Memorial Day Scouting Report – Wilmington Blue Rocks and Frederick Keys

Today, I was fortunate enough to spend my Memorial Day on a scouting trip to Frawley Stadium, home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who are the High Single-A affiliate for the Kansas City Royals. The 34th pick from the 2013 Amateur Draft, Sean Manaea, was the starting pitcher for the Blue Rocks. The Frederick Keys countered with Joe Van Meter.

  • Coming into today’s game, I had heard the Left-handed pitching Manaea was sitting 92-93 mph and could get all the way up to 96. However, today his velocity was down a little from those numbers, as he sat 89-91 with his fastball, but did hit 94. The 6‘5” LHP had a very smooth and repeatable delivery, as he gathered himself nicely over the rubber. As he lifts his leg, he turns his hips in slightly, which helps him stay closed, as he remains slightly closed at foot strike. He doesn’t throw across his body too much, so that should not be an issue. His arm action is pretty long in back, as he nearly straightens his left arm. However, he is able to get his arm up by foot strike because he is able to gather himself over the rubber; as the game went on, though, he was not always able to get his arm up by foot strike, which caused him to miss up in the zone. Now that we’ve analyzed Manaea’s delivery, we can look at his performance. He worked with 3 pitches today: Fastball (FB), Slider (SL) and Changeup (CH). As I mentioned before, his FB was a little below where it has been this season, as he sat right around 90 mph. Early in the game he commanded the FB to both sides of the plate. In his first two innings, Manaea showed very strong command for both his FB and his SL. However, in his third inning, Manaea started leaving his FB up in the zone, which made him much more hittable. The real issue I saw that inning was that once Manaea had to pitch from the stretch with men on base, he began to rush through his delivery. From the stretch, he works with a knee-to-knee leg kick, which did not allow him to get his arm up by foot strike, consequently, he began leaving his pitches up in the zone.  In that inning, the Keys’ players also did a nice job hitting Manaea’s SL, even though that was the one pitch he was able to keep down in the zone. The SL ranged from 79-83 mph and while it did not have a ton of horizontal movement, it did drop to a second plane, and it was still effective because its movement came late. What really impressed me about Manaea was his confidence in the pitch, as he was willing to throw it to both lefties and righties and used it as both a strike pitch and out-pitch. He did not throw too many CHs, but the few I did see were 83-84 mph with a little arm-side fade. As I said, Manaea was hit hard in the 3rd inning, allowing 6 runs (1 ER). However, he went on to throw two more scoreless innings, as he found the bottom half of the zone again. Manaea did not have his best stuff for today’s outing, but excluding one inning, he executed his pitches well. He needs to work on his delivery from the stretch, so that he is not rushing to the plate. It is not hard to tell why he was selected 34th overall. Right now he has two plus pitches with his FB and SL and a third pitch, in the CH, that could become plus. His feel for pitching was very polished for a 22-year-old, and I could see him moving quickly through the Royals system. Right now he projects as just a middle of the rotation pitcher, but he is likely to reach that level.
  • Another 2013 Royals’ draft pick playing in this game was Hunter Dozier, who was selected 8th overall. The 3rd baseman was 0-5 on the day, but showed a pretty patient approach at the plate. He also had a very simple load with a small toe-tap and not too much activity with his hands. In his second at-bat, he dropped his bat head well on a FB down and in resulting in a deep flyout to centerfield. In the bottom of the 9th, Dozier put up a good at-bat before striking out on a great slider from Matt Hobgood. As a 22-year-old, he should be moving passed Single-A soon, even though his power has yet to develop.
  • Also playing in today’s game was Bubba Starling, who was the 5th overall pick of the Royals in the 2011 draft. He was considered one of the best athletes in the draft, but that athleticism has yet to contribute to production on the field, as he is still in Single-A. In today’s game, he did go 1-4 with a single in the 9th, but his swing did not look good. His swing was very long and he had a very funky load, with a lot of movement of his hands. Also, as he starts his swing, Starling leans out over his front side, which takes away any chance of him hitting for power. To me, he does not project as much of a prospect until he fixes his swing, but he did show that he still has his athleticism by running down a deep fly ball in right center.
  • The Blue Rocks’ catcher for today’s game was Cam Gallagher, who has not been much of an offensive force this year, but the former 2nd round pick is a good receiver with a strong arm. Gallagher had a strong day at the plate today, as he went 2-4 with a double and an RBI. His double was on an inside FB, where he just turned and drove it down the 3rd baseline. In his four ABs, the 22-year-old showed a good ability to keep his hands inside the ball, but he did not show much power in his stroke. Gallagher may be able to reach the Big Leagues in a few years as a backup catcher, due to his defense, but if he has any chance of becoming a starting catcher, he will need to improve the offensive side of his game.
  • Manaea’s counterpart, Joe Van Meter, had a nice outing going 6 innings allowing just one run on 5 hits. Van Meter had an interesting delivery, as he leans back when he begins driving towards the plate, which makes it that much more impressive that he is able to get over his front side as well as he does. He creates a good downward plane with a more drastic hip tilt than Manaea. He worked with a FB that got up to 94 and sat 90-92 mph. He also had an effective cutter at 84 mph. His best pitch on the afternoon, however, was his curveball, which had sharp 11-5 break and sat 75-77 mph. he was able to throw it for strikes, but also for swings and misses out of the zone. Van Meter is 25 years old, so he is old for this level, but this is his first year in the Baltimore organization so he could move up the minors more than he did with the Rangers’ organization, where he made it to Double-A.
  • The next pitcher for the Keys was Matt Hobgood, who was also the hardest thrower on the day. He was the 5th overall selection by the Orioles in the 2009 amateur draft, but has yet to move past High-A ball at the age of 23. The Right-handed pitcher, touched 97 and worked 3 innings sitting comfortably at 94-96 mph. They shifted him to bullpen this year after he struggled as a starter in previous seasons. He worked with a starter’s repertoire, throwing a FB, SL (85 mph) and a Curveball at 75 mph. In his 3 innings of work, Hobgood allowed 5 hits and 2 runs, while striking out 2. However, both the runs and most of the hits came in his 3rd inning of work, when he may have been tired. His first two innings were much more effective. With his FB-SL combination, I can see Hobgood moving through the Orioles system quickly and potentially reaching the Majors by 2015 if he stays healthy and improves his command.

