Live Looks: Eastern League And New York-Penn League

I don’t ride motorcycles any longer, but there’s something about that freedom I miss. The feeling of hitting the open road, the freedom, and self reliance that all culminates when riding. As I’ve grown, married a woman, and had kids I’ve had to sell the bike and swear off my freewheeling days of independence. In many ways my scouting trips have supplemented my desire to hit the open road, often providing me emancipation from my chains of domestication. The feeling of the open road, a sunlit highway, and fat lip of Grizzly puts me in my happy place.

A thirty minute to an hour of bliss prior to an all out assault of the senses, which is exactly what attending a game is like for me. I get there one to two hours early, sometimes earlier if I’m catching batting practice, I set up my camera, collect the lineups sheets, fill out my lineup cards, pitch charting sheets, and usually grab a water and a quick snack. Once game time starts, I’m shooting video at bat by at bat, hustling down the lines to get open face, and recording velocities, outcomes, and sometimes spin rates of each pitch. Lucky for me my wife is an amazing person and understands my desire to have some time to myself, and allows me to go crazy a few times a week. This post is the culmination of this labor of love, hours of traveling, charting, shooting video, writing notes, and editing. These are just my thoughts ladies and gentlemen, just was I was feeling at the time. Right or wrong, these are my New England looks from Mid-July to Mid-August, enjoy.

Noah Song, RHP Red Sox - Few players draw quite the interest Song does. A senior sign out of Navy, the right-hander dropped to the Red Sox at the back half of the fourth round due to concerns regarding his commitment to the Naval Flight School. While some whispers of a reinstatement of the deferment policy have been floated there has been no change in the policy. Worst case scenario this means Song spends two years completing his training before returning to the Red Sox as a 25-year-old prospect with little experience outside the lower levels. 

With a concern like that, why would a team take a chance on Song even if it’s just a $100K bonus? First the Red Sox had the perfect mix of a minuscule bonus pool and a need for the best talent available. Song was arguably a top 50 talent in the draft by some prognosticators’ viewpoints. 

I chased Song throughout the season, hoping he’d make a start at Holy Cross. Unfortunately my efforts were in vein. So needless to say I was overjoyed when I learned that Song would start at home Saturday. I quickly rearranged my plans in order to get to Lowell prior to his 5 p.m. start.

I had read about Song’s four pitch arsenal consisting of a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. For the most part on Saturday I saw the fastball and the slider. It was a truncated three-inning turn, so it makes sense that Song wouldn’t dip into his full arsenal of secondaries. 

His fastball sat 92-94 touching 95 on several occasions. The pitch showed tail and late life, making it a tough pitch to square up as he worked mostly low in the zone. His slider was sharp with two-plane break that ran off the plate to right-handers and he was able to backfoot it a few times to lefties. He mixed in one curveball late in the third. I don’t believe I saw any changeups, unless they were incredibly firm in the 91-92 range. 

He’s tall, slender and his fitness level is very high. He worked fast, getting the ball and going back to work, in several occasions the umpire had to pause Song while batters readied themselves. He starts his full windup standing straight as an arrow with his glove in front of his face before starting his motion. He starts his motion with a high leg lift with some bend at his waist getting compact as he closes his self off to the plate. He then delivers the ball from an over-the-top arm action. His motion from the stretch is a little more sloppy, and he struggled to find the same command he displayed during his motion. This caused his fastball to appear a little wild. Overall it wasn’t anything of a major concern. 

Depending upon what happens over the next few months with Song’s service commitments while weigh heavy on his possible future role. He’s teetering between a starter and bullpen profile at present, so the extra focus on development could make a substantial difference long term. When duty calls however...

Chris Murphy, LHP Red Sox - Last year the Red Sox plucked Jarren Duran in the seventh round. This pick has paid dividends as Duran ascended to Double-A in his first full pro season. In the same vein, the Red Sox fifth rounder out of San Diego, lefty Chris Murphy, could see a similar meteoric rise. I’ve caught two turns in the rotation from Murphy as he worked a pair of innings in each. In my first look versus Auburn in mid-July he worked 90-93 on his fastball, with some late life, but not a ton of movement. His secondaries consisted of a curveball in the 77-81 range and mid-80’s changeup. The curveball was a tight offering that might have actually been a slider. I was told curveball by a reliable source so I’ll stick with that. It flashed bend and some late life that gave it some horizontal break and generated quite a few swings and misses in each look. His changeup was above average in flashes showing nice run and tumble off the plate to right-handers. He sequenced well, pitching backwards in a few occasions, and driving weak contact late in the count with well placed fastballs. 

None of his pitches are plus, and his command armside with his fastball could be better, but he was a pleasant surprise having known next to nothing about him heading into the summer. I’d probably say he’s a role 30 guy at the moment but there’s a shot his advanced pitchability could push him into back of the rotation territory. 

