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Austin Hedges Won’t Hit

When baseball writers started watching Austin Hedges in preparation for the 2011 MLB Draft, pants began to tighten everywhere. If his elite defense and his 6-1 frame weren’t enough to send prospect analysts and pro scouts into full swoon mode, his makeup, work ethic and intelligence surely did. In fact, people got so carried away with all that was (and still is) right with Hedges, they thought, “well there’s no way he won’t figure out how to hit, he’s just so dreamy.”

After consistently underwhelming with the bat outside of a solid season in the Midwest League (full season single-A ball) in 2012, his face has appeared on the cover of Prospect Geek Tiger Beat less and less frequently.

People who are still bullish on Hedges often cite Yadier Molina as the example of a great defensive catcher who learned how to hit in the Major Leagues. I am here today to take exception with that stance and to explain why that will not happen with Hedges and how even if he improves at the same rate as Yadier Molina, that doesn’t mean he will become Yadier Molina.

The most important thing to consider when projecting the possibility that Austin Hedges will improve enough to be serviceable for the Padres, is the fundamental difference between his skill set and someone like Yadier Molina’s. The difference is simple but enormous.

Yadier Molina has the ability to hit the ball extraordinarily often and Austin Hedges does not.

In 2004, at age 21, Yadier Molina had 150 PA at AAA Memphis. He struck out less than 10% of the time. In his whole minor league career Yadi struck out in only 10.27% of his plate appearances. He always had the ability to make contact. He later translated that ability into the skill of making more meaningful contact, while playing at the Big League level.

This natural ability was the foundation of his progress. Hedges lacks that ability, that foundation.

Last year, at age 21, Austin Hedges struck out 19.5% of the time, twice as often as Molina at the same age, and at a lower level of the minors. This K rate pushed his career minor league mark to 17.6%. He is hitting the ball less often as he faces better pitching.

Molina slashed .281/.338/.373 in minor league ball. Hedges has managed .251/.311/.382. Once Yadi got to the big leagues his offense took a few years to improve to the level we hope, in our wildest dreams, that Hedges might attain.

Molina’s career line in the MLB is, however… awfully similar to his career minor league numbers.

Molina has slashed .284/.339/.402 for the Cardinals. Compared to his MiLB numbers, he’s essentially been flat in terms of BA and OBP, with a 7.8% improvement in slugging. Every player is different, but I think most analysts now agree that Hedges’ bat won’t progress significantly from where it is now. However, many think he has the ability to add power. So let’s be extremely generous for the purpose of this exercise and envision a situation where Hedges miraculously maintains his minor league AVG and OBP while also adding the same SLG boost that Molina achieved.

That puts Hedges at .251/.340/.412. If he gets there, his .742 OPS puts him at about the level of Wilin Rosario’s 2014 season at the plate. Combined with elite defense, we’re talking about him landing around 2 WAR.

Again, that is based on the most optimistic assessment of what is reasonably possible for Hedges.

But if you stray from the Molina comparison as I tend to, due to the fact that he is extremely unique, and you think more carefully about why catchers tend to develop more slowly at the plate, you run into another reason why Hedges probably won’t get better.

A lot of catchers do develop more slowly on offense, but why? It’s because they are busy learning to catch and throw and call a game. Now, I’m sure Hedges has had to come along in calling a game, but defensively he was touted as being near Major League ready on draft day. He simply didn’t have as much to learn as other prep backstops.

This means, that for much of his career, the emphasis with Hedges has been on progressing at the dish, rather than behind it. And he hasn’t, which is the next hole in the “he’ll hit” argument. As he has climbed the ladder, his production has gotten worse. He was 20% above average in 2012, 2% above average in 2013 before a short stint in AA. Then in his first meaningful sample at AA, he was 33% below average. For almost every hitter, entering the Major Leagues means another big divot in their numbers. Expecting Hedges to maintain that slash line I quoted earlier is at the precise edge of what is reasonable, but it is incredibly unlikely. He hasn’t even shown he can approach it at AA.

Now, it warrants mentioning that Hedges was 3.1 years younger than the weighted average of that league (per Baseball Reference). But time is about the only thing on Hedges’ side and people around baseball are steadily trickling off the bandwagon as they realize that.

In Kiley McDaniels’ recent article on Padres prospects over at Fangraphs, he included two troubling quotes from people outside of the Padres organization.

“(The bat) could be really light…I started to get nervous about the bat and wondered if he was even a big league backup”

“He’s more like Drew Butera than people want to admit.”

So I skated on over to Butera’s fangraphs page and noticed that in a taste of AA in 2008 very similar to Hedges’ own in 2014, Butera actually produced a season just 20% below average by wRC+, as compared with Hedges’ 33% below. Granted, Butera was 24 at the time, but the substance of the comparison is apt: Austin Hedges is probably not going to be a Major League regular.

