of tough match-ups in lefties Chaz Hebert, David Rollins, and Donnie Hart, a sidearmer.  After that first AB, Tellez was fed a steady diet of sliders (especially from Hebert) and offspeed pitches.  It's an adjustment he'll have to make but there is certainly power and an overall ability to barrel up.

Austin Dean, OF, MIA

Dean thrilled the crowd with an inside the park HR in the second inning.  Once again, Dean showed his quick hands.  After Lucas Sims (who showed good stuff but left the ball up too much in this game) started him off with a breaking ball in the lower 80s, he tried to blow a 96 mph FB on the inner half by him, but Dean got his hands in and through the zone quickly, ripping it down the RF line past a diving Derek Fisher. As I said in my last write-up, I believe Dean will hit MLB pitching, it is more a question of whether he can develop enough power to be viable starter in a corner OF spot, probably LF.  If not, then he can at least be a role 4 type player who brings value in a 4th OFer role off the bench.

Adam Engel, OF, CHW

Engel was the fastest player and best athlete in this game.  He  essentially created a run with his legs when he reached on an infield single (an impressive 4.1 time to first from the right side), an easy steal of 2B, advanced to 3B on a passed ball, and then scored on a sac fly.

Engel also showed a willingness to take a walk, doing it twice.  With the hit tool still a question, it is encouraging to see Engel understand his role -- get on base first and then make things happen.  This is a great athlete, if the Sox are patient and let the bat develop a bit, they could have themselves an exciting player in 3 years, maybe less if it all comes together for him.

Austin Meadows, OF, PIT

We know Meadows has a solid approach and a good feel for hitting but he is starting to develop a little power.  After Tigers prospect Adam Ravenelle tried to unsuccessfully get him to chase low pitches in the count early, he left one up just enough -- right about  at the knees -- and Meadows quickly got the bat head down on a 96 mph FB and deposited the baseball just over the RF wall.  

At this point, he looks more advanced than fellow Georgia prep star Clint Frazier, who looked vulnerable to good breaking balls, especially from Damien Magnifico (who, to be fair, was pretty nasty on this night), who just came right after him with hard sliders from the first pitch.  Frazier has great bat speed and has improved his plate discipline in the minors, but this fall pitchers with good command of secondary stuff have been able to exploit his aggressive mentality.  Frazier still has a high ceiling, but there is still some work to do.

Phillip  Ervin, OF, Reds

Ervin is still raw but he showed some of the quickest hands in this game.  He turned on a 96 mph fastball for a line drive single, ripped 97 mph down the line foul on Corey Black and then adjusted, kept his hands back and hit a hanging slider right back up the middle for another single.  Ervin is known more for his toolsy skill set, but those quick hands give him potential as an average hitter with average to above average power.

Speaking of Corey Black, he really struggled.  He may have been a bit pumped for this game and was throwing harder than I've ever seen him throw, with one radar gun clocking him has high as 99.  He was at least in the 96-97 range consistently and threw a high 80s slider.  But it all came with maximum effort and some violence in his delivery with some late head movement.  Still, Black seemed to be repeating it early on and then suddenly lost his rhythm and was unable to get back on track.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Looking ahead to the All-Star Game: Raimel Tapia, Austin Dean, Chad Pinder

We all know the top prospects down here: Clint Frazier, Sean Manaea, Austin Meadows, DJ Peterson, Daniel Robertson to name a few.

But the All-Star game tonight will have some other interesting players too.  Not all will be stars and maybe not even starters, but there is value in role players and relief pitchers in baseball.  If you can fill those needs without having to pay for them on the secondary market, then that is a significant advantage in  terms of mobility and payroll flexibility.

That said, I am by no means ruling out any of the players as starters and perhaps even a star or two among the following group...

Raimel Tapia, OF, Rockies (A+)

  • Age: 21
  • 6'2, 160 lbs
  • L/L

You don't teach anyone to pitch like  Chris Sale or Tim Lincecum.  Similarly, you probably wouldn't want to teach anyone to hit like Raimel Tapia.

Yet Tapia can hit.  He can be overly aggressive, though he does seem to be making a concerted effort to work the count.  Though he has been inconsistent to this point as I've often seen him hitting with two strikes on him. He'll change his stance, often getting very low to the ground with two strikes.  He has a live, loose body with quick twitch athleticism that helps him generate good torque despite his lack of physical size.  There are some who are concerned with his long term power, but I think he'll naturally grow into some, perhaps double digit HR and lots of doubles/triples with his good speed.  That offensive profile can work if he sticks in CF, where he runs well enough to make up for some occasional iffy reads and routes, but the hope is he improves those reads with experience.

