Here are some of my notable observations from extended spring training:
Marco Luciano (SS) San Francisco Giants – At the plate has looked overmatched vs offspeed and spin, with many swings over the top. Timing is off. Bat speed still very evident, but he looks to be pressing. On Monday took a fastball down the middle for strike three and took several half swings where he looked to be stuck guessing in between pitches. - It reminded me of something a scout said about Austin Riley during AFL 2017; the scout remarked Riley was stuck between pitches because he had plus bat speed but was also often late on fastballs. - Smooth defender at short, looks like a guy who will stick in the MIF; nice feed/toss to second baseman on double play turned in Friday’s contest. The body language: flustered and pressing. Keep in mind Luciano is only 17. Even in extended spring training he is well below the average age, which is probably around 20. Many teams do not send their first-year J2 signings to extended spring training. Consider this an adjustment period; the raw tools that make him a highly-touted prospect are still there.
Angel Martinez (SS) Cleveland Indians – Well, well, well. My, my, my (KFC Colonel Sanders voice). We come to the field to see guys like Martinez. All that I knew about him a week ago was he signed for $500k during last year’s J2 period. Martinez looked phenomenal on Wednesday. He made standout plays on both sides that caught my attention: at the dish he slashed a middle-in 94 mph fastball oppo showing a quick, efficient stroke – easy plus bat speed. It made mid-90s look like pedestrian velo. At shortstop he displayed quick-twitch defense, making a great play ranging to his right with a cross body throw to match, arm still showed plus despite his body moving opposite of first base. He is an excellent athlete with a good first step and reactions. The swing mechanics from the open face were a thing of beauty: easy lower half, great hands, keeps weight back and lets said hands play, bat slots around shoulder length and stays in the zone an ideal amount of time. This is about as excited as you can get from a single look. Paging Matt Thompson. This kid needs to be on Indians top 30, stat. VIDEO
Kristian Robinson (OF) Arizona Diamondbacks – Physically-advanced 18-year-old with immense power who looks destined for left field. It was windy Tuesday, but Robinson took one of the poorest routes to a ball in center field I have seen in an affiliated ball game. Indirect is not a harsh enough adjective. In MiLB ST, he registered plus run times and moved very well for his size. Considering his age, it’s reasonable to expect more weight and less speed going forward. The speed, however, does not translate to good defense in center. On a separate play he also misjudged a ball near the track and collided violently into the wall. His spatial awareness and overall feel for the outfield is poor. Last fall during instructs the arm looked below average as well. All signs point to left field defensively: body projection, arm, defensive instincts/reads. The bat, however, has potential to more than make up for any defensive deficiency. Raw power grades to 70, and Robinson projects to be a Statcast darling capable of frequent high exit velo barrels. An evaluator remarked Robinson looks a bit stationary and flat-footed in his base stance; I think it works for him. Small load, short stride, direct path to the ball. They are simple, clean mechanics that allow his immense strength to play up without the expense of contact. VIDEO
Jairo Pomares (OF) San Francisco Giants – Exciting bat-first OF with excellent bat speed and barrel control. A bit raw defensively but not bad: mixed early returns in right field, some indirect routes, will probably settle around average. Love the swing: plus bat speed with hands slotting high. Decent-sized leg kick, times it well, and it adds “umpf” to the swing. Uppercut swing plane with some length; geared for loft, but have seen a surprising amount of contact on the ground. Unsure if this is small sample noise or a harbinger of a high ground ball rate – have not seen anything mechanically that suggests it is a concern, but worth keeping tabs on in later viewings. 4.23 down the line on 6-3 groundout, not max effort time, meaning Pomares is probably closer to a 55-60 runner. One could make the case he is the best hitter on Giants Black, and that roster also includes Alexander Canario and Marco Luciano.
