Michael Siani isn’t the sexiest prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system. With an arguably-limited offensive profile, the 21-year-old outfielder projects, in the words of Eric Longenhagen, as “a low-end regular in center field based on the quality of his defense.” In Longenhagen’s opinion, Siani will likely “end up hitting toward the bottom of a lineup” due to a lack of power.
Siani isn’t sold on the idea that he’ll continue to lack sufficient pop. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, the No. 10 prospect in the Cincinnati system will never be a bona fide bopper — plus wheels will remain his calling card — but he’s also not about to sell himself short. Asked about his power potential, the oldest of three baseball-playing brothers pointed to his age, adding that his game is still developing. While striving to be a “consistent, gap-to-gap hitter” is his primary goal, settling for a low ceiling is by no means the plan.
Growing up, the plan was for Siani to attend public school in the Philadelphia area. Instead, he ended up matriculating from Ruben Amaro Jr.’s alma mater. Recruited in the seventh grade to play baseball, Siani spent his formative years at William Penn Charter School — founded in 1689 — before the Reds took him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. Read the rest of this entry »
Jackie Bradley Jr. may or may not be the best defensive centerfielder in the game. Metrics have never loved him quite as much as the eye test suggests they should — accordingly, he’s never been honored with a Fielding Bible award — but there are those who believe he’s without peer among his contemporaries. At worst, the soon-to-turn-31-year-old “JBJ” is on the short list of top defenders at his position.
Those talents will now be display in Milwaukee. According to The Boston Globe’s Julian McWilliams, Bradley, who ranked as the 18th best free agent this offseason per FanGraphs, has agreed to a two-year, $24 million deal with the Brewers that includes an opt-out after the first year, thus ending an eight-season tenure with the Red Sox that included a Gold Glove, an All-Star berth, and a World Series championship. Along the way, Bradley logged a cumulative 93 wRC+ that comprised both peaks and valleys. Notoriously streaky, the personable left-handed-hitter is anything but a sure bet to match last year’s 120 wRC+, .283/.364/.450 line, which came over 55 games.
The Brewers would likely consider it gravy if he did match that level of production. This acquisition was largely about making an already improved defense better — Kolten Wong at second base being another key acquisition — and it unquestionably will. Bradley will be joining an outfield alignment that includes not just Christian Yelich, but also Lorenzo Cain, who is back after opting out last season due to COVID concerns. Cain, who turns 35 next month, is a two-time Fielding Bible winner as a center fielder, and has rated well by the various defensive metrics both over his career and in 2019, when he posted a 7.0 UZR, 22 DRS, and 16.0 Outs Above Average, with BP’s FRAA of -1.6 the exception. Read the rest of this entry »
Alex Lange was asked about his breaking ball on a Zoom call yesterday, and the more he said about it, the more I wanted to know. Initially, the fast-rising, 25-year-old Detroit Tigers prospect told the small cadre of reporters that he doesn’t consider the pitch a slider, as it’s often categorized. Rather, he considers it a curveball “because of the spin axis.” Lange added a few details, albeit without getting especially nerdy.
I asked Lange — a likely Top 10 in our forthcoming 2021 Tigers Top Prospect rankings — if he’d like to nerd-out on the plus offering. He was happy to oblige.
“Analytically, you look at the pitch and it’s not very good,” said Lange, who was drafted 30th overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2017 and subsequently dealt to Detroit two years later as part of the Nick Castellanos deal. “The spin efficiency is anywhere from 45% to 55%, and when you think of a breaking ball, or a curveball, you’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not very good.’ The depth on it is negative-10 to negative-12 inches of vertical break, so you’re like, ’Nah, it’s not very good.’ But when it’s thrown hard with the spin axis being as close to six as it gets sometimes, that’s where we’re getting the swings-and-misses and takes on it. That’s because you’re not seeing the dot. You’re seeing the ball rotate just like my four-seam rotates, but in the opposite direction. And it’s hard, and it’s late. I think that’s why it’s effective. I just try to stay on top of it, rip it straight down, and get 12-to-six action on it, and try to pair it with the heater.”
As expansive as that answer was, followups were order. I asked the right-hander about the spin rate on his curveball. Read the rest of this entry »
Tigers manager A.J. Hinch addressed the importance of being aggressive on the base paths during his Saturday morning media session. What he shared included the following, which I quoted on Twitter:
“Your WAR gets dinged whenever you get thrown out on the bases. It’s not valued. People are very aware… players are very aware of that. Winning baseball is good for your WAR too, even if it’s not quantifiable.”
Almost immediately, people began responding critically, opining that Hinch was (pun intended) off base. Feeling that more context was in order — I’d prefaced the original Tweet by noting the subject at hand — I added that Hinch also said that if you’re safe every time, you’re probably not being aggressive enough.
