Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lexington Legends Update-The Good And Bad-May 11th, 2013

MAY 11th, 2013-Just over 30 games into the 2013 campaign, the Legends appear to have shown their greatest strengths where this year's roster is concerned. We've seen enough to know where we stand out: pitching and speed. Here are some of those strengths (and weaknesses), and whence they lie.

Now don't get me wrong. There's plenty of power potential in the lineup, with C Cam Gallagher, CF Bubba Starling, 1B-RF Fred Ford and (surprisingly) SS Raul Mondesi flashing extra-base pop. Starling, specifically, is beginning to come around, and will likely prove many early detractors wrong about his ability to handle SAL pitchers. Mondesi has been speculated about, here and there, as far as a young prospect who will develop some power as he grows into his 6'1” frame. At a lithe 165 pounds, there's still plenty of room for growth, even for a player with his range and at his position.

Problem is, there have been early injuries to key run producers: Gallagher was hit by a pitch in Asheville, and is now on the DL with a broken hand. Mark Threlkeld was hit in the very first game in his very first at-bat and remains on the DL with a fractured arm. Starling left the team for a few days earlier in the year for an undisclosed reason (nothing serious, as I understand it) which may have affected his hitting.

Also at the heart of the Legends' issues: it doesn't seem that anyone on this team will be winning a batting title, anytime soon. Gallagher leads the team with a .268 average, and he's on the DL. What this team can do, however, is flash the leather. Mondesi, Humberto Arteaga and Yowill Espinal are all quite adept glove men up the middle. Espinal and Arteaga can cover the hot corner if needed, and so can Nick Cuckovich (corner infielder-outfielder), but so far Mike Antonio has had the bulk of the time. Antonio's eight miscues at third, along with Mondesi's eight, are somewhat misleading. Mondesi covers enough ground to snag grounders on the right side of 2B, and has done so several times already. 

This ability is, at once, his greatest strength as well as his greatest weakness. Sometimes, you have to know when to let a play go, or at least to allow another fielder a chance to get to it. Antonio is a much better fielder than the numbers would suggest, as well. He's got enough arm to make the throw to first from foul territory; he's done so on at least two occasions, one of which beat the runner. We're not talking 'cannon', necessarily, but he's got plenty of arm for third nevertheless.

At first base, Ford has acquitted himself very well; to talk to him, you'd think he doesn't necessarily feel he's done a good job at first. Ford is not the kind of guy who will rest on his laurels. Moreover, he has enough power potential to be a full-timer either at first or in right (his originally intended position), and would likely field either position just as well.

In left, Terrance Gore runs like a deer. His glove, along with Starling's, are to the outfield what Mondesi's is to the infield, only somewhat more steady. Gore has 18 steals in his 32 games, and seems to have an ideal combination of raw speed, first-step quickness and aggression. As I've stated several times before, I would be surprised if he didn't end the year with 70+ steals, even with a mid-season promotion.

In center, Starling has a rifle of an arm and tons of range. There are times in which he seems to let his frustration (either with previous at-bats or a fielding miscue) boil to the surface. This has not been a frequent occurrence, but it is something he will have to address as he progresses. Still, at least you know he cares about his performance. It's just that he has to be careful not to let it get to him if he's not doing well.

Over in right field, Ethan Chapman (easily one of my all-time favorite minor-leaguers, already) is underrated still, both as a hitter and in the field. He recently showcased his ability to gun down a runner at the plate from deep in right; indeed, nearly at the wall. Chapman let loose a throw that cracked the leather of the catcher's glove on a dead line, making said throw essentially flat-footed. Chapman has also swiped 14 bags this year, second only to Gore. I may be looking in the wrong places for news, but it seems to me that Chapman is still being somewhat overlooked as far as this year's assessments of minor-league prospects are concerned.

Lexington's pitching has been exceedingly strong, so far. Five of our six starters have ERAs at 3.52 or lower, with RHP Aroni Nina the exception. Nina, in terms of progress, is somewhat worrisome in that he's spent the last five years in rookie ball. He is now 23 and has had some rocky showings as a starter. However, while he's allowed a .286 BA when the bases are empty, that number drops to
.250 with runners on, leading one to believe he may be better served as a reliever.

