It was a sterile, odd atmosphere for a baseball event, feeling equal parts athletic competition and science experiment. Maybe I found it strange because this was the first high school showcase event I had ever attended, and I had no frame of reference from which to compare it. The showcase was held at the Diamond Xtreme Training Facility in Kernersville, NC about 20 minutes west of Greensboro. It’s a 30,000 square foot building, which is large enough to house a full-sized infield and some batting cages.
The benefits of this sort of event are obvious; it provides access to many of the best area players under one roof. In my estimation, the PBR team did a great job hosting the event. Scouts were provided with packets that detailed player heights, weights, schools, and left open space for notes. As players began various drills, PBR announced their names. It was efficient and easy to follow. To my surprise, they will even provide scouts with data packages via email that will include velocities for pitchers, 30-yard dash times for position players, pop times for catchers, etc.
While useful, this is still only a showcase, and it has its limitations. For example, on the catcher pop time drill there were no breaking balls thrown. There was no pressure of a runner getting a good jump. Clearly, it would be a different situation in-game. In fairness to PBR, they did the drill in two phases. In the first phase, pitches were thrown directly to the catcher. In the second phase, balls were thrown “in the dirt”. The catcher had to block them, then throw to second. Still, this drill lacked a lot of nuance that an in-game throw to second necessitates. Now that you have a feel for what we were working with, let’s move on to player notes.
Devin Bartley of Southeast Gilford was in the 1.95-2.02 second range with his pop times. His throws were accurate and on a line. Trent Harris of Crossroads Flex had a very quick release and a pop as low as 1.86 seconds, but the accuracy of his throws were less consistent than Bartley’s.
The pitchers threw around 20 pitches each. The first half were from the windup and the second half were from the stretch. Their full array of offerings were used. Most of the kids were high 80s with their fastballs. A few touched 90. The breaking balls were of varying quality and a few displayed nascent feel for their changeups. Logan Whitaker of Ledford was the pitcher I liked best. At 6’5” 175 lbs, I think his frame is projectable, and I think he had the best feel among the pitchers present, especially with his changeup. It was an easy delivery with little effort. Chris Villaman also of Ledford touched 90 with his fastball. It was a crossfire ¾ delivery, which resulted in natural cut to his glove side. His curveball was good at times and stayed up at others. Ryan Chasse of Middle Creek had some head whack. The delivery did not look polished, but maybe counter-intuitively, that made me like him because I am curious to see how he performs if it is refined. His arm is fast and he gets good rotational velocity.
There were some impressive outfield arms in the building. CJ Conrad of Apex touched 95. Sam Zayicek of Lake Norman touched 93. Trent Harris touched 94. Keep in mind these were all with a crow hop. Xaiver Bussey of Garner had the best 30-yard dash time at 3.7 seconds on my watch. Jaylen Guy of Southeast Gilford and CJ Conrad were not far behind at 3.76 and 3.85, respectively.
In my opinion, Jaylen Guy was the owner of the best BP of the day. He was hitting the most consistent line drive contact. It’s a smooth, balanced swing. I think Tyler Tuthill of Pro 5 Academy had the most power. He was capable of easy loft. It’s worth noting all or almost all of his contact was pull-side. Trent Harris did a decent job at using “both fields”.
Take this event for what it’s worth. There were some intriguing tools on display, but let’s not get too carried away. At the very least, it was a fine way for scouts to spend their Sunday when nothing else of value was going on.
There were two Duke pitchers who stood out to me, and I think both are capable of throwing harder than they did in my viewings. The first was Graeme Stinson, a massive 6’5″ 250 lb lefty. He went one inning so take this with a grain of salt. The fastball sat 92 and touched 94. His secondary offering was a low-80s curveball that flashed plus. It was inconsistent both in terms of its sharpness and location, but there were a couple of solid 60s in there. Looking at his body and delivery, I couldn’t help but believe he is capable of more velocity. Currently, the velo is more the product of raw strength than mechanics, although that is not to say his mechanics are poor. Stinson’s balance is plus. Specifically, his head is very stable relative to center of mass throughout the delivery. I am optimistic he can add to his fastball velocity because I think there is some room for improvement with his torque. At present, he does not utilize much hip to shoulder separation. I want to see more of Stinson especially after reading he also employs a changeup. There is day one Rule 4 MLB Draft potential here.
The other pitcher who caught my eye was Adam Laskey. Another lefty, he sat 90-91 with a filthy, high-70s breaking ball. I have seen it labeled a slider or curve in various places. It looked more like a curve to me. Whatever the f*** it is, it’s nasty. It featured sharp, tight spin and late two-plane movement. It’s one of the handful of best pitches I have seen this spring and probably already a major league 60. I’d be willing to commit a few minor misdemeanors to get a look at its spin rate data. Mechanically, Laskey gets plus extension, which should result an a positive perceived to actual velocity differential and allow his stuff to play up. His momentum also stands out as a plus attribute. I don’t see any glaring weaknesses in the delivery; it’s very smooth and kinetically efficient.
Among position players there were a handful of standouts.
Jimmy Herron displayed excellent bat control. He used all fields in BP and in games, and his bat finds barrels at a high rate. I think his approach is contact-oriented, but he is strong enough to run into some homers. One criticism is his propensity to expand the zone and chase well-located breaking balls down and away, which happened a few times in my looks. Herron is a plus runner. I had him 3.6 home to first on a perfectly-placed bunt in Friday’s scrimmage. This shouldn’t be measured on the same scale as a swinging home to first time, but it’s fast regardless. There weren’t enough balls hit his way to get a feel for him defensively.
