Prospect Dispatch: Trenton vs. Harrisburg

Over the weekend, I saw the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, host the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, the Harrisburg Senators. These are my thoughts on a few of the prospects I saw, starting with those on the visiting Senators.

Harrisburg (WAS)

Luis Garcia, MIF, Top 100 Rank: 53, Org Rank: 3

An average-sized, sturdy teenager, Garcia is a bit thick in his lower half and might need to watch his weight moving forward. He continues to show solid feel to play but did not show tools during Saturday’s game that would lead me to believe he’d be anything more than a utility player in the major leagues. He has good hands and an arm strong enough to stay on the left side of the dirt but showed just fringy speed and below-average twitch. I’m skeptical about his ability to play shortstop as anything more than a fill-in, and think he likely migrates to second base as he reaches full maturity.

Any teenager who only strikes out 14.9% of the time in the Carolina league and 18% of the time (as of writing) in the Eastern League deserves credit for his bat-to-ball ability, and Garcia is not an exception, but his inability to drive the ball consistently leaves some cause for concern. Garcia’s hands and bat path are fine, but he does very little in the way of utilizing his lower half, which leads to him simply slapping at the ball and guiding it to all fields. This approach might work for an 80-grade runner, but it likely won’t work for someone like Garcia long-term. Ruling out the possibility of Garcia improving would be foolish given that he just turned 19 last month, so I will reserve final judgment as he continues to refine and improve his hitting mechanics. The current iteration of his swing, however, produces little impact.

With that being said, I don’t know if there is enough power here to be anything more than average raw. He’s fairly filled out with average bat speed and fringy twitch, so there is a chance that projecting growth will be limited by his current level of maturity and athleticism. There is still something to like here — a teenager in the Eastern League who performed well as an 18-year-old in the Carolina League, and who has a good chance to stay in the middle of the infield is certainly a prospect who is a desirable commodity for major league teams. At this juncture, however, I’m more inclined to project him as a utility player than as an everyday guy.

Wil Crowe, RHP, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 5

A thick-bodied, sturdy right-handed pitcher in the mold of ex-Nats All-Star Jordan Zimmermann, Crowe has established himself as an interesting starting pitching candidate who has several different weapons with which to attack hitters. His outing on Saturday was quality, pounding the zone for seven innings and, outside of a few early inning mistakes, stymying the Trenton lineup. His fastball worked 91-95 with life and good carry through the zone, and his breaking ball, sort of a hybrid between a curveball and a slider, was best when it had vertical characteristics similar to a curveball. As the game went on, Crowe leaned more on his changeup, a good fading offering with solid effect against both lefties and righties. The breaking ball flashed average and worked at a 45-grade, while the changeup flashed 55-grade and worked at 50.

Crowe’s pure stuff should lead him to be able to be a solid No. 4 starter, but a few factors might hold him back from reaching that ceiling. First, his past injuries (elbow and knee) could lead to long-term durability concerns. Second, Crowe’s command is currently fringy, as he scatters the zone with all his offerings. Crowe’s fastball has about an inch and a half more perceived rise than a typical right-handed pitcher’s and is relatively straight. This sort of fastball typically leads to more of a north-south approach, but thus far in 2019, Crowe has been heavily focused on pitching to the corners. His 45-grade command leads to some balls leaking out over the plate.

Given that Crowe turns 25 in September, I’m not sure how much more development there will be for him to reach his ceiling. Still, his mix of stuff is interesting. He has a fastball that touches the mid-90s with quality life, a downer breaking ball with plus spin, and a fading changeup that flashes 55-grade. I’d hesistate to project Crowe as a definite starter long-term but do think there still is a chance he is. If not, perhaps he makes some tweaks to how he uses his fastball and turns into a quality relief option. Assuming health, I think he’s a big leaguer, but the capacity in which he contributes depends on several questionable factors.

