Results tagged ‘ Colorado Rockies ’

Prospect Stock Watch: Winkler, Garvin tossing up zeros

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Once a week this season, we’re going to break down the prospects who have done the most to move the needle on their prospect stock, mostly highlighting players on the rise, but also pointing out a few who are struggling against expectations. Note: All stats are through games played on Sunday.

Trending Up:

Rockies RHP Daniel Winkler, Double-A Tulsa: Winkler, a 6-foot-1 right-hander out of Central Florida, was a 20th-round selection by Colorado in the 2011 Draft. His first year and a half in the Rockies’ system was mostly unremarkable — he posted decent strikeout numbers with Asheville in 2012, but mostly managed mediocre results with fringe velocity and stuff.Image

In 2013, he ventured to the California League with mostly the same stuff, but his outstanding command of a low-90s fastball helped him dominate the hitter-friendly league. So good was his ability to spot his stuff that touted Rockies prospect Eddie Butler actually credited Winkler as a source of inspiration for helping him improve his own fastball command. 

But succeeding mostly on fastball command is easier to do in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. Many pitchers with Winkler’s profile have thrived up until reaching Double-A, then been undone by hitters capable of punishing fringy stuff. Winkler, though, slimmed his ERA to 1.06 in three Texas League starts last week, with 17 strikeouts and seven walks over 17 innings. (more…)

Marcus Semien and friends

Over on MiLB.com, we’ve got the story of how White Sox prospect Marcus Semien grew up on the Cal campus, played on the team that helped save the Golden Bears baseball program and learned a little something about UFOs and nuclear radiation along the way.

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Jason Wise/MiLB.com

As though the guy needed a more interesting backstory, Semien also had improbably long runs as a teammate to two different players now in the Minors.

The first was with Rockies prospect Matt Flemer, which began in 2008 at St. Mary’s High School, in Berkeley. Both Semien and Flemer were recruited by nearby Cal, and while each had many reasons for choosing the Golden Bears on his own, it didn’t hurt that they’d get to continue to play together.

In fact, Semien said his decision to commit to Cal was all the more memorable because it coincided with Flemer’s.

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Tracy Proffitt/MiLB.com

“It was big,” he explained, “because Matt Flemer, who I played with in high school and was really good friends with also committed. I mean, I grew up with Matt Flemer.”

Semien remains teammates with fellow White Sox prospect Erik Johnson, who’s ranked No. 3 in the system — five spots ahead of Semien — and who played with Semien in college, Class A Advanced, Double-A, Triple-A and — as of last September — the Major Leagues.

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AP Photo/Paul Sancya

“It’s always nice to have somebody you’re familiar with and feel comfortable with,” Semien said of bouncing around with Johnson. “Once you get to the pros, a lot of times you don’t know any of these guys, and guys are coming from all over the country and you’ve never met any of them. It’s a whole new process. Coming up with Erik has been great.

“It was awesome that we got to make our big league debut on the same night. We both shared that experience together, and shared our jitters and all that.”

Notable Quotables — Thoughts on the Top 100: 31-40

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

The Minor League season has come and gone, and sadly, that means Notable Quotables will be heading into hibernation until the games start up against next spring. We’ll still have plenty of regular content, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com, but to celebrate the end of the 2013 season and the temporary end of this column, we’re going to bring you a “Best Of” from this summer featuring each of MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects.

Below, you’ll find prospects 31-40 (also see: 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90, 91-100). And over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you more thoughts and reflections from and about the best prospects in the game.

A quick note: Though we managed to feature just about every Top 100 prospect this season, there are a few who evaded our eyes/tape recorders for one reason or another. In that case, rather than leave you hanging, we’re going to drop in one fun fact or statistical quirk of note that hopefully reveals a little something about the player.

31. Max Fried, LHP, San Diego Padres –
Fried talking in April about his goals for 2013:

“My goal this season is to really learn my body and master my movement. … I haven’t been as consistent in my delivery as I want and it’s caused my command to vary from where I want. I’m working on keeping a good tempo and focusing on keeping everything in order so I can execute the way I want.

“We’ve been doing a lot of dry work with no ball, standing on the mound and repeating my delivery over and over. … The last two or three days, I’ve been doing that for 15, 20 minutes straight out of the windup and out of the stretch.”

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32. Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins –
Meyer on adjustments that led to a strong start in June:

“I had a couple of mechanical adjustments to work on this week and trying to fix a couple of things. … Something throughout my whole career I’ve had to work on is holding on to my front side. It’s something that was addressed this week. They really want me to work on it, so I got back into doing that.

“I felt like I was more in control out there [tonight], I felt like my delivery was more clean and crisp. I felt like I was able to repeat my delivery.”

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33. Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies –
Gray reflecting on his pro debut:

“I don’t think it was a very good outing, but I learned from that. …  I won’t get better until I fail. … I’m glad that happened tonight. … I can learn a lot. The best way to succeed is to fail, and now I know what I need to work on. When you fail, you see where you need to get better. I will be better next time.”

34. Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres –
Hedges on learning how to be a better pitch caller and building a rapport with pitchers:

“They can teach it along the way, but I think it comes with success and failures. … I have to go out there every day, and maybe I call a pitch wrong or I call a pitch well and then I can take that into account the next time that situation presents itself. I think it’s definitely about experience.

“Just trying to create a good relationship on and off the field so guys can trust me behind the plate. … Whether it’s getting dinner after the game or talking before the game, just getting a good relationship even off the field so that chemistry can build for when the game happens.”

35. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals –
Northwest Arkansas pitching coach Jim Brower on Ventura after a start in May:

“He had three Major League-ready pitches tonight. … He did a great job keeping the fastball down. I think it was averaging around 97-98, so he was blowing it by guys too. But more than that, he was hitting his spots. He controlled his curveball well too and was throwing it in a number of counts, including 3-2 for strikeouts. And he had a good changeup too. So overall, it was a really strong night for him.”

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36. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs –
Bryant on the difference in pressure he discovered as a pro:

“I think I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel any pressure, but I think we all feel pressure as professional baseball players to go out there and compete at a very high level. … Going to college and growing up helped me not focus on that as much, and I come from a good background that has helped me handle that type of pressure.”

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37. Mason Williams, OF, New York Yankees –

Williams had a disappointing year primarily in the Florida State League that began with a DUI arrest and ended with an underwhelming .261 average and .676 OPS. There were some positive signs though: His 8.5-percent walk rate with Tampa was the highest of his career, and his 106 hits trailed only Robert Refsnyder for the Tampa team lead.

38. Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians –
Bauer on dealing with occasional struggles in professional baseball:

“It’s just another day in the process of improving. … You try to learn something and pick something up from it. I’m always trying to just get .0238 percent better every day. Yeah, it was on a bigger stage, and there are more people paying attention and more people telling me I [stink] on Twitter. But for me, I know it’s just another day and go from there.”

39. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays –
Odorizzi on being traded for a second time as a prospect:

“I don’t think about it that way, I just focus on what I do and not replacing anyone. … You’re not gonna replace the Greinkes and Shields of the world, so I just try to stay within myself and stay with what got me into this position to be trade-worthy. Go out and do the things that got me here.”

Image40. Alen Hanson, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates –
Pittsburgh first-base coach and former West Virginia manager Rick Sofield on Hanson’s abilities:

“The challenge is shortstop. … He’s got the tools to play there in the big leagues. But like with all young players, can he handle the mental grind? It’s a tough position. … He’s got a chance to be an offensive juggernaut. … Right now, he’s a poor version of Rickey Henderson.”

Notable Quotables: Rockies Organization All-Stars outtakes

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com

After two weeks of MiLBY reveals, we returned to our Organization All-Stars series Friday, and the next system up was Colorado’s. Of course, you’ve already read all about that, right? Right? If not, I forgive you, and you can find that piece here. I couldn’t fit every quote into that story, so consider this a companion piece of sorts that brings you more analysis about the best of the best from this Minor League season in the Rockies system.

Rockies assistant director of player development Zach Wilson

On what Ryan McMahon should take away from his first pro season: He obviously had a fantastic year from a numbers perspective, but we try to preach, especially at the lower levels, it’s not about the numbers — it’s about the process. With Ryan, he was able to compete, get his feet underneath him and learn what being a pro ballplayer means, meaning how he needs to prepare both mentally and physically. He has the tools to be an impactful, sustainable Major League player. We’ll just have to help him develop in other ways. A lot will be mental preparation and the other challenges that come with the higher levels — strike zones get smaller, breaking balls get tighter, things of that nature.

On whether McMahon should still be happy about having impressive stats: You know, it’s tough to teach any young player that the numbers aren’t necessarily the most important thing. We see that especially in college players, where everything has been about the numbers up until that point. Still in the case of Ryan, it’s always nice to see a player get his career off to a good start like that.

On Raimel Tapia’s competitive nature: He’s such a hard-nosed player every time he steps out there. You can just see it in him that he doesn’t care if he’s facing Clayton Kershaw or a kid wearing the same jersey in an intrasquad game, he wants to beat you. It’s serious stuff, but he’s going to have fun with it too. That’s what he’ll always do. He’s got such a baseball soul.

On Kyle Parker playing first base: It’s been very clear to me that he has a natural feel to fielding the position. His hands work really well there, and I think that comes from his quarterbacking days [at Clemson], especially when he’s feeding the pitcher to go to first. His feet move around pretty good there too. Obviously, it’s still pretty new to him, but I think he’ll be able to play that and play it well. He’s really taken it upon himself to work hard at it, and he’s out there early working at it all the time, trying to become the best at it he can be.

On whether Parker has a shot at winning the Rockies’ first base job in the spring: I think it’s too early to tell about that stuff. A big part of the decision to have him play first in the Fall League was to see how he handles the competition and how he grows at first base. … For now, Kyle’s done all we can ask since we got him. It just comes down to the process for him, and we know how much he continues to put in the work.

On Eddie Butler’s ability to move through three levels in one season: There are guys, particularly pitchers, where you just know there’s going to be a time where they need new challenges. We started Eddie in Asheville with the idea that at some point he was going to move at least one level. Then, he showed very early on that he was dominant there and eventually there wasn’t much of a challenge anymore to get better. We’re always finding the right level for our guys not only to find success but also to be tested. There were a lot of those same things in Modesto, so we wanted him to get a little more challenge by getting a taste of Double-A. He faced that challenge too, so we’re looking forward to what comes next from him.

On Butler’s scouting report: Across the board, he has tremendous, raw stuff. His fastball gets right up to 98-99 with sink. He has a slider that has tremendous tilt to it. Even his changeup sits around 88-91 and can drop right out of the zone. These are all Major League ready pitches. He just has to continually be working on the command of that fastball with the sink on it.

