2018 Early Statcast Returns

Take all of what is about to be said/shown with a massive sample size caveat, grain of salt, or your analogy of choice. We are only a couple weeks into the major league season, but I still want to take a look at some Statcast data to see if anything stands out.

4-Seam Fastballs (Source-Baseball Savant. Criteria – at least 10 pitches in 2017 and 2018)

What I looked at: Velocity, Spin, Usage, and Extension

 

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Cautionary Aside: With the usage data there can be classification issues making the changes look larger than reality. For example, imagine Baseball Savant classified a pitch as a 4-seam in 2017 and as a sinker in 2018. I haven’t taken the time to delve into the changes and see which are “legit”.

Takeaways: Amir Garret leads MLB with a 2 mph increase over his 2017 average. Tyler Glasnow was among the leaders in both increased velocity and spin. I wonder if Gerrit Cole’s spin rate increase was the result of mechanical changes the Astros have advised him to make?


Curveballs (Source-Baseball Savant. Criteria – at least 10 pitches in 2017 and 2018)

What I looked at: Spin, Usage, Velocity

 

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Takeaways: Oh hey, Tyler Glasnow.  He tops the curve spin rate increase list. It’s crazy to me that Garret Richards and Rich Hill were among the leaders in curve spin rate increase considering they were already elite at this last year.


Sliders  (Source-Baseball Savant. Criteria – at least 10 pitches in 2017 and 2018)

What I looked at: Velocity, Spin Rate, Usage

 

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What I found: Amir Garrett popping up again. His slider velocity has increased the most in MLB. He is also using the pitch a lot, up almost 18% to 41%. Severino’s already good spin rate has increased to an elite level, almost 3000 RPM.


Hitters: (Source-Baseball Savant. Criteria – at least 50 pitches seen in 2017 and 2018)

What I looked at: Launch Angles, Launch Speeds, and Swing:Take Ratios

 

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Takeaways: Jesse Winker was in the top 10 for launch angle increases. Ryan McMahon has been hitting everything into the ground. His launch angle to date is -6.7. Ouch. Jose Martinez has had a surprisingly low launch angle, 3.6.

Aledmys Diaz has been insanely aggressive swinging twice as often as taking. Javier Baez has been more aggressive than last year. Eddie Rosario has not become more patient, an idea I had heard bandied during spring training. In fact, his swing:take rate has increased. Rougned Odor has been more patient. His swing to take rate has dropped from 1.13 to .73.


 

 

A Lesson in Perspective at the NHSI

One of the most-asked questions on the Up and In Podcast may have been “How can I get into Baseball?” Kevin and Jason did their best to not crush people’s dreams, but they also served a hearty dose of reality. The “Do you like shitting in McDonald’s?” conversation has become a thing of folklore amongst prospect followers and baseball outsiders. Scouts are grinders, and they sacrifice a lot to put themselves in that position. I firmly believe (for many of us) putting in the time to learn and grind is our only legitimate avenue into the game. Sure, there are other ways in: Former players become scouts. Ivy league grads land R&D jobs. Relatives of prominent front office executives snag entry-level roles. That is not to disparage any of these groups, but what about the rest of us? You’ve got to be refulgent and exhibit exemplary #want to have a glimmer of a chance.

A perhaps underrated aspect of evaluation (and the learning process as a scout) is establishing perspective. As a scout, what good does it do to only see players at one level? If you only scout AA/AAA games, you will only see polished players on the verge of the big leagues. Conversely, if you only scout high school players, your viewings will be largely confined to raw, projectable kids.

There are benefits for pro scouts to see amateurs and for amateur scouts to see pros. Amateur scouts who see pro talent will be reminded of what the kids they are scouting need to become to have a chance at the highest level. The amateur scout should be thinking, what reasonable path does said player have to make a major league roster? Seeing pro talent helps set a mental baseline as to what will be required at higher levels.

Pro scouts who see amateur talent will get a look at, for lack of a better term, young bodies that they may see a few years later in pro ball. I imagine it is immensely instructive (unintentional alliteration) to see a toolsy, raw kid at age 18, then see him again at 22. How did this player’s body evolve? What 18-year-old tools translated to 22-year-old baseball skills? OR what tools did NOT translate?