While his defense is eye popping, having followed Hedges closely and having seen him flail at the plate in person several times over the last couple years has me thinking one thing: I don’t see it. It sounds like other people are realizing they don’t see it either. If you still think there is a chance, I’m sorry in advance for how disappointed you will almost asuredly be.

But let’s not fret too much. Let us instead adjust our gaze in the direction of Hunter Renfroe. It’s where all the loud sounds are coming from.

 

[R.A. ROWE]

 

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Scouting the AFL: Brandon Nimmo

I recently made my annual trip to the Arizona Fall League. I love the Fall League. If you’ve never been, it is the true hidden gem of pro baseball. If you like Spring Training, you’ll love the fall league. The games don’t matter, so players are loose, but they are working on stuff or making up for lost at bats or innings if they missed time due to injury, and these are premium talents, so these are still tight baseball games played at a very high level. The weather in Phoenix in October and November is absolutely perfect and Fall League day games are attended by around 200-800 people who really love baseball and 100 scouts. Plus tickets are $8. All of this combines to afford one the opportunity to spread out and soak up a terrific experience in a most leisurely manner.

It also allows you to play scout, if you’re so inclined (I am). I always enjoy breaking down prospects when I get to see them live, but I’ve never filled out “formalized” scouting reports before, so this year I figured I’d give it a shot.

Player
Brandon Nimmo, 21
Center fielder
New York Mets
6’3″/206

Tools (Present/Future)
Bat – 60/65
Power – 50/60
Running – 60/55
Baserunning – 60/60
Arm str – 45/45
Arm acc – 65/65
Field – 60/55
Range – 55 in center 65 on a corner
Approach – 55/65
Recognition – 60/60
Type – Spray

Physical description
Looks a lot like Logan Morrison from afar, but with the leaner frame of a younger player. 6’3 with square shoulders but average size hips. Long arms. Athletic. Smooth, to the point that it actually makes him look like he is not explosive.

Strength(s)
Good recognition and contact skills. Knows how to put together and at bat. Doesn’t get fooled. Gets a good jump in the outfield. Takes good routes. Effortlessly made two long runs to catch balls at the track in right center. (I only saw him go to his left).

Weakness(es)
The arm is clearly sub-standard. His footwork has gotten complicated to accommodate this, it takes him some time to get rid of the baseball. Had three chances to throw runners out at home from shallow CF and hopped soft throws each time.

Summary
Definite MLB prospect. Didn’t happen to show any power in the game I saw, looked more like a line drive guy at this stage, but the frame is big and the bat is of quality, which suggests he should at least approach average power at some point. His defense is above average in center at present, but depending on how much he fills out he could slow down a tick and become more of an average defender in center, (plus in a corner). I think Nick Markakis and Christian Yelich are decent offensive comps.

[RA ROWE]

Spending is Saving on Yasmani Tomas

The average fan probably thinks of Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas like any other free agent bat, and average fans want the Padres to sign a free agent bat, like they have wanted for a long time. But 15 years of putrid offensive production, unanswered by the front office, isn’t the only reason they should do so.

Most importantly, Tomas will be a great deal. True, Cuban players aren’t the bargain they were when Yasiel Puig signed for only $6MM per year for 7 seasons (gee, doesn’t it seem like the Padres could have afforded that?), but they are still the best discount item out there when you compare them to MLB free agents.

Tomas will likely get a deal a significantly richer than countryman 27 year-old OF Rusney Castillo, who signed for 7/$72MM. From a skills perspective, it seems Castillo, while possessing some raw power, really won’t drive the ball in games very often, because his swing will generate more line drives than loft on low pitches (a la Yonder Alonso).

Given his bat (superior to Castillo’s) and age (23), we’re likely approaching a $100MM contract for seven or eight seasons of work, especially considering the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets are all said to be in on the slugger.

Let’s put the average annual value at $13MM per season for Tomas.

What does $13MM buy you in today’s free agent market? Let’s take a look at some guys who signed contracts last off-season to find out.

Thirteen million dollars is less than a rapidly declining 33 year-old Curtis Granderson makes to put up numbers that barely breach replacement level (0.7 WAR). For a familiar reference point, Cameron Maybin has put up that same WAR this year in approximately half a season, meaning Maybin is twice as good as Granderson, when on the field.

That’s also less than Tim Lincecum made this year to be a mascot for the Giants, while getting shelled out of their rotation (-0.2 WAR).

All in all, the price of a “Win” as defined by WAR was about $6.5MM last offseason. By that math, if Tomas makes $13MM per year, all he has to do to avoid bust status, is be worth the same level of production as Dioner Navarro or Jordy Mercer. Both of those players have generated 2.1 WAR this season.

Even flawed and aging impact Major League free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin Soo Choo make around $20MM a year to get worse over the course of their contracts.

Now, Tomas isn’t without risk. Obviously, he has flaws like nearly every player.  He is said to need some fine tuning in his approach, and as a huge kid at 6’4″ 240, he will probably end up at first base. But the power sounds legit and he makes consistent contact. He also moves pretty well for a big man (at least for now), according to Castillo, who also had nice things to say about his makeup.

