Prospect Q&A: Mariners SP Jordan Shipers on Strikeouts, the Walker-Hultzen-Paxton Motivation Factor, and Facing Miguel Sano
The Mariners doled out $800,000 bonuses to two of their draftees in 2010. The first was 43rd overall pick Taijuan Walker, a Louisiana prep right-hander who is now MLB.com’s fifth-ranked prospect in all of baseball.
The second was Jordan Shipers.
You probably know less about him, but not because there’s less to know. Seattle gave Shipers (bio, stats here) the same amount of money to sign despite the fact that he, then a Missouri prep left-hander, wasn’t drafted until the 16th round. Shipers showed he was worth the investment in his first full season in 2012, compiling a 3.89 ERA in 23 starts for Class A Clinton.
Know this, too: The power-armed if diminutive 21-year-old has accomplished something that Walker — and the M’s other top pitching prospects — have yet to sniff: a professional no-hitter, which was just one of his two complete game shutouts last year.
I caught up with Shipers, presently ranked 13th in Seattle’s system, this afternoon, and we talked about that achievement, among other topics. We started our chat, however, with his off-season job at the gym. Because six-figure bonuses don’t last forever.
Me: So what’s this about your job — working where you work out?
Shipers: I have a job to take up my off-time, when I’m not working out. I work out five days a week, hit the weights hard, run. I work at 68 Inside Sports in Overland Park, Kansas. I just work at the front desk and just sit down, take phone calls and greet people when they come in. Pretty simple.
Me: Nice way to earn a little money in the offseason?
Shipers: Yeah, I just sit. I mean, before I got the job, I would just sit downstairs and do nothing after I was done working out. Then I was like, ‘You know what? I could just get a job and sit somewhere and make money.’ I’m usually pretty busy because there are a lot of baseball, softball people coming in and getting ready for their season.
Me: I bet they don’t know that a pro ballplayer is manning reception…
Shipers: No, they don’t. I try to keep that on the ‘DL,’ so they don’t try to act weird around me.
Me: Aside from workouts, how is your throwing coming along?
Shipers: I started throwing, probably, about three weeks ago. I feel great. I’m excited. I threw my first bullpen three days ago, and it was about 30 pitches. I was already hitting my spots on the corners, which I wasn’t really trying to do. I was just trying to get it across the plate to loosen up the arm a bit. I have another bullpen tomorrow [Friday].
Me: Now that some time has passed, how do you evaluate your 2012 season?
Shipers: I thought it was a really successful season. I learned a lot, and that’s what I tried to achieve. I’m going to take what I learned last season into this coming season.
Dodgers-turned-Phillies pitching prospect Ethan Martin (bio, stats here) emerged in MLB.com’s new Top 100 Prospects list, which was released on Wednesday. Martin, a 23-year-old right-hander, checked in at No. 80. If you recall, he was traded from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, in a Nonwaiver Trade Deadline deal on July 31, 2012 for veteran outfielder Shane Victorino. Originally a first-round pick of the Dodgers four years earlier, Martin has now pitched for five Minor League teams in his career. Based on his success with his first Phils affiliate, Double-A Reading, last fall (5-0, 3.18 ERA in seven starts), he could begin 2013 with a sixth in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Here is a gallery of Martin, in every uni he’s donned to date. Click on any picture to begin the slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Uniformed, head here.
If Anthony Meo was upset last week, he wasn’t going to tell me about it.
I couldn’t blame him, however, if he would have been partly perturbed. Thursday’s D-backs-Braves deal, which sent Justin Upton to Atlanta for five players including pitching prospect Zeke Spruill and infielder prospect Nick Ahmed, bumped Meo from 10th to 12 among his organization’s top-ranked farmhands. In addition to Spruill, Arizona received another Atlanta pitcher in Randall Delgado. (Once a top prospect, Delgado has pitched enough MLB games to remove himself from such rankings).
So here’s the list of starting pitching prospects in front of or just behind Meo:
Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Archie Bradley, David Holmberg, Spruill, Evan Marshall, Andrew Chafin and Chase Anderson.
