Archive for Game Report

Reports From Instructs: Richie Shaffer

Since I missed Taylor Guerreri in Rays instructs, the biggest name player I saw in camps was recent first round pick Richie Shaffer. The Rays took Shaffer 25th overall out of Clemson and was seemingly the second-highest player on the board for many clubs in the first round, with at least one team in the top 10 picks having Shaffer in their final group. I didn’t see Shaffer as an amateur but got a solid look before he went to the Arizona Fall League and he’ll be an interesting player to monitor in 2013 to see how his tools play in pro ball.

The one thing scouts would mention first about Shaffer when I talked to them before the draft was bat speed. Not his hit or power tools, but bat speed specifically. If you’ve read my other articles you know that I focus on power and fastball velocity and how it is created—if it’s natural arm speed or strength or if the player is cheating mechanically to enhance his tools. Bat speed is to hitters what arm speed is to pitchers. It’s the building block of hitting and power so you don’t have to cheat to get either and have a chance to have both. A player can be raw at the plate but if he has bat speed there will always be a scout willing to overpay the player.

Shaffer doesn’t disappoint in this regard because it’s true plus bat speed, especially rare to find in a college hitter for the aforementioned reasons. Normally bat speed comes from a wiry strong, athletic, skinny-frame player, typically dual sport guys that can run a little bit. Another reason scouts lead with the bat speed on Shaffer is that he doesn’t fit in this box. Shaffer has a pro body, a strong, lean, tapered 6’3, 210 pounds with broad shoulders and an above average arm that could play anywhere on the field. That said, Shaffer isn’t a quick-twitch type athlete, as a below average runner with some stiffness and mechanical movements in his defense at third base. He could move to right field but given the foot speed and a body that should only get bigger, first base seem like his eventual home.

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Reports From Instructs: Rays Power Arms

Instructs is a great place to find prospects you weren’t able to see during the season whether they were injured, hidden on backfields, or recent draftees. Rays righty reliever Nick Sawyer fits into the last two buckets as the 1232nd pick out of 1238 picks in the draft and a late-rising arm that signed for only $50,000 out of a Texas junior college.

Sawyer is only 5’11, 175 and during draft season, the rap on him was a smallish righty with some arm speed and command issues. While his command isn’t great, it’s fine and his delivery is cleaner than I anticipated. Sawyer sat at 93-96 mph for a few innings with his four-seamer, often spotting it up in the zone but with enough juice that hitters had trouble doing anything with the pitch.

Sawyer’s curveball was 79-83 mph and was very effective, buckling the knees of Bill Hall twice. The break would vary from three-quarters to more of a downer pitch with slight tilt but have very tight rotation and bite, flashing plus potential when it’s right. The thing to follow with Sawyer is his changeup, as the 86-87 mph was bad the first few times he threw it, improving throughout his outing. Eventually, he flashed a couple average pitches with some sink, fade and solid arm speed.

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Reports From Instructs: Phillies Wrap-Up

As promised, there’s only a few instructs reports left but it’s lasted me the (most warm in Florida) winter as junior colleges started this week and I was in the Dominican last week to see the top July 2 players. Along those lines, this wrap-up from Phillies camp will lead off with a high profile American but finish with three recent international signees that caught my eye.

Larry Greene signed with the Phillies for $1 million as the 39th overall pick in the supplemental round of the 2011 draft. Greene is from the South Georgia, the same area that has recently produced Buster Posey, Kaleb Cowart and Byron Buxton. Unfortunately, Greene isn’t the same kind of prospect but, as the signing bonus suggests, he has the tools to be a successful big leaguer. The first thing you notice about Greene physically also stands out on the roster—the Phillies updated his height and weight to 6’1, 259. That should create a certain mental image, but Greene isn’t fat and runs better than you’d expect; think NFL fullback. And don’t think Ryan Howard because that’s really lazy.

