Archive for Minor Leagues

An Early Look at the Left-Handed Pitchers in 2017 Draft

The time has come for me to start spitting out scouting notes from the summer showcases I’ve been attending for the last several weeks. During that time I’ve seen a few hundred high-school players who are eligible for next year’s MLB draft. While a handful of prospects who did not participate in any of these events will inevitably pop up next spring, the lion’s share of next year’s high-profile prep draftees are already immortalized somewhere in my notes. I’ve sifted through them and will begin to churn out my thoughts on those I found most relevant or interesting, starting today with left-handed pitchers.

Players in the primary section of this article are listed in my current order of preference while those in the “honorable mention” paragraphs below are in alphabetical order. Keep in mind (as I do during my own evaluations) that most of what I saw from these prospects came in abbreviated looks and in an atypical competitive environment.

D.L. Hall, LHP, Houston County High School (GA)

Height: 6’1, Weight: 180, Commitment: Florida State

I think Hall is a lock for the first round if he stays healthy. Lefties who touch 95 mph with this kind of curveball feel are rare and I’m not scared off by Hall’s height. He sat 90-94 in each of my showcase looks and touched 95 (some guns had him at 96 in San Diego). Hall’s arm is quick and the ball jumps on hitters. His curveball has bent in anywhere between 76 and 80 mph for me with sharp, two-plane movement and precocious depth. I have a future 60 on it. He has shown the ability to locate it both on the outer edge of the strike zone and down in the dirt, albeit inconsistently.

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Jeff Hoffman Debut, Electric Boogaloo

I first saw Jeff Hoffman pitch in February of 2014, when he was a junior at East Carolina, and thought I was seeing the guy who would later go first overall in that June’s draft. Hoffman was electric, sitting 92-96 mph, touching 98 and showing feel for four pitches on a chilly, late-winter’s day in Virginia. Best amateur slider I’ve ever seen aside, Hoffman was better than Carlos Rodon that spring in every way and likely would have demanded consideration for the top overall selection (which eventually became Brady Aiken) in a class full of prospects with question marks up top.

But Hoffman broke. He had Tommy John in May of 2014. It was the second year in a row (Lucas Giolito) that the draft’s most talented right-handed arm was injured. The situation was a precarious one for Hoffman. If the injury torpedoed his stock, it would be hard for him to thumb his nose at the team that drafted him and return to school because, even with an aggressive recovery from TJ, he’d only be able to make a couple of starts as a senior before the 2015 draft and maybe not pitch at all. Alas, the Blue Jays saw the opportunity to grab a top-three talent at pick #9 and signed him for slot value, $3.1 million.

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Projecting Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves Cornerstone

Last night, Dansby Swanson, 2015’s first overall pick, debuted for the Atlanta Braves. After destroying High-A pitching to the tune of .333/.441/.562 in April, Swanson spent 84 games at the Double-A level. He hit a less exciting, but still respectable .261/.342/.411 at the latter stop.

During his brief stay in the minors, Swanson didn’t stand out in any particular area offensively, but was better than average across the board. He posted a healthy 11% walk rate this season, a .151 ISO, and made enough contact (recording an 18% strikeout rate) for it not to be a concern. Even his 13 steals indicate a guy who’s fast, if not exceptionally fast.

Swanson is a good hitter, but his bat alone doesn’t make him a particularly exciting prospect. What really sets him apart is that he’s a good hitter who also happens to play a mean shortstop. Eric Longenhagen noted yesterday that he thinks Swanson will be a plus defender at short. The data support that observation. In just 105 minor-league games at short this year, he’s been a +19 defender according to Clay Davenport’s model.

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Projecting Astros Call-Up Teoscar Hernandez

Teoscar Hernandez has always possessed an enticing combination of power and speed. His primary flaw, however, has been his inability to make contact. In 2014, he belted 21 homers and stole 33 bags, but struck out 28% of the time. Last year, he posted 17 homers and 33 steals with a 24% strikeout rate. The end result was a .219/.275/.362 batting line. More often than not, hitters who strike out that frequently don’t carry their success over to the big leagues, and it wasn’t at all clear that Hernandez was ever going to make enough contact to make it work.

But a funny thing started happening this year: Hernandez has seemingly learned how to avoid the strikeout. He opened the year at the Double-A level, where he hit .305/.384/.437 with a 17% strikeout rate. Following a promotion to Triple-A, he slashed .313/.365/.500 with a 16% strikeout clip. Despite the added contact, he still managed 10 homers in just over 100 games — plus one more in Houston on Friday. Read the rest of this entry »


Projecting Yankees Call-Ups Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin

Just hours after Alex Rodriguez walked off the field following his final game (in pinstripes, at least), the Yankees made the following string of transactions.

