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Shohei Today, Low-A Tomorrow: The Benefits of a Well-Balanced Baseball Diet

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If Oakland Coliseum is indeed “baseball’s last dive bar,” as has often been asserted, then it must have one hell of a booking manager. Let’s not forget, after all, that this dive bar has a stage. And yes, that stage may be a bit far from the audience, and sure, it is housed in a hulking cement behemoth that shares a BART station with the airport, and fine, it might be subject to the occasional rodent or plumbing issue. But it still draws the same big names as other, glitzier venues. The Coliseum’s dinginess might generate headlines, but lately I’ve been struck more by the unique backdrop it offers attendees for seeing the major’s biggest names.

When I used this metaphor to describe my experience at an August 9 Shohei Ohtani start at the Coliseum, a friend likened it to seeing Metallica play an unannounced show a few years ago at The Metro, a venue just a stone’s throw up Clark Street from Wrigley Field, with a capacity of 1,100. You may remember this early-August Ohtani outing: one of those Tungsten Arm games – unremarkable but for the home run he launched into the right field bleachers and the win he secured, allowing him to reach the Babe Ruth milestone of recording 10 wins and 10 home runs in a season, though Ohtani’s home run total for the season had long eclipsed Ruth’s. The vastness of the stands only emphasized how few people I was sharing my baseball viewing experience with.

The next day, I followed up that major league masterclass with a Low-A day game in the uncovered San Jose grandstand, watching a teenager struggle to throw strikes under the blazing sun. If Ohtani at the Coliseum is Metallica at the Metro, then this game, where I went to watch prospects from the San Francisco Giants organziation, was sitting in on a garage band rehearsal. Low-A is an altogether different brand of baseball, where tweaks are made every day – sometimes even mid-game – in the hopes of tapping into young players’ potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Prospect Notes: 5/20/2022

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These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. You can read previous installments of our prospect notes here.

Lisandro Santos, LHP, Atlanta Braves
Level & Affiliate: High-A Rome Age: 23 Team Rank: TBD FV: TBD
3.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 10 K, BB

Santos recorded 10 outs on Thursday night, all by way of the strikeout, as he continued a dominant beginning to his 2022 season at High-A Rome. Notching double-digit strikeouts in relief suggests a remarkable outing worthy of top marks. But much like many a crab cake, it turned out there was a bit too much Mayo in the mix for this performance to quite hold together. Santos’ dominance happened to coincide with Top 100 prospect Coby Mayo’s first multi-home run game of the season. Mayo sent a pair of two-run knocks out, punishing Santos by plating the only other baserunners he allowed on the night.

So far this year, Santos has fanned 41 of the 80 total batters he’s faced, against just seven walks. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s and touches 96 mph, as has been the case for the past several years. He pairs it with a high-80s slider with occasional depth that he throws from a consistent arm slot. Much of his effectiveness comes from his ability to hide the ball. Santos sets up on the far first-base side of the rubber from an exaggeratedly closed stretch. His delivery then features a long arm action and a very short stride, with his arm whipping around from a high slot and slinging across his body, sending him spinning towards third base. The video feed for Santos’ Thursday performance was less than ideal for evaluation, but it does make clear his short stride. Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday Prospect Notes: 5/12/22

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These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. You can read previous installments of our prospect notes here.

Cade Cavalli, RHP, Washington Nationals
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Rochester Age: 23 Overall Rank: 78 FV: 50
5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 6 K, BB, HBP

Cavalli was dominant over his first few frames on Wednesday, dealing first-pitch strikes to most of his opposing batters and sending them down in order until a weak, bloop single in the fourth. His command faltered later in the game, and he allowed the opposing lineup to string together a few hits, then issued a couple of free passes (one walk, one HBP) and was pulled before he could get himself out of the sixth inning.

You might think that he plowed his way through the order the first couple of times by way of a whirlwind of whiffs – he did, after all, lead the minors in strikeouts in 2021. But many of those Ks were accrued in the early part of last season, as Cavalli began his rapid ascent through the Nationals system. He had a whopping 44.9% strikeout rate in his seven High-A games, then made 11 Double-A starts and fanned 32.9% of those opponents. But when he reached Triple-A for a six-start stint to close out the season, his strikeout rate dipped significantly, with the more advanced batters keying in on heaters that would’ve blown by bats at the lower levels. Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday Prospect Notes: 4/28/2022

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These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. You can read previous installments of our prospect notes here.

Edward Cabrera, SP, Miami Marlins
Level & Affiliate: Single-A Jupiter Age: 24 Overall Rank: 109 FV: 50
4IP, 1H, 0R, 3BB, 7K

Cabrera was shut down in early April with a biceps issue. This came a few days after throwing three impressive spring training frames against the Nationals, during which he notched three strikeouts, including one to Nelson Cruz. His stint on the IL, though relatively brief, is the latest entry in what has been a long history of injuries since his professional career began in 2016, but he put forth a strong showing in his first start of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday Prospect Notes: 4/14/2022

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These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. You can read previous installments of our prospect notes here.

George Kirby, SP, Seattle Mariners
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Arkansas Age: 24 Overall Rank: 29 FV: 55
5 IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 8K

Kirby’s fastball sat 96-98 mph on Wednesday night, but more noteworthy was how little he threw it. He leaned much more heavily on his slider, curveball, and changeup, all of which flashed above average throughout the evening.

