Eric Haase is having a breakout season with the Tigers. Acquired from Cleveland in January of last year, the 28-year-old catcher has a 128 wRC+ and a team-leading 18 home runs. Opportunity has helped fuel the production. Coming into the current campaign, Haase had appeared in just 26 games at the big-league level.
As impressive as Haase has been with the bat, it’s his background that drove a conversation that took place at Comerica Park on Thursday. I began by asking the Detroit-area native about his old organization’s well-earned reputation as a pitching-development machine.
“I think it starts with the guys you’re taking the draft,” opined Haase, who was in the Cleveland system from 2011-2019. “Obviously, there some are high-upside guys, and some organizations pick those top guys and kind of say, ‘Go out there and pitch.’ They think they’ve got themselves more of a finished product. With Cleveland, it was more about picking guys that already had a good feel for pitching, and then implementing things that would give them little spikes in velocity. They were big on weighted balls, big on strength and conditioning. Basically, they’d take guys who already had good command and give them some more legitimate weapons to get hitters out.”
Haase cited Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Mike Clevinger, and Zach Plesac as prime examples, and technology played a big role in their respective development paths. Drafted out of Dearborn Divine High School in 2011, Haase was there when the organization began transforming itself. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last month after being on hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment focuses on changeups and features a pair of big-league relievers — Connor Brogdon and Garrett Whitlock — as well as Cade Cavalli, the top pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals system.
Connor Brogdon, Philadelphia Phillies
“A changeup was the first off-speed pitch I ever learned. It was… shoot, I was probably eight or 10 years old. When I was growing up, you weren’t taught to throw a curveball too early in your life. Mine was just a straight circle change, basically right off the grip of my four-seam fastball.
“I had the same grip all the way through Little League, and even into high school. When I got to college, I started messing around with grips to see if I could throw it for a strike more consistently. I ended up talking to one of my teammates at Lewis Clark State College, Henry McAree, and picked his brain on some things.
“I finally settled on a grip that felt comfortable to me, then took some of his tips. One was to lay on your back and flip the ball up in the air, focusing on turning your wrist. By that, I mean physically taking a baseball, laying on the ground, or on a bed, and just flipping it up into the air, seeing the rotation of the ball and focusing on pronating your wrist to get that action — kind of that side-spin action you want to get. Read the rest of this entry »
Will Wilson has received mixed reviews since he was drafted 15th overall by the Los Angeles Angels out of North Carolina State University in 2019. He’s also changed organizations. The 23-year-old (as of earlier this week) shortstop was traded to San Francisco that same winter as part of a budget-driven deal centered around the contract of Zack Cozart. With just 46 professional games under his belt, Wilson came into the current campaign No. 11 on our Giants Top Prospects list.
The mixed reviews have included assessments that begged for clarification.
When I spoke with Wilson a week ago, I shared that I’d read that his swing is short, and also that it has changed. I’d also seen that he doesn’t project to hit for power, yet he’d put up solid home run numbers in college. Moreover, he already has double-digit dingers this season between High-A Eugene and Double-A Richmond.
Could he share his thoughts on the above?
“A lot of the projection stuff is up to interpretation,” replied Wilson, who received his promotion on July 6. “I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of hitting for power. I hit a lot of doubles, and I’ve hit more home runs than I think a lot of people have projected. That’s always a good thing.”
Asked why he’s shown more power than many expected, the Kings Mountain, North Carolina native provided a rock solid — if not somewhat unexpected — answer. Read the rest of this entry »
Nick Plummer was looking like a bust. Drafted 23rd overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2015 out of a Detroit-area high school, the left-handed-hitting outfielder had a ho-hum debut summer, then he injured a wrist and missed what would have been his first full professional season. His next three years weren’t particularly fruitful either. Playing at the lower levels of the minors, Plummer put up a .194/.338/.309 slash line while fanning at a 32.3% clip. Add in last year’s lost-to-the-pandemic season, and the 24-year-old former first-round pick came into the current campaign with his stock having plummeted, and with his future very much in doubt.
That doubt is slowly dissipating. Given an opportunity to redeem himself at Double-A Springfield, Plummer has flourished to the tune of .307/.414/.507 line with 10 home runs in 268 plate appearances. Not coincidentally, his strikeout rate has improved to a still-too-high, yet much-more-palatable, 27.1%.
