Friday, August 07, 2015

Are You There, God? It's Me...Carlos

AUGUST 6th, 2015-This young man is Carlos Mesa. He plays for The Greenville Drive​ in the South Atlantic League. He's 27 years old, and yes, that's considered a bit old for Class-A ball. 

His numbers don't seem especially noteworthy; at first glance, one wonders what chance he has of advancing up the ladder. He does appear to have a significant amount of power. But numbers have nothing to do with why I'm posting this photo. 
Procyshen practices precision in putting the
pellet in play. Yeah, I know; sounds goofy.
But I'm a big fan of alliteration.

On April 21st, the Drive paid us a visit here in Lexington. Being a Red Sox affiliate, I naturally had to be there. Specifically, I was there to see catcher Jordan Procyshen, a recent draftee from Alberta, Canada, and a player at Northern Kentucky University. This being a double-whammy for me (Canadian AND with ties to Kentucky), I made him my first target. But Mesa caught my attention, as well. 

Every batter has a particular mental and physical approach that they go through before they walk to the batter's box. Mesa intrigued me with his, and I was seated not more than 10 feet from the on-deck circle so I couldn't have missed it. 

Before each at-bat, Mesa would go through the routine of taking some warm-up swings with the bat weight. He'd stretch a bit, watch the pitcher, try to work out his timing. 

Then he would kneel and pray. Each at-bat, no exception. He would just lean on his bat and pray for a moment. And I decided that I liked that. 

I'm not the most religious guy around. In many cases, I've often felt that 'religion' in and of itself is vastly overrated; that it's more of a show we perform for one another's own edification. God Himself may or may not have a role. But religion is a man-made construct, and has little if anything to do with true faith and belief. For my part, I most definitely believe in God. But that's just how I see it. 

And because I believe that God knows our hearts, no matter what we do outwardly, I believe that He will reward this young man's faith and perseverance (if he truly does believe; only God can know with certainty). 

Because I believe that what we say and do is reflective of what we feel in our heart to be right, I believe that this moment captured here in lights and bytes is an illustration of what Mr. Mesa holds dear. Again, only God can know for certain. 

In the world of professional baseball, his journey may never lead him to the Majors. But in his journey through life, he may be on a comparatively more significant path. His actions, his choices, will ultimately show what kind of man he is, and what he holds most precious in this world. 
Mesa hits one over the moon.
Nevertheless, I appreciated the gesture. I took it for what it was worth. And it stuck with me. Maybe it was just the timing of it all for me, but it made an impression; at least, enough of an impression that I made the decision to write here about it now. 

Each time, Carlos went though his routine: first tending to matters of game-related importance, then to decidedly more significant priorities. It made me smile. 

Incidentally, right after this image was shot, Mesa had a shot of his own. It flew out to left-center field and probably clipped a Cessna on its way out. Was it his praying that powered that missile?

Who knows for sure? But it couldn't hurt to try. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Season Update Part 2: Lexington Legends, 6-18-2015

Until recently, Lexington’s pitching was a true strength. Thing is, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

While the team’s pitching overall has recorded a second-to-last 4.11 ERA in the South Atlantic League, there have been quite a few strong performances from both starters and relievers. Here’s just a little info on a few of those who have stood out to me the most:

RHP Evan Beal (2.05 ERA in 26 1/3 IP) has acquitted himself well after his 21st round selection in 2014. Despite obvious struggles with control (16 BB thus far in 2015), he has also averaged a strikeout per inning and is mitigating the damage in preventing those base-runners from crossing the plate.

Lefty Matthew Strahm (2.08 ERA in 26 IP, 38 K, 12 BB) earned every bit of his recent promotion to High-A Wilmington. Rangy and almost whip-like in his delivery, Strahm showed good sink and tail on his fastball and solid command over his off-speed selections. A 21st round selection in 2012, Strahm is likely to greatly surpass his draft position. Most impressive, this season: his 3 shutout innings in relief at Kannapolis on May 27th in which he struck out 9 of a possible ten batters faced. Keep an eye on his progress.

Another youngster on this significantly talented team, Scott Blewett was KC’s 2nd round pick last year. He’s had only 4 starts in pro ball, all this year, but he’s allowed only a total of 4 runs in those starts (17 IP, 4 BB, 20 K). It’s a little early to project what he’s going to show us this season, but he’s another one to keep an eye on. Guys like Blewett will keep Lexington in many a game.

LHP Emilio Ogando (2.70 ERA in 46 2/3 IP, 17 BB, 38 K) was a 12th rounder in 2014, and has done nothing but put up strong numbers since he debuted in Rookie-League Idaho Falls last year. Appearing in 13 games so far in 2015 (3 starts), Ogando has shown an ability to perform well in both roles. He also has a solid tailing fastball and consistently keeps the ball low. I would expect his groundout rate to increase as the season progresses.

RHP Pedro Fernandez (3.25 ERA in 44 1/3 IP, 46 K) has been an important swingman for the Legends in 2015. In 11 games he’s made 6 starts for the team, recording a fantastic 0.95 WHIP as well as a K/BB ratio slightly over 3/1. In addition, batters are hitting only .183 against him. While he’s allowed a meager 2 homers in those 11 games, he’s shown himself to be a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career. As he climbs the ladder, this might end up hurting him significantly.