No matter. Commenters went on to suggest that Hinch doesn’t understand the value of an out, sometimes in a snarky, condescending manner. (On Twitter! Imagine that!)
Hinch had a second media session following the team’s workout, so I took the opportunity to bring up the minor foofaraw I’d caused at his expense. Would he like to elaborate on, and clarify, what he’d said, lest a faction of the Twitterverse continue to question his sanity? Read the rest of this entry »
It’s no secret that strikeouts are at an all-time high. Nor is it a secret that not every strikeout is “just another out.” Balls in play can advance baserunners, and that’s especially important when the 90 feet being traversed is from third to home. What fan, or manager, doesn’t bemoan one of the team’s hitters going down by way of the K with a man on third and less than two out? It’s an opportunity wasted, one that often leads to a squander.
Save for the rare occasions when a batter reaches on a wild pitch or a passed ball, a strikeout is also a guaranteed out. Making contact — even weak contact — at least gives you a chance. While last year’s .292 BABIP was baseball’s lowest in nearly three decades, that’s still markedly better than than the infinitesimal odds of taking first base on a punch-out. Moreover, fielders make errors. In short, contact matters.
Given MLB’s ever-increasing strikeout rate, I asked six managers a simple, straightforward question: Is the ability to hit with two strikes an undervalued asset in today’s game?
Bud Black, Colorado Rockies
“It’s been undervalued in the history of the game. It’s probably lessened a little bit more [as] something that has been talked about. I think, more so than ever, because of the stuff today, it’s harder to hit with two strikes, especially the velocities that we’re talking about. The breaking pitches. The secondary pitches. The quality of those pitches. The swing-and-miss that’s happening now is a combination of maybe not shortening your swing, and maybe the stuff is that good to where it’s tough to make contact. Read the rest of this entry »
DL Hall isn’t No. 83 on our 2021 Top 100 Prospects list because of his command. Then again, he sort of is. With a better grasp of the strike zone than he’s shown, the 22-year-old left-hander would be ranked much higher. Since being drafted 21st overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2017, Hall has walked just over five batters per nine innings.
But then there’s the power arsenal. These words, written by Eric Longenhagen, help explain why the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hall has a chance to one day dominate hitters at the highest level:
“Ultra-competitive, athletic southpaws with this kind of stuff are very rare. Here’s the list of lefty big league starters who throw harder than Hall, who averaged 94.9 mph on his fastball in 2019: Jesús Luzardo, Blake Snell. That’s it.”
David Laurila: Lets start with something Eric Longenhagen wrote in your prospect profile. Is “ultra-competitive” a good way to describe you?
DL Hall: “I do think that I’m a super-competitive guy. Everybody that steps in the box, I try to own. I like winning, and I hate losing.”
Laurila: Do you hate losing to the extent that it actually bothers you?
Hall: “That’s a tough question. It definitely bothers me, but I’ve also learned how to learn from it, if that makes sense. I learn from losses now, versus dwelling on them.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Already a physical presence as a teenager, Veen has big power potential and a pretty left-handed swing to go with a plus arm that should serve him well in right field.”
Those words, written by Eric Longenhagen, lead Zac Veen’s profile in our recently-released 2021 Top 100 Prospects list. The 19-year-old outfielder came in at No. 70, which is especially impressive when you consider that he’s yet to play a game — Fall Instructional League notwithstanding — at the professional level. A Port Orange, Florida native, Veen was drafted ninth overall last year by the Colorado Rockies.
Another quote from Longenhagen’s writeup bears noting: “His in-the-box actions are quiet and smooth up until the moment he decides to unleash hell on the baseball.” In short, the 6-foot-5, 210-pound Veen profiles as a middle-of-the-order slugger if he approaches his full potential.
David Laurila: I’ll start with a question I’ve asked several hitters over the years: Do you see hitting as more of an art, or more of a science?
Zac Veen: “For me, it’s more of an art. I’m more of a feel hitter and don’t really get into a lot of the analytics. Guys who look at a lot of video… I’d say it’s more of a science to them, but I like to stay away from a lot of that stuff. It can be helpful, but for the most part I’m more of a feel, see how the ball comes off the bat kind of guy.”
Laurila: It’s pretty common for young hitters to go into a cage and use technology when working to fine-tune their swings. Have you done that at all?
Veen: “I’ve tried it, my junior year of high school, but that caused me to overthink things a little bit. I’d take a really good swing, then I’d look at the video and be like, ‘Oh, wow, I can do this differently,’ instead of just being happy with a line drive to centerfield. That’s not something I want to do. When I take a good swing, I want to just be happy with it, and not be too picky about anything.”