Earlier this season I asked the Brother Rice High School product — DJ LeMahieu is a fellow alumnus — about his previous struggles.
“Everybody’s journey is different,” responded Plummer. “That goes for baseball, just as it does for life. I think the biggest thing that’s helped me turn it around this year is having a mindset of learning from my past — my past failures — and applying the 1,200-1,300 at-bats I’d accumulated so far in the minor leagues. I’m fortunate to be with one of the best organizations in baseball. The Cardinals have continued to invest in me, and I’ve continued to invest in myself.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last month after being on hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features a southpaw, Damon Jones, and a pair of right-handers, Zach McCambley and Josh Staumont, on their curveballs and sliders.
Damon Jones, Philadelphia Phillies prospect
“My slider is kind of seam-shifted. I get a lot of horizontal — something like 23 inches, which is pretty crazy — and I kind of picked it up off a Pitching Ninja video. It was Trevor Bauer’s grip, but I changed it up a little bit. It was more my thumb. I left the fingers how he had them, but he touches his thumb and I kind of hook it on the bottom part of the horseshoe. I think that helps the ball come out of my hand a little bit later. Watching the video, he wanted to get it out early and let it spin. I want it to be more of a late, back-foot pitch. The more I can make it look like a fastball the better, and it’s been pretty similar for me in terms of release point, release height, and all that.
“This was in 2019 — I made the jump from High-A to Triple-A that year — and it was shortly after spring training. After my first or second start in High-A, I was toying with stuff, saw the grip, and started throwing it. The guy on the Rapsodo was like, ‘Can you repeat that pitch? Can you do it again?’
“Then, when I got to Double-A, Tommy Hunter was rehabbing with us. He told me, ‘It’s like an Andrew Miller type of slider, it’s just wipeout.’ I was like, ‘Well, he’s got a lot of showtime and has seen a lot of guys with good sliders, and he’s comparing me to the guy Andrew Miller was when he was in his prime.’ I was like, ‘I’ll take that.’ Read the rest of this entry »
Shohei Ohtani is a unicorn in terms of two-way talent, but he’s not the only player who has shown an ability to provide value on both sides of the ball. And you don’t need to go back as far as Babe Ruth or Negro Leagues legend Ted “Double Duty” Radcliffe to find examples. It’s not that long ago that Mike Hampton was putting up healthy offensive numbers in the DH-less National League, and Michael Lorenzen was pinch-hitting and playing the outfield for the Reds just two years ago. There is also Brendan McKay — he of the repaired labrum — who would presumably welcome a return to two-way play if the Rays were to give him that opportunity.
Cade Cavalli could conceivably handle his own as an Ohtani-lite. The top pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals system performed solely on the mound in his junior year at the University of Oklahoma, but he was both a pitcher and a corner infielder in the two years prior. And he raked. Cavalli’s sophomore numbers with the Sooners included a .319/.393/.611 slash line with five doubles, a pair of triples, and four home runs in 88 plate appearances. Including his freshman output, the Tulsa native went deep 10 times as a collegian.
I asked Cavalli for his thoughts on two-way players in MLB this past Friday.
“It takes a special person to be able to do that,” said Cavalli, who pitched in the Futures Game and is currently with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. “There’s a lot that goes on; it’s not just playing in the game every single day. There’s early work, hitting, you’ve got your conditioning as a pitcher, you’ve got position work. It can take a toll on someone’s body. Read the rest of this entry »
Matt Wisler has thrown his slider 89.2% of the time this year, the highest percentage of any pitcher in either league. He’s done so over 32-and-two-thirds innings, the last 12-and-a-third of them with the Tampa Bay Rays, who acquired the 28-year-old right-hander from the San Francisco Giants on June 11 in exchange for minor league southpaw Michael Plassmeyer. Since coming to his new club, Wisler has made a dozen appearances and allowed just one earned run.
Wisler told the story behind his signature pitch over the phone earlier this month.
Matt Wisler: “I’d say I learned [a slider] in high school. I’d always thrown a curveball growing up — from when I was 11 or 12 — and then around sophomore year I started throwing a slider. It was honestly more like a different variation of a curveball, though. It was just a little bit different spin.
