Thursday, January 29, 2009
Major League Baseball players have been playing for years and years before they ever reach the show. And, in all that time, they are using a consistent approach at the plate. It seems from the moment they pick up a bat, they are the kind of hitter that they will always be. Some are patient, while others are aggressive. Just like some players being fast or having cannons for arms, while others have lead feet and poor arms. While a player may be able to make an incremental improvement in these tools through better mechanics or conditioning, by and large raw tools can't be improved very much.
However, others do believe that plate discipline can be taught, that with the proper instruction a hitter can change his approach. Personally, I'd say that that would be the exception, not the rule. Even so, the most widely cited case for improved plate discipline is New York Met shortstop Jose Reyes, who has reputedly made incremental improvement since his rookie year. Even so, I'm not sure if it's legitimate improvement or just the result of a rookie year that wasn't indicative of his true plate discipline. His career minor league batting average and OBP are .285/.338, while his career MLB numbers are .287/.336. So, his current level of performance is exactly in line with what he did in the minor leagues.
Anyway, I thought it might be fun and maybe even instructive to take a look at some of the brothers who have played the game. Maybe that will reveal something about the nature vs. nurture debate. Granted, a lot of these players had similar upbringings, but given that they have played for different coaches and different organizations, I think it's fairly clear that plate discipline is much more likely to be a tool than a learned skill.
Here are the IsoD (OBP - BA), Plate Appearances per Walk, and percentage of Plate Appearances that result in a Walk for some of the brothers who have played professional baseball:
I find the similarity between the plate discipline skills of these sets of brothers to be pretty remarkable. The Boones are almost exactly the same, as are the minor league numbers of the Ka'aihues, and the MLB numbers of the Giambis. The DiMaggios were all pretty close, though Dom had a leg up in controlling the strikezone. The Alous were all free swingers, but Jesus was much less patient than Felipe and Matty. Billy and Cal aren't too far off, but it's clear that Cal was more patient. Clearly, the biggest discrepancy is between Vlad/Wilton and Paul/Lloyd. In both cases, one of the brothers (Vlad and Paul) has significantly more power than the other (Wilton and Lloyd), so it's possible that pitchers worked more carefully to those hitters and give them more "unintentional, intentional walks."
Overall, I think genetics do determine the type of hitter you are. You can argue that the fathers taught the kids the same approach at the plate, but I think there's more to it than that, especially considering just how many different hitting coaches each of the brothers have had in their careers. That said, what we really need to resolve this pesky "nature vs. nurture" debate is a set of twin MLB brothers who were separated at birth and raised in completely different environments, but until that time I suppose we'll just have to settle for this type of anecdotal evidence.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Height 6-0, Weight 180, B/T: R/R, DOB: 11/2/1985
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Other Notables
Daryl Thompson may well have had the best 2008 minor league season that no one heard about. I'm not sure why, but Thompson seemed to get very little publicity for his stellar performance. Regardless of the lack of ink, Thompson's performance certainly put him back on the Reds' radar.
Thompson spent time at four different minor league stops and got a cup of coffee in majors in 2008 and overall performed exceptionally well. Thompson tossed 4.0 uninspiring innings for the Gulf Coast League and 15.2 innings of disappointing baseball for high-A Sarasota before really taking off.
Thompson worked 61.1 dominant innings for double-A Chattanooga. He posted a 1.76 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 56/14 K/BB ratio. And, he really was about that good, as evidenced by his component stats, 2.56 FIP and .271 BABIP. It really was a stellar performance and it earned him another promotion.
At triple-A Louisville Thompson continued his stellar performance. He worked 45.2 innings posting a 2.76 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and a 33/9 K/BB ratio. Again, his components were solid, as he posted a 3.76 FIP and .267 BABIP.
Overall, Thompson's 2008 season saw him post a 2.70 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and a 99/30 K/BB ratio. His GB/FB ratio was only 1.01, so has only neutral tendencies. Even so, that level of performance makes him the front runner for minor league pitcher of the year in the Reds organization. Not surprisingly, Thompson did get in some time at the major league level.
Unfortunately, Thompson's MLB time did not go quite as smoothly. Thompson made three starts in late June and early July. His first start came against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, which is a mighty tall order for a rookie. Even so, Thompson acquitted himself well, working 5.0 innings giving up 0 runs, 4 hits, 4 walks, and tallying 2 strikeouts. He also provided one of the more memorable moments in a lost season. In the 2nd inning, Thompson gave up a leadoff double to Alex Rodriguez. He followed up on that by giving up a single to Hideki Matsui, which advanced A-Rod to third. Thompson walked Jason Giambi to load up the bases with no outs.
Not an easy spot for a rookie making his MLB debut, but Thompson proved up to the challenge. He proceeded to strikeout Jorge Posada for the first out. He then got the ever-aggressive Robinson Cano to foul out on a popfly to Paul Bako for out number 2. Thompson then faced Melky Cabrera as the final obstacle to getting out of trouble. He blew an inside fastball by Melky for the strikeout to close out the inning. Thompson really rose to the occasion and demonstrated some true intestinal fortitude. When Thompson blew the final fastball past Melky Cabrera, Dusty Baker basically leapt off his seat in excitement. After working through the trouble, Thompson polished off a very strong MLB debut, throwing 96 pitches and giving up no runs to the Yankee juggernaught.
Unfortunately, Thompson's next two starts didn't go quite so well, as Thompson finished up with an MLB line of 6.91 ERA, 1.89, and a 6/7 K/BB ratio in 14.3 innings. His fastball averaged 91.8 mph and his changeup clocked in at 81.2 mph. During his stint in the majors, he relied mostly on the straight stuff, throwing 64.2% fastballs and 25.3% changeups. He used his slider only 6.0% of the time and his curveball 4.6% of the time.
Anyone who has seen Daryl Thompson pitch knows that his mechanics almost defy description, but I'll give it a workman like effort.
One of the first things that jump out at me about Thompson is "the crouch." In the first photo, you can see that he bends at the waist when driving off the rubber, which is just the first of many unusual aspects of his mechanics.
