Results tagged ‘ Jake Odorizzi ’

Backfield Blog Day 2: Tampa Bay Rays

By Jake Seiner/MiLB.com

Charlotte Backfields

Day two of my Grapefruit League swing brings me to Port Charlotte, spring home of the Tampa Bay Rays and their Florida State League affiliate, the Charlotte Stone Crabs. The complex is a bit smaller than Boston’s Spring Training home, which I visited yesterday, but it is a convenient and comfortable setup. I pulled in around 10 a.m. as the Minor Leaguers were taking batting practice on the backfields. Unfortunately, I was only able to catch a bit of the session, as task No. 1 was a sit-down with Tampa Bay’s director of Minor League operations Mitch Lukevics, but I did get to catch a few swings by 2013 first-round pick (21st overall) Nick Ciuffo (pronounced Shoo-foe).

While I didn’t get to see much baseball, I did get to talk it plenty. I chatted with Lukevics about a number of players in the Rays organization, and while much of that will go into our season preview content over at MiLB.com, here are a few bullet points to tease you with:

  • We talked a little about Jake Odorizzi and the new changeup I wrote about yesterday. Lukevics said he thought The Thing could help Odorizzi find more success against left-handed hitters. I asked Lukevics if he thought Odorizzi was ready for an MLB role, to which Lukevics unsurprisingly said yes, pointing to the right-hander’s entire body of work.
  • While Odorizzi is still in competition for the No. 5 starter job in Tampa Bay, fellow pitching prospects Alex Colome and Enny Romero have already been sent to Minor League camp. Both should open 2014 with Triple-A Durham, where they’ll work on improving their consistency. For Colome, the task is more mental — Durham pitching coach Neil Allen told me later in the day he wants the 25-year-old to maintain more focus and deal better with adversity, something he’s made progress with over the past year. Romero, meanwhile, will be asked to improve the consistency of his mechanics. Lukevics said Romero’s stuff was good enough to be a No. 2 pitcher in the Majors, but that the 23-year-old needed to improve his command and refine his offspeed pitches. Allen has a game plan in place to help Romero in that process, something I’ll outline down the road.
  • I asked Lukevics about Taylor Guerrieri’s recovery from Tommy John surgery. He said everything is still on schedule for the 24th overall pick from the 2011 Draft.
  • Speaking of injuries, Lukevics said he expects Hak-Ju Lee to be in Minor League camp at some point in the next couple weeks and hopes to get a better gauge of the shortstop’s fitness then. Lee built a reputation as one of the Minor’s top defensive shortstops prior to a nasty knee injury early in 2013. He’ll have to play with a brace on the recovered knee and should begin the year with Triple-A Durham.
  • Last of the injury updates: Tampa Bay’s 2013 first-round pick (29th overall) Ryne Stanek is recovering from offseason hip surgery, and Lukevics has received promising reports from the Rays’ training staff. Lukevics was unsure of Stanek’s recovery timetable, but said the University of Arkansas product would likely spend time in extended spring training after he recovers.
  • I asked Lukevics about another 2013 first-round pick (21st overall), Nick Ciuffo, which led to an interesting conversation about developing high school players. I’ll let Lukevics explain: “I can’t stress that enough, how challenging it is for these young kids today. Away from home for the first time. They have apartments, have to cook a little bit, have to do a little laundry. Mom’s not around, dad’s not around. It’s a real eye-opener for them. Plus, they’re playing baseball. It’s really hot here. They come from all over the world, and now they’re playing against players from all over the world and they’re going, ‘Holy cow.'”It’s challenging, not only physically but mentally, when you have to take that on. Then a year goes by, two go by, and their skill catches up to everything and the really good ones, the skill surpasses that, and those become the good ones.”
  • I also talked to Lukevics about Grayson Garvin for a feature that ran early today over at MiLB.com, so be sure to check that out.

Before I called it a day, I had a tremendous conversation with Durham pitching coach Neil Allen about some of his strategies for motivating and helping young pitchers which led to a great story about how he helped Matt Moore when Allen coached the left-hander in the Minors:

“It was in his head that the mounds were bothering him on the road,” Allen said. “He goes, ‘The different mounds out there, they just bother me,’ and I went, ‘Alright.'”