On the effect hitter-friendly McCormick Field has on evaluating hitters: It’s certainly a different field. We try to make sure our players don’t get caught up in it though. You look at [Rosell Herrera], he was sent to Asheville last year to start the season and had to be sent down after not doing well, despite the home-field advantage. If you ask him, that was the best thing that happened to him because when he came back this year, he was more ready and was able to make a big name for himself with the year he had. Rosell had one those years, where he would have been MVP anywhere he played in that league. … I don’t think our players get caught up in that too much. I think it’s more the media and opposing teams to be honest with you. Actually, we find it’s when guys aren’t successful that they’re getting too caught up in playing there. The guys who brush it off more easily, those are the guys that find success elsewhere.

Tulsa manager Kevin Riggs

On Tom Murphy’s brief time in Tulsa: When he came to us, I had heard a lot about him and had seen a little bit of him during instructs. After watching him move from the South Atlantic League to the Texas League, I was very, very impressed with his makeup. He has just the right leadership qualities you look for in a catcher. He had a good understanding of how to work with pitchers on a daily basis and how to adjust accordingly between different guys. He reads swings and hitters pretty well from back there, so he knows how to go after guys. On the defensive side, I was really impressed with how up-to-speed he was. Offensively, he’s got some things to work on, but he’s got plenty of impact on the bat and that’s always huge. He’s got a chance to be an offensive force as a catcher.

On what Murphy needs to work on offensively: Oh, they’re just very, very minor adjustments — mostly getting a little bit more athletic in lower half, using the lower a little bit more, accelerating the hands a little better, stuff like that. They’re all very small, minor tweaks that he was aware of, but he wasn’t really aware of how to attack it. They’re definitely changes he’s capable of making.

On Parker’s season: We were happy, for the most part, for the job Kyle did for us this year. He’s another guy with an impact bat that helped us out on that side. He worked really hard in the outfield, too, and obviously beginning around late July to September, he was working at first base too, and that’s obviously an adjustment right there. But he had some experience in the infield during college and high school, he said, so that certainly helped. … For a right-handed hitter, the ball comes off his bat differently to the off gap, and that can make him a much more intriguing player as well.

On his first impressions of Butler: This guy dominated our level. Even when he got here after being two other levels, I had to think this guy was probably at the wrong level. As far as development goes, it’s good they got him to us this year though. The future is very bright for this young man. He’s got plus pitches across the board, and he can pound the strike zone with all of them.

On whether Butler surpassed the previous scouting reports he received on the right-hander: You know, you get these scouting reports and everything, but you really can’t make a great evaluation for yourself until you lay eyes on them. He certainly lived up to the hype. He came up there, and it was rather easy for him. When that happens, you know he’s ready to take on the next challenge whether it’s Triple-A or the big leagues even. We saw here in the Texas League in the last few years with [Sonny Gray] with Midland or the list of guys from Springfield lately. He’s right there with those guys. He’s got the velocity, the pitchability, and with those things in place, it’s tough to hold him back.

On Leuris Gomez’s road to becoming a reliever: His big thing is he can throw the breaking ball early in the count, and once he gets ahead, he can be very effective. He really likes to attack the strike zone, which is an advantage for any pitcher. [Tulsa pitching coach] Darryl Scott did a nice job with him. You know, I saw him back when he was a third baseman for [then-Rookie-level affiliate Casper in 2008], and he was about to be sent home. Tony Diaz, one of the supervisors there, said, ‘This kid has a great makeup and a pretty good arm. Let’s see what he can do on the mound.’ After a few years, it’s starting to come together for him.

Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill

On Ben Paulsen’s solid season with Colorado Springs: Ben showed some really good hitting ability this year, and he had some good defensive prowess over there at first, too. He’s very athletic, very versatile and he’s got good range at first year. It was really a big year for his confidence. He was pretty consistent all year round, and that was reflected I think in the stats he put up by the end. He took a huge step in terms of progress at the Minor League level.

On if Paulsen’s confidence was low after spending two years in a row at Tulsa: I don’t think confidence was all that low, really. It’s just when you get the chance to move up to a higher league, you want to prove to yourself that you can compete. If you can do that, that’s a huge deal.

Asheville manager Fred Ocasio

On Herrera’s breakout season: His whole all-around game was fantastic. He spent a short time here last year, and obviously defense was one of the struggles then, and that hurt him in everything else too. He struggled with that early on, too, but he really came around as the year went on defensively. Then, he was named MVP for his offense. He hit for average, showed some power, got some RBIs too. It was just one of those special years put together by a really good player.

Notable Quotables — Thoughts on the Top 100: 51-60

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

The Minor League season has come and gone, and sadly, that means Notable Quotables will be heading into hibernation until the games start up against next spring. We’ll still have plenty of regular content, both here on the blog and over at MiLB.com, but to celebrate the end of the 2013 season and the temporary end of this column, we’re going to bring you a “Best Of” from this summer featuring each of MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects.

Below, you’ll find prospects 51-60 (also see: 61-70, 71-80, 81-90, 91-100). And over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you more thoughts and reflections from and about the best prospects in the game.

A quick note: Though we managed to feature just about every Top 100 prospect this season, there are a few who evaded our eyes/tape recorders for one reason or another. In that case, rather than leave you hanging, we’re going to drop in one fun fact or statistical quirk of note that hopefully reveals a little something about the player.

51. Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians –

Despite striking out in 31.1 percent of his at-bats, Frazier managed to hit .297 with five homers and an .868 OPS in the Arizona League. The 2013 first-rounder finished among the league’s top five in home runs, OPS and isolated power (.209).