In these two photos, you can see Thompson on the left and Tim Lincecum on the right. Each is at a similar point in his delivery and the comparison I want to make is the position of the pitching hand. Thompson's hand is on top of the ball and he uses an unorthodox wrist cock, which is not the norm in pitching. On a positive note, during his time at the MLB level Thompson appeared to have reduced his wrist cock. As for Lincecum, his hand is on the side of the ball (but it almost appears to be under the ball) and he has no wrist cock. Lincecum's arm is basically a "L", while Thompson's arm looks like the Cincinnati Reds wishbone "C". On the plus side, you can see that both Lincecum and Thompson are keeping their elbows below shoulder level.
The next unusual aspect of Thompson's mechanics is the ball position. Most pitchers are taught to "show" the ball to second base, but the majority of MLB pitchers actually show the ball to third base. In the far left photo, you can see Greg Maddux "showing" the ball to third base. In the far right photo, you can see Lincecum "showing" the ball to second base. In the middle photo, you can see that Thompson is basically "showing" the ball to the ground, which is not recommended. Also, you can see that Maddux and Lincecum have their arms in a vertical position, while Thompson's arm is almost horizontal.
As for his arm action, you can see from the photo on the left that Thompson throws from a low three-quarter arm slot. Also, in the photo on the left, you can see that Thompson uses a fairly short stride. As a result of his shorter stride, Thompson's momentum carries his right leg well past his plant foot and he seems to basically walk towards homeplate on his follow-through. In the photo on the right, you can see that Thompson somewhat pulls his head towards first base during his delivery, which is due in part to his lower arm slot.
Obviously, Thompson has very unorthodox mechanics, but he certainly made them work in 2008. Even so, it's not difficult to see why he suffered a torn labrum earlier in his career, especially when you consider that he seems to be the epitome of a max effort pitcher. As of now, it's almost impossible to know what to make of him, both from a performance and injury risk point of view.
Thompson exploded back onto the scene in 2008. Given that he performed well on several different levels, his emergence is likely for real. Last year, Thompson missed out on the top 25 because I had concerns about his velocity. However, he dispelled those concerns quickly and ascended rapidly up the ladder. For 2009, Thompson will compete for the 5th spot in the MLB rotation. If he misses out, then he'll head back to triple-A Louisville despite not really needing any more development time. Thompson's ceiling seems to be that of a #4 starter, so for now he checks in at #11 on the list.
Monday, January 19, 2009
"Reds signed outfielder Jonny Gomes to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training.Gomes made $1.3 million last season, but was non-tendered by the Rays last month after hitting just .187. He'll earn $600,000 if he makes the team, with another $200,000 in potential incentives. If Gomes does crack the Opening Day roster, it'll likely be as a bench bat and platoon player."
From my perspective, this is a great risk/reward signing by the Reds. They have been kicking the tires on every possible right-handed hitting leftfielder without much success. The asking price in terms of talent or salary for all the options was deemed to high. Ultimately, the Reds may have found the best option available, which not coincidentally comes at very little cost.
When both Willy Taveras and Jonny Gomes were non-tendered, I was actually hopeful that the Reds would sign the latter. Instead, they chose to sign the former. When that happened, I was contemplating writing about what the choice between two players indicated about the organizational philosophy of the Reds. On the offensive side of the game, Willy T. and Jonny G. are polar opposites and in fact straddle the divide between traditional player valuation and sabermetric valuation.
Willy T is an early count hitter whose game is based purely based on speed. He has no power and very poor on base skills. To be effective, he has to hit .310-.320, which is what is necessary to bump his OBP up to acceptable levels for a leadoff hitter. Willy T is the type of hitter that was fashionable and highly sought after in the 1970s and 1980s. He's a Willie Wilson/Vince Coleman type player in an era where their particular skillsets have been revealed to be less valuable than previously thought.
As for Jonny Gomes, he has poor foot speed and strikes out with great frequency. His game is power and patience, which is what statistical analysis reveals to be the most valuable offensive attributes. Gomes has fallen on hard times as he has fallen out of favor in Tampa Bay. As the Rays farm system has begun to develop more and more impact talent, Gomes got pushed further and further out of their future plans.
As a low contact hitter, Gomes may be the type of player who needs fairly regularly playing time to maintain any type of consistency at the plate. So far, his career season was the 2005 when he hit .282/.372/.534/.906 with a 113/39 K/BB ratio and 21 homeruns in 407 plate appearances. So, that reveals the type of upside that Gomes possesses. He also hits line drives at a good clip, posting a LD% of 23.3% in 2005 and 19.0% for his career.
On the defensive side, Gomes is a very poor outfielder and Willy T has actually been a tick below average in centerfield. So, neither is a defensive dynamo, but Gomes may potentially make Dunn look like Curt Flood out there. Even so, if Gomes can hit, then the Reds could use his bat. Both Gomes and Taveras come with significant performance risk and chances are neither will hit their respective ceiling. However, hands down I would rather sign Gomes on a low salary contract, as I think his upside is higher and his contract makes him a lower risk. The risk/reward balance tilts in Gomes' favor.
Willy T is contact and speed, while Jonny G is walks and power. I suppose the best case scenario is that they form a "dynamic duo" in leftfield and centerfield. Hopefully, they both bring some quality offensive production to the lineup and make the Reds a better team.
At the very least, I like the fact that the Reds front office made this acquisition, as it shows that they can appreciate power and patience as much as contact and speed. Even if Gomes flames out, the signing itself makes me a bit more optimistic for the future.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Height 6-3, Weight 200, B/T: R/R, DOB: 08/4/1982
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #17
Josh Roenicke arrived in the majors for a late September cup of coffee. One could make the case that he should have arrived earlier and worked more innings, but at least he got his feet wet. Last year, Roenicke checked in at #17, but this year he climbs the rankings. His raw stuff is as good as ever and he has proven himself against more advanced competition. He's on the cusp of the majors, waiting only for the Reds to find a fulltime spot in their MLB bullpen.
The Reds sent Roenicke to double-A Chattanooga to start the 2008 season. At double-A, Roenicke pitched well. In 22 innings, he posted a 3.27 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a 28/12 K/BB ratio. In his time there, he also racked up 10 saves, gaining even more valuable late inning experience.