But in Tomas, what you will almost certainly end up with is a guy who gets better as his contract matures, and who only needs to produce like Howie Kendrick has this season to give his team a 50% “savings” per Win.

In the position the Padres are in, they need to pursue as many high ROI talent acquisition opportunities as they possibly can. And a big bat in LF would be a great start.  Moreover, it would be negligent to let another great bargain, like Puig, Jose Abreu, or Yoenis Cespedes, which the Padres can easily afford, slip away to one of the juggernauts just because they’re intimidated.

[RA ROWE]

Fantasizing About Minor League Baseball

It goes without saying that I want the season to start. But I actually enjoy the offseason portion of baseball’s annual cycle. In past years it was a time for getting antsy to again watch for the familiar things that are the standard currency of a baseball season: a great rookie, an aging veteran delivering one final elite season, a milestone statistic on the horizon, or cooking up strategies for fantasy baseball. But as I have grown older and more thoughtful (and have quit fantasy sports) I enjoy reassessing what is left of the game (and of life) that I have not yet fully explored. This year, I hope to place a heavier focus on minor league and college baseball.

Last year I took trip to my alma mater, Cal State Fullerton and then attended games at Lake Elsinore and Inland Empire, Class-A Advanced California League affiliates of the Padres and Angels, respectively. I had been to college and minor league games before, but something had changed for me.

I like how weird minor league fans and towns are, and how easy and cheap it is to sit in the first row behind the plate. Watching elite talents like Austin Hedges in a developmental stage provides an exciting glimpse of the player a prospect might become, and it enables a richer appreciation for the quality of play in the Major Leagues. But the minors are also an experience in their own right. The towns, parks and names are smaller, but the character of each minor league yard is truly unique and usually a little bizarre.

As of today, I have decided to attempt to attend a game at every minor league park in California this year. That means 12 parks spanning nearly 500 miles.

Northern California

San Jose Giants (SF/A+)
Sacramento River Cats (OAK/AAA)
Stockton Ports (OAK/A+)
Modesto Nuts (COL/A+)

Central California

Bakersfield Blaze (CIN/A+)
Visalia Rawhide (AZ/A+)
Fresno Grizzlies (SF/AAA)

Southern California

High Desert Mavericks (SEA/A+) – Adelanto, CA
Inland Empire 66ers (LAA/A+) – San Bernardino, CA
Lake Elsinore Storm (SD/A+)
Lancaster Jethawks (HOU/A+)
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD/A+)

The reason I mention this here, besides being consumed with it at the moment, is that I hope to create profiles on each park and provide a glimpse into what it’s like to watch a game at each one. I will try to bring the flavor of each city and stadium into the mix to help give those of you who can’t make it to a game an idea of what is out here in California. And for those of you that would like to go to these parks, I will try to make it easier for you to decide where to head first.

Having been to Inland Empire, I can tell you that unlike relatively charming towns, like nearby Riverside, San Bernardino is depressing and ugly, owing mainly I imagine to the imploded housing market. The stadium is featureless except for the vaguely-Spanish-mission style facade, the 66ers have one of the ugliest mascots in the world, and I saw some people who I am almost certain have been exposed to high levels of heretofore unknown radioactive elements. Clear some room on the periodic table, Dr. Scientist.

Entrance - San Manuel Stadium - San Bernardino, CA (photo: http://www.fccfontana.org/)

Entrance – San Manuel Stadium – San Bernardino, CA (photo: http://www.fccfontana.org/)

Lake Elsinore is a different story. Yes it’s a rectangular, manmade lake. But there is a place where you can get a sandwich and killer pasta salad at the top of a mountain with a panoramic view of the valley and lake below. There is a solid, friendly craft brewery in town and the stadium includes a view of a range of hills so rolling it looks like the background of a cartoon.

The Diamond at Lake Elsinore - Lake Elsinore, CA (http://unclebobsballparks64.tripod.com/)

The Diamond at Lake Elsinore – Lake Elsinore, CA (photo: http://unclebobsballparks64.tripod.com/)

And the difference between those two places and experiences is the same as the difference between any two minor league destinations. This tempts me to wager that there is more in the way of surprise and variety among minor league towns than you might experience in your travels to different big league parks.

And I think that points toward something in our culture. I think we tend to look at strange things, little experiences and wonky places and think less of them, in favor of an aesthetically coherent and consistent “normal.” It’s a facet of mall-centrism maybe. I am not necessarily concerned with finding out if it’s better to be the way we are or some other way, at least not for the purposes of this blog. But I am interested in finding out what the other way is like and I want to see Carlos Correa in the process.

