CJ: Michael Baumann has been really good in Double A, including a no hitter last night. What is his ceiling?
Eric A Longenhagen: He’s working really heavily with his fastball and a harder cutter (new pitch this year) while other pitches take a back seat. There may be a repertoire depth issue that makes it hard for him to be a traditional starter, but he looks like a good big league arm of some kind now. He’s broken out, certainly, I just wouldn’t expect him to be a star rotation piece.
CJ: Any DSL guys that you are excited about that may not be well known?
Eric A Longenhagen: There’s relatively no lag on when we know about someone and stick them on The Board, so almost everyone we have info on is on there. I have two more Blue Jays DSL names I need to ask around on (Montero and D’Ozoria). I guess Alvin Guzman is one we have stuffed really good
We all know factors beyond talent — be it contract length or value, a team’s competitive window, or a player’s social fit within the org, among others — have an impact on how trades balance and are agreed upon. Just being mindful that these factors exist, and that we’re not always privy to them, can help us to square what we perceive to be a context-free gap in the talents exchanged. But can we bridge what is, based on our evaluations, a sizable gap in this weekend’s Rangers and Rays prospect-for-prospect trade?
This deal looks very good for Texas in a vacuum based on our evaluations. Kiley and I both think Solak, who is a career .290/.382/.453 hitter in the minors and has raked since his freshman year at Louisville, is going to be an average everyday second baseman, while Fairbanks is a 25-year-old reliever who has had two Tommy John surgeries, a demographic we rarely rank at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Nick: I know you guys weren’t excited about the Braves draft after day two. With the six HS picks they’ve now signed from rounds 11-19, how significantly does that change things?
Eric A Longenhagen: Somewhat, they’re adding a bunch of 35+ FV types. Depth is nice, now they need to develop those players.
Chris: The Yankee fans sure think Clint Frazier is worth any player… What’s a realistic one for one trade comp for their fans
Eric A Longenhagen: I have Frazier 50’d, so I think he’s a real piece. Would he, alone, net someone like Matt Boyd or White Merrifield who has 3ish years of control left? Probably not, but he’s a great start.
How would you adjust your pre-draft evaluation of a high school pitcher if you knew he couldn’t pass a physical? That is what teams needed to decide about White Sox righty Dylan Cease, who after a surgery, a year of rehab, and four years of development, will make his first big league start today.
Some version of this scenario occurs almost annually: High school pitcher throws hard during his showcase summer, becomes very famous, comes out the following spring throwing even harder, then breaks. In Cease’s case, he was 93-96 and touching 98 during showcases, then touching 100 early the following spring before he was shut down with an elbow injury that would, as teams knew ahead of the draft, eventually require surgery.
For some teams, the injury shut the door on Cease as an option entirely. He was a Vanderbilt commit whose long arm action some teams had already feared increased his risk of injury, or at least might impede his ability to develop command and a changeup, and funnel him toward a bullpen role.
But Cease also had among the 2014 draft’s best velocity and breaking ball combination. The Cubs properly assessed his signability, and after cutting an underslot deal with Kyle Schwarber for $1.5 million at pick No. 4, they suddenly had a bunch of extra bonus pool money to play with. They ended up signing three high school pitchers to overslot bonuses — Cease, Justin Steele and Carson Sands — and cutting underslot deals of varying amounts at every other pick in the first 10 rounds.
Cease signed for $1.5 million, which was the slot value of that draft’s 38th pick and is around where high school pitchers with this kind of stuff, albeit healthy ones, typically come off the board these days. It took a fortuitous intersection of several variables: Cease’s talent, the Cubs optimistic evaluation of it and his signability, the opportunity created by the underslot deal with Schwarber, and a level of comfort in taking an injured player aided by risk diversification in the other overslot high schoolers. The high school pitching crop in 2014 was wild, and a few of those players probably contributed to the current reticence to pick a similar guy very early. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I saw Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw in person for the first time. While he’s no longer the dominant force of nature he was at his peak — Kershaw’s fastball now sits 89-91, rather than sitting 92-94 and touching 97 as it did 2015-2017 — he’s still a very effective big league starter, on pace for a 4 WAR season, and the owner of a 3.51 xFIP across just under 100 innings pitched ahead of the All-Star break.