His increased use of those secondaries resulted in him throwing more balls than is typical of the control-specialist, but while that may have inflated his pitch count, he still kept it in check, and didn’t issue any free passes. More often than not, Kirby hit his spots and he missed bats with every offering, retiring the last 12 batters he faced in order. Read the rest of this entry »

Call-Up-Palooza: Three Top-Ranked Prospects Among Opening Day Debuts

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Flipping through the slate of big league games over the past week has felt a bit like walking through the halls of my high school on the first day of a new school year, quietly taking stock of what and who had changed since I was last there. Who is suddenly wearing colors I’ve never seen them in before? Who’s hanging with a new crowd, or won’t shut up about their camp friends? Who spent time in summer school, and was that stint enough for them to keep up with the rest of their class? And of course: Who’s the new kid?

Last week, the Royals’ Bobby Witt Jr., the Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, and the Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson, all of whom rank within the top five of our preseason Top 100 Prospects list, made much-anticipated major league debuts, with each player surrounded by their own specific brand of pre-show buzz. And while it would be foolish to draw sweeping conclusions from a player’s performance in any one game or series, a big league debut seems as good a time as any to take a snapshot.

When Witt stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Royals’ home opener to face the Guardians’ Triston McKenzie, he’d yet to record a hit in the game, having flied out once and grounded out twice. He took McKenzie’s first offering – a 93 mph fastball, low and away – for a ball, then smashed the second pitch of the at-bat into left for a double, scoring Michael A. Taylor from second, a go-ahead run that would later become the game-winner:

Read the rest of this entry »

Catchers ’22: The Changing Catcher Prospect Landscape

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As I was thinking of a title for this piece, it struck me how many puns and turns of phrase related to catching exist in the American lexicon. “Catch as catch can” and some version of “catching catch-all” flitted through my mind, as did “Catchers on the Rise,” an overwrought hat tip to the literary canon. Ultimately, though, a nod to Joseph Heller’s 1961 classic Catch-22 seemed the most fitting. Not just because of the basic facts – conveniently, it’s 2022 and I’m writing about catchers – but also because there’s something paradoxically funny about of one of the greatest catching classes in recent memory coming of age at a time when the role of the catcher seems to be on the brink of fundamental change. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 9/17/21

These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Kansas City Royals
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Omaha Age: 21 Org Rank: 1 FV: 60
1-for-4, HR, BB, 2 K

Witt’s ninth-inning dinger on Thursday was his 32nd of the year, the third-most of any minor leaguer this season. Only seven guys have hit at least 30 homers in the minors in 2021, and in comparing Witt to the others in that group, it’s impossible not to notice his impressive and rare combination of speed and power. Of those seven power hitters, Witt is the only one to match his 30-plus homers with 30-plus doubles, and his 24 steals amount to quadruple the second-highest mark on the list (Andy Pages‘ six). He also has the highest average and more hits than anyone in that elite group, and his strikeout rate is the third lowest of the bunch, which may help calm the nerves of those concerned about his swing-and miss-potential. If he can improve upon his walk rate, his already-high profile could be boosted even further. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 9/10/21

These are notes on prospects from Tess Taruskin. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Johan Rojas, CF, Philadelphia Phillies
Level & Affiliate: High-A Jersey Shore Age: 21 Org Rank: 9 FV: 45
2-for-4, HR, 3 SB, K

Rojas was called up to High-A at the beginning of the month and has gone 12 for 30, slashing .400/.486/.633 since the promotion. He hit his second home run at the new level on Thursday, taking advantage of a hanging breaking ball and sending it over the left field fence. But perhaps most notable on Thursday were his three steals (two of second base and one of third). He hadn’t yet put his wheels on display at the higher level, stealing just one High-A bag prior to last night’s contest, but his speed was a prominent part of his pre-promotion profile; Rojas’ 25 swipes placed him within the top 20 base stealers in all of Low-A this season. Rojas’ plate discipline has long been a question, but his walk rate has been higher in 2021 than in previous seasons and for what it’s worth, he’s walked more than he’s struck out at High-A so far, meaning there’s reason to believe his power/speed combo could be bolstered with a more mature approach as he continues to develop. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Prospects, Both Alike in Big-League Readiness

On paper, Glenn Otto and A.J. Alexy have a lot in common. For one thing, they both found their way into the Rangers system as key prospects in packages exchanged for blue-chip major leaguers – Alexy in 2017 as part of the deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, and Otto in this year’s Joey Gallo trade. Moreover, they’re both righties who work exclusively from the stretch and feature a low-90s fastball. And at the end of last month, following a spat of positive COVID tests that depleted the Texas rotation, they added one more shared accomplishment, both making their big-league debuts within three days of one another.

Even their lines in their respective debuts look strikingly similar, with each pitcher throwing five innings of scoreless baseball. But drilling down just a bit further reveals the important differences between the two hurlers, and by extension, their distinct paths to success as major leaguers.

Let’s start with their mechanics. I mentioned above that both Otto and Alexy pitch exclusively from the stretch, having eliminated their windups during their time in the minors. But in Alexy’s case, that isn’t the only obvious change he’s made to his delivery since being drafted out of high school in 2016. As Eric Longenhagen has noted, he’s shortened his arm action, eliminating the violence it once featured.

Here’s a look at Alexy from March 2019:

And here’s one from this past Monday:

Comparing the two side-by-side, the changes to his arm action become unmistakeable. I’ve added freeze frames here to isolate the point at which his arm is at its very lowest and make it even more obvious:

Read the rest of this entry »