My scouting interests lie primarily in the low minors, where there is a mix of high school draftees, college draftees and international signees. There is still room for projection here, but many guys are not as far away from the majors as you may think. I view it as the Goldilocks Zone between the high minors and amateur ball. Amateur evaluation is a new interest of mine. Frankly, I could not tell you much beyond round one of the 2017 draftees. This January I began to see D1 college scrimmages and realized what I was missing out on. Gaining perspective became a motivation, prompting me to delve further into the amateur ranks.

Introduce the NHSI or the National High School Invitational. It is a 16 team tournament for some of the most talented high school teams in the country. This year 13 of Baseball America’s top 200 draft prospects partook, including possible round one draftees Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman, and Brice Turang. I spent a few hours before the tournament researching college commitments to figure out which players warranted the most attention. This event was a f****** whirlwind. It was a delightful deluge of baseball talent, including as many as four simultaneous games. It was hard to not feel like you were missing out on something.

Nolan Gorman NHSI 2018

In addition to seeing great amateur talent, this tournament was a learning experience. Gaining perspective is a huge part in my professional development as an aspiring scout. On the third day of the tournament the eventual champion, Orange Lutheran, sent Christian Rodriguez to the mound. A 6’6″ 185 lb right-hander, his stuff and projectability were equally impressive. The sophomore threw an easy 88-90 and touched 91. It was patently obvious this is a guy to watch out for. There is room for good weight, maybe to the tune of 30 pounds. Later in the day I bumped into MLB.COM reporter/analyst Mike Rosenbaum. We got to talking Rodriguez, and Mike mentioned he threw mid-80s last year as a freshman.

A lightbulb clicked. Had I been doing this all wrong? When scouting the minors, I would essentially write off anyone throwing below 90. (There could be extenuating circumstances, of course.) This is not to say I had been automatically writing off anyone throwing below 90 at the NHSI, but it made me reconsider the lens through which I viewed the underclassmen. At the amateur level context takes on greater importance. The difference between a 15-year-old and 18-year-old is massive; I would argue it is larger than the difference between 18 and 22. A underclassman throwing low-mid 80s still has a chance to make it. There is so much room for physical growth between 15 and 18, something that I had not fully wrapped my mind around or appreciated. Lesson learned.

The last day of the tournament, Calvary Christian threw Andrew Painter, a 6’4″ 195 lb righty and 2021 grad. He sat 81-83 with a curve in the 61-64 range. There’s a decent shot I would have taken little notice of him a few days earlier, but the conversation with Rosenbaum had altered my thought process. Even at 81-83, this kid has a chance. One, He’s not even 15! B, the body is still growing. Is there room for more on his frame? F*** ya, there is. You would have to be crazy to write him off…..or possibly you just aren’t appropriately weighing context.

As the tournament concluded, I was left reflecting on what was an elucidating event. I found it eye-opening and thought-provoking. But oddly, the feeling that dominated all others was impatience. I want to see how things shake out. Who will Christian Rodriguez and Andrew Painter be in five years? In seven years? How will their bodies grow? How will their skills on the field evolve? The tournament was like watching an episode of LOST. It provided three answers and eight more questions, but I won’t complain. It was great to catch a glimpse of tomorrow, today.

San Diego Padres Camp Notes

MacKenzie Gore (LHP) – Let’s play a game of word association. Mackenzie Gore….Balance. Athleticism. Projection. Gore encapsulates these words in human form. Watching him live, it’s easy to forget he was a 2017 draft pick and surreal to think this kid was in high school last year at this time. Seeing Gore on 3/10, it was hard not to draw comparisons to prep lefty Matthew Liberatore who I had seen a few days earlier. About one year apart in age, Gore proved to be lightyears ahead in terms of his development.

At 6’3″ 180 lbs, there’s undoubtedly room for some good weight. The fastball already sits 93-94 with command that is advanced beyond his years. His three secondary offerings: a high 70s curve, a mid 80s change, and a mid 80s slider all project to be average over better. It’s no wonder I have heard 70 OFPs thrown on Gore in unhushed tones. Expect him to move quickly, especially for a high school draftee. Not that I am adding anything new, but if they are not already, it’s time for Padres fans to get excited. There is bona fide ace potential here.