Capture

And just hours after making those transactions, both Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin had already homered in the big leagues. Out with the old, in with the new.

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Projecting Cardinals Call-Up Luke Weaver

Earlier this week, the Cardinals called up a promising young arm in Alex Reyes, who’s already enjoyed some success out of St. Louis’ bullpen. Another promising young arm is set to debut for the Cardinals tomorrow, as 22-year-old Luke Weaver will get the start against Cubs. What should we expect from him?

One thing we know for certain is that Weaver was undeniably excellent in the minors this year. In 13 starts this year — most of them at Double-A — he pitched to a sparkling 1.30 ERA and 2.11 FIP. He struck out an impressive 28% of opposing batters, while walking fewer than 4%, which is equally impressive. It wasn’t the first time he tasted success either, as he pitched well last season in High-A, albeit with a more underwhelming 21% strikeout rate.
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Scouting Cardinals Call-Ups Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver

St. Louis has added two of their top pitching prospects, Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver, to the big-league club over the last few days. Below are my brief thoughts on both of them as they try to buoy the Cardinals’ shot at a wild-card berth.

The most famous of the two prospects is RHP Alex Reyes. Reyes grew up in New Jersey but moved to the Dominican in December of 2011 in order to reclassify as an international amateur free agent. He signed a year later at the age of 18 for $950,000. In four pro seasons Reyes has dominated every level, from the Appalachian League and above, earning a big-league call-up despite having made just 69 career minor-league starts. He missed the end of last year’s Arizona Fall League and the start of this season due to a suspension for marijuana use.

Reyes sits 94-97 mph during starts but has been up to 101 with movement in short bursts, as he was both during his debut on Tuesday and in the Futures Game. It’ll be a no-doubt 80 fastball as long as he’s pitching in relief which, he told reporters, would be his initial role, and I think it will be an 80 fastball at maturity. Despite his size (Reyes is listed at a laughable 6-foot-3, 175 but is probably closer to 220 and lacks much positive physical projection), we are talking about a player still just shy of his 22nd birthday and short of his physical prime.

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Projecting Cardinals Call-Up Alex Reyes

The St. Louis Cardinals recalled top prospect Alex Reyes yesterday and, a few hours later, the hard-throwing right-hander recorded his major-league debut, striking out one in a clean inning of relief work (box).

The book on Reyes is that his stuff is off the charts, but his control and command leave something to be desired. His numbers paint this picture vividly. His top-notch stuff enables him to miss a lot of bats, resulting in nearly unmatched strikeout rates the past couple of years. Meanwhile, his lackluster command has resulted in a concerning number of walks.

All else being equal, you’d prefer to have a pitcher that doesn’t have iffy command and an ugly walk rate. But all else isn’t equal with Reyes. His ability to generate strikeouts, especially at such a young age, is a huge point in his favor. I yanked some of those words from my recent Tyler Glasnow piece, but I’m recycling them here since they’re equally applicable to Reyes.

My KATOH projection system adores Reyes. It projects him for 7.6 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 12.6 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings. Reyes placed 18th and seventh overall, respectively, on KATOH’s recent top-100 lists. Among pitchers, though, he was third and first. KATOH’s lists tend to be relatively hitter-heavy — likely due to some combination of pitchers’ attrition rates and the fact that KATOH does not directly quantify “stuff.” But in terms of pitching prospects, scouting-infused KATOH thinks Reyes is the best one on the planet.

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A Data Point in the Matter of Brandon Woodruff’s Command

Attempts to measure and/or quantify command have proven elusive. It’s a different thing than control, almost certainly, and it likely isn’t fully represented by control-oriented metrics such as walk rate or zone rate or first-pitch strike rate. Command is informed not merely by a pitcher’s capacity to throw strikes but rather by his body’s ability to execute the pitch his mind — and his catcher and maybe his manager — has requested.

Of course, the reader needn’t rely on a loathsome weblogger’s views on the matter. Here’s actual major-league pitcher Ryan Buchter meditating on the same concept in a post published by Eno Sarris just today.

When he’s stuck in a bad count, the lefty digs in. “I just pick out a spot and throw a ball just out of the zone,” he says. “To right-handers, I miss off the plate away. I’m not going to give in. I’m not going to throw the ball down the middle and hope it works out. It’s not like I’m wild. I’m not throwing fastballs to the backstop or in the dirt. I’m just not giving in to hitters. If I’m throwing outside, I’m just throwing outside. Even if it’s a lefty up and a righty on deck, and I fall behind, I don’t give in. That’s my game.”

