Sunday Notes: D-Backs Prospect Brandon Pfaadt Came Out of the Blue

High-performing under-the-radar prospects have been featured frequently in this space over recent months, and Brandon Phaadt fits that description to a T. Unranked coming into the season, the 22-year-old right-hander in the Arizona Diamondbacks system posted a 3.21 ERA while fanning 160 batters in 131-and-two-thirds innings. Moreover, he did so while pitching at three levels —Pfaadt’s last six starts came with Double-A Amarillo — as a 2020 fifth-round pick out of a DII school.

The Bellarmine University product pushed back slightly when I suggested that his auspicious performance came out of the blue.

“I guess it did in some people’s eyes,” said Pfaadt. “But I knew I had it all along. I had a long offseason to train, and I also think it was really important that I was able to work with three different pitching coaches this year. I got feedback from all three, and was able to take bits and pieces from each of them.”

Asked for examples, Pfaadt told me that Barry Enright (Low-A Visalia) was more mechanics-based and worked with him on the consistency of his delivery, while Shane Loux (High-A Hillsboro) was more about pitchability. At Amarillo, Doug Drabek provided an effective combination of old-school and new-school acumen. As Pfaadt put it, Drabek “knows what worked back then, and what works now.”

Pitch design didn’t play a role.

“I haven’t done too much of that other than the reports we get back each and every time we pitch or throw a bullpen,” admitted Pfaadt. “So I wouldn’t say I’m becoming a guru, or anything like that. I’m just seeing what works for me and trying to be consistent with it.”

Command is one of his attributes. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty walked just 1.9 batters per nine innings, and not because he was aiming for the middle of the plate. Getting ahead with quality strikes was a primary goal, and opportunistically working outside of the zone proved to be especially effective. Pfaadt called the latter stratagem an important part of his learning curve.

He considers his slider to be his best pitch. Thrown in the mid-80s, it is his “go-to whenever anything goes bad, or when it’s going good.” Pfaadt also features a mid-90s fastball, a high-80s changeup, and a curveball that ranges from the high-70s to the low-80s. Indirectly impacted by big-leaguers, the offerings were honed this past winter in and around his hometown of Louisville.

“I was able to work out with a bunch of guys that are pretty high up in organizations,” explained Pfaadt. “Chad Green from the Yankees is one. We have the same trainer, so I got to follow in his footsteps a little bit. We had a few catchers to throw to, including Will Smith. I learned a lot from those guys, so it was a pretty good offseason.”

His 2021 season was arguably even better. Seemingly out of the blue, Brandon Pfaadt emerged as a promising prospect in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Ryan Braun went 0 for 11 against Miles Mikolas.

Miguel Cabrera went 0 for 12 against Chad Billingsley.

Albert Pujols went 0 for 13 against Joe Saunders.

Joey Votto went 0 for 14 against Jeremy Hellickson.

Ichiro Suzuki went 0 for 15 against Ryan Vogelsong.

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As reported by Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, MLB is experimenting with a pre-tacked baseball in select Triple-A games during the final days of the minor league season. Baseballs in Japan are pre-tacked, so I asked Minnesota Twins southpaw Andrew Albers what he experienced pitching for NPB’s Orix Buffaloes from 2018-2020. My initial question was whether his pitches moved differently.

“Not a whole lot, although the balls are a little bit different,” replied Albers. “The seams are just a little bit bigger, and they wrap them in a certain kind of foil. None of them are rubbed up with mud like they are here, but they have a little tack to them. The grip is a little bit better, so while I didn’t have access to spin-rate numbers, it felt good coming out of the hand. At the same time, it gets hot and humid there, so on certain nights it was still tough.”

Readjusting to the balls used stateside at the MLB and Triple-A levels was challenging for the North Battleford, Saskatchewan native.

“April was really hard,” admitted Albers, who signed with the Twins in February. “At the alternative site in St. Paul, the balls were really, really slick. Obviously, everyone… not everyone, but a lot of guys were using sticky. It was something where you could feel the baseball, and you felt like you had a little bit of command over it. Early on, with the lack of humidity and how cold it was — and with the baseballs being rubbed up, and the small seams — it was really hard to command. So for me, the biggest difference was just trying to find a way, whether it was licking my fingers a whole bunch, or the rosin, just to get a little bit of a grip.”

Unlike in MLB, NPB pitchers have no need for substances, legal or otherwise.

“They have a rosin bag, but it’s a little bit different rosin than it is here; it’s more of a powder,” explained Albers. “But again, the balls have a little tack. I don’t know what they put in there when they’re wrapped up, but when they come out they have a little stickiness to them. As long as you can keep the sweat off of your hand in Japan, you’re fine.”

