Archive for Game Report

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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Ryan Vogelsong and the Pitches that Won the Game

You think of the Tigers and first and foremost you think of Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera. You think of the Tigers on a day that Verlander isn’t pitching and you think of Fielder and Cabrera. There are other guys on the roster — lots of them! — and some of them are good, but Fielder and Cabrera are the big offensive guns. They’re the players the Tigers most want in the spotlight in important situations.

The Tigers lost Game 3 of the World Series on Saturday, and now they have to win four in a row if they want to take the title. They lost not because the Giants lit them up, but rather because they very much didn’t light the Giants up. The story right now, depending on your perspective, is either the Giants’ run prevention or the Tigers’ miserable run production, and Saturday saw the Tigers blow what opportunities they generated. Worse, opportunities were blown by both Fielder and Cabrera. The Tigers got the bats they wanted up in the situations they wanted, and still they got shut out by Ryan Vogelsong and the San Francisco bullpen.

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Marco Scutaro and the Curious Take

Let’s face it: try as you might, you can’t really help the things that stick with you. What I remember most vividly from visiting the Acropolis so many years ago is an Offspring song I was listening to. What I remember most about attending a Montreal Canadiens home game is the in-arena Youppi! exhibit. And something I can’t shake from Thursday night’s Game 2 of the World Series is a fastball that was taken by Marco Scutaro for strike three in the bottom of the eighth. Plenty of things happened in the game and Scutaro’s at-bat was of little ultimate consequence, but I keep seeing that pitch over and over. Forgive me, but now I’m going to write about it.

I think I’ve established that I have something of a fascination for Marco Scutaro, and how difficult it is to get him to swing and miss. At no point on Thursday did Scutaro swing and miss — he hardly ever does — but he did strike out, and that’s also weird, if less so. Weirder still was how he struck out. Dave Cameron expressed surprise, too, in the live chat, so I know I’m not the only one. Let’s review the events.

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Madison Bumgarner Not Outstanding, Yet Outstanding

For a while, there was every reason to believe the Giants would look forward to having Madison Bumgarner start in the playoffs. Bumgarner was a very good starting pitcher, and teams like to have very good starting pitchers start for them come playoff time. Then Bumgarner started to wear down, or — if you don’t like that explanation — Bumgarner just started pitching a lot worse. His repertoire got worse, his results got worse, and there was a question of whether Bumgarner would start at all in the World Series. He was ultimately given the start in Game 2, but nobody really knew what to expect. The Giants had talked about a promising mechanical tweak, but Bumgarner was still coming off some lousy performances at the wrong times.

So, naturally, Bumgarner was terrific Thursday night. His box-score results, at least, were terrific, and though it was thanks to an impressive relay that Bumgarner managed to keep the Tigers completely off the board, even a slightly worse performance might’ve meant a Giants loss. Instead, in large part thanks to Bumgarner, the Giants hold a commanding series lead as everybody transitions to Michigan. Bruce Bochy, they say, can’t do any wrong right now. Everything he touches turns to figurative, strategic gold.

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Pablo Sandoval and Hittable Pitches

I think my favorite fun fact Wednesday night came from Sam Miller on Twitter. The Giants, of course, hit only 31 home runs at home all season long, far and away the fewest in baseball. Only three Giants players hit at least three. Granted, those totals were seven, seven, and five — not three, three, and three — but this provided some context. It was more or less within this context that Pablo Sandoval went deep three consecutive times to start off Game 1 of the World Series. And he did it in late October in a game started by Justin Verlander. Maybe a little more impressive than Albert Pujols homering three times in a playoff game in Texas in a game started by Matt Harrison. Apparently I’ve decided to support Sandoval’s performance by denigrating other, similar performances.

In a game where the story was supposed to be about the mismatch between Verlander and Barry Zito, it was Sandoval who completely stole the show, and it was Sandoval who seemed to get Joe Buck legitimately excited with dinger number three. He hit one out to center, he hit one out to left, and then he hit one out to center again. Sandoval would finish 4-for-4, singling off Jose Valverde, but if anything, considering the rest of the night, Valverde successfully kept Sandoval in check. It might’ve been the highlight of Valverde’s Game 1 appearance.

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Reports From Instructs: New York Yankees (Pt 4)

In the past week I’ve seen some amateur events (UF Scout Day, Florida Diamond Club) that I’ll write about here and I’ll be covering the WWBA tournament in Jupiter for ESPN. I also still have lots of instructs reports and extra regular season minor league reports to offload. So, before I move on to all these new topics, here’s the final notes from Yankees instructs, starting with some power arms.

I saw two outings from 20-year-old righty Gabe Encinas, a 6th round pick in 2010 out of a California high school. He sat 93-95 in the first outing and 94-96 in the second outing, getting plenty of swings and misses from his plus-plus velocity. He’s got a clean arm but his delivery is a little rough as he’s throws across his body due to the angle he takes on the mound. This makes him tougher on right handed hitters and creates a little more deception, but also makes his delivery much more east-west than is necessary, costing him command. The arm is electric enough that a straight-on delivery would probably be a better fit and his velocity, arm stroke and high three-quarters slot mean he isn’t a matchup specialist type that needs to create deception to succeed.

In addition to his four-seam heater, Encinas throws a 78-82 mph curveball that has some trouble staying on top of with tight, short rotation and average potential. He also throws a firm changeup at 85-87 mph that he also can lose up and to his arm-side and has average potential when he can command it in the zone. I’d simplify things as much as possible to see if Encinas can be a starter long-term, but he has the look of a potential late inning reliever if he continues to progress.

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Reports From Instructs: New York Yankees (Pt 3)

I’ve seen Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez as much as any other prospect this season and while I have a good feel for what he can do, I’m still not certain what he’ll become. I saw him in spring training, at Lo-A Charleston, at Hi-A Tampa and again recently in instructs; he’s shown the same tools each time but has also been making some adjustments, mostly at the plate.

Sanchez has a number of things that command your attention: a $3 million bonus at age 16, present 70 raw power to all fields and a 65 arm. He’s still just 19 and these kinds of tools and accomplishments as a teenager put him in rarified territory. The list of players who have that resume is littered with stars and even Hall of Famers. Therein lies the problem: Sanchez has always been the best player on every field he’s been on until this season, so his tools alone could dominate and he hasn’t had to make adjustments.

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