A Wednesday Scouting Notebook – 4/7/2021

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of thoughts after another weekend of college baseball, a prospect trade, and minor league co-op action in Arizona. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Kevin’s Notes

Waldy Arias, 3B, Campbell: 3-for-9, 3 BB, K, 2 SB, 2 HBP

If you are here for hardcore draft info, skip to the next paragraph. If you want to have fun for a minute, stick around. Arias is a little junior third baseman at a mid-major program who is slugging .290. Nobody is going to print a magnet with his name on it come July. My question is why does he have so many enemies? With two more hit by pitches over the weekend, Arias has now been hit 16 times in 21 games. That’s nearly once every six plate appearances, which was his exact rate last year, when he got hit 12 times in 15 games. Arias is a pesky slap hitter who crowds the dish. His high front elbow hangs out over the plate and the overall setup reminds me a bit of a mini-Carlos Quentin, who took a fair number of pitches to the body in his career. With access to some of the video and data tools pro teams have, I was able to click a few buttons and watch all 16 HBP. Here are the results:

1. Curveball: Foot
2. Slider: Leg
3. Fastball: Thigh
4. Fastball: Thigh
5. Slider: Foot
6. Fastball: Thigh
7. Fastball: Elbow
8. Fastball: Elbow
9. Slider: Head
10. Fastball: Elbow
11. Changeup: Shoulder
12. Fastball: Back
13. Slider: Elbow
14. Fastball: Elbow
15. Changeup: Hand
16. Slider: Shoulder

Thanks to a high walk rate to go along with all of the plunks, Arias has a .465 on-base percentage. If one wanted to argue that getting hit by a pitch is a skill, Arias would be the first piece of evidence presented. It’s doubtful that his baseball career will extend much beyond his time with the Camels, but his body will probably need a break by then anyway.

Jud Fabian, OF, Florida: 1-for-11, HR, BB, 6 K

I made note of Fabian’s swing-and-miss issues after the first weekend of the season, and they are not going away. If anything, they are getting worse. Considered a potential top-10 pick entering the season, Fabian’s stat line has dwindled to .234/.333/.523 and he now leads the nation in whiffs with 46 (37% K rate), including a disturbing 21 in just 37 conference ABs.

Fabian’s power is still around, with a team-leading nine tanks, but scouts are beginning to get bad memories of 2017 Dodgers first-round pick Jeren Kendall. Kendall had more overall tools than Fabian, but also posted a concerning whiff rate at Vanderbilt, and his results as a professional have justified those concerns. Through 250 games in the Dodgers system, Kendall has yet to reach the upper levels while hitting just .223/.309/.413 with a 32% whiff rate. You just can’t strike out this much in college and expect to hit in the big leagues. Even big swing-and-miss sluggers like George Springer, Kris Bryant and even Aaron Judge had strikeout rates that failed to approach anything like this.

Florida has a history of getting struggling juniors to return to school for another year, and Fabian’s struggles have made him a sudden (and surprising) candidate to do just that.

Brannon Jordan, RHP, University of South Carolina: 6 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 11 K

Everything we do at FanGraphs is for our audience, so let’s address a question from my chat on Monday in greater detail.

TKDC: You highlighted Sean Hunley last week. How do you view Brannon Jordan of USC? Sits 90-92 but is just striking the hell out of batters. Supposedly has a crazy spin rate.

Kevin Goldstein: Don’t have an opinion at April 5th at 11:26 am CST, but you’ve inspired me to take a lookie loo at him.

I did just that, and I gotta say, nice find, TKDC. Serving as the Gamecock’s Saturday starter, Jordan now has 58 strikeouts over just 36.2 innings, and while he’s allowed only 18 hits, he has also too often created his own traffic, with 20 walks. On the surface, Jordan doesn’t have overwhelming stuff. His four-seam fastball averages 91 mph and touches 93, and goes along with a breaking ball in the 79-83 range that features strong action. What stands out about Jordan’s fastball is the shape. I don’t have Trackman data on him, but referring back to my recent piece on fastball shape, Jordan’s arm angle is creating some big risers, and as a result, hitters are frequently finding themselves under the pitch. Here’s a screenshot I took off my TV from the SEC Network broadcast.

Brannon Jordan Arm Angle

This is an artificial overhand slot due to the big lean. It creates much-desired backspin and excellent fastball shape, but the amount of momentum in his delivery going away from the plate creates some clearly evident command and control issues. Jordan is really just a two-pitch guy with a rare and well below-average changeup that will likely be scrapped in pro ball, but with stuff that outplays the radar gun and results in baseball’s best conference, he’s lining himself up as a future reliever who could land somewhere in the Day Two mix as a money-saving senior sign.

Niko Kavadas, 1B, Notre Dame: 4-for-8, 2B, HR, 5 BB

Kavadas generated some interest in last year’s draft as a potential fourth- or fifth-round pick, but it didn’t happen in the end as bat-only profiles are always a tough sell in the room, and even tougher when your entire draft class is limited to just five picks. Now that he’s hitting a lofty .333/.470/.933 in 18 games this spring, he’s definitely going to go that high, or even higher.