His performance earned him a promotion to triple-A Louisville. At triple-A, he worked 39.0 innings and posted a 2.54 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 43/14 K/BB ratio. He only earned 3 saves, filling primarily a set-up role for Jon Adkins.
Overall, Roenicke was about as good as his numbers. At Chattanooga, his FIP was 3.46 and his BABIP was .358. At Louisville, his FIP was 2.88 and his BABIP was .330.
As with most power pitchers, Roenicke doesn't get a significant number of groundballs. Most high strikeout, power pitchers tend to work up in the strikezone, which leads to a significant number of flyballs. Overall in 2008, Roenicke posted a GB/FB ratio of 0.98, so he was basically a neutral pitcher.
Roenicke's solid season earned him a promotion to the majors, where he acquitted himself well...for a rookie. He only worked 3.0 innings and posted a 9.00 ERA, but he struck out 6 hitters, which was good for an 18.0 K/9. His fastball averaged 94.8 mph, which is even nastier when you consider the good movement on the pitch.
Here's how Roenicke's first MLB outing unfolded and his thoughts on his performance:
Roenicke struggled with his command and walked first batter Chris Young on four pitches to load the bases. Adam Dunn was hit by a 2-0 pitch that forced in the go-ahead run. Roenicke struck out Mark Reynolds to get out of the jam with no more runs crossing. The Reds were able to come back and win, 3-2, in 10 innings.
"I came in here and watched it afterwards," Roenicke said. "I felt I was yanking the ball a little bit, and obviously nerves came into play. But I wasn't missing up. I was missing down, which means I wasn't overthrowing it, which I didn't want to do. I wanted to be relaxed and focused."
You can access Roenicke's MLB draft scouting video here.
REPERTOIRE AND DELIVERY
Roenicke leans heavily on his fastball, which has good movement and rates as the best in the system, and a cutter that has so much movement that it almost looks like a splitter. Roenicke is a very good athlete with MLB bloodlines, as his father is Gary Roenicke and his uncle is Ron Roenicke. His athleticism gives him good body control throughout his delivery. In addition, he utilizes clean mechanics and does a good job incorporating his lower body in the delivery. He utilizes a high leg kick and good body coil to generate velocity. Overall, he has the clean mechanics and nasty arsenal of pitches to be a late inning reliever who can handle the high leverage innings.
Given his late conversion to pitching, Roenicke is already 26 years old. He has the skills to be a very effective member of an MLB bullpen, but the Reds just don't seem ready to give him a role at the MLB level. As of now, the Reds bullpen is already pretty well set, as the following pitchers likely have roles already locked up:
cl) Francisco Cordero
8th) Jared Burton
7th) David Weathers
lhmr) Billy Bray
loogy) Arthur Rhodes
mr) Mike Lincoln
As of right now, the Reds have 6 of their 7 spots in the bullpen already filled. Hopefully, Roenicke is the front runner for the final slot, but he'll be in competition with Ramon Ramirez, Carlos Fisher, Danny Ray Herrera, and perhaps even Micah Owings. It's going to be a crowded competition, but Roenicke's upside should make him the front runner.
To me, it only makes sense to give the job to Roenicke. That way, he could get his feet under him in a middle/long relief job with an eye towards working high leverage innings in 2010 and beyond. Given his filthy stuff and athleticism, Roenicke should claim a setup or closer role before too long. To me, it still seems that the Reds don't properly handle their young pitchers. Homer Bailey is one example, but I think Roenicke is another. Maybe it's just the fact that the organization is still unaccustomed to developing young pitching, but they need to start feathering Roenicke into the MLB bullpen. He's ready and the Reds could use him.
For now, Roenicke checks in at #13, but he's big league ready and unless something goes terrible wrong, he shouldn't be eligible for this list again in 2010.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Height 6-2, Weight 205, B/T: R/R, DOB: 09/28/1986
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked
Zach Stewart is one of the promising power relief arms in the Reds farm system. It's a testament to the renewed strength of the Reds farm system that they have so many intriguing relievers. To me, the old axiom that "relievers are failed starters" rings true. If you don't have quality starting pitching prospects in the system, then those prospects better suited to relief will still be used as starting pitchers. Once you get quality starting pitching prospects, then the lesser prospects can be shifted to relief roles. As for Stewart, the Reds were able to keep him in the relief role that he filled in college and may advance him quickly through the farm system.
COLLEGIATE CAREER AND REPERTOIRE
Stewart spent three years in college, spending time at three separate universities. Stewart distinguished himself at Texas Tech, after stints at North Central Texas College and a semester at Angelo State University. Scouts were impressed by Stewart, despite the fact that he only posted a 4.98 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and 43/21 K/BB ratio in 47.0 innings. Clearly, a 4.0 BB/9 and 8.2 K/9 aren't bad ratios, but they're hardly eye-popping. Obviously, it was the live arm that impressed the scouts.
Stewart features two primary pitches: a heavy fastball that sits in the 95-97 mph range and an average slider with plus potential. His fastball also has good movement, which improves its effectiveness. Scouts rate him as having plus control, but his walk rates seem to suggest otherwise. It may well be that he has plus command of his fastball, but mediocre command of his slider. Obviously, a larger sample size will reveal more about his control.
In addition, scouts are impressed with his demeanor on the mound, believing that he may have the right temperament to work high leverage innings. The Reds have Francisco Cordero under control through at least 2011 and an option for 2012, but scouts believe that Stewart profiles well as a closer in the future.
DRAFT STATUS AND 2008 SEASON
The Reds selected Stewart with the 84th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft. Personally, I found the selection a bit curious, as college relievers are often more volatile and lower ceiling than other prospects. In addition, the Reds didn't have a second round draft pick, so it would seem to be more advisable to select a prospect with higher upside. That said, the selection did get good reviews from Baseball America, so only time will tell.
