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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.
Seven 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.
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.
The 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.
2/25/18 – Royals at Athletics (Hohokam Stadium)
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.
If you have not read my former post, 2017’s Most Aggressive Base Stealing Teams, I would recommend doing so before moving forward.
Much like the previous post, I am beginning my look at the least aggressive teams with a high-level inspection of their aggregate stolen base rates ((SB+CS)/SBO)). These figures were downloaded from Baseball Reference. Light red represents one standard deviation below average and dark red represents two STDs.
Baltimore was dead last each of the past three years! On its own that would not be worrisome, but in conjunction with their notorious aversion for foreign signees, it becomes a concern. The below link to Baseball America from last July sums it up. They were the only team to abstain from acquiring a single player during last year’s J2 International Singing Period. It has to make you question why are their practices are so abnormal relative to the other teams. This is a red flag.
Seeing Baltimore dead last three years in a row made me curious how the other four teams fared in previous seasons. It turns out the Mets, Athletics, and Blue Jays were fairly docile each year. I think it’s fair to expect the trend to continue going forward.
The Phillies, however, were average to aggressive in 2015-2016. Was 2017 an outlier? It’s hard to say. I took a look at how often individual players were sent the past three years to see if anything could be gleaned from it. For some reason the Phillies started running less with Galvis, Hernandez, Herrera, and Altherr. Hernandez had a poor success rate (56.67%) in 2016 so I can understand why his attempts were reduced. In my cursory, unthorough (is this even a word??) internet searches I found Herrera and Altherr both had leg injuries last year. Altherr’s was a hamstring tweak in mid-July, and Herrera went to the DL with a hamstring strain retroactive to mid-August. Alterr’s injury was pretty minor and Herrera didn’t miss time until the last six weeks of the season so neither of these seem explain the large declines in their attempt rates. I am stumped.
To learn more about the team-level stolen base attempt rates, let’s see how they compare to each team’s weighted average sprint speed. (SS Weighted Avs) Not too surprisingly, the teams that attempted the least steals on a rate basis also were among the slowest in the league. The exception was the Phillies who ranked 13th. This chart begs the question, which came first: the stolen base attempt rate or the sprint speed? I think the answer is the sprint speed. If teams do not put a high value on stealing bases it would probably start with the GM and players they chose to acquire. Looking at the four teams in question, this appears to be the case. Either way having slow guys on the roster is not going to incentivize teams to run.
Let’s take a look at each team’s stolen base attempt rates at a player-level to see if anything can be learned from them.
Baltimore Orioles – Whether right or wrong, Dan Duquette constructed their roster with a total apathy for speed. Only four players exceeded the average sprint speed mark of 27 ft/sec, although this is a bit deceiving because Machado, Mancini, Schoop, and Tejada were right around average. As a team, their weighted average sprint speed was third slowest in the majors. Adam Jones and Tim Beckham were probably capable of running more but were rarely sent. As long as the current regime is at the helm, don’t expect Orioles acquisitions to get many (or any) attempts unless they are burners. But it looks like Baltimore is averse to acquiring guys like that in the first place.
Oakland Athletics – Only Rajai Davis and Marcus Semien were sent at above average rates. The rest of the team didn’t steal. I was a bit surprised to see Matt Chapman highlighted as a plus runner (1 STD > AVE). He’s never been known as a base-stealer. It makes you wonder if he has a slow first step but fast max speed. Overall, it’s pretty clear Oakland does not place a high value on steals, but if they have a speed-oriented guy like Davis they will send him.
New York Mets – Four runners were sent less often than their sprint speeds might imply. If you are an Amed Rosario fantasy owner should you be concerned? At first glance his stolen base rate looks to be in line with his sprint speed. I wanted to check to see how his SB Att% compared to similar runners league-wide (within .2 ft/sec) and did so below. His SB Att% was smack in the middle of the seven player sample so I think it’s fair to say the Mets weren’t curtailing his attempts. Still, the Mets were non-aggressive as a whole.
Toronto Blue Jays – Another front office that does not care about speed, in fact, they were the slowest roster based on my weighted average sprint speed sheet. Richard Urena was the only player well above average. It’s worth noting, however, they were willing to send above average runners at rates in line with their speeds, they just didn’t employ many of them.
In totality, theses tables were not terribly enlightening. but if we can learn anything from them, non-aggressive teams are not a death knell for fast runners. Prolific base stealers will get their stolen bases regardless of organization.