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