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.

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