The backfield complex here in Charlotte has four fields spread like a clover with the backstops all within 50 or so feet of each other. Allen instructed Moore to use all four of the fields, as well as each of the two side bullpens, in his side session later in the day.

“I took him to every mound out here,” he said. “Not a lot of pitches, maybe eight or 10 pitches on each field.

“We got our work in, but we went from mound to mound to mound to mound to mound to mound. He always kids me about that all the time. He goes, ‘I’m not throwing any more sides like that,’ and I say, ‘Well you’re the one who said the mounds were bothering you.’ So we don’t have that issue any more. “

For what it’s worth, Moore posted a 2.74 ERA on the road in 2013.

Backfield Blog Day 1: Boston Red Sox

By Jake Seiner/MiLB.com

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — My Grapefruit League adventure began in earnest today with a trip to Red Sox camp. I pulled into the stadium around 9 a.m., surveyed the situation and had about half an hour until the Minor Leaguers got moving on the backfields. Monday and Tuesday this week are both practice days for Boston’s MiLBers before their first set of games Wednesday against players from Minnesota’s organization.

There are six backfields located in the shadow of JetBlue Park, including a second Fenway Park replica — in so far as there is a Green Monster-sized wall in left and left-center — that served today as a practice field for the Major League club prior to their contest against Tampa Bay. The five remaining fields were occupied by Minor Leaguers mostly destined for full-season assignments in 2014, broken roughly into clubs representative of each level Triple-A through Class A.

While the pitchers and catchers stretched out their arms on Field No. 5 (the Lou Gorman field), the rest of the affiliates spread between the remaining four fields to stretch and sprint before grabbing their mitts and taking some infield practice. The lesson of the day was first-and-third plays, with outfielders serving as base-runners while the infielders executed various strategies for defending stolen-base attempts with runners on the corners. The drills were a fun throwback for me, bringing memories of similar drills I did playing in college, high school and all the way back to Little League.

The first-and-thirds also gave me my first opportunity to “scout” with the stopwatch I’d picked up in New York before coming to town. I was able to clock pop times for the catchers on their throws to second. (Sadly, stud defender Christian Vazquez and his 80-grade throwing talents were still in big league camp). I didn’t register a time under 2.2 seconds, meaning either my thumb or the catchers I was timing were somewhere around a 30 on the 20-to-80 scale — the safe bet is on my thumb.

After a lengthy round of batting practice, the position players split into four teams for a pair of intrasquad scrimmages on Fields 4 and 5. I bounced between the two games and jotted down some observations on the prospects involved.

Pat Light – Boston’s 2012 first-rounder was one of the starters on Field 4. The 6-foot-5 right-hander has the look of a Major League workhorse, and after a little early trouble, did a good job pounding the strike zone with his fastball. The pitch had some good life running in toward right-handed hitters and a few hitters seemed to have trouble catching up to the pitch. He also got a few swings-and-misses with a sharp slider he threw only sporadically, and also flashed a changeup that has been a work in progress.

Corey Littrell — I caught only a few at-bats from Littrell, a 21-year-old left-hander Boston popped in the fifth round in 2013. The 6-foot-3 University of Kentucky was impressive in what I saw, though, showing good command of his fastball while dropping in a couple of impressive curve balls that spun some Class A Short Season players in circles. The hurler pitched very well with Lowell last season and should be due for an assignment with Class A Greenville to start 2014.

Wendell Rijo — I knew little about Rijo other than the name before getting to Fort Myers today, but nobody made a bigger impression on me during batting practice. The 18-year-old is only 5-foot-11, but has a compact, muscular frame and looks stronger than his .375 slugging percentage in 2013 would suggest. I’m no scout (a qualifier that should apply to each of these writeups) but Rijo’s bat speed stood out among the camp’s younger players. His swing has some violence, starting with a big leg kick and featuring a good bit of head movement, but his hands can fly through the zone with a level stroke. The swing was a little long, though. I compared what I saw to some video of Rijo from a year ago and it looks like he’s already made strides shortening the stroke. The second baseman played mostly in the Gulf Coast League in 2013 and is probably due for another short-season assignment in 2014, but that could change.

