11/02/17, 11/06/16 AFL Notes

11/06/17 AFL Notes

Sean Murphy (C) Oakland Athletics – Murphy has a well-rounded game with defensive skills that are likely to play at the highest level, not only giving him a high floor but also a good chance to be an everyday player. The arm is elite. Scout chatter is he threw out a runner by 10 feet with a 1.78 pop earlier in this fall. I have seen him around 1.85, but regardless it is a legitimate weapon and 70 grade tool. Today, I saw Murphy make a smooth back-handed stop and throw out Thairo Estrada from his knees. Murphy’s blocking ability is also quite good, earning plus grades. I can attest to his propensity for making quality blocks on pitches in the dirt. It is a regular occurrence. The jury is still out on the bat, but I am encouraged by what I have seen. Murphy swings really hard and has respectable contact skills. During the 11/02 game, he went oppo on a 98 mph offering from Jordan Hicks, and scouts in my vicinity asserted, “This kid does not get cheated.” Balls on the ground are normally pulled, and fly balls are hit to all fields. I think it is a potential 50 bat at maturity, which would make Murphy a first-division regular. Having said that, 2018 will be a big litmus test as he will have another crack at AA Midland. The struggle was real in AA last season, with a slash line of .209/.288/.309 in 217 PAs. Based on his AFL performance thus far, I am optimistic Murphy can figure out AA pitching and will find himself on the precipice of the majors next year.

11/02/17 AFL Notes

Jordan Hicks (RHP) St. Louis Cardinals – In 2015 the Cardinals used their third round pick on a high school pitcher from Houston, Texas who sat 92-93 and touched 96 with his fastball. That pitcher was Jordan Hicks. Now he’s a 21-year-old that sits 96-98 and can touch triple digits. I think we can throw that into the developmental success bucket! Today the velo did not disappoint, as my gun displayed one hundo. The velocity was sexy, but the pitch missed fewer bats than I expected (between today and my previous viewing). I think the underlying causes were pitch location and lack of movement (i.e. it’s a straight fastball). The secondary offering was a slider in the 83-87 range, which Hicks “played with” to vary velocity. It made sharp two-plane break and missed a fair amount of bats. I think it’s a potential plus pitch. Hitters looked to be geared up for the heat and swung over it. Also, I’m no expert but Hicks’ mechanics appear sub-optimal. Watching him in .25x speed, you can see the front leg and body move toward home well before the arm starts moving forward. I think the result is a disproportionately heavy burden on his arm (relative to many deliveries). Deliveries look more natural when the torso, legs, and arm all move toward home concurrently. The delivery combined with the stuff look like a golden ticket to the bullpen, which is not necessarily a negative. The Cardinals may have found themselves a future closer.

(11/9 Edit – The more I think about it, I wonder how much Hicks’ velocity gain is simply due to throwing shorter stints. I’ve read he was throwing roughly as hard as his HS velo in 2016 when he started games. He began relieving toward the end of 2017. Perhaps this is cause of the spike.)

Arizona Fall League Fall Stars – East Preview

This fall I have attended 27 Arizona Fall League games (and counting!) and have seen most of the players on the East Fall Stars Roster first-hand. My thoughts and opinions are formed by a combination of my own observations, discussions with scouts, and overhearing scout chatter. There were a few players I did not see enough to warrant a write-up. Sorry about those guys!

Pitchers

Yency Almonte (RHP) Colorado Rockies – It’s a loose arm with an easy delivery. His fastball sat 92-95 and touched 97 without much effort. The slider and change were around average. Currently, his command is below average. Some days he will look like a borderline-ace, and other days he will struggle finding the zone. Almonte profiles best as a starter due to the ease of his delivery. I think the most likely outcome is a back-end starter, but there’s a chance he could be a #3 if the command improves.

Adbert Alzolay (RHP) Chicago Cubs – Alzolay works with a quick tempo and controls the pace of play. I like his aggressiveness, but I have also seen instances where it comes back to haunt him when his command is errant. His arm is fast and the delivery is repeatable. The fastball has decent sink and can generate ground balls or strikeouts. It sits 93-94 and touches 96. Alzolay will use it in all quadrants of the zone and will use it to change the hitter’s eye level. His curve features mostly vertical movement with some glove-side movement. It’s a plus offering that is used mostly as a chase pitch or early in counts to steal strikes. The changeup lags behind his other pitches and is used more sparingly. I have seen Alzolay locate it inside on right-handed hitters. The range of probable outcomes here is a #3-#5 starter.

