Ryan Feierabend and the Disappearing Knuckleball

The signing of a 33-year-old lefty to a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation to major league camp isn’t normally the sort of news that grabs much attention at this time of year, particularly when the pitcher in question owns a 7.15 career ERA in the majors. Add the word “knuckleball” to the equation, however, and we’ve all got something to dream on in this chilly February. Such is the case with the Blue Jays’ addition of Ryan Feierabend, who simply by his current status is now the best hope to expand the ranks of the pitch’s practitioners in the majors.

You’re forgiven if Feierabend’s name doesn’t ring a bell. A 2003 third-round pick by the Mariners who made a total of 25 appearances with the team from 2006 to 2008, before logging six with the Rangers in 2014, he has spent the past four seasons pitching in the Korea Baseball Organization, first with the Nexen Heroes (2015 to mid-2016) and then with the KT Wiz. Beyond the occasional, spectacular bat flip, KBO happenings don’t get a ton of attention stateside, though last year for this site, Sung Min Kim spoke to Feierabend — who had just led the KBO in both ERA (3.04) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.26) — for an in-depth piece that’s worth your time. Feierabend wasn’t quite as successful in 2018, with his ERA rising to 4.30 (still a 123 ERA+ according to the Statiz site, the source of all of the KBO stats cited here) and his K/BB dropping to 3.71. His FIP didn’t jump quite as wildly from year to year, rising from 4.42 to 4.83 (108 to 113 in terms of FIP+), but his BABIP spiked from .289 to .332.

Though he’s been throwing the knuckleball since the age of 13, Feierabend didn’t integrate it into his arsenal until 2017, and doesn’t throw it all of the time. “I started throwing a knuckleball for the simple fact that I had nothing else to lose,” he told Kim. “If it worked, it would be something that the KBO hitters had never seen before.”

The pitch has essentially replaced his slider as his third offering. Expanding the repertoire breakdown from the aforementioned piece to include Feierabend’s last taste of MLB:

Feierabend’s Evolving Repertoire
Year Fastball Sinker Slider Curve Change Knuckle
2014-MLB 53.9% 3.9% 18.0% 13.3% 10.9% 0.0%
2015-KBO 55.0% 0.1% 15.6% 6.7% 20.5% 0.0%
2016-KBO 55.1% 0.4% 18.2% 7.4% 18.3% 0.3%
2017-KBO 46.4% 0.2% 2.8% 3.9% 25.8% 20.9%
2018-KBO 48.4% 3.1% 0.8% 4.9% 29.4% 13.5%
SOURCE: http://www.statiz.co.kr/player.php?opt=10&sopt=0&name=%ED%94%BC%EC%96%B4%EB%B0%B4%EB%93%9C&birth=1985-08-22&re=1&se=&da=1&year=2018&cv=&lg=

Since adding the knuckler, Feierabend has used it as an out pitch. Last year, he threw it 26.8% of the time when he was ahead in the count and 23.4% when he got to two strikes; by comparison his numbers for his changeup were 23.1% and 18.4%, respectively. If you needed further evidence of his confidence in the pitch, the splits say that there are negligible differences in the frequency with which he throws it when there are runners on base and when the bases are empty, or when the batter is a righty or a lefty.

Let’s watch a couple of GIFs. Here’s one where you can see the pitch getting about as little spin as physically possible:

Here’s a beauty that squirted away from the catcher, because knuckleballs gonna knuckle:

Fun, huh? Check the latter’s Twitter feed for more.

Last year, Feierabend’s knuckler averaged 71.0 mph, which is slower than that of R.A. Dickey (78.1 mph in his Cy Young-winning 2012 season, 76.6 mph for his career) or Steven Wright (75.8 mph last year, 74.3 for his career). Feierabend’s average fastball speed of 83.3 mph is slower than either pitcher as well, but for what it’s worth, he does have a greater separation between the two, velocity-wise.