The Keys’ standout offensive performer for the day was Shortstop Adrian Marin. The Orioles selected Marin, who is just 20 years old, in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Marin went 2-3 with 2 doubles. Marin showed a very quick, compact stroke on both his doubles. He looked very comfortable at shortstop with good footwork and a strong arm. He could move up through the Orioles system, likely ending in Double-A this season, but could reach the Majors within a few years. He is also likely to stick at shortstop because his defense is his real strength.

Scouting Report, Gerrit Cole

With the news that Gerrit Cole will make his Major League debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, we take a look at his scouting report in order to determine if he is ready for the jump to the Majors. Cole was the 1st overall pick in the 2011 Amateur Draft and after just over one full season in professional baseball, he will make his Major League Debut. The big right-hander is still just 22 years old and stands 6’4”. In 2012, his first full professional season, Cole pitched across three levels including High Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. Cole dominated High Single-A with a 2.55 ERA and a 9.3 K/9 through 13 starts. After a promotion to Double-A, he continued his dominance with a 2.90 ERA and a 9.2 K/9 through 12 starts. The Pirates rewarded his strong performance with a promotion to Triple-A, in which he received just one start, but earned the victory with 7 strikeouts in 6 innings. Cole began the 2013 season in Triple-A and has been effective, but not dominant. His ERA this season is 2.91, but his K/9 has dropped to just 6.22 and his BB/9 has spiked to 3.71, which suggests he is not missing as many bats. Cole throws a 4-seam fastball, slider and change-up. Cole’s fastball sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s and he can easily top 100 mph. He does not have great command of his fastball, but he can survive mistakes in location because of the velocity. The fastball has good life when he keeps it low in the zone and does not overthrow it. Cole’s slider is easily his best out pitch, which features great movement on two planes and tremendous movement to his glove side. He throws his slider very hard, as it usually sits in the upper 80’s. His fastball and slider are already plus pitches, but his change-up is not developed enough to even be considered an average pitch. He throws his change-up in the low-to-mid 80’s, which is a tremendous velocity differential. Cole really struggles to keep the change-up down in the strike zone. The pitch has slight arm-side sink, but it is not enough to miss bats when he misses up in the zone. Cole has a smooth delivery that generates a lot of velocity from his lower half. He is able to get over his front side well, which allows him to get good extension. He takes his arm slightly behind his back, and he is unable to get his arm back into position by foot strike. The other concerning part of his delivery is that he pulls his head off-center, which puts a lot more strain on his arm, especially with his low ¾ arm slot. Right now, Cole possesses two plus pitches, but needs to improve his command in order to reach his potential as a #1 starter. I do not see him as a front of the rotation starter unless he develops an average third pitch and improves his fastball command. Until he makes these adjustments, Cole’s ceiling will remain as a mid-rotation starter.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Michael Wacha