This is far from the first piece on this website to chronicle what makes Kershaw great as, over the last decade, he’s improved his command, and altered his pitch mix and pitching approach. What I suggest today is that part of his continued success also has to do with, simply, how he releases the baseball, and that this trait is identifiable in prospects.
It’s probably obvious to you that things beyond mere raw velocity contribute to fastball effectiveness. You can probably deduce what some of those things are through simple pattern recognition; the System Summary from this prospect list is an example of that. From having done this for a while now, there are common, visually identifiable characteristics shared by pitchers whose strikeout results outperform what we might anticipate given just their velocity, just as there are common mechanical/stuff-related attributes targeted by successful teams in the draft. (Those teams have also made mechanical and/or approach alterations to players they’ve acquired.) Spin rate, extension, vertical and horizontal approach angles, and spin direction/efficiency all play a role, too, as does command.
The more those traits serve to support vertical movement — a.k.a ‘rise’, life, carry, Z-break — the more swings and misses a fastball tends to generate. And when a fastball exhibits several of these traits, you can end up with a dominant heater despite limited velocity. Without them, I’ve been bamboozled by otherwise visually pleasing stuff. And indeed Clayton Kershaw’s fastball has some of these attributes. At 88-91, his fastball is still fine. In the mid-90s, it was utterly dominant.
The way we talk about these traits in scouting and player development is not yet entirely consistent across baseball. I was on the phone with an in-office analyst last week discussing what would eventually become this article, and we were using the same terms to describe different things, which caused us to argue for about 10 minutes before we realized we were simply miscommunicating. This video and these twoarticles provide a great foundation for understanding how pitches need to spin in order to create vertical movement. The version that has been most intuitive for me is the Rapsodo/TrackMan version, which describes spin direction by using a clock face from the pitcher’s perspective. The closer fastball tilt gets to 12:00, the more backspin it has. For the purposes of this article, I’m just looking at lefties, but you’ll be interested to know that some frequently-asked-about prospects like Zac Gallen (12:30 spin axis on the fastball), Astros RHP Jose Urquidy (91-95, up to 97, plus changeup and command, smart breaking ball usage, a 12:30 spin axis on the heater), and Ashton Goudeau (90-93, also has 12:30 spin axis, plus split/change) have some of the traits I’ve talked about.
It’s fair to watch a pitcher’s arm angle and assume that vertical arm slots create the kind of backspin we’re looking for, but we can better see the ball/hand relationship, including sub-optimal ones, using our high-speed camera, Slomie. If you didn’t read the Driveline and Laurila background articles, we’re looking for something close to pure backspin and seam uniformity. You’ll be unsurprised to see Clayton Kershaw exhibit both. At peak, he was averaging over 12 inches of Z-break on his fastball. He’s closer to 10 inches now, which is still above league average:
Spin rate is a factor here, too, and we have those for most of the minors. So based on information we have, here some lefty pitching prospects who I think also exhibit some of these Kershawian traits. I don’t anticipate any of them becoming as incredible as Kershaw, but they do possess mechanical characteristics that will enable them to get the most out of their stuff. Full scouting reports for most of these players can be found on THE BOARD.
MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres
Gore has all the components: the velocity, the spin axis, the seam uniformity, elite athleticism, some natural mechanical deception. He doesn’t spin his curveball as well as Kershaw, but his changeup is better. He’ll be in Sunday’s Futures Game.
Joey Wentz, Atlanta Braves
Wentz doesn’t have the quality breaking ball but his fastball plays well above it’s 88-91, and he has good changeup feel.
Ethan Small, Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers 2019 first rounder is Kershaw’s mechanical doppelgänger. In 2019, he struck out 176 hitters in 107 innings for Mississippi State, most of them in the SEC, while sitting 88-92.
Joey Cantillo, San Diego Padres
Cantillo, a 2017 16th rounder out of a Hawaii high school, only sits about 88-92, but the life on his fastball and the quality of his secondary stuff has him missing lots of bats in the Midwest League. He hasn’t allowed more than one run in a start since April 26.
Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers
Skubal’s full report is on The Board. He ranks 14th in the minors in swinging strike rate.
Erik Miller, Philadelphia Phillies
He doesn’t get into his legs the way Kershaw does, and the velocity fluctuations Miller has experienced over the last year and a half is a bit concerning, but he has the pitch specifications I’ve outlined above and knows how to mix his stuff.
Burl Carraway, Dallas Baptist University
I anticipate Kiley will have high speed of Carraway in the coming days, as he’s been electric for Team USA recently, up to at least 97 with a knockout breaking ball.
Drew Dowd, Junipero Serra HS (CA) and Ross Dunn, Cottonwood HS (UT)
These were the two high schoolers at PG National whose fastballs I thought played up above their velocity for the reasons I’ve outlined above, though Dowd might be better off working with a four-seamer.
Lilith: Should I be worried about Trammell? He seems to have lost all of his power over the past year. I heard a rumor that he changed his swing? Is that true?
Eric A Longenhagen: I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think he’ll ever hit for significant power, it’ll be an OBP/defense thing.
John Coppolella : What chance do you see of Kevin Maitan ever tapping into his (once) immense potential?
Eric A Longenhagen: maybe 5%? If he were a junior college prospect he’d probably be a 400k sort. Still a prospect, and it’s important to look at him with the context of his amateur reports, but his career probably died when some combination of the player and Braves let his body get out of control.
Brandon J: What do you make of Josiah Gray? Could you see him surpassing Jeter Downs as the better prospect of the Dodgers/Reds trade?
The Rockies’ addition of top prospect Brendan Rodgers — No. 1 in Colorado’s system, No. 28 overall — to their big-league roster completes part of a journey that seemed preordained when Rodgers was still just a high school underclassman. As is the case with lots of prominent Floridian high schoolers, Rodgers was evaluated early thanks to the endless parade of both varsity and travel baseball in Florida. Scouts were interested in Rodgers very early, as Kiley noted in his initial 2015 draft rankings.
Rodgers was a standout last summer with scouts saying he’d go in the top 50 picks as a high school junior, then he took a huge step forward this summer when his bat speed and raw power jumped at least a notch, if not two.
Those rankings, which Rodgers topped at the time, were produced after the high school summer showcase season, during which Rodgers looked fine at shortstop and continued to perform against the best pitching in the country. There were tepid evaluations of his defense and some concerns, from model-driven clubs, regarding his advanced age. But Rodgers’ offensive consistency and mix of physical talents (he had among the best raw power in the class at the time) overrode those notions.
To escape February cold and rain, many college programs head to Phoenix for their early-season games. While the weather is often quite perfect there during the day, the winter nights are still quite cold, especially once you’ve become accustomed to the heat. This creates a hilarious visual contrast among fans, as the locals are layered — a hoodie and beanie at least — while out-of-towners from Michigan, Illinois, or the Pacific Northwest are sleeveless. But there are evenings that we’d all agree are frigid — unbearable for the locals, and a source of disappointment and disgust, especially among the shivering unprepared, for those who hoped coming to Arizona in February would let them avoid the chill for a while.
San Diego’s early-season, midweek game at Arizona State was like this. I was up the third base line watching hitters, my teeth chattering, nose running. People walked past me with Styrofoam cups full of steaming hot chocolate, a ballpark rarity, and I wondered if I might eventually need one to get through what had, to that point, been a terribly played game.
My standards for cocoa are high. I’ve gone from being a double-packet Swiss Miss kid to an adult who prefers a single packet, with a teaspoon of baking cocoa and a dash of cinnamon and cayenne if I’m feeling frisky. Surely, at stadium prices, hastily mixed and diluted to meet the speed and volume of demand, it would fall short of what I wanted.
My nose kept running. I felt like I miss-timed two Adam Kerner throws down to second because my fingers had slowed down. I just wanted something warm. I turned to the napkin/condiment kiosk (my de facto box of Kleenex for the evening) and saw yet another person carrying a fresh cup of relief. As I looked to their face to ask how much it cost, I recognized Keston Hiura, who told me he had gotten the last cup of hot chocolate they had. He departed, walked down into the bleachers and sat, alone, attentive and focused on a random, local, college game on a miserable night in the middle of the week.
