Prospect Watch: Balog, Binford, and Bostick by Nathaniel Stoltz April 15, 2014 Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list. *** Alex Balog, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile) Level: Low-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A Line: 11 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 1 HR, 9/5 K/BB, 4.09 ERA, 4.38 FIP Summary The 70th overall pick in last year’s draft struggled mightily upon his introduction to pro ball in 2013, but has regained the stuff that got him drafted so high. Notes A 6’6″ behemoth out of the University of San Francisco, Alex Balog was chosen by the Rockies 70th overall in the 2013 draft, but the college product was dominated by short-season hitters in the Pioneer League after he signed. His velocity declined to the upper 80s, and he was pitching in homer-happy parks. Throw in some bad luck (.396 BABIP), and Balog walked away from his first 30 professional innings with a 9.30 ERA. There were no hints of such bad form this past Friday, when I saw Balog, now with Low-A Asheville, overmatch a talented Hickory lineup with a very interesting three-pitch mix. Using a very easy delivery, Balog unleashes a 90-95 mph fastball that he’s willing to throw to all four quadrants of the zone. His size gives him good extension, and he uses a slight hip turn that hides the ball well, making the pitch jump on hitters. The pitch sets up a plus curveball that he’ll throw anywhere from 74-81 mph. He shows the ability to get the pitch over for called strikes and bury it in the dirt, as you can see in this strikeout of Lewis Brinson: Finally, he tosses in a changeup anywhere from 78-86 mph that has nice sink and fade at its best. It works well to lefthanders, as one can see in these two strikeouts of Kellin Deglan: With great size, an easy motion, and three pitches that flash at least solid-average, Balog is a very interesting pitching prospect who could quickly become a prospect-list presence if he can maintain this form. He has a good chance at becoming an innings-eater, and if he can add any velocity or further improve his changeup, he may have a shot at being an above-average starting pitcher. One key aspect to his reaching his ceiling is going to be keeping the ball in the park–the Rockies’ system is full of hitter’s havens, and Balog’s fastball doesn’t have much life, so it’ll be interesting to see how the short porches and wind patterns punish him for his heater’s straight trajectory. *** Christian Binford, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile) Level: High-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A Line: 12 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 16/0 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.62 FIP Summary After a strong 2013 that established him as a solid pitching prospect, Binford has come out rolling in 2014. However, despite his intimidating size and results, he doesn’t look like a potential dominant starter. Notes Christian Binford is a 6’6″ righthander who lit up the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2013, posting a 2.67 ERA, 2.66 FIP, and 130/25 K/BB in 135 innings at age 20. Those are excellent numbers, and I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see him and get context for them last year. Fortunately, I was able to see him a mere three days into this season–where he’s compiled 16 strikeouts in 44 batters faced without walking anyone–and while I didn’t come away particularly disappointed, I wasn’t blown away, either. I’ll start with the positives. Binford is a 6’6″ righthander who, unlike many young hurlers of that height, has no trouble with his mechanics, utilizing a low-effort, repeatable delivery that allows him to project for near-plus command. He also has a solid fastball-slider combination–his heater works at 89-93 with good extension from his height, and the slider comes in at 79-82, occasionally flashing plus with two-plane bite. At other times, it gets less sharp and more slurvy, but it’s still an average pitch with a chance to round into more consistent plus form. You can see both pitches in action in these two strikeout videos: However, Binford didn’t throw very many changeups in the outing, and the few he did throw were too firm and lacked much finish. That leaves him without great weaponry against lefthanded batters, since he doesn’t have premium velocity and sliders have been shown to have one of the largest platoon splits of pitch types. Indeed, lefties hit .304/.348/.396 last year against Binford, compared to just .218/.258/.304 for righties, so there’s some statistical evidence that this issue is already being reflected in the stat sheet. With a fastball that probably won’t ever be a true plus offering and a changeup that needs a lot of work, Binford seems to have a difficult road ahead of him to be any sort of upper-echelon starting pitcher at the game’s highest level. That’s not to