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Reports From Instructs: Phillies Top Picks

I swear I’ve posted almost all of my instructs reports. From Phillies camp, I’ve got two of the top three picks from the most recent draft, both multi-sport athletes as the Phillies are notorious for drafting.

Mitch Gueller was the 54th overall pick (sandwich round) in June from a Washington state high school that signed for slot, nearly $950,000. Gueller was a high school quarterback and also played basketball, so his solid-average speed and athleticism stood out, along with his 6’3, 215 pound frame and fastball that peaked at 95 mph. Unfortunately, it appeared Gueller was fatigued the two times I saw him in instructs as his velo was down and he had more command issues and trouble repeating his delivery than he should.

The first time I saw him, he was facing Gerrit Cole (report) and while Cole was busy hitting 101 mph, Gueller was a more workmanlike 87-89 mph. He spotted his fastball well early, wasn’t afraid to come inside and he kept the ball down. Gueller was throwing a four-seamer that didn’t move much and as he lost his release point, tried throwing a cutter, sinker and slider, all of which weren’t working. The second time I saw Gueller he was much more crisp, sitting 89-90 mph and showing a usable cutter and slider. Gueller’s slider was 81-83 mph and showed average potential and 12-to-6 tilt with late, short bite. His changeup was a solid pitch, also showing average potential in both outing at 79-82 mph with more sink than fade but good deception and arm speed.

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Reports From Instructs: Pirates Notes

For the last entry from Pirates instructs, I’ll run through a number of players that caught my eye for different reasons, lightning-round style.

I saw Mel Rojas Jr. and Gift Ngoepe a good bit during the FSL regular season, and both will flash big league potential at times but had some struggles at the plate. Ngoepe is a great story as a South African-born, 5’10, 180 pound switch-hitting shortstop that will likely get at least a cup of coffee in the big leagues. He’s a switch hitter with plus speed and an above average arm with good hands and fluid actions that will be enough to allow him to stick at shortstop long term. He also uses his speed effectively in his offensive game, often bunting, stealing bases and finding ways to contribute.

Ngoepe’s weakness is his well-below average raw power and some rawness in his offensive game. He gets thrown out a little more than he should on the bases and needs to pick better spots to run but also needs to tighten up his strike zone. For as much as Ngoepe understands his limitations at the plate and tries to play within them, he can get pull-conscious and try to do something with anything close to the plate rather than being more selective. If Ngoepe can shrink his zone and continue to develop his game, there’s a potential big league future as a utility infielder. He’s a little tough to project given his unusual path, but from what I’ve seen I graded Ngoepe as an up/down player that will make the big leagues.

Rojas has some similar qualities to Ngoepe as a guy with big league tools and a good defensive profile who needs to tighten up his approach at the plate to reach his potential. That said, Rojas has much better size and tools; as a 6’3, 215 pound athlete Rojas is a solid-average runner with a solid-average arm and is a switch-hitter with above-average bat speed and average raw power from both sides. You can see why, with a toolset like that, the Pirates took him in the 3rd round out of an Illinois junior college in 2010.

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Reports From Instructs: Pirates Power Arms

Despite having covered the headliner arms of Pirates instructs — Gerrit Cole (covered last week) and Jameson Taillon (looking basically the same as when I covered him midseason) — there were still some interesting high ceiling arms on display.

First up is righty Nick Kingham, whom the Pirates signed for an over-slot bonus just under $500,000 in the 4th round of the 2010 draft from a Las Vegas area high school. Kingham made his full season debut in Low-A West Virginia as a 20 year old in 2012 and had a solid campaign—groundballs, good control and a solid K rate despite what appears to be a fluky home run rate fueling a 4.39 ERA.

Those stats imply an evaluation close to what I saw from Kingham in instructs. In a two inning stint, he sat 92-94 with consistent above average two-seam life down in the zone and solid location. Kingham’s 82-83 mph slider was above average at times with long action, occasional hard bite and three-quarters tilt. His changeup was the better off-speed pitch, consistently above average with better command, fade and bottom at 82-85 mph and he threw one that was plus.