Where Tapia excels is with his good hand/eye coordination and bat control.  He shows very good plate coverage and is adept at putting the ball in play.  But he can put a charge into it as well, once hitting one high off the wall 410 feet away in CF -- then showed his speed by circling the bases when the outfielder was slow to get up after a hard collision with the wall.

Tapia is a fun player to watch and a hard player to evaluate, but I think he his great skill with the bat combined with  his athleticism will allow him to succeed despite his unique approach.

Austin Dean, OF, Marlins

  • Age: 22
  • 6'1", 190 lbs
  • R/R
Dean isn't a toolsy player.  He's average across the board in that respect.  He won't stand out with athleticism -- but he can hit.  He has a short, quick swing that produces consistent line drive contact.

There isn't much power and there may not be a lot coming down the road -- but he does have those quick hands and he should hit for some gap power with perhaps as many as 8-12 HRs.  He also doesn't walk much, so his OBP is highly dependent on his hit tool at this point.

Defensively, Dean is an average to slightly above average runner and doesn't profile well in CF.  The arm profiles best for LF.

So what we have is a player with potentially a good hit tool who should hit for average if given the opportunity.  Whether that is what a team wants in LF is the question.  If the OBP skills or power improve, he may be able to squeeze him in the everyday lineup, but the more likely outcome right now is 4th outfielder.

Chad Pinder, SS, Athletics (AA)
  • Age: 23
  • 6'2", 190 lbs.
  • R/R

Pinder is a good ballplayer with solid tools across the board with his strong arm being the best of that set.

As a hitter, Pinder is aggressive but shows a knack for line drive contact with enough bat speed to hit for occasional power.  He is tied with teammate Renato Nunez for the team lead with 4 HRs, while also leading the team in slugging and OPS.

Pinder wants to swing the bat and that has hurt his BB numbers here and with Texas at the AA level   At the same time, you don't want to rob him too much of this naturally aggressive approach, but the hope is that he at least learns to gets himself into good hitting counts so he can better use some of that raw power.  He has done that to some degree here in Arizona.

On defense, Pinder has a strong arm and is an average athlete who may be a bit stretched at SS.  Some think he's a good fit at 2B but I think he can be a very good 3B, especially if he can tap into some of that raw power.  But with Nunez at 3B, the A's will wait to see if he can stick at SS with 2B as the next option.   He does play SS well enough to project as MLB average at the position and if he can do that, the A's may keep him there because of the value he'd provide with his bat.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

AFL Notes: Pierce Johnson, Adalberto Mejia, Dominic Ficociello, Christian Arroyo, and more

The Mesa Solar Sox took on the Scottsdale Scorpions on Halloween.  Here are some notes on some of the players in that game...

Pierce Johnson, RHP, Cubs (AA)
  • Age: 24
  • 6'3", 175 lbs.

Johnson really struggled with his command early in this game, often falling behind and then having to throw fastballs, which were squared up often in the first inning or two.  There were other times, however, when he pitched well, showing a 90-93 FB with some nice arm side run, a hard curveball (80-83), and a much improved change.  With regard to the CB, I've heard some call it a slurve and some a power curveball.  I prefer the latter description in Johnson's case.

The delivery starts with a leg kick in which his brings his knee up toward his chest and his shoulder is slightly turned in.  He  then drops his back shoulder to create leverage and the leg comes back down at about a 45 degree angle with his foot sometimes pointed toward the 3B side. The arm action looks relatively clean.

The key is the command because the fastball has good velocity and life, as he is able to run it on a RH hitters hands and away from lefties.  The curveball showed good vertical break, and he can bury it in on a RH hitter, though he did have some trouble dropping them on the outside corner early on -- as it tended to flatten out. But he seemed to get a better feel as the game went on.

The stuff is there for Johnson to be a mid-rotation guy but the inconsistent command may knock him down to a 4/5.  The curveball is a legitimate swing and miss pitch but he needs to consistently get ahead in the count to be able to use it.

Adalberto Mejia, LHP, Giants (AA)
  • Age: 22
  • 6'3", 195 lbs.
First of all, Mejia is no longer at his listed 195 lbs as he has clearly filled out -- but looks pretty soft.  He'll likely have to be mindful of his conditioning throughout his career.

On the mound, Mejia is more athletic than he looks.  He has a simple delivery that he repeats well, get decent extension, finishes upright, but the arm is loose and the arm action is clean. 