Despite their best efforts, the St. Louis Cardinals have promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha in order to make his MLB debut on Thursday. The Cardinals wanted to keep Wacha in Triple-A in order to control his workload and prevent him from reaching Super-Two status, which would allow him to reach arbitration four times, instead of the normal three. Wacha was the 19th overall pick in last season’s Amateur Draft out of Texas A&M. Wacha will be the fourth player drafted in the 2012 draft to reach the Major Leagues, following Kevin Gausman of the Orioles, Paco Rodriguez of the Dodgers and Michael Roth of the Angels. The 6’6” right-hander is still just 21 years old. Wacha dominated across three levels last season, allowing just 2 ER in 21 innings total at Rookie Ball, High Single-A and Double-A. This season, Wacha has impressed with a 2.05 ERA across 52 2/3 innings at Triple-A. However, his peripheral statistics are a little more concerning as his K/9 is just 5.81 and his opponents BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is just .197, which suggests he has been a little lucky and explains his 4.00 FIP. His K/9 is down from 17.1 in 2012. He works with three pitches: fastball, change-up, curveball. Wacha works his fastball from 90-94 and actually reached 97 as a reliever last year. When Wacha can keep his fastball down in the zone he has good sink to it, but it flattens out when he elevates the pitch. His change-up is easily his best off-speed pitch, which is usually in the mid-80’s and has great fade, which makes it incredibly difficult to square up down in the zone. Wacha’s curveball is the reason he fell to the 19th pick in the draft, at the time it had very inconsistent break and he had trouble commanding the pitch. However, since joining the Cardinals’ organization, Wacha has greatly improved the pitch by making the break more consistent and more sharp. It is still not a plus pitch, but if it continues to improve it can be an average Major League pitch and a nice complement to the fastball and change-up. Wacha has tremendous command and control for someone his age, with just a 2.3 BB/9 and .7 HR/9 in 73 2/3 professional innings. His tremendous size helps him get great downward plane on all his pitches, which helps get the great downward movement on his pitches when they are thrown down in the zone. Wacha has a very fluid delivery, in which he uses everything effectively to generate great velocity and deception. He slightly turns his back to the hitter, which creates good deception by hiding the ball from the hitter a little longer. He is able to get great extension towards home plate and uses every inch of his 6’6” height and by getting this extension he keeps the ball down in the zone. He also creates deception by cutting his arm action short, which gives the hitter less time to see the ball, but I also wrote about the concerns with this when I wrote about Dylan Bundy, who has not pitched this year due to elbow discomfort. This is especially concerning for Wacha because even by cutting his arm action off, Wacha is still not able to get his arm back up by foot strike. The only other concerning part of his delivery is that Wacha slightly pulls his head off-center when throwing the pitch, which raises his arm and forces him to lose direct route to home plate. By raising his arm, he puts more stress on the arm rather than the entire body. He has a enough big frame to hold up as a workhorse even with these flaws. Plus he generates quite a bit of power from his lower half, which alleviates some of that extra stress he puts on his arm. It remains to be seen how long Wacha will be in the Cardinals rotation, because it mainly depends on Westbrook’s recovery from elbow discomfort, but Wacha seems ready to step in like so many other rookie pitchers for the Cardinals. Down the road, it seems very likely that he can develop into a #2 or #3 starter.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Kevin Gausman

