Archive for Minor Leagues

Dodgers Prospect Tony Gonsolin Had a Breakout Season

Tony Gonsolin made a name for himself last year. After meriting a mere mention in last spring’s Los Angeles Dodgers top prospect rundown, the 24-year-old right-hander went on to be named the NL West team’s 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. A role change jumpstarted his breakout.

Primarily a reliever in his four years at St. Mary’s College of California, Gonsolin continued in that role after the Dodgers selected him in the ninth round of the 2016 draft. That changed once the forward-thinking organization got an extended look at what he brings to the table. Intrigued by his velocity, multi-pitch mix, and 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, they decided to try him as a starter.

The results were a resounding success. Pitching between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, the St. Mary’s graduate — he earned a business degree before turning pro — Gonsolin logged a 2.60 ERA and allowed just 104 hits, while fanning 155 batters, in 128 innings.

Gonsolin discussed his development, including his transition from reliever to starter, earlier this month. Also weighing in on the promising young pitcher was Brandon Gomes, the Dodgers director of player development.

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Gonsolin on pitching analytics and his fastball: “I feel like every team is moving in that direction — they’re getting into more of the analytical side of baseball. Here, we have things like video with instant feedback where you can throw a pitch in your side work and by the time you get the ball back from the catcher you know how much it spun, and the axis in which it spun. That makes it easier to make pitch-to-pitch adjustments within the training element. Once you’re in-game it becomes, ‘What you have that day is what you have that day.’ You work with that. Read the rest of this entry »


Reds Prospect TJ Friedl Came Out of Nowhere (Sort Of)

Cincinnati’s 2018 Minor League Hitter of the Year isn’t a slugger, nor is he among the club’s higher-profile prospects. That’s not to say TJ Friedl won’t be roaming the Reds’ outfield in the not-too-distant future. Blessed with a smooth left-handed stroke and plus-plus wheels, he is — according to our own Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel — “almost a lock to hang around the big leagues for at least a few years in some role.”

His background is unlike that of most players who reach the doorstep, let alone get invited inside. Friedl entered pro ball in 2016 as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of Nevada. More on that in moment.

At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, the 23-year-old Friedl looks the part of a table-setter, and the numbers match the image. In a 2018 season split evenly between Hi-A Daytona and Double-A Pensacola, the speedster slashed .284/.381/.384 with five home runs and 30 stolen bases.

His top-of-the-order-friendly OBP was fueled by a change that occurred shortly before his 2017 campaign ended prematurely due to injury. Wanting to recognize pitches earlier, he tweaked his timing mechanism. Read the rest of this entry »


A Collegiate Summer Team Outdrew Most of the Minors

If 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch provided any kind of service to humanity, it was to alert aspiring young ballplayers to the complicated but ultimately beneficial influence of Jessica Biel’s intoxicating charm on one’s talents. Many of our greatest minds have contemplated whether Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character Ryan Dunne would have, left to his own devices, received a contract offer from Phillies scout Hugh Alexander. It’s impossible to know, of course. Yet one suspects that the presence of Biel’s Tenley Parrish in Dunne’s life — whatever challenges it posed along the way — ultimately rendered him not only a better ballplayer but a better man.

Beyond this philosophical grist, Summer Catch offered another sort of gift to the public — specifically, by introducing a new demographic to the existence of the Cape Cod League. The country’s premier collegiate wood-bat summer circuit, the Cape League is one of those rare entities whose virtues are actually difficult for the soft-focus lens of a Hollywood film to embellish. The games feature some of the top amateur talent in the country, are played in a network of small parks along the New England coastline, and cost absolutely nothing to attend. It is, in some ways, the ideal way to experience the game.

And while the Cape’s version is, by a number of measures, the best of these wood-bat summer leagues, it certainly isn’t the only one. A map of collegiate summer teams compiled by Jeff Sackmann earlier this decade reveals their ubiquity:

Most of these teams follow a model similar to the one employed by the clubs on the Cape, offering families an opportunity to watch a fairly high level of baseball for something close to free. They draw 1,000 or 2,000 fans per game — in many cases, fewer than that — and are relatively modest in terms of presentation and ballpark experience.

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Tigers Prospect Brock Deatherage on Coming Alive After the Game Beat Him Up

This past weekend’s Sunday Notes column included a section on Brock Deatherage, a self-described “country boy from North Carolina” who aspires to be a farmer after his playing days are over. As promised within those paragraphs, we’ll now hear much more from the 22-year-old Detroit Tigers outfield prospect. More specifically, we’ll learn the reasons behind his poor junior season at North Carolina State and how that experience made him a better player today.