At any rate, RHPs Brian Brickhouse, Christian Binford and Miguel Almonte, along with lefties Daniel Stumpf and Colin Rodgers, have made short work of opposing batsmen this season. Brickhouse (1-3, 2.41 ERA in 33 2/3 IP) struck out 9 in 6 2/3 innings, allowing only 2 hits and shutting out the Lakewood Blue Claws in the process on his way to a Legends win. While he's had a strong year, statistically, there are signs that he's actually picking up steam. Binford (2-2, 3.21 in 33 2/3 innings) has allowed 2 runs or less in 5 of his 6 starts, giving fits to left-handed batters (.212 BAA, 1 extra-base hit in 55 PA) and being generally steady and sure. Almonte (1-4, 3.48 in 31 innings) has made five of his six starts on the road, holding batters to a .243 average in 112 plate appearances. He cut down 16 batters in his last two combined starts (12 2/3 innings), and while he has had a few rough starts there is potential here. It's possible that he could end up a solid #3 starter at the higher levels, but he has work to do before that happens.

Stumpf (3-0, 1.03 ERA in 26 1/3 IP) has only allowed opponents to score in two of his five starts. He's actually been nearly unhittable with runners on base (.105 BA in 43 PA), striking out 14 of the batters he's faced in those situations. While I expected Brickhouse (or Scott Alexander) to become the ace of this rotation, Stumpf has an iron grip on that title.

Rodgers (2-1, 2.84 ERA in 25 1/3 innings) has had some early inconsistency, but he's also shown flashes of brilliance: in his home start vs. the Greenville Drive on April 19th he went 7 shutout innings, striking out six and walking only one for his first win of the year. He, also, has been tougher in away games than at The Bank (.271 BAA at home; .139 in away games). A .349 BABIP in his home appearances is a sign of defensive lapses behind him, and is likely to drop sharply in the coming weeks.

Out of the 'pen, RHPs Alec Mills, Mark Peterson, Cory Hall, Ali Williams and Daniel Hernandez, along with LHPs Clayton Schulz and Scott Alexander, comprise one of the best relief corps in The Sally. Hernandez, Alexander, Hall and Mills all have ERAs under 2.00, and five different relievers have recorded at least one save. Mills leads the team with five, while Peterson has four, Schulz and Hernandez have two each and Alexander has one. It seems that any one of them could be facing down your team in the ninth.

Williams has had two outings that could be considered 'very bad', but for the most part he appears to be (at times) a dominant power pitcher who mows down batters at will. One wonders what will be the result when he becomes a bit more consistent; as it stands now, he could be a 7th or 8th inning pitcher/set-up type in the making. He has bee roughed up by RHH and with runners on the bags, but this could be remedied with time and experience.

In Hernandez's 7 appearances for Lexington this year, he's given up runs in only one of them. At first glance, I wanted to say that he's been the most consistent of all the Legends relievers; that would not be the case. Schulz and Alexander have had similarly overpowering years, so far. The most recent addition to the team, RHP Chas Byrne, is the grandson of former Yankees/Browns/White Sox/Senators LHP Tommy Byrne, and joins the Legends after missing all of the 2012 season.

So, to summarize:

-Strong pitching (starters and relievers)
-Speed on the bases and in the OF
-Tight D in the middle infield

-Power has been lacking
-No batter hitting even .270
-Lack of a dominant cleanup hitter to hit behind table-setters at top of lineup

With the way the Savannah Sand Gnats have rolled to first place, the Legends have a lot of work to do if they want to catch them. There's not much of a chance that we can match them, hitting-wise, but our pitching and defense (along with some smart, fundamental hitting) could inch us ever closer to the division lead. At this stage in the game, it's all about 'baby steps'. There's a lot of baseball yet to play.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lexington Legends Update: A Look At The 2012 Legends This Year, Part Two

MAY 10th, 2013-Most of our players from 2012 are now in High-A Lancaster under the leadership of former Legends manager Rodney Linares, and several of them are off to hot starts:

Matt Duffy, 3B

28 games, 122 PA, 19 R, 6 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 25 RBI, .267 BA, .364 OBP, .840 OPS

Duffman is lighting up the scoreboard in what is known as a hitter's park, but runs are runs no matter where you score them. The 24 year-old third sacker has accounted for 44 of them, thus far. While the batting average is a little lower than you'd want to see, his OBP of .364 is excellent. In a full year at Lancaster, I'd expect no less than 20+ HR, 90 RBI and 30 doubles from him. Duffy has advanced a level each year since his 2011 pro debut, and there's no reason to expect he won't continue to make steady progress.

Nolan Fontana, SS

31 games, 151 PA, 29 R, 41 H, 7 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 6 SB, .353 BA, .487 OBP, 1.030 OPS

Fontana, last year's 2nd round pick out of the University of Florida, is blowing up for the JetHawks. His .353 BA is first on the team among full-time players, as is his .487 OBP. He also leads the team with 30 walks; this shouldn't be surprising, as he drew an outrageous 65 in only 49 games last year here in Lexington. So far, it looks like the Astros may have hit the bulls-eye on this draft pick.