I have no idea if Feierabend can succeed well enough stateside to return to the majors. The odds would seem to be against him, as they are for any NRI, though they may be higher with the rebuilding Blue Jays than they might be with another team. Right now, their rotation projects to include Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richard, and Ryan Borucki, with Sean Reid-Foley and Thomas Pannone contributing as well. The first three from that group totaled just 238.1 innings in the majors last year due to injuries, Richard was lit for a 5.33 ERA and 4.68 FIP while soaking up 158.2 frames with the Padres, and the other three are a trio 24-year-olds who just got their feet wet in the majors last year. All of which is to say that none of them are going to approach 200 innings; there will be opportunities there for other starters, including Feierabend if he’s not busy getting lit up at Triple-A Buffalo.

And lordy, the baseball world needs this to happen, because the knuckleball is an endangered species. Dating back to the mid-1970s, when the brothers Phil Niekro (who pitched in the majors from 1964 to 1987) and Joe Niekro (1967-1988), Wilbur Wood (1961-1978), and Charlie Hough (1970-1994) were established and often flourishing — even well past the age of 40 — the pitch has always had at least one standard-bearer with a secure spot in the majors, and sometimes as many as four. Tom Candiotti, who began his major league career in 1983, took up the pitch in 1986 under the tutelage of his Indians’ teammate Phil Niekro and pitched until 1999. Tim Wakefield arrived in 1992, contributed significantly in 1993, disappeared for a year, and then pitched for the Red Sox through 2011. Steve Sparks (1995-1996, 1998-2004) and Dennis Springer (1995-2002) were in the picture as well, though the latter made just seven appearances over the final three seasons.

But after Sparks disappeared, the knuckleball had some lean years. Dickey debuted in 2001, but didn’t start throwing the knuckler until 2005-2006, a span during which he made just 10 appearances; he spent all of 2007 in the minors before returning in 2008 and securing a regular rotation spot in 2010. Eddie Bonine made 62 appearances for the Tigers from 2008–2010. Meanwhile, fringe guys like Charlie Haeger (34 appearances from 2006-2010) and Charlie Zink (one prominent place in a 2004 New Yorker article, and exactly one major league appearance in 2008) came and went without any sustained success. In 2012, the year Dickey won the NL Cy Young award, he was the only pitcher who threw a single knuckleball in the majors according to either PITCHf/x or Pitch Info. Wright debuted in 2013, but made just 10 appearances in his first two seasons before spending substantial stretches in the majors in 2015 and ’16 (40 appearances, 33 starts, and a total of 229.1 innings). Between a left knee that required cartilage restoration surgery in May 2017 (the same one that teammate Dustin Pedroia had five months later) and sent him to the disabled list three times last year due to inflammation — not to mention a 15-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy that has really taken the bloom off the rose — Wright has totaled just 77.2 innings over the last two seasons, including 53.2 last year. He recently compared his repaired knee to pitching on a flat tire, which has since been upgraded to a spare. Not great.

Outside of Wright and Dickey, the knuckleball landscape has become almost completely barren. Position players pressed into mop-up duty (Erick Aybar, Alex Blandino, Mike Carp, David Murphy and Danny Worth) have floated the occasional one for kicks, and Pitch Info says that C.J. Wilson and Brian Wilson combined to throw five of them in 2014, but the only other pitcher to throw a knuckler in the majors in the last six seasons is Eddie Gamboa, who totaled 13.1 innings for the Rays in 2016. Since then, Gamboa has passed through the systems of the Rangers, Dodgers, and Orioles (who drafted him in 2008 and employed him through 2015). After a signing a minor league deal with Baltimore last spring, he threw just 25 minor league innings due to some kind of elbow trouble, was lit up for 10 runs in 3.1 innings in the Mexican Winter League, and appears to be jobless at the moment; at 34 years old, there are no guarantees he’ll get another shot in affiliated ball.

Here’s a look at the pitch’s declining frequency during the pitch-tracking era, using Pitch Info’s data:

Note that we’re talking fractions of one percent, and last year was barely 0.1%.