Lenny Torres (RHP) Cleveland Indians – 2018 comp round selection. On the shorter side but a great athlete. Big front leg lift and very short arm action create deception. Slow to home with below average momentum in large part due to leg lift; there are often tradeoffs in mechanics and here is another example -> momentum exchanged for deception. Strong balance and posture through release. Torres walks a tight rope act between strong balance and plus arm speed. Pitch mix mostly FB/SL. Fastball 93-95 with life. Slider with inconsistent shape but flashed easily plus with sharp, late two-plane break. It darted out of the zone in a Bukauskas-like manner. Torres would also drop it in for strikes, which left opposing hitters left standing with the bat on their shoulders. Would like to see more of his changeup. Hard to confidently say he projects as a starter without seeing him in a more extended look. How would he turn over a lineup multiple times and how his would his changeup fit into the pitch mix? The athleticism and stuff impressed; can see why Cleveland invested $1.35MM in him.
Kohl Franklin (RHP) Chicago Cubs – Cubs 2018 sixth-round pick. Lanky, projectable right-handed pitcher with long limbs and a changeup that flashed plus. Body can be dreamt on: listed at 6’4” 190 lbs and looks it. Franklin sat 92-94 and touched 95. He’ll be 19 until September, and it is possible additional good weight can increase his sitting velocity to mid 90s in which case “We are in business”. Franklin’s changeup is his best secondary. Feel was better than movement; it generated a good amount of swing and miss, more from deception and velo difference than big depth. It was in the 81-84 range and Franklin worked it to both sides of the plate. A mid 70s CB with inconsistent shape that flashed average and a show-me slider at 84 rounded out the pitch mix. Due to his age, you can still dream on Franklin as a starter. He repeats his mechanics well and showed enough feel for four pitches that he at least has a chance. It was a short two-inning look but consider my interest piqued.
Carlos Duran (RHP) Los Angeles Dodgers – Massive 17-year-old righty, listed 6’7” 230 and that looks may be too light. Works from a low slot with short arm action, somewhat pushing/shot putting ball home. The arm action does not look to get the most out of his body, but he still sat 91-93. Control was an issue in this outing; Duran had trouble finding the zone with consistency with a lot of glove side misses. He struggled with timing his release, and his hand was getting around the ball. Despite the control trouble, Duran looks reasonably well-coordinated for his size. He flashed a plus CB in the high 70s, but present feel for the pitch was well below average. Last fall I wrote below average extension for Duran. Getting another look at him again from the open face, that is not the case. He releases the ball out front and his low slot and vertical release point augment what is already plus extension from his height. In the middle of an inning a trainer met with him on the mound, it seems likely Duran has been battling an injury. Overall there is a lot of potential: possibly untapped velocity from mechanical inefficiency, and it is scary to say, but he might not be done growing. VIDEO
Blaze Alexander (SS) Arizona Diamondbacks – Slick-fielding short stop with a chance for a playable bat. Having seen Alexander last fall in instructs and this spring in extended, I am a fan of him defensively. Range at short is around average, but he has excellent body control and quick glove to hand transfers. I don’t have a great feel for his arm, having not seen a true max-effort throw, but it’s at least plus. Alexander made a couple of standout defensive efforts Tuesday: the first was a circus play ranging toward third and throwing cross body to get Cuevas and the second was a slow roller in which he displayed a quick release. The common thread between these plays was good first-step quickness and anticipation; Alexander reads the ball well off the bat. Blaze should stick in the middle infield with a reasonable chance for short. Despite hitting a double and triple Tuesday, I am less sold on the bat. His elbow at slot position raises above the shoulders, creating length. His bat control is good but this length may cause swing and miss issues at higher levels. If the bat speed were plus, I would be more ready to write off the swing mechanics, but I think it is more in the 50-55 range. Even with a skeptical eye focused on the bat, Alexander looks like a steal for an 11th-round pick. VIDEO