Kirby Bellow (LHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – I want to start with a slash line: .039/.180/.098. That is what left-handed hitters hit vs Bellow in 61 plate appearances last season. Granted it’s a small sample, but it’s not hard to see why. His arm angle and fastball/curveball combo are really tough on lefties. Bellow looks like a middle reliever, with the floor of a loogy. I wrote about Bellow in more detail here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/26/101317-101417-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Brennan Bernardino (LHP) Cincinnati Reds – The curveball is plus and he throws it a lot. The rest of the arsenal is pretty fringey. This tweet sums it up for me. I think the ceiling here is middle relief.

Brennan Bernardino

Tyler Cyr (RHP) Chicago White Sox – The fastball sat in the low 90s and touched 93 in my looks. His offspeed was a slider in the low to mid 80s. The arm speed was noticeably slower for his offspeed pitches. And he grunted audibly at times, suggesting this is a high effort delivery. I think it’s a middle relief ceiling.

James Farris (RHP) Colorado Rockies – I have seen Farris two or three times. He has a fairly pedestrian fastball (sitting in the low 90s, touching 93) and slider (83-85). He’s another guy with a middle relief ceiling for me.

Gerson Moreno (RHP) Detroit Tigers – Moreno is a potential closer whose fastball ranges from mid to high 90s with some natural cut. His slider features mostly vertical drop and his command of the pitch seems to have improved over the course of 2017. I think his floor is a setup guy. I wrote about Moreno in more detail here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/28/102517-102617-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Justus Sheffield  (LHP) New York Yankees – An almost major-league ready guy, Sheffield looks polished. His fastball has sat 93-95 in my looks and has touched 97. He throws a hard slider in the 85-87 range. It’s a plus pitch with good late depth and glove side fade. The changeup was better than I was expecting. It was in the high 80s, and Sheffield likes to use it on the right side of the plate (from batter’s perspective). Overall, I think Sheffield has a good shot to be a #3 starter and an outside shot of being a #2. I wrote more here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/25/101017-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Catchers

Aramis Garcia (C) San Francisco Giants – He is a bat first catcher who could have 50 hit and 50 power at maturity. I think the defense is passable but not special. He has a chance to be a second division player, but I think that is the ceiling. It’s more likely he settles in as a bench guy who fills in at catcher and first base to spell starters.

Tomas Nido (C) New York Mets – Nido has a well-rounded skill set that should make him a high floor player because he is not overly reliant on one tool. As a result, I don’t think there is a large gap between his ceiling and floor. The bat has improved in recent years. He does a decent job controlling the zone and does not strike out much. Also, I think the defense is better than he gets credit for. I have seen pop times in the 1.84-1.90 range, and he has shown an affinity for making solid blocks on balls in the dirt. I believe he can be a second division regular.

Infielders

Yordan Alvarez (1B) Houston Astros – I have only seen Alvarez a couple of times. He has been out due to an injury. He seems to have an advanced bat for his age.  Other than that, I cannot offer up any insight.

David Bote (2B, OF) Chicago Cubs – He been one of Arizona Fall League’s best performers this season. The question everyone should be asking is how legit is it? For me it looks like Bote has good awareness of the zone, but the bat speed is just average. I am putting more credence in his 470 AB slash of .272/.353/.438 at AA than his .357/.429/.607 slash in 56 AFL ABs (as of 11/2).

Thairo Estrada (SS) New York Yankees – The range of likely outcomes for Estrada is somewhere between a second division regular and a super utility guy. I have observed a plus arm and defensive skills that would play at shortstop, second, or third. The bat lacks pop, but Estrada makes a lot of contact and has solid plate discipline.