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A quiz:

Cy Young’s 906 pitching appearances are 25th-most all time. Which of the 24 pitchers with more career appearances threw the most innings?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

The Australian Baseball League announced that it will delay the start of its 2021-2022 season by a month and begin play in mid-to-late December. Lingering COVID concerns and border restrictions drove the decision.

Bill Sudakis, a catcher/corner infielder who played for six teams from 1968-1975, died earlier this month at age 75. A Los Angeles Dodger for the first four of those seasons, Sudakis had 15 home runs and a 128 wRC+ with the Texas Rangers in 1973.

Cloyd Boyer died this past week at age 94. The eldest of the three big-league Boyers — Ken and Clete preceded him in death — Cloyd pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1949-1952, and with the Kansas City Athletics in 1955.

Dewey Robinson will reportedly step down as Tampa Bay’s Director of Pitching Development/Coordinator at the end of the season. The 66-year-old former big-league right-hander initially joined the Rays as a minor league pitching coordinator in 2010.

SABR has relaunched its oral history collection, which features interviews with people throughout the game. Information can be found here.

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The answer to the quiz is Dennis Eckersley, who finished his career with 3,285-and-two-thirds innings pitched. Eckersley, who ranks fifth all time with 1,071 appearances, pitched his final game on today’s date in 1998.

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Austin Davis is all about the visuals. Talking to the Red Sox left-hander for a forthcoming Learning and Developing a Pitch installment, I learned that he likes throwing in front of a Rapsodo, but only to a certain degree. Spatial perception is the reason why.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on Rapsodo, but at some level it’s not the same as the game,” said the 28-year-old Davis, whom Boston acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in exchange for Michael Chavis. “Throwing in a bullpen with a catcher — or even no catcher, sometimes — versus in a game with a catcher, a hitter, and an umpire, is different for me. I feel where the hitter is at, and I feel where the catcher is at, and there’s a space in the middle. A lot of times I’m growing into that space, because I know if I start it there the ball is going to look like a strike and then take off.

“It will keep me in a good mechanical spot and able to rip through the ball,” continued Davis. “But when there’s no hitter there, sometimes the space I’m throwing to gets a little too broad, a little too ambiguous. It’s not the same vision. I can create a good-looking pitch with Rapsodo, but it’s not going to be the same as in a game, because I don’t have the hitter in the box.”

Davis has a 3.94 ERA in 18 relief outings comprising 16 innings since joining the Red Sox. Left-handed hitters are 6-for-46 against him on the season.

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A few milestones of note:

Miguel Cabrera needs 17 hits to reach 3,000 for his career. He needs four doubles to reach 600, and one walk to reach 1,200.

Cedric Mullins became the first 30/30 player in Orioles history when he went deep on Friday night. The Baltimore outfielder has a .300/.370/.536 slash line to go with his 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases.

Bud Black is poised to become the 66th MLB manager with 1,000 wins. The Colorado Rockies skipper was credited with his 995th managerial win on Wednesday.

Tyler Clippard and Sergio Romo have 799 and 795 pitching appearances respectively. A total of 51 pitchers have reached the 800 mark over the course of their careers. Joe Smith’s 831 games is the most among active pitchers.

Jon Lester has 2,484 strikeouts — two fewer than Don Drysdale — and needs 16 more to become the 40th pitcher to reach 2,500 for his career. Lester recorded his 200th win earlier this week.

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FARM REPORT

Spencer Torkelson has 28 home runs on the season. The 22-year-old Detroit Tigers prospect — and first overall pick in the 2020 draft — has gone deep nine times since being promoted to Triple-A Toledo on August 16. He homered 14 times with Double-A Erie, and five times with High-A West Michigan.

Josh Lowe is a perfect 25-for-25 in stolen base attempts for Triple-A Durham. The 23-year-old outfielder — No. 2 on our updated Tampa Bay Rays prospect rankings — has 21 home runs and a .920 OPS.

Nelson Velazquez had the most plate appearances (425) among minor-league hitters not to ground into a double play. The 22-year-old Chicago Cubs outfield prospect had 20 home runs, an .829 OPS, and 17 stolen bases between High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee.

Trent Palmer threw the most innings (63) among minor-league pitchers not to allow a home home. The 22-year-old right-hander — No. 23 on our updated Toronto Blue Jays prospect rankings — had a 3.00 ERA and a 3.50 FIP at Low-A Dunedin.

Andrew Luftglass has announced that he won’t be returning as the play-by-play voice of the Lake County Captains. The New Jersey native has called games for Cleveland’s High-A affiliate for the past five minor league seasons.