Buchter cites a certain instance in which he’s throwing balls out of the zone on purpose. Superficially, he’s exhibiting poor control. In reality, he’s demonstrating good command.

Despite entering the season having produced only modest success in the low minors, right-handed Milwaukee prospect Brandon Woodruff was nevertheless well regarded. Of Woodruff, Dan Farnsworth wrote the following in his evaluation of the Brewers system:

One Brewers source put Woodruff’s status best: his numbers don’t do his talent justice. He still has plenty of potential with a quality delivery and stuff, and has had stretches of real dominance in the past year and a half. He will start in either High-A or Double-A, and the Brewers are hoping this is the year he really puts himself on the map, with his ongoing oblique issue from last year hopefully behind him.

The current post exists because Woodruff has recently put himself on the map real hard. After producing one of the top strikeout- and walk-rate differentials (22.2 points) across all High-A, Woodruff has recorded almost exactly the same numbers with Double-A Biloxi. Over the past month, the effect has been exaggerated. In six starts and 38.0 innings since July 8, Woodruff has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 32.4% and 2.9%, respectively. For reference, consider: Woodruff’s strikeout mark would represent the highest among qualified Double-A pitchers by over seven points; his walk, the lowest by half a point.

The strikeouts are almost certainly informed — in part, at least — by Woodruff’s terrific arm speed. Two years ago, erstwhile lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel conveyed reports of Woodruff’s fastball sitting in the 94-97 mph range. More recent observations suggest the right-hander is currently visiting the upper bound of that range with regularity. Pat Kelly, coach of Southern League rival and Reds affiliate Pensacola, recently referred to Woodruff’s four-seamer as a “97 mph fastball.” Meanwhile, Woodruff’s pitching coach with the Shuckers, Chris Hook, suggested that the velocity of the pitch has been “anywhere from 95 and 97.” All things being equal, velocity is a benefit.

The combination simultaneously of Woodruff’s physical tools and in-game success — the sort of success (measured by strikeouts and walks) that’s predictive of future success, as well — suggest that he’s probably well-equipped to handle major-league batters in the near future. Not to dominate them, necessarily, but certainly to compete against them. Which, even that might seem like an optimistic assessment of a pitcher who entered the season absent from every top-100 list and ranked as the Brewers’ 31st-best prospect before the season per Baseball America. But pitcher development is swift — marked not by slowly rising and descending trend lines but jagged and improbable improvements and attrition — and reassessments of pitchers have to be appropriately swift, as well.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a sort of reassessment of Brandon Woodruff. But only accidentally. In reality, the purpose of this post was merely to serve as a sort of annotation to the video footage that appears at the top of it. That footage is from the top of the fourth of Woodruff’s most recent start, against the Pensacola club mentioned previously. After Pensacola shortstop Zach Vincej quickly fell into an 0-2 count, Biloxi catcher Jacob Nottingham called for a fastball on the outside corner. Nottingham settled into a kind of split, not unlike the sort Tony Pena used to assume with the Pirates and Red Sox and probably other teams. Woodruff threw a fastball directly over that outside corner for a called strike three.

What can one pitch reveal about whoever’s thrown it? Well, this particular pitch reveals that, no fewer than one times, Brandon Woodruff has exhibited flawless command of his fastball. That’s an improvement over zero times — anyone would have to agree. And there’s what else this pitch has done — namely, to provide any sort of pretense upon which to contemplate Brandon Woodruff.


Scouting Jake Thompson and Other Phillies Prospects

I’ll be in California for the next few days at the Area Codes and some Cal League stuff, but below are some thoughts on three Phillies prospects I’ve seen recently, including Jake Thompson, who debuts today.

Jake Thompson, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

I saw Thompson a few weeks ago and he struggled with command. I don’t think strike-throwing is a long-term issue here — at least not so much that it will prevent him from starting — but I do think it impacts the effectiveness of his slider and that the most important part of his development at the major-league level will be locating that pitch where he wants when he wants. It’s often plus and should be so consistently at maturity. Thompson had issues locating it for me for the first half of his start until a mid-game at-bat during which C Andrew Knapp called for six straight sliders. It was a great opportunity for Thompson to find his slider, and it worked: Thompson located it for the rest of his start. It’s his best option for swings and misses to both right- and left-handed hitters. It was anywhere from 83-86 during this particular start though I’ve seen it up to 87 in the past.

Thompson’s fastball sits 90-93 and tops out around 94. His low-80s changeup has average projection, as does his curveball, which is slower and more vertically oriented than his slider. It’s a league-average starter’s profile for me.