Teddy Stankiewicz – The 2013 second-rounder squared off mostly against younger hitters and was able to overpower most of them with his fastball — 19-year-old Manny Margot was so far behind one fastball he nearly beheaded the on-deck batter with a line drive fouled at a 90-degree angle from the pitcher’s mound. Stankiewicz, like Light, is a big right-hander (6-foot-4) with a prototypical pitcher’s frame. His fastball was lively but less so than Light’s heater. He showed a sharp breaking ball too, but also choked a few of those into the dirt.

Mookie Betts — The second baseman ripped a sharp ground-ball single up the middle off Light during one of the intrasquads, and that was really all I got to see from last year’s breakout prospect. I did get a chance to catch up with the 21-year-old after the games, though, and pick his brain about his successful 2013 and what’s ahead in 2014. Betts isn’t sure yet where he’ll be assigned this season, I’ll have more on him at a later date.

I’ve been doing this writeup from the press box at JetBlue Park as the Red Sox and Rays’ Major League teams play. Right-handed prospect Jake Odorizzi started for the Rays, allowing a run on two hits over 2 1/3 innings. Odorizzi is battling for a spot in Tampa Bay’s rotation, and he’s fighting with a brand-new weapon – The Thing (or Thing 2, or a split-change, or whatever moniker you want to give it). Odorizzi used the pitch exhaustively Monday even though he said his feel for the offering was inconsistent.

“The first inning was my fault really,” he said. “I just kept throwing whatever we’re calling it these days. I just kept throwing it and throwing it and I got behind just about everybody with it. I didn’t have a good feel for it. Instead of abandoning it and going to something that I know that’s, like my slider, I can throw for a strike, I’m going to keep throwing [The Thing] right now.

“That’s my main emphasis. I’m not going to be too fine with it where,  ‘Oh, I can’t throw it for a strike, I’m going to put it in my pocket and not work on it,’ because now’s the time when I need to work on it. Stats don’t matter right now. It’s all about how it feels coming out of your hand.”

Tomorrow, I’ll be rising early to make the drive up to Port Charlotte to spend the day at Rays camp, where a lot of pitching talent awaits, as do Hak-Ju Lee and some other promising position players.  Be sure to follow along here, over on Twitter (@Jake_Seiner) and at MiLB.com.

Rounding The Bases: Stats on stats

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com

Who doesn’t like numbers? Actually, don’t answer that. I went to college with a lot of communication majors who only had to take at most two math classes, so I have an idea of the answer to that.

All the same, numbers are great for explaining concepts and ideas that aren’t always easily explained by the naked eye or just words. “He hits the ball over the wall a lot” doesn’t exactly cut it in this little game we all love so much.

As it happens, the theme of the week here on MiLB.com seemed to be stats, albeit a little more advanced than just counting home-run totals. With that in mind, let’s round the bases. . .

McCullers and BABIP

Colleague Ashley Marshall took a look early in the week at how BABIP (batting average of balls in play) affected some of the game’s top prospects. He breaks down why certain players, like Byron Buxton, have high or low BABIPs and why some pitchers, like Matt Barnes, shouldn’t be discouraged by high BABIPs of their own, so I’ll leave that mostly to him.

I, instead, want to discuss one pitcher in particular that jumped out to me: Lance McCullers. The Astros right-hander had what would be traditionally considered a solid first full season for Class A Quad Cities —  3.18 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 117 strikeouts, 49 walks in 104 2/3 innings. In order, put those numbers down as good, OK, impressive and just all right. Like I said, the whole picture is solid.

What stands out for me is just how much better that could have been. In Ash’s piece, he has McCullers down for a .336 BABIP, considerably higher than what’s considered average BABIP (.300). It’s not a huge stretch to say that a few balls got through for hits that shouldn’t have. That becomes especially more believable when you consider McCullers, whose bread and butter are his fastball and slider, gets most of his work done on the ground (2.00 groundout-to-airout ratio, only three homers allowed all season), meaning some potential outs likely slipped through the infield.

Put another way, consider McCullers’ FIP, which strips defense completely out of the equation. While his ERA was at 3.18, his FIP was lower at 2.91. FanGraphs considers a 2.90 FIP “excellent.”