Luis Guillorme (2B) New York Mets – He has great hands and is a good defender. The offensive profile is limited by a flat swing and a lack of power, as a result he looks like a bench bat and defensive replacement. I wrote more about him here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/28/102317-102417-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Ryan Mountcastle (3B) Baltimore Orioles – As Chris Kusiolek (@calikusiolek) notes, Mountcastle seems to have made improvements at the plate this fall. Earlier in the AFL season, he was struggling vs offspeed pitches. More recently, he is doing a better job tracking spin. This 11/1 clip where he faces Argenis Angulo does a good job illustrating that. I am optimistic this improvement will result in a higher walk rate from Mountcastle next year and a possible step forward in his overall offensive game. I have heard concerns over Mountcastle’s arm, but haven’t noticed it as a below average tool thus far. It is something I am keeping an eye out for.

Chris Mountcastle Tweet

Sheldon Neuse (3B) Oakland Athletics – This is a guy I like who I think is a bit underrated on various prospect lists. Offensively, he can control the zone and has more of a contact-oriented approach than power-oriented approach. He can use all fields but has a tendency to go the other way. On defense, the arm is plus and he has pretty good hands. He’s a bit less agile than the average third baseman, but makes up for it with the rest of his game. I think he’s an everyday regular. I wrote more about Neuse here:

https://baseballbellcurve.com/2017/10/26/101617-101717-arizona-fall-league-notes/

Outfielders

Braxton Lee (OF) Miami Marlins – I think Lee will be a 4th OF / defensive replacement type. He is very fast (timed 3.6 on a bunt) and looks good in center field. He has made a couple of excellent diving catches in my views, one of which he was running full speed toward home. Those are always tough. At the plate, he lacks the power to be an every day regular.

Corey Ray (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – This fall has been a struggle for Ray. He has swung and missed a lot on breaking balls low in the zone. One might expect a more polished offensive approach from a college draftee. Overall, his frustration is palpable. Having said that, scouts still believe in the underlying skill set that made him worthy of the 5th overall pick in 2016.

Victor Robles (OF) Washington Nationals – Most of this will not come as news to followers of prospects. It’s not difficult to see why Robles is considered a top prospect in the game. He oozes athletic ability whether in the field or at the plate. The bat speed is plus, and he can hit for average and power. He can be had with well-located breaking stuff away, but overall this is a really advanced guy for his age. He could make multiple all star games if he reaches his ceiling.

Kyle Tucker (OF) Houston Astros – The bat speed is sublime. It may be the best in the league (Robles and Mejia also are in the argument). He pulled a 99 mph fastball from Jordan Hicks for a double in one of my looks, and he made it look effortless. The bat speed should provide Tucker with some margin for error as he adjusts to pro-caliber breaking balls, a skill that needs refinement at present. Scouts do not seemed worried about it. They believe there is room to add more weight on his frame, which should result in more power. Right now he has more of a Christian Yelich body type. When all is said and done, I see a first division regular with the chance to make occasional all star games.

 

10/30/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

Mitch Keller (RHP) Pittsburgh Pirates – If we are doing AFL superlatives, I think best fastball command goes to Mitch Keller. Today he was surgical. The fastball ranged from 92-97. There was a three-pitch sequence to Thairo Estrada that stood out as an impressive display of command. Keller started with an 85 mph changeup at the bottom-middle of the zone for a swinging strike. Then, he went to the 97 mph heat at the top of the zone. He finished Estrada with a 92 mph fastball that was down and away. I found this to be impressive because Keller appeared to be deliberately changing the eye level of hitters to keep them off balance. The curve was also quite good. It ranged from 78-82, generating some swing and miss and weak ground balls. Keller could use it to both sides of the plate. He left one up to David Thompson, who was not able to take advantage, but for the most part Keller did a good job keeping the pitch down. Overall, it was a dominant outing that displayed what Keller is capable of. This is a polished pitcher who should get a shot in the Pirates rotation at some point next season.

I did not take any video today, but I recorded Keller in his 10/24 start.

Albert Abreu (RHP) New York Yankees – It would not be a stretch to argue that Albert Abreu has better pure stuff than Mitch Keller. The fastball sat 93-95, without much effort in the delivery. The curveball is already considered plus, and Abreu could get swinging strikes with it seemingly at will. It would drop off the table, and hitters swung over it. His changeup had more drop than fade. This pitch was effective largely due to Abreu’s arm speed, which remained constant for fastballs and changeups (1:07 on video). As a result, the timing of opposing batters was thrown off. A scout sitting behind me noted Abreu had more confidence in his offspeed pitches than his fastball. The fastball command was inconsistent. Whether or not Abreu figures this out will go a long way in determining his efficacy at the major league level.