Nate Pearson, RHP Blue Jays - Though it rarely works this way in life, there are times everything comes together and you’re able to execute a plan to perfection. I recently had one of those days when I hit the first four innings at Lowell, before getting in the car and making the 30 mile trek down Route 3 to Delta Dental Stadium and Manchester, NH. The colossus Nate Pearson was taking on Joey Wentz, a lefty the Tigers recently acquired from the Braves for reliever Shane Greene. This was my third look at Pearson, but my first in a true starters role. Previously I saw two truncated opener style looks. 

The biggest difference between my two looks was the velocity in the fastball and this makes all the sense in the world. In a two-inning look you’re far more likely to let it fly. When Pearson let’s it fly, few who have walked the face of the earth can match the sheer velocity of his fastball. Thats not to say he didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday because he did. It was just toned down. 

Pearson has the tendency to labor due to the size of frame and violence of his delivery. So I was glad to see he was more 96-98, hitting his spots, than 99-101 as I had previously seen. At this velocity band Pearson displayed greater control of his fastball, working both sides of the plate, low in the zone with big downhill plane, and up in the zone with rise and life. It was the best I’ve seen the pitch look and he didn’t disappoint hitting 100 and few times and touching 102 late. 

He worked mostly fastball/slider mixing in the off curveball versus left-handers. The slider is a plus pitch, just as it had been in my previous looks. It has two-plane movement with late bite and twist. A tough pitch to square up, and he rarely hangs one. The curveball on the other hand was a get me over pitch with some 12-6 movement but it was loopy. As currently constituted Pearson could work from a major league pen and get outs. It wouldn’t surprise me if he dominated in fact over multiple innings. To start and be successful in the AL East the development of a true third offering is paramount. Even if he didn’t need it to mow down Erie hitters. 

Joey Wentz, LHP Tigers - When I see a pitcher for the first time, I try and go in with an open mind. I might have a general idea of what their pitch mix consists of, as it takes out some guess work at times, particularly for players with slurvy breaking balls. So with Wentz I tried to erase some of my prior MiLB.TV looks and general notes and reports I’ve read throughout the years. The main question I looked to answer was, “Where does Wentz fit in the stable of pitching prospects currently populating the Detroit system?”. 

A three-pitch mix consisting of a low 90s fastball, mid 80s changeup, and a low 80s curveball. Wentz used all three effectively, but the jewel of the bunch was his changeup, getting tumble and run, driving success of his fastball. It was a true plus offspeed offering, but I’d like to see him against a more formidable opponent. New Hampshire’s lineup was pretty weak. His curveball was his third pitch, but showed nice 12-6 shape in the low-80s. It was a pair of really nice secondaries. 

Now the bad news. The fastball is below average. Not a ton of movement, some downhill plane, and pedestrian velocity. He did generate a fair amount of swings and misses on the pitch but that’s a product of the changeup and curveball. In my opinion, he’ll really struggle with more advanced bats in MLB that tee off on mediocre fastballs at the bottom of the zone. 

Adley Rutschman, C Orioles - So against all odds I caught Adley, but it wasn’t much of a look. Rutschman DH’d and saw three at bats in a rain shortened game. He hit exclusively left-handed and went 0-for-3 but hit two deep balls that were a matter of feet from leaving the park. 

At the plate Rutschman’s setup in a crouch with an open stance. He sits on his back leg with a bend in his front leg with his toe pointed toward third. As he gets into his load he starts a leg kick that widens his base before drawing his hands back at the same time he unlocks his hips. As his front foot touches down his hands begin toward the ball. His short direct stroke and bat speed allow him to sit back on pitches and adjust. It was only a trio of left-handed at bats, but the abilities were very obvious. Looking forward to rounding out my looks in the future. 

Riley Greene, OF Tigers - There are certain players you see for the first time that immediately match the hype. Riley Greene is one of those. Blessed with a major league body already, Greene is tall, strong, and athletically built. The body looks capable of adding good muscle as he matures and gets stronger. In the box he has a simple setup, with a slightly open stance and wide base, with his hands held high. He has few moving parts as he employs a slight toe tap, before drawing his weight back and driving forward. One of the most impressive things I noticed when slowing down open face shots of Greene was how perfect the angles of his body at the point of contact. It’s as if you drew him with a ruler. All this to say it’s a beautiful lefty swing. 

His approach at the plate can best be described as professional. He doesn’t chase a ton, though I did see him followed a few times over my looks. By and large he worked deep into counts and looked for pitches he could drive. His ability to make adjustments mid-swing stuck out. It’s a majority of line drive contact at the moment, but his swing creates natural loft. I believe plus in game power is likely coming very soon. 

I racked my brain to come up with another fresh-from-the-draft prep bat this good in the New York Penn League and I couldn’t come up with any. Greene was promoted to West Michigan following last Wednesday’s game, meaning I caught the end of Greene’s stay in Norwich. I look forward to seeing him with Erie in the next few seasons. 

