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Sunday Notes: Red Sox Prospect Triston Casas is Brobdingnagian (and Emulates Joey Votto)

Triston Casas continues to grow, and not just developmentally on the field. The top prospect in the Red Sox farm system recently told a trio of reporters, yours truly included, that he’s put on 10 pounds of muscle, and gained nearly an inch in height, since the end of the season. Just a few days past his 20th birthday, the 2018 first-round pick is now 6’ 5″, 255.

Casas comes by his size naturally. Asked about his lineage, he explained that his father is “about the same size height-wise, but has put on a little weight and is bigger than me in terms of roundness.”

The hulking youngster is surprisingly agile and well-rounded for someone of his stature. While his long-term position will almost certainly be first base, Casas was drafted as a third baseman and has seen time at both infield corners since turning pro. His athleticism also makes him a candidate for left field.

His role model is a first baseman.

“I emulate Joey Votto as much as I can,” said Casas, who swings from the left side. “He’s my favorite player. I actually choke up on the bat from the first pitch. Every at bat. And with two strikes I’m 4-5 inches up the bat. If you’ve never seen me play, there are pictures with me way up the pine tar.”

There is also footage of the former Plantation, Florida prep propelling baseballs long distances. As Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote in his prospect profile, Casas “participated in multiple home run derbies during his amateur summers, and posted gaudy exit velocities during team pre-draft workouts.” They placed a 65/70 on the young slugger’s raw-power grade. Read the rest of this entry »


A Conversation With Cleveland Indians Pitching Prospect Ethan Hankins

Ethan Hankins has one of the highest ceilings in Cleveland’s pitching pipeline. The 6-foot-6 right-hander possesses a first-round pedigree — he went 35th overall in 2018 — and a heater that sits mid-90s with late life. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked him 15th in Cleveland’s system last year. Moreover, he’s wise beyond his years. Still just 19 years old, Hankins is studious enough about his craft that he could reasonably be referred to as a pitching nerd.

Hankins split his first full professional campaign between Short-season Mahoning Valley and Low-A Lake County, logging a 2.55 ERA and fanning 71 batters in 60 innings. No less impressive are the strides he’s continued to make between the ears. The former Forsythe, Georgia prep may have bypassed Vanderbilt University to sign with the Indians, but his quest for knowledge has by no means waned. Influenced heavily by his off-season experiences at Full Count Baseball, it continues unabated.

Hankins discussed his cerebral approach, and the improvements he’s made to his repertoire, late in the 2019 season.

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David Laurila: Is pitching more of an art, or more of a science?

Ethan Hankins: “The game we’re playing right now, with all the analytical stuff we have access to, and use — especially with the Indians — it’s starting to become more of a science. I feel like it used to be more an art. Even a few years ago. But it’s been growing into something that can be called a science, because of the average velocities, the spin efficiencies, true spin, 2D spin, 3D spin. There are all of these numbers that can be beneficial if you know how to use them in the right way.“

Laurila: It sounds like you lean science.

Hankins: “Yes, but that’s not because the Indians have thrown it in my face. It’s because I’ve taken to learning how these numbers can benefit you. Granted, the Indians help a lot. They obviously have all of this knowledge. But not everybody uses it. We don’t get pressured to use it.”

Laurila: How do you use it?

Hankins: “There are a million different ways that… oh gosh. I’d say that I’m using it to develop my offspeed, more than anything. My curveball has made a huge jump over the past year. I don’t credit that solely to the Rapsodo, or any of the other technology we have access to, but that does give you a lot of insight. It tells you, ‘This is where you are.’ From there, you’re able to say, ‘OK, I want to be here; I want this pitch to have this much efficiency. This is the direction I want.’ Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Jerry Dipoto Contemplates His Spreadsheet as the Mariners Rebuild

Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said the following when I spoke to him in November:

The best we can do is lay out a game plan, a quality game plan, and then track our success. In this game, everything can be tracked.

That includes trades, and it’s no secret that Dipoto has made a lot of them since he was hired to replace Jack Zduriencik following the 2015 season. The exact number — this based on a perusal of transaction logs — is a whopping 106, which works out to more than two dozen annually. The subject broached, Dipoto acknowledged that “it’s a long spreadsheet.”

