AFL Notebook: Pitchers

I’m back in chilly Chicago after a warm week in Arizona. My final games were on Wednesday and Thursday, but I’m just now able to get to publishing my notes. As far as my experience in the AFL goes, it’s something that I think all minor league fans should make an effort to experience. The atmosphere is as pure as professional baseball gets, with a level of competition higher than you’ll get at your local minor league park. The league is chock full of future middle relievers and tweener outfielders, but Major League talent nonetheless. This is the rest of what’s found from the pitchers in my notebook. Notes on hitters will be found the rest of the week, as I have more extensive thoughts on them.

Tucked in my thoughts last week on Bryce Harper was a mention about his at-bat against Cubs pitching prospect Chris Carpenter. If you were astute, you’d notice that I mentioned Carpenter touched 98 mph during that at-bat, and if you were really astute, you’d pair that with Jason Grey’s recent profile of the reliever. My favorite quote from that piece came from Carpenter himself:

“If they tell you that you have one or two innings to throw, you hold nothing back,” Carpenter said. “I’m going out trying to throw as hard as I can.”

The quote is something you aren’t going to find a pitcher often admit, and, frankly, probably not something you want to hear from a guy with a long medical injury. But I can’t help but kind of like the bulldog nature that quote suggests, and if you read his other quotes from Grey’s article, he’s not bereft of self-awareness. If the Cubs tab him a reliever, he knows it will be on the heels of his high velocity. If the Cubs return him to the starting rotation, he realizes that he’ll have to develop consistency with his breaking ball and change-up. But it seems clear to me that reliever is the only route that makes sense, and it seems clear that Carpenter is destined for success in that role.

There are plenty of negatives on Carpenter’s scouting report. His fastball command is a bit of a mess, easily blamed on a delivery ripe with flaws and inconsistency. Carpenter has a long delivery in which he turns his back to the plate, and his arm slot and landing point can be different each time. His change up, as you might guess, is a mess more often than it isn’t. But, then again, I saw him hit 96-98 mph, with one radar gun having him touch 100 mph. His 85 mph power curveball was a plus pitch against Scottsdale, and certainly projects to be that at the Major League level. It’s elite closer stuff, and it’s not that far away. As if my belief that the Cubs need to trade Carlos Marmol needed to get any stronger…

The other high talent that I saw in the Arizona Fall League was Manny Banuelos, in his not excellent last start in the AFL: October 28, allowing 7 hits and three earned runs in three innings against Peoria. Clearly, he didn’t live up to expectations, and it shouldn’t surprise that neither did his velocity. After those summer reports of the 5-foot-11 lefty hitting 97 mph, my hopes were high driving into Peoria that day. But Banuelos looks worn out, pitching 90-92 mph, touching 93 a couple times. I agree with what Keith Law wrote in his report, saying: “the only concern I’d have off this look was that hitters did square up his fastball when he came toward the middle of the zone, as the pitch has some downhill plane but not much lateral movement.”

Other than the straight, somewhat mediocre fastball, there really is a lot to like about Banuelos. Despite the results, his curveball is actually really good, better than advertised. It had good, hard break, and that day was even better than his highly acclaimed change, which was good, mind you, but more average-to-plus than the 65 pitch that has been hyped elsewhere. He also is a really strong southpaw given his slight build, and should have no problem handling big innings jumps each of the next two seasons. I’m not sure the velocity reports are true, or at least sustainable, but it doesn’t mean he’s not still the best of the Yankees pitching prospects.

Quick Notes: I wasn’t sitting in the right section to get updated velocities on Justin De Fratus, but he looked like the best of the middle relievers that I saw in Arizona. It won’t be long before he’s ready to contribute in Philadelphia; in fact, he might already be ready … Carson Cistulli favorite Daryl Thompson isn’t going to be his next Colby Lewis, as he doesn’t have a third pitch, and he tries to throw four. He’s got a small build, but he’s an aggressive 91-94 mph, with a slider that currently resides between 82-84 mph. If he’s anything, it’s a middle reliever …. I remember when Jason Stoffel was the best member of a University of Arizona bullpen that included Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth. He no longer is close. Stoffel is heavier than he was back then, and his velocity is a little less, at 91-93 mph. But the worst news is that his slider is below average now, 79-81 mph, and he’s prone to hanging it. At this point, he certainly doesn’t look likely to make it 3-for-3 from that Wildcats bullpen to make the Major Leagues.

We hoped you liked reading AFL Notebook: Pitchers by Bryan Smith!

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Carson Cistulli
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Appreciate the analysis of Thompson. It’s true: my interior prospect maven likes him but has reservations, too.

Does that mean you saw Dave Sappelt, too, Smith? Was he a glistening, toolsy god?