Zach Johnson, 1B
Lancaster JetHawks (20 games); Corpus Christi Hooks, Class AA, Texas League (7 games)

Stats (combined):
27 games, 116 PA, 28 H, 10 2B, 2 HR, 20 RBI,
.275 BA, .342 OBP, .813 OPS

Johnson is starting a little slower than he did last year, but he's made his AA debut and will need time to adjust like any player would. The run producer extraordinaire and All-Star from 2012's Legends, he will face much stiffer pitching in the Texas League. It will be interesting to see how he handles it.

Chris Epps, LF

19 games, 75 PA, 3 2B, 8 RBI, .206 BA, .311 OBP

The athletic Epps has struggled in the California League in 2013, batting only .206 in his 19 games. My concern here is that his 13 homers in 82 games in 2012 may have him thinking he's a power hitter; that's not his game, or rather it shouldn't be. Epps profiles better as a gap-to-gap doubles hitter with better-than-average speed who can swipe you around 10-15 bases and hit #2 or #7 in the lineup, setting the table for the guys behind him. He did hit the High-A league with gusto in 2012, going .285-10-32 with 6 triples in 46 games after his promotion, so there's plenty of reason to think he'll heat up soon. However, as a 45th round pick in 2011 and already 24 years old, he's behind the eight-ball as it is.

Brandon Meredith, OF

24 games, 95 PA, 14 R, 4 2B, 3 3B, 0 HR, 6 RBI,
.221 BA, .347 OBP

Meredith hasn't done a whole lot in Cali, as of yet. One thing I noticed is that he's actually hit better vs. older pitchers than younger ones. While this may not mean much, it can sometimes be an indication of how a player will do at higher levels. Also, his OBP is 126 points higher than his BA, so it's good that he's at least getting on base. That may be a stretch this early on in the season, but I know he's better than he appears right now. Give him time.

Delino Deshields, 2B

21 games, 100 PA, 16 R, 4 2B, 4 3B, 4 RBI, 5-11 SB, .241 BA, .344 OBP

This 1st round pick from 2010 will, no doubt, fill the statline up by the end of the year. I would expect that he'll spend most, if not all, of 2013 in Lancaster. He's only 20 now, ahead of schedule development-wise, and with his speed and (soon to develop) power he'll be one player who you'd do well not to worry too much about. A guy with this much speed always helps his case by drawing walks, especially if he might not hit for a high average. Again, Deshields will probably hit at least .270 at the higher levels, so no worries here.
Interesting that he's batting so much higher at home (.277) than on the road (.194), though many JetHawks are hitting better at Lancaster than elsewhere. Thankfully, speed doesn't slump; those numbers will pick up as the year progresses.

Luis Cruz, LHP

1-3, 5.83 ERA, 8 games (4 starts), 1 SV, 29 1/3 IP, 19 ER, 5 HRA, 16 BB, 35 K, 2.19 SO/BB ratio

Cruz has done much better as a starter than as a reliever. He's 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in 4 starts, while in 4 appearances in relief he's 0-2 with a bloated 11.32 ERA through 10 1/3 IP. Paradoxically, his ERA is 3.38 at home (in Lancaster, which is a launching pad) vs. 7.88 on the road. He's striking out a lot of batters but also walking way too many. It's notable that he's averaged way more walks in relief than as a starter, and as a lefty he shouldn't be having quite as much trouble vs. left-handed batters as he is now (.232 BAA vs. RHH; .286 BAA vs. LHH). It's pretty clear that he's being groomed to ultimately be a starter, and this is where he's shone most brightly.

Chris Devenski, RHP

2-1, 5.28 ERA, 8 games (4 starts), 30 2/3 IP, 18 ER, 11 BB, 26 K, 2.36 SO/BB ratio

Author of “The Game” last year in the Sally League (9-1-2012: 9 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 16 K and a LOT of happy fans), Devenski has performed noticeably better as a reliever than as a starter thus far. Again, it's very early in the year, so this is based only on the numbers so far. He's allowed a .333 BAA as a starter, and only a .239 as a reliever. The problem with viewing him as a reliever is that hitters have batted .396 with runners on base in 55 PA. While many relief pitchers will allow a somewhat higher BAA with runners on, this is way higher than you'd care to see in any league. After seeing how he destroyed Kannapolis last year on Sept. 1st, I know there's more to him than what we've seen. This month will be telling as far as how he'll adjust.