Mejia was 91-93 mph with the FB and showed better command with it than Johnson early on,  He added a good slider and a change-up that was average on this day.  Mejia was rolling along for 3 innings but started to lose his rhythm and command in the 5th inning.  He wasn't hit terribly hard, but he did put a couple of runners on, got behind counts, and generally labored before getting removed with 2 outs and the bases loaded.  He allowed 2 runs in that inning, the only two he gave up all day. In fact, he did not give up a baserunner until the 4th and no-hit Mesa for 4 1/3 innings.

There is a lot to like about Mejia, who has the potential for 3 pitches that rate at average or better.  He generally throws strikes and shows at least average command overall. Projects as a #4 type starter but he's a big-bodied guy and will have to work hard to maintain himself in good shape.

The Position Players

The pitching was what grabbed my attention on this day but there were some other noteworthy performances.  Former Cubs and current Marlins SS prospect Elliot Soto showed range to both sides, completing a spectacular play to his left but not quite able to gun down the runner on a play deep in the hole.
Elliot Soto

Dominic Ficiciello, (OF/1B, Tigers) showed a very smooth stroke from the left side, though a slight build leaves you wondering how much power he'll have.  Ficiciello plays corner OF now and may  end up at 1B, so the lack of power is something of a concern given his ultimate position.  He did show some pop the other way with a line drive double to the gap in left-center.

Dominic Ficiciello

Red Sox 1B Sam Travis is a solidly built RH hitter with good raw power and a better feel for hitting than I expected.  He's a good all-around hitter though his HR power has not shown in games either during the regular season or down here in Arizona. The doubles power is there, however, and it wouldn't be surprising to see more baseballs leave the yard as Travis gets reps and gains experience.  He had 4 hits on the day and the one out he recorded was a line drive to the OF.
Sam Travis

Austin Slater (2B, Giants) isn't a fluid athlete but he has a good feel for hitting and perhaps enough infield skills to stick at 2B.  He showed good hitting instincts on his lone hit of the game, pulling his hands in and driving the ball into RF for a line drive single.
Austin Slater
Daniel Robertson (IF, Rays) got off to a slow start but continues to improve at the plate as the fall goes on.  The quality of contact the last two times I've seen him seems to indicate he's shaking off the rust.  I'll have more on him later in the fall season.

Daniel Robertson

Christian Arroyo, SS, GIants is a player I've already written on in the past and I like him for his all-around skill set -- even if there are no real loud tools.  If there is one tool that stands out above the others, it's his hitting ability.  Arroyo can get aggressive but once again, he is showing progress there as he displayed a solid approach at the plate (2 walks) as well as line drive contact with a triple the opposite way.  He's solid defender who may be able to stick as an offense first SS, but the range may play better at 2B.

Christian Arroyo

Friday, October 30, 2015

AFL Notes 10/28: Lewis Brinson; Bubba Starling, Willson Contreras; Gary Sanchez, Sam Wolff, Connor Sadzec, and more

Yesterday was a good reminder that velocity isn't everything when it comes to pitching.  The Rangers sent out hard-throwing Connor Sadzeck -- who actually hit 100 mph once and sat at 98 mph - and the Mesa hitters treated it like batting practice.

The hitters said that the major factors were that 1) the fastball was straight and 2) Sadzeck was continuously falling behind, allowing them to look for the heat (h/t Kim Contreras (@Cu_As) on Twitter).  I would also add that there isn't a lot of deception there, but that is a secondary issue.  If he commands his pitches and improves his secondaries, he won't need to be deceptive.

Sadzeck, 24, started the day by giving up a hard line drive single to Willson Contreras,a hard-hot double to Casey Gillaspie, and then a sharp single to right by Eric Aguilera -- all on fastballs.  Sadzeck went on to walk 3 batters (including one with the bases loaded) and was generally squared up even when he was getting outs.

Still, it's not hard to see the upside with Sadzeck, who has reached AA.  He has excellent size (6'6", 230 lbs), throws with good plane, and also throws a  two-seamer curveball, and a change --- though, he didn't get a chance to use them as often.  He is going to have to command his pitches better and continue to improve those secondaries, however, as hitters showed it doesn't matter how hard you throw when it's srraight and you know it's coming.

Sam Wolff, RHP, Rangers (A+)

  • Age: 24
  • 6'1", 200 lbs.

