Sunday Notes: Ethan Small is a Sneaky-Fast Southpaw (SEC First-Rounders Attest)

Ethan Small’s success comes largely from his heater. Which isn’t to suggest he throws smoke. As Eric Longenhagen wrote when profiling the 23-year-old southpaw for our 2020 Brewers Top Prospects list, Small is “blowing fastballs with mediocre velocity past opposing hitters because he hides the ball well and creates pure backspin.” Velocity-wise, the former Mississippi State Bulldog typically sits in the low 90s.

Professional hitters haven’t seen much of him due to the pandemic — Small’s curriculum vitae comprises 21 A-ball innings — but Southeastern Conference opponents are another story. They had plenty of opportunity to be impressed with the 28th-overall pick in the 2019 draft, particularly in his junior year when he went 10-2 with a 1.93 ERA, and 176 strikeouts in 107 innings.

A pair of fellow 2019 first-rounders sang Small’s praises when I asked which SEC pitchers they’d faced stood out the most.

Braden Shewmake, whom the Atlanta Braves drafted 21st overall out of Texas A&M, began by citing Casey Mize. The second pitcher he mentioned was Small.

“Mississippi State always had some guys,” said Shewmake. “Ethan Small is a good arm. He was not fun to hit off of, especially being left-handed. For us, he was one of the first guys that started with all that spin rate stuff. He’d be throwing up in the zone, and a lot of guys didn’t know how to adjust that. He wasn’t super-overpowering, but he did have a good curveball, which made his fastball look a lot harder. And that ball just rode. He was sneaky quick, and he’s long too, so the ball got on you a little bit quicker.”

JJ Bleday — fourth-overall by the Miami Marlins — shared similar thoughts when addressing the 6-foot-4 lefty (he also name-checked Garrett Crochet, Kumar Rocker, and a few others.)

“He had a very high spin rate in the zone,” Bleday said of Small. “He’d only be throwing 89- 92, maybe touching 93, but he had a great fastball. He was one of those guys where you’d be hunting that heater, and you’d still be swinging-and-missing because of the spin rate and because of where he was playing it in the zone.”

Justin Foscue saw much of the same, albeit from a different vantage point. The Texas Rangers 2020 first-rounder was a Bulldog himself.

“He just ran out there and threw fastballs,” said Small’s former teammate. “I don’t know how people didn’t hit him. Like, guys would just swing right through it every single time. He was sneaky fast that way. He could tell them, ‘Hey, here comes a fastball,’ and they’d still swing through it. So he was pretty fun to play behind him. I didn’t have many ground balls hit to me. I think he just struck out like 70 percent of the people he faced.”

A lot of those strikeouts came with fastballs, although not exactly for the reasons suggested above. Perception doesn’t always match reality, and according to Small, what drives his effectiveness is more than meets the eye.

“A lot of people think it’s a really high spin-rate fastball, and I would say that’s not exactly the case,” said Small. “I think a lot of it has to do with my extension — whatever that distance is from home to wherever I’m releasing the ball — and also spin efficiency; I’m probably flirting with 98-to-100%. That and the big extension number is what gets that rise on the fastball late in the zone. My [spin rate] is by no means above average.”

Small was No. 4 in our Brewers Top Prospect rankings a year ago. Our 2021 list is forthcoming.

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Alex Cora was asked about effective people-management skills, including how some players require a firm boot in the backside, while others are better served with a softer touch. He acknowledged the need for both approaches. As the Red Sox skipper put it, “The only thing they do the same is being baseball players. Besides that, you have different personalities.… [and] I’m a human being. I have good days and bad days. But when you have to deal with them, whatever I have in my menu, or whatever bad day I have, I have to put it behind.”

Cora has experienced the manager-player dynamic from both sides, having spent 14 seasons as a big-league infielder. Half of them were with the Dodgers, where he played under Davey Johnson, who pushed him hard, and Jim Tracy, who was “more gentle, more subtle.” Cora then went from Los Angeles to Cleveland, where he learned that while a squeaky wheel often gets the grease, it can also send you slip-sliding away.

“Early in 2005, in Cleveland with Eric Wedge, it was uncomfortable,” recalled Cora. “I came from a situation where I was a platoon guy, and I signed with them expecting to play more. And I wasn’t playing. I don’t want to say I was bad influence, but I wasn’t happy. I went to the office for the first time, complaining about playing time. Two, three days later, they traded me. So I learned my lesson… Nobody wants a utility guy, or a 25th man on the roster, to be a problem.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Lenny Green went 2 for 5 against Jack Spring.

George Springer is 2 for 4 against Chad Green.

Shawn Green went 3 for 15 against Dennis Springer.

Khalil Greene went 2 for 11 against Russ Springer.

Marcus Semien is 3 for 4 against Jeffrey Springs.