As far as I can tell, the only other minor league knuckleball practitioners of any prominence are Mickey Jannis and J.D. Martin, both of whom are said to throw the pitch with Dickey-like velocity, in the high 70s to about 80 mph. Jannis, a 31-year-old, former 44th round pick by the Rays in 2010, who committed to the pitch he calls his “butterfly” during a 2012-15 detour to indie ball. Since July of 2015, he’s been a farmhand in the Mets’ system. Last year, he threw 142.1 innings at Double-A Binghamton with a 3.60 ERA and 3.69 FIP, but was torched for 13 runs in eight innings over two appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas. He’s been chronicling his minor league adventures for Metsmerized Online and last we heard, was headed to camp at Port St. Lucie, but it doesn’t appear that he’s gotten an invitation to major league camp.

Martin, a 36-year-old former supplemental first-round pick by the Indians in 2001, last pitched in the majors in 2010, and took a detour to the KBO himself in 2014. He committed to the knuckleball in indie ball in 2016, made a total of 10 appearances in the Nationals’ organization in 2016-2017, and spent last year with the Rays’ Double-A Montgomery affiliate, where he threw 124.1 innings with a 4.49 ERA and 5.03 FIP (he walked 12.8% of batters faced). Earlier this month, the Dodgers signed him to a minor league contract; he’s working with Hough this spring (h/t to careagan for calling my attention to this in the comments).

All of which is to say that under the circumstances, the signing and invitation of Feierabend rates as significant news in the world of knuckleballing, because the pitch itself appears to be hanging on by its fingertips. Here’s wishing him the best as he battles for a spot with the Blue Jays.

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 2/21/19

Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, welcome to today’s chat. It’s going to be a short one, because I’m finishing up a piece on the disappearing knuckleball and have to depart for my first installment of physical therapy; last week, I was diagnosed with rotator cuff impingement syndrome, a relief since I thought I had re-torn my labrum, which I first tore in 2003. Hang tight and I’ll get to the questions shortly…

Jay Jaffe: OK, I’m back

Kurupt FM: Assuming equivalent salaries, who would you rather have for 10 years, Machado or Harper?

Jay Jaffe: If marketability is a primary concern, Harper is probably the choice, but the fact that Machado plays a more important defensive position, and is still a very skilled defender, probably points the needle in his direction for me.

Tucker: Is there such a thing as a rate of diminishing returns in MLB. Meaning does Machado impact San Diego projected wins or playoff odds at a greater rate than he’d impact the Yankees?

Jay Jaffe: There are basically two key factors in play: how good is the player Machado is replacing, and how many wins was the team projected for previously. Ofhand I’m not entirely sure where the point of inflection is in the two wild card era, but I think it’s around 85 wins where the addition of each additional win increases a team’s playoff odds much more substantially than it would otherwise, and once you get above 95 wins, each additional one doesn’t change things that much. See https://tht.fangraphs.com/rethinking-the-win-curve/ for a fairly recent look.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen Welcomes College Baseball

Episode 855

Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen joins the program to ring in the start of the college baseball season. Who did Eric see as he took in games this past weekend? What is he looking for at this early juncture? How can you, the listener, best follow along at home? Plus, we discuss some of the quirkier differences between the collegiate and pro games, and the highly suspect behavior Eric observed from one Stanford fan. We also consider how Manny Machado’s signing, in conjunction with San Diego’s very good farm system, might shift the Padres’ competitive window. Those takes and more on this episode of FanGraphs Audio.

Be sure to follow FanGraphs’ dedicated prospect twitter account, FanGraphs Prospects, for prospect-related news and updates to The BOARD. And check out all of the great work from the recently concluded Prospects Week, including this year’s Top 100 prospects list.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 57 min play time.)

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2019 ZiPS Projections – San Diego Padres

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for more than half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the San Diego Padres.


There’s no way to talk about the Padres’ offense while ignoring the elephant in the room, San Diego’s big infield acquisition this winter. I’m talking, of course, about Ian Kinsler, who remains one of the most underrated players in baseball. The last time Kinsler failed to put up two WAR in a season was 2006, and even as his bat has declined — to a wRC+ of 93 in 2017 and 87 in 2018 — his glove has continued to add a whole win to his bottom line. He’s a really good transitional pickup as the Padres shift towards their Luis Urias/Fernando Tatis-based future.