[RA ROWE]

Spring Training Preview: Peoria

Five days from now I will be back in the place where I got Ken Caminiti, Trevor Hoffman and Randy Johnson to sign a baseball when I was 11 (also Chris Bosio), and where I saw Troy Tulowitzki hit a laser beam home run onto the berm two years ago that I am still trying to get my mind around. Peoria Sports Complex, my preview is my tribute.

Peoria

Stadium B- / Backfields A+ Peoria was the first of the new model of shared complexes when it opened in 1994. The collection of backfields all in one place was a revelation when my family first visited that year. Because it is a little older than many of the other complexes, the stadium is no longer anything special, but there is a very fan friendly angle to the whole place. In the rightfield corner, there is a walkway between the berm and the rightfield stands, where the players come in before the game and leave during and after it. As they walk to the locker rooms, kids push cards and baseballs through the fence and get to spend a second with their heros.

The backfields are also the most accessible in the Cactus League. You can sit between fields or behind outfield fences catching balls during batting practice, but you can also press your nose against the batting cages and watch coaches help hitters tinker with their stances, strides and swings.

We’ll be lucky enough to watch the Padres from this vantage point before a Monday game against the Cubs. And since I am a Padres fan, I am interested in too many players to ask you to sit through, so I am just going to talk about few.

Padres

Carlos Belen – 3B, 6’2″, 17 – The Padres finally started making a reasonable push in the Dominican, spending a lot more money there in recent years. Belen got $1MM for a hit tool that is far ahead of players his age with power to go along with it. 2013 will be his first season of state-side ball and it will be a treat to get to take a sneak peak before his talents are officially unveiled in Rookie or low-A.

Euri Minaya RF, 6’4″/200, 17 – Minaya is huge and he has power potential to match, but unlike Belen, the swing and approach are very raw. He also features a strong throwing arm. The 2013 season will be is first as well.

Jonathan Galvez – 2B/SS, 6’2″/175, 22 – Galvez looks good every time I see him. I’m still trying to figure out why scouts don’t seem to like him. He plays left-field in addition to second base, profiling as a 15HR-20SB type with 25 2Bs. That’s a little light-hitting for your prototypical corner outfielder, but nice for a second baseman. His BB% and K% are average and the hard contact he has made in the minors has helped him consistently post BABIPs in the .350-.360 range. I think he’s flying under the radar by being left out of organizational top 20s.

Cory Spangenberg – 2B, 6’/185, 22 – A very advanced hit tool (albeit with very little home run power) carried Spangenberg to high A last season. Although he was limited by concussion issues during the regular season, he kept at it and lit up the AFL. He should see AA at some point in 2013.

Austin Hedges – C, 6’1″/190, 20 – Fangraphs’ Marc Hulet ranked Hedges ahead of Jedd Gyorko in his recent top 15 for the organization. This is to say, Hulet is totally disregarding the fact that Hedges is nowhere near the Major Leagues, and has put together exactly one slightly above average season (offensively), while Gyorko is on the doorstep, having pounded 60 homers over the last two seasons. While it is evident Hedges has the potential to be elite defensively, I happen to find Hulet’s valuation somewhere between negligent and downright stupid. I have regarded the growing enthusiasm over him with extreme skepticism, but I won’t stop myself from buying in if I glimpse something special in person.

Yeison Asencio – OF, 6’1″/175, 23 – The Padres protected Asencio in the rule 5 draft because he has spent the last two seasons making lots of contact, totaling 15 HR and 15 SB in about 600PA over that span. He was limited last season, due to Visa issues after it turned out he was not a 21 year old named Yoan Alcantara. The downside on Asencio is that he is far too aggressive. He walked in just 4.2% of his PAs last year, but even that was an improvement of his rate of 1.8% in 2011 (8% is average). Ideally, this is the kind of guy you see in game action, to see if he is making strides in his approach.

This concludes the Spring Training Preview series. For installments one and two click the respective linkage: Mesa: Cubs, Salt River Fields: Diamondbacks. Stay tuned for reports and podcast episodes from Spring Training in the days to come and for the love of shit, start watching more baseball!

[RA ROWE]

Spring Training Preview: Salt River

Stop two on the upcoming visit to the Valley of the Sun, will be Salt River Fields. The Sunday match-up will feature split-squads from both the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks. This means prospects in game action and lots of them!

Hot Cactus League Action (albeit in Glendale). Photo - RA Rowe

Hot Cactus League Action (albeit in Glendale). Photo – RA Rowe

Salt River Fields

Stadium: A / Backfields: B. The facility the D-Backs and the Rockies share is one of the nicest in the Cactus League. It’s well designed, features perhaps the greatest variety of food offered at any Spring Training park and has some pretty fan friendly backfields. The place is terrific, but my first visit was ruined when I came down with the flu. Even still I enjoyed it and am really looking forward to experiencing it at full strength. Unfortunately most of the depth of the Arizona system is in pitching, and the backfields aren’t a great place to watch pitching prospects, since bullpens are generally more secluded from public view.