Deatherage is thriving in his first taste of professional baseball. In 231 plate appearances between the GCL, West Michigan, and (most recently) Lakeland, the left-handed-hitting speed burner is slashing .329/.383/.512 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases. He’s doing so after being selected by Detroit in the 10th round of this year’s June draft, one year after choosing to return to school rather than sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Deatherage discussed his tumultuous penultimate collegiate campaign, and how he subsequently turned things around, prior to a recent game.

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Brock Deatherage: “I had a pretty tough junior year. I started the season really well — I was hitting .400-plus — but then I kind of ran into a little wall. I was having some good at-bats, a lot of hard contact, but balls weren’t falling. From there, the mental side of the game kind of took over. I obviously knew it was my draft year, and I was projected to go pretty high, so I started to press at the plate. A lot of those little mental things started piling on, piling on.

“Then I started to make physical adjustments. I tried everything. I widened out. I shortened up. I stood up taller. I leg-kicked. I started open and strided in. I started with my hands a little bit lower, a little higher. I was trying everything to get out of that funk, but you can’t go in there and hit one way and then show up the next day and hit another way. Basically, I was trying to figure out what worked for me rather than sticking with what got me there and just working through it. I kept making all of these changes and adjustments, and it obviously didn’t work.

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Orioles Pitching Prospect Zac Lowther Has Vexing Funk

Zac Lowther has been deceptively good. In 20 starts this season between Low-A Delmarva and High-A Frederick, the 22-year-old southpaw boasts a 2.11 ERA and has punched out 134 while allowing just 76 hits in 106.2 innings. He came into the campaign No. 10 on our Orioles top-prospect list — no other publication had him ranked higher — and his propensity to miss barrels is due in large part to his delivery. Eric Longenhagen described the 6-foot-2, 235-pound hurler as “a low-slot lefty with vexing funk.”

Lowther has heard similar things from opposing hitters.

“I don’t have overwhelming velocity, but guys tell me the ball kind of jumps out of my hand,” related Lowther, whom the Orioles drafted 74th overall last summer out of Xavier University. They’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you do,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I just throw the ball as well as I can.’ It’s not something I actively think about. It’s more of them telling me I’m deceptive, as opposed to me figuring it out.”

Which doesn’t mean that he hasn’t figured out. Pitchers almost always understand what makes them effective, so Lowther knows as well as anyone why he induces a lot of uncomfortable swings.

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Good Scouting Was Behind the Hand/Mejia Trade

The Indians traded blocked top prospect Francisco Mejia to the Padres for relievers Brad Hand and Adam Cimber today. It’s worth noting that the Dodgers, Indians, and Padres have all swung important deals within the past 24 hours and all have one thing in common: each has created depth by turning low-risk investments into real trade assets, via multiple avenues.

The Dodgers filled out the Machado deal with four prospects who weren’t touted until the last year or so. The Padres got Brad Hand on a waiver claim, while Cimber was completely off the radar until this year. The Indians, for their part, could afford to trade Mejia with Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez representing superior options behind the plate. These aren’t the only instances of these clubs turning nothing into something, but a couple instances ended up driving these big deals.

The Orioles have announced they will create better infrastructure to do this sort of thing more often going forward. There’s also been buzz in scouting circles today that at least one of the clubs that attempted to land Machado believes their package ultimately fell short because of substandard scouting and/or development.

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A Conversation with New Oriole Zach Pop

Zach Pop isn’t the biggest name going from the Dodgers to the Orioles in the Manny Machado trade. But he does have the most electric arm, as well as an impressive track record against A-ball competition. In 35 professional games, the 21-year-old Brampton, Ontario native has allowed just 27 hits — only one of them a home run — in 48.1 innings. His ERA is a minuscule 0.93.

A seventh-round pick last year out of the University of Kentucky, Pop profiles, at least stylistically, as a right-handed version of Zach Britton. His signature pitch is a sinker that not only dips and dives but also sits in the mid-90s and ticks even higher. The worm-killer certainly proved to be an anathema to Midwest and California League hitters this season. Pitching for the Great Lakes Loons and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Pop boasted a 64% ground-ball rate and a .168 batting-average-against before being promoted to Double-A earlier this week (and subsequently swapped to the Dodgers, who are reportedly assigning him to the Bowie BaySox).

Pop talked about his aggressive approach on the mound and his decision to not sign with his then-favorite team out of high school, prior to the trade from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

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Pop on how he gets outs: “For me, it’s being able to throw that two-seam sinker — whatever you want to call it — to both sides of the plate, and mixing in the slider. I’ll go in with the four-seam, as well, to give a little bit of a different look, but everything starts off with the two-seamer sinker. That’s my strength. I like to stay down in the zone.

“I’m hunting outs any way I can get them. My goal is to induce weak contact, and if they want to swing at the first or second pitch and make an out before I can get a strikeout opportunity, than so be it. I haven’t really struck out that many guys this year with the Quakes, only around one per inning, maybe a little less. For the most part, I’m just trying to be efficient. I’m trying to break a barrel or just keep the ball on the ground.”