For all players, baseball is a job. For a lot of them, it clearly and justifiably feels that way. But then for others, it’s a vocation. They love it and go out of their way to watch and be around it when they’re off the clock. It’s not possible to know whether or not every prospect we like and talk about on this site has this trait, which I believe to beneficial. But it seems like Hiura does.
He’s also exceptionally talented. Dominant immediately as a freshman at UC Irvine, Hiura hit .331 that year and .375/.466/.581 throughout his college career. He faced early-career questions about quality of competition (Irvine does play the bigger SoCal schools, but they don’t often face weekend pitching) and, later and more severely, about an elbow injury moved him off of second base and mostly to the outfield or DH for his summer with Team USA and his junior spring. Here is our draft blurb on Hiura, who we ranked as the No. 2 college hitter in that class:
Hiura has had elbow issues for much of his college career and has seen Dr. Neal El Attrache in Los Angeles. He’s not throwing right now, taking grounders at second base during batting practice but lobbing balls away to teammates after fielding them. He has the feet and actions for second base but there’s uncertainty about his future defensive home because of the arm. He rakes though, with one of the draft’s quickest bats and above average raw power. If his arm gets healthy he could hit and hit for power while playing an up the middle position.
The gap between the offensive bar at second base (an 88 wRC+ is the 2019 average at the position) and at DH (111 wRC+) is vast. Drafting Hiura was somewhat risky, because it was not widely known (at least, I never found out) exactly what was wrong with his elbow or if he’d need surgery, or ever be able to play a passable second base (where he might be a star) or if he’d need to be a DH/LF type (where it’d be harder to clear that offensive bar).
After the Brewers drafted him, Hiura predictably crushed lower-level pitching while playing DH until the final few games of the year, when he finally saw time at second again. He had no balls hit to him that required him to throw during that span. During instructional league in the fall, scouts finally saw what it looked like and were encouraged. We moved Hiura from a 45 FV on draft day, to a 55 FV based on confidence that he could indeed play second. He ranked No. 1 in Milwaukee’s system and 24th overall.
In 2018, Hiura reached Double-A and was, in my opinion, the second best offensive prospect in the Arizona Fall League behind Vlad Guerrero, Jr. His hands are so explosive and violent, but precise and deft, that he’s likely to hit for contact, hit for power, and play a premium defensive position better than who Milwaukee currently has shoe-horned there. Here’s what we wrote about Hiura on this offseason’s Top 100 prospect list, where we had him as the No. 13 prospect in baseball, a 60 FV player.
Hiura reached Double-A in his first full pro season, and then was clearly one of the top five or six talents in the Arizona Fall League, where he won League MVP. Most importantly, his arm strength is once again viable at second base. An elbow injury relegated Hiura to DH-only duty as a junior at UC Irvine, and he may have gone even earlier in the 2017 draft if not for concerns about the injury and how it might limit his defense. That’s no longer a concern, as Hiura has an average arm and plays an unspectacular second base. This is an incredible hitter. He has lightning-quick hands that square up premium velocity and possesses a rare blend of power and bat control. Hiura’s footwork in the box is a little noisier than it has to be, and if any of his swing’s elements are ill-timed, it can throw off the rest of his cut. This, combined with an aggressive style of hitting, could cause him to be streaky. But ultimately he’s an exceptional hitting talent and he’s going to play a premium defensive position. We think he’s an All-Star second baseman.
And now he’s a big leaguer. Hiura has been hitting .333/.408/.698 at Triple-A San Antonio. The new baseball and the PCL hitting environment has probably helped, but this is a middle of the order talent who’s ready to hit for all-fields power right now. I’m not totally buying the 2019 uptick in his walk rate. Hiura hunts early-count fastballs and I expect him to have a proactive approach, bordering on aggressive (he did beat me to that cocoa, after all), which is more palatable at second base even if it means his OBPs are closer to average, especially if it helps him hit for power by attacking pitches he can drive. He’s an entertaining, homegrown hitter who’s poised to hit in the middle of Milwaukee’s order for most of the next half decade.