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Reports From Instructs: Gerrit Cole

The obvious headliner at Pirates instructs was 2011 #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole. Cole has been on prospect radars for some time, as he went unsigned out of a southern California high school in 2008 when the Yankees made him a 1st rounder despite being an obviously tough sign. Negotiations never got started and Cole decided he wanted to go to UCLA, where he cleaned up his delivery and command while adding a plus changeup to his power fastball-slider repertoire. Three years after turning down a potential multi-million dollar bonus, Cole signed with the Pirates for $8 million.

Cole’s professional career has been mostly ho-hum. No arm injuries or real struggles while also not quite dominating the way his stuff probably should. He signed late in 2011 then had a successful if short stop in the Arizona Fall League followed by a debut season starting in Hi-A and ending in AAA with basically the same numbers at all four stops: a K/9 in the 9’s and BB/9 around 3. A notable event happened in late June when Cole was hit in the face with a liner while with AA Altoona, but he returned later in the season and looked fine in instructs.

Those numbers will obviously play in the big leagues but there’s math that we do looking at minor league numbers, expecting some regression at each level. One thing to keep in mind is the Pirates organizational development plan for pitchers. They heavily stress fastball command and in the first full season in the system. Pitchers are instructed to throw primarily fastballs, usually over 70% per game. In instructs, Cole threw one off-speed pitch in two innings and in a game I saw in Hi-A earlier in the year, I counted 7 off-speed pitches in a full outing. That will obviously affect Cole’s feel for these off-speed offerings and make projecting him a little more difficult.

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Reports From Instructs: Chargois & Walker

J.T. Chargois and Adam Walker are both players I saw as amateurs in 2012, they both went in the top 100 picks to the Twins and both have interesting tools that had evolved by the time I saw them in instructs. Chargois is a right-handed reliever out of Rice that was a 2nd round pick (72nd overall) and signed for slot, just over $700,000. Walker is an outfielder from Jacksonville University that went in the 3rd round (97th overall) and signed for slot just under $500,000.

I saw Chargois late in the amateur season, shutting down UCF in series that decided the conference championship. He worked at 91-94, touching 95 mph with an above-average changeup that flashed plus and an inconsistent 79-82 mph curveball with three-quarter tilt that was above average at times. Scouts that saw him earlier in the season told me they saw a plus breaking ball and that the changeup was a third pitch, so when you put those two accounts together, you can see what got the Twins excited.

Despite having three above average pitches, Chargois isn’t really a starting option. He was primarily a hitter his first two year at Rice and has an athletic cut from both sides with average raw power. Beyond his lack of experience, Chargois has effort in his delivery and while he’s got a chance to have average command, he is more of a thrower than pitcher.

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Reports From Instructs: Miguel Sano

Last week I said that Byron Buxton was the headliner at Twins instructs due to being the consensus top talent in the recent draft. Unfortunately, Buxton was overmatched at times against advanced competition so the most entertaining Twins prospect to watch was Miguel Sano. Sano has had plenty of fanfare himself after he signed for $3.15 million as a 16-year-old in 2009 after highly contentious negotiations with the Pirates. This drama and the Dominican amateur baseball system as a whole were covered in the documentary Pelotero

Sano had an up and down full season this year in Low-A Beloit, hitting .258/.373/.521 with a 14.5% walk rate and 26.0% strikeout rate. Strikeouts and contact were issues all season, but Sano was also 18 years old at the start of the season. What I saw in instructs jives pretty well with the stat line and what I’ve seen of Sano in the past. I was also reminded of his upside from one swing: a two-strike fastball up and in that he hit halfway up the batter’s eye.