Jonas Dufek, RHP

0-1, 4.20 ERA, 12 games (all in relief), 15 IP, 16 HA, 7 ER, 3 HRA, 6 BB, 16 K, 2.67 SO/BB ratio

Pitching out of the pen exclusively in 2013, Dufek has yet to allow a run in 7 innings this month (4 games). He's been lit up at home, allowing a .357 BAA and 1.121 OPS in Lancaster, while on the road batters have been limited to a .194 BA and
.576 OPS. My own feelings for that home park aside (not a fan), Dufek still has room to grow into his 6'5” frame, and I think he's going to be able to adjust well to the league. He turns 25 on June 30th, however, so time is limited for him.

David Rollins, LHP

2-3, 4.46 ERA, 8 games (4 starts), 2 SV, 34 1/3 IP, 17 ER, 7 BB, 31 K, 4.43 SO/BB ratio

Rollins is another guy who's performed noticeably better as a reliever than as a starter; .173 BAA as a reliever vs. .301 as a starter tells part of the story. The other part? .355 BAA with runners on, which is a concern. His primary stats are pretty solid, but how he handles ducks on the pond will go a long way to determine how he advances.

Tommy Shirley, LHP

0-3, 5.25 ERA, 7 games (2 starts), 12 IP, 7 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 3.8 SO/9IP

Very small sample size here, so not a lot to draw from. After seeing him in Lexington for parts of two seasons, I have to say I like him much better as a short reliever out of the pen than as a starter. Indeed, he's allowed a .400 BAA with the bases empty this year, vs. a miniscule .167 BAA with runners on. Again: very small sample size. But this is more of a gut call on my part. I can definitely see him fitting in as a short man at the higher levels. This is a pivotal year for Shirley, as well; he's 24 now, and after spending two years in Low-A ball, he'll need to show plenty of progress in the California League in order to get that opportunity at AA and beyond.

That's it, for now. Next I'll be scanning the roster at Corpus Christi, Class AA in the Texas League. 

Lexington Legends Update: A Look At The 2012 Legends This Year, Part One

MAY 10th, 2013-As we've had ample opportunity to see our new players this year out of the Royals system, I think it's important that we remember the guys we knew from the final year of our Astros affiliation, as well. Many of you are probably keeping tabs on them, but I wanted to post a quick update on their progress this year, along with their current team and stats.

Here's an update on some of the fellas we had with us in 2012, this post covering the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits:

Jesse Wierzbicki, 1B

29 games, 131 PA, 21 R, 30 H, 8 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB, 14 BB, .273 BA, .374 OBP

Jesse is in the beginning of his first full year at Class A, having spent the bulk of 2012 at Tri-City (Low-A, Short Season, NY-Penn League), and is certainly acquitting himself well thus far. With 24 RBI in 29 games, along with 8 doubles and 21 runs scored, Wierzbicki is proving to be quite the run producer for the River Bandits. Granted, he is old for the level (24), but if he continues on his current pace he's not likely to spend a lot longer in the Midwest. With his size and eye at the plate, he could light up the California League with the JetHawks.

Teoscar Hernandez, CF

28 games, 135 PA, 23 R, 34 H, 8 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 9 SB, .281 BA

Hernandez was only with us for 8 games in 2012 as he spent the bulk of the year in the GCL. At only 20 years old, he is more than holding his own with the Bandits; eight doubles are more a reflection of his speed than his power, but either way a double's a double. He is a perfect 9-for-9 in steals, and stole 11 in 59 total games in 2012. He has consistently shown good judgment in swiping bags since he made his pro debut in 2011, and is now 36-for-41 in steals for his career. He should end up pilfering 25 bags this year, and 30 is not out of the question.

Roberto Pena, C

18 games, 79 PA, 13 R, 25 H, 4 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, .352 BA, .883 OPS

Pena has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Legends, and made his High-A debut last year. At first glance I wasn't sure he would be any more than a 2nd or even 3rd-string catcher at the higher levels, but he's continuing to develop some pop and his .352 average in 18 games so far has me wondering if he could exceed those expectations. It's still too early to tell for sure, but he's ahead of the curve in 2013.

Mitchell Lambson, LHP

0-1, 1.32 ERA, 8 G, 13 2/3 IP, 7 HA, 6 BB, 12 K

One of my favorite players in the Astros system, Lambson has rolled the competition in 2013. He spent nearly all of 2012 with Lexington, recording a 2.72 ERA in 36 1/3 IP, so his early performance with Quad Cities should be no surprise to those who saw him with the Legends. The lefty with the wicked change-up could be climbing the ladder before the All-Star Break.

In my next post I'll be jumping to the High-A Lancaster JetHawks, where most of last year's Legends now reside. Stay tuned.