Now, will McCullers’ traditional numbers come down considerably in 2014? I wouldn’t go that far. He’s likely to move to Class A Advanced Lancaster, and although he won’t allow too many fly balls, expect his numbers to rise a little in the California League. The point of this exercise was to give a new-found appreciation of McCullers’ 2013, and that’s more what BABIP should be used as — just another tool to put so many other data points into context.

Don’t get Steam-rolled 

While we’re on the stats train, another colleague, Jake Seiner, explored Steamer projections and how they view a few different 2014 American League rookies. Again, I’ll direct you to what Jake wrote and just highlight one small bit of my own.

We live in an age of WAR when it comes to baseball, and that’s a good thing. WAR is a great way of quantifying just how much better a player is than his peers. (We bow down to you, Master of WAR Mike Trout.)

So your eyes may have perked up when you saw WAR as one of the numbers listed among the Steamer projections. But there’s one person, in particular, who I think has a WAR that’s too low only because Steamer didn’t account for his defense as well it could have.

That is Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley is expected to fill the slot in Fenway Park’s center field left vacant by the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury. Bradley won’t replace Ellsbury’s production with the bat — and indeed, I think Steamer’s offensive projections are mostly right on the money — he is expected to fill the defensive hole aptly. Both Bradley’s glove and arm are plus tools, with even plus-plus potential on the former, and those translate easily to the Majors.

The 2011 first-round pick’s advanced defensive metrics (-12.4 UZR/150 in the outfield) weren’t what people expected during his short stints in the Majors, but the sample size (242 innings or just about 27 full games) isn’t large enough to be drawing any big conclusions either. All the same, that’s mostly what the Steamer projections picked up on when they gave him a 0.5 defensive rating, essentially on par with his 0.6 rating offensively. In this case, I think the Oliver projections (1.0 offensive, 5.0 defensive, which result in a 2.8 fWAR) are probably going to be closer to Bradley’s numbers this year.

If you’re using Steamer projections for fantasy purposes, this has no effect on you. As Jake writes, Bradley’s value in that realm is tied to increases in power and baserunning that I believe won’t immediately come. But if you’re looking at the same projections for the purpose of on-field performance, I think you can set them slightly higher for Jackie.

What if. . .

OK, back to good ole fashioned words. I did a Q&A earlier in the week with Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. We talked a lot about his first year with the Rays and how easy the transition was for him a) because the Rays are a model organization and b) because he had gone through a trade before.

But there’s one thing to add:

We talked at the end about the fact that he could have played college football at the University of Louisville. Of course, he chose to sign with the Brewers instead. His reason? Despite being a D-I college football recruit, he thought he wasn’t cut out for the sport anymore. “I could see the writing on the wall there,” he said. “There aren’t many people like myself, with my leaner build, in the NFL. But there are definitely more similar types in MLB. Once I looked at it that way, it was an easier decision for me.”

It takes a certain level of maturity, especially from an 18-year-old, to look at it that way, and by all measures, it appears Odorizzi still has that maturity in his arsenal. There’s no way of knowing just how good the 6-foot-2, 185-pound wide receiver from the St. Louis area could have been with the Cardinals, although he would have been gone by the time Teddy Bridgewater hit his stride this year.

The slow reveal

MLB.com’s Prospect Watch has been revealing its top-10 lists by position this week. As of this writing, the right-handed pitching, left-handed pitching, catcher, first base and shortstop lists are up. A few quick thoughts:

  • The shortstop position is stacked. It’s amazing when you see it down in list form instead of just swimming in your head. Chris Owings was the PCL MVP and Rookie of the Year and could be starting in the D-backs infield come Opening Day. He came in at No. 10.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, first base is especially weak. It’d be a surprise if anyone outside No. 1 Jonathan Singleton and No. 2 Dominic Smith are in the overall top 100 to be released next Thursday.
  • For pitching, I think Julio Urias at No. 5 is conservative but understandably so. There are a lot of variables that enter into play for the 17-year-old, and the distance between his ceiling and floor at this point is pretty vast. That being said, I think he’s got a really good chance at being the best left-hander among those 10 in five years.