Diamondbacks

As for the pitching depth I mentioned, hopefully we get lucky and see Tyler Skaggs, or Archie Bradley throw a bullpen, but here are some hitters to watch for.

Adam Eaton – CF, 24, 5’8″/184
The Diamondbacks traded Chris Young to give Eaton the everyday job. His peaks won’t be as explosive as Young’s, but he won’t have the big, depressing valleys either. The kid can run very well, plays a good centerfield, and his arm is jaw dropping, both accurate and powerful. He’s not somebody you are necessarily floored by during BP, I’m more interested in seeing Eaton in game action.

Matt Davidson – 3B, 21, 6’2″/224
Davidson could eventually (perhaps as soon as the second half, depending on overall roster health) supplant Martin Prado at third base, moving the veteran to the outfield. Davidson has 20-25 home run power, and gets on base, but needs to do a better job limiting strikeouts. His defense is not his strong suit, but he could stick at third long term if he improves. He should be fun to watch around the batting cage.

Chris Owings – SS, 20, 5’10″/180
Not the largest of bodies, Owings has big tools. He happens to be a somewhat deficient baseball player though. He almost never walks (just 24 times in 149 games last year) and can be erratic on defense. It will be interesting to get a sense of this great athlete’s movements and perhaps see what it is that isn’t working for him.

Stryker Trahan – C, 18. 6’1″/215
A big, strong 18 year old with a plus hit tool and plus power is going to be taking batting practice and maybe playing in a B game on the practice fields? I’m setting my alarm now.

Dodgers

People are all frothy about Dodgers’ offseason moves, and their new ownership, which is really great for a franchise that needs its greatness restored. But I am more interested in what the Dodgers used to be all about: player development. There hasn’t been a ton of movement on this front yet, but change is on the way for the Dodgers. When it comes, these will be two of first guys to arrive at the Ravine:

Yasiel Puig – RF, 22, 6’3″/215
The big Cuban runs well, has a refined approach, a great arm and huge power. Basically another Cespedes type, to go along with Jorge Soler of the Cubs. He dominated in a short stint last season, playing intelligent baseball and putting his tools on display. He’s currently stamping out a disappointing winter with a great spring. The odds of him appearing in the split-squad game on the road are pretty decent and that’s good, because I want to see as much of this kid as I can.

Joc Pederson – OF, 20, 6’1″/185
Not as toolsy as Puig, Pederson is an excellent baseball player, giving him a high floor. He should be an above average runner for a corner outfielder, with about an average stick. He seems to do a little of everything, walking, limiting swings and misses, and showing good pop to all fields. I am hoping to see Pederson in the game with the split-squad coming over from Glendale, but this late in spring, I am not terribly optimistic.

Next time: Cubs v Padres in Peoria.

[RA Rowe]

Spring Training Preview: Mesa

Few things get me whipped up into a stiffer meringue than the beginning of baseball season. And since Florida is basically a strip of thigh hair that has been licked by a Komodo dragon and tossed into a mosquito spawning pool, I prefer the Cactus League. I go every year, and I suggest you make a ritual of it as well. I am seeing four games spread between three different sites this season. The first of which is a Cubs home game against the Royals on Saturday.

Mesa

My first year attending a game at Hohokam Stadium will be the last the Cubs will spend there. It should be an interesting atmosphere at the Saturday afternoon game, as the Cubs draw well every season, regularly setting spring attendance records. I’m excited to see the Royals’ Major League squad, but the Cubs offer more excitement from the farm system than most clubs. Here are some prospects I’m hoping to catch a glimpse of on the backfields, down the road from the stadium, at Fitch Park.

Jorge Soler – 6’3″/225, OF – The 20 year old Cuban is a physical specimen with tons of power, above average speed, and a cannon arm. Everything about him is explosive. He came off a two year layoff (due to post-defection hurdles) to torment “A” ball in 2012. He could debut with Chicago after the All-Star break if all goes well. Think Yoenis Cespedes for a rough template.

Javier Baez – 6’/180 – A 20 year old shortstop who apparently possesses almost unnatural bat speed, garnering Gary Sheffield comps. Probably at AA this season. He may end up like an Adrian Beltre, a shortstop quality defender at third base, with a lot of pop.

Albert Almora – 6’2″/180 – At 18, Almora has already gotten a lot of attention for being advanced in terms of his maturity and baseball instincts. He hit well in 145 PAs in Rookie and Low-A stints after getting drafted last season, and is an elite defender and baserunner. He should grow into 15-20 homers, but is more of a doubles man. I really like watching guys who can play the game well, and for this he piqued my interest in pre-draft footage last season. I am following him closely.

Dan Vogelbach – 6’/250 – “Big fat dude” pretty much sums up his physical appearance, but boy can he spank the pill. He was on about a 40 home run pace, en route to a wRC+ of 189 in low-A ball (168 PAs) last season. He’ll be 18 all season and should finish at either high-A or AA, depending on results. On defense, it’s first base only for this behemoth. He is already big, and already has below average range. Those problems aren’t likely to get better unless he can make a drastic change with his body. I just want to see him take BP.