say that his combination of reasonable velocity, a good breaking pitch, and plus command and pitchability won’t make him a valuable innings-eater, but think more along the lines of Scott Feldman than Adam Wainwright. *** Akeem Bostick, RHP, Texas Rangers (Profile) Level: Low-A Age: 19 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A Line: 9 2/3 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7/2 K/BB, 4.66 ERA, 3.72 FIP Summary This high school product of the 2013 draft class has plenty of time and projection, but the early returns on his skillset this season leave a lot to be desired. Notes Bostick missed our own Marc Hulet’s Rangers Top 15, but he was picked 62nd overall last year–eight selections before Balog–and generally fell somewhere in the 10-25 range of Rangers prospects in most offseason lists after throwing well (2.83 ERA, 2.55 FIP) in the Arizona League after being drafted. As the above statline shows, he hasn’t completely fallen on his face in Low-A Hickory so far despite not turning 19 yet–another positive sign. However, the actual on-field performance Bostick has shown has been less positive. Reported to have “a fastball that sat at 90-94 mph before the draft and tickled 96 in the AZL” in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, he spent the entirety of his most recent start on April 10 working at a comparatively meager 88-91 mph. His fastball has some run and sink to it, but not so much that it makes up for such a lack of velocity. Bostick spent much of the outing focusing on his changeup–he started quite a few batters with it to steal strikes, and also tried to turn to it as his “out pitch.” Here, he struck out Correlle Prime with one at 83… …but you can see that even there, the pitch doesn’t have a whole lot of action on it. It came in anywhere from 79-86; sometimes it showed some cutting action, and at other times, it had a bit of fade, but still other times, it didn’t have much movement at all. As these fluctuations in both velocity and movement imply, it occasionally looks like a fringe-average offering, but quite often just doesn’t work. As such, Bostick struck out three of the first four batters he faced in the outing–and three pretty good ones (Ryan McMahon, David Dahl, and Prime) at that–but the Asheville hitters quickly caught on to his duo of unimpressive offerings, and he wasn’t able to notch any strikeouts the rest of the way. I’m not sure if Bostick’s changeup obsession is some sort of odd confidence in this offering or an organizational mandate, and if it’s the latter, I’m not necessarily saying it’s a poor idea for him to get a lot of work in on a pitch that will be a key component of his arsenal. Still, one can hardly count this pitch as a point in Bostick’s favor at this point in time. Bostick threw exactly three breaking pitches in the outing–curveballs of 72, 75, and 76 mph–and the first didn’t come until his final pitch of the fourth inning. And the last one…well… Furthermore, as one can see from the above clips, Bostick doesn’t really have an optimal motion. He’s fairly compact and certainly isn’t high-effort, but he doesn’t get great momentum or extension toward the plate, and he strides fairly far toward third base in his motion, hampering his ability to locate. Bostick doesn’t turn 19 for a few more weeks, giving him plenty of time,and at 6’4″ 180, he has a lot of projection left. Still, this is a pitcher who has no average pitches yet and who doesn’t have the sort of delivery that projects to give him the sort of command that will allow the stuff to play above its raw velocity and movement (like Binford’s does). Even at his young age, that’s a concern–for example, last year I saw a Royals pitching prospect named Jake Newberry, as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Newberry worked mostly 88-93, showed off a near-plus breaking ball, and had an easy delivery, though he didn’t have much of a changeup–so overall, his changeup’s worse than Bostick’s, but his other pitches and mechanics were superior at the same age. Newberry doesn’t sniff prospect lists in his own organization–he wasn’t even on Baseball America’s Royals depth chart in the latest Prospect Handbook. The point of the above sidebar is that even at 18, a lot of pitchers display something that projects to be an interesting asset for them down the line, whether it’s raw arm strength, a great offspeed pitch, or an easy motion. Bostick, though, isn’t really showing anything that looks to be his “carrying skill.” It’s certainly possible that we’re just seeing him get accustomed to the grind of a full professional season, and he may he up into that 90-94 range a month from now, so I don’t want to sound the alarm too loudly, and it’s beyond foolish to discard his prospect status this early, but Bostick needs to find an identity he can work from in full-season ball before some of the rosier projections bestowed upon him look realistic.