For the record, Meo — a 2011 second-round draftee and now 22 coming off his first pro season — was all smiles when I caught up with him over the phone. He was in Myrtle Beach, working out with a group of fellow Coastal Carolina alums and D-backs farmhands Cody Wheeler and Tyler Bortnick, and in approximately his third week of throwing the baseball around. Meo has been long-tossing and anticipates sneaking in a couple bullpen sessions before Spring Training.
Me: How would you evaluate your 2012 season? (Stats here)
Meo: I was happy with it. The biggest thing was staying healthy throughout the year. That league, the California League, is not that pitcher-friendly, but it was a good year learning how the hitters work compared to the college hitters and basically just getting my feet wet. I feel like I prepared myself for another season coming up.
Me: Did anything surprise you last season?
Meo: The biggest thing was I had some command issues early on. That is one thing I really plan to improve on this season. I know that being a starting pitcher you can’t give out free people on base all the time. Over a long period of time, it’s not going to be good.
Me: How do you improve command?
Meo: I think it’s just always trying to improve on it. We always mess around with little things, but I wouldn’t say it’s one thing.
Me: On the positive side, what encourages you about last season?
Meo: The strikeout numbers were there, which is a good thing. I felt like I had a lot of times where I ran myself into some trouble with some walks and was able to luckily get a lot of strikeouts, which helps me out a bunch.
Me: Tell us about your repertoire of pitches, and what you like’d to improve upon in 2013… Fastball, slider and cutter, correct?
Meo: I’ve got a two-seam fastball that I throw for the majority of my fastballs, but I also have a four-seam as well. I like to work both sides of the plate. I feel like throwing inside is very important, especially to good hitters. I throw a slider and a knuckle-curve, and also I’m working on a changeup. It has been improving. Every time I work on it, it gets better, so that’s the one big pitch for me this year that I’m trying to develop and throw when I’m behind in the count.
If you read my reaction to the release of MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list, you might think I was down on Twins pitching prospect Kyle Gibson. But just because I don’t believe he is the 49th best farmhand in the Minor Leagues doesn’t mean I’m skeptical that he’s going to be a quality Major League starter. Quite the opposite. I first wrote about Gibson in April 2012, detailing his comeback from Tommy John surgery. But you can go back further. How about June 2009, when Minnesota made the 6-foot-6-inch right-hander the 22nd overall selection the Draft? In the four years since, Gibson has pitched for three Minor League teams (not counting the Gulf Coast League Twins, whom he rehabbed with briefly this past year) and one in the Arizona Fall League. I expect him to return to Triple-A Rochester this spring but wouldn’t be surprised to see him north-bound by summer. Here is a gallery of Gibson, in every uni he’s donned to date. Click on any picture to begin the slideshow.
I was off and out of the office Wednesday night, when MLB.com released its new, 2013 Top 100 Prospect list. My MiLB.com colleague @AshMarshallMLB wrote this informative piece on the rankings, plus some of the included prospects’ opinions on said rankings.
Before I add my take, some quick background for you: MLB.com’s Draft extraordinaire @JonathanMayoB3 puts together this slotting system based on his expertise and his communications with pro talent evaluators. This is no willy-nilly process. That said, however, the reason for, say, ranking Mariners infielder Nick Franklin 47th and A’s shortstop Addison Russell 48th is probably moot, the margin thin. As I wrote to a reader in a November post on this blog:
Rankings, as much as you and I might love them, are very subjective and often poorly defined. Are we talking about, for example, the Minor Leaguers who have the highest ceilings, the Minor Leaguers with high ceilings who are most likely to reach them or some combination of the two? And is a player further along in his development ranked ahead of a player that is, say, only a year into his career? Every so-called expert weighs these things differently.*
*I will also add that it’s far easier to critique rankings than to put them together, so take my brief arguments for what they’re worth.
Without further delay, here is what I take away from our new Top 100: The noticeable climb and decline of a handful of prospects as related to their perceived value, taking a look back at the ’12 list, juxtaposing it with the ’13 list.