Zack Kone has the best hands on the team, and it’s evident on both sides of the ball. At shortstop, his infield actions are smooth and his release is wicked fast. At first glance, I think the arm and range are average. According to goduke.com, he made 20 errors last year for what it’s worth. At the plate Kone has a short, quick stroke. The bat speed is plus, and I think he’s going to be really tough to strike out. At times, the swing becomes too linear and this threatens to temper his power output. More concerningly, he appears gets too much weight on his front foot before his hands enter the hitting zone. The result is a mostly wrist/hand powered swing, which fails to utilize the full kinetic chain. On the basepaths, I think his speed plays up because he has a good feel for stealing.
Steve Mann has the best bat speed on the team. Better than Herron. Better than Kone. Better than Conine. Last Friday Duke did BP, and I took video. After arriving home I looked at the open-faced swings for every player. It became very evident that Mann has a special tool at his disposal. I am not sure how it will translate on the field, but it is a preternatural gift he’s been blessed with. His swing plane has been a bit flat in my in-game looks, but there are times in BP when he elevates, and I think to myself, “HELL yes. There it is.” On the basepaths, I got a couple of underwhelming run times, but I think he’s ultimately an average runner. After consulting with Google, I found him on Baseball America’s 2016 Fall Top 100 High School players list. BA 2016 Fall Top 100 HS. He’s a player I want to monitor closely. Mann is a strong kid at 6’0″ 195lbs. I see hefty offensive potential here.
Chris Proctor is an athletic catcher with a lithe frame. His left-handed swing is aesthetically pleasing and balanced. He hit more ground balls in-game than I expected based off of his BP in which he achieved better loft. I am uncertain if this is small sample size variance or whether his swing flattens in-game. The approach at the plate is pretty aggressive; this kid likes to swing. Proctor’s home to first run times of 4.11-4.19 have him bordering on plus territory for a left-handed hitter. His receiving skills and athleticism are plus. The arm strength might be below average, but I only have one pop for him at 2.26. In my estimation more data is needed.
Griffin Conine is alright. Just kidding. I am saving him for a separate post in which I will break down his hitting mechanics and attempt to compare him to a current major leaguer.
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.
On January 18th I arrived in Greensboro, NC with my sights set and calendar circled for 2/16/18. I was overcome with a bizarre hodgepodge of emotions. Excitement. Relief. Apprehension. After over a year of meticulous planning and big moves on the chess board that is my life, I had finally made it. Setting foot on North Carolina soil was symbolic. It meant opening a new chapter in my life. Years of confused depression and futile, wheel-spinning effort in an unfulfilling, meaningless career had come to an end. It took me 30 years, but I had finally found clairvoyance for what may be the most important question: what do you want to do with your life?
Back to the matter at hand! February 16th was in my sights because it is college baseball’s opening day. Upon arrival here in NC, I started following team-run Twitter accounts for UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, Wake Forest, Duke and UNC Wilmington. I was planning to use my first few weeks to explore the area but learned some teams have preseason scrimmages that are open to the public. Needless to say, I leapt at the opportunity to see some of the best college talent in the nation.
Saturday afternoon I caught UNC’s intrasquad scrimmage. Campus was abuzz with activity as I walked over to Bryson Field. I arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled start time, which was not early enough. There was already a contingent of scouts behind home plate occupying seats with the best views. I found an open seat amongst them and got to work. Pregame the team was working on fielding drills. A coach hit balls to the outfielders who fired them back into the catcher. (Good opportunity for OF arm evals) The 2018 roster was unavailable online so I did my best with the 2017 roster. #11 and #40 had the best arms. Their throws carried on a line with very little arc. Eventually I got their names. #11 is Cody Roberts and #40 is Angel Zarate.
Once the scrimmage started, my attention shifted to the mound. Austin Bergner, a draft-eligible sophomore and possible 2018 first round pick, was the starting pitcher. Bergner has the prototypical pitcher body, listed at 6’4″ 199 lbs. He sat 88-92 and touched 94 with a plus changeup and a curve that flashed average. The low 80s changeup was his best pitch on this day. Its depth was moderate, but I was very impressed with Bergner’s feel for the pitch. He was able to command it to both sides of the plate and use it in any count. Bergner’s curve was sharp at times and at other times it became too slurvy and hung up. His command for this pitch waivered. Mechanically, his delivery looks easy. His balance and posture enable him to repeat consistently. You can read more about balance and posture as defined by Doug Thorburn (Twitter:@doug_thorburn) in these Baseball Prospectus articles – Pitcher Mechanics 1 Pitcher Mechanics 2. Specifically, I am looking at Bergner’s head relative to his center of mass, which is very stable and easy throughout the delivery. Overall, it’s not difficult to see why scouts love this guy. I think his frame can handle a starter’s workload at the highest level, and it’s not hard to envision an arsenal with three average or better pitches.