Jorge Barrosa (OF) Arizona Diamondbacks – Toolsy but unrefined Venezuelan OF. Barrosa was a 2017 J2 kid, ranking 44th on Ben Badler’s list. Bonus was not listed for Venezuelans, but one could infer from similarly ranked players, he probably signed for around $500k. Short but not small frame, looks more dense than listed 5’9 165. Had 4.36 on a single with turn, displaying good acceleration/burst; plus runner look, need max effort run time to confirm. Notable: stole 39 bags in only 308 PAs last year. Upright, narrow base stance, no load, hands a bit late lowering to slot below shoulders, quiet step forward – lower body not heavily involved. Bat speed above average but attack angle is often negative (swing plane is downward). Contact destined for ground balls when this happens. The swing plane was also an issue in Thursday’s BP with more contact than you would like to see on the ground. Barrosa manned left field Tuesday and made a nice catch coming forward/slightly to his right, with good jump and direct route. His quickness plays on the basepaths and outfield. Barrosa is a high-risk player with every day upside; there are some intriguing tools, but he is long way away. VIDEO
Joe Gray Jr (OF) Milwaukee Brewers – Low-probability, high-upside athlete. High-waisted, thin, wiry frame that looks projectable. Also possible he is a fast metabolism type and does not put on weight (thought about other OFs like this but was unable to come up with one), unwilling to assume the projection with Gray. Surprising raw power displayed in BP with several balls hit to warning track with near 70% effort swing. Quality of contact during BP was inconsistent, raising concern with barrel control and hand eye coordination. Swing mechanics are better than they were as an amateur: more upright stance with center of mass staying back longer, hands staying closer to body reduce length of bat path. Skeptical of bat in spite of mechanical improvements. Poor defensive outing in left field Friday: lost ball in the sun off bat of Pomares and had a throw that slipped out of his hand, spiking into grass maybe 30 feet away. He did make a nice sliding catch coming forward later in the game but overall defensive performance was disappointing considering his immense athletic ability. Would like to see more before killing him on this one look; it felt like a confluence of unusual events. Has a chance to be a power/speed guy with both as plus tools, but feels like a long-shot lottery ticket at this juncture. VIDEO
Isroaky Berroa (RHP) Los Angeles Dodgers – My new favorite player archetype: short, young Dominican with great arm speed. Berroa is one of a growing group of players (I have seen) to fit this mold. He strides toward home with massive torque that would put even Yusei Kikuchi to shame, bending the front knee back past his hips, then using his lower half as a slingshot to fling his body around. The arm action is long with a cross-body follow through; the overall action can get whippy. The arm slot was low three quarters, bordering on sidearm. The product of all this is pretty impressive velocity for an 18-year-old kid listed at 5’11” 165 lbs. Berroa’s FB sat 92-94 and touched 95; he worked the pitch to both sides of the plate which is notable for this type of arm slot. Berroa also flashed feel for two secondaries. He had better present feel for the slider which ranged from 82-85 with late break. The changeup was either very flat and hittable or had plus depth and moderate run. The max-effort nature of his mechanics cap his appeal as anything more than a pen arm, but Berroa is still an exciting find. His secondary stuff should get better with reps; both flashed plus. His athleticism and youth inspire optimism he can develop three playable pitches and operate in a pen. VIDEO
Deyni Olivero (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Big arm speed Dominican with chance for pen future. Fairly short, but built frame. FB-heavy mix, pitch sitting 92-94 and touching 95. Spotted pitch to both sides, would have natural tail into hands of right-handed hitters at times. Clean and easy arm action with relatively little effort, blessed with a golden arm. Release out front, borderline plus extension. Follow through towards first base looks off balance at times and looks bullpen-y. Inconsistent feel/shape for CB 79-81. VIDEO