Adrian Morejon (LHP) – It’s really an embarrassment of riches over at Padres camp in Peoria. One day after taking in MacKenzie Gore (3/14, 3/15), I had the pleasure of seeing Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon. He’s listed at 6’0″ 165, but I think he’s closer to 5’11”. Some believe his fastball will play down due to poor extension and his diminutive frame. I saw a natural cutting action that I believe will counteract this and allow the pitch to play to plus. It was 93-95. Additionally, his fastball/changeup combo is the best I have seen all year. The change rested in the 81-83 range with big, late depth. Hitters looked helpless distinguishing it from his fastball and the velocity differential left many hitters stabbing weakly out in front of it. His arm speed and release point for both pitches looked identical. There was a lot of swing and miss on the change, around six or seven in only three innings. It projects to a 70. The curve was mixed in less frequently, but it had a sharp, tight shape. There’s potential for three plus pitches (60 FB, 70 CHG, 60 CB) and a number two ceiling is well within reach.

Cal Quantrill (RHP) – The 8th overall pick in 2016’s draft, Quantrill has been among the most divisive prospects among evaluators I have spoken with. On 3/16, he had the look of a back-end starter. His fastball was low 90s, touching 93 with moderate sink and some run. I think it plays down due to poor extension. The change was his best secondary, mostly in the 79-82 range with quality depth. Quantrill had good feel for it and was adept at using it as a put-away pitch. The slider was low to mid 80s and hung up in the zone far too often, a flaw that would be fatal at the highest level. At times it played to above average but not with any reliability. Lastly, but perhaps most notably, Quantrill threw a handful of high 80s two-seam fastballs, a pitch he has been experimenting on. At present it looked fringey to average, but it’s something to watch out for. This is hardly a novel idea, but whether or not Quantrill can develop a viable third pitch will go a long way in determining his effectiveness as a starter.

Dauris Valdez (RHP) – A towering 6’8″ 221 lb righty, Valdez thew one inning in a 3/16 minor league game. His fastball sat 96-98 and touched 99. There is some crossfire action in his delivery and natural plane due to his height. Valdez threw exclusively from the stretch in this outing. His control was below average but the stuff was good enough to cover up for it; at times Valdez missed his spot within the zone but did not get punished for it. He leaned heavily on the fastball but also busted out a mid 80s slider. Having only seen it once, it’s difficult to slap a grade on it. But it looked to be an effective offering, perhaps even 60 grade. The release point and arm speed for his slider were difficult to distinguish from his fastball. There’s some effort in the delivery but when said player is comfortably high 90s, who cares? Valdez has the look of a high-leverage pen arm with a chance to close pending the utility of his secondaries.


Quick Hits:

  • Esteury Ruiz (2B/SS) – I have not seen a lot of Ruiz, but my first impression was he has surprising power for his size. He hit an impressive opposite field home run on 3/16, and it should surprise no one if he makes a meteoric rise on prospect lists this year.
  • Miguel Diaz (RHP) – Acquired via trade as a part of the the 2016 Rule 5 draft, Diaz is a straight fireballer. On 3/10, he sat 95-97 and touched 99. It’s worth noting four days later his fastball looked more effective at a lower velocity band, sitting 93-95 and touching 97. There’s little effort in the delivery considering how hard he throws. His changeup and breaking ball flashed above average but were both inconsistent and left up in the zone at times. Diaz has high-leverage bullpen potential.
  • Jeisson Rosario (CF) – In a 3/14 intrasquad game, Rosario made an excellent diving catch in right-center, showing off plus range and a good jump to reach a ball few other guys can get to. Later on in the same intrasquad game, I timed him 4.11 seconds home to first from the left, a solid 60 speed grade.

Jeisson Rosario

  • Tirso Ornelas (OF) – An 18-year-old outfield prospecting hailing from Tijuana, Mexico, Ornelas launched a majestic home run off of Angel Acevedo in a 3/14 intrasquad game. It was an easy, aesthetically pleasing swing. Consider my interest piqued.
  • Cole Rutherford (1B) – The older brother of White Sox prospect Blake Rutherford, it wasn’t too surprising to learn he was a college signee out of Cornell. I say not too surprising because he looked more mature/polished than his comPadres (zing, had to do it!) who partook in BP on 3/16. Rutherford has legitimate 60 raw power.