Taylor Guilbeau, LHP, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 17

A lower slot lefty, the 6-foot-3 Guilbeau creates an especially tough angle for left-handed hitters and induces a lot of groundballs. In 2017, his fastball averaged 90.4 mph and touched 94.2. Thus far as a reliever in 2019, those numbers have jumped to 93.4 and 97.1, respectively. That creates an uncomfortable at-bat for hitters, who generally are not used to seeing an arsenal from a lefty at that arm slot, led by that sort of velocity.

Guilbeau’s breaking ball is just okay, as it’s a slider with less spin than his fastball and a moderate amount of vertical movement. It should play to be more difficult against lefties than righties due to the deception that comes with a pitcher throwing from such an angle, but you’d likely have to squint for it to be an average offering consistently. His changeup, clearly the better of his two offspeed pitches, features solid tail and sink, and mirrors his fastball well. It is an average offering.

A changeup-first, lower-slot left-handed reliever is kind of a funky profile given that it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a traditional lefty killer, like others that throw similarly to Guilbeau. I do think his slider will be effective enough against lefties and think his changeup will be the same against righties. Those pitches, combined with the plus fastball, should generate a lot of groundballs in a big league bullpen. Guilbeau is 26 years old now so I’m inclined to believe that what we’re seeing is what we’re going to get, but he has improved his velocity over the past 24 monthss. Regardless, this is a good left-handed reliever who is close to big-league ready now, and should be a solid asset to a bullpen in the near future.

Trenton (NYY)

Trevor Stephan, RHP, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 13

Stephan’s combination of bat-missing and command at the University of Arkansas has carried over to the early part of his pro career, as he progressed quickly through the Yankees’ system and threw 83.1 innings in Double-A a year after being drafted. He’s had an up-and-down start to his 2019 campaign in Trenton, and this trend continued on Sunday.

Stephan stands tall and has a sturdy, workhorse-type build. He only works from the stretch and has a relatively simple start to his delivery. He lands about four inches across his body and has a very short, pinched arm circle. He throws from a three-quarter slot that has somewhat of a slingy effect due to the cross-body direction of his delivery. While the arm action and cross-body direction aren’t ideal, Stephan repeats his delivery fairly well and throws with low effort.

His fastball, his calling card in college and in the early stages of his pro career, has been up to 97 in 2019, but it was not during this outing. He worked mostly 90-94, flashing some ability to miss bats up in the zone but it largely played as an average fastball that was hittable. Stephan works to the arm side a lot — a relatively common side effect of throwing across your body — and had some issues executing when trying to come in with fastballs against left-handed hitters. His breaking ball has good spin but below-average velocity and shape, as it lives in the low-80s and is slurvy, sweeping across the zone. At its best on Sunday, it was a 45-grade offering. He threw a handful of changeups (a pitch he’s used just over 10% of the time this year) that were intriguing, with decent sink and solid fade. This pitch also played at a 45-grade throughout the outing with a shot at getting to average over time.

Given Stephan’s delivery and his inability to throw an average breaking ball consistently, I have concerns with his long-term future turning lineups over as a starter. He has a history of missing bats working predominantly off his fastball, and should his velocity creep back up into the mid-90s more consistently like it was in college, I think there’s potential for an effective middle reliever here with a fastball-dominant approach.

Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: 27

Whitlock has seen his fastball velocity steadily increase since being drafted (from an average of 92.4 mph in 2017 to an average of 93.6 mph so far in 2019) while continuing to yield impressive ground-ball rates. After walking 3.64 batters per nine innings in two seasons at UAB, Whitlock walked none in his first 13 pro innings and seven in his first 53. He reached Double-A a year after being drafted and is now part of the Trenton rotation, and there is a chance the big leagues aren’t that far out of reach.

A thin 6-foot-5 right-hander, Whitlock works quickly from a three-quarter slot. He sinks down into his backside as he drives down the mound and has a long arm circle with a stab and a wrist hook in the back. Such an arm action typically leads to some breaking ball inconsistency, and Whitlock is not immune to this. His slider, a short mid-80s breaker, has true shape and was commanded fairly well on Saturday, but it lacks the consistent bite to be a swing-and-miss offering. It flashed average. His changeup, used less than his breaking ball, has a lot of tail and some sink, with average deception out of the hand. It is likely a pitch that will be more effective against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters and could be a 45-grade offering that helps supplement the sinking fastball.