Tyler Baum’s encore to Austin Bergner did not disappoint. Baum, listed at 6’1″ 171 lbs, was less physically imposing than Bergner, but his stuff was equally impressive. His fastball rested low 90s, touching 93, and Baum was able to maintain velo from the stretch. His high 70s curve snapped with impressive 10-4 break. It was his best pitch. The second time through the order a potentially plus change emerged. Baum only threw two or three of them, but their late movement and depth stood out to me. I am unsure why the pitch was not used more often but speculate it’s due to his lack of confidence in it. Again referencing Doug’s pitching mechanics articles, momentum and torque are the attributes that stand out for Baum. He drifts backs toward second as he approaches maximum leg lift to maintain momentum and propel himself home. With regards to torque, I see quality hip to shoulder separation, which aids his rotational velocity. Also draft-eligible in 2018, the team that drafts Baum will likely be aiming to use him as a starter, but if all else fails his stuff in short bursts should be extremely effective in the pen.
Friday evening I attended NC State’s scrimmage. Juxtaposed to UNC, the atmosphere was pretty quiet and laid back. There were no scouts in attendance (unless you count me – HA!), and there were a handful of family members and classmates in the stands. I was able to arrive early enough to catch BP, which was great.
One observation from BP was Brad Debo’s swing yielded pretty consistent, easy loft. My first impression is he’s a player who will be able to generate power without selling out for it. The bat path combined with his physique should allow for this. Defensively, he moved well for his size (6’1″ 210 lb). He displayed surprising agility and good feet. Debo made a few blocks of varying difficulty in the dirt. I do not put much credence in college statistics but noticed he made zero errors the entire 2017 season according to gopack.com. Definitely a good sign. Debo made two throws in this scrimmage. The first was on a Terrell Tatum stolen base, which was thrown into CF. It’s worth noting, however, the ball passed second base in 1.75 seconds, which would be a 70 grade pop time. The second throw was a 2.01 pop on a line to gun the runner out. Unfortunately, I missed this one with my camera. I thought his framing was good overall, and his movements behind the plate were fluid. There were a couple of instances when he stabbed at the ball with his glove instead of shifting his whole body in front of it. I want to see more of Debo at the plate, but my first impression was good. I think he has a well-rounded skill set and will contribute value on both sides of the ball.
(2/6/18 Edit – After talking to a few people, I think my description of Debo’s defense reads too positive. I still believe he has potential to be an average defensive catcher, and the bat would need to carry his profile.)
The Wolfpack have a couple of freshman who I think will make contributions to their roster in Nick Swiney and Terrell Tatum. The former, a 6’3″ 170 lb left-handed pitcher, touched 90 and sat 86-88. His frame should inspire hope he can add more velocity to his fastball going forward. It looks capable of supporting more weight. His breaking ball, a curveball in the mid 70s, displayed sharp two-plane movement. Swiney’s confidence in the pitch was evident as he wasn’t afraid to use it early in counts. He could also locate it in the zone for a called strike or below the zone deliberately as a chase pitch. It’s his best offering. Mechanically, his momentum and torque are assets and his arm is very quick. The open face shots from the video show some head whack at foot strike, which can often result in command issues. It’s something to keep an eye on.
The latter, a 6′ 160 lb outfielder, showed an interesting collection of tools. I first took notice of his BP in which he was the owner of more raw power than I would have anticipated based on his size. I am dying to get a run time on Tatum who may have 80 grade speed. There is a video floating around online that asserts a 3.75 home to first time, which would be an easy 80. His approach at the plate is very methodical. I am unsure if it’s patient or passive at this juncture. It’s worth noting he laid off a few borderline, two-strike balls in this scrimmage, suggesting he has a good idea of the zone. If I remember correctly, he only swung twice on this day so it’s hard to make any sweeping conclusions on his swing. Defensively, expect him to cover a lot of ground. He made one throw that was not too great either in terms of arm strength or accuracy, although it’s perhaps unfair to make this judgement on a single throw. There are some interesting tools here and getting more looks of Tatum is on my to-do list.
All and all, I was just happy to have live baseball as an option this early in the year. Day 1 and 2 were a lot of fun. I plan on catching as many practices as possible between now and 2/16. There are two more weekends. Assuming it will be an option every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that would mean six more practices, weather and team-availability permitting. Fingers crossed.
In June of 2017, Baseball Savant introduced a new Statcast metric for public consumption. They defined sprint speed as “‘feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.’ The Major League average on a ‘max effort’ play is 27 ft/sec, and the max effort range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A player must have at least 10 max effort runs to qualify for this leaderboard.”
Now that we have a year’s worth of data, and we are trapped in the middle of a cold, dark offseason, I thought it would be an opportune time to play around with it. Over the last few weeks I sliced, diced, and minced the numbers. One area explored was team sprint speed and its relationship to stolen base attempts. Sprint speed was pulled from the Baseball Savant Leaderboard and stolen base data was downloaded from Baseball Reference.
As a proxy for team aggressiveness I added team stolen bases to caught stealing and divided by stolen base opportunities (plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open). SB Att% = (SB+CS)/SBO
The table above shows teams that sent runners most often in their SBOs each of the past three seasons. Light green represents one standard deviation above average and dark green denotes two standard deviations above average. One has to question how much these totals were the result of team aggressiveness and how much they were the result of team personnel. To check I took a weighted average of each player’s sprint speed by respective player’s plate appearances and then added to find team totals. SS=speed in the next table. If you’re curious to see the exact figures I attached my sheet here: SS Weighted Avs
Surprisingly, the 2017 Angels attempted steals at the highest rate despite being the second slowest team! The Brewers and Rangers were also quite aggressive despite their below average collective sprint speeds. The implication is these three teams had some sort of organizational edict to test defenses and attempt more steals. On the other hand, the Reds were the tenth fastest team. It’s also worth noting they were the only team to attempt steals at a plus rate (1 STD > AVE) each of the past three seasons.