 

Oakland Athletics Camp Notes

Dairon Blanco (OF)  – An under the radar Cuban signee from last December, the 24-year-old may be a quick mover through the Athletics system. In my viewings he played center field and had excellent ABs against quality competition. On 3/7, he faced Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher, both of whom allowed doubles to Blanco. He has shown an ability to protect the zone/lay off major league caliber breaking pitches and a quick stroke that should limit his strikeouts. His swing is simple, short and there is no wasted motion. It is fairly linear and his BP did not reveal much power, but I am came away impressed regardless. It is worth noting, in 2015/2016 his final season in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, Blanco only struck out in 11.29% of his plate appearances despite being 6.6 years younger than the average age. Speed is also a big part of Blanco’s game. I clocked him 4.24 seconds home to first on a double. A straight home to first of 4.25 from the right side is above average speed. Considering my time was on a turn, it’s 65 bordering on 70 speed. More viewings are needed to determine defense/arm grades, but Blanco the hitter appears capable of rapid ascent through the minors. I am curious to see where Oakland starts him.

Nick Allen (SS) – Small of stature, large of #want, the Athletics 2017 3rd round pick is listed at 5’9″ 155 which may be generous height-wise. I bumped into his H.S. English teacher, Nancy, and her son Jake who lauded Allen’s work ethic and unassuming nature. On the field, Allen looked like a potential starting shortstop. Defense will carry his profile. He’s quick and has good range. Infield actions were smooth. The arm is a 60. I do not have qualms over his ability to stick at the position. At the plate, his hands are quiet and his bat is quick through the zone. There is good bat control here as well as Allen displayed a propensity to foul off two-strike pitches and stay alive. In two viewings, he had three 10+ pitch ABs. Lack of loft in his swing and Allen’s physique limit his power potential, which should result in pitchers challenging him in the zone. He will have to prove he can make hard contact consistently enough to punish them. Given the aforementioned bat control and above average bat speed, I think he can. I see a ceiling of a second-division regular and a utility-infielder floor, but I am bullish on his chances of reaching his ceiling.

Lazaro Armenteros (OF) – One of the biggest names of 2016’s J2 signing period, Lazarito signed with the Athletics for $3MM. In A’s camp he displayed some tools that made him a coveted free agent, including 60 speed and above average raw power. Conversely, there were some concerning trends, notably off-balance swings versus breaking pitches. Armenteros does not appear to track breaking balls well out of the opposing pitcher’s hand. At times, his hips rotated early and his hands were left back, flailing at the ball. I was also not into his arm. In the 3/7 intrasquad, there was below average arm strength and discernible arc/poor carry on what should have been a max effort throw. I don’t want to kill him for these flaws. It’s easy to forget how young he is; 2018 will be his age 19 season. Still, they are concerning trends that should be monitored in his first exposure to full-season ball this year.

Miguel Romero (RHP) – This past fall I saw Romero five times in the Arizona Fall League and didn’t make much of him. In fact, I seemed baffled by what exactly he was throwing.

My abridged notes:

10/13 – 91-92, 79 CB?

10/17 – 90-91 (2 seam), 95-96 (4 seam), SL 82-84

10/26 – Loose arm, 91, 83?

11/2 – 92-94 SL 84-87 will pitch in on RHH

11/16 – 89-92 (easy) 79 CB

After seeing him twice this spring and overhearing Oakland’s coaches, I was able to understand my confusion. Romero throws a knuckle change in the 79-81 range. I have seen it move to either side with plus depth. Spin rate numbers were in the 900-1080 range for the pitch, which makes sense. Knuckleballs are notorious for having little spin. Those who frequent Baseball Savant spreadsheets will recognize these figures as being exceptionally low. For some context, the average fastball spin rate was around 2250 rpm and the average curve spin rate was around 2500 rpm (2017 figures). The pitch was jokingly referred to as “El Tigre”. Isn’t that cute? It was pretty nasty when commanded.

Romero also sat 94-95 and touched 96, which was an uptick from what I had typically seen in the AFL. The slider is a solid 60 when it’s on. It was 86-88 with nasty glove-side action in this viewing. The pure stuff is very good but the arsenal as a whole plays down due to command. From the looks of Romero’s Baseball Reference page, he appears to be a guy on the fast track for the bullpen. Oakland started him in the DSL in 2017 and moved him with a hop, skip and jump to the CAL league by season’s end. For a guy seemingly destined for the pen, Romero’s delivery is as easy as slicing fake butter with a katana. A part of me wishes they would give him a chance to start for that reason. Although I understand why Oakland would want to utilize him in a bullpen capacity.