After the Reds signed Stewart, they sent him to low-A Dayton, where he was stellar. He posted a 0.55 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 13/3 K/BB ratio in 16.1 innings. He clearly dominated, but realistically speaking he should perform well against that level of competition. His dominance earned him a promotion to high-A Sarasota. At Sarasota, Stewart posted a 1.62 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, and 23/11 K/BB ratio in 16.2 innings. Obviously, he had no difficulty with class A ball competition, but he wasn't quite as good as it may seem. At Dayton, his FIP was 2.45 and at Sarasota it was 2.60. So, in actuality, he was very good, but not outstanding.
To me, there are two questions on Stewart. 1) How good is his control? 2) How much of his 2008 success was achieved simply by overwhelming a lower level of competition with a plus fastball? The answers to those questions will determine just how successful he'll be in 2009 against more advanced competition and just how quickly he'll arrive at the MLB level.
Stewart is reputed to have pretty clean mechanics. However, after taking a second and third look, a few potential red flags jump out at me. But, let's start off with the good. First off, Stewart has a smooth delivery and a free-and-easy arm action. Despite his high velocity, he's not a max-effort type pitcher. He has a strong leg kick that includes some coiling of the body and bringing his knee up to his chest.
Unfortunately, the free-and-easy arm action comes with a cost. The reason his arm action looks so syrupy smooth is that it's long in the back. After he breaks his hands, he's slow to get his arm up into throwing position. Part of the reason for this is that he gets his throwing elbow up a bit too high, bringing it up above shoulder level. This arm action forces his arm to lag behind, as it takes longer to bring it up to throwing position. The general rule is that a pitcher should have his pitching arm up into throwing position when the plant foot lands. That's not the case with Stewart, whose long arm action can cause his pitching arm to lag behind and not be in proper position when his plant foot lands. In fact, at times his pitching arm is almost parallel to the ground when his plant foot lands (Stewart's arm action is similar to that of Anthony Reyes in this photo, though less extreme. You can see that Reyes' plant foot is down and that his pitching arm is still almost parallel to the ground. Also, his pitching elbow is above shoulder level). The lag adds stress to the arm and hinders his ability to maximize the power generated by his leg drive. Accordingly, instead of throwing with his entire body, he throws more with just his arm, which is the more stressful way to generate velocity.
Overall, Stewart has the potential for an increased risk of injury over the course of his career. Fortunately, Stewart's role as a reliever will limit his workload and help prevent injury.
You can see his MLB draft scouting video here.
Stewart is an intriguing power arm. Unfortunately, he comes with several significant question marks. His mechanics may increase his injury risk and he may not be able to effectively command his secondary stuff. It'll be interesting to see how he fares in a larger sample size against more advanced competition. For now, Stewart checks in at #15, but given his dual risk, both performance and injury, I have a few doubts about his future. That said, he has a very live power arm and could advance quickly up the ladder if he demonstrates good command.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Height 6-4, Weight 220, B/T: L/L, DOB: 01/16/1984
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #13
While the young international prospects in the system (Y.Rodriguez and J.Duran) may be the mystery men, Matt Maloney seems to be the forgotten man. Maloney continues to put up quality production against advanced competition, but he just doesn't seem to be in the organization's plans for the future.
Whether it's because the Reds have more pitching depth than they have had in a long time or because they don't view Maloney as a quality prospect is unclear. Whatever the reason, Maloney seems like a bit of a longshot to have an impact at the MLB level in 2009. Despite being ready for the majors, he may need an injury to a Reds starting pitcher or a trade to get a legitimate look at the MLB level.
The Reds sent Matt Maloney back to triple-A Louisville for 2008. In 2007, Maloney made an late season appearance in triple-A where he performed quite well. He posted a 3.18 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and a 23/6 k/BB ratio in 17.0 innings. However, Maloney didn't crack the 2008 MLB rotation and returned to Louisville to work on his craft.
Unfortunately, things couldn't have started off much worse for Maloney last season. In 23.0 innings in April, Maloney posted a 6.65 ERA. However, his poor start was really the product of poor luck, rather than ineffective pitching on his part. In April, he suffered from a BABIP of .435, which is far too high. The terrible start seemed to define his season in the eyes of many, despite the fact that he was very effective over the rest of the season.
In May, he pitched 38.2 innings and posted a 2.56 ERA. Not surprisingly, his BABIP regressed to .257 and his ERA dropped significantly. He was back on track and performed quite well over the course of the season. However, his poor start seems to have caused his prospect stock to drop.
Overall, Maloney posted a 4.68 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 132/39 K/BB ratio in 140.1 innings. His record was impressive, as he earned 11 wins and only 5 losses. His ERA certainly wasn't impressive, but his 8.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and 4.11 FIP are solid. His BABIP was also a bit too high at .321, so that could fall a bit in 2009. While his rough first month may overshadow his 2008 season, in actuality it was another solid effort by Maloney.
REPERTOIRE AND MECHANICS
If a lefthanded pitching prospect strikes out almost a batter an inning against advanced competition, then one would think that he would be pretty highly regarded. However, scouts downgrade Maloney on the basis of his repertoire, which consists of four solid pitches.
Maloney throws a fastball that sits in the 87-89 mph range and has very good late sink. His best pitch is his plus changeup, which he's not afraid to throw in any situation. He also has a big looping 11-5 curveball and a fringy slider. Unfortunately, his velocity lowers his ceiling, but Maloney understands how to pitch and keep hitters off-balance. He certainly gets the most out of his abilities and his understanding of pitching allows his tools to play up a notch.
As for his mechanics, Maloney is fundamentally sound. I took an in-depth look at his mechanics in last year's write up, but I'll revisit them a bit more here. The defining aspect of his delivery is his slight cross-fire arm action. His plant foot lands closer to the first base side than normal and as a result he has a closed off delivery (which you can somewhat see in the first photo) which requires him to use a cross-fire arm action. He also doesn't coil his body with his leg kick, so his hips and shoulders stay on a line from 2b-to-homeplate which reduces the overall energy that he can impart on the baseball. Also, his combination of a closed off delivery and cross-fire arm action often results in his body falling off towards third base on the follow-through, which doesn't put him in ideal fielding position after the pitch.