To make more sense of the team-level numbers, I decided to get granular and look at them on a player level. First, I wanted to see how many players on each team attempted steals at a higher rate than the league average (5.17%), which you can see in the first column of the table below. Then, I wanted to see how many “not fast” players on each team attempted steals more than the league average rate. I did this by introducing a second filter, player sprint speed. The second and third columns show how many players per team were non-elite & below average runners but attempted steals more than the average rate.
For the purpose of this post I defined above average sprint speed as greater than 27 ft/sec and less than 28.3 ft/second. In the sample of 451 players on Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard, 28.3 ft/sec was one standard deviation greater than average and 27 ft/sec was average. The middle column below shows eight Rangers, six Angels, and six Brewers attempted steals at a greater than average rate while having above average or worse speed. In other words, eight Rangers, six Angles, and six Brewers were non-elite runners but stole at a rate greater than league average anyway.
And they were not alone! My efforts monkeying around with filters and subtotals in Excel yielded this table. What does it tell us? Well for one, the Reds were not as aggressive sending runners as their overall SB Att% would suggest. Additionally, you could argue the Red Sox and Diamondbacks belong in the same conversation as the Angels, Brewers, and Rangers. They were willing to send a comparable number of non-elite runners at greater than league average rates.
While useful, this table is imperfect. Notably, it fails to account for magnitude of the SB Att%. In other words, it treats players who barely clear the league average threshold the same as players who are well above average.
The screenshots below display SB Att% by player for the five aforementioned teams plus Cincinnati. I highlighted SB Att% and sprint speed columns to add some meaning to the figures. It is intended to help visualize whether players attempted steals at a rate commensurate with their speed. The darker the green, the further from the mean. For example, Ryan Braun’s sprint speed cell is white (below average), but his SB Att% is green (over a standard deviation greater than average) so he attempted more steals than his sprint speed would suggest.
For those curious I attached my full spreadsheet. There are two tabs which show SS vs SB Att%: One for a sample of 451 and another for a sample of 491. The second tab adds extra lines for players who played for multiple teams. Sprint Speed vs SB Att%
I made observations on each of the six teams from the slideshow in the blurbs below:
Arizona Diamondbacks – Micro-level, Ketel Marte only attempted steals in 3.85% of his SBOs, a below average rate, despite ranking 29/451 in sprint speed. He should see an increase in his stolen base attempts to at least the above average range next season. Macro-level, the team was less aggressive than I thought. They were the sixth fastest team on my weighted average sprint speed sheet. And they had five players who ran less than their sprint speed may imply. The large number of Diamondbacks attempting to steal at a high rate seems to be due to their roster construction rather than organizational tendencies. I.e. their roster was littered with above average sprint speed players.
Boston Red Sox – I would classify the Red Sox as somewhat aggressive. They were willing to send three above average runners, Benintendi, Betts, and Nunez at well above average rates. They were also “sneaky aggressive” in the sense they sent below average runners Vazquez and Chris Young at above average rates. They should consider sending Bogaerts more often. Not only does his speed indicate he is capable of it, he was only caught stealing once in 16 attempts (94% success rate).
Cincinnati Reds – How does a team with the fourth highest stolen base attempt rate (shown in first table) have only three runners attempt steals at an above average rate? Billy f****** Hamilton. That’s how. He attempted steals an absurd 33.33% of the time in his 216 stolen base opportunities last year. Simply silly. I want to know how many of his attempts included pitch outs. Billy (yes we are on a first name basis) and to a lesser degree Jose Peraza were complete anomalies on this list, and their rates heavily skewed the Reds data. Cincinnati as a whole is firmly in the non-aggressive bucket.
Los Angeles Angels – The Angels table was revealing. All of their eight fastest runners attempted more steals than their speed may suggest. None of their 11 slowest runners attempted more steals than expected. This helps to explain how they could simultaneously attempt the steals at the highest rate while having the second slowest roster. In essence, they were selectively aggressive, stealing more often than expected with above average runners and making little to no effort with below average runners. On a player level, I found it surprising that neither Cameron Maybin nor Ben Revere cleared the plus threshold for sprint speed (1 STD > AVE). However! (S.A.S. voice) They attempted steals at an elite rate (3 STD > AVE).
Milwaukee Brewers – This is a run happy team. Seven players ran more than expected based on their sprint speed, two of whom, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana sported average or worse sprint speed. Jonathan Villar attempted steals three STDs over the league average rate with merely above average sprint speed.
Texas Rangers – Perhaps the most aggressive team in MLB, they sent some below average runners at above average rates, and they sent above average runners at well above average rates. Delino Deshields was their only real burner, but that didn’t stop them from sending eight other players at an above average rate, which was the second most in the league. (Shown in the second table, first column)
For fantasy players it would be wise to keep an eye on offseason acquisitions by the Rangers, Brewers, and Angels. These players are liable to see increase in their stolen bases in 2018. To what degree? This will be tackled in a future post. Also on tap, who were the least aggressive teams and what we can learn from their data?
A few notes on the information from the slide show:
*Many Detailed Statistics are based on play-by-play accounts accumulated by RetroSheet. These totals may be incomplete – (Copied verbatim from Baseball Reference). This is referring to the asterisks next to player names.