Wolff wasn't as crisp as I'd seen the last time.  The velocity was down (92-93, t94) and he had some trouble with command.  He was laboring a bit out there a bit but nearly escaped the first inning unscathed.  He threw 2 good curveballs to Contreras to start the AB with one on and two out, but the Cubs catching prospect stayed alive and when Wolff tried to fool him with a full-count curve over the LF wall.  Sam Wolff eventually left the game with 2 outs in the third and while I don't want to speculate, he did walk off with the trainer later in the game.  Hopefully it was nothing serious as this kid has had to battle back from injury (TJ surgery early in career and Achilles issue this year) and did not pitch at all in the 2015 regular season.

  • Austin Brice, 23, RHP, Marlins (AA) is a tall pitcher (listed ta 6'3" but looks taller than that) who thtows 95-96 with good plane and mixes in a change and a curveball which can be very good at times -- he threw a nasty one to end the  game, but more on that later.  Brice needs to refine his command and develop the change-up to give him an effective weapon against lefties.  If he can do that, his stuff is certainly good enough to be a late inning reliever.  I think the change and command have to come too far at this point for him to break the big leagues as a starter, but the two pitch arsenal is good enough as a reliever if he can at least have average command.
  • Ryne Slack, 23, LHP, Rangers (AA) has average stuff for a lefty (low 90s FB, SL, CB) but he slows his arm speed noticeably on the change-up.  He'll have to sell that pitch  better to be something more than a LOOGY.
Position Players

Lewis Brinson, CF, Rangers (AAA)
  • Age: 21
  • R/R
  • 6'3", 170 lbs.
One of the most exciting players in the Fall League, Brinson can do it all.  There has been little doubt about his speed, athleticism, range in CF, and above average to plus throwing arm.  He's also stronger than he looks and has some raw power, which was evident during the regular season (31 doubles, 8 triples, 20 HRs through  3 levels).  The question has always been his ability to hit and make contact, but Brinson really has made some adjustments, cutting his K rate again to 21% after cutting it down to 25% from the ghastly 38% in his rookie season.

Brinson is a quick twitch athlete with very quick hands, able to bring them in quickly on inside heat -- important because he  is such a lanky kid and pitchers will try to tie him up inside.  He starts with his hands high but brings them down before the pitch, even showing some lift in his swing, which was not the report coming out of the draft.

He's never going to be a pure hitter, but his improving approach, speed and hand speed will make up for some of that as long as he can maintain something close to his current contact rate.  He probably won't win batting titles but 4 plus tools to go with an average hitting tool makes for a heckuva good ballplayer.

Willson Contreras, C, Cubs (AA)
  • Age: 23
  • R/R
  • 6'1"175 lbs.
First off, I have to believe that listed weight is old information.  Contreras has filled out his frame with lean muscle weight and has some of the biggest, strongest hands I've seen on any player, as you will see when you click on the first picture in the article.

Like Brinson, Willson Contreras is one of my favorite players down here right now.  I have written extensively on Contreras at Cubs Den and also for Northsiders Reprot of  This is what I wrote about him on my Cubs site last night...

I have seen Willson Contreras play a lot over the past 4 years and I think today was the best I've ever seen him play in every phase of the game.

Contreras was locked in today.  He started with a great AB in which he worked the count full and then was not fooled when he got a curve ball.  Instead, Contreras stayed back and then whipped those quick hands through the zone, lining a 2-run HR over the LF wall.  He later ripped a line drive single into LF on a 98 mph fastball.

But it was more than his good hitting.  Contreras sprang out of the box and threw a bullet right on the bag to nail speedster Lewis Brinson on a SB attempt.  Brinson got a pretty good jump but Contreras showed off his plus arm strength, a quick release, and that shortened arm action we've heard Mark Johnson talk about.  It took all of those things to cut down Brinson.

Lastly, Contreras really worked hard on his game management skills.  He came out to the mound on a few occasions to settle his pitcher down, but his best moment may have come at the end when DH Gary Sanchez came to the plate as the tying run.  Contreras called time, talked to closer Austin Brice, a FB pitcher, and had a quick discussion on the mound.  Instead of the heat, Brice started Contreras off with a change-up that froze Sanchez, then blew a 96 mph FB by him, then dropped a filthy  curve on the outside corner to end the game.

It was Brice who executed the plan brilliantly, but he was quick to acknowledge Contreras, slapping him on his backside twice as the team celebrated on the mound.  The change-up is by far the pitch Brice has the least confidence in.  He has that good FB and a very good curveball at times -- but the change-up is pretty ordinary.  But with Sanchez geared up for the fastball, it was more than good enough.