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52. Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox –
Portland manager Kevin Boles on Owens after his Double-A debut:

“If you look at Henry out on the mound, he knows what he’s doing. … He has an advanced approach. It’s just from one outing, but it looks like a very advanced approach to pitching at such a young age.

“He seems like a very bright kid. … His game makeup, from what we saw, was above-average tonight. He wants the ball. There’s no fear of contact. He attacks the zone, and he had a lot of pluses going for him.”

Owens Carl Kline MiLB

53. Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays –
Lansing manager John Tamargo on Osuno in April:

“His stuff is outstanding and he’s just got to get his first full season pitching in. This is a pretty big step for him to go five months, to prepare every five days for five months. … He’s looked very well all season so far. He has great composure for an 18-year-old kid and a really good arm. He always enjoys coming to the ballpark, doing his job.

“Right now he’s a strike thrower and those things are getting better daily, from start to start. We expect him to keep improving.”

54. Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox –
Barnes on the process of pitching with and without his best stuff:

“When you have your stuff, you’re working to keep it. When you don’t have your stuff, you’re working to find it. You’re always working on something.”

Barnes Kevin Pataky MiLB

55. David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies –

Dahl played in just 10 games this year after first being demoted to extended spring training due to behavioral issues and then suffering a torn hamstring that ended his season in early May.

56. Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers –

Alfaro’s 16 home runs were second among all catchers in the South Atlantic League, with Alfaro also among the youngest backstops on the circuit. Alfaro’s .364 weighted On-Base Average helped him create runs at a clip 28 percent higher than an average SAL hitter, per FanGraphs.

57. Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers –
Lee on his improvements as a pitcher:

“My stuff is better [than last year] and my location is better. … Everything is becoming a lot sharper. The hitters will tell you how good your stuff is when they take a lot of quality pitches. It’s one of the biggest indicators, how they take pitches and how they swing at pitches and how they approach you.

“A lot of guys are starting to respect my fastball and how I locate it. Hitters are trying to hunt for it. When I have my off-speed early, I can get ahead with my fastball and then go off-speed later in counts.”

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58. Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs –
Olt on his philosophy and preparation as a third baseman:

“I definitely know before the game starts who’s a speed guy, a slap guy, who’s looking to make plays like that, so I study a little bit. I can kind of read them and hopefully get them a little bit fooled [to] think that I’m not paying attention.

“I’m constantly moving in and out, trying to [assess] different situations. I think third base is all reaction and reading.”

59. Justin Nicolino, LHP, Miami Marlins –
Nicolino on pitching without his best stuff:

“You can’t force anything when you know you don’t have anything and everything’s not working for you. … You can’t force it. The moment you’re forcing fastballs in there or even offspeed pitches, you leave stuff up and get hurt. I went out and had the mind-set, ‘Hey, you don’t have your best stuff, but go out and work your [butt] off,’ and I was lucky to do that.”

Justin Nicolino

60. Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros –

McCullers (117 strikeouts), along with Quad Cities teammate Vincent Velasquez (123 strikeouts), ranked fourth and second, respectively, in the Midwest League in strikeouts despite throwing 30-40 fewer innings than most of their competitors on the leaderboard. The duo also tied for the league lead in strikeouts per nine innings, with each punching out 10.06 per nine.

Notable Quotables: Yanks’ Refsnyder on picking pitches

Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Yankees’ Rob Refsnyder on the development of his pitch recognition skills (Refsnyder drives in six for Tampa):

“In college, I batted fourth, and at Arizona we always had a pretty potent offense. I would hit with runners in scoring position a lot, so I saw a lot of offspeed. When guys were throwing offspeed in the first or second pitch of the at-bat, usually you’re going to take that.

“I worked hard at Arizona, first with Mark Wasikowski, now at Oregon, and then Matt Siegel and Andy Lopez. I worked with them on being comfortable hitting with two strikes. Sometimes the pitchers are really going to pound you in, and you have to look in. Or they’re going to pound you away with sliders, and you have to look away.

“Pitchers will get two strikes on you, but sometimes they give hitters a little too much of the benefit of the doubt. It’s a competition between you and the pitcher with two strikes, and that’s kind of what they instilled in all of us hitters at Arizona.

“I got comfortable hitting with two strikes in my freshman and sophomore years, and then junior year, I got really comfortable with it. I’m fortunate to have that in my game. You never want to get two strikes on yourself, really, but it happens a lot in baseball as the pitchers get better.”

MiLB: MAY 17 Class A Advanced - Tampa Yankees at Dunedin Blue Jays

Toronto’s Sean Nolin on the development of his curveball (Nolin still posting zeros for Fisher Cats):

“It comes with time and experience. You have to make sure you have the spin down, and once you get that, then you can kind of gear up, work on locating it better and make the right pitch in the right spot. You can throw a bad curve in the dirt, but if it’s slow and the hitter is looking for a fastball, when that curve comes in 20 mph slower, it’s tough to react to.”

Grand Junction manager Anthony Sanders on Rockies prospect Raimel Tapia (Rockies Tapia extends hit streak to 20):

He definitely is a young pup with room to grow. He’s close to 6-foot-3 now. He’s a tall, lanky guy, and he’s just starting to get into the weight room. He’s going to be a beast. We always joke around with the coaches — if he were drafted here in the states, he compares to the first rounders out of high school. This is a first round pick, for sure. He has those kinds of tools.

“He’s just a young kid, and we’re watching him grow up right before our eyes. He’s making adjustments at the plate. He’s super aggressive and just puts the bat to the ball, and good things have happened.