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Jurickson Profar passed up other offers to re-sign with the San Diego Padres over the offseason. One came from the Red Sox, prompting me to ask the 28-year-old infielder just how serious Boston’s overture was.

“They made a really good offer, but I wanted to come here,” Profar stated. “Here is my team. We couldn’t play with fans last year, but we felt the energy of the fans every game. I wanted to come here to play in front of the fans.”

Playing home games at Fenway Park wasn’t a temptation?

“Not really,” responded Profar. “Petco is better.”

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Prior to the Brewers’ bringing Jackie Bradley Jr. on board, Roster Resource had the handedness of the team’s batting order projected to be L-R-L-R-L-R-L-R-L. I brought that up to Milwaukee manager Counsell, and asked if the every-other formula is something he’s generally in favor of. I also asked if he’d prefer not to have batters with high strikeout rates hitting back-to-back.

“I haven’t looked at lineup projections for us, or thought about lineups for us,” claimed Counsell. “I don’t even have an idea of what the Fangraphs projection is. I’ll read that to make sure we get it right. But look, you put in a lot of thought, so those things factor in. I think probably match-ups would take precedence over [both]. Offensive-quality of players probably trumps everything.”

Pushing the envelope a bit, I followed up by asking if he’d truly not be concerned with penciling in three high-strikeout guys in a row, or even three base-cloggers in a row.

“You work with your personnel,” replied Counsell. “Your personnel is always different, so you’re trying to… put them in the best group. You’re going to have to make some sacrifices in those choices. I think we know that. But whatever we do, it’s the players we think can produce the most runs. Those are the guys you want hitting the most.”

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A quiz:

Who has the highest batting average in Milwaukee Brewers franchise history (minimum 3,000 at bats)?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

The NPB season gets underway this coming Friday. Per Tokyo-based scribe Jim Allen, the league is considering eliminating extra innings this year due to the pandemic. Last year’s games were allowed to go 10 innings, rather than the usual 12.

The Red Sox annually play a late-morning game at Fenway Park on the day of the Boston Marathon, and the April tradition — in place since 1968 — will continue this year despite the Marathon’s being moved to October due to the pandemic. Boston will face the Chicago White Sox at 11:10 on April 19.

The Altoona Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have hired Jon Mozes as their new Director of Communications and Broadcasting. Mozes has spent the previous six seasons with the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

Frankie De La Cruz, who pitched in 26 games for four teams from 2007-2011, died last Sunday at age 37. A native of Santo Domingo, De La Cruz was part of the eight-player mega-deal that sent Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins to the Detroit Tigers in December 2007.

Jim Snyder, an infielder who played in 41 games for the Minnesota Twins from 1961-1964, died earlier this month at age 88. A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Snyder served as the manager of the Seattle Mariners during the 1988 season.

SABR’s Boston Chapter will host a Zoom meeting with former Red Sox infielder Rico Petrocelli this coming Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. EDT.To register for the event, click here.

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The answer to the quiz is Jeff Cirillo, who batted .307 in his eight seasons with the Brewers. Cirillo had 1,000 hits in 3,259 at bats over his two stints in Milwaukee.

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Buck Farmer has become a mentor. Thirty years old and entering his eighth season with the Detroit Tigers, he’s being approached for advice by young pitchers looking to gain a foothold at the highest level. The veteran reliever is happy to help, and to him, confidence is a key to that foundation.

“It’s the same game,” said Farmer. “Yeah, you’ve got bigger names stepping into the box, but a guy once told me that the person in that box is just a jersey with a name on it. I’ve taken that to heart, and that’s what I tell guys, too. Yeah, they’re bigger names, but your stuff is better than theirs. You’re here for a reason.”

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Cesar Valdez threw his changeup 83.2% of time (no, that’s not a typo) in his 14-and-a-third innings with the Orioles last year. I recently asked he 36-year-old former Mexican League mainstay if he could share the details on his signature pitch, which he learned in 2006 while starting out in the Arizona Diamondbacks system.

“I’ve said before that Erik Sabel helped me out with it at the beginning,” Valdez said through Orioles interpreter Ramón Alarcón. “After that, I’ve been perfecting it throughout the years. Right now I can throw it from different angles, different grips, for strikes, for balls, in and out, move it all over the plate.”

Following up, I asked the slow-ball specialist how many different changeup grips he has.

“I’m trying to use the same grip, and just change the angle on the hand,” Valdez explained. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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SIX SPRING PITCHING NOTABLES

Pittsburgh’s David Bednar has thrown seven scoreless innings in as many appearances. The former Padre has allowed two hits, walked one, and fanned 13.

Miami’s Sandy Alcantara has allowed 15 base runners, but only two runs — both unearned — in 12-and-two-thirds innings. His 19 strikeouts lead all pitchers this spring.

Minnesota’s Randy Dobnak has 13 strikeouts and no walks in eight-and-two-thirds innings. He’s allowed five hits and one unearned run.