Oh, right, you probably want to hear about the other dude! Manny Machado projects better as a third baseman than as a shortstop. Simply put, based on his age, his brief history at short and more lengthy one at third base, and a few other indicators — when you know nothing about a player, generalized speed data does have a relationship with defensive performance — Machado played worse defense at shortstop than ZiPS projected going into 2018. While we’d need to see a few years of him back at third to know whether this was due to a general defensive decline on his part or something shortstop-specific, ZiPS believes he’s a bit more valuable at third right now.

Overall, the projections for the Padres indicate a strong group of position players, no matter how the playing time actually sorts out in 2019. I know I rag on Eric Hosmer’s contract, but from a pure baseball standpoint rather than one of efficiency, if first base is really San Diego’s biggest lineup problem, the team’s probably in a good place. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1338: Season Preview Series: Mets and Blue Jays

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about whether contract extensions are actually on the rise, the increasingly curious career of Rinku Singh, and Pirates owner Bob Nutting’s confusing comments about payroll, then preview the 2019 New York Mets (14:07) with The Athletic’s Mets beat writer Tim Britton, and the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays (45:22 ) with Sportsnet’s baseball editor, Ben Nicholson-Smith.

Audio intro: Travis, "Sing"
Audio interstitial 1: The Magnetic Fields, "In My Car"
Audio interstitial 2: Humble The Poet, "Iam Toronto"
Audio outro: Joel Plaskett, "A Million Dollars"

Link to Jeff’s extensions research
Link to Singh interview
Link to Vlad ETA FAQ
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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It Seems Unlikely Scott Boras Has a $300-Million Bid for Bryce Harper

Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were never supposed to be free agents all the way into spring training. There are several different reasons why things have dragged on, but among them is that Machado is represented by Dan Lozano, and Harper is represented by Scott Boras. Neither agent wanted to be the first one to sign, believing that would cede the other too much leverage. And so we had a waiting game, up until Tuesday. Tuesday, someone finally blinked, and Machado agreed to a ten-year contract with the Padres worth $300 million. In theory, that makes it easy for Boras: He’ll be looking for at least $301 million to beat Machado, if not $326 million, to beat Giancarlo Stanton. Rumors have already started flying around.

Harper’s decision point is coming, and it stands to reason it’s coming soon. With Machado signed, there’s less reason to wait. Days ago, a number of people reported Harper was close to agreeing with the Phillies for $300+ million. Now, Wednesday, we have this, from Jon Heyman:

It was widely reported that, at the end of last season, the Nationals offered Harper a $300-million extension. That’s just another reason why Boras would be trying to get something bigger. I’m not sure there’s a more prideful agent in the world. Despite everything, though, I’m skeptical there’s an actual $300-million offer for Harper on the table. My best guess is that Boras finds himself in a tricky position.

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Don Newcombe, Integration Pioneer and the first “Black Ace” (1926-2019)

He wasn’t the majors’ first African American pitcher, or even the first to pitch for the Dodgers, but Don Newcombe collected some very important firsts in his role as an integration pioneer. Though he spent just 10 seasons in the majors in a career bookended by the color line and his own alcoholism — with a two-year detour into the Army during the Korean War to boot — Newcombe was the Dodgers’ ace during a period when they were a National League powerhouse. After his playing days ended, he found sobriety, and spent over four decades as the Dodgers’ director of community relations, as a counselor for players in their battles against alcohol and substance abuse, and as an exemplary ambassador for the game.

Newcombe’s full, rich life came to a close on Tuesday. He died at the age of 92 after battling a lengthy illness.