Mascot Item of the Week

Still going to try to make this happen. I’m 2-for-2 so far. Visalia’s Tipper T. Bull tried to welcome the Cubs’ Clark into the world of mascots, and it didn’t exactly go well.

Quick Hits

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.”

Fifteen MiLB Prospects Answer This Question: What Jersey Number Do You Hope to Wear When You Reach the Majors?

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The Royals’ Yordano Ventura: “Because Pedro [Martinez] was 45, and I want to be the first one after Pedro.”

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Bruce RondonThe Tigers’ Bruce Rondon“My dad’s favorite number — his dream was to watch me pitch with Detroit wearing number 44. Unfortunately I didn’t get that number, but I have the one right before, number 43. Honestly, he has never told me why [he liked that number]. I always ask him why and he never wants to tell me, but that’s his favorite number. I told him that one day he has to tell me what the number means to him.”

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The Rays’ Jake Odorizzi“My jersey here is that. If I don’t make it out of Spring [Training] or do, I’ll be wearing that. I’ve always had that number growing up. My friends and I just wanted to be in the 20s, and that was the one I settled on. This is the first time I’ve been able to wear it at the Major League level, which I’m excited about.

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MiLB: AUG 31 Class A Advanced - Tampa Yankees at Lakeland Flying TigersThe Yankees’ Tyler Austin“I would love to wear it. That is my favorite number. My brother wore 21. I wore 21 growing up, so it was like an always-21 deal. I wore it all throughout high school and travel ball, so I would love to wear 21 if the opportunity presented itself for me to wear that number. Guys usually pick it before I do [on Minor League clubs]. They usually get in there and pick their numbers before I have a chance to get in there.”

The Rockies’ David Dahl (to MiLB.com colleague Ashley Marshall): “I haven’t really thought about it. I’m just trying to get there. When I was a freshman in high school, I got the last pick out of all the numbers; 21 was available, so I used that all the way through high school and then I used it my first year in [Class A Short-Season] Grand Junction, so now I like it a lot.”

(more…)

Beyond The Yankees’ Brett Marshall, Top Pitching Prospects Who Have Undergone Tommy John Surgery

Will Leitch, one of America’s best sportswriters, has a feature in the current issue of New York Magazine called “The Glass Arm: Inside the art and science (but mostly still art) of keeping pitchers from getting hurt.” Check it out here.

I bring the piece to your attention because Leitch focuses, in part, on Yankees prospect Brett Marshall (bio, stats here). From the article:

On a warm, windy day in Tampa, ­everyone—fans, coaches, other pitchers—stops what they’re doing to watch Brett Marshall throw. It’s just a warm-up, with no actual game action scheduled for a few more days, so he’s not really letting it fly, but he doesn’t have to. Everyone is still staring.

It’s not the velocity, although that’s there. It’s not the distinctive thump of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt the way it does only for those blessed with such lightning arms. It’s how easy it looks. Each motion looks like the last motion, which looks like the last motion, which looks like the last motion. The fastball comes in at a consistent 94 mph, but it’s the changeup, widely considered his best pitch, that you have to keep an eye out for; the arm action is perfectly deceptive for being so repeatable. Marshall looks fluid and simple, like he could throw forever. To watch him pitch is to think that throwing a baseball is the most natural thing in the world. When he finishes, a group of fans standing on a walkway above burst into applause. He has simply been playing catch.

In the clubhouse afterward, Marshall is taking a sip of water and checking his iPhone with his non-throwing hand. He is 22 years old and seems unaware of the show he’s just put on. The display is over, just another workout session in a career full of them. Marshall has been in the Yankees organization for five seasons, and has climbed through the team’s minor-league ranks at the exact pace you’d want him to. He will likely spend this season in Triple-A Scranton, one stop from the bigs, where guaranteed contracts and the major-league-minimum salary of $490,000 a year, at the very least, await. If he puts up the kind of numbers scouts think he’s capable of—double-digit wins, with a 4.00 ERA, 175 innings a season, say—he could well earn $10 million a year or more. He’s on the verge of becoming a millionaire and playing for the New York Yankees in front of the entire world. And he knows it could all blow up in a second. “You just want your arm to hold up,” he says. “You have to not think about it. I do not, man. Not at all.”