“I think that what’s allowing it is mostly his approach. He can put the bat on the ball, and he has tons of tools, but you can watch him pitch-to-pitch and at-bat-to-at-bat, he’s making adjustments. He’s figuring out what guys are trying to do to him, and you don’t see that much at this level.”

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Arizona’s Joe Munoz on his first year of pro baseball (Shortstop Munoz stays hot for Osprey):

“I’ve definitely learned a lot. When I came here for my first year, I thought I knew a lot about the game. No — I was like a newborn in the game. I’ve learned so much I didn’t think you could think about during the game. Looking at counts, things like that. Say I just got out, and I’ll go back into the dugout — I can look at the pitcher and see if his tipping his pitches.

“That’s something I’ve been doing this season. I’ve noticed a lot of pitchers tip their pitches without knowing they’re doing it. I’ve definitely learned a lot more than I even thought there was to learn.”

Houston’s Max Stassi on the importance of his mental approach (Stassi goes yard in fifth straight game):

“I’m always constantly working on the mental game. That’s the biggest thing for me. You look at all the guys around here at this level and above, and you see how important the mental game is.

“That’s a big separator. Everyone has the same amount of tools around here. It’s all about finding different ways to separate yourself. You can always be mentally stronger.”

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Milwaukee’s Victor Roache on playing after missing 14 months of game action (Roache drives in seven for Rattlers):

“I think part of it is repetition. I missed a lot of time. I’m finally getting at-bats, and I’m feeling more confident in the box. I think I have a better understanding of how the pitchers are pitching to me. I’ve also been tweaking my swing, keeping my front shoulder in and trying to land my front foot flat and square so I’m not spinning out with my front side. That’s allowed me to see the ball better and make more consistent swings.

It’s been a long process. … I never thought it would take this long to get my timing back, but it has. After the All-Star break is the first I’ve felt – I had a few games where my timing would come back, maybe for a few days, but after the All-Star break is the first time it’s consistently been there. For the last couple weeks, it’s definitely a big difference. My confidence is coming back, and I’m starting to feel like my old self again.”

Miami’s Brian Flynn on his changeup (Flynn solid for Z’s on anniversary):

“It’s been a lot of the same stuff. We’ve just been fine-tuning everything. Being so big, I would try to get way back in my delivery and I’d overthrow and leave the ball up in the zone. Now, I’m just working on letting it go at the right time, getting over my front leg and exploding downhill. It’s the same emphasis, same stuff, just fine-tuning. Tonight, I felt really great, and that was the biggest reason I was effective.”

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Rox’s Eddie Butler: Beyond the kid stuff

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Eddie Butler is emerging as one of baseball’s most exciting pitching prospects (Danny Wild/MiLB.com)

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Eddie Butler is 22 years old, but even in a clubhouse full of baseball youngsters, the Rockies’ right-hander seemed strikingly more boyish than your average pro.

Standing in the U.S. clubhouse Sunday at the 2013 Futures Game, the Radford (Va.) University product and 2012 first-round (46th overall) Draft pick stood in front of his locker, eagerly taking in the scene around him. Most of his teammates were being swarmed by a glut of reporters. Those left alone were sitting in their chairs, heads down, checking messages or playing games on their smart phones.

Butler was mostly unbothered by the media frenzy, but rather than retreating back into his chair, he stood, arms crossed, peaking around the room with a sense of impatience. Finally, a reporter approached, and the 6-foot-2, 180-pound hurler extended an arm, and offered a warm hello in a mild Southern accent.

First questions: First time in New York? What have you done since you got in?

“We went into a big old Toys”R”Us,” Butler said, at first straight faced but giving into a light laugh. “There was a huge Ferris wheel inside. I was like, ‘Sweet.’”

Boyish indeed.

The Chesapeake, Va., native eventually turned the conversation to matters more apropos in the clubhouse setting, like his rampant rise up prospect lists and through the Rockies farm system in the first half of this season.

For sure, his pitching is no laughing matter – just ask Xander Bogaerts, who struck out against Butler on three pitches in the sixth inning of the Futures Game on Sunday.

The lanky right-hander began the season with Class A Asheville in the South Atlantic League but didn’t last long. He made nine starts as a Tourist, posting a 5-1 record and a 1.66 ERA while chucking 54 1/3 innings. He struck out 51 and walked 25 in that time, allowing a pair of home runs.

The Rockies bumped him to Class A Advanced Modesto, where little has changed. Through 10 starts, he’s posted a 3.08 ERA over 52 2/3 innings. The right-hander has struck out 55, walked 17 and held opponents to seven homers and a .228 average.

The hurler said before the Futures Game that his hope in Spring Training had been to land with Modesto right out of camp. The trip to Asheville was a disappointment but provided good motivation. Once Butler arrived in Asheville, he figured it would take at least half a season, if not longer, to jump to the California League. The mid-May move up came as a pleasant surprise.

“Obviously, I wanted to break with the Modesto team,” he said. “I didn’t have that happen. Rather than take it as an insult, I took it as a reason to go out and perform even better.”

Butler Dano Keeney MiLB

In his preseason writeup about Butler, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo noted that the right-hander boasted a promising fastball-slider combination, but that his undersized build, iffy command and his lack of a quality third pitch may resign him to the bullpen long term.

Command issues haven’t caused Butler problems to date. He’s walked a respectable 3.53 batters per nine innings this year, including 2.91 since his promotion to Modesto.