Quick Hits:

  • Brett Siddal was the owner of the most impressive BP of the day on 3/9. He’s a strong kid with a pretty easy swing. He hit around 5 out, primarily to his pull side. It’s legitimate 60 raw.
  • Third baseman Will Toffey moved well to his right and displayed impressive arm strength in a fielding drill.
  • Dakota Chalmers sat 92-93, touched 94 with a mid 80s change, low 80s curve, and a mid 80s slider.  His curve looks like somewhat of a hybrid between a slider and curve with big horizontal movement. The stuff was impressive but command remained an issue.
  • Looking at Austin Beck’s swing, I see a lot of length. His hands slot high and must come down before he can bring the bat through the hitting zone. In spite of this length he didn’t have much swing and miss in 3/13’s scrimmage against the Cubs, suggesting he has solid bat control in an albeit limited look. Overall, I am still worried about the swing and would not be surprised if he is susceptible to considerable swing and miss this year.

Austin Beck.jpg

 

Grading Shohei Ohtani’s Arsenal

OhtaniSeven months ago I was perusing Amazon and daydreaming of improbable scenarios that might come back to haunt me. I was already the owner of a Canon Vixia HRF700 digital video recorder. The camera’s battery lasts a couple of hours and there is only around 30-60 minutes of recordable material in a given baseball game. I had never needed a spare battery but started running through Murphy’s Law scenarios in my mind. What if I forget to charge it? What if it gets damaged? What if it malfunctions? In an unprecedented move (for me), I did something I never normally have the foresight to do: plan for contingencies. Besides the battery was only $16. F*** it.

Last Friday, I was glad that I did. On Thursday night, I plugged in my Canon and went to bed with dreams of Ohtani sliders inducing ugly swings and misses. Ok, I made up the dream part, but the rest of this story is true. For whatever reason, my camera did not charge. After an ephemeral freak-out moment at the field, I remembered my spare battery. Worth every penny.

The B Squad scrimmage was slated to start at 10:00 AM. Chris Kusiolek (Twitter @calikusiolek) and I arrived early and claimed our seats behind home. This promised to be a mob scene, especially for normally docile B Squad standards. We were soon surrounded by a mix of Japanese media and domestic scouts. The high powered camera to person ratio was extremely high here. I’d estimate there were between 10 and 20 cameramen snapping rapid-fire action shots of Ohtani’s every move.

Let’s finish the background fluff and get to the good stuff.  Were these videos cherry-picked? Of course. I don’t think that diminishes how good Ohtani’s stuff is and how excited we should be to see him pitch this year.


Fastball – 70

The fastball sat 92-94 and touched 96. My 70 grade is more based off his reported high 90s velocity. I suspect we are in the midst of a spring training ramping up phase. The fastball command was in the 55-60 range; It wasn’t elite but certainly better than average and maybe plus. He used it to both sides of the plate and expanded the zone on hitters with two strikes. Ohtani got some natural plane on the fastball due to his height, and he had the ability to run it armside out of the zone.


Slider – 70

Ohtani displayed advanced feel for his slider. He was able to use it to both sides of the plate. It’s worth noting, he was especially comfortable using it to the left side of the plate (batter perspective), whether back-dooring lefties or breaking it back inside on righties. Ranging from 80-85, it had extreme two-plane movement. Ohtani could use it in the zone early in counts or as a put away pitch below the zone with two strikes.


Splitter – 70

From all accounts the splitter is Ohtani’s go-to strikeout pitch. It was in the low 80s and dropped off the table. It enticed hitters into a couple of ugly swings and misses in this game. He used his slider more than the splitter in this outing which causes me to speculate whether he is “saving” his splitter for actual games in an attempt to limit opponent looks at it. Alternatively, have the Angels recommended a change to his pitch mix? I am unsure of the answer and am probably reading into it too much. It was only 2 2/3 innings in a spring training practice after all.


Curveball – 55

There were two or three curves thrown in the game. Ohtani was using it more as a change of pace offering within the zone. It had huge depth and a 12 to 6 shape. He would play with its velocity a bit and it ranged from 71-79. One was taken for a strike in the zone but left up, and I think a major league hitter would have taken advantage. Guys on this B squad were unable to make him pay for it. There was also a ball that slipped out of Ohtani’s hand a flew to the backstop. I believe that was his curve as well. Despite some inconsistency with it today it’s hard to overlook the massive movement on this pitch; I think it plays to above average.