Contreras appears to be learning those nuances quickly.

Bubba Starling, OF, Royals (AA)
  • Age: 23
  • R/R
  • 6'4" 210 lbs.

Starling just looks the part.  He has a long, lean, athletic frame and you would expect, he's a tools first type of player.  Starling has made some adjustments over the years.  He employs a leg kick and looks less mechanical overall -- but it may take some time  before he reaches his full potential as a hitter, which is the least of his tools   Pitchers who change speeds and eye level still give him trouble -- but if a mistake is made in the zone, Starling can launch it.

Where Starling will stand out is that athleticism, especially in the OF, where he shows great range and a strong arm, and raw power, which he put on display for the 3rd time here at Mesa.  If Starling can play excellent CF and feast on mistakes, he can still be an interesting player as he gains experience and his hit tool catches up.

Gary Sanchez, C, Yankees (AAA, MLB)
  • Age: 22
  • R/R
  • 6'2", 220 lbs.

Sanchez has a thick, muscular build and possesses plus  bat speed.  He's an aggressive hitter and the Brice/Contreras combo exploited that well in the 9th.  There's a lot of power in that swing that has yet to be fully tapped into at the minor league level -- but only if he can develop a consistent, mature approach at the plate.  There's some obvious raw talent but other than his good bat speed and overall strength, Sanchez did not particularly stand out on this day.  He also was the DH, so I did not get a chance to observe his ability as a catcher.  


In some ways, Patrick Wisdom (3B, Cardinals, AA) is like Starling in that he has some holes in his swing but very good raw power.  Defensively, they both have plus arm strength but Wisdom isn't as athletic.  I joke that he puts up a great game every time I go, going back to his days with Peoria in the Midwest League.  Personally, I think Wisdom should shorten the swing as I believe he has the strength to still hit for some power based on his strength/size -- but I am not about to tell the Cardinals what they should do given their track record for developing players.

Jose Trevino (Rangers,A ball) is a catcher who played 1B on this day.  He has a short, thick build and relies more on his upper body strength than his lower half, The swing is compact and a bit stiff, but Trevino seems to have the strength to hit for some power.  He didn't catch so didn't get to see his strong arm, but the hope is likely that he turns into the type of catcher who controls the running game and provides some pop  He had three hits on the day.

Ramon Torres fits the Royals mold of a player with some speed, a short stroke, good hand-eye coordination,a feel for hitting, and the ability to make consistent contact.  The 22 year old switch-hitting infielder played SS and showed good actions there, so I think he can stick.  At the least he looks like he has a good shot at making it as a utility player.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

AFL Notes 10/27: Sean Manaea, AJ Reed, JD Davis, Andrew Knapp, and more

This was my second time seeing the Glendale Desert Dogs as well as Mesa and Oakland A's SP prospect Sean Manaea.

I am reminded today that many of these players are coming from long seasons and.or injuries.  We're also seeing players working on certain skills.  So we should keep that in mind when individual performances don't quite live up to our expectations.  That was certainly the case with some of the big names in this game.

I haven't written anything on Daniel Robertson, for example, simply because I can't get a good read on him.  The Tampa Bay Ray infield prospect spent most of his season at the AA level.  He was diagnosed with a broken hammate bone on June 8th of this year and he still doesn't look all the way back.  We just haven't seen that plus hit tool  Those who follow Cubs prospects will remember Albert Almora suffering a similar injury and how long it took him to fully regain his stroke.  Robertson has just one extra base hit so far and is hitting .235 on the AFL season -- neither is indicative of his true hitting ability when healthy and in rhythm.   He has shown his usual good approach, but the quality of contact hasn't been there consistently yet.


Sean Manaea, LHP, A's, AA

  • Age: 23
  • 6'5", 215 lbs.

Manaea has dealt with his own injuries but  thankfully they've been non-arm related.  Manaea was a mixed bag on this day.  He started well, commanding a 92-94 mph FB and showed that good, hard slider.  It appeared to me, however, that he began to struggle with his arm slot as it looked much lower in the 3rd inning.  The  stuff flattened out and Manaea was hit hard.  He rebounded a bit in the 4th but struggled again in the 5th, allowing the first 3 runners to reach base before getting lifted.  Overall, it was an up and down, inconsistent day for the A's pitching prospect.

Brandon Brennan, RHP, White Sox, (A+)
  • Age: 24
  • 6'4", 220 lbs.