The fastball is, of course, the calling card here. A low-mid 90s offering with plus tail and solid sink, Whitlock worked down in the zone and induced groundballs all evening, which he’s done for the majority of his pro career with the pitch. It plays consistently as a 55 offering and should effectively induce groundballs as he continues to move up.

Whitlock lacks a true swing-and-miss offering and doesn’t spin the ball very well, which will likely inhibit his ability to start in the big leagues. as he’ll have trouble facing hitters more than once. The fastball, however, has a chance to be effective in short stints and could play up more consistently in the mid-90s in such a role. With enough offspeed stuff to supplement the fastball, and enough feel to throw strikes consistently, Whitlock has a chance to be a contributor as a classic middle reliever with the ability to go more than one inning.

Chris Gittens, 1B, Top 100 Rank: N/A, Org Rank: N/A

For lack of a better description, Gittens absolutely mashes baseballs. Like, he really, really mashes baseballs. Through Monday, in fact, he has hit the ball harder than any player in professional baseball with a minimum of 100 plate appearances at any level… by more than two mph.

Top Average Exit Velocities in 2019
Rank Player Plate Appearances Average Exit Velocity % of Batted Balls hit +95 mph
1 Chris Gittens 179 98.8 70.8%
2 Ibandel Isabel 206 96.5 61.5%
3 Joey Gallo 214 96.4 58.5%

Here is Gittens compared to major leaguers from the beginning of the year:

Average Exit Velocities Above 93 mph in 2019
Rank Player Plate Appearances Average Exit Velocity % of Batted Balls hit +95 mph
1 Chris Gittens 179 98.8 70.8%
2 Joey Gallo 214 96.4 58.5%
3 Josh Bell 253 94.5 54.7%
4 Christian Yelich 233 94.4 54.6%
5 Carlos Santana 247 93.4 51.8%
6 Tommy Pham 244 93.3 54.4%
7 Gary Sanchez 167 93.1 49.5%
8 Cody Bellinger 249 93.1 52.9%
9 Hunter Pence 166 93 47.9%
10 Yoan Moncada 247 93 46.5%
11 Christian Walker 228 93 54.0%
12 Nelson Cruz 144 93 49.4%

Gittens has enormous, top-of-the-scale power. What’s even more unusal is that much of his power is to the opposite field, where he hits the ball both harder and at a higher average launch angle than to the pull side. Much like many players who are oppo-dominant, Gittens artificially gets on plane and is less wrist-driven in his swing than the typical hitter, creating both a propensity to drive the ball to the opposite field with more authority and roll over more balls. While the Yankees have done a good job of continuously increasing Gittens’ average exit velocities throughout his career, he still tends to pull the ball on the ground more than is desired.

This, combined with Gittens’ injury history (he missed time in 2017 with a dislocated thumb and had two stints away from the lineup in 2018 due to hip issues), might raise some flags for his future beyond the typical flags for 25-year-old right-handed-hitting first basemen. Still, the raw power he displays is interesting to the point where it is hard to imagine him not getting a chance to make an impact in the major leagues in some capacity. He’s likely going to be a three true outcomes star, as someone who will both swing and miss a good amount and draw his fair share of walks. The power, of course, is what is going to drive his future, just as it has up to this point in his career. I’m not sure Gittens will make enough contact to play everyday in the big leagues, but he should get ample opportunities to prove himself at the game’s highest level, where his power has the chance to stand out amongst even the game’s best and most well-known power hitters.

We hoped you liked reading Prospect Dispatch: Trenton vs. Harrisburg by Josh Herzenberg!

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Josh Herzenberg has served as an area scout and a minor league coach for the Dodgers. He can be found on Twitter @JoshHerzenberg.

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Gittens sounds a lot like Chris Carter.