 

 

10/25/17, 10/26/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/26/17 AFL Notes

Gerson Moreno (RHP) Detriot Tigers – Having the ability to touch high 90s with his heater, Moreno is viewed by many to be a future high-leverage reliever. Today the fastball was 95-97 with some natural cut. There have also been reports his fastball touches triple digits. I don’t want to sell the arm short, it’s impressive! In my opinion, the delivery is not a thing of beauty, and there is some effort to it. Moreno looks like he is “shot putting” the ball to home. Conversely, he has been athletic enough to repeat his delivery. A low 80s slider is his top secondary offering, and it is another potential plus pitch. He made Braves top prospect Ronald Acuna look bad with one today. The slider features mostly vertical drop, and Moreno commanded it well. From what I gather, Moreno’s command of the pitch has improved throughout the year. The arsenal rounds out with a mid 80s changeup. This pitch needs some work but should be effective if it can get to fringe average, largely due to the disparity in velocity between the change and fastball. Overall, this is a potential closer that Tigers fans should be excited about.

Michael Chavis (3B) Boston Red Sox – My views of Chavis have been a mixed bag. On 10/23, he played first base and scouts remarked, “I can’t believe this guy is a third baseman.” They did not like his range. Additionally, they commented on his subpar foot speed out of the box. The best home to first time I have for Chavis is 4.39 on a max effort play. It is 40 grade speed. At the plate, the swing and miss I have observed is a bit concerning. It strikes me as oddly incongruent with his .282 average and 21% K rate for the year. There are a couple of possible explanations here: 1) I am getting overly influenced by a small sample size of at bats (I have seen Chavis four times). 2) The swing and miss is the result of facing stiffer competition in the AFL. Honestly, I am unsure what to make of it.

On the positive side, the power is legitimate, and it should play in games. Chavis has a muscular build and is capable of hitting home runs to all fields, which bodes well for his likelihood of maintaining power at higher levels. Against Phillies prospect Elniery Garcia, he went opposite field for a HR, not even appearing to “get all of it”. Defensively, the arm is another a plus tool, worthy of a major league third baseman. Overall, I have tepid feelings about the profile, but I still think there is enough for him to be a second division regular.

Michael Chavis

Spray Chart Courtesy of MLBFarm.com

10/25/17 AFL Notes

Henry Owens (LHP) Boston Red Sox – This fall Henry Owens has revamped his delivery, which now utilizes a sidearm slot. It has not been a good look, today included. Scouts behind me murmured his delivery looks rigid. The fastball sat 87-89 and touched 90, and Owens did not appear to have confidence in the pitch. He worked more off of his changeup. It’s still a pitch that will generate decent swing and miss, but it plays down because hitters have no fear of the fastball. The changeup usage was high. I was not charting the game, but would wager Owens threw as many changeups as fastballs. The changeup and slider blended together for me. There was not a significant/discernible difference between them. It looked like opposing hitters were biding their time, waiting for a juicy fastball to attack. Owens’ discomfort was palpable when runners got on base. He would slow to a glacial pace. At one point, I timed a 78 second period between pitches (with no pickoff attempt). Once a top prospect, Owens looks lost. The operative questions are: Where does this leave him? And where does it leave the Red Sox?

10/23/17, 10/24/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/24/17 AFL Notes

Kevin Kramer (SS) Pittsburgh Pirates – It has been a popular baseball refrain in recent years that defensive range is becoming less important due to advent of the shift and defensive positioning. Kevin Kramer is the type of player who could benefit from this trend. I see a guy with an average or fringe average arm but quick transfers, smooth defensive actions, and solid hands. Various reports I have read view him as a guy who is likely to move to second base due to his lack of range. I am more optimistic on his odds of sticking at short. I think he has a chance to be a second division regular. The bat is better than most of his middle infield peers. He can protect the zone until the pitcher makes a mistake and then take advantage. The power is nothing to sneeze at either. I think it’s fringe average, which isn’t bad if he can stick at short.