Additionally, he’s made strides with some of the more intangible areas of the game that are especially key for starting pitchers. He’s trying to learn more about the scouting and adjustment side of the game, learning how to read hitters better from at-bat to at-bat and also better remember tendencies for guys he may face in multiple games over a season.

“I’ve even started keeping a notebook this year of guys I’ve been facing, especially in High-A, because that’s where they start being a lot better hitters,” Butler said. “They have smaller holes and when you find that hole, you want to know where it is.

“You want to write that down — what you got them out with and what they hurt you with. Definitely, with that aspect, I’ve learned a lot.”

Butler has especially benefited from working in the same rotation as Dan Winkler, who leads the California league in ERA (2.43), wins (12), innings (114 2/3), strikeouts (131) and WHIP (0.85). The 23-year-old has succeeded in large part due to his approach, something that has rubbed off on Butler.

“He leads by example,” Butler said. “He’s attacking the zone, making them put the ball in play and keeping guys off the bases.”

Like Winkler, Butler has been a sinker guy in the past. This season, and especially since his promotion, the straight four-seamer has become a greater piece of his repertoire.

He showcased the pitch on Sunday at the Futures Game when his first offering to Bogaerts clocked in at 97. He worked as high as 99 mph with a heater that Miguel Sano fouled off and routinely sits in the 94-97 mph range when starting.

Butler has made a conscious effort to throw the straight heater more and thinks his ability to locate the pitch glove side – inside to left-handed hitters – is his greatest improvement of the season.

“I’ve never thrown a four-seam really,” Butler said. “I’ve always been a sinker guy. I’ve had it but never really used it. Now, it’s like, all of a sudden at High-A, guys are better hitters and they start laying off of that pitch. They know they’re not going to hit it well, so they don’t want to swing at it.

“All of a sudden, they’re cheating in or they’re getting off the plate or, if it’s in the middle, they’re ready for it, and if you throw it there, they crush it. Being able to work both sides of the plate is a big thing with the organization, and it’s one of the big things I’ve been working with.”

At the Class A Advanced level, there’s still plenty more for Butler to learn and accomplish. He hasn’t thrown more than five innings in any of his past six starts, and the changeup is still behind the fastball and slider – he didn’t throw any changes in his inning at the Futures Game. Time will tell if the durability is there, and the right-hander is continuing to work on all his pitches, including the change, as well as his mental approach.

“Obviously, I’ve had a lot of fun this year,” Butler said. “I got moved up halfway through. That was a big goal of mine, was to make the move. I wasn’t expecting it that early.

“I figured it’d be after the All-Star break, so I was happy with that and happy they gave me the opportunity to do that. Just have to keep going out there and performing the same way.”

Ten first-half climbers: South Atlantic League

By Jonathan Raymond

We’re about halfway through the Minor League season, so we’re going to start identifying 10 prospects from each full-season league who significantly improved their stock through the first half of the Minor League season. By the very nature of already being highly ranked within their organizations, it’s hard for top-10 prospects to do much more climbing, so we’ll stick to prospects that were either ranked outside their team’s top 10 — as rated before the season by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo – or who went unranked entirely.

1. Rosell Herrera, SS (Asheville Tourists) — 2009 international signing, Rockies No. 11 prospect

What he did: .356/.431/.574, 13 HR, 20 2B, 50 RBIs, 17 steals in 23 tries in 70 games. Hard to ask for much more than that. Herrera is second in the Sally League in average and fourth in OPS, making him yet another top shortstop prospect to emerge in the lower rungs of the Minors. It’s been a huge breakout for the 20-year-old switch hitter after he mustered just a .543 OPS in 63 games for the Tourists following a callup last season.

Where he might rank now: Herrera, along with Eddie Butler (1.66 ERA in 54 1/3 frames for Asheville) — who would have also featured in this space if he hadn’t earned a promotion and spent about half his season so far in the California League — have an argument for jumping into the Rockies’ top five.

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2. Rafael De Paula, SP (Charleston RiverDogs) — 2010 international signing, Yankees No. 19 prospect

What he did: 6-2, 2.94 ERA, 96 K/23 BB in 64 1/3 innings. De Paula is kind of a late bloomer in professional baseball terms — his first stint in the Dominican Summer League came last year, when he was 21. But he’s obviously progressing quickly, having racked up the second-most strikeouts in all the Minor Leagues this year. The 22-year-old made his debut in the Florida State League on Sunday, where he struck out six in five scoreless innings for Tampa.

Where he might rank now: Given some of the attrition at the top of the Yankees’ top 20, it’s possible he’s due for a jump all the way into the back of the top 10, provided his FSL stint resembles his domination of the Sally League.

Rafael De Paula

3. Stetson Allie, 1B (West Virginia Power) — 2010 Draft, 2nd round, Pirates unranked

What he did: .324/.414/.607, 17 HR, 16 2B, 61 RBIs in 66 games. Once upon a time, Allie actually was a top-10 Pirates prospect — as a pitcher. It’s pretty well-known by now how, with pitching just not working out, he refashioned himself as an offensive player last year. Though Pittsburgh was likely disappointed at how the 22-year-old was turning out for a time, it’s safe to say they have to be happy with how things are looking now.

Where he might rank now: Allie, too, was recently shipped up to the FSL, and whether he ranks somewhere in the mid-teens of the Pirates top 20, even higher, or goes unranked entirely will depend on how he finishes out the year with Bradenton. Like DePaula, he’s a 22-year-old who just made it to Class A Advanced, which is not usually the timetable of a top prospect.