2012 sixth rounder Zach Lovvorn (3.56 ERA in 65 2/3 IP, 11 BB, 47 K) has been a stalwart in the Legends’ rotation. He’s allowed slightly more than a hit per inning, but has limited the damage by keeping his walks down and keeping his head with runners on. He’s also 6 innings or more in 5 of his last 10 starts, giving relief to the relief corps. Lovvorn has a bit of projectability left, and could end up sitting 93-94 on his velocity, and already shows a solid-plus changeup to go with easy arm action and good movement on his fastball (seems like a recurring trend with Legends pitchers).

That’s a quick view at some of our Legends staff, and there’s more to come soon as the season moves on. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Season Update: Lexington Legends, 6-16-2015

JUNE 16th, 2015-Here's a quick look at some of our Lexington Legends' hitters in each player's last ten games, something I hope to make a regular update:

Alfredo Escalera​ is batting a blistering .383 with 9 RBI in his last ten games. Still needs to cut down on the Ks, but that should come with a little time. Escalera is a natural athlete, and should become very close to a 5-tool guy for the Royals as he progresses. 

Elier Hern├índez, another athletic outfielder, is batting .289 in his last ten games, on par with his season numbers. He's smacked 16 doubles in 59 games and is slowly showing signs of burgeoning power. 

Speaking of which, Brandon Downes also has 16 two-baggers, though they are just as much a product of his speed as they are of raw power. His K/BB ratio is awful, but he has barely more than 80 games in the pros so far. Give him time. I definitely like what I see from him; covers plenty of ground in the OF and runs the bases well. He also has a bit of project-ability left, which could sap a tiny bit of speed but definitely add to his pop. 

Corey Toups is in a similar mold (13 doubles and 14 SB on the season), but perhaps with more present speed on the bases. He handles himself well at second, with good hands and quick actions without being reckless. 

Samir Duenez has been a house on fire, batting .390 in his last ten games and providing versatility by spelling O'Hearn at first base. Duenez may need to work on his conditioning as he gets older, but shows solid footwork around the bag and takes reasonably direct routes to the ball in the OF. 

Chase Vallot​ is an intriguing prospect. Only 18 years old, Vallot has handled his station with little difficulty and is beginning to hit the ball with authority. It's easy to see how he cracked the Royals' Top 30 Prospect list; he's the real deal. Given his age and the time it typically takes pro catchers to advance, he's got all the time in the world to progress. He's not going to need as much as one might think. Another interesting stat: he's scored 22 runs in 30 games, this year. 

Luis Villegas redux? Chad Johnson batting .405 in 14 games since he returned from the DL. This is not shocking to those who have seen him bat. Johnson has untapped power, calls a solid game and handles pitchers well. He threw out 31% of base-stealers last year, a number well in line with his career results. 

Last but not least, Ryan O'Hearn hit his 15th homer and drove in his 35th run in top 1st vs Augusta (tonight's game). Starting to be not-so-shocked by his blatant display of power. Dude crushes.

That's it, for now. Up next, the top-flight pitching staff. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Posts From The Past: Zack Greinke Scouting Report, 2006

Name: Zack Greinke
Ht: 6'2" Wt: 175
Position: SP
Organization: Kansas City (AL)
Bats: R
Throws: R
Drafted: KC's 1st pick, 2002

Greinke was drafted out of Apopka High in Orlando, Florida, as KC's #1 pick in 2002. Having pitched only limited innings in Rookie and A-ball that year, KC made the unique decision of assigning Greinke to the Puerto Rican League for the winter, the first player coming out of HS ever to appear in the league. Greinke made a strong showing in 25 2/3 innings, posting a 2.45 ERA and more than holding his own against much more seasoned talent.

Zack made a great impression in Class A Carolina League in 2003, making an 11-1, 1.14 ERA showing in 14 starts before a Double-A promotion in July. Perhaps most notable was his 18 walks in 140 IP, an astounding 1.16 per 9 IP!

A very good indicator of future success in the Majors, BB/9 IP is something to which I pay quite a biy of attention. Perhaps for this reason, Greinke has drawn the obvious Greg Maddux comparisons from some, and that may not be as far off target as it may sound.

Greinke has solid command of four pitches, changes speeds very well, is poised well beyond his years, and projects to actually get better than he already is, which will carry him into #1 starter-land in the ML.

Forget about the 5-17, 5.80 ERA in 2005; the experience he gained will be valuable in his learning process. Greinke throws a mid-90's's four-seamer, altering speeds to disrupt a batter's timing in deference to just blowing it by them. He also throws a late-sinking 2-seamer, a hard and late slider, and a slow curve at around 66 mph that baffled most hitters. What stands out about Greinke's mound presence is that he focuses on changing speeds, grips and arm angles, as opposed to the common tendency of most young pitchers to throw it past you. This, in my opinion, is key to a pitcher's longevity: let the changing of speeds and location work for you.