The guys I’m curious about: Trending Up (’12 ranking –> ’13 ranking)
- Cardinals right fielder Oscar Taveras — 12 –> 3
- Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez – 23 –> 7
- Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard — 83 –> 29
This one sort of baffles me. Yes, Syndergaard is a top pitching prospect and, yes, he was traded to a bigger market (TOR to NYM) this offseason, but he still hasn’t pitched at the Class A Advanced level and his fastball is still too straight while his off-speed stuff is still average.
This morning, MiLB.com published the first of my nine-part series on top-ranked prospects who are also top-rated defenders. The piece (linked here) focuses on the Padres’ Austin Hedges, the fourth-ranked catching prospect in all of baseball, and his talent level as well as potential behind home plate. In terms of interview extras, here are seven bonus thoughts from Hedges himself, and below is some extra stuff from my other three main sources for the original story. Enjoy.
Brad Ausmus, 18-year MLB veteran and current special assistant to the general manager in San Diego
- On Hedges’ physical tools: “The first thing that stands out is his athleticism. After that, it’s his arm. He also has very quick feet when it comes to throwing the ball, getting his body into a throwing position. His feet are extremely quick to the point where sometimes he goes too fast. I think the most important thing is playing experience, getting at-bats, seeing pitches. Number two is getting behind home plate and recognizing different game situations, so rather than having to think through a situation as a catcher, it becomes more of a reflex.”
Matt Wisler, Padres seventh-round draftee in 2011 and Class A Fort Wayne starting pitcher in 2012
- On his first impression of Hedges: “Very talented. From the first time he caught me, I could just see that he had the talent [the Padres] were talking about. Just the way he received the ball, how he brought it in. And then during Spring Training, when the catchers were throwing to second, we got to see his arm, and that was probably one of the more impressive things about him. He doesn’t really compare to anyone his age. He is above and beyond most of ‘em.”
- On what Hedges can improve: “His blocking. Early on [in 2012], a couple balls got by him, but in the second half of the year he didn’t have many past balls [16 for the season].”
- On Hedges’ hitting: “Coming in, people questioned his hitting, but he can hit really well. He had a lot of clutch hits, too. I remember a game against Lansing where tied the game up in the ninth with a home run. He came up pretty big a lot of times, and I think he had a much better swing than a lot of people thought he did. He hit pretty consistently the whole year.”
- On potentially working together at Class A Adv. Lake Elsinore in ’13: “I would enjoy throwing to Hedges for another year. He might be step ahead of me, but it’d be fun to throw to him again.”
Willie Blair, Class A Fort Wayne pitching coach in 2012 and Padres bullpen coach in 2013:
- On Hedges’ mental aptitude: “Not only does this kid have great tools, he is an incredible competitor — that’s what really lights me up,. If a ball gets by him or he makes a bad throw, it bothers him.”
- On Hedges’ coming of age: “When we talked about game situations, he might get a little frustrated, thinking that we were questioning [him] instead of saying, ‘Hey, this might be a better pitch to call.’ That was just early on. I think he realized, ‘Hey, these guys are just trying to help me, and I want to do anything I can do to get better.’ He showed great improvement in that area as well, being receptive to things. At certain times during a game [later in the season], he would get my attention, give me a little sign like, ‘What do you think right here?’ And I’d give it to him. He learned that, ‘Hey, I don’t know it all, and I’m still learning. I need help.’”
- On Hedges’ offensive skills: “He takes a lot of pride in his defensive abilities, but at the same time, his offense has come along nicely. I think he’s going to be a big league catcher, and has a chance to do well.”
This morning, MiLB.com published the first of my nine-part series on top-ranked prospects who are also top-rated defenders. The piece (linked here) focuses on Austin Hedges, the fourth-ranked catching prospect in all of baseball, and his talent level as well as potential behind home plate. Below are seven quotes from Hedges that did not fit into said story. Enjoy.