Marshall is a Texas kid (baseball scouts have long had a fetish for Texas pitchers, from Ryan to Roger Clemens) who exploded on the scouting scene his junior year in high school. The fact that he had started out as a shortstop made many scouts believe he would be less injury prone because he’d thrown fewer pitches (the “you only have so many bullets in the gun” theory). Marshall lost the last start of his high-school career when he hit a batter in the state semifinals to force in the deciding run. It was his 146th pitch. The Yankees drafted Marshall in the sixth round in 2008. He pitched a total of twenty games (poorly; his ERA was 5.21) before his arm started feeling sore and the Yankees shut him down. He then had Tommy John surgery. He was 19.

Marshall at Double-A Trenton (Danny Wild/MiLB.com).

Marshall at Double-A Trenton (Danny Wild/MiLB.com).

This got me thinking about how many pitching prospects still in the Minors have undergone the operation we most associate with baseball’s best hurlers. So I wondered how many of the 29 pitchers that I interviewed in-depth last season for our Prospect Pitch series (first edition here, and you can click to other editions using the drop-down menu in the middle of the story) went under the knife. Here’s what I found:

(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

(Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

Have undergone Tommy John:

  1. Cam Bedrosian (Angels) — “It’s frustrating. It is,” he said. “Coming back from it, it’s been tougher than I first imagined. I thought, ‘Once I get to about 12 months and get back in the system and throwing again, I’ll be all ready to go.’ But it’s been a lot tougher getting a feel for everything. My first couple of starts were a little — I was a little wild. It was hard to control the fastball and other pitches. Each time I throw, I feel a little bit better.”
  2. John Gast (Cardinals) — “I was more of a slinger — I had a lower arm slot in high school — and I had Tommy John surgery and changed my motion. [The slurve] was a little easier to throw when you’re slinging across it. I’m a little more on top than I was, but not by much. The action of the pitch hasn’t changed; the hitters are just better.”
  3. Drew Hutchison (Blue Jays)Had the surgery not long after we spoke.
  4. Brett Marshall (Yankees) — “My first year, I threw a lot of curveballs. Every day, even after a start, I’d throw 100 curveballs on flat ground, just spinning ‘em, trying to get a feel for it. So after Tommy John [surgery in 2009], I was like, ‘Give me my sinker back. That’s what I had when ya’ll signed me, and that was one big thing that got me drafted.’ I have been throwing it ever since.”
  5. Eric Surkamp (Giants) — Had the surgery not long after we spoke.
  6. Navery Moore (Braves) — “I was throwing pretty hard in high school for my age, and that’s how I got hurt,” said Moore, who was clocked at 96 mph before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow in March 2007. “I grew fairly quickly, and then out of nowhere, my body had to adjust to throwing that hard, on top of [using] mechanics that probably weren’t the best. … The hardest thing after [surgery] was getting my feel back. My arm strength was back, but it was just something about confidence and repetition to get back the feel for breaking pitches; I was trying to do too much with the breaking pitches.”
  7. Jake Petricka  (White Sox) — Had the surgery way back  in 2007.

(more…)

Rays’ Right-hander Jake Odorizzi — MLB.com’s No. 45 Prospect — Answers Six Questions about Fielding His Position

MiLB.com will publish the sixth part of my nine-part series on top-ranked prospects who are also top-rated defenders this morning (link here). The piece focuses, in part, on the Rays’ Jake Odorizzi (bio, stats here), the No. 45 prospect in all of baseball. In terms of interview extras — answers that didn’t make it into the story but are significant nonetheless — see below. Enjoy.

(Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

(Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

  1. On evaluating his fielding: “I view it as one of my strong points. I grew up playing shortstop, so I have a lot of experience with ground balls, fielding when I didn’t pitch, so I think it came naturally to me when I transitioned to pitching — the fielding carried over. I take pride in it. It’s one of my strong points, and one of the advantages to me.”
  2. On his thought process on the mound: I always want to be a in a good position to field when I release the ball. Most people are not completely square [to home plate] when they finish, but I have to be ready and expect the ball to come back to me. You just have to be comfortable and not freak out when the ball is hit back to you and step make a throw. Keep it as simple as possible. If I can make a play on it, I’ll make a play on it. If not, I’ll let my infielders take it.”