Alexis Ramirez (RHP) Milwaukee Brewers – Thin Dominican with excellent athleticism and arm speed. The all-out nature to his delivery may lead to command issues; his finish can be out of control and the arm action gets whippy. Ramirez was 94-96 in his first inning and 90-92 in his second inning. He also showed an ability to cut his fastball. The curve was his primary secondary, flashing as good as 55. Will need to find the right balance between effort in his delivery and ability to throw quality strikes. VIDEO
Liam Jenkins (RHP) Cleveland Indians – Long-limbed and high-waisted massive human with surprising quickness and more body control than you would assume at first glance. Had some trouble repeating mechanics, but they are clean with good momentum home, easy velo. Listed 6’8” 225 lbs. Drafted in the 17th round in 2018. FB 93-94 T95. CB shape oscillated between 12-6 and 11-5 in 80-81 range. Plus pitch. Will be a pen weapon if he can throw enough strikes. VIDEO
Brendan Murphy (LHP) Milwaukee Brewers – 6”4 lefty who looks like a control guy. Works direct to home with good balance and upright release: easy, repeatable mechanics. Some projection remaining to his frame. Easily plus changeup generated swing and miss low in zone. FB 89-91 with moderate sink, commanded pitch well. Not much separation between SL and CHG; in similar velocity band and SL lacked tilt. Mostly interesting due to remaining projection, control, and left-handedness. Tricky profile: does not look like it would play well in a pen so stuff (both FB and SL) taking a step forward is paramount in keeping the dream alive as a back-end starter. VIDEO
Nice First Impressions, Hoping to See More:
Julio Carreras (SS) Colorado Rockies – Smooth defender at short with easy INF actions and plus arm. Good first step, more quick than fast. Big leg kick and torque, will not get cheated on swings. Not sure what he is at this point but the athleticism stood out and he was among the younger players on the field. Damelo. VIDEO
Pedro Martinez (SS/2B) Chicago Cubs –Well-rounded player with chance to contribute value on both sides. Like the swing mechanics: good timing, nice rhythm and load. Adaptive situational approach, reduces effort in swing with two strikes and becomes more contact oriented.
Ghordy Santos (2B) San Francisco Giants – Came into game in late innings Saturday and hit a two-strike laser oppo to the warning track. Impressive hands and bat speed. Did not make much of him during January instructs, starting to think I was wrong not to.
Bryant Quijada (C) Colorado Rockies – Interesting bat, good bat control and timing. Bat speed around 50-55. Looks to have good feel for zone and overall approach. Early count swing mechanics have uncanny resemblance to Esteban Quiroz. Shrinks zone with two strikes using massively wide base, reminding of Austin Listi. Less sold on his defense: made awkward tag of home on 1-2 groundout with bases loaded; had poor spatial awareness on the play. Looked flexible in between innings splitting right leg horizontally (parallel to the ground) while receiving warm up pitches. VIDEO
Jose Curpa (2B) Arizona Diamondbacks – Impressed by his BP on Thursday. Plants front foot early, little lower half, handsy but impressive hands/bat speed. Good hand eye coordination and consistent fly ball contact. Power gains possible with moderate weight gain.
Jhoan Paulino (SS) Oakland Athletics – Slick defense-first shortstop, played the position with an air of confidence; he knows he is good. Every body movement looks fluid, naturally flowing into the next one. Swing mechanics are direct with little wasted motion. Will never be on par with his defense but has a chance to contribute some value with the bat. 50 maybe 55 bat speed. VIDEO
Jose Bonilla (RF) Oakland Athletics – Just turned 18 in February and has big power projection but incredibly long limbs. Reminded of Yankees Anthony Garcia in the sense that the extent to which he can tap into his raw power will determine his future. VIDEO
Keyberth Mejias (C) San Francisco Giants – Excellent defensive catcher: the receiving is great, moves with a grace and ease few other catchers have. Excellent lateral movements and agility. Soft hands. Quick and easy in and out of crouch. Need looks at the bat. VIDEO
Kervin Castro (RHP) San Francisco Giants – Stocky, thick RHP with power sinker which sat 94-96 T98. Also got swing and miss up in the zone. Fastball dominant mix but did show a high 70s CB. Appeared to lack confidence in it. Converted catcher with TJ already on his resume. Worth keeping an eye on, could be a pen weapon if the CB takes a step forward.
You can follow me on Twitter - @jasonpennini