- On why he played catcher growing up: “I’ve always been very competitive, so it was me wanting to be in on every single play. No matter what sport I played, I wanted to be the quarterback in football, the point guard in basketball and the catcher in baseball, where not every position gets action on every single play — but the catcher is. That’s something that really interested me, being involved in every second of the game.”
- On the source of his athleticism behind home plate: “My whole life I was pretty much a utility fielder, the catching position being my best position still, but playing all those other positions, I think, helped me to apply a certain level of athleticism to the catching position.”
- On his ability coming out of the 2011 Draft: “I think I was definitely more talented and skilled defensively than offensively, but I definitely thought I was a lot better hitter than a lot of people gave me credit for. Catching is my strong-suit. That’s my biggest tool. I take pride in every aspect of the game, catching, hitting or even base running There was a knock on my hitting, so I took that personally and tried to work as hard as I could to have a successful  offensively.”
- On the biggest adjustment to catching in the pros: “Calling the game. I never really had to call pitches before. And learning how to work with the pitchers and make them feel comfortable with me behind the plate and the fingers I am putting down, whether they are comfortable throwing the ball in the dirt with a runner on third. Gaining that trust with the pitchers.”
- On what he wants to improve defensively: “Receiving is probably the most important thing for me. Making pitches that don’t look like strikes, strikes. That’s big for me. Being quiet behind home plate.”
- On what catchers he models himself after: “That’s a tough question because I model myself after a lot of catchers. I try to find the best attributes of all them. … Growing up, I loved Pudge Rodriguez. And right now, I love Yadier Molina, especially with the catch-and-throw part. In terms of blocking, Brad Ausmus and Mike Matheny were two of the best at it that I’ve ever seen.”
- On learning from player-turned-Pads exec Ausmus: “I watched Brad play for so many years, and I try to do things the way he did because, with all the Gold Glove [awards], he obviously did things the right way.”
- On how far along he is developmentally: “I think I’m scratching the surface. This past year was huge for me. I learned so much about what it’s going to take to be a successful big leaguer.”
Who Is The Next Billy Hamilton? Wait… Is There Going To Be Another? Four Potential Candidates Examined
We should have seen it coming. All of us. It was foretold in the statistics, as most everything in baseball is.
Billy Hamilton — the fastest man in the Minor Leagues, the all-time stolen-base leader in the Minors, the No. 1 prospect in the Reds’ system and something of the real-life Willie Mays Hayes — swiped 48 bags in 69 games in 2010, his first Class A Short-Season season as a pro.
Forty-eight SBs in 69 Gs is equal proportionally to 94 SBs in 135 Gs.
So we should not have been surprised to see Hamilton, a year wiser in 2011, swipe 104 bags in 135 games. We could have expected that jump in production, just as we could have anticipated his 155-steal, 132-game campaign last season. The simple math dictated his historic run.
In advance of Hamilton’s first Major League Spring Training come February, it’s worthwhile then to do some data-diving and find the next great basepaths-burner lying in wait in the Minor Leagues. According to my research, there are four names to watch. There were chosen because of their speed and ability to steal second and third, yes, but also because of where they’re at in their careers and due to their Hamilton-like potential to be a solid-to-good hitter and a quality up-the-middle-defender.
A 5-foot-10 skinny shortstop that is going from high school hacker to professional switch-hitter? As Fangraphs’ Mike Newman noted recently, his type is a familiar one.
Another prept-to-pro project, he’s a 6-foot-1 center fielder from Hamilton’s home state, Mississippi.
A 5-foot-10 center fielder and “the son of former big league reliever Chuck McElroy,” notes MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, “C.J. … is the fastest player in the Cardinals system and likely one of the fastest in all of Minor League Baseball.”
A 5-foot-11 center fielder, Galindo has actually stolen 40-plus bases three years in a row but has yet to play at the Class A Advanced level. Expect him to emerge onto the scene this spring and summer in San Jose.
