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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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.