    (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

    (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

  3. On adjustments he’s made to his fielding since turning pro: “I’ve done the same thing that I did before. Most of it is just reaction. There are some balls that I can get to that other people can’t get to on the mound, but I have to remember that I have four infielders on the mound who know what they’re doing, too. I don’t want to overstretch myself.”
  4. On improving his fielding during spring camp: We do fielding stuff daily. Trying to get into the swing of things. Once the season starts, we don’t really work on it as much, so Spring is really the time to hammer on it.”
  5. On the hardest fielding play a pitcher has to make: “It’s the bunt play. A good bunt is very hard to defend, especially if it’s a guy with some speed. There’s no room for error on good bunts. You just have to be control, so you’re not throwing it into left field or right field. You have to be perfect with it.”
  6. On pitchers he watched for good examples of fielding: “Greg Maddux was one of the best.”

***

Odorizzi’s pitching coach at Triple-A Omaha, Doug Henry, who is now the Royals’ bullpen coach, on the hardest fielding play a pitcher has to make: “The hardest ones are the bunt plays because you have to get off the mound, and that’s where the agility comes into play and the athleticism. The ground balls back at you is reaction. He does have good, quick hands so he reacts pretty quick.”

On Odorizzi’s talent: “”I wish he would have been around to help us [the Royals] out a little more because he is a special athlete.”

Pro Scouting Director Poll: Who Is The Best Top Prospect Defender at Every Position on The Diamond?

I am more than halfway through with our Defensive Gems series on MiLB.com. In case you are unfamiliar with it, here is the stock copy we print at the beginning of every edition:

As documentarian Ken Burns noted, baseball is the one game in which the defense — not the offense — possesses the ball. With this in mind, MiLB.com continues its “Defensive Gems” series. Over the next nine weeks, we will feature a top prospect at each position who also happens to be an elite defender. In deciding which players to focus on, six scouting directors were polled and extensive research was conducted…

Here are the five stories of the nine total that are completed: Click on the player’s name to be taken to the story:

POS Subjects with story links
C Austin Hedges (SD: A pupil of Brad Ausmus)
P ???
1B ???
2B Carlos Sanchez (CWS: A good defender at three positions)
3B Mike Olt (TEX: A slow-roller expert with soft hands)
SS Francisco Lindor (CLE: A natural ballplayer that is “Cano-ish”)
LF ???
CF Mason Williams (NYY: A gifted athlete making acrobatic plays)
RF ???

***

And below are the votes cast by the six pro scouting directors alluded to above.

Twenty Top 100 Prospects and Their Chances of Making Opening Day Rosters at The Start of SpringTraining

Today is Friday, Feb. 15. In baseball terms, it is the “voluntary date on which all non-World Baseball Classic position players may be invited to Spring Training.” But most Major Leaguers, from the veterans to rookies, are already in camp. It is the rooks, or would-be rooks, that we focus on here and now. Turns out that 20 members of MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects have at least a reasonable shot of cracking their first Opening Day roster. They are below. Let me know in the comment section what you think of my assessment regarding which ballplayers might/might not make their respective clubs.

A links advisory: Click on the bolded team name for the MLB depth chart; click on the player name for his bio and MiLB stats; and the number in parentheses listed after the player name is his overall ranking in our Top 100 list.

(Walt Barnard)

(Walt Barnard)

TEXAS RANGERS (3): SS Jurickson Profar (1), 3B Mike Olt (22) and LHP Martin Perez (95)

  • Questions worth asking: Can Profar unseat veteran Elvis Andrus at shortstop, or do the Rangers shift him to another position (2B, CF) in order to get his dynamic talents into the Majors immediately? Still 19, doesn’t he need a full season at Triple-A to polish his tools? Speaking of positional changes, where does Olt play? He’s a very good third baseman, but isn’t Adrian Beltre, who is signed for three more years, outstanding on the hot corner? Can Olt slug his way into the starting right field spot, or should he join Profar at Triple-A Round Rock? Does Perez finally put it together in Texas’ fifth rotation slot? Can he hold off vet righty Colby Lewis to make his first April rotation?
  • Chances worth guessing: Profar (50%), Olt (50%) and Perez (75%)