His power is an easy 80, stemming from obscene raw strength, very good bat speed and the torque, loft and high finish you expect from big boppers. The thing he does that sets him apart from other sluggers is he keeps his hands pretty low throughout his setup and Sano also doesn’t have a pronounced load. Most hitters have to do both things to create power and give away some contact ability, but Sano doesn’t need to and that’s why he has a chance to be the rare high-average cleanup hitter.

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Reports From Instructs: Byron Buxton

The headliner at Twins instructs was their recent first rounder, the second overall pick from a rural south Georgia high school, center fielder Byron Buxton. He was considered the top prospect in the draft by most scouts on the strength of his prodigious toolset, compared most often to Matt Kemp and the Upton brothers. Buxton signed for $6 million, just below slot recommendation for the pick and will be 19 all of the next year in his full-season debut, very likely with Beloit in the Low-A Midwest League.

The thing that sets Buxton apart from other top prospects is his athleticism and the easiness of his actions. The first time I saw him take batting practice, it was hard to believe how much more fluid his actions were and how quickly he made them, even compared to the other top draft prospects I had seen the weeks before, including top 10 picks like Albert Almora and Mike Zunino. That said, Buxton doesn’t have huge current raw power (45 on the 20-80 scale) and while his athleticism allows you to round up with somewhat limited physical projection left, I can’t go higher than 55 on the projected raw power. His approach at the plate and his mechanics are not geared for power, so I’ve got Buxton pegged as an average game power guy at maturity, but he’s young and raw enough to beat that projection.

One tool that Buxton’s quick-twitchiness shows up in now is his speed. Scouts tend to use the term “off the charts” too liberally considering the chart was designed to cover everyone, but Buxton, like Reds prospect Billy Hamilton, can regularly put up times that aren’t on the scale most teams use. 4.3 seconds from the right-handed batter’s box to first is considered average (50 on the 20-80 scale), 4.2 seconds is 60, 4.1 is 70 and 4.0 is 80, the top of the scale. I’ve clocked Buxton in the 3.9s from the righty box on multiple occasions on digs and got two 4.03s in on instructs game on routine ground balls where Buxton didn’t look like he was even exerting himself. Buxton also has an excellent first step and acceleration, normally the downfall of speedsters with some size, a sign that they will slowly lose it as they age. It’s rare to find an 80 runner with any kind of other skills, so you can see why scouts get so excited about Buxton, a 90 runner with a chance for above average power.

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Reports From Instructs: Big Tools, Little Experience

I had abbreviated looks at two more Blue Jays hitters with big, recent international bonuses and am tossing in the one pitcher with some prospect standing from the game I saw of the Red Sox. All three of these players have big bonuses, tools and expectations, but little experience in organized minor league games.

Two of the highest recent bonuses from the July 2 market have been handed out to hitters but the Blue Jays in 2B/CF Franklin Barreto (2012) and SS Dawel Lugo (2011). Barreto signed for $1.45 million, one of the top bonuses in the first year of fixed international bonus pools while Lugo signed for $1.3 million last season under the old rules.

Barreto won’t be 17 until spring training, is the equivalent of a high school junior and is actually younger than most of the top prep prospects for the 2014 draft. I point that out so you realize how much more projection is necessary to see what he’ll become and I’m guessing his age is a reason that Barreto barely even played in instructs. He obviously has plenty of instruction to absorb and I only saw him in part of one game.

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Reports From Instructs: Toronto Blue Jays (Pt 4)

For the next installment in the instructs series, I’ll run down some thoughts on the two top hitters I saw (and quick notes on one pitcher). Keep in mind as I’ve mentioned before that these are limited looks with no more than a game or two look and no batting practice, so this doesn’t constitute a full standard scouting report from a multi-game look during the minor league season.