Laurila: Is the swing you have right now, at age 19, essentially the same swing you had a few years ago, or has it evolved? Read the rest of this entry »
As a rule, teams tend to be less aggressive, and take fewer chances, when behind in games. The logic is sound, but at the same time, is it really necessary? Is there not often something to gain by pushing the envelope and putting pressure on the opposing side, regardless of the score? I asked that question to Derek Shelton earlier this week.
“I think it’s game-situational,” the Pirates manager replied. “The question I would [throw] back to you — this is rhetorical, of course — is ‘What’s the variation in terms of number of runs when you start to take chances, or don’t take chances?’ If it’s three or less, you probably have a greater chance of being aggressive. If you get to the point where you’re at four-plus, you have to be very careful… because the risk-reward may not play out.”
Going deep with runners on is arguably the best way to erase multi-run deficits, but that’s not a reward Shelton has seen much of since taking the helm in Pittsburgh prior to last season. The Pirates hit just 22 home runs with men on base in 2020. Only the Texas Rangers, with 20, hit fewer. And there weren’t a ton of solos, either. All told, Willie Stargell’s old team out-homered only the Arizona Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Of course, not every good team has a lineup full of bashers. Your father’s Cardinals are a prime example. In the 1980s, St. Louis had multiple championship-caliber clubs that were largely bereft of power. They made their hay by motoring around the base paths. I brought up how it might be interesting to look back at how often they ran when trailing by multiple runs.
Shelton retorted with unassailable logic. Read the rest of this entry »
Forrest Whitley has slid precipitously in the rankings. A helium-filled No. 4 in 2019, the 23-year-old right-hander fell to No. 15 on last year’s FanGraphs Top 100 Prospects list, and has now slid out of the top 100 altogether. When Eric Longenhagen released our 2021 list on Wednesday, Whitley — “as enigmatic as any pitcher in the minors” — was on the outside looking in, coming in at an after-the-fact No. 106 as a 50 FV prospect.
He’s hell-bent on proving any, and all, doubters wrong. Following an offseason where he worked diligently to fine-tune both his physique and his repertoire, Whitley is in camp with the Houston Astros looking to show that the earlier hype wasn’t misplaced. A first-round pick in the 2016 draft, he’s now aiming to emerge as a front-line starter at baseball’s highest level.
David Laurila: Let’s start with your height and weight. Where are you at right now?
Forrest Whitley: “I’m 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds.
Laurila: That’s low for you, right?
Whitley: “Compared to where I was the last couple years, it would be considered low. But I’ve experimented a lot, in many different ways. This is where I feel the most comfortable.”
Laurila: By “most comfortable,” I assume you’re referring primarily to being able to repeat your mechanics.
Whitley: “Yes. I feel like I have a lot more stability and body control, which plays a premium at my size. It’s definitely been a grind to get consistent mechanics down, and I think a lot of that had to do with strengthening all parts of my body, because there’s a lot more surface area to me than most guys. Hammering down all those areas was pretty much my main focus this offseason — getting everything as stable as possible. From the many bullpens I threw before I came here [to spring training] it seems to be paying off.” Read the rest of this entry »
Braden Shewmake’s name will rank highly when Eric Longenhagen’s 2021 Atlanta Braves Top Prospects list comes out in the not-too-distant future. A well-rounded profile is a big reason why. The 23-year-old Texas A&M product plays a premium position, and his left-handed stroke not only produced a plethora of line drives in the SEC, it did much the same in his first forays against professional pitching. Drafted 21st overall in 2019, Shewmake went on to slash .300/.371/.425, reaching Double-A by season’s end. As Longhagen wrote in last year’s writeup, Shewmake “was outstanding at the plate, with an excellent approach and sneaky power to go along with very positive public and private defensive metrics at shortstop.”
David Laurila: Let’s start with your position. Are the plans for you to stay at shortstop?
Braden Shewmake: “As far as I know. I haven’t been taking groundballs at any position other than shortstop, and I like to think I could play there. Of course, anything to get to the big leagues, right?”
Laurila: What are you doing toward that end? At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, you’re built more like a third baseman than your typical shortstop.
Shewmake: “I’m trying to get quicker and faster, but I feel I can already move really well. I was kind of skeptical at first about out how much weight I wanted to put on — like you said, I’m 205 now — and what that would do to my speed and quickness. But this offseason we did kind of a baseline test, kind of a before and after, and I’ve actually gotten faster and quicker. I’m also stronger. I feel really good with where I’m at right now.”
Laurila: Did you get many comps from scouts prior to coming to pro ball? Read the rest of this entry »