What does the spreadsheet show in terms of wins and losses? The plethora of deals precludes a detailed response to such a question, but the 51-year-old executive did provide an overview when asked. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Brayan Rocchio Isn’t Francisco Lindor (At Least Not Yet)

Who will man the shortstop position for the Indians once the Francisco Lindor era is over? That largely depends on when Cleveland’s best player moves on, but the down-the-road answer could very well be Brayan Rocchio. The 18-year-old switch-hitter came into last season ranked No.4 on our Indians Top Prospects list.

Borrowing a boxing term, Rocchio punched above his weight in 2019. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he slashed a wholly respectable .250/.310/.373 for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the short-season New York-Penn League. Stateside for the first time, the Caracas, Venezuela native put up those numbers against pitchers typically several years his senior.

Moreover, he did so as a comparable flyweight. With that in mind, I asked Indians GM Mike Chernoff just how impactful Rocchio’s bat can ultimately be, given his whippet-like frame.

“We have a lot of young international players who, when we signed them, were sort of undersized,” said Chernoff. “He’s one of those guys. But we see a ton of potential in his bat-to-ball ability, and in his defensive capabilities. He’s also held his own while super young for his level, and to us that’s a huge indicator of future success. We feel that as Brayan matures, as his body gets stronger and can handle the demands of a full season, he has a chance to be an impact guy.”

But again, just how impactful? While Rocchio’s physique will almost certainly fill out, he’ll be doing so from a 150-pound baseline. That’s water-bug territory, not future-thumper. Right? Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Q&A and Sunday Notes: The Best Quotes of 2019

In 2019, I once again had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of people within baseball. Many of their words were shared in my Sunday Notes column, while others came courtesy of the FanGraphs Q&A series, the Learning and Developing a Pitch series, the Talks Hitting series, and a smattering of feature stories. Here is a selection of the best quotes from this year’s conversations, with the bolded lines linking to the pieces they were excerpted from.

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“I think Abner [Doubleday] when he set this game up a long time ago, he set it up the right way. Boom, boom, boom… Let’s try to keep it normal here. I was a shortstop. If you stuck me on the other side, then I became a second baseman. I played shortstop as a second baseman. That’s confusing. That’s Laurel and Hardy stuff.” — Ron Gardenhire, Detroit Tigers manager, January 2019

“[Gaylord] Perry threw a spitter. He wasn’t going to share that. Not unless I brought $3,000 to the park. That’s how much he said he’d charge to teach me the spitter. I was taking home $8,500. I didn’t want to give him 40% of my yearly take-home pay to try to learn a pitch that very few people can master.” — Steve Stone, Chicago White Sox broadcaster, January 2019 Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Danny Mendick is Chicago’s 2019 Cinderella Story

In an article that ran here 10 days ago, Chicago White Sox GM Rick Hahn was quoted as saying that people in his role tend to “spend a lot more time trying to unpack what goes wrong, as opposed to examining all the things that may have gone right.”

Danny Mendick fits firmly in the ‘right’ category. Unheralded coming into the 2019 season — he ranked No. 26 on our White Sox Top Prospects list — the 26-year-old infielder earned a September call-up and proceeded to slash .308/.325/.462 in 40 plate appearances. As the season came to a close, Sunday Notes devoted a handful of paragraphs to his Cinderella-like story.

Mendick’s story deserves more than a handful of paragraphs. With the calendar about to flip to 2020, let’s take a longer look at where he came from. We’ll start with words from Hahn.

“When we took him in the 22nd round, as a senior [in 2015], I think we all knew he’d play in the big leagues,” the ChiSox exec said when I inquired about Mendick at the GM Meetings. “OK, no. I’m messing with you. We didn’t know.”

Continuing in a serious vein, Hahn added that the White Sox routinely ask their area scouts to identify “one or two guys they have a gut feel on.” These are draft-eligible players who “maybe don’t stand out from a tools standpoint, or from a notoriety standpoint, but are true baseball players; they play the game the right way and have a positive influence on others.”

In other words, organizational depth. And maybe — just maybe — they will overachieve and one day earn an opportunity at the highest level. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Chris Woodward is Bullish on Willie Calhoun and the Rangers’ Offense

Count the Texas Rangers among teams who are tweaking their approach to hitting. That much was clear when I spoke to Chris Woodward during the regular season, and again during the Winter Meetings. In our recent conversation, I asked the 43-year-old manager who stands out as having made the most progress in 2019.