Jharel Cotton was originally listed as the day's starter so it was a surprise to see Brennan out there.  He's a big kid who throws from a 3/4 arm angle and works off of a 93-94 mph FB with some sink, which was his best pitch by far.  The report I read on Brennan indicated a low 80s slider and a change-up in the 83-85 mph range, but everything I saw from Brennan outside his FB was in the 85-88 range and it did not have much in the way of movement, leading me to believe he may have been overthrowing his secondaries.  The results were good, but Brennan looks like a one-pitch guy at this point, perhaps profiling as a middle reliever who can get you a ground ball or two.  Then again, that is why he's down here -- to work on expanding his game.  The size and the arm make him someone worth watching and as someone who has had TJ surgery in the past, perhaps the best is yet to come.


23 year old Phillies prospect Tom Windle was originally drafted as a starter but he is working out of the pen and it has led to a big increase in velocity.  The 6'4", 205 lbs LHP was in the 94-96 mph range and complemented that with a hard, mid 80s slider.  I don't love the delivery.  He's a little stiff --  so I think the bullpen is probably his ultimate role as it is hard to imagine him holding up under a big innings load.

23 year old A's pitcher Brendan McCurry is not physically imposing at 5'10", 165 lbs but he throws everything but the kitchen sink at hitters, going after them with all kinds of arm angles and velocities.
 He tops out at 91-92 with his FB, throws an above average curve -- including one big breaking one that clocked at just 70 mph, a slider, and a change.  He also throws a lot of strikes so he's not going to beat himself out there.  He's a fun pitcher to watch and it will be interesting to see if his extreme mix-and-match approach can work at the big league level.  He certainly has had success at every level of the minors, including AA last year.  MLB hitters are a different story, you can only fool them for so long, so McCurry likely fits best in middle/situational relief.

  • McCurry's teammate,  24 year old RHP Kris Hall (6'3", 210 lbs), is pretty much the opposite.  He is a power pitcher all the way, rearing back and attacking hitters with mid 90s heat that has hit as high as 97 this fall.  He threw a couple of power curves in the 80-82 range to get Adam Frazier to fly out and end a threat in the 6th..  He was inconsistent in the minors, especially in terms of throwing strikes, but has been one of the more consistent pitchers on the Solar Sox, though that hasn't been exactly a high bar to this point.
  • 6'3", 180 lbs.White Sox RHP prospect Peter Tago was at 91-92 mph with his FB, which I understand is on the low side for him and mixed in a solid low 80s curve.  The arm action is short and quick. He profiles best as a middle reliever.
  • Cubs RP David Garner continues to impress with a loose, effortless delivery that generated 92-96 mph heat.  He uses the FB to get ahead of hitters and then puts them away with an 82-83 mph slurve.  He has yet to allow a run on just one hit in 5 innings of work.  He has walked 4, but two came on his first two hitters of the fall and he has settled in nicely since then.

Position Players

AJ Reed, 1B, Astros (AA)

  • Age: 22
  • L/L
  • 6'4", 240 lbs.

Reed had a tremendous year between advanced A and AA in the Astros system and established himself as one of the better hitting prospects in the game.  Reed may be one of the cases I spoke of earlier because he appears to be wearing down a bit.  His swing is a bit long anyway as he extends his front arm early in his swing, what is often referred to as an arm bar -- but he just looks a bit slow up there and is getting beat by good fastballs, something that wasn't happening during the regular season.  He's a big kid and that may have something to do with  him wearing down after his first full season as a pro.

J.D. Davis, 3B, Astros, A+
  • Age: 22
  • R/R
  • 6'3", 215 lbs.

Reed's first half Cal League teammate Davis put on a better show on this day.  He showed a good approach, working counts (including drawing 2 walks) and going the opposite way for two deep doubles to RF.  Davis has good, raw power but had all kinds of contact issues-- and there's some concern ass to whether he can repeat the numbers he put up in the hitter-friendly Cal League.  In that light, it was the approach that was encouraging today as Davis showed a willingness to take what the pitcher was giving him.  He was the DH this day, so I did not get a read on his defense -- though as a two-way player who hit the mid 90s on the mound, it is probably safe to say he has the arm to play 3B.

Andrew Knapp, C, Phillies, AA

  • Age: 23
  • S/R
  • 6'1", 195 lbs.

An offensive-minded, switch-hitting catcher, Knapp has a chance to be an asset for the Phillies lineup as they step back and rebuild.  There have been questions in the past as to whether he can stick at catcher but he looked solid, if unspectacular, behind the plate on this afternoon.