Overall, it’s a nasty bevy of pitches. He didn’t even break out his changeup, which I have heard is a 50-grade pitch. It’s not unreasonable to think Ohtani will have three 70-grade pitches, assuming the fastball reaches its previous velocity. With regards to his overall command projection, Ohtani has long levers, but his body control and athleticism are phenomenal. I think his athleticism will enable him to touch 60 grade command as a whole.

Speaking of athleticism, the most underratedly impressive thing I saw him do was leap into the air and almost knock down this comebacker, a ball he had no business in getting a glove on. I think he’s going to be an elite defensive pitcher.

Like with any pitcher, health is an omnipresent concern and with Ohtani’s reported UCL sprain, there is even more risk. If he stays healthy, I see a player who could step in this year and be a number three starter. And it would not surprise me at all to see him produce at a number two level.

The Ohtani storyline will be a fun follow not only for Angels fans but for MLB fans across the country.

Spring Training Notes 2/28-3/1

3/1/18 – White Sox at Reds – Goodyear Stadium

Three fifths of what might be the White Sox future rotation threw in this game. Reynaldo Lopez, the most established of the group, was the starter. Last season Washington used him as both a starter and reliever, which begs the question, what will his long-term role look like? This was my first look at Lopez, and he only went two innings, but I think his stuff is too good to not make it work as a starter. He was dirty. The fastball, which ranged from 95-97 with run was paired with a plus curve. None of this is new, but seeing it in person from behind home was elucidating. Command has been his bugaboo. The White Sox should give him every opportunity to fail as a starter before moving him to the pen. I think he settles in as a third or fourth starter who looks great at times and is bafflingly bad at others.

Next up was Dane Dunning, who has the look of a high floor, low ceiling back-end starter. He sported three-pitch mix, which included a fastball, slider, and changeup. The fastball wasn’t overpowering but sat 90-92 and touched 93 with some wiggle armside. Dunning commanded the pitch well, primarily in the lower third of the zone. A ground ball rate over 50% last year seems to substantiate this observation. The changeup flashed above average, and I think the slider is already there. One above average cambio to Billy Hamilton stuck out in my mind. His arsenal should allow him to attack hitters to both sides of the plate. It’s worth noting that Dunning had more success versus righties than lefties last year (.589 vs .727 ops). From what I saw in this game, it’s possible his changeup has taken a step forward, a trend worth monitoring. In theory, that would allow for better success versus lefties.

Release pointThe final pitcher in the trio was Alec Hansen, a long-limbed 6’7″ right-hander. A high 3/4 slot appears to limit Hansen’s extension but also create significant downhill plane. Hansen hides the ball well behind his frame and accelerates with an athletic burst immediately after foot strike, making it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. It’s an athletic delivery but there is also some effort to it. His fastball sat low 90s and touched 94. Its velocity peaked in an at bat against Joey Votto. Hansen struck out Votto swinging with an elevated fastball. It was a well-sequenced and well-commanded series of pitches: slider in (b), change away (k-l), slider in (k-l), fastball up (k-sw). Obviously, striking out Joey Votto is no small feat. I was encouraged by Hansen’s control of his changeup, a pitch that has historically lagged behind his other offerings. It was evident not only in the Votto AB but throughout the outing.

2/28/18 – Rockies vs Diamondbacks (shared facility) – Salt River Field

Back in December the Diamondbacks signed Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano to a low-risk two-year deal for $6 million. His signing coupled with the deal for former Rays closer Brad Boxberger caused many to speculate how this affects their bullpen and whether it signaled a possible move for Archie Bradley into the starting rotation. Hirano’s first look stateside was last Wednesday.  The results were not great; He finished with a final line of 1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, and the L. His splitter was his best pitch, registering in the low 80s and dropping off the table with mostly vertical movement. He struck out Tom Murphy swinging with it. His fastball and slider were around average and he displayed command of them within the zone. He repeats his delivery, which should allow for plus command. Upon first glance, I saw a guy who did not look like a closer but a serviceable bullpen piece. Don’t expect Archie Bradley to be moving out of the pen anytime soon. At least not on account of the Diamondback’s offseason moves.