“The slider I have now, I learned in Low-A way. My pitching coach was Willie Blair, and we were trying to get more separation between my curveball and my slider. We went through a bunch of different grips. Finally, the second time I tried his grip, it kind of clicked for me. That was in 2012. I’ve kept that one ever since, and have obviously started throwing it more and more over the last couple of years.
“My original slider was more like a slurve — it was probably high-70s, low-80s — and we were trying to find a pitch that I could get into the low- to mid-80s with a little bit different break. There are still times where it will get a little slurvy and be in the high-70s, and a little bigger and rounder. Read the rest of this entry »
Baseball is cracking down on pitch-movement-enhancing substances such as, though not limited to, Spider Tack. I asked Pittsburgh Pirates GM Ben Cherington if that was a concern for his scouting staff going into this week’s amateur draft.
“We did what I think probably every team did, which was to try to learn as much as we could about whether guys were using anything, what it was, and what adjustments they were making,” replied Cherington. “We’re not naive to think that the sticky stuff was only inside professional baseball. We did some analysis on data we have from amateur pitchers in terms of spin-rate changes over time, to see if we could glean anything from that.
“Whether or not a pitcher has used anything to get a better grip on the ball is a piece of information,” continued Cherington. “But in no way does that mean… if they had to stop using something, that they can’t adjust and still be really good. These are the most talented pitchers in the world and they have a way of adjusting and finding new ways to compete and be better. So I think that it was a small piece of information that we tried to get at, but not a major driver in any decisions.”
Following up, I asked the GM about the level of pitch-analysis data they were able to get for high school draftees, including fourth-round pick Owen Kellington out of small-town Plainfield, Vermont. Read the rest of this entry »
The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last month after being on hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment features three right-handers — Scott Barlow, Aaron Nola, and Nick Sandlin — talking about their curveballs and sliders.
Scott Barlow, Kansas City Royals
“I have both a slider and a curveball. I’ve started to integrate the curve a lot more, whereas in the past it was a lot of sliders. It still kind of is. But they kind of work hand-in-hand, and because I’ve thrown the slider so much in the past, my curveball is probably the better story. It’s been a big learning curve as far as when to throw it.
“I messed around with a curveball a lot when I was a starter, but then as a reliever… it was kind of weird, because a lot of relievers typically have two pitches, maybe three. Coming out of the bullpen it was kind of ‘When should I throw that third pitch?’ I think the more opportunities you get, and the more hitters you face, the more you understand when to throw that pitch.
“I threw a lot of sliders and curveballs in high school, but the breaks were a lot different because the arm speed was different. But with the curveball, I had an idea of the grip I liked and I stuck with it. It just really came down to committing to it, rather than having it being ‘poppy,’ having the same arm speed as the fastball, and then kind of adjusting. When you first learn to throw it hard, you tend to spike it a lot, throw in the dirt. You kind of understand how to adjust your sight lines — where to start that fastball arm action point — so you can get it in the right location. Read the rest of this entry »
Bryson Stott had a pretty good idea of what to expect coming into the 2019 draft. Ultimately taken 14th overall by the Philadelphia Phillies, the now-23-year-old shortstop out of the University of Nevada Las Vegas had reason to believe that he would be selected in that neighborhood of the first round. Our own mock draft had him going one pick earlier, while Baseball America ended up being spot-on with their prediction.
Stott likewise knew that several of his friends would be taken in the first round, albeit not necessarily by which organizations. He and a handful of former USA Baseball teammates would periodically update each other on what they’d been hearing, as well as any pre-draft workouts they’d been invited to. Specific expectations were couched in caution.
“As I’m sure you know, you don’t really get much before the draft,” Stott told me earlier this month. “It’s kind of, ‘You hear one thing and then something else happens.’ So it’s a weird time, and an exciting one, but still pretty stressful.”
As Stott pointed out, the entire 2018 USA team infield went in the first round the following year. Andrew Vaughn was at first base, Braden Shewmake was at second, Stott played short, and Josh Jung covered the hot corner. Will Wilson was an extra infielder, while Shea Langeliers and Adley Rutschmann were the catchers. Last year’s first-overall pick, Spencer Torkelson, was also on the team.
“It was a pretty good infield,” said Stott, in what could rightly be called an understatement. Read the rest of this entry »