While I saw what amounted to basically one game of Wuilmer Becerra, he seems like the most relevant prospect to lead the article off with since he was included in the R.A. Dickey deal just a few days ago. Becerra is a real prospect in his own right, signing for $1.3 million on July 2nd, 2011 and that means youth is still on his side, as he turned 18 during instructs this year. His minor league debut was cut short after 36 plate appearances in the GCL this season after he broke his jaw from an errant in-game fastball.

Becerra has a long frame, listed at 6’4, 190 but he isn’t the typical super-slender projectable tools monsters of July 2, as there’s already some thickness to his frame and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is or will soon be well over 200 pounds. He runs well for his size and I didn’t get a great time but Becerra looked to be a below average runner, a far cry from when he had put up above average times in amateur workouts. His arm wasn’t overly impressive and my read was a left field profile, which is where he played exclusively in instructs.

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Mariners Prospect Notebook

I caught the upper level Mariners affiliates (Jackson & Tacoma) on a swing through the southeast late in the minor league season and there are a handful of prospects from those teams I haven’t written up yet. Both of these teams were deep with big leaguers and have some interesting prospects beyond the obvious elite guys.

Stefen Romero had the lowest draft profile player among these prospects, as a 12th round pick that signed for $100,000 out of Oregon State, but he kept barreling balls up when I saw him and he’s done it all year (.346/.387/.588 in Hi-A and AA). He does it mostly with a pull-oriented, aggressive, early count approach that normally doesn’t project well, but works for some guys in the big leagues, so you can’t rule him out. Normally this kind of approach comes with below-average hitting tools and allows the hitter to take advantage of the mistakes lower-level pitchers make, but falls apart against the advanced command of the upper levels. When Romero keeps raking in AA and picking his spots against better pitching, it starts becoming more likely he’s a useful big leaguer and he has some big league tools to back that up.

Romero has solid bat speed, above-average raw power to his pull side and a simple swing. His plate discipline is just okay, there is some stiffness to his swing and there’s occasional length to his bath path with a high finish that can become an uppercut at times. Going back to my three elements of a hit tool, his tools are solid-average, his bat control shows flashes of average and his plate discipline is below. That’s enough to be a big league hitter with the power to punish a mistake and the 6’3, 225 Romero was actually playing second base for Jackson. His big frame and below-average feet will limit him to a corner utility role in the big leagues, but his hands looked good enough that he may be able to play a solid third base. Even as strictly a corner outfielder, he can be a righty platoon bat with a chance for a little more.
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Reports From Instructs: Toronto Blue Jays (Pt 3)

The Blue Jays took a unique approach to the new draft slots this year, spending almost all of their top 10 rounds bonus allotment on their 7 picks in the top 3 rounds, then spending no more than $5,000 each on players selected in rounds 4-10. I’ve already covered Marcus Stroman and Matt Smoral, the top two pitchers the Jays drafted in 2012, but they also selected hurlers in the supplemental first round (Tyler Gonzales) and the second round (Chase DeJong).

Gonzales is a 6’2, 170 pound righty out of a San Antonio area high school that signed for $750,000. He’s got a cleaner delivery than DeJong due to his more compact frame and the fact that he’s nearly a year older, turning 19 before his senior season started. Gonzales has a thin and long-limbed frame with some projection but his stature limits how much you can dream on him. Gonzales has an elbowy, clean arm action with a slight wrist cock early in the stroke and his throwing and lead elbows get higher than you’d like to see before foot strike. It isn’t a red flag, but with pitching prospects, there is so much attrition and uncertainty, you’d like everything to be as clean as possible to increase your odds of success.

Gonzales sat 91-93 in the outing I saw, with occasional run to his arm side and cut to his glove side helped by a slight crossfire in his delivery, but normally he throws pretty straight four-seam fastball. He compliments his heater with a slider at 83-85 mph that, at its best, had 11-to-5 tilt, depth and hard late bite for above average potential. Early on especially, Gonzales would get around the pitch and it would flatten out with three-quarters tilt, an occasional loop and frequently would leave it out wide to his arm side. He didn’t have great feel for his off-speed pitches in this outing and scouts relayed that they had seen his slider better in other outings, so there may be some room for growth from what I saw out of his slider.