Greinke is also very athletic, fielding his position well. In terms of endurance, his body has yet to fully mature physically, and by the time that happens he could easily be a 220 inning guy each year.
All things considered, Zack Greinke is definitely One to Watch.

2006 Projection: 10-14, 4.50 ERA, 30 starts, 175 IP, 65 BB.

I don't expect Greinke to do much better than this. After all, he DOES play for KC. If the Royals can manage even a slight improvement in run production, Greinke could make it to 12 wins, but don't hold your breath. Look at the month of April, for example. He lost all 5 of his starts, allowing only 10 ER (3.65 ERA) for the month, but with a handful of runs from KC he could have won 2 of those, at least. His first 2 starts (2 1/3 IP, 6 IP) he allowed exactly 0 runs. OK, so 2 1/3 doesn't really count, but April 2005 could be the story of his young life for a while.

The important thing to remember is that, barring injury (of course), Zack Greinke will be a ML starter of the highest order within 3 years.

Division Leaders: AL West - May 15th, 2015

AL West

Houston Astros - 22-13

Intriguing, to say the least. This is an Astros team that whipped off a 10-game winning streak (from April 24th to May 3rd), has spent 30 days in 1st place, and hasn't lost more than 3 games in a row all year. Their record is somewhat odd: 10-9 at home, 12-4 on the road. Not the sort of numbers you'd expect to see; it ought to be the other way around, right? They're also 9-2 in one-run games, which is notable for obvious reasons: their 'pen holds up under pressure, and they can handle the tough games. 

One important note: until today, the Astros were the only team in the AL West with a winning record.

League Rankings, Batting-1st in HR, 4th in SB, 4th in BB, 7th in runs scored, 15th in BA

There's actually a lot to like about this Houston team. For starters, they are leading the league in homers and steals. That's nice, right?

Well, here's a problem: they're dead last in batting average and 13th in OBP. That's definitely not nice. Not exactly hard to see how that's possible when you have guys like 1B Chris Carter (.150, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 51 SO in 131 PA), 3B Luis Valbuena (.202, 8 HR, 14 RBI), LF Colby Rasmus (.223, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 44 SO in 113 PA), and C-DH Evan Gattis (.181, 6 HR, 18 RBI) hacking away with impunity. Of course, 2B Jose Altuve is doing what he does (.333, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 9 doubles, 13 steals), and CF Jake Marisnick (.288, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 9 steals) is delivering on his promise and reputation as a highly athletic outfielder and base runner. 

I would expect C Jason Castro to pick up the pace soon and bump that .231 BA up a few notches. IF Jonathan Villar has yet to deliver on his potential, but the tools are definitely there for him to contribute in both XBH and SB. Give him a little time; with the Astros' batting order significantly improved (in talent, if not in raw numbers), Villar may kick things into gear along with the rest of their batters.

League Rankings, Pitching-3rd in ERA, 3rd in SV, 5th in Hits Allowed, 1st in Walks Allowed, 6th in K

There is actually a lot to like, here, and it starts with LHP Dallas Keuchel (4-0, 1.39 ERA, 7 GS, 51 2/3 IP, 29 Hits Allowed, 15 BB, 37 K), who is showing the rest of the league's hitters a great deal of disdain. Oh, he's also only allowed one homer, so far. He was 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA last year, so it looks like Keuchel is the real deal. RHP Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez (1-3, 4.12 ERA, 43 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 20 K) is solid, thus far, but he's certainly not the ideal pick as a long-term solution in the rotation. He should bear scrutiny throughout the season.

RHP Collin McHugh, however, was a significant addition to the starting five, as he demonstrated with an 11-9, 2.73 ERA showing last year. At 4-1 with an ERA at 3.50, he's on his way to a repeat performance. From 2011-2014, RHP Scott Feldman has delivered a solid, if unspectacular, effort (4.12 ERA, 28-36 in 517 2/3 IP), and he should post numbers similar to those in 2015. That's acceptable if you have an offense which can score you runs on a consistent basis.

Righty closer Luke Gregerson (2.40 ERA, 15 IP, 12 K, 2 BB, 8 SV) is away from the team attending to a 'personal matter', and the 'pen will definitely feel his absence. RHP Will Harris (who?) has been stellar thus far, posting a 0.53 ERA over 17 IP (13 appearances), with 22 K and a measly 4 walks. Submariner and fellow baseball card collector Pat Neshek has been delivering the goods in his 16 appearances, striking out 14 over 14 1/3 innings without walking a single batter (51 batters faced total). From the 45th round to ML reliever, Tony Sipp (0.63 ERA, 13 appearances, 14 1/3 IP, 12 K, 3 BB) is doing his part to keep the bases clear. Sipp's numbers over his 7-year ML career have been fairly steady, more or less (3.62 ERA over 323 IP), and there's no reason that this should change this year.

Finally, 36 year-old righty Chad Qualls (3.38 ERA, 15 appearances, 13 1/3 IP, 17 K, 3 BB) is still humming along at near-peak efficiency, having returned to his original ML team in 2014 after a 6-year sabbatical/tour of roughly 1/3 of the rest of the Majors.