Maloney's height allows him to throw on a downward plane, which he does despite using a three-quarter arm slot. Below, you can clearly see his arm slot in the photo on left, which shows that he doesn't use a pure over-the-top delivery. In the photo on the right, Maloney demonstrates a good arm position, as his elbow isn't too high and it is on pace to be up in throwing position when his plant foot lands, which is what you want to see. As a general rule, the pitching arm should be up in throwing position with the forearm perpendicular to the ground when the plant foot lands. In the photo on the right, Maloney still has his arm parallel to the ground, but his foot hasn't landed yet and he will bring it up into position in time. If the arm isn't up in throwing position when the plant foot lands, then it is lagging behind and it could create problems with consistency and increase the stress on the arm. You can also see that Maloney takes a nice long stride and gets a good push off the rubber.
You can access Maloney's MLB draft scouting video here.
Maloney is a solid prospect. He may not have the tools of the more elite prospects, but he maximizes the production that he gets from his tools. He understands how to pitch and how to keep hitters offbalance. His upside is probably only that of a #4 starter, but that's certainly not without value. A homegrown back-end of the rotation starting pitcher, especially a southpaw, is a good asset at the MLB level, as it prevents the team from having to lavish expensive salaries on league average talent to round out the 25-man roster.
Overall, Maloney posted another good season in 2008. Even so, he seems, once again, to be on the outside-looking-in. He doesn't seem to be in the mix for a spot in the rotation and wasn't considered for a spot in the bullpen, as evidenced by the Arthur Rhodes signing. Given that Maloney will be 25-years old in the 2009 season, it's time for the Reds to either find a role for him or trade him away for an asset that can be utilized at the MLB level. Time will tell what they choose to do, but for now Maloney checks in at #14 on the list.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Height 6-0, Weight 185, B/T: R/R, DOB: 09/30/1987
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked
Alex Buchholz seems to continue the Reds trend of drafting players who have the baseball IQ and work ethic to make their tools play up a notch. It seems to be the exact opposite of the Jim Bowden school of thought, which permeated the organization until just recently. Jimbo collected toolsy outfielders who never performed up to their tools. The new Reds draft philosophy focuses on players who overachieve, rather than those who may have higher ceilings, but are unlikely to ever reach them.
COLLEGIATE CAREER AND DRAFT SLOT
The Reds selected Buchholz with #179th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Buchholz attended the University of Delaware, where he was an offense first type player. During his three years at Deleware, he posted slash lines of the following:
Oddly enough, his performance got progressively worse from the high-water mark of his freshman year. Even so, his production as a junior was still impressive. And, he demonstrated an advanced approach at plate, as evidenced by his slash line of .364/.441/.527 with runners in scoring position.
At Delaware, Buchholz spent time at second base, third base, shortstop, and even did some pitching. His versatility is intriguing, but could also be a sign that his glove just doesn't profile well at any one position. That said, he made a concerted effort to improve his defensive skills in college to avoid the "offense only" label and also has the work ethic to improve. Not to mention, his willingness to move around the diamond demonstrated his selflessness and desire to put what's best for the team first. Delaware head coach Jim Sherman compared Buchholz to Jeff Kent, which is lofty praise indeed, though Buchholz has a long way to go to justify that comparison.
In 2008, Buchholz started 41 games, missing time after suffering a leg injury late in the year. Despite the injury, he had 14 multiple hit games and at least 2 RBI in nine contests. On his career, he has a .366 batting average (14th best in school history), 34 homeruns (8th in school history), and 161 RBI (10th in school history).
At the plate, Buchholz hits from an upright stance and can drive the ball to all fields. He does a pretty good job of controlling the strikezone, but he could stand to improve his plate discipline, as his walk rate needs improvement. He handles both lefties and righties well, so he doesn't suffer from much of a platoon split.
The Reds sent Buchholz to the Rookie Pioneer League to begin his professional career. Buchholz didn't take long to "announce his presence with authority." He posted a slash line of .396/.471/.604/1.075 with 3 homeruns and a 25/16 K/BB ratio in 134 ABs.
Continuing the trend from his college performance, Buchholz actually performed better with runners in scoring position, which is an attribute currently lacking from the MLB Reds. For Billings, he hit .415/.520/.780/1.300 with runners in scoring position. While, admittedly, it is a small sample size, it does seem to be more evidence of the effectivenss of his polished approach at the plate.
Unfortunately, Billings was the one and only professional stop for Buchholz in 2008, as he was hit on the hand by a pitch. He suffered a "boxer's break" when he fractured a bone in his hand, which put an end to a promising rookie season.
While injury shortened his season, Buchholz had a fantastic debut for the Reds. Buchholz adds both needed middle infield depth and a potential impact bat to the farm system. That said, he'll need to show more with the glove to climb up the rankings. His bat plays well at second, but if he doesn't have the defensive ability to stay there, then his prospect status takes a significant hit. Fortunately, Buchholz has the type of work ethic and baseball smarts to continue to improve as he climbs the ladder.
For now, Buchholz checks in at #16 on the list. He could climb up the list in the future, as he does have some projection in him, but he could also slide down the list if he doesn't prove capable with the glove. For now, the professional sample size is just too small to say which direction he'll head.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked
Yorman Rodriguez joins Juan Duran to give the Reds a pair of top flight, young international prospects. The Reds signed Yorman Rodriguez on August 15th for ~$2.5M, which was the largest signing bonus ever for a Venezuelan amateur player. In the modern game, signing top notch international free agents to supplement the prospects acquired in the amateur draft is essential in building a top notch farm system. Years after Marge Schott gutted the scouting department and destroyed the farm system, the Reds are finally rebuilding prospect pipeline that will generate a steady flow of prospects for the MLB roster for years to come.
Yorman made his professional debut in Liga Paralela, which is essentially a minor league for the Venezuelan league. The league gives younger Venezuelan players an opportunity to play in their home country during the winter. For comparison sake, the league averaged 4.9 runs per nine innings with a league OPS of roughly .715. In 2008, Yorman hit .268/.339/.357/.696 with 1 homer and a 20/5 K/BB ratio. Overall, it's hard not to be impressed with that kind of performance by a 16 year old. He held his own against older competition, which speaks volumes about his polish and skill-set.