 

2/25-2/26 Spring Training Notes

2/25/18 – Royals at Athletics (Hohokam Stadium)

Puk FB

AJ Puk was the big attraction here. He went two innings and showed why he has ace potential. His fastball sat comfortably 93-94, and the 88 mph slider looked untouchable. Seeing Puk for the first time was a treat. The body looks easily capable of starter’s workload. There is natural plus extension in his 6’7″ frame. His long arms result in a release point that is fairly high, in turn creating significant downhill plane on his offerings. Whether or not he can reach his OFP hinges on his changeup, a pitch that was thrown twice in Sunday’s outing. One fluttered out of the zone armside. The other looked league average. If Puk can refine his changeup command, he can be a number two starter.

Dustin Fowler returned to action for the first time since rupturing his patellar tendon last June. The savage injury occurred when he slammed into an unpadded wall while chasing down a foul ball. Fowler moved well in the outfield and on the bases, including a 4.17 home to first on a ground ball. While this isn’t Fowler’s max speed, it makes sense he would be ramping things up slowly in spring training, particularly after such a gruesome injury. If I had not previously known he was injured, nothing in this game would have stood out to me with regards to his mobility.

Royals RHP Andres Machado displayed plus momentum and an incredibly fast arm, touching 98 in the process. His 2015 season was wiped out due to TJ. He spent 2016, his age 23 season, in the Pioneer League where he was old for the level. That all changed in 2017 when the Royals pushed him aggressively. After 21 appearances in high A Wilmington, he received multiple promotions en route to his major league debut. The team liked him enough to add him to the 40-man roster last September. Expect Macado to be a contributor in the Royals pen this season.

Results-wise it wasn’t a good performance for Royals prospect Josh Staumont, but I can see why he has been a mainstay on Royals prospects lists the last few years. Frankly, it defies logic how he’s able to generate high 90s velocity with such an easy delivery. I am going to resort everyone’s favorite cliche’, he looks like he’s playing catch out there. This appearance did little to allay concerns over his mounting history of command issues. In 2016 he walked 7.6/9IP in 123 1/3 innings, and in 2017 he walked 7.00/9IP in 124 2/3 innings. These are not small sample sizes. In this outing, he was unable to locate his curveball with any consistency, although it flashed plus. Considering the ease of his delivery, I can see why the Royals would want to continue to develop him as a starter. 2018 may be a lost year for the Royals so it would behoove them to give Staumont another chance to figure things out.

2/26/18 – Mariners at Cubs (Sloan Field)

Unfortunately, the news du jour on Monday was King Felix getting hit in the forarm/elbow area with a comebacker. Luckily, It’s been reported the injury is not serious. Before leaving the game, Felix was 88-89 with his fastball and barely scrapped 90. His velo has been decreasing consistently over the years, and he averaged 91 last year according to Brooks Baseball. I would expect something similar from Felix this year. At this stage in his career he is a mid-rotation starter in my opinion. He is still a wizard with breaking pitches, but the unthreatening nature of his fastball curbs his ceiling.

Mariners 2017 1st round pick Evan White had two at bats in the game. As a prospect junkie, this was of immense interest to me. It’s hard to draw conclusions from two ABs, but I will say he did not look over-matched at all and appeared to have good strikezone awareness. White has been lauded as a plus-plus defender and some scouts are even advocating for a move to center field. This is an interesting guy to keep an eye on.

 

Griffin Conine’s MLB Swing Comps

This spring has been a busy one. My first day of live baseball was 1/26. Since then, I have seen 11 D1 college programs and attended 17 baseball events, including scrimmages, games and showcases. This isn’t meant to be braggadocious. It’s intended to underscore the fact I have seen a fair amount of D1 players YTD, and there have been a number of excellent hitters among them. These “kids” are possible top 5 round MLB draft picks: Jimmy Herron, Johnny Aiello, Carlos Cortes. They are very good players, but none of them were on par with Duke’s Griffin Conine.

For lack of a better idiom, he’s “A dude off the bus” as coined by the Up and In Podcast. You might be asking yourself, what the h*** does that even mean? It’s a guy who catches your attention almost immediately due to his physique. Conine’s massive pecs bulge out of his shirt. He simply LOOKS LIKE an athlete and passes the eye test. He’s an incredibly strong kid and has clearly put in serious work in the weight room. Conine hits the ball with authority, much harder than any of his D1 contemporaries I have seen.