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Reports From Instructs: Toronto Blue Jays (Pt 2)

The story of Marcus Stroman is one of extremes: first round pick due to a deep arsenal of plus stuff, advanced command and consistent high-end performance despite being 5’9, 185 pounds. Those are all clear positives except for the stature, but the stature alone has most scouts projecting Stroman as a reliever. I got a quick look at Stroman in instructs and I think there’s value in promoting him quickly as a reliever, but I don’t see a reason why he shouldn’t be given a chance to start sometime in the next few years.

Stroman sat 93-95 mph with heavy two-seam life, effectively spotting it under the hands of right-handed hitters. He backed it up with a hard slurve at 80-84 mph with three-quarters tilt and at the high end of that range; it looked like a true plus slider with depth and late bite. Stroman also worked in a hard, 88-90 mph cutter that is plus at its best due to its length, enough to give fits to hitters in either batter’s box. He also threw one changeup at 81 mph that turned over with fade and depth, flashing above average potential and there may be more in the tank.

So, we’ve got a small righty that flashed four 55 or 60 pitches (on the 20-80 scale) in a relief stint, but he’s got to sell out with a high-effort delivery to generate that kind of stuff, right? Surprisingly, no; Stroman has a balanced and controlled delivery along with good athleticism and general feel that allows him to put the ball where he wants to. It isn’t pinpoint or infallible command, but you can pretty easily project it to above-average to where the question is what Stroman has proven he can’t do well, as the size concerns are projecting and adjusting for possible future problems.

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Reports From Instructs: Toronto Blue Jays (Pt 1)

Robert Osuna burst onto the prospect scene in 2010, signing for a bonus of $1.5 million as a 16 year old out of Mexico. The 6’2, 230 pound right-hander already has a boxy, mature frame with very limited remaining projection, a rarity for a 17-year-old elite pitching prospect. Osuna’s prospect status is concentrated more on current abilities rather than projection.

I saw Osuna pitch in extended spring training and was impressed for a first look at a young arm. He sat 90-92 from the windup, losing a few ticks in the stretch and his heater lacked overall life. His changeup flashed plus potential at 77-79 mph and he really had a good feel for the pitch with late depth and great deception. Along with the lack of projection and only an average fastball, Osuna also had trouble spinning a slider, lacking bite on his breaking ball at 80-82 mph and showing only average potential. His simple delivery and arm action were both good, but Osuna had a wrist cock early in his arm stroke that bothered me a bit.

Osuna put up some dominating performances in the Northwest League and after seeing him recently in instructs, he appears to have taken a big step forward. In the three-inning outing, his fastball sat 89-93 mph but his command was improved, only missing low in the zone and he added and subtracted from the pitch, most often throwing a cut fastball with plus action. Osuna’s changeup was even better, flashing 65 potential (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with late darting action rather than just turning over.

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Reports From Florida Gators Scout Day

I recently attended scout day for the University of Florida and while the Gators still have a lot of talent on campus, they lost some major talent in the 2012 draft. Between departing upperclassmen and recruits that signed out of high school, the Gators lost 11 players in the top three rounds of the draft (Michael Zunino, Lance McCullers, Lewis Brinson, Brian Johnson, Nolan Fontana, Jesse Winker, Max White, Steven Rodriguez, Austin Maddox, Avery Romero, Jonathan Sandfort) along with two top notch college players that received six figure bonuses (Preston Tucker, Hudson Randall) and two solid senior signs (Daniel Pigott, Greg Larson).

Even with all that talent departing or not making it to campus, Florida has two potential high first round picks in their Friday and Saturday starters, junior right-handers Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson. Depending on the schedules of Ole Miss righty Bobby Wahl and Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek, the scout day intersquad matchup of Crawford and Whitson may end up being the best pitching matchup in the SEC this season.