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Projecting the Newest Member of the Astros’ Rotation

Don’t feel bad if you somehow missed Joe Musgrove getting called up to the Astros this past Monday. After all, only like a billion other transactions took place that day, many of which involved established big leaguers and/or prospects more highly touted than Musgrove. But now that the deadline-related madness has come and gone, I’d like to direct your attention to Mr. Musgrove. He’ll be joining the Astros’ rotation this Sunday in place of the injured Lance McCullers, and there’s reason to think he’ll be a very good pitcher.

Two years ago, Musgrove wasn’t on anyone’s prospect radar. Though he was drafted way back in 2011, it took him until 2014 to make it out of Rookie ball — and until 2015 to make it into the full-season levels. But when finally given the opportunity to last year, he broke out in a big way. He shot from Low-A to Double-A, putting up a dazzling 1.88 ERA in just over 100 innings. Perhaps even more impressive were his strikeout and walk numbers: he struck out 99, while walking only eight, giving him rates of 25% and 2%, respectively.

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Projecting Orlando Arcia

Milwaukee shortstop Orlando Arcia has been on the prospect radar for a few years now, but his stock has risen significantly over the past year or so. He’s been posting impressive strikeout and stolen-base numbers since his age-16 season in 2011. Though, prior to 2015, he did so with minimal power. He only managed an .093 ISO in A-ball in 2013 and 2014, which was helped in part by his 10 triples. While still an interesting prospect, it didn’t look like he’d ever hit for much power.

The power finally began to show up in 2015, however. His eight homers matched his total from the previous two years combined, which helped prop his ISO up to .146. That power bump has carried over into 2016, as Arcia had already matched last season’s total in just 100 games at Triple-A. His strikeout and walk numbers have both ticked in the wrong direction the past couple of years, but that was a sacrifice worth making in exchange for bringing his extra-base-hit totals to more respectable levels.

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Projecting Andrew Benintendi

The Red Sox made Andrew Benintendi the seventh pick in the draft last summer after he hit a torrid .376/.488/.717 as a sophomore at Arkansas, giving him easily the highest OPS in the SEC. Benintendi wasted no time proving his mettle in pro ball. He kicked things off by slashing .313/.414/.556 between two levels of A-ball, pairing a minuscule strikeout rate with loads of power.

Benintendi’s done more of the same in 2016, only this time at High-A and Double-A. He’s posted equal strikeout and walk rates — both 9% — while also hitting for power and stealing bases. The end result has been an unequivocally excellent .312/.378/.532 batting line. Considering he grades out as an above-average center fielder by Clay Davenport’s numbers, there really isn’t anything Benintendi can’t do.

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KATOH Trade-Deadline Roundup: Prospects and Teams

In the table below, you’ll find a treasure trove of information pertaining to the prospect-y players who changed hands this trade deadline. There were 47 of them in all. The “KATOH” and “KATOH+” columns refer to each player’s projected WAR forecast for the first six years of his major-league career, as evaluated by my newly updated KATOH systemKATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings. The right-most column refers to lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen’s scouting grades, which should serve as something of a sanity check for my admittedly flawed projections.

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Ranking the Prospects Traded at the Deadline

Below is my ranking of the prospects dealt during this year’s “Trade Season,” a span of time encompassing the second half of July, essentially from the Drew Pomeranz deal onward. Each tier of prospects is separated by the Future Value grade I’ve placed on them. For further explanation on what goes into FV, please go here. I’ve also included a brief, one sentence summary of each player’s skillset as well as links to the full reports I’ve written here for the site over the past few weeks and hours. Players who didn’t get full write-ups have slightly longer blurbs written in this post. Players with the same FV are ranked within their tier simply in the order I like them.

Dilson Herrera isn’t technically a prospect and is therefore not on the list but his full report is here. Hector Olivera is also not a prospect, not because he’s exhausted his rookie eligibility but because the reports I’ve gotten there, as well as what I’ve seen in person, have been quite bad.

60 FV Prospects

Anderson Espinoza, RHP, San Diego Padres (report)

Traded from BOS to SD for Drew Pomeranz

Summary: One of the most electric arms in the minors, Espinoza has a shot at three plus or better pitches and a realistic #2 starter’s ceiling but is still just 18 and obviously risky.