Again, the scouting reports are instructive for Yorman, who was widely considered the most athletic player available among the 2008 international free agents.
Yorman Rodriguez has been touted as the top position player in this class for some time. His selling point is a rare combination plus-plus speed and plus-plus raw power. He’s a five-tool talent with an outstanding frame, athleticism, and defensive tools, but like most July 2nd hitting prospects, he gets a wide range of reviews on his ability to hit.
The common refrain on a raw bat are heard with Rodriguez: lunges at the ball, trouble identifying breaking pitches, trouble with high level stuff, questionable approach, and 5 o’clock power (batting practice only). Some players grow out of it, some never adjust, so the team that gets Rodriguez believes in his ability to make adjustments.
He has all the elements of a star centerfielder. He’s been compared to Miguel Cabrera for his powerful bat and Venezuelan bloodlines, but more athletic comparisons like Cesar Cedeno, Eric Davis, or a right-handed hitting Carlos Beltran seem more apt. That being said, Rodriguez, or any of the hitters below him, could go to the GCL and hit .180 for three seasons and make everyone look stupid, but those kind of comparisons let you know why teams will pay him and that the tools are for real.
As eye-popping as the Dave Winfield comparison is for Duran, the very mention of Eric Davis as a comparison for Yorman probably fires up the entire Reds nation like no other comparison. E.D. possessed an unbelievable blend of power and speed, so if Yorman is anything close to E.D., then he has tremendous potential. Much like Duran, Yorman is still a bit of a mystery man, but here is a video clip of him in action from the Instructional Leagues.
Again, not much to go on, but here are my first impressions. First, Yorman looks much more comfortable at the plate than Juan Duran. He has a free and easy swing, but you can see where he may have a tendency to lunge at the ball and get out on the front foot. Second, given his swing and size, he seems likely to have less power than Duran. Third, Yorman has a long stride and an easy gait. It's not hard to see why scouts rate him as having plus speed, as he has a bit of electricity in his stride. My initial impression is that Yorman has a better chance to stick in centerfield than Juan Duran, whose 6-6 frame will likely will fill out and force him to play a corner position.
Even so, it is almost impossible to project out what a 16-year old prospect will do as he climbs the ladder. He is still maturing physically, mentally, and emotionally, so while he has great tools, he also has a great deal of developing left to do. There are a lot of wrong turns on the way to the majors, but hopefully he doesn't take any of them.
Like Duran, I just don't feel comfortable rating Yorman any higher without seeing more. That said, he could easily skyrocket up the list with a strong showing in 2009. Still, he's all projection at this point, though the sky is the limit on his ceiling. At this point, my gut tells me that he's a bit more polished than Duran, so he gets the higher ranking. Even so, the Reds did a fantastic job adding both to the organization, as both have impact prospect potential. For now, Yorman checks in at #17 on the list.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Height 6-6, Weight 190, B/T: R/R, DOB: 09/02/1991
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked
Obviously, I was wrong when I said that Adam Rosales was the most challenging prospect to rank. Hands down, Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez are the winners in that department. It's almost impossible to rate or evaluate such young prospects, who are still maturing and developing physically. While they have tremendous tools for their age, they have a lot of developing to do before they reach the majors. Even so, it's great to have two more potential impact prospects in the system, as it is evidence that the Reds are really focusing on improving the farm system and building from within.
The Reds have finally gotten aggressive in their international scouting, which paid off when they reeled in two of the best international prospects in Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez. However, there still isn't a great deal of information available on either.
Juan Duran is a 16-year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic. He has the blend of youth, size, and athletic skills that scouts dream on. The Reds found a loophole in the rules that allowed them to sign Duran earlier than was commonly believed by the competition. The Reds signed him for $2M and assigned him to the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League, though they never intended to have him play there. Given his age, the Reds are likely to keep Duran in the Dominican Republic for the foreseeable future. In fact, he played in the Dominican Summer League in 2008.
Duran played in 41 games for the DSL Reds, posting a line of .215/.340/.319/.658 with 1 homerun and a 47/24 K/BB ratio. Obviously, the isolated on base percentage is nice, but he also struck out once every 2.9 at bats. Even so, little of value can be gleaned from the stats, as Duran is so young and the sample size is so small. The scouting reports are more revealing.
One AL international scouting director called him "one of those guys who don't come around very often."
"He's got all the tools," he said. "He's a pretty good player, very advanced for his age. I think it was a good investment. He's a good athlete, he has above-average power right now and he has a chance for 80 power (on the 20-80 scouting scale). He demonstrated every ability that you like to see in a kid. He's a very outgoing kid, good swing. There's no doubt about his approach, bat speed and power . . . he has all the common denominators you like to see, good balance, rhythm and a pretty good idea of what to do at the plate.
"If he has to go to a corner (outfield position), he certainly has the power to go there. But right now I'd give him every opportunity to play center field because he's light on his feet and has a good idea how to play out there. He's probably 6-foot-6, 195 pounds, somewhere in that area, so he could gain a whole 40 pounds with no problem. You look at this guy, and you hate to compare guys to major league players, especially at his age, but he could be a young Dave Winfield in the making."
It goes without saying that a Dave Winfield comparison is very, very high praise, but with it comes very high expectations. While Duran is largely a mystery man, there is a bit of video on him. Here is a clip of him from the instructional league. It's short on action, but it does give us a look at Duran at the plate.
Obviously, this video clip isn't the best, as Duran doesn't swing during the at bat. However, a few things jump out at me when watching this clip. First, Duran is a very tall kid. Second, he looks like a kid who has grown so quickly that he isn't yet accustomed to his new body. His stride looks more than a little bit awkward, as does his habit of taking his bottom hand off the bat as the pitch hits the catcher's mitt. He just looks a bit raw and uncomfortable at the plate. If you pair this video clip with his stats in the DSL (which show a lot of walks and strikeouts), it seems clear that he just doesn't swing very much. At this point, it's too early to say whether he's a purposely patient, discerning hitter or if he just isn't very aggressive at the plate. However, from this clip he doesn't look like he has a clear idea of what he wants to do at the plate, which wouldn't be surprising given his age and experience level.