Crawford came out of nowhere last season hitting 98 mph often and flashing a plus slider while he slowly integrated a changeup as the season wore on. All systems were go in his two-inning outing, as all three pitches and his location were crisp. Crawford sat 92-94, hitting 95 with above-average two-seam life, backing it up with an 84-86 mph slider with three-quarter break and sharp, late darting action, flashing 65 potential (on the 20-80 scouting scale). His 84-86 mph changeup has improved and turned over consistently, flashing plus potential to give Crawford three plus pitches, among the best stuff in the draft class.

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Reports From Instructs: Houston Astros (Pt 2)

Carlos Correa was the recent first overall pick and while I didn’t see him as an amateur, he showed big time tools in the GCL and again in instructs. His projectable 6’4, 190 pound frame immediately stands out with broad shoulders, tapered torso and long limbs. Correa is an outstanding athlete to coordinate his body to play shortstop, which he does well now with a plus arm, solid footwork and good instincts. He’s an average runner that can be a little slow out of the box and will only slow as he fills out his frame, so Correa seems destined for third base, where he would be easily above average.

The real is how well Correa’s big hitting tools will play in games. After seeing number two overall pick Byron Buxton in Twins instructs and as an amateur, Correa is at about the same juncture polish-wise, although is 9 months younger. Correa is fooled too often by professional pitching, getting off balance and jumpy at the plate. At times, he’ll show a bat wrap that he needs to fix and a couple of singles I’ve seen have come on pitches where he was fooled but bat speed and eye-hand coordination allowed him to get enough of the pitch.

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Reports From Instructs: Houston Astros (Pt 1)

After some covering the WWBA tournament for ESPN, I fell behind on some instructional league reports, so I’ll roll out the remainder lightning round style over the next few days. Normally, I need a few days to be able to see all the prospects in a camp and have an opinion, but fortunately the one game I saw of the Astros featured all of their notable prospects in camp. I have some history with most of the prospect hitters and while it was only one game, I got a good, updated feel for the players, so I’ll run through the roster in two parts.

I covered Lance McCullers a lot as an amateur for ESPN as the supplemental first rounder played his prep ball just down the street from my house. He started the instructs game I saw and continued to show progress in what ended up being a huge developmental season for him. I’ve seen McCullers hit 98 and despite the longest season of his career, he still worked 91-93, hitting 94 with some life and mixing in a two-seamer at 88-89. His curveball was it’s usual self, showing plus potential at 79-82, though he would get around the pitch and give it ¾ tilt at times rather than the preferred 11-to-5 tilt.

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Sergio Romo and the Tim Wakefield Fastball

Earlier in the regular season, I got a message from a pitcher asking about how his slider rate compared to that of a teammate. It seems they had something of a friendly wager. I checked and replied that, while his slider rate was high, and higher than his teammate’s, neither was close to the league lead. Way up top were guys like Luke Gregerson and Sergio Romo, who threw sliders with nearly two-thirds of their pitches. Romo, for example, threw sliders like Clayton Kershaw threw fastballs. Romo’s got a pitch, and he’s especially got that pitch against right-handed batters.

Now let’s take a step back. Between 2007-2011, Tim Wakefield posted a roughly league-average ERA over nearly 800 innings. The overwhelming majority of his pitches were knuckleballs, a very small minority of his pitches were curveballs, and just over ten percent of his pitches were fastballs. His fastball had the average velocity of another guy’s slow curve. It was, in isolation, a very bad major-league fastball. Yet, on a per-pitch basis, between 2007-2011, Tim Wakefield’s fastball was one of the most effective fastballs in the league. You don’t have to do much research to figure it’s because hitters were taken by surprise. The fastball seemed faster than it was, and it was often simply unexpected. Nearly three in four Wakefield fastballs were strikes. There was nearly an equal ratio of called strikes to swings.

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