**No players in the sprint speed data set are greater than three standard deviations from the mean. That does not mean Buxton, Hamilton etc. are not 80 runners on the scouting scale. It just means the distribution for sprint speeds does not follow a normal curve.
***Not every player was available on the Sprint Speed Leaderboard, limiting our sample to 451, which is why the average SB Att% of 5.01% differs from the overall league at 5.17%.
There have been a lot of AFL top prospect list circulating cyberspace so I decided to do something a little different. This is my “AFL Most Major League Ready” list. In other words, if I were to assemble a team with the sole purpose of winning MLB games in 2018, these are the players I would select. Also considered players are in parenthesis. Performance in the upper minors and my belief in how likely current skills are to play at the major league level were heavily weighted/considered in my thought process.
- CF Victor Robles (Steven Duggar, Charlie Tilson)
- DH Francisco Mejia
- LF Ronald Acuna
- 3B Sheldon Neuse (Lucas Erceg)
- 1B Michael Chavis (Billy McKinney)
- RF Monte Harrison (Kyle Tucker, Eric Filia, LaMonte Wade)
- C Sean Murphy (Will Smith, Tomas Nido)
- 2B Luis Guillorme (Luis Urias, Thairo Estrada)
- SS Nicky Lopez (Luis Guillorme, Kevin Kramer)
CF – For a fleeting second I thought about Steven Duggar and Charlie Tilson. The latter was among the most polished players in the AFL, but I wonder whether he’s good enough to be more than a fourth OF. The former brings a nice power-speed combo to the table, but there are some holes in the swing. I think we’re looking at a 25% K rate guy who will draw walks, hit for some power, and does enough to be an above average offensive CF.
Having said that, Robles was the clear choice. Since you are reading this I do not think I need to elaborate much. 70 speed, 70 arm, 60 defense, and 60 hit is not much of a stretch. Last season he had a cup of coffee in the majors and spent over a month in AA. In 2018 after a couple of months of procedural service time manipulation, we should see him in the majors.
DH – Since Francisco Mejia only played 3B and DH this fall, I am slotting him in at DH. He would have been the obvious choice at catcher otherwise.
LF – Ronald Acuna
3B – My man crush on Sheldon Neuse grew over the course of the fall. It apexed when I saw him play a passable short on two occasions. He has a plus arm and plays above average defense at third. At the plate he has good strike zone awareness and utilizes a mostly contact-based, opposite-field approach. Having said that, he is also capable of dropping his back shoulder and tapping into his power to all fields at opportune times. There wasn’t much debate in my mind that he is the third baseman I want on this team. Lucas Erceg warranted some thought due to some eye-popping tools. The arm is ridiculous and he showed off prodigious power. Overall, he was less impressive than Neuse, especially at the plate.
1B – The options at first base did not blow me away (cue Shania Twain “That Don’t Impress Me Much”). I ended up settling on Michael Chavis, a pseudo first baseman. Chavis looked below average defensively at third despite his plus arm. I think a move across the diamond is inevitable. I expect Chavis to strike out a little more than his minor league numbers would suggest, but his raw power is 70 grade, and he does well getting to it in games. The power may be enough to carry his profile even at first. It’s worth noting that Chavis has been lauded for his workman-like, blue collar approach to preparation.
Shockingly only 22, Billy McKinney feels like somewhat of a post-hype sleeper. He’s already logged over 1000 PAs in AA and half a season at AAA. The power emerged last year and was on display in the AFL too. Compared to the other 1B options (Naylor, Bradley, etc) I think he would acquit himself well next season.
RF – With Acuna and Robles inked into two OF spots, and that left a few worthy outfielders for one remaining spot.
Astros prospect Kyle Tucker has tremendous bat speed, but he also has also swung and missed a lot this fall. Often times he looked like he just wanted to go home. I heard the Astros asked him to focus on getting more loft in his swing and told him not to worry about about strikeouts. Glancing at his Fangraphs page, the numbers bear this out. Regardless, I think he still needs more seasoning in the high minors. If he were to break camp with the Astros, it’s not hard to envision a long, strikeout-ridden slump at the MLB level.
Eric Filia has looked great this fall, frequently barreling baseballs to all fields and displaying an excellent ability to protect the zone. Extension of his 2017 full-season performance in the AFL has helped to allay concerns about his age. He put up a .362/.407/.434 slash with more walks than strikeouts in High-A, but at age 25 (7/6 birthday), he was old for the level. Unfortunately, he provides little game power. I was surprised to see he had a 3.4% HR/FB rate in the hitter-friendly confines of the Cal League. Defensively, he isn’t too flashy. It’s about average range and a fringey arm. With limited power and a middling defensive profile, there is a ton of pressure on the bat, but thus far he’s been doing it.
Another viable option is Twins OF LaMonte Wade. Like Filia, Wade is a guy who can use all fields and control the zone. He also walked more than he struck out last year. It’s worth noting Wade was about a year younger than Filia and played at AA Chattanooga, a more difficult level and a more pitcher-friendly park. At present, I think Filia is the better hitter, but not by a large margin. Wade has shown more ability to get loft, and Filia has more consistent gap power. Wade is the superior defender, projecting to be a roughly league average.