On his sinker and his delivery: “I do [have good velocity]. Yesterday, I hit 99 with my two-seamer. It used to be the case that I’d throw harder with my four-seam, but now it’s kind of equaled out. The only thing that’s really different is the movement. I get some pretty crazy numbers on my sinker. I think I have something like 20 inches of horizontal, and five inches of vertical, movement.

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Broadcasters’ View: Who Have Been the Top Players in the Midwest League?

Who have been the best players in the Midwest League so far this season? I recently posed that question to some of the circuit’s broadcasters, with an important qualifier: I requested that they base their selections on what they’ve seen with their own eyes and not on reputations. I also asked for snapshot observations on each player named, which the respondents graciously took the time to provide.

As noted in last season’s year-end survey, the Midwest League comprised two divisions, with an unbalanced schedule. Couple that with the fact that this is a midseason look, and the respondents will have seen some players more than others (or not at all). For that reason, notable prospects may not appear on a particular list.

Six broadcasters participated, three from the Eastern Division and three from the Western Division. Their respective lists were put together within the past month.

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Nathan Baliva, Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)

1. Royce Lewis: Smooth in the field when we saw him in April. Hit the ball hard and to all fields. Consistent and you can see why he went 1-1.

2. Hunter Greene: So raw but so much fun to watch. His first 20-some pitches, and 45 of the first 46, were fastballs against us, so he wasn’t working on offspeed stuff that game — but when the fastballs were all 97-101, it was fun to watch the radar gun. He threw strikes — no walks, two hits, five Ks in four innings against us — and seems to have figured things out after a rough start. Will be fun to watch how he grows.

3. Alex Kirilloff: At least we aren’t the only team he crushes. What he has done coming off injury is awesome and very impressive after missing a full season of development at his age.

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Phillies Prospect Darick Hall on Learning to Launch

Darick Hall was leading the Florida State League with 11 home runs when he was promoted to Double-A Reading on the first of June. That should come as no surprise. One year ago, the 22-year-old first baseman led the South Atlantic League with 27 bombs in first full professional season. In 2016, he went deep 20 times at Dallas Baptist University prior to being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 14th round.

Hall, who was slashing .277/.367/.538 at the time of his promotion, began thriving after he adopted a high-launch-angle swing in his final collegiate season. And he’s certainly not turning back. While the 6-foot-4, 240-pound left-handed hitter is off to a slow start in the Eastern League — a .497 OPS and a pair of home runs in 12 games — he profiles as one of the best young power hitters in the Phillies system.

Hall talked about his game, including his power stroke and improved plate discipline, shortly before moving up to Double-A.

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Hall on becoming a more complete hitter: “Any time you’re labelled a power hitter, your power tool is kind of what shines. But you always want to be a complete hitter. You don’t want to sacrifice at-bats just to hit home runs. Your goal is to hit the ball square as many times as you can, and you definitely want to walk. Power hitters sometimes have a high strikeout rate, a low walk rate, and a low average. That’s not something you aspire to. You obviously want the home runs, but you also want to get on base.

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Mariners First-Rounder Evan White on Being Atypical

Evan White doesn’t fit a traditional mold. As a matter of fact, the 22-year-old University of Kentucky product was, in the opinion of Eric Longenhagen, “perhaps the 2017 draft’s most unique player.” As Longenhagen explained when putting together our Mariners prospect list, White not only bats right and throws left, he’s a first baseman whose athleticism and offensive skill set are arguably more akin to that of center fielder.

Last June’s 17th overall pick doesn’t project to hit for much power, but the Mariners were certainly enamored of what he accomplished as a collegian. In his three seasons as a Wildcat, White slashed .356/.414/.527 while playing exemplary defense. In the opinion of many scouts, he possesses Gold Glove potential — assuming he remains at his current position.

A native of Columbus, Ohio who grew up rooting for the Cincinnati Reds — Joey Votto remains a favorite — White is currently slashing .284/.356/.407, with three home runs, for the Modesto Nuts in the High-A California League. He discussed his game, including the ways it differs from the norm, in mid-May.

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White on throwing left and batting right: “I have an older cousin, and when I was a little kid, my grandpa cut down a golf club for him. It was a right-handed golf club and I started picking it up and swinging it. Ever since then — from around maybe four or five years old — I’ve swung right-handed. I’ve always thrown left-handed.

“My dad kind of messed around with me being a switch-hitter when I was growing up. He tried to get me to do it, but I never liked it. To be honest, I kind of like the thought of being unique. You don’t see many guys throwing left and hitting right. It’s something that’s always appealed to me.”

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