Alongside Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, who reached the majors ahead of him, Newcombe endured the indignities that came with being at the forefront of integration — the racial epithets, segregated and substandard accommodations, orders not to fight back — while helping the racially mixed Dodgers become the class of the NL. In his 10 major league seasons, the imposing, 6-foot-4 righty was part of three pennant-winning teams and two agonizing near-misses. Indeed, he became somewhat infamous for his hard and even heartbreaking luck in big games. Nonetheless, his talent was undeniable. On the mound, he went 149-90, with a 3.56 ERA (88 ERA-), 3.67 FIP (90 FIP-), and 35.9 WAR. He won 20 games three times, including in 1951, when he became the first African American pitcher to reach the milestone, and in 1956, when he won an NL-high 27 en route to the league’s MVP award and the first Cy Young Award, which at that point was given to just one pitcher for the two leagues. A legitimate threat with the bat as well, he often served as a pinch-hitter, and overall hit .271/.338/.367 with 15 homers, an 88 wRC+, and 8.7 WAR. After leaving the majors (1949-51, ’53-60), he spent a year in Japan as an outfielder and first baseman. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Week 1 College Scouting Notes

The first weekend of the 2019 NCAA baseball season is in the books, and the two of us were out in Georgia and an uncharacteristically chilly Arizona to see players. Presented here is the first of what will be a periodic collection of notes from games we’ve seen, as well as some things we’ve learned over the phone. We plan on updating our draft rankings in a week, after we have two weeks of college games under our belts; many of the players whose stock has changed are noted below.

An Update on College Pitching
In last week’s pre-season draft ranking update, we maligned the depth of the college pitching in this year’s draft. While the first weekend wasn’t universally sunny for college hurlers (more on that below), there were some strong performances. The game most heavily-attended by scouts in Arizona was Stanford left-hander Erik Miller’s start on Sunday (5IP, 4H, 2BB, 9K). Miller was consistently in the mid-90s last summer on Cape Cod, but was walk-prone. Sunday, his fastball was 89-92 for the meat of his start, but he threw strikes and was reaching back for 93-95 when he wanted it, even in his final few innings. His vertical arm slot (if you were to imagine a clock face, Miller’s arm swings through the 1 o’clock position) generates efficient backspin direction on the baseball and also creates tough plane for hitters both at the top and bottom of the strike zone, and he can get outs simply by varying the vertical location of his heater.

Miller’s changeup is his best secondary. When trying to fade it away from right-handed hitters, it was fairly easy to identify out of his hand, but beneath the strike zone it was often plus. At 82-86 mph, it was just bottoming out beneath hitters’ barrels and into the dirt, garnering several ugly swings. The better of his two breaking balls is a firm, mid-80s cut-action slider. It doesn’t have the vertical depth typical of a bat-missing slider (again, if you imagine a clock face, his slider moves from the 2 to the 8), but Miller uses it in a variety of creative ways (for early-count strikes, back door vs. righties, away from lefties) and it’s consistently average, flashing above. His loopy, 80 mph curveball gives hitters a different look, and is best deployed as a first-pitch surprise to get ahead of hitters looking to cheat on his fastball.

As a quick comparison, Stanford lefty Kris Bubic was drafted 40th overall last year as a changeup-heavy lefty, and Miller is much better than Bubic was when Eric saw him last year. With a future plus change, above-average slider, and average everything else, Miller is off to a start befitting a first rounder.

Scouts indicated to us that Texas Christian LHP Nick Lodolo was throwing harder in the fall, and he was mostly 92-94 on Friday after sitting 88-92 in each of Eric’s looks last year. The fastball didn’t miss many bats, though, and while Lodolo held Cal State Fullerton in check for five innings, he only struck out two. His slurvy, upper-70s breaking ball was often plus and he has great feel for dotting it on the edge of the plate; otherwise his usage was fairly limited. He threw just two, maybe three changeups and all were below-average. Lodolo has a well-made frame similar to Tyler Glasnow’s. His delivery is very smooth, there’s a lot to like, and the lefty velo and spin combo is enticing, but there is more pitch development necessary here than is typical for a college arm.

Meanwhile, TCU lefty Brandon Williamson seems to have made the right decision by not signing as a 36th round junior college draftee last year. He struck out seven Vanderbilt hitters in 3.2 innings on Sunday, and utilized four good pitches to do so. He was up to 93 but mostly sat 89-90, and commanded all of his secondary stuff. It took him a while to get feel for his changeup but once he did, it was great, and Williamson sometimes threw it three times in a row without diminished effectiveness. It was 84-86 mph and had surprising tail given Williamson’s vertical arm slot. He has advanced command of an average, low-80s slider, gave hitters a different look with a slower curveball a few times, and threw any pitch in any count. He executed several unpredictable sequences, and fought back with secondary stuff a few times when he had fallen behind hitters. We don’t yet know if he can retain this kind of stuff deep into games, but what he showed Sunday was better than some of last year’s third round pitchability college arms.