Let’s get some obvious things out of the way. Kavadas is a bulky kid (6-foot-1 and 235 pounds) with big exit velocities and plus or better power to all fields. He plays for a college in the state of Indiana. He wears uniform number 12. And now with those bigs numbers combined with a history of hitting bombs with wood in the Cape Code League, the Kyle Schwarber comps are starting to reach a loud whisper. He’s not Schwarber, who was arguably the best college hitter in the country in 2014, but Kavadas has some of the best power in the draft class, and with a reduced strikeout rate, he’s starting to show he can hit a bit as well. Not getting selected in 2020 is going to end up working out well for him, bat-only profile be damned.

Nicholas Sinacola: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 15 K

“So, there’s a kid at Maine….”

That has to be among the top 10 sentences scouts and cross-checkers do not want to hear in April. Nothing against the state, which I’m sure is quite lovely this time of year, but travel there represents a lot of lost time. It’s a remote place in terms of baseball. There aren’t other teams to see during the day, or big prep players to double up on; there’s just the kid at Maine. That leaves scouts reviewing the team’s road schedule, with this weekend’s series in Newark against New Jersey Institute of Technology possibly allowing for a much more productive weekend.

So why do we care about the kid at Maine? Because the kid, whose name is Nicholas Sinacola, has the highest strikeout rate in the country at 54%, with 54 whiffs in 26.2 innings while allowing just 12 hits and nine walks. Now the bad news: Sinacola isn’t some previously unknown, high-round talent. If anything, he’s a bit of a slider monster. Sinacola has a high release point that likely creates good shape on his fastball, but the pitch averages less than 90 mph. His out pitch is a pretty decent slider that will need more velocity as a pro. All-in-all, this just feels like a small school kid with the kind of arsenal that misses bats in the America East Conference. Still, these kinds of numbers are hard to ignore, and he has a chance to earn some late-draft consideration to see if he can be one of those rare players who defies the scouting reports and turns into a Luke Gregerson type, himself a late-round pick from a small school.

Eric’s Notes

James Norwood, RHP, San Diego Padres & Dauris Valdez, RHP, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs and Padres swapped hard-throwing enigmas this week, exchanging Norwood (who was DFA’d by the Cubs to make room for Tony Wolters on their 40-man) and Valdez (who was passed over in the Rule 5 Draft last offseason).

Valdez, 25, is a giant 6-foot-8 relief-only prospect who sits 97-101; I’ve seen him touch 102. He does so from what is, mechanically, a sidearm slot that presents more of a low three-quarters look to hitters because of Valdez’s upper body tilt through release. He has 30-grade control and has walked about 13% of hitters since 2017, which is a big part of why he hasn’t been rostered even though he throws as hard as he does and has struck out 30% of opponents during that span. I’ve seen Valdez throw a slider but a source from the Dominican Winter League (Valdez was not at the Padres’ alt site last year) has him throwing a changeup in his meager work there, though they may have been sliders that backed up on him. He was 99-101 for Licey over the winter and is an interesting upper-level change of scenery type who will be in the honorable mentions section of the upcoming Cubs list.

Norwood was a seventh round pick out of St. Louis in 2014 whose hard-throwing ways earned him short big league looks each of the last three seasons. Like Valdez, Norwood struggles with control and has below-average breaking ball quality, but he can grip it and rip it up to 100. He walked nine in just over seven innings this spring. This is a swap of two frustrating, upper-level depth types.

Jake Burger, 3B, Chicago White Sox

No statline to post here because Burger is playing in a fluid and unofficial week-long co-op league in Arizona, in which teams are combining to create rosters of their players who did not make the big league roster but also aren’t at the alternate site. Though he’s still a stiff, tightly-wound athlete, Burger looks as lean and agile as I’ve ever seen him and he made a couple nice plays in on the grass as part of the White Sox/Mariners co-op team. He got the barrel on some inside pitches and was strong enough to single the other way when he was jammed by another during my look. He doesn’t look like an everyday player or anything like that, but he might come out the other side of his horrible health luck as a role-playing corner bat.

George Kirby, RHP, Seattle Mariners

I had only ever seen Kirby throw in bullpens and side sessions at the Mariners’ complex before this week when he pitched in a co-op game. It was comforting to see him throw as hard in games as he does in that setting, and Kirby attacked hitters while sitting 96-99 (at times with cut action) for a couple of innings. I think the quality of his secondary pitches is more middling and limits his upside, but the velocity/command/sequencing troika still points to a mid-rotation future.

Yoelqui Cespedes, DH, Chicago White Sox

It’s too early to draw any real conclusions about Cespedes, but my first in-game look at him didn’t give me any reason to move him north on the White Sox list. He looks like he’s having issues discerning balls and strikes and swung at the first four pitches he saw, resulting in a strikeout and groundout. He also half-swung at some pitches that were nowhere near the zone in his final at-bat, eventually resulting in a softly-hit single. Cespedes is also running in the 4.50s (a 30-grade time) right now.

He does have big league physicality and bat speed/power and you could argue that this guy deserves time to acclimate himself against pro pitching after not having seen it for a couple of years. But at 24, that’s part of why I consider him such a significant hit tool risk and a low-probability flier more than a top-of-the-class prospect.





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Bill
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Bill

Please keep these coming. I can’t read enough of these reports, even the kids who probably won’t ever sniff the majors like Arias & Sinacola. Thanks, guys.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Yeah, this is excellent. All of it.

You could do this twice a week and I’d still read every word twice.

jfree
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jfree

Still – if it’s twice a week, better to have completely different articles. More people will likely read twice as many words once as will read this many words twice.

tomerafan
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tomerafan

Ditto – love these . Very unique and valuable content.