Given his size and reputation, it's easy to imagine him filling out and becoming a big-time power hitter. However, his size also raises the question of whether he'll ever be able to hit for a high average, as tall hitters have longer arms, longer swings, and bigger strikezones. Even so, everything is up in the air on Duran right now. Duran seems more like the traditional slugger than Yorman Rodriguez, who seems like a more well-rounded player.
At this point, I don't feel comfortable rating Juan Duran any higher than #18. I just need to see how he fares in a full season league against established competition. He is so far from the majors that it is impossible to know what to expect, as he has a lot of development left to do. He's all projection and no track record. He could be the next Vladimir Guerrero, the next Wily Mo Pena, or the next player who never even made a name for himself. It's just too soon to tell. It's easy to get excited about such a highly regarded prospect, but it's a long road to the majors.
For now, Duran checks in at #18, but he could skyrocket once he gets a chance to prove himself.
Monday, January 5, 2009
Height 6-3, Weight 210, B/T: R/R, DOB: 02/22/1983
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #21
In last year's write up, I thought Carlos Fisher projected better as a reliever. In 2008, the Reds made that a reality, as they switched him to the bullpen where Fisher performed admirably. After years of ineptitude in pitching development, the Reds are finally beginning to build a pipeline of quality pitching prospects. Inevitably, when that happens, the second tier pitching prospects are shifted to new roles in the bullpen. In the past, the Reds struggled to develop starting pitching, so they rarely shifted pitching prospects to bullpen roles for which they were better suited.
Fisher is one of the second tier prospects that is adding quality depth to the organization and may ultimately end up being a valuable member of the Cincinnati bullpen in the years to come.
The Reds sent Fisher back to double-A Chattanooga to start the 2008 season. However, this time he went back as a reliever. In 2007, he started 21 games at Chattanooga, but in 2008 he didn't start any games, instead working 36 games in relief.
For the Lookouts, Fisher pitched 50.2 innings and posted a 3.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and a 46/20 K/BB ratio. He posted an 8.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, and a 1.89 GB/FB ratio. Overall, he demonstrated a nice combination of groundball tendencies and strikeout ability. Ideally, his walk rate would be lower, as walks can be more damaging for relievers than starters, especially those relievers who work in high leverage situations.
Fisher's strong performance earned him a late season promotion to triple-A Louisville. At Louisville, Fisher worked 17.1 innings and posted a 1.04 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and a robust 21/9 K/BB ratio. He posted a 10.9 K/B, 4.7 BB/9, and a stellar 2.44 GB/FB ratio. Obviously, it was a much smaller sample size, but Fisher continued to demonstrate a power arm and groundball tendencies against advanced competition. It's one thing to do it against unpolished, young prospects, but it's another thing entirely to do it against advanced, polished prospects.
The Reds are likely to send Fisher back to triple-A Louisville to begin the 2009 season, where he will look to continue growing as a reliever.
REPERTOIRE AND MECHANICS
Fisher works with a 91-93 mph heavy sinking fastball and a cutter. As a starter, he also feathered in a below average change-up, but as a reliever he can lean more heavily on his two best pitches.
In last year's report, I talked a lot about Fisher's mechanics, but we'll revisit it a bit more in this year's report. Fisher is a big tall, athletic pitcher with the body type that scouts favor. Overall, Fisher has fairly clean mechanics, but he does have a bit of effort in his delivery.
One of the more interesting aspects of his delivery is the hesitation in his stride. As his Glove Side (GS) leg descends from the leg kick, his GS foot actually twitches back towards his Pitching Arm Side (PAS) shin, which creates a slight hesitation before his body drives toward the plate. The hesitation works as a timing mechanism, which allows him to gather his momentum and increase his load before he drives to the plate.
Here is a frame-by-frame look at his delivery:
In frame 1, Fisher has a standard starting position. You can see that he is a big, imposing figure on the mound. He has the size and frame that scouts love.
In frame 2, Fisher has taken a small initial step towards first to begin his windup. You can also see his hand position, which is only at his chest, as he doesn't bring them up over his head in his windup. In frame 3, Fisher has begun his leg kick and shows good body control and posture.
In frame 4, Fisher is at the apex of his leg kick. His knee is much higher than parallel and he has rotated his hips to coil up his body. In frame 5, Fisher has begun to uncoil and is on the verge of driving towards homeplate. It is at this point in his delivery that he uses the hesitation move with his GS foot, which helps gather his momentum before driving to the plate.
In frame 6, Fisher has driven off the mound and planted his GS foot. You can see from the position of his throwing arm that he uses an over the top arm slot, which when coupled with his 6'4 frame allows him to really pitch on a downward plane. In frame 7, Fisher has delivered the pitch. You can see that his plant foot is pointed directly at home plate and his upper body is directly over his plant foot. When his PAS leg comes around, it will land next to his GS leg and his body will be squared up and finish in good fielding position.
You can see his MLB scouting video here.
It's refreshing to see the Reds shift Fisher to the bullpen, as he just profiles better out of the bullpen. Lately, it seems the Reds have been very deliberate in advancing their prospects up the ladder and rather hesitant to move their prospects to positions better suited to their skill-set. They recognized that Fisher's repertoire wasn't likely to lead to MLB success.
To me, the best case scenario for Carlos Fisher is becoming a Scott Sullivan type reliever. And, in my book, that's high praise. I think Scott Sullivan was tremendously underrated. He wasn't a "high profile, big money" closer, but he was a rubber-armed reliever who could eat up innings, get the groundball when needed, and provide a lot of stabilizing middle relief innings. Unfortunately, relievers these days don't typically throw 100+ innings in a season, but I could see Fisher having that type of ceiling. If he reaches it, then he could prove to be invaluable to the Reds. Unfortunately, most prospects don't reach their ceiling and Fisher more likely ends up being a cup-of-coffee type middle reliever at the big league level.