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4. Tyler Glasnow, SP (West Virginia) — 2011 Draft, 5th round, Pirates No. 17

What he did: 4-1, 2.60 ERA, 95 K/37 BB in 62 1/3 innings. The 6-foot-7 right-hander has built on a nice debut last year (1.88 ERA in 38 1/3 innings mostly in the GCL)  and improved his stock probably as much as anyone. Glasnow hasn’t even turned 20 yet (that will come on Aug. 23), yet has racked up enough punchouts to tie for eighth-most in the Minors.

Where he might rank now: It’s hard to imagine him not at least climbing up toward one of the 8-10 spots.

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5. Micah Johnson, 2B (Kannapolis Intimidators) — 2012 Draft, 9th round, White Sox unranked

What he did: .335/.416/.524, 6 HR, 9 3B, 16 2B, 38 RBIs, 55 steals in 71 tries in 70 games. The 22-year-old has done a bit of everything this year. In addition to leading the SAL in triples and stolen bases (by a healthy margin), Johnson sits sixth in OPS. He showed he could get on base and use his speed with Great Falls last year, hitting .273/.375/.391 in 69 games with 19 steals in 25 tries, but the uptick in power is a nice surprise if he can carry it with him to the higher levels.

Where he might rank: Tough to say. Without being too aggressive, let’s say somewhere between 10-20 of an improving but still thin White Sox system.

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6. C.J. Edwards, SP (Hickory Crawdads) — 2011 Draft, 48th round, Rangers No. 17

What he did: 6-2, 2.05 ERA, 86 K/27 BB in 66 innings. Edwards is kind of like Chris Bostick in the Midwest League. Both took the leap out of high school into pro ball after being taken past the 40th round in the Draft (both in 2011, incidentally) and both have turned into very nice prospects for their organizations. At 21, Edwards ranks fourth in the SAL in ERA and is tied for fourth in WHIP.

Where he might rank now: It seems like almost all of Texas’ prospects are enjoying nice years, so it’s hard to find much wiggle room for Edwards. Still, he could see a bump to around 13 or 14.

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7. Tom Murphy, C (Asheville) — 2012 Draft, 3rd round, Rockies No. 20

What he did: .314/.398/.638, 13 HR, 17 2B, 51 RBIs in 50 games. Arguably no batter has done as well as Murphy in the Sally League this season. The 22-year-old, who was the 105th pick in last year’s Draft, hit .288/.349/.462 in his debut in the Northwest League last year and improved on that considerably in the first few months of 2013.

Where he might rank now: In the same way that Herrera may have vaulted himself into top-5 consideration, Murphy could get a nod right around 10, though perhaps more likely 11 or 12.

MiLB: JUN 07 South Atlantic League - Asheville Tourists at Charleston RiverDogs

8. Gabriel Ynoa, SP (Savannah Sand Gnats) — 2009 international signing, Mets unranked

What he did: 8-2, 2.77, 63 K/9 BB in 74 2/3 innings. Ynoa, who just turned 20 at the end of May, is one of the younger players in the league and ranks second in WHIP, mostly thanks to limiting his free passes issued to just nine. His walks per nine innings stands at just 1.08 and he’s managed to maintain a pretty decent strikeout rate on top of it.

Where he might rank now: Ynoa isn’t known for having the same kind of pure stuff that might get other prospects more highly rated, but he could probably fit in nicely in the 15-20 range.

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9. Mookie Betts, 2B (Greenvile Drive) — 2011 Draft, 5th round, Red Sox unranked

What he did: .296/.420/.496, 8 HR, 20 2B, 14 steals in 15 tries in 63 games. Betts may have flashed one of the most advanced approaches of any Minor Leaguer in the first half of this season. The 20-year-old had 17 more walks (49) than strikeouts (32). He also showed some pop, as evidenced by 29 extra-base hits and a nearly .500 slugging percentage (after not hitting any homers in 71 games for Lowell last year) and stole a few bags incredibly efficiently. Basically, he’s one of those guys that appears to do everything well.

Where he might rank: The Sox have a pretty loaded system, so don’t expect a meteoric rise, but if he keeps it up he could sneak in around the 16-18 range.

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10. Orlando Castro, SP (West Virginia) — 2009 international signing, Pirates unranked

What he did: 7-4, 1.93 ERA, 63 K/6 BB in 74 2/3 innings. They’ve got a few good seasons going on over there in West Virginia, huh? It’s not quite Dylan Unsworth eye-popping, but just six walks in nearly 75 innings and a sub-2 ERA was still enough to put the 21-year-old Dominican Republic native on the map and earn him a promotion to Bradenton.

Where he might rank now: It’s not out of the realm of possibility he’ll assume the very No. 17 spot Glasnow appears to be graduating from. Someone around there seems likely, at least.

West Virginia Power pitcher Orlando Castro (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

South Atlantic League All-Star Game Outtakes: Tom Murphy

By Ashley Marshall

Over the next week, I’ll be publishing a series of short posts featuring players I spoke with at Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park during the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. 

You can read the full game recap, revisit the Gameday box score or check out the sidebar feature on the Pirates prospects at the game. Follow me on Twitter for more interview outtakes.

A month into the season, Asheville catcher Tom Murphy was hitting .426, riding a 15-game hitting streak and coming off a week in which he homered in three consecutive games.

One week and a 1-for-15 streak later, the average was down to .349. The following week, he went 2-for-19 and the average dropped another 44 points to a season-low .305.