Where Knapp has a chance to make an impact, however, is with the bat.  He has strong, quick hands with a swing plane conducive to line drives and gap power.  He can bring his hands in and turn on good fastballs.  Knapp is selectively aggressive at the plate.  He's not looking to take a walk up there but he'll take it if that is what the pitcher gives him.  He pulled both of hits today but the good hands indicate the ability to go the other way.  

  • Austin Meadows (Pirates, OF) has struggled this fall but he made the best contact I've seen from with a ground-rule double to RF.
  • Jake Bauer has also had his struggles but his his 2nd HR.
  • I wrote about Adam Frazier (Pirates, OF) previously.  He's more grindy (5'11, 17 than toolsy but he continues to be productive and his defensive versatility give him an excellent chance to make it to the major leagues in some role.
  • 25 year old Chad Hinshaw (Angels, OF) has a similar profile to Frazier with less defensive versatility and better size (6'1", 205 lbs).  He can play all 3 OF positions, however, and he has been productive -- especially during this Fall League season.
  • White Sox OF prospect Adam Engel looks the part and he can really run the ball down in CF, but he's not nearly as polished at the plate, where he looks surprisingly mechanical for such an athletic player.
  • Jake Peter is a polished hitter with an advanced approach, though there isn't much power in his swing.  He played 2B this game and his bat profiles better there than 3B.  Defensively, however, he profiles better at 3B -- especially with his strong arm.  Peter is something of a tweener and  may end up as a utility guy/LH bat off the bench, but if he continues to hit like he has this fall, the Sox will find a place for him.
Chad Hinshaw

Jake Peter 

Adam Engel

Austin Meadows

Sunday, October 25, 2015

AFL Notes: Dominic Smith, Casey Gillaspie, Gabby Guerrero, Rob Zastryzny, Carlos Estevez, David Garner

I have decided I am going to format this a little differently.  Instead of reporting on players on the days of  games, I'll just take notes on players in general and spread it out a bit.  That way I can write something everyday rather than just on game days.  The posts will be a bit smaller, but more frequent.

The Position Players

Dominic Smith, 1B, Mets (A+)

  • Age: 20
  • L/L
  • 6'0", 185 lbs.

The first thing that stands out about Dominic Smith is his exceptional hand-eye coordination and bat control.  He makes easy contact and sprays the ball to all fields.

Though he does have good pitch recognition skills and an intelligent approach, he doesn't take a ton of walks at this point.  That may be due in part to how he easily he puts the ball in play.  I believe as he continues to gain experience he'll put up solid walk rates and enhance what should be a plus hit tool.  That makes him more of an OBP oriented player.  He'll show some pop in BP and HR'd in the previous game, but in the game I saw watched, he seemed more content to hit line drives and take what the pitcher was giving him.

The lack of in-game power will draw concerns because Smith is a below average runner and profiles best at 1B and teams tend to prefer power at that position.  But while Smith isn't a quick athlete, he does have good hands and should be a well above average defender at 1B, although  his strong arm is wasted there. Physically, he appears to be a little soft and adding some lean muscle may help him hit for more power.  If not, he still has a shot to be more of your Mark Grace type 1B.

Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Rays (A+)
  • Age: 22
  • S/L
  • 6'4", 240 lbs.

Gillaspie, a switch-hitter is built for power (6'5", 240 lbs) but a lack of speed and athleticism relegates him to 1B, so he is going  to need to hit.  He is not unathletic, however.  Gillaspie is loose enough to get good rotation on his swing, In the game on Saturday, he generated hard, loud pull-side contact in his first two ABs, then showed his ability to use other  fields in the next two, grounding out hard to the SS and then lining out to CF.

He's something of an aggressive hitter and you'd like to see him add better OBP skills since so much of his game will depend on what he provides at the plate.

Despite not being a great athlete, he has shown that he can be more than adequate at 1B and, in fact, shows the good hands to be an asset there.

Gabby Guerrero, OF, Diamondbacks (AA)

  • Age: 21
  • R/R
  • 6'3", 190 lbs.

Guerrero looks a lot like his uncle Vlad in terms of his frame (and facially, as well).  He is a toolsy type but don't mistaken that for a player whose only worth is from the neck down.  Guerrero's head is in the game at all times and it helped him create a run.  He caught the SS slow to untangle after a steal of 2B and Guerrero pounced on the opportunity, scoring from 3B without a throw.

