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.

 

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?

10/16/17, 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 does not have the look of a typical third baseman; he is short and stocky. However, I think the industry consensus is he can get the job done there. 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.

10/19/17 Instructs Notes

Giants at Royals – Surprise, AZ – Surprise Stadium Backfields

Heliot Ramos (CF) San Francisco Giants – Ramos is among the best players in fall instructs. It’s a sexy bat. We are talking potential 60 hit and 60 power. He has good bat speed and a very compact swing. Overall, Ramos makes the game look easy. I know that sounds reductive, but it’s true! Physically, Ramos has a thick build and a big ass. A scout comped him to Juan Uribe. Currently listed at 6’2” 185, I think he’s closer to 200 and it’s not hard to envision another 20-30 lbs on him. Right now he’s an above average runner, posting home to first times around 4.25 from the right side. I would expect him to settle in to be an average runner at maturity. It’s possible slowing down would necessitate a move to an outfield corner, but I think the bat is good enough to profile there too. It’s an impressive profile, and it’s not hard to see why the Giants made him the 19th pick in last year’s Rule 4.

Joe Marciano (LHP) San Francisco Giants – The heir apparent to former Giants QB Jared Lorenzen’s nickname, Marciano is a hefty lefty. He’s listed as 6’5” 250 lbs which might be a little light. A lot of guys his size struggle with body control, but it’s not an issue for Marciano. He pitches with a gracefulness that I find oddly endearing. Marciano’s repertoire is headlined by a plus high 70s curveball with big two-plane break. I have seen him get swinging strikes in and out of the zone with it. His fastball hovers around 90. His third offering is a mid 80s change. Marciano has an outside shot to be an innings-eating backend starter, which would be an amazing outcome for a 36th round pick. In my humble estimation, it was a great job by the Giants amateur staff finding this guy.

Diego Rincones (OF) San Francisco Giants – He continued doing Diego Rincones things today. The approach is ultra aggressive. I think he saw five total pitches in four at bats. In spite of the approach, he makes a ton of contact. He reminds me of Vlad Sr because he is a good bad ball hitter and likes seemingly every pitch that he sees (*disclaimer not a comp*). Today he had another three hits. This is a wait and see guy for me because I am worried about how his approach will play at higher levels. Right now it’s working so you can’t bash it too much.

MJ Melendez (C) Kansas City Royals – The words defensive wizard will be used to describe Royals catcher MJ Melendez. He oozes athletic ability in a way few other catchers do. He displayed impressive quickness and a plus arm. I loved his blocking ability and a throw he made from his knees with a 1.90 pop. He likes to test runners and is able to get out of the crouch quickly to fire throws over to first. At the plate he took a 98 mph pitch from Melvin Adon to the opposite field for a double. If the bat can be a 40 or 45 this guy is a major league regular.

Khalil Lee (OF) Kansas City Royals – The first thing I noticed about Lee is he swings the bat extremely hard. At 5’10 170 (basically my build!) he does not have the look of a power hitter, but make no mistake, he can mash baseballs. There is a lot of loft in his swing due to an uppercut that should result in a high FB% and high ISOs. He hit a deep home run to right center in today’s game. In my looks there was a decent amount of swing and miss on breaking pitches. I don’t have a great feel for Lee’s arm, but have read that he was a two-way player in high school so it can’t be half bad.

10/14/17, 10/17/17 Instructs Notes

10/17/17 – Royals at Giants – Scottsdale, AZ – Giants Complex at the Intersection of Hayden and Camelback

Glenn Sparkman (RHP) Kansas City Royals – Sparkman was my favorite arm of the day. His arsenal featured a sinking fastball that ranged from 92-95 and moved either glove side or armside. The cambio was his top offspeed option. To my eye, it looked like he could manipulate it to either drop 12 to 6 or to have fade and drop. The change was in the 83-85 velo band. His curve was high 70s and was a serviceable third option.

10/14/17 – Dodgers vs White Sox (shared complex) – Glendale, AZ – Camelback Ranch Backfields

Justin Bruihl (LHP) Los Angeles Dodgers – “Crafty lefty” is a hackneyed term, but they were the first words that came to my mind as I watched Bruihl. His stuff was not overpowering. The fastball sat 90-91, touching 93. The slider was 74-77. And the change was 80-84. I was impressed by Bruihl’s willingness to throw seemingly any pitch in any count and pitch backwards. I also like his smooth low three quarters delivery, which he repeated well. Despite the positives, this is still a command guy who will need to hit his spots and sequence to succeed. The good news is right now he appears capable of doing that effectively.