West Virginia righty Alek Manoah started the season ranked 44th on our latest rankings but will be higher in the re-rank next week after a loud season debut vs. Kennesaw State. The report on Manoah coming into this game was that he didn’t have the starter traits needed to comfortably see him turning a lineup over multiple times, but flashed two plus pitches in his mid-90s heater and slider. There was also some thought that he may need to watch his weight. His body composition was strong and likely contributed to improved feel to go along with the same high octane stuff: he sat 95-97 mph and located a 65-grade slider, occasionally mixing in an average changeup over the first few innings.

Manoah still had some reliever tendencies but they didn’t seem like long-term issues. Kennesaw State couldn’t hit 94-97 mph up in the zone, so Manoah just kept throwing it there and getting results. In pro ball, he’ll need to mix it up more, but you can’t blame him for taking the shortest path to 13 K’s over 6 innings. He held his stuff, sitting 93-96 just before he exited the game, and while his fastball was more of a blunt instrument, he showed good feel for locating his slider for a strike on his arm side and burying it as a chase pitch to his glove side. His control was average to slightly above and you can project the command to average if you believe he can be more precise with his fastball when he needs to be. When Manoah got in trouble a couple times, he kept his composure and worked his way out of it. Chatting with scouts and comparing this new version of Manoah to other players we just ranked, it seems like he’ll move into the 20’s along with rising, massive college arms like Jackson Rutledge and Miller.

Ball State RHP Drey Jameson, a draft-eligible sophomore, didn’t allow a single hit over six innings against Stanford on opening night. He was up to 97, flashed a plus breaking ball, and threw a few good changeups in the 88-90mph range, including one that struck out possible first round outfielder Kyle Stowers. Jameson is wiry and a little undersized, but is very athletic, has feel for locating the breaking ball, and his delivery is pretty deceptive. He could go in the first round.

**Editor’s note: Drey Jameson was originally in the 2020 section of this article, but he is a 2019 Draft-eligible Sophomore due to his age (he’s 21 on draft day)**

Jameson was opposed by Stanford right-hander Brendan Beck, who arguably out-pitched Jameson with lesser stuff. Beck was a two-way player in high school and his velocity was in the mid-80s as a prep senior and during his freshman year at Stanford. It’s not 88-90, but he hides the ball well and has plus command of a late-breaking curveball. Some other arms to watch for 2020 are Cal State Fullerton righty Tanner Bibee (90-92, some above-average curveballs, unleashed a diving split change late in his start, threw a ton of strikes) Vanderbilt lefty Hugh Fisher (94-97 with cut action, some plus sliders), and Virginia righty Griff McGarry (was wild but 92-93, good arm action, flashed plus curveball, change, average slider).

We had first round grades on right-handers Kumar Rocker and Mike Vasil when they were draft-eligible high schoolers last year. Vasil ended up at Virginia, Rocker at Vanderbilt. They each had rocky first collegiate starts. Vasil pitched pretty well but his velocity is down. He was 88-92 with feel for locating several fringe secondaries. Rocker’s first bolt was 97, then he settled into the 93-95 range for the rest of the first inning, but got hit around. His breaking ball was also well-struck several times and his upper-80s changeup was well-below average. It’s too early to be down on either of them; this is just a snapshot of where each of their stuff is right now.

On the Phone
Arizona St. righty Alec Marsh was up to 94 and threw four pitches for strikes on Friday. Gonzaga righty Casey Legumina has had a velocity spike. He used to sit 88-90 but was up to 97 over the weekend. Baylor catcher Shea Langliers is 11th on THE BOARD, but will be out for weeks with an injury that usually impacts power for a season or more, which is a hole in Langliers’ profile currently. Our 10th 2019 draft prospect, Duke lefty Graeme Stinson, was 89-93 in his season debut, down a good bit from his best relief outings when he’s be into the upper-90s. Stinson is moving to the rotation this year and maintaining his stuff over longer outings and showing more starter traits is key, so this is a down first note on the season.