Other to keep tabs on: Padres No. 18 prospect Jace Peterson, Dodgers No. 10 prospect James Baldwin, White Sox No. 5 prospect Keenyn Walker, Rays’ No. 15 prospect Ryan Brett and Orioles’ No. 6 prospect Glynn Davis. … Rangers No. 7 prospect Luis Sardinas told me in an interview that will run on this site next week that he aims to steal 50 bases in 2013. Sardinas, a gifted defensive shortstop blocked by Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar in Texas, swiped 32 in ’12. … Expect also Pirates No. 3 prospect Alen Hanson to pass up fellow top Pittsburgh prospect Gregory Polanco as a stolen-base threat. Polanco stole 40 bases in ’12, but his 6-foot-4 frame doesn’t portend high totals as he adds weight and develops into more of a middle-of-the-order hitter. … And, oh, of course Hamilton, who will likely be beginning ’13 at Triple-A Louisville, and the Astros’ Delino DeShields, whose 101-steal ’12 was overshadowed but still worthy of praise. … Also: the Rockies’ Rafael Ortega, the Padres’ Rico Noel, the Angels’ Chevy Clarke, the Tigers’ Austin Schotts, the Blue Jays’ Anthony Alford and the Athletics’ Aaron Shipman.
Alright, who did I leave out?
It has been a long, strange trip through the Minor Leagues for A’s fourth-ranked — and baseball’s 98th-ranked — prospect Grant Green. In the four years since Oakland made him the 13th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Green has moved from shortstop to center field to left field to third base and landed, finally, at second base. Oh, and he’s played in the Arizona Fall League three times. (The AFL, mind you, is supposed to be a finishing school for the game’s top prospects.) Now 25, the now-versatile infielder may have played his last game in the Minors, having acquitted himself well with the bat at the Class A Advanced, Double-A and Triple-A levels. This spring, he will battle for a utility man spot on the defending American League West champion squad. If he is in fact moving onto the Majors for the first time and for good, here’s a gallery to remember him by. Click on any photo to begin the slideshow.
Does Another Injury to Red Sox’s Ryan Kalish Mean Another Promotion for Bryce Brentz or Jackie Bradley?
At about 3 p.m. ET, MiLB.com video contributor Matthew Stucko – he specializes in interviews with prospects — broke some news on Twitter: “BREAKING| OF Ryan Kalish likely to miss more time with another surgery. Another setback for former
@RedSox 2010 Team ROY @mlb @MinorLeagues”.
This was just confirmed by WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford. Kalish missing time again — his injury history is long and includes this 2011 leg ailment — could pave the way for an earlier-than-expected ascension of Boston’s top outfield prospects: Jackie Bradley and Bryce Brentz, currently ranked as the No. 3 and 4 farmhands in the system.
I’m of the opinion that Kalish missing time more directly affects Brentz. Bradley, a gifted defensive outfielder with a knack for getting on base, has yet to play above Double-A. He will more appropriately be a likely and plenty-capable replacement for current Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who will be a free agent following the 2013 season.
So back to Brentz: Coincidentally enough, Kalish was rehabbing with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs when Brentz had one of his five-hit games last season (and, yes, there was more than one). I wrote this story about the latter outfielder that day, May 31, and quoted Brentz as saying about Kalish, comparing his own aggressive approach at the plate to the more measured tact of his veteran peer: “This is just a pit stop for him, but it was a lot of fun watching his at-bats. When he swings, he’s not up there just to swing.”
So back to the question at hand: Does Kalish potentially being out during Spring Training — and perhaps longer — leave the door open for Brentz to crack his first big league roster? Well, I think it does at least turn the knob. Brentz, by the standard of many, is an MLB-ready hitter. He will strike out his fair share — his aggressiveness is his blessing and his curse in the batter’s box — but should have no problem producing to the extent of a Kalish or a Daniel Nava, another veteran he’d have to fend off for playing time in left field. That leads us to one complication: Newly-signed vet Johnny Gomes is standing in left field, and he is a right-handed hitter in need of a lefty to platoon with. Brentz is a righty, too.
So how does Brentz make Boston’s Opening Day roster? I think he’d be helped by a Kalish injury, sure, but I also think he needs to hit so well in Spring Training as to give the Sox pause about giving Gomes so many at-bats.
What do you think?