Milwaukee’s J.P. Feyereisen has 11 strikeouts and two walks in six-and-two-thirds hitless, and scoreless, innings.

White Sox changeup artist Evan Marshall has 10 strikeouts and one walk in five hitless, and scoreless, innings.

Red Sox Rule-5 pick Garrett Whitlock has 12 strikeouts and no walks in nine innings. He’s surrendered eight hits, and one run, over four appearances.

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Alex Cora confirmed yesterday that the Red Sox plan to start the season with 14 pitchers. That likely leaves no room on the Opening Day roster for Michael Chavis, who has been crushing baseballs all spring. The 25-year-old former first-round pick has 11 hits in 37 at bats, including a pair of doubles and five home runs.

Drafted as a shortstop, Chavis has played first, second, third, and left field since making his major-league debut in 2019. He has an 87 wRC+ and 23 home runs in 540 big-league plate appearances.

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How might someone go about evaluating players during spring training without actually seeing any of the games? Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was recently asked that question — in so many words — by Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun.

“If somebody is 0 for 3 with two line outs, all you see [in the boxscore] is 0 for 3,” Hyde replied. “That’s hard to evaluate. But as we go along, you’re going to see our starting players play more, and play longer in the games. I think that’s more of a tell. The first couple weeks of spring training is really a crapshoot, because you’re playing a lot of people in a lot of places…. I think it’s very, very challenging if you’re not here to evaluate.”

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Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black is San Diego State University alum, and he was asked on Friday about the school’s chances in the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs went 23-4 on the season, and were set to take on Syracuse later that evening.

“I have them going all the way to playing the Houston Cougars, then maybe getting upended there” Black said of his bracket. “So a couple of wins, at least going to the Sweet 16. We need [Matt] Mitchell, [Jordan] Schakel — a couple of those senior players — to take some of those young guys into Indianapolis and play good basketball.”

Does he have the 26-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs willing it all?

“In one of my sheets, yes,” responded Black. “I have the Zags running the table.”

Black’s latter prediction could very well bear fruit. The former has already gone up in flames. The Syracuse Orange bounced San Diego State out of the tournament on Friday night with a 78-62 win.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Chicago Sun-Times. Daryl Van Schouwen wrote about how White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is making his voice heard, loud and clear.

Cubs prospect Jesus Camargo was arrested on drug-related charges after he was found with 21 pounds of methamphetamine and 1.2 pounds of oxycodone in his equipment bag. Brett Taylor has the story at Bleacher Nation.

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Donald Orr told us about the Portland Rosebuds, who were part of the West Coast Negro Baseball Association.

Adam J. Morris looked at some Three True Outcomes data and shared his findings at Lone Star Ball.

Red Reporter’s Wick Terrell wrote about Jonathan India and service time manipulation.

ESPN’s Marly Rivera talked to Miguel Cabrera, who doesn’t believe the Houston Astros’ 2017 title was tainted.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Jacob deGrom has had seven seasons as a full-time starter. He has a 150 ERA+. Johan Santana had seven seasons as a full-time starter prior to getting hurt. He had a 151 ERA+.

Barry Bonds had 263 stolen bases as a member of the San Francisco Giants.
Bobby Bonds had 263 stolen bases as a member of the San Francisco Giants.

Johnny Sain pitched 2,125-and-two-thirds innings from 1942-1955. As a batter, he drew 24 walks and struck out 20 times in 857 plate appearances. Sain’s 2.3 K% is the lowest for a pitcher over the past century (minimum 50 plate appearances).

Brian Wilson has the fewest innings pitched (382.0) of any pitcher who was a three-time All Star. (per Adam Darowski)

Ichiro Suzuki had 35 plate appearances versus Nate Robertson and put the ball in play every single time. He slashed .314/.314/.314. (per Aidan Jackson-Evans)

In 1934, New York Giants left-hander Carl Hubbell made 34 starts and led the National League in complete games with 25. He made 14 relief appearances and led the senior circuit in saves with 8. Dean threw 313 innings on the season.

In 1936, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Dizzy Dean made 35 starts and led the National League in complete games with 28. He made 17 relief appearances and led the senior circuit in saves with 11. Dean threw 315 innings on the season.

The Detroit Tigers traded Tito Francona to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Larry Doby on today’s date in 1959.

Players born on today’s date include Manny Sanguillen, who made three All-Star teams, and won two World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, in a career that spanned the 1970-1979 seasons. A free-swinging catcher — he walked just 223 times — Sanguillen swatted 1,500 hits, and slashed .296/.326/.398.

Also born on today’s date was Mysterious Walker, who pitched in the American League, National League, and Federal League from 1910-1915. All told, he went 7-23 with a 4.00 ERA.





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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MikeS

So what Alex Cora is saying is, some guys march to the beat of a different trash can?