Matt Szczur – 6’1″/195 – Szczur (think Caesar), is very fast (51 SBs last season), and can really go get ’em in the outfield. At 24, he still isn’t much of an offensive player (below average at AA 2012), but it’s always fun to watch someone who can really track the ball and run it down.

Junior Lake – 6’2″/215 – Prospect guys love big tools and Lake has them. As for me, guys like that are fun to watch on the backfields, but I tend to get irritated by underdeveloped baseball skills and a brutish approach at the plate, both of which the 23 year old shortstop wields to counter his natural abilities. He is capable on his raw talent alone, but if he can learn to play the game better, he may become a star. Think Alexei Ramirez for comparison. He could hit the Majors in 2013 depending on how third base pans out for the Cubs.

Next time we’ll talk a little Dodgers, but mostly Diamondbacks and Salt River Fields.

[RA ROWE]

College Prospecting: CSUF v. Texas A&M

I haven’t watched a lot of college baseball. I don’t have a ton of access to it, as I imagine is the case with most people who don’t have cable. Most of my NCAA viewing has come at a handful of games at Goodwin Field in Fullerton, when I was a student there between 2004 and 2009. But with Fullerton the fertile ground of Major League talent it has been, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of good ballplayers in a formative stage.

I once saw now Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero chew up some poor school for eight innings before current Cleveland Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano took over to finish the deed. That same season (2005) I saw Stanford’s John Mayberry Jr. (now with the Phillies) pound what must have been a 450 foot home run into the parking lot over a 50 foot high screen behind the left field fence. 2005 was a good season. Mets infielder Justin Turner, and Giants first baseman Brett Pill were also on that year’s Fullerton squad. In 2008 I watched a few games and remember being very impressed with then freshman infielder Christian Colon. He is now close to breaking into the big leagues with the Royals.

My point is that I tend to remember the players that make it at the next level. Of course, highly rated Giants prospect Gary Brown was also on the 2008 team and I don’t remember him at all. Here are some notes on several memorable players (and the game in general) from my Saturday night trip to the old Alma Mater.

The Titans taking infield. Photo - Vivian Lopez

The Titans taking infield. Photo – Vivian Lopez

Titans v. Aggies

The Titans have the number 10 ranked club and took on Texas A&M, recently ousted from the top 30. We (my fiancée and I) grabbed two seats off the catchers right shoulder just in time to watch both teams take infield. It really is a treat to watch this. The Major Leaguers have stopped in favor of letting little leaguers or dogs or the staff of the La Puente DMV wander around the warning track, like lost mental patients.

It was a tight ballgame, with neither team barreling the ball well or stringing hits together. CSUF came out on top 2-0, in large part to errors and flukey hits. CSUF centerfielder Michael Lorenzen had a base hit, then stole second, and advanced to third when the throw hit him and went into left center. He then scored on a sac fly. The other Titans’ second run came off a bloop single, followed by two bunt base-hits (meant to be sacrifices), and a hit batsmen.

The amount of bunting that went on was downright stupid. A&M had their three hitter bunt with two men on and none out in the 6th, this nonsense went on even after he had two strikes on him. Of course this strategy failed to produce a run. Gee I wonder why? Then Fullerton one-up’d this stupididy with two men on and nobody out by having their cleanup hitter, Chad Wallach put one down. Taking the bat out of your best hitter’s hands with men on and nobody out is stupid no matter what the score is. Major League managers have learned this, but shockingly, it appears the approach has not trickled down to college, where it is even easier to hit. Enough about the coaches, let’s talk players.

CSUF Titans

Justin Garza – Freshman, RHP, 5’11″/160

Garza is a sort of typical, small bodied right-hander with good velocity, who plays well as a starter in college, but is viewed as a reliever by pro scouts. He was the starter for the Titans on Saturday and pitched well, continuing what has been a dominant season so far. He used a medium effort delivery to throw a decent straight change, and a crisp, tailing fastball that he located very well. The breaking ball was behind the other offerings, really unremarkable. It didn’t seem to have much depth or lateral movement, and the break was more baring than sharp. I didn’t see anybody swing and miss on it. There were a handful of well hit balls that Garza was lucky didn’t go for hits. His command carried him.

7IP, 6Ks, 1BB, 4H, 0R.

Matt Chapman – Sophomore, 3B, 6’1″/195

A big 6’1″, he moves well and has a strong arm from third. He played the position very well, making three tough plays. And with the exception of a strikeout in the first, he had three good at bats. He singled for Fullerton’s first hit of the game in the 4th, then was pegged with the bases loaded in the 6th, and finished by coaxing a walk in the 8th. I would like to see him get ahold of one, as he looks very strong. His cool demeanor, stature, selective at bats, and quality defense reminded me of Chase Headley. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Michael Lorenzen – Junior, OF/CL, 6’3″/200

A tall, athletic, broad shouldered player. Things look easy for him. He runs well, is a good outfielder and has a rocket arm. He didn’t look especially impressive at the plate Saturday, though he apparently can be. It was clear his approach was to hit the ball in. He fell behind in the count watching pitches on the outer half, and swung at a few off the plate inside. His lone single came on a hard hit grounder that struck the opposing pitcher. Lorenzen is special on the mound however, and we got to see him close this one out.

