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.
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.
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.)
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.
10/17/17 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
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.