“In my eyes, Willie Calhoun probably made the biggest jump,” said Woodward. “Joey Gallo, as well, before he got hurt. But Willie really, really bought into a lot of things that made him successful. He had different swings for different pitches. He’d go into a game knowing, ‘Is this guy sinking the ball, or is he going to be spinning me with curveballs?’ He’d know what kind of swing path he needed. Willie was able to manipulate, and be versatile enough with his swing, to almost have two or three different swings.”

Calhoun would sometimes use different bats for different pitchers. While the biggest determiner was the hurler’s handedness, repertoires were also a consideration.

The flexibility paid dividends. Previously unproven and unpolished,the 25-year-old (as of last month) outfielder slashed .269/.323/.524, and went deep 21 times in just 337 plate appearances. A year earlier, he’d scuffled to the tune of a .602 OPS in a 35-game big-league cameo as the club’s No. 1 prospect. Read the rest of this entry »


Winter Meetings Snapshots: AL Central

Managers and front office executives have media obligations at the Winter Meetings, and here at FanGraphs we do our best to engage in, and report on, as any those sessions as possible. Today we’ll share some of what I learned in San Diego, with the five American League Central teams front and center.

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How do trade talks typically work at the Winter Meetings? Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey touched on that subject as things were winding down in San Diego.

“A lot of it is continuation of previous conversations,” Falvey told a small group of reporters. “End of season, everyone kind of takes a breath and looks at what’s going on. Then you have the GM meetings and start a lot of the conversations. This is just an extension of that. In many ways, we sit in our suites and text, and call, other teams. We’re not necessarily even walking down the hall, or going to another floor.”

The Twins aren’t unique in that respect. I subsequently overheard an executive from a National League team saying he’s not sure if anyone came to their suite all week.

As for the level of non-face-to-face exchanges, some clubs were more engaged than others. The AL Central champs fit into the “less” category, their attention directed more toward non-trade acquisitions.

“Last year was a little bit slower Winter Meetings,” Falvey said of expectations going in. “Could it be slower again? We weren’t sure. If anything, this gave us some more clarity around what our next few weeks will look like. We’ve already assessed the players. I’ll say this: The conversations with teams seemed a little less frequent than the free agent conversations.” Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Ben Cherington Aspires to Build the Bucs (Still Cherishes Cistulli)

Ben Cherington stepped into a conflicted situation when he took over the GM reins in Pittsburgh last month. On the heels of a 93-loss season, an understandably-frustrated Pirates fan base wants to see a competitive team on the field in 2020. At the same time, a complete rebuild is arguably the more prudent course of action. Given the current roster and farm system, paired with ownership’s notoriously-tight purse strings… let’s just say that while Cherington is smart, he doesn’t possess magical powers. Patchwork moves alone aren’t going to turn this team around.

Nevertheless, that might be the plan. The former Red Sox and Blue Jays executive wasn’t willing to embrace the rebuild idea when I suggested it earlier this week during the Winter Meetings.

“There can be reasonable opinions from reasonable people, smart people, about the right direction, the right way to build,” said Cherington. “I can tell you that within our room, within baseball operations, we’re not thinking about it that way. We’re thinking about it more as ‘needing to get to a winning team.’ There’s no one path toward that.”

Cherington opined that there is untapped potential on the roster, and added that he’ll explore ways to add more talent. But what exactly does that mean? While he intimated that moves will be made, these are Bob Nutting’s Pittsburgh Pirates he’s working for now. I’d venture to guess that Scott Boras doesn’t have PNC Park phone numbers on speed dial. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Dayton Moore’s Royals Aren’t The Flintstones Anymore

The Royals aren’t known for their analytics department. They have one, of course. It’s not as though the organization is the Flintstones while everyone else is the Jetsons. That said, they’re still viewed as being old-school. In the eyes of many, scouting still rules the roost in Kansas City.

Just how true is that perception? According to the team’s longtime general manager, it’s far less accurate than it once was. Which isn’t to say that Dayton Moore has cast aside his roots in an attempt to become something he’s not. What he’s done is adapt to the changing times.

“My background is my background,” Moore told me at last month’s GM Meetings. “I’m not going to be ashamed of that. I grew up in a very traditional way. I grew up as a coach. I grew up as a scout. But the game has changed since I came to Kansas City in 2006.”

Moore remembers meeting with, among others, saber-smart baseball scribe Bradford Doolittle. That “created a pathway to us developing an understanding of analytics.” He went on to hire Michael Groopman as a baseball operations assistant in 2008, then promote him to Director of Baseball Operations/Analytics in 2015. In Moore’s words, Groopman “came in and built our analytics program.” Read the rest of this entry »