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Scouting Three New Rays Prospects

Tampa Bay has aggressively scouted the lowest levels of the minor leagues in Florida and Arizona looking to get in early on burgeoning young talent. In the Brandon Guyer deal, the Rays acquired soon-to-be 21-year-old RHP Jhonleider Salinas, who is of that ilk. Salinas has been up to 95 for me in the AZL, sitting 93-94 with inconsistent feel for a changeup in the 85-87 mph range as well as an upper-70s slider. Both have flashed average. Though his delivery is oddly paced, Salinas has a loose, quick arm which make his pitches projectable, though it’s unlikely he ever has a starter’s command. He has more upside than the typical return for a platoon outfielder.

Jhonleider Salinas, Tool Profile
Tool Present Future
Fastball 60 60
Slider 40 50
Changeup 40 50
Control 30 40
FV 35

The other piece in the deal is 2015 seventh-rounder Nathan Lukes, who’s had a successful statistical season, hitting .301/.375/.453 in the Midwest League before a promotion to Hi-A Lynchburg. Lukes is more about bat control than he is bat speed and I’m skeptical about his ability to keep hitting as he moves to the upper levels of the minors, though he’s an above-average runner and plays a decent center field and he might be an up-and-down fifth outfielder just based on that. He projects as an org player for me.

In the deal that sent Steve Pearce to Baltimore, the Rays acquired switch-hitting C Jonah Heim. He’s more comfortable hitting right-handed and has average power from that side already — and might grow into some more — but the carrying tool here is the defense. Heim is mobile for his size and blocks balls in the dirt well. He also has an above-average arm. If Heim can find that sweet spot of physical development that allow him to make more of an offensive impact than he’s currently capable while retaining the quickness that makes him a good defensive catcher, then he might be a regular. It’s more likely he ends up as a back-up or platoon type of catcher.


Twins and Angels Swap Throwers Meyer and Busenitz

Though both technically still prospects, RHPs Alex Meyer and Alan Busenitz (who were involved in yesterday’s minor Angels/Twins trade that saw the clubs exchange Ricky Nolasco and Hector Santiago, as well) are now 26 and 25 years of age, respectively, and probably needed a change of scenery. Both only realistically profile as middle-relief options barring intervention from the player-development gods.

Meyer has a first-round pedigree. Drafted by the Nationals 23rd overall back in 2011, he was seen as a bit more of a project than the typical college arm because of wildness. He was traded to Minnesota for Denard Span in November of 2012, a watershed moment in the history of the Minnesota Twins, as they shifted their franchises strange obsession with pitchability prospects toward high octane howitzers.

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Scouting Phil Bickford, Conundrum

For a player who hasn’t even ascended to Double-A yet, newly acquired Brewers RHP Phil Bickford has had a very interesting career. As a rising senior in high school, Bickford was sitting 87-90 mph and generating very little buzz. In the middle of the following spring, however, he was suddenly sitting 91-96 with unusually advanced command and feel for a slider. He suddenly became a first-round prospect, but teams also had very little history with him and had a difficult time getting to know the kid at all.

When draft day came, Bickford’s stock was seen as volatile but the Blue Jays popped him 10th overall. He didn’t sign. The circumstances that led to the collapse of negotiations are foggy. It makes sense that it was something medical, but Bickford has never had surgery or missed time with any kind of shoulder or elbow ailment, no benign soreness of any kind.

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Projecting the Prospects Traded Yesterday

In case you hadn’t heard, a lot went down yesterday. Here are the prospects who changed teams on deadline day, as evaluated by my newly updated KATOH system. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.

*****

The Jonathan Lucroy Trade

Lewis Brinson, OF, Milwaukee

KATOH: 7.7 WAR
KATOH+: 9.9 WAR

Brinson posted some terrible numbers in the low minors, but he’s gotten progressively better the past few years, especially in the strikeout department. His 20% strikeout rate from last year was still a bit high, but not alarmingly so. With 31 extra-base hits and 10 steals to his name this year, Brinson has shown a tantalizing power/speed combination.

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Scouting Not-Quite-Prospect-Anymore Dilson Herrera

I awoke to the news of the Jay Bruce trade’s initial iteration, one that included Brandon Nimmo, a prospect on whom the industry is, at best, lukewarm. The new version of the deal is headlined by Dilson Herrera who, because of the number of plate appearances he’s recorded in the big leagues, is technically not a prospect anymore. But he played in this month’s Futures Game and has spent all of 2016 in the minors and writing one more scouting report after this trade deadline won’t bring me any closer to insanity than I’ve already come, so let’s talk about Dilson Herrera.

Herrera signed as an international free agent out of Colombia with Pittsburgh back in 2010. He received a $220,000 bonus. In 2013, he played in his first Futures Game before becoming part of the Marlon Byrd waiver deal later that August. Herrera reached the big leagues at age 20 and has had brief stints with the Mets during each of the past two seasons.

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