After lengthy consideration and mental tug-of-war, I landed on maybe the most obvious candidate, Monte Harrison. Filia and Wade appear “safer” and more ready offensively, but I found it hard to ignore Harrison’s tools. I think Harrison would have hefty swing and miss if he were thrust into a MLB lineup now but his skills would also shine through at times. The game power is legitimate, and he would run into some homers. His cyborg arm and overall plus athleticism would be an excellent fit in this hypothetical team’s RF corner.
C – Sean Murphy is a plus defender with a double-plus arm and a bat that could play to average. Will Smith and Tomas Nido were decent alternatives, but for me Murphy is a cut above. I wrote more about Murphy here: https://baseballbellcurve.com/category/teams/al-west/athletics/
2B – Luis Guillorme, Thairo Estrada, and Luis Urias all played full seasons at AA last year, which makes them appear equally qualified to make the jump to the big club. However, they have played 474, 375, 347 minor league games, respectively. Guillorme is two years older than Estrada and three years older than Urias. Guillorme would play the best second base defense among the three. Praise of his hands has been ubiquitous in baseball circles. He makes excellent plays on the periphery of his (albeit limited) range. All three players have question marks with regard to their game power and sported GB:FB ratios around 2:1. Urias has the consensus best bat among the three, but I am having trouble imagining major league success next year due to his lack of power. He’s a very difficult evaluation. What do you do with a 70 hit 20 power player? There’s a chance Urias takes a step forward next year and makes this paragraph look like utter nonsense, but I am not ready to bet on it. In the long term, he is the obvious selection. For 2018 alone, I would give a slight nod to Guillorme due to his defense and the uncertainty surrounding all of their bats. I have to admit this is the selection I feel least confident about.
SS – There was no infielder who elicited more adoration from scouts this fall than Nicky Lopez. He’s a slick defender with good hands and a plus arm. The bat speed is plus, and he can foul pitches off until he gets something he likes. It’s a mostly linear bat path with gap to gap power, but for a shortstop you are taking this alllll day. On top of it all, he has plus speed. The more I watched him, the more I thought every-day player. I considered Guillorme (who played both SS and 2B) due to his defense and overall polish, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether Lopez was also the superior defender. The answer is yes. Besides, I had already used Guillorme to fill my second base spot. Pirates Kevin Kramer was given some consideration, but his carrying tool is his bat, and I have some qualms as to how it would play in MLB next season. The defense and overall package from Lopez feels like a safer bet.
There have been a lot of AFL top prospect list circulating cyberspace so I decided to do something a little different. This is my “AFL Most Major League Ready” list. In other words, if I were to assemble a team with the sole purpose of winning MLB games in 2018, these are the players I would select. Also considered players are in parenthesis. Performance in the upper minors and my belief in how likely current skills are to play at the major league level were heavily weighted/considered in my thought process.
Today I am posting about the pitchers. Hitters coming soon!
SP1 RHP Mitch Keller, SP2 LHP Max Fried, SP3 RHP Burch Smith, SP4 RHP Tyler Beede, SP5 LHP Justus Sheffield (Alec Mills, Elniery Garcia, TJ Zeuch, Walker Lockett)
RP1 RHP Sandy Alcantara, RP2 RHP Cody Carroll, RP3 RHP Dean Deetz, RP4 LHP Kirby Bellow, RP5 LHP Kyle Regnault (Art Warren, Nolan Blackwood, Zac Houston, Gerson Moreno, Andres Munoz)
Mitch Keller (RHP) Pittsburgh Pirates – This is an extremely polished pitcher. His fastball command was (probably) the best in the league. The curve command was wicked impressive. Keller can use it inside-outside and in-out (of the zone) at will. Keller’s change is not flashy, but it generated a lot of ground balls. I also noticed a high 80s pitch that moved glove side in a couple of Keller’s starts. I think it is a hard slider, but it may also be a cutter. He pitched with purpose and was able to change eye levels and sequence. It’s a well-rounded arsenal that should keep hitters off balance at the highest level.
Max Fried (LHP) Atlanta Braves – Scouts I have spoken with love Fried’s athletic delivery. His arm is sneaky-fast because his delivery starts slowly before catapulting home at full speed. The fast arm is great, but this attribute accentuates instances when his arm speed slows down. I believe these are semi-telegraphed offspeed pitches. In spite of this blemish, I think Fried has what it takes to perform in the majors. The fastball sat 92-94 and touched 95 with cut at times. His mid 80s change was not thrown much in my looks, but I have read it has plus potential. The high 70s curve is devastating when located. In limited action last year, he performed well in the majors making him a seasoned veteran on this list.
Burch Smith (RHP) Tampa Bay Rays – Somewhat of an under the radar guy, I only caught him once this fall but came away impressed. His motion was easy, and the delivery utilized his lower half well. I liked how he pitched with confidence. Smith mostly stayed in the zone and challenged hitters, especially early in counts. The fastball sat 92-95, and Smith seemed to leave a little in the tank for two-strike counts when he would amp it up to 96 or 97. His high 70s curveball missed a lot of bats. Smith tended to use it below the zone after fastballs up. The third offering was a changeup which was effectively mixed in. Arm injuries have derailed Smith’s career to date. If he can stay healthy, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see him in Tampa’s rotation next year.