As soon as the eighth inning ended, four or five scouts scurried over and sat down behind us with notepads and guns. They had come just to see him pitch. According to one of them he was sitting 94 with the heater. His breaker was by far the best of the game, with a big, sharp break. He threw only two, but located both of them well to generate one swing and miss, and one first pitch strike. He also had excellent command of the fastball, going right after hitters. The most impressive thing was the ease with which he delivered the ball to the plate; almost casually. He will almost certainly be a pitcher at the next level, and judging by the behavior of the scouts, I am not pioneering anything with that statement.

Texas A&M “Aggies”

Daniel Mengden – Sophomore, RHP/C, 6’1″/210

To me, Mengden looked a couple inches smaller than his listed height, but he is certainly a big deal to this A&M team, pitching and hitting cleanup for the Aggies. On the mound, the results were superb. As mentioned above, Fullerton could not have scored off of him without the aid of some seriously whacky shit. Another smallish righty, Mengden had terrific control and only one of his pitches was hit hard by the opposition. He appeared to be sitting low nineties with a tailing heater and had (at least during this game) command and control of the change as well as the curve. The curve did not impress, but was better than Garza's, and located with better frequency. It was not a swing-and-miss pitch for him, but produced grounders effectively.

While he didn't have MLB written on him, Mengden was a bulldog. After the Lorenzen chopper up the middle nailed him in the bicep of his pitching arm, he hung in. After Fullerton's pathetic, bunt and HBP fueled rally, he escaped a no outs, bases loaded situation with two huge strikeouts and a routine fly to center. He did not walk a single batter. Also: sweet mustache alert.

Mikey Reynolds – Senior, SS, 5’10″/170

Both the range and arm are good for college, but average in pro ball. He did make a spectacular play however, going to the edge of his range on what appeared to be a sure base hit up the middle, before spinning and firing a perfect strike to first for the out. Scraping .500 with his OBP coming in, it was easy to see why. He has good speed, played each at bat maturely and made solid contact to go 3-4 with three base hits and two steals. It may sound strange, but there is nothing special about Reynolds besides his ability to play baseball. What I mean is that he appears to be an extremely good baseball player, but is without impressive tools. His style of play was best embodied by an extremely aggressive turn he made around first base on a routine base hit, something you have to appreciate. He may find his way into the minor leagues, but without pop and slickness afield, nothing more.

Mitchell Nau – Sophomore, C, 5’10″/195

Nau looks like he could crush a plate of carne asada fries in his sleep. He is a stout man; from another era really. We took to calling him “Red Bean” because of his build and the Aggies’ dark red jerseys. And while there is almost no way he will be a factor in professional baseball, he had a good game. He was the only hitter on either team who consistently squared the ball up. He had only one hit, but hit two long flies to the opposite field, that were caught by outfielders in dead sprints at the edge of their respective ranges. He runs pretty well for his body type as well, but during infield I noticed the backup catcher’s arm looked much stronger than his.

Saturday's starting lineup. Photo - RA Rowe

Saturday’s starting lineup. Photo – RA Rowe

Looking forward to more.

[RA ROWE]

Casey Kelly to Debut

Casey Kelly

Casey Kelly will be the 15th pitcher to start a game for the Padres this season.

Tomorrow night Padres right-hander Casey Kelly will make his Major League debut. He’ll go against Paul Maholm of the Atlanta Braves. It will be a tough assignment, facing a contending club in his first start, but the Padres have a seven game win streak in their sails and have been playing all facets of the game very capably.

He will take over the rotation spot vacated by Jason Marquis, after he became the latest Padres starting pitcher to hit the DL (broken hand). Kelly was traded to San Diego as part of the package of prospects involved in the Adrian Gonzalez trade back in 2010. At the time he was considered the most elite piece headed in the Padres’ direction. We will finally begin to see if it is Kelly or Anthony Rizzo that is most deserving that title now.

The 22 year old has pitched only 31.2 innings this season because of an elbow injury, and nine of those were in rookie ball during his rehab assignment. He showed tremendous stuff in Spring Training this year and then struck out 32 batters in 28.2 IP en route to compiling a WHIP under 1. His rehab innings went smoothly and he looks ready enough to come up to a big club desperate for quality starters.

The young pitching keeps bubbling to the surface for the Padres. If the young arms can stay healthy, we’ll be looking at a rotation that could include:

  • Anthony Bass (25 next year)
  • Cory Luebke (27)
  • Andrew Cashner (26)
  • Joe Weiland (22)
  • Casey Kelly (23)

Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richards will be the old men of the staff at ages 30 and 29, respectively.