BALTIMORE ORIOLES (1): RHP Dylan Bundy (4)

  • Questions: At 20 and with just 23 Minor League starts under his belt, is Bundy ready? He could probably hold his own right now, sure, but would getting beat up early on hurt him down the road? How much better does he have to be than the Matusz-Arrieta-Britton types to convince Baltimore to hand him the No. 5 starter role?
  • Chances: 25%

TAMPA BAY RAYS (3): RF Wil Myers (4), RHPs Jake Odorizzi (45) and Chris Archer (46)

  • Questions: With Matt Joyce stationed in left field and Desmond Jennings in center, why not start out with Myers in right? Does Tampa Bay want to delay initializing his arbitration clock, or would Andrew Friedman and Co. rather go with the proven Ben Zobrist out there? With perhaps the deepest starting rotation in baseball, do Odorizzi and Archer have much of a shot? Would a trade of ace David Price make sense, given the unbelievable depth in able arms? Will Odorizzi and Archer foster the Minors’ best 1-2 punch at Triple-A Durham?
  • Chances: Myers (50%), Odorizzi (25%) and Archer (25%)

(more…)

Answering Three Reader Questions on Comps: Springer V. Marte, Archer V. Odorizzi, The Brewers’ Jungmann V. The Field

comp4801) — Richie (asked via blog post comment): “Can you do a George Springer / Starling Marte comp? Both are players with very similar plate approaches that I feel will either hinder or advance their progress in the future. Love the blog, thanks.”

This is an interesting question. Let’s break it down. Both Springer and Marte are rangy outfielders with great baserunning ability. And both are right-handed batters with pop but questions remain about their ability to make contact. I think that’s what you’re getting at regarding plate approaches — both strike out too much right now. This much is obvious. What’s less clear is whether they can cut down on the Ks without losing their power. Springer isn’t as far along in his development — he finished 2012 at Double while Marte was in the bigs — and that helps his case. Despite that, I favor Marte. From what I have seen on video, his is smoother swing and isn’t as long. I also think he’s the more complete player. But the floor comp for Springer is D-backs-turned-A’s outfielder Chris Young, so he’s going to be a Major League regular before too long, too.

2) — Pierre (asked via email): “C.Archer or J.Odorizzi for the Rays in the near future???”

Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are both right-handers with No. 2/3 potential and both are Major League-ready or close to it. In the near future, you ask? It’s got to be Archer, who has a little but more MLB experience and a lot more time in Tampa Bay’s system. (Both were traded there, but Odorizzi has been with the club less than a month.) He will probably get the first chance of the pair to join the Rays’ rotation, which is still packed despite losing veterans James Shields and Wade Davis in the Odorizzi deal. Long-term, the educated guess here is that both will be good MLB hurlers but that Odorizzi winds up more as a solid innings-eater type while Archer fulfills his greater potential. Having studied the pitches of each (details on Odorizzi’s repertoire here, and Archer’s here), I’m convinced Archer is better equipped to do just that. Odorrizi has the deeper repertoire, but Archer has two very, very good offerings in his fastball and breaking ball. (It should be said that mine is not the popular opinion, as Odorizzi is ranked 30th overall by MLB.com, and Archer is ranked 81st.)

3) — @Andy_Birling (asked via Twitter): “What are your thoughts of Taylor Jungmann? what potential does he have? thanks”

As I alluded to on Twitter, this is a comp query. Or, I am going to make it one. As deep as the Brewers are in pitching prospects –like Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, Jed Bradley, Johnny Hellweg and Jimmy Nelson are all ranked among Milwaukee’s nine best farmhands — Jungmann is the one that looks most like a No. 2 starter in a MLB rotation. That’s not to demean the others, particularly Nelson (in whom I am a believer), but they more likely top out as No. 3s. Jungmann needs at least two more seasons of seasoning in the Minors, but he has the stuff to keep progressing at his current pace. Jed Bradley is also a challenger for this spot (this spot being Brewers pitching prospect with the highest ceiling), as he is also well-armed repertoire-wise and is left-handed, which is always a plus. He just needs to stay healthy to catch up with Jungmann.

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