Alec Bohm, 1B/3B Phillies - It’s been a few years since Bohm graced the fields of the Cape Cod League, and since that magical summer in 2017 the right-handed slugger has had his ups and downs. A rough patch of 40 games split between rookie ball and short season really depressed his outlook for many heading into 2019. Expectations for the third overall pick had really bottomed out in a matter of months. Poor performance and inconsistent swing mechanics played a big role in depressing many of his future value grades from evaluators.

Luckily for Bohm and Phillies fans, the 2019 campaign has been full of ups for the former Wichita State standout. He’s now climbed three levels, reaching Double-A in late June, and has been no worse than 50 percent better than the average competition at each level. I was fortunate enough to catch Bohm for a series in late July, and was impressed by his hit tool and physicality.

His profile hearkens back to the days of my youth, as he’s a big strong slugger with below average athleticism and a keen eye for the zone. His ability to hit for contact and rarely swing and miss make him a bit of a modern anomaly for a power bat. Based on batting practice it’s easy plus power, perhaps a 7 based on just the raw he displayed in those sessions. In game the thump translates, as Bohm took multiple balls deep to his pullside, putting two off the wall, including a double that missed going over the fence by half an inch. It’s not just pullside power however. Bohm showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields, making his profile that much more tantalizing. Make no mistake this looks like a middle of the order bat.

Bohm sets up similar to Paul Goldschmidt at the plate, at least in terms of the placement of his hands, and the slight bend in his lower half. The bigger difference is Bohm uses a moderate leg kick to engage his lower half, while Goldie uses a slight toe-tap. However, in two-strike counts, Bohm adjusts his approach, shortens his leg kick into more of an accentuated toe-tap before, and his bat path becomes more linear. It was effective in my looks, driving two-strike singles to the hole between third and short each time.

Defensively he’s likely to end up at first base full-time, but I have no doubts the bat will play at that position. He’s played a majority of his games at the hot corner, but he doesn’t move very well laterally, and that really limits his range. I saw him make two strong throws from third, and based on my previous looks during his amateur days, I’m comfortable putting a 50 on the arm, with a chance it might push a 60. His hands are about average, I haven’t seen him bungle any routine balls, but I haven’t really since him tested either.

Mickey Moniak, OF Phillies - Hypothetical questions, while not based on reality, often allow us to take a step back and adjust our perspective on the meaningless factors that often blur our vision. When it comes to Mickey Moniak the hypothetical is simple, “How would we view Moniak’s prospect status had he never gone 1.1 in 2016?”. No prospect I’ve covered has had more unrealistic expectations applied to him due to draft stock. Was Moniak the best player in that draft? No, and we knew that at the time. In fact I remember stating on the Razzball Prospects Podcast that Moniak wasn’t even one of the five best high school bats on hitting ability alone. What Moniak offered was upside, a combination of average or better tools, and a lower bonus number that would allow the Phillies to spread around some of their bonus pool. It’s unfortunate that this young man’s career has been defined by a pick number. I say this because, after sitting on a series with Moniak, it’s obvious he’s a very good player, with a potential future as an everyday big leaguer. That’s more than we can say for most first rounders, and many players taken in the top 12-15 picks annually.

“What’s his future role?”, this is the question I was asked frequently in the days following my looks on Reading. The answer isn’t that simple, I think he has the ability to stick in center and profiles as a possible leadoff hitter, but he’s certainly not going to be an all-star on either side of the ball. He’s a sum of his parts player with some uptapped power and the ability to do a little bit of everything well, but nothing that garners a plus grade.

Logan Davidson, SS Athletics - Over the last year I’ve been all over the map on Davidson. I first laid eyes in the switch-hitting shortstop over the summer of 2018 in the Cape Cod League. Over three separate occasions Davidson struggled at both the plate and defensively. The strikeouts were frequent, as were the misplays at short. It was enough to swear me off Davidson. Questionable hands at short, swing and miss issues, and an inability to drive the ball with a wood bat. It would be hard for him to overcome this in my mind.

Then I saw Davidson over the spring with Clemson. He looked like a different player. More capable in the infield, and a balanced hitter at the plate. He showed the ability to barrel up with consistency, and took a few balls the other way to left facing a tough right-hander in Boston College’s Mason Pelio. It was a good series for Davidson overall.

This past weekend was my third setting for looks at Davidson. Cape, College, Pro ball. This time around it sat somewhere in the middle, but leaning to the more positive spring looks. Davidson continued to barrel up fastballs, chase breaking stuff, and show better from the left side than the right. He’s an above-average runner at present, and an instinctual runner.

Overall Davidson is toolsy enough to project as a big league regular. He should stick in the dirt, he can run a little bit and there’s above average pop in the bat. Ultimately Davidson’s ceiling will be decided by his hit tool. At present he projects to have platoon issues and likely a high strikeout rate. His plate approach is patient, at times to a fault, but it’s not extreme enough to be worthy of a passive label. Can Davidson iron out the kinks and take a step forward? How you project Davidson depends on your answer to that question.