Tyler Beede (RHP) San Francisco Giants – The depth of Beede’s repertoire stood out to me. I wish got to see more of him. I caught him on 10/31 when he went four innings. His fastball had three distinct variations. There was a mostly straight four-seamer around 93-94 (T95). There was a low 90s cutter that broke glove side late. And there was a low 90s sinker with decent drop and some armside fade. Beede also employed a slider in the low 80s, a curve in the high 70s and a change in the mid 80s. His offerings all had different velocity bands and moved in different directions. Beede peppers the lower third of the zone and strikes me as a pitch to contact guy who should have a high ground ball rate, eat innings, and occupy the back end of a rotation. With 109 AAA innings in 2017, he’s nearly a finished product.
Justus Sheffield (LHP) New York Yankees – I believe his three-pitch mix gives Sheffield enough to start every fifth day. My first looks at Sheffield were this fall. From what I gather, there has been an uptick in his velocity. He sat 93-95 and touched 97. His mid-upper 80s slider may be his best pitch. The changeup feel also exceeded my expectations. He was able to get ks on all three of his pitches, which bodes well for his future success. I think he could fit into the back end of a rotation now, but there is room for more if his changeup can improve to be a league average pitch. (Video of Sheffield also available on my YouTube station)
Other Starters Considered: I almost selected Alec Mills over Sheffield for the fifth spot. Based purely off prospect pedigree, it doesn’t seem like a fair comparison. For next season alone, it’s a lot closer than one may think. Mills doesn’t project to be much more than a fifth starter, but he’s already pitched extensively at AAA. He is the more polished guy right now. His fastball, curve, slider, and changeup all sink in different directions. He can get in trouble when pitches are left up, which results in a shellacking. To some degree, he relies on hitters getting themselves out, but he has a good feel for all his offerings and looks major league ready. Elniery Garcia and TJ Zeuch have more ceiling than Mills, but I would like to see them “do it” at higher levels. I feel like both are high floor (4th or 5th SPs) too. Lastly, Walker Lockett is a really interesting guy. His build is that of a prototype pitcher, 6’5” 225 lbs. This fall his slider (83-87) generated a lot of swing and miss. I was surprised to see he had only a 13% K rate in AAA last season, possibly the result of a rash of injuries including his shoulder, back, and finger. Granted it was only a limited sample, but 22 k in 25 IP this fall feels more indicative of his true talent level. This someone to keep an eye on.
Sandy Alcantara (RHP) St. Louis Cardinals – There are split opinions on whether Alcantara can remain a starter. The consensus seems to be he will move to the bullpen where his stuff can play up and his command deficiencies won’t matter as much. His fastball grazes 100 but doesn’t get as much swing and miss as you may expect, largely due to his poor command and hitters’ lack of respect for his breaking pitches. Having said that, there isn’t much doubt he can occupy a closer role which is perfect for me in this exercise. (Video of Alcantara also available on my YouTube station)
Cody Carroll (RHP) New York Yankees – I am fairly confident you could drop Carroll into a MLB pen next year, and he’d be fine. He uses a leg kick to create deception and has phenomenal stuff to boot. The fastball sits 95-98 and gets good swing and miss. Hitters do not pick it up well out of his hand. His high 80s slider has sharp two-plane break and is an excellent second pitch. His third pitch is a mid 80s splitter with quality drop. I think he will be a high leverage guy with a chance to close.
Dean Deetz (RHP) Houston Astros – Like a fine wine, Deetz grew on me over time. The stuff was always evident. A hard fastball touching 98 jumps off his hand. It’s pretty straight, but it’s hard enough to get swings and misses when located. His slider has nasty break, and he uses it to both sides of the plate or as a chase pitch. At times he will miss with it glove side, but the command is much better than I originally thought. His change isn’t bad either. It’s interesting to note, Deetz was primarily used as a starter in 2017. He walked an absurd 8.2/9 IP in 45 1/3 innings with AAA Fresno as a starter. A ratio of 4 BB in 11 innings as a reliever this fall was a monumental improvement. It looks like a switch to the pen was the panacea Deetz needed. I read Houston added him to their 40 man so it seems likely we will see him in the majors in sometime in 2018.
Kirby Bellow (LHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Can we get some lefties up in here? Yes, yes we can. Bellow is one of my personal cheeseballs. I wrote about him in more detail earlier this fall. He had excellent command of his fastball and slider, often pounding the zone away against left-handed hitters. I was later surprised to see him on Jim Callis’ AFL best tools list in the “under consideration for best changeup” section. (http://m.mlb.com/news/article/260341206/afls-fall-stars-game-features-top-tools/) Bellow only allowed two hits to lefties in 2017 in over 60 plate appearances. *Promoter drops mic and exits the stage.* (Video of Bellow also available on my YouTube station)
Kyle Regnault (LHP) New York Mets – A 2012 Indy Ball signee out of the Canadian-American Association, Regnault is the walking personification of the cliche “To be greater than the sum of your parts”. His fastball is below average. The change and slider, average maybe? The curve, possibly plus? Add plus location and a willingness to pitch backwards and you get a pretty good pitcher. Regnault has been very effective at painting the bottom of the zone and below the zone in my looks. To satisfy my own selfish curiosity, I am pulling for him to get a shot in the Mets pen at some point next season.
Other relievers considered: There are very legitimate arguments to be made for Art Warren, Nolan Blackwood, and Zac Houston over Kyle Regnault and Kirby Bellow. All I saw Houston do out in AZ was shove. I think he will move quickly through the Tigers system. He’s a big guy with plus extension that helps his stuff play up. Blackwood has done things like strike out Francisco Mejia on three pitches, which made an indelible mark in my lobe. Warren’s fastball/slider combo was among the handful of best 1,2 punches I’ve seen in the AFL. Ultimately, all three were a little too far away to warrant selection (none appeared above High A). Padres’ Andres Munoz is even farther from the majors but had to be considered due to his elite stuff. Lastly, I love what I have seen from Gerson Moreno this fall, but right now his command needs some work.