On the other hand, our 58th-ranked prospect, Elon righty George Kirby, had lots of preseason late first round buzz and will now move into that range when we update our rankings next week. This week, he was up to 96, showing three above average-to-plus pitches and starter traits. Fresno State righty Ryan Jensen (who just missed the Top 100) threw a solid five innings on Saturday and is on scouts’ radar after hitting 99 mph in the fall with plus sink; the velo was still there, with him sitting 96-98 mph in his first inning. 2020 draft-eligible LSU freshman righty Cole Henry was 94-97 mph in his college debut.

On the prep side, there’s been a lot of velo in Florida lately. Our 27th prospect, righty Matthew Allan, was 93-97 and flashed a plus breaking ball Monday night; one scout said he was in the top half of the first round for him now. Our 49th-ranked prospect, lefty Hunter Barco, was 90-95 with an above average breaker and changeup, throwing from a higher arm slot (a concern scouts had over the summer) that delivered a tighter slider. Further down the list, our 93rd-ranked prospect, righty Joseph Charles, was 92-95 mph with a plus-flashing curveball in his first start last week, which helps his profile as a prep righty who’s 19.2 years old on draft day. Lastly, prep righties with velo in Texas are like death and taxes, and Houston-area righty J.J. Goss (57th in the 2019 rankings) has been 93-95 mph with a plus slider in his early starts, including on Saturday against our 36th-ranked 2020 draft prospect, catcher Drew Romo.

Kiley McDaniel Chat – 2/20/19


Kiley McDaniel: Hello from ATL, just wrapped up a call and now I’m here to chat with you while Scout is busy in the other room eating what the food robot provides


Jay: Does the Machado signing move up a potential Tatis callup from June to say, late April?


Kiley McDaniel: Will be interesting to see how SD handles this situation. Do you speed up Tatis’ 2019 look so he’s ready for the 2020 push? Same with the pitching? If they aren’t ready, do you trade some depth for now help? Or is Machado just a solid piece and he’ll be there when the kids show up? Do they have a bunch more money to spend or was this all of it?

Lots of questions and I do not have those answers right now. I would assume this means more aggressive in the right spots and so Tatis may move up quicker, which shifts Kinsler to utility.


tommyboy: 2019 draft question. How concerned are you about Logan Davidson’s lack of wood bat performance and how much higher would he have ranked if he at least performed a little on the Cape?


Kiley McDaniel: Think he may just always be a 4 bat, 5 power shortstop, which is fine.


JH: You and Eric have mentioned about adjusting the top 100 list after getting feedback from teams.

Any players where you got that sort of feedback but decided “nah, we’re good?”

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On Daisuke Matsuzaka and Fans’ Duties

Remember Daisuke Matsuzaka? The right-hander was Boston’s big-ticket pickup back in 2006, with promises of a gyroball that never panned out. After his injury-plagued tenure in the majors ended, Dice-K went back to Japan and, after a brief, injury-induced hiatus, settled in as a decent mid-rotation starter for the Chunichi Dragons. His 2018 season earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Then things took a turn.

If you’re at all familiar with Matsuzaka’s time with the Red Sox, you know that he wasn’t exactly a workhorse in Boston, with injuries ranging from Tommy John surgery to neck stiffness attenuating his MLB career. But the injury the 38-year-old suffered most recently can only be described as bizarre. Per the Japan Times:

Chunichi Dragons pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka took leave from his Central League club on Sunday in order to treat a right shoulder injury sustained when an overzealous fan pulled his arm last week.

Yes, that’s right – a fan of Dice-K thought it would be a swell idea to pull on the hurler’s right arm during a fan outreach event. The fan evidently pulled so hard that it caused inflammation in the right-hander’s shoulder, resulting in Chunichi shutting him down. Daisuke remains quite popular in Japan, however, leading some to speculate that Chunichi might actually sue the fan who pulled on the pitcher’s arm – and that the fan might even see jail time. Read the rest of this entry »