With the news that Kevin Gausman will make his Major League debut for the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, we take a look at his scouting report in order to determine if he is ready for the jump from Double-A. The right-handed throwing Gausman was the 4th overall pick in last years Amateur Draft. Gausman is just 22 years old and stands 6’3”. He has never pitched above Double-A, but has enjoyed success across three levels of the Minor Leagues. In 2012, Gausman pitched at Low Single-A and High Single-A, where he pitched just 15 innings with a 3.60 ERA. He began this season in Double-A where he has pitched 46 1/3 innings with a 3.11 ERA and 9.5 K/9. Gausman comes after hitters with a four pitch mix, including a fastball, cutter, change-up and slider. His fastball is mid-to-upper 90’s with the ability to reach 99 mph late in games. His fastball shows excellent arms side sink, which has helped him compile a 51.5% groundball rate this season. He has great command of the pitch, especially for a player in just his first full season of pro ball, but he has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone where it loses his tremendous movement and flattens out. He uses an occasional cutter that is in the upper 80’s and cuts glove-side. Gausman’s change-up is his best off-speed pitch. The change-up is an incredible 15 mph off his fastball, as it sits 82-84 and has great fade to his arm-side. His slider has greatly improved since his days at LSU, when many scouts doubted the pitch. Similar to his change-up, he throws the slider around 82-84 mph. Gausman has a high leg kick where he brings his knee up to his chest. He takes his arm a little too far behind his back and is only able to get it into position by foot strike by cutting off his arm motion early. Gausman throws slightly across his body as his front foot lands closer to the third base side of the field. While this creates some deception, it also places some extra strain on his arm. His numbers in Double-A are not overwhelming, but his stuff is very impressive and can translate at any level. In my view, he is definitely ready for the jump to the MLB and while he will not immediately be the ace of the staff, Gausman projects as a front of the rotation starter, already with two plus pitches and 4 quality offerings.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Carlos Martinez

In the wake of the Cardinals’ decision to demote relief pitcher Mitchell Boggs to Class AAA and call up right-handed pitcher Carlos Martinez, we take a look at Martinez‘s ability and future. The Cardinals signed Martinez out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 for a $1.5 million bonus, but he did not pitch in the US until 2011. The 21-year-old Martinez stands just 6’0”. He has never pitched above Double-A, but has enjoyed success across three levels. In 2012, Martinez pitched at High Single-A and Double-A, and pitched to a 2.93 ERA across 104 1/3 innings. Martinez is very similar to the last pitcher we covered, Yordano Ventura, because they are both relatively short power-pitchers, who could end up as top starting pitchers or shut down relievers. Throughout his Minor League career, Martinez has been used as a starting pitcher with a three pitch mix, including a fastball, curveball and a circle-change. As a starter, Martinez throws his fastball between 94-98 mph and can dial it up to 100 when needed. He has a tendency to leave the fastball up in the zone where it loses movement, but when he spots it down in the zone his fastball has good late life. Martinez’s curveball has very sharp downward action, making it very tough on right-handed hitters. He has good control of both his fastball and his curveball, but needs to keep the fastball down more consistently. He throws a circle change-up, which is his weakest pitch. Even though it is not his best pitch, the change-up has good arm-side run, but he needs better command of the pitch. He has a tendency to leave the change-up high in the zone, which diminishes the movement and makes it easier to hit. Martinez’s delivery is very violent with a quick arm action. He takes his arm a little too far behind his back and is unable to get it back into position by foot strike. This arm drag is intensified because of his propensity to drift from his balance point, which does not allow his arm to get back up by foot strike. He is able to create a little deception by slightly turning his back to the hitter, which also helps him keep his front side closed. Martinez’s finish is incredibly violent as he strides very far, but after he releases the ball, his front leg straightens and he spins off towards first base. Martinez currently projects as a #2/3 starting pitcher, but he will need to improve his change-up in order to have three plus pitches. After his promotion, Martinez will be used out of the bullpen, where the Cardinals are in dire need for a quality reliever. In my view, Martinez’s size and violent delivery will likely limit him to be a shut down reliever instead of a starter, because he would likely have durability issues as a starter.