AFL Notes 11/14/17
Monte Harrison (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – The term tool shed was made for guys like Monte Harrison. A college football recruit at Nebraska, he is a premium athlete. The speed, arm and power are all plus tools. I think Harrison best fits in right due to his arm. It’s an easy 60 maybe 70 from what I have seen this fall. I have Harrison 4.25 home to first, which is plus from the right side. Taking a glance at his Baseball Reference page, he stole 27 bases in 31 attempts last year. This leads me to believe he can read pitchers well and has base stealing acumen. At the plate, Harrison’s approach was somewhat erratic. At times he displayed good plate discipline, working counts by fouling off pitches and taking borderline balls. At other times, he expanded the zone by chasing fastballs up or a breaking pitches down and away. I think there will always be some swing and miss in his game. I was talking to Derek Corr (Twitter: @dcorr82) who brought up the issue of Harrison’s hands when he swings. If you examine the swing, Harrison starts with his hands high and dips them as it begins. The bat speed is plus, but this extra motion adds length to his swing. Despite the swing and miss, Harrison gets to his power consistently in games. It’s easy plus power, generated mostly by his strong hands and quick wrists. Today he crushed a Henry Owens pitch opposite field (the open face home run in the video). I think Harrison has a first-division ceiling and a very good chance to be an every day player. Even if the hit tool lags, the compilation of other tools will buoy his overall profile.
AFL Notes 11/13/17
Estevan Florial (OF) New York Yankees – If Harrison is a tool shed, then I suppose that makes Florial a Home Depot. I’ll be here all week. The tools are “you need earmuffs loud”, and one scout cited Florial as a top three prospect in the AFL. The speed is elite (70). I have a couple sub-four home to first times and a number at 4.10 or faster. He can reach full speed by his second step, which is really impressive. Defensively, center field is the most likely landing spot. It’s worth noting his arm is also plus. Offensively, there were some concerning trends. Florial has a lot of swing and miss, especially on breaking pitches down. Right now he doesn’t appear to recognize spin, but Florial just turned 20 on Small Business Saturday (11/25) and is relatively raw for his age having come out of Haiti. For this reason many scouts are not worried about him long term. Just don’t expect a rapid Acuna-esq ascent. I think there will be growing pains. Rumors have it he’s shown plus raw in BP, but I haven’t seen it materialize much in games. The bat speed is excellent and his swing has upward plane, neither of which explain his high groundball rate. I suspect poor timing is the culprit. When he does barrel, the results are impressive. It just hasn’t happened much in my looks. Hard contact on barrels combined with his speed should help Florial sustain abnormally high BABIPs, maybe in the .350s. Overall, the raw ingredients are here for a first-division player. As is often the case, utility of the hit tool will go a long way in determining his overall efficacy. I think it’s a potential 50 at maturity. Having said that, he’s an admittedly difficult evaluation and a high variance player who is far from major league ready.
AFL Notes 11/13/17
Kyle Regnault (LHP) New York Mets – Left-handed command specialist is the best four-word phrase I could come up with to describe Regnault. His fastball is not overpowering, but it can be effective due to his array of secondary offerings. He can run the fastball arm side in on the hands of right-handed hitters or straighten it. Regnault’s best pitch is a high 70s curveball with two plane movement and hefty depth. He’ll throw it either at the bottom of the zone or as a chase pitch. The curve gets a lot of swing and miss. Regnault also employs a low 80s slider. It’s not as good as the curve, but it serves as an effective change of pace. The fourth option is a low 80s changeup that has moderate depth and fade. He seemed to reserve this pitch for lefties and would run it away from them. Regnault’s overall arsenal works because he is able to command all four offerings and keep them down in the zone. I think he is polished and ready for a shot at middle relief in the majors.
AFL Notes 11/11/17
Adam Choplick (LHP) Texas Rangers – After losing out to Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in the casting process for Game of Thrones’ “The Moutain”, Choplick resorted to his backup plan, a baseball career. He is a massive human, listed at 6’9” 250. With his colossal frame and long arms, one might expect natural plus extension, but his use of a high three-quarters arm slot undermines it. On the other hand, his height and arm slot allow Choplick to pitch with significant downhill plane. I can see this having divergent effects on his fastball and curveball. His high 70s curveball already has quality depth, which is augmented by the plane. Hitters should swing over the top or make contact on the top of the ball, meaning lots of ground balls. Alternatively, plane on his 92-95 mph fastball should result in fly balls. I think hitters will gauge its downward angle and respond with an upward-sloping bat path, allowing them to keep their bat in the zone longer. The uppercut path should result in more fly balls.
The curveball has been Choplick’s most-used secondary offering, and he commands it well. I think the command combined with its aforementioned depth make it a plus pitch. His slider was serviceable but below average. Choplick used it inside to jam right-handed hitters. Choplick has posted excellent numbers in the minors but has also been older than league averages. Next season he will be more age-appropriate in the Texas League, which should be revealing. Overall, Choplick looks like a pen piece. I think the stuff falls short of a closer profile, but middle relief or setup are possible outcomes.
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.)
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!
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.