Fisher isn't an elite prospect and likely won't be an impact pitcher at the MLB level, but he does have some interesting attributes. If he can continue to work on his weaknesses and build on his strengths, then he could be a valuable member of the Reds bullpen. His power arm and heavy groundball tendencies are ideally suited to Great American Ballpark. He hasn't arrived yet, but Fisher is close. For now, he checks in at #22 on the list.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Height 6-1, Weight 185, B/T: L/L, DOB: 06/29/1983
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #18
Pedro Viola has traveled an interesting road during his professional baseball career. Viola was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants as an outfielder, but was promptly released when they discovered that Pedro had used a cousin's birth certificate to appear younger than he was. The Reds snapped him up for a pittance, as they wanted to try the left-hander on the mound. They were quickly rewarded when Viola was found to have an even livelier arm than expected. Even so, to make it to the majors, Viola will have to overcome his late conversion to pitching and resulting lower level of experience than would be expected of a 25-year old pitcher. That said, he does have an electric arm, which can make up for a lot of flaws.
Viola set the bar very high for 2008, as he was coming off a stellar 2007 season in which he posted a 1.42 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 82.1 innings at three separate minor league stops. So, to say that expectations were high for Viola would be an understatement. Perhaps it was inevitable that there would be a let down in 2008.
In 2008, Viola stumbled to 4.48 ERA with a 1.51 WHIP in 82.1 innings at double-A Chattanooga. However, it wasn't all disappointment, as he did post a very respectable K/BB ratio of 84/36. However, Viola's performance level really wasn't all that different than his 2007 level of performance. Factors beyond his control were largely to blame.
In 2007, Viola benefited from a BABIP of .204 and in 2008 it snapped back the other way, as Viola suffered from a .369 BABIP. Oddly enough, Viola took off when the Reds plugged him into the starting rotation. While the improvement may have been the result of luck more than anything else, the coincidence may ultimately cause the Reds to rethink the appropriate role for Viola.
As a reliever, Viola had a 4.76 BB/9, 9.53 K/9, 1.73 WHIP, and a .414 BABIP. Later in the year, the Reds switched Viola to the rotation, where he posted a 2.38 BB/9, 7.94 K/9, 1.09 WHIP, and a .284 BABIP. So, ultimately, it may have been hit luck regressing to the mean more than anything else, as his fielding independent pitching was 3.61 as a reliever and 3.79 as a starter. So, you could argue that Viola was actual better as a reliever than he was as a starter, but the hit luck discrepancy makes his performance in the rotation look vastly superior.
Regardless of his role, Viola continued to demonstrate the power left-handed arm that makes him a rather intriguing prospect.
REPERTOIRE AND PITCHING MECHANICS
Viola works primarily with three pitches. His bread-and-butter is his 91-94 mph fastball, which has good movement. In addition, he possesses an average slider and a spotty change-up. Given his advanced age and the lack of polish on his secondary offerings, the Reds had him pegged for as a reliever prior to 2008.
Click here for a really great look at Pedro in action during the 2008 Arizona Fall League from David Pratt on Vimeo.
Viola has fairly uncomplicated mechanics. He begins his motion by taking a step towards third base with his glove side (GS) leg. He then un-weights his pitching arm side (PAS) leg, rotating his foot down onto the rubber. He brings his hands up to his chest and his GS leg up into a high leg kick with some body coil. After breaking his hands, Viola uses a smaller than usual half-circle with his pitching arm to bring the ball up to the throwing position. It's not quite the "throwing darts" style arm action of Ken Hill or Keith Foulke, but Viola does work with a bit of a short-armed throwing motion. He doesn't use as much arm extension after breaking his hands as other pitchers do.
As Viola brings the ball up into throwing position, he begins to drive off the mound with his lower body. As his stride finishes, Viola plants his GS foot in an unusual manner. Instead of planting his foot with the toes pointed directly towards home plate, Viola's GS foot lands pointed somewhat towards first base. His foot lands in a more closed off position than is normal for pitchers. In fact, it looks a bit like a pigeon-toed delivery. Even so, he doesn't have the "throwing across his body, cross-fire action" of Matt Maloney or the "throwing against a stiff leg" of Travis Wood, but he does seem to pitch against his plant leg a bit. His plant leg seems to cause his momentum to work against his leg muscles a bit more than the traditional pitcher, as his plant leg is closed off a bit more. Despite the position of his plant foot, Viola still gets his body squared up and in good fielding position after delivering the pitch.
In addition to his shorter arm action, Viola also throws from a three-quarter arm slot, rather than using a pure over-the-top delivery. His lower arm slot is not a problem in and of itself, but Viola seems to have difficulty maintaining a consistent arm slot from pitch to pitch. The inconsistency of his delivery is the real problem and it's possible that his closed toe, lower arm slot, and shorter arm action may be partially to blame for the lack of consistency.
Viola still intrigues. He's got the rarest of gifts, the power left-handed arm. The number of lefties who can reach the mid-90s is a very small group. And, even though he is a bit older than one would like, the age of a pitching prospect just isn't as important to development as it is for positional prospects. Pitchers often put it all together at different points in their development and, hence, don't work off the same linear development curve as that of position players. So, the Reds can still afford to be patient with Pedro, but it'll be interesting to see what role they choose for him in the 2009 season.
Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Reds overreact to the "improved" performance as a starter and keep him in a minor league rotation for 2009. Ultimately, that may be fortuitous for the organization, as a good starting pitcher is more valuable than a good reliever. I wrestled with the appropriate rankings for Travis Wood and Pedro Viola, as each has his positives and negatives. Wood is younger, wields a tremendous change-up, and not much else. Pedro is at a higher level of competition, throws a nasty fastball, and not much else. Each has one dynamite pitch, but also significant question marks. In the end, I ranked Wood higher, but Pedro may end up being the one with the MLB career.
In any event, 2009 will reveal a great deal about both Pedro Viola and the Reds view of him. His 2008 season opens the door for Pedro to be a starter, but he could also be moved back to the bullpen. Either way, he'll need to improve his consistency and polish up his secondary offerings to find success at the major league level. An electric arm can only take a prospect so far. At some point, all throwers have to become pitchers in order to find success at the higher levels. For now, Pedro checks in at #21.