Those good instincts, unfortunately, don't translate to his approach at the plate, which is way too aggressive -- especially since he is not the bad ball hitter his uncle was (who is?).  Guerrero was schooled by the relatively experienced Zastryzny, though Guerrero did manage to get the bat on the ball  and hit a seeing eye ground ball single in his 2nd AB.  Guerrero shows good bat speed and quick hands -- and his good size and projectable frame translate to plus raw power, but he is going to need to improve his approach if he is ever going to tap into it.

In the field, Guerrero has enough speed and athleticism to go with the kind of cannon arm that profiles in RF.  There is a lot to work with and the good makeup is there to put the work in, but there is still a ways to go if Guerrero is going to succeed against more advanced competition.

The Pitchers...

Rob Zastryzny, LHP, Cubs (AA)
  • Age: 23
  • 6'3", 205 lbs.
A lot of Cubs fans have taken greater interest in Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, and another Cubs SP prospect, Pierce Johnson -- all with good reason.  But  for me, the most interesting player to watch from the Cubs is Rob Zastryzny.

Zastryzny has been anywhere from 87 to 94 with his fastball (including instructs I have seen him 3 times this offseason). Zastryzny is continuously adding to and subtracting from his FB.  He can also add sink and occasionally create some arm side run.  He's an intelligent pitcher and I think he's the kind of pitcher that the more you see him, the more you appreciate what he does out there.  
As you can infer from the description above, he can be a finesse guy, but he really defies being so neatly categorized because he can also bring it as hard as 95.  One one occasion he elevated a FB and blew it right by Rowdy Tellez, popping the glove and drawing some oohs from the crowd.  I was on the 1B side at the time, so I did not get a reading, but I would guess it was toward the top end of his velocity range at 94-95.  In the previous at-bat, he got an overly aggressive Gabby Guerrero to chase a good change-up low and out of the zone.

The key for Zastryzny is to develop his curveball and it was much more consistent this time out than the last and he seemed to trust it more as the game went on.  Another thing to watch with Zastryzny is to watch his command.  There are times when he can pick his spots to elevate, but in general he doesn't have the pure stuff to pitch up in the zone.

One more thing to add about Zastryzny is his good makeup.  He works hard and is a good teammate and is quick to give them credit when they make plays behind him.When Zastryzny is commanding his pitches and throwing a solid curve, as he  did in this last start, he looks like a #3 type starter.  The better bet, however, is that he fits better at the bottom of a rotation.  The floor is a solid lefty RP.

I concentrated on hitters this weekend and other than Zastryzny, no starting pitcher jumped out at me. So in lieu of that, there were a couple of relievers that I found interesting.  

Carlos Estevez, RHP, Rockies (A+, AA)
  • Age: 22
  • 6'4", 210 lbs
Estevez is a pitcher with a big, athletic build (6'4", 210 lbs) who sits in the mid 90s but can reach back and hit the high 90s at times.  He turns his lead shoulder in slightly and brings his knee up high, helping him hide the ball early in his delivery.  He then dips the back shoulder a bit, creating good leverage that, along with his higher arm slot, helps accentuate his good natural plane.  Hitters got some late swings on Estevez's fastball.  While the delivery isn't simple, Estevez repeats it well and throws strikes.  He also mixes in a mid 70s CB with good break that complements the FB well.  Estevez's numbers haven't matched his stuff or his peripherals, but if he can just refine his command (he left one FB up and got squared up by Contreras for a line drive out to CF), he has the stuff and control to be a high leverage reliever.

David Garner, RHP, Cubs (A, A+)
  • Age: 23
  • 5'11", 180 lbs.
Garner is interesting to me for one simple reason -- easy gas.  Listed at just 5'11" and having a slight, but athletic build, Garner generates 93-95 mph heat with seemingly no effort.  What's more is that I believe that build and effortless style create a unique sort of deception.  You don't really expect it but suddenly he's on you with 95.  And while he doesn't have an exceptional breaking ball (it's more of a slurve in the 83 mph range), he throws it with the same arm speed and slot as his FB, so it becomes a very effective change of pace, it has frozen more than one hitter down here and the pitch has enough bend to change eye level and create swings and misses.  Garner needs to continue to refine his command because the pure stuff isn't good enough for him to get away with poor location.  Because he is such a good athlete and he generates good arm speed without max effort, he should learn to repeat his delivery with experience and that should help his command.

Off the field, Garner is a good kid who listens well and has the aptitude to quickly absorb instruction and apply it on the mound. .  Garner profiles best as a middle reliever.