Although his strength is impressive, it is not Conine’s defining characteristic as a baseball player. Scouts and teams alike should be wondering how he was able to slug .546 last year in one of the best D1 conferences, while maintaining a strikeout rate of 16.72%.  It’s also worth noting, he walked in 15.24% of his plate appearances, otherwise expressed as a 41 to 45 BB:K ratio. I try to avoid scouting the stat line, but these numbers say a lot. Considering his power output, he rarely strikes out, makes pitchers come into the zone and punishes them when they do. The stats are sexy, but the (multi-) million dollar question is, “How will this production translate to pro ball?” In an attempt to answer it, let’s examine his hitting mechanics by comparing them to active major league players.

This was an arduous process. Step one: open the Fangraphs 2017 Leaderboard. Step two: search for open-faced swing for given player on YouTube. Step three: compare swing to Conine’s swing. Step four: repeat 100 times. That’s right, folks. I looked at a hundred major league swings and compared each of them to Griffin Conine’s swing. Two players’ swings stood out as having similar characteristics: Jay Bruce and Corey Seager.

As a companion piece, I highly recommend reading Ryan Parker’s (Twitter: @RA_Parker) Baseball Prospectus article, RP BP Article, in which he explains hitting mechanics and breaks swings into components. Parker defines and elaborates on each phase, which I will touch on below.

The Stance:

Jay Bruce had the most similar base stance to Griffin Conine. Both start with their hands hands high, back elbow parallel to the ground, and legs fairly wide apart. Both bend their back knee, although Conine’s bend is more pronounced. Another difference is Bruce’s front foot is bent back slightly facing home.

Gather/Load:

At the gather phase hitters rock back for momentum before coming forward to attack the ball. Both guys shift their weight to their back leg and start to lower their hands. Conine’s shift is very slight. He barely moves back at all. Interestingly, Bruce raises his elbow as he dips his hands. I think this adds length to his swing but also results in an uppercut path that generates significant power. Bruce also has a larger leg kick than Conine, whose lower body is quieter and more controlled.

Approach:

After the gather, hitters move their weight forward as their hands move into a ready position. There seem to be more similarities between Corey Seager and Griffin Conine after the gather phase. Conine’s lower body movements closely mirror Seager. They are very subtle. Both rock back slightly to their back foot before they come forward in a controlled manner. Conine starts his hands high and Seager starts his hands low, but they both slowly shift their elbows to a point where they are level with their shoulders. Bruce, on the other, hand maintains a high elbow even as he begins the approach.

Slot, Then Foot Strike:

As noted in Ryan Parker’s article, “the slot” is characterized by the back elbow being more or less level with the back shoulder. Slotting refers to a hitter’s hands. It’s the moment before a hitter’s hands begin to move forward toward the mound and into the hitting zone. By the slot position, Conine is very similar to Seager. Both are approaching foot strike and their hands are similarly positioned. The only real difference is the right/bottom arm. Seager’s is parallel to the ground and Conine’s is “angled up”. This would result in more of an uppercut for Conine, which may be the only remaining similarity I can see to Jay Bruce.

In Parker’s article, he also mentions the importance of the slot’s timing and relative to foot strike. Conine slots well before his foot strike. His center of mass stays back. This enables him to utilize his full body as he brings the bat forward through the hitting zone. It may explain how he is able to generate big power out of a relatively “quiet swing”. His power looks to be generated by upper body strength more than his lower body, which is especially quiet.

Barrel Enters Zone:

Not sure what to say here. These look like carbon copies, no?

Contact:

I have a couple of observations here. First, Corey Seager rolls over his front foot after contact. I am not sure what purpose this serves, but I noticed Carlos Gonzalez does the same thing. Second, Seager’s lower body looks to be more involved than Conine’s.

In summation, I see a swing that incorporates aspects of Jay Bruce and Corey Seager. Conine’s stance and high hands through the slot position result in an uppercut swing that should generate power. The way he keeps his weight back through hand slot also suggests he’ll be able to hit for power. At the same time, the ease of his lower body movements result in a smooth, repeatable swing. I believe his upper body strength coupled with the fluidity of his lower body will allow him to hit for power while maintaining consistent contact. This is a unique swing with a controlled violence that reminds me of few other players.

The photos/video of Jay Bruce and Corey Seager were trimmed from YouTube videos. The Bruce video was courtesy of Walt Hilsenbeck. You can find him on Twitter @HilsFilms. His YouTube account has an immense amount of baseball content too. Check it out here! Walt Hilsenbeck YouTube. The Seager video was from rkyosh007. Please check out his YouTube account too. rkyosh007 YouTube