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An historical snapshot:

The St. Louis Cardinals broke a franchise record by winning their 15th consecutive game yesterday, eclipsing a mark set nearly nine decades ago by the 1935 iteration of the “Gas House Gang.” Hall of Fame outfielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick was that team’s offensive standout, slashing .353/.386/.576 with 46 doubles, 13 triples, and 23 home runs. The Dean brothers fronted the pitching staff. Dizzy — himself a Hall of Famer — went 28-12 with a 3.04 ERA, while Paul finished 19-12, 3.37. In first place as late as September 13, the Frankie Frisch-managed defending World Series champions ultimately fell short of the National League pennant, which was captured by the Chicago Cubs. The 1935 Cardinals finished the season with a record of 96-58.

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Kyle Boddy was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and true to form, he shared a variety of great information. In a conversation that totaled close to 30 minutes, Boddy addressed his recent departure from the Reds organization, a number of Cincinnati pitching prospects, and more. Here are a pair of excerpts from the interview.

“His 100-mph fastball is easy,” Boddy said of Hunter Greene, who ranks as the top arm in the organization. “It’s not him exerting effort. It’s not him trying… his 100-percent fastball is 104 mph. When he really lets it go, it’s 103-104 mph. There are games he doesn’t do it one time, and there are games that he’ll do it one to four times. But most of the time, he’s not going all out. For him cruising at 99 to 100, believe me, that’s easy for him.”

Boddy mentioned complete games in the interview, so I asked what the organizational philosophy has been in terms of pitch counts and innings limits.

“We’re trying to develop starters,” said Boddy. “The starting pitcher is kind of going away in today’s game, and that was frustrating to me. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not sustainable to have a bullpen with a ton of righties that throw 95-97-plus, with a slider; you’re cycling way too many guys through Triple-A. There’s not enough talent, and if we face expansion in the coming years, which I believe we will, then the talent pool will get diluted even further. We’re already talking about restrictions on rosters and pitchers. So, my idea was to get ahead of it. How do we go a little old-school, almost, and develop starters to go longer and deeper in games.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith conducted a Q&A with Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson.

The Baltimore Sun’s Nathan Ruiz wrote about how Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins might be the second ever to finish in the top five in MVP voting while playing for a 100-loss team.

How does Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 2021 breakout season measure up to Vladimir Guerrero Sr.’s breakout in 1998? Randy Holt explored that question at Beyond the Boxscore.

Lonestar Ball’s Adam J. Morris looked at left-hander John King’s 2021 season with the Texas Rangers.

Talking Chop’s Garrett Spain profiled Atlanta Braves infield prospect Vaughn Grissom.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jeimer Candelario has 16 home runs and 42 doubles.
Albert Pujols has 17 home runs and three doubles.

Juan Soto has 20 doubles and has been walked intentionally 22 times.

Colorado Rockies catcher Dom Nunez 291 big-league plate appearances and has yet to ground into a double play.

Max Scherzer is 15-4 with a 2.28 ERA; as a hitter, he is 0-for-57.
In 1967, Minnesota Twins right-hander Dean Chance went 20-14 with a 2.73 ERA; as a hitter, he went 3-for-92.

Shohei Ohtani is 11 for 53 with three home runs and one stolen base as a pitcher this season. In 2002, Mike Hampton went 21 for 60 with three home runs and one stolen base as a pitcher.

Since 2008, 29 of the 30 MLB teams have hit at least one walk-off grand slam. The outlier is the San Francisco Giants, whose last walk-off slam came from Bobby Bonds in 1973. (Per @AndrewSimonMLB)

On today’s date in 1908, Chicago Cubs right-hander Ed Reulbach tossed a pair of shutouts against the Brooklyn Superbas. The only pitcher in MLB history to achieve that feat — throw a shutout in both games of a double-header — “Big Ed” went 97-39 with a 151 ERA+ from 1905-1909.

Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’” happened on September 28, 1938: The walk-off blast by the Hall of Fame catcher lifted the Chicago Cubs past the Pittsburgh Pirates and into first place in the National League.

Players born on today’s date include Walt Streuli, a catcher who had cups of coffee with the Detroit Tigers in 1954, 1955, and 1956. Streuli logged three career hits, including one each against Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Whitey Ford. His first ever hit was off of Bobby Shantz, who was also born on today’s date.

Sticking with Shantz, the southpaw was credited with 119 wins over the course of a 16-year career. In 1962, Shantz started and won the first game in Houston Colt .45s/Astros franchise history. It was his only win in a Houston uniform.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Shirtless Bartolo Colon
9 months ago

A foot-4, 220-lb guy would have a BMI of 604.1. If he makes the majors, that would be one of the highest BMI’s in big league history.