The Rockies prospect stabilized his average and entered the All-Star break hitting .318 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs. His .653 slugging percentage topped the league, and he says it’s all due to consistency.

“I went through a little tough stretch where I was hitting real well and then things hit the can, like can happen in baseball. It really comes down to attitude and approach,” he said.murphy_640

The reason for the sudden, prolonged slump following such a hot start?

“I tried to change a bunch of physical things, but it wasn’t that; it was all in my head,” Murphy said. “I had to stay aggressive, but when things are going bad, it’s hard to tell yourself to stay aggressive. I thought it was something with my hands, but it had to do with my approach. I went from being an aggressive hitter in the strike zone to a non-aggressive hitter who was taking too many strikes.

“Now I’m starting to see more pitches early in the game. I’m seeing curveballs in my first at-bat, so really when pitchers do that it only helps me because by the third or fourth inning, I’ve seen all of his pitches.”

On deck: Lakewood catcher Numata discusses BlueClaws pitching staff

More SAL ASG outtakes:

Rome’s Elander talks staying loose, capri pants
Savannah’s Boyd is floating on Cloud Nine
Brinson not worried about ‘first-rounder’ tag

Aliotti, Lennerton featured in All-May lineup

By Ashley Marshall

It includes nine batters — eight position players and one DH — assembled into a batting order. Like real-life lineups, mine includes players with high on-base percentages and good speed at the top of the order, the most productive hitters in the heart of the lineup and a mixture of power, discipline and speed in the lower third.

1. Micah Johnson, 2B
2. Anthony Aliotti, 1B
3. Ryan Mount, 3B
4. Matt McBride, RF
5. Josh Phegley, C
6. Jordan Lennerton, DH
7. Corey Dickerson, LF
8. Joe Sclafani, SS
9. Rico Noel, CF

Micah Johnson (Kannapolis Intimidators, White Sox) does everything you want a leadoff hitter to do. He hits for average and draws walks, and when he gets on base he runs. A lot. No Minor Leaguer at any level or any position stole more bases than Johnson in May (27). Part of the reason that he had so many chances to victimize battery mates was a .446 OBP, crafted via a .357 average and 17 walks in 28 games for Kannapolis.

Anthony Aliotti (Midland RockHounds, Athletics) had a huge month for Midland, batting an even .400 in 29 contests. He flashed some power (six homers and 10 doubles), gave the RockHounds some production (24 RBIs) and showed patience at the plate (22 walks). His 72 total bases ranked third in the Minors in May, while his 18 extra-base hits fell two shy of the lead league.aliotti_800

• Arguably the hottest hitter in the Minors last month, Ryan Mount (Rancho Cucamonga, Dodgers) has been crushing the Cal League. He hit a Minors-best .460 in 23 games for Rancho Cucamonga and had a .500 OBP. He had a career-high 15-game hit streak from May 3 to May 19 and he recorded 14 multi-hit games in total, including a 5-for5 outing in Lake Elsinore. With five homers and 16 extra-base hits, only Norfolk first baseman Travis Ishikawa and Rochester outfielder Chris Colabello had a better OPS than Mount’s 1.289.

Matt McBride (Colorado Springs, Rockies) tied for the Minors lead with 11 homers in May and he ranked first with 31 RBIs in 25 games. He saw time as a right fielder, a catcher and a DH, but his versatility was matched only by his output. He went deep in three straight games against Iowa and Omaha, and he had a pair of two-homer games — one a six-RBI game, the other a five-RBI game. Making his tally even more impressive is that he struck out just nine times over that span.mcbride_800

Josh Phegley (Charlotte, White Sox) hit .356 with seven homers, 10 doubles and 19 RBIs in just 22 games in May. No full-time catcher had more total bases (65) than Phegley, who raised his average 62 point from April and more than doubled the number of extra-base hits (18) from the previous month (eight).phegley_800

Jordan Lennerton (Toledo, Tigers) was one of the few players who had a slugging percentage over .600 and an OPS over 1.100 for the month of May. The secret to those numbers? He hit .387, smacked seven homers and drew 21 walks. His average ranked eighth in the Minors in May, while his 43 hits were two short of the lead across all levels.

• While Cameron Flynn led the Minors with a .551 on-base percentage in May, Corey Dickerson (Colorado Springs, Rockies) led the Minors with 82 total bases. He hit for power (five homers, eight doubles) and he showcased elite speed (seven triples). Add a .375 batting average, 18 RBIs and the ability to swipe the occasional base, and you can see why he’s a perfect choice for that No. 7 spot. Only his discipline (seven walks in 127 plate appearances) stop him being a leadoff-type hitter, but his power and production stop him from slipping any lower.dickerson_800

Joe Sclafani (Lancaster, Astros) put together a nice month that saw him bat .357 with a .488 OBP. He’s not a guy that will hit for power (just eight extra-base hits in 26 games), but at this spot in the lineup it’s more about reaching base and setting the table for the guys at the top. He walked more than he struck out (23:15), he stole eight bases in 10 tries and he scored 24 runs. His on-base percentage ranked 10th in the Minors this month.

Rico Noel (San Antonio, Padres) would serve as a great secondary leadoff hitter because of his speed. He hit .326 and drew 16 free passes, giving him a terrific .436 on-base percentage. Once on base, he stole 17 bags in 22 attempts in 28 games for San Antonio. With guys like Mount and McBride providing the power in this fantasy All-MiLB team, having the balance of a fleet-footed center fielder like Noel in the No. 9 spot is a blessing most teams would love to have.noel_800

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