Daily Prospect Notes: 7/2/21

These are notes on prospects from Brendan Gawlowski, who will be chipping on Daily Prospect Notes once a week. Read previous installments of the DPN here.

Today, we’ll review some live looks, watch at a little video, and head off the beaten path for a bit. It should be fun, and apologies in advance for highlighting a few performances from earlier in the week. Onward!

CJ Van Eyk, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Level & Affiliate: High-A Vancouver Age: 22 Org Rank: 10 FV: 40+
Line: ⅔ IP, 4 H, 7R, 1 SO, 3 BB

It was a night he’d like to forget. The line probably oversells how rough he looked — a couple of gork singles extended the inning — but Van Eyk’s primary developmental goal this season is to pound the zone, and only 17 of his 33 pitches were strikes on Tuesday night. He often missed badly to his arm side with his fastball and curve, and a lack of competitive pitches limited him to just one true swing and miss.

Mechanically, Van Eyk has a loose arm, clean arm swing, and still head, all of which should help him throw strikes. His landing spot is very inconsistent though, and that seems to affect his ability to throw strikes. Sometimes he lands in a clean fielding position; on other occasions his left foot lands so awkwardly that he practically falls off the mound toward the first base dugout (you can see footage of that in action in Tess Taruskin’s notes from a few weeks back). Up to 94 with a curve that flashes plus, there’s good stuff here if he can find a delivery that facilitates more strikes.

Juan Then, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Level & Affiliate: High-A Everett Age: 21 Org Rank: 11 FV: 45
Line: 4 IP, 10 H, 8 R, 6 SO, 3 BB, 2 HR

A full stat sheet for Then, who managed to pack all of that into 85 pitches in his four innings of work. He’ll show you two plus pitches in his fastball and a long, predominantly horizontal slider. Even his changed flashed plus once, a dandy of a fader in the mid-80s amidst a dozen or so hard and straight ones that sulked uncompetitively away from the plate.

A lack of consistency explains Then’s underwhelming numbers. He can hit 95 without breaking a sweat, but he doesn’t always locate well. He can backdoor lefties with a slider and coax righties to swing at that same pitch in the dirt, but he’s also liable to hang one in the middle of the plate. Given how often he used it, the change appears to be a developmental focus. There’s reason for optimism here, but also a long way to go.

The likely outcome is probably a reliever, but given Then’s age, athleticism, and arm strength, he’s a great example of a guy who should get opportunities to start for a few years to see if everything clicks. If it does, he’s got plenty of upside.

Tyler Phillips, RHP, Texas Rangers
Level & Affiliate: Triple-A Round Rock Age: 23 Org Rank: 29 FV: 40
Line: 3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 3 SO, 3 BB

It’s been a strange season for Phillips. A sleeper in the Rangers system best known for his changeup and control, Phillips got hit around in five Double-A outings before a surprise promotion to Round Rock. On the year, he’s walked more than 13% of the batters he’s faced, way up from his 4.5% career rate heading into 2021.

With the usual correlation != causation caveat, it seems that Phillips’ higher walk rate has come alongside a change in his arm swing. Prior to 2021, his arm action was fairly long: clean enough, not particularly stabby, but a bit long in the back. This year, he’s employing a much tighter arm swing, one that’s in vogue throughout baseball at the moment. Here’s what it looked like in the spring of 2020:

And now from earlier this week:

It also looks like something in the new delivery is causing him to fall further toward first base, which may contribute to his problem throwing strikes recently.

Alongside though, Phillips missed plenty of bats on Tuesday, particularly with his slider (one of which you can see above). Eric graded his slider as just a 40 over the winter, and any long-term improvement in the pitch would be a boon to his chances to start in the big leagues. Ultimately, there are a lot of moving parts here right now. While he’s only thrown a couple dozen innings in 2021, for better and worse Phllips looks like a different pitcher than he did a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how the dust settles for him over the rest of the season.

Baek-ho Kang 강백호, 1B, KT Wiz
Level & Affiliate: KBO Age: 21 Org Rank: N/A
Line: .400/.498/.576, 9 HR, 52 BB, 38 SO in 305 PA’s

For those who didn’t clamber aboard the KBO bandwagon last May, Kang’s the most entertaining player you’ve never seen. Just look at this hack:

I don’t know if Kang’s explosive, amp-turned-to-12 swing will play against elite velocity. The effort often sends him spinning like a top out of the box, to say nothing of the times he literally falls over from the effort. It works against KBO arms, but there aren’t many of them who can hit 95, much less triple digits.

I’m more confident in saying that if he does wind up being a productive hitter stateside, he’ll be every bit the phenomenon that Yoenis Céspedes was back in 2012. While the swing makes Kang look like a modern boom or bust hitter, he actually has plenty of hitting skills. It starts with incredible hand-eye coordination, and the strength and athleticism to adjust the trajectory of his fearsome cut to react to spin and offspeed pitches. He doesn’t swing and miss all that much — check that SO rate — and when he does, it’s usually because he’s selling out for power and guessing dead red in hitters counts. He hits the ball to all fields, and he’s even able to bunt for a single if opposing managers try to shift on him.

When and whether Kang chooses to come stateside is a question for another day. As it is, he’s an incredibly compelling player, one I’d encourage everyone to try to watch during next month’s Olympics.

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Enlightening Roundmember
2 years ago

That Kang swing…..

2 years ago

Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

2 years ago

If he actually made as an MLB hitter with that swing, it would inspire a new dance.