[RA ROWE]

Watch These Players – Update

Meat Harvey

Effort face is effective face

See what I’m doin’ here? One idea. Two posts! On August 8th I provided a list of players freshly squeezed from the loins of the minor leagues. Here is how they have fared so far, plus a couple of additions. Part One can be found here. For this update I have only linked to players who have numbers worthy of browsing. 

New To the List:

Jean Segura (MIL) – Called up by the Angels and then almost immediately traded to the Brewers in the Zach Greinke deal, Segura’s total lack of experience above AA has shown at the plate, but not in the field. So far he has yet to produce an extra base hit, but has a spactacular UZR/150 of 16.4. Brendan Ryan, by far the best defensive SS in the game, has a 24.3. The second best defender at the position is Clint Barmes, who stands at 15.6.

Manny Machado (BAL) – The Orioles surprised us all with this possibly reckless move, but with the team currently holding a Wild Card spot, they had to make some noise. That’s just what Machado has done since joining the big club. His numbers with the O’s have been better than his AA numbers in his first 34 plate appearances. AA- .266/.352/.438, good for a 122 wRC+. MLB-.303/.324/.727 and a 177 wRC+. the encouraging thing for the young SS turned 3B is that his BABIP has remained consistent with his minor league numbers, which means that his early success could be sustainable.

Starry (Keep watching):

Matt Harvey (NYM) – Harvey has been jaw dropping. He had another brilliant outing on Friday, striking out 8 in 7.2 IP. He allowed just one run on four hits, reaching 97mph with his fastball, and leaving batters waving at the change. He has room for improvement in BB/9 (3.9), but his 1.13 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 numbers are elite. The Mets have a good young pitcher… Ooh, that feels weird to say!

Travis Snider (PIT) – Neil Huntington is looking like a genius for snagging Snider at the deadline. Since coming to the NL, the young RF has been terrific. He’s put up a slash line of .319/.377/.494. If sustained for an entire season his 124 wRC+ would land him between stars like Adam Jones (130) and Jay Bruce (121).

Starling Marte (PIT) – Before going down on Saturday with what sounds like a minor oblique injury, Marte provided some timely hits for a team that needed a lift on offense. Unlike Snider, he had no previous MLB experience, but has been well on pace to fulfill the 20/20 potential scouts expected, while actually underperforming in BABIP compared with his minor league numbers.

Chris Carter (OAK) – If Chris Carter wanted a date with a baseball, his pickup line would be “You know what I want.” What I mean to say is that if he played a full season at his current HR pace, he would hit 50 dongers. He is also walking 18.1% of the time, but it’s more fun to talk about the “white thing go fly.”

Dan Straily (OAK) – When a guy who has never pitched above AA comes into the middle of a pennant race and delivers a 1.18 WHIP and a 2.12 BB/9 over his first three starts, simultaneously embodying and signaling the beginning of a resurgence of that distinctively A’s brand of winning, excuse me, but that’s amazulous.

Solid:

Josh Rutledge (COL) – Full steam ahead. Rutledge has continued providing a bright spot for the mostly miserable the Rockies. Since August 8th he’s 8-28 striking out just 4 times in that span. I’d be shocked not to see him at 2B next Opening Day. (The reason he is only listed as solid is that his upside isn’t has high as the group above.)

Pink in the Center (Talented but not ready):

Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters (CHC) – So da one guy, he says to dee udda guy, “what are Jackson and Vitters’ swings made of? Swiss Cheese?” “Why” dee udda guy says to him. And the foyst guy, he says “Cuz they got so many holes.” Jackson’s strikeout rate has been even worse than that joke (48.9%) and it’s the same story on defense (-74.2 UZR/150). Vitters has doubled his strikeout rate from AAA (17.4% -32.4%) and has failed to draw a single walk. Neither has shown us anything yet, but next year could be a different story. If you’re watching the Cubs this year just make sure you catch Anthony Rizzo’s ABs.

Anthony Gose (TOR) –  When the young speedster puts the ball in play, good things happen (he has stolen 10 bases). The problem has been his ability to do so. 37.3% of his 87 plate appearances have resulted in strikouts. His goatee is a perfect metaphor for his skill set. It’s there, but he has yet to put the parts together.

Snooze Fest (Don’t “Watch These Players” anymore):

Wellington Castillo (CHC) – Castillo has held his own, but has been getting much less playing time than Steve Clevenger.

Trayvon Robinson (SEA) – The young outfielder hasn’t looked particularly good or bad so far. He has been rather unremarkable outside of a highlight reel catch he made on Friday night.

Matt McBride (COL) – 20 ABs, 7Ks. With OF Charlie Blackmon healthy, Tyler Colvin will spend more time at first. Depending on the severity of Michael Cuddyer’s injury there may not be a lot of opportunity.

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