Scouting Report, Yordano Ventura

Yordano Ventura was signed out of the Dominican Republic as an international free agent in October 2008 by the Kansas City Royals. Ventura is 21 years old and stands just 5’11”. During the 2012 season, Ventura enjoyed success across three levels in the Minor Leagues, and I was fortunate enough to watch him pitch for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Across three levels, Ventura pitched to a 3.62 ERA and a 10.7 K/9 as a starting pitcher. His success in the Minors led to him being selected as the starting pitcher for the World team in the Futures game last season, in which he had a perfect inning of work. He works with a three pitch mix, including a fastball, curveball and change-up. His fastball is by far his best pitch, as it is in the mid-to-upper 90s and can reach 100 mph with frequency. His fastball has good late life to it, which makes it difficult for hitters to square it up. Ventura also has a hard curveball that he uses as his best secondary pitch. The curveball has great downward action that is very tough on right-handed hitters. He can throw both his fastball and his curveball for strikes. His change-up is his weakest pitch and he will need to improve it if he is going to reach his potential as a top starting pitcher. He has a tendency to leave the change-up high in the zone, leading to it being hit hard. Mechanically, Ventura has a clean arm action in back and is able to get it into position by foot strike. He is able to create a little deception by slightly turning his back to the hitter, which also helps him keep his front side closed. As Ventura begins to drive towards home, he has a subtle hip tilt, which allows him to utilize his lower half well and generate more velocity on his fastball.  Ventura currently projects as a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, but he will need to improve his secondary stuff, especially the change-up. The Royals are giving him the opportunity to develop as a starter, but with his velocity and curveball, it must be tempting to call him up early as a late inning reliever. Presently, two things hold Ventura back from being a sure starting pitcher in the Majors: his change-up and his walks. In 2012, Ventura had a 3.5 BB/9, which must come down for him to be a starter. However, the real X-factor for him becoming a starter is the change-up, which he must be able to locate in the strike zone and leave down in the zone. He is beginning the season in Double-A and I believe he will be utilized as a reliever in the Big Leagues once rosters expand in September. Long-term, Ventura should be able to be a starting pitcher and at the very least can certainly be a shut down pitcher out of the bullpen.

Anthony Cacchione

Scouting Report, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie Bradley Jr. was taken 40th overall by the Boston Red Sox back in 2011. Bradley was an exciting player at the University of South Carolina where he displayed his tremendous defensive prowess in centerfield. After his first two seasons with South Carolina, Bradley Jr. seemed destined to be a middle of the first round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, but after a poor Junior season with the Gamecocks, he fell to the supplemental round as the 40th pick. In just over one professional season, Bradley Jr. has posted a .311/.423/.473 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line between Single-A+ and Double-A. At 23 years old, Bradley was a non-roster invitee for the Red Sox this spring and opened a lot of eyes in Boston’s camp. Heading into the spring, many executives within Boston expected Bradley would need another season or so in the minor leagues in order to polish his approach at the plate. However, this spring Bradley Jr. has batted .441/.521/.644 slash line with 2 homers and 12 RBI in 26 games. Defensively, Bradley Jr. possesses a strong-arm which is made even better by a quick release. He can certainly stick to playing centerfield in the big leagues because of his range and strong-arm. Offensively, he has good contact skills that should allow him to hit near .300 at the big league level. Bradley Jr. has a tendency to get a little long with his swing, which leaves him exposed to inside pitching; this is something he must fix or else Major League pitchers will continuously pound him inside. His size and swing limit his power projections as it seems likely his home run potential will remain around 10 homers a year. Also, Bradley Jr. has above average speed and projects at about 15-20 steals per season. After his monster spring, many are speculating that Bradley Jr. will begin the season at the Major League level with the Red Sox. It would make more sense for the Red Sox to demote him for at least the first 7 days of the season in order to delay the start of his service clock and by waiting for the 8th day of the regular season, the Red Sox can delay his free agency by one year to 2018. However, all indications point to Bradley Jr. beginning the season with the Red Sox because he was on the team plane to New York where they will begin their season facing the Yankees.

Anthony Cacchione