10/23/17 AFL Notes

Luis Guillorme (2B) Mets – There has been a book on Guillorme in recent years. Great defense. Good bat to ball skills. Limited game power. And phenomenal hands. In my viewings this fall, I have seen nothing to dispel these evaluations. He made an excellent diving grab/throw in this game. He reminds me of Dustin Pedroia in some regards because his range is a tick below average, but anything within his range is essentially an automatic out. He will make eye-opening plays on the periphery of his range. Guillorme is a 40 runner. I have timed him around 4.4 from the left side. His universally lauded hands allow him to make frequent contact and limit his swing and miss. Despite the contact, his swing plane has remained flat, resulting in a lot of groundballs. With only two home runs in 2041 minor league plate appearances, it is hard to project him as any more than a bench guy and defensive replacement. The lack of power is not playable, especially in today’s homerun happy hitting environment. If he can make a change that results in better power output, he could be an everyday player. It just looks unlikely at this point because evaluators have been making similar comments regarding his swing plane for years.

10/19/17, 10/20/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/20/17 AFL Notes

Nolan Blackwood (RHP) Athletics – There is a lot to like about Blackwood. The 6’5” righty uses his frame to his advantage to achieve deception. He caught my eye in a previous outing when he made Francisco Mejia look ugly in a three-pitch strikeout. The fastball sits low 90s and is thrown from a sidearm angle. Hitters appear to struggle picking up the ball out of his hand, which helps everything play up. His change is in the low 80s, and both of the aforementioned pitches have quality sink. Today Blackwood also busted out a 75-77 mph curveball. It is a pitch he reserves for right-handed hitters. It was not used in his previous outing when he faced three lefties. I was muttering aloud trying to figure out who Blackwood reminds me of delivery-wise. A scout offered up Dan Otero as a comp.

10/19/17 AFL Notes

Yonathan Daza (OF) Rockies – I have seen Daza a few times this fall and have come away impressed each time. Daza is a plus runner posting home to first times around 4.2 from the right. He hits baseballs with authority, and I would love to see his Statcast exit velocity data. Looking at his Fangraphs page, I found he only hit three home runs in 569 plate appearances last year. His physique looks capable of more. Before the AFL ends I am shooting to catch a couple of his BP sessions and get a side look of his swing to gauge swing plane. Even if the home runs do not come, I think Daza is a high floor guy who should be at least a fourth outfielder. It is not hard to envision him launching gappers all over Coors Field.

 

10/16/17, 10/17/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/17/17 AFL Notes

Shedon Neuse (3B) Athletics – If the announcer at AFL games is correct, this guy’s name is pronounced “noisy”. Baseball Reference could neither confirm nor deny. Neuse has shown me a lot this fall. He makes frequent loud contact and tends to shoot baseballs opposite field into the right/center gap. He is capable of using all fields though. He has a good feel to hit and awareness of the zone. I think the power will play to average because the approach seems more contact-oriented than power-oriented. I have yet to see him in BP, but I suspect there is more raw in the bat than he has shown in games. Defensively, he lacks some agility and quickness of his peers. However, I think the industry consensus is he has enough to get the job done. I was thinking he has an above average arm. Then, a scout informed me Neuse used to touch mid 90s as a pitcher so it’s probably plus. This is a guy I am in on as a possible every day regular. (10/25 Edit – Today Neuse played shortstop and looked good there! He made a solid play on a tough grounder and showed quick hands getting it to first. The athleticism is better than I originally thought.)

Graphic From MLBFarm.com

Sheldon Neuse_HeatMap

10/16/17 AFL Notes

Nicky Lopez (SS) Royals – The Royals made a shrewd selection when they took Lopez in the 5th round of the 2016 draft. He has the look of a second division regular. There are a lot of average or better tools in his proverbial box. Offensively, he can control the zone and foul off pitches until he gets one that he likes. In today’s game he was able to take a Sheffield slider oppo for a double. The bat control is real. Ex post facto, I wasn’t surprised to look at his fangraphs page and discover he only struck out in 9% of his plate appearances this season. One fair criticism is his swing plane will not generate much power. On the bases, I have seen him in the 4.15-4.20 range from the left side, which grades above average. He looks to be a capable defender at short as well.