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December 9, 2014

Prospect Mechanics

AL East

by Doug Thorburn and Ryan Parker

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Baseball Prospectus's mechanical mavens Doug Thorburn and Ryan Parker turn to the AL East as they continue their examination of select Top 10 prospects featured in the BP Top 10s (see their breakdown of NL East prospects here and NL Central prospects here).

Max Pentecost, C, Toronto Blue Jays

Rankings Summary (Blue Jays Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 5th
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

There is a ton to like in Max Pentecost’s swing, possessing the enviable combination of easy bat speed and strong balance. Starting from a wide stance, he simply raises his heel to establish rhythm and begin his path to the ball. There are concerns at times about hitters who hit from this wide of a set up because it’s very easy to lose balance and drift or become overly rigid in the pursuit of balance. However, Pentecost avoids these pitfalls. He has a distinct bat waggle or hand load as his foot moves, this seemingly extraneous movement allows him to stay fluid and athletic with his upcoming actions.

As his hands and feet are moving, he does a good job gaining ground with his hips. It’s a fairly linear movement and he could benefit from just a bit of hip coil, but his current pattern works and any criticisms of it would just be splitting hairs. The issues I’ve seen in his swing show up with a hip movement that can cause him to lose timing. Ideally, his hips would work forward until his front foot is flat on the ground and then they begin to fire. With Pentecost, every once in a while he mistimes a pitch and his hips move forward throughout his whole swing.

At the moment, this mechanical quirk isn’t much of a concern and, as he gains experience timing up pro pitching, this issue should fade away. Another concern is that Pentecost has a tendency to work his hands too far out in front of his body. When he’s locked in, his hands are working behind his back shoulder, so he is able to get the bat flat around his back hip. When he’s off, his hands push forward and don’t flatten out until they reach the middle of his body. As a catcher, his legs are going to get tired, making it all the more important that he’s able to keep his hands working a solid path.

The bottom line is Pentecost will hit. It might not be jaw dropping, but it’s a simple swing geared to hit line drives like they are going out of style and won’t need any major overhauls as he works his way to the show.

Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees

Rankings Summary (Yankees Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 1st
Overall Future Potential: 6: first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Judge is a mountain of a man with the strength to match. His swing is all about tapping into that strength to send balls rocketing into the night sky, but it’s hardly a finished product and was actually quite worrisome at the start of the season. Judge had major bat wrap and took an extreme amount of time to get the bat from his starting position to the hitting zone. When he did square it up, the ball took off, but it wasn’t a pattern that would work at the highest level.

Judge prior to the AFL:

Judge got promoted and I didn’t see any new film on him until the AFL. After viewing that, I have good news to share to Yankees fans: you guys have a real hitting prospect. The bat wrap still exists, but he gets out of it rather quickly and has tightened up his overall movements to the zone without losing any of his trademark strength.

Judge at the AFL:

Prior to the correction, Judge would start his hands very high, immediately the bat would wrap, and then kind of “sling” into the zone. Now his hands are lower, he keeps the bat at a much better angle, and delivers the barrel into the hitting zone closer to how major-league power hitters operate.

With his strength and pro-level approach—he’s so patient it’s almost maddening—Judge can succeed without a textbook swing. But even so, much like fellow baseball destroyer Joey Gallo, Judge has shown he’s willing to work to refine his swing and reach new heights of success.

It’s hard to teach approach, it’s harder to teach work ethic, and it’s impossible to teach size; Judge has been blessed with all three. All of those factors have helped sway me as I’ve come around on the prospect and believe the swing will continue to get better. Add in the fact that Judge will start his big-league career playing half his games in Yankee Stadium, where he’ll make an already small stadium look meek, and it’s clear why following Judge in his journey to The Show is going to be a fun ride.

Chance Sisco, C, Baltimore Orioles

Chase Sisco has a fluid stroke that he repeats well, solid internal timing, and appears to time up pitches well from the limited film I’ve seen. Sisco’s hands work incredibly well. He’s got the right kind of length in his swing, getting the bat to the hitting zone quickly, and it comes through smoothly with good bat speed. He’s able to keep the bat through the zone, giving him a bigger timing window where he can make hard contact.

His batting practice swings look relaxed without being lazy. The ball jumps off his bat, even without him trying to muscle up or get tense. Talking with other scouts, Chance is able to take this same relaxed nature to game action, which is a huge positive. Not every hitter is able function without tightening up. Being so relaxed keeps all his actions loose and will allow his swing to work at maximum efficiency.

Sisco’s lower body hits all the checkpoints of a good swing, but it’s not exceptional like his upper half. He can get a bit “pushy” off his backside, instead of really firing through his back hip he just pushes forward. These are the swings where he ends up almost straight up and down.

Even if Sisco were not a catcher, I would still be extremely excited about the hitting potential in his bat. When watching film and talking to other scouts, articulating the emotions that Sisco’s bat evokes has proven to be a difficult task. This is meant in the best possible way, but Sisco’s swing is so good, it’s boring.

Currently he will hit for average and the power will show up slowly as he adds strength and durability to his lower body. Of the eight hitters mentioned thus far in this series, Sisco is the batter I would tell younger hitters to model themselves after. —Ryan Parker

Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox

Rankings Summary (Red Sox Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: 2nd
Overall Future Potential: 6: no. 3 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter

The BP Prospect team gave Owens the number-two ranking in the Boston system, and he was tabbed as the top pitcher in the system. Yet despite his first-round pedigree and the robust ranking, the southpaw was given a somewhat limited ceiling of number three starter for his Overall Future Potential, and that assessment is fully supported by his repertoire as well as his delivery.

Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

60

Torque

50

Posture

45

Repetition

50

Overall

C

Owens has a big leg kick and a fluid transition into the stride phase, with a rhythmic delivery that could have its own soundtrack. His balance grade is dented by a plunge after he reaches the top of his delivery, with a heavy drop to his center-of-gravity, and his score is further marred by a lean toward the third-base side that varies in magnitude from pitch to pitch. His posture is similarly volatile, but the third-base lean manifests as spine tilt near release point, resulting in below-average posture on the majority of his pitches. The overall grade puts him in the middle of the bell curve, and each of the specific subjects on his report card receives a mark that falls within one deviation of the mean.

Momentum is his strongest suit, with a good early move that leads with the hip and a continued acceleration as Owens executes his stride. It is a relatively smooth transition from lift into stride, especially considering the height of leg kick, and the left-hander strides towards the left batter's box to add some deception to his release. It's a mixed bag of power that contains plus momentum and average torque, though his heavy scapular load on the throwing side gives the false impression of plus hip-shoulder separation. His trigger of trunk rotation fires with an inconsistent delay after foot strike, a factor which has a ripple effect on his score for repetition.

The momentum grade on his report card is based on the windup, but it takes a hit from the stretch. Most pitchers follow the opposite pattern, speeding up their charge down the hill with runners on base, but Owens reverts to a gear-change pattern that is relatively slow and which he struggles to repeat at times. His game-to-game consistency was solid last season, but his pitch-to-pitch consistency left something to be desired, and his mechanical differences between windup and stretch could be a developmental obstacle for Owens to overcome.

Enny Romero, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Rankings Summary (Rays Top 10):
Current Organizational Rank: UR (Factors on the Farm)

Romero missed the cut for the Rays' Top 10 Prospects this season, falling under the category of “Factors on the Farm” one year after he was tabbed with the system's number-one ranking. He came into the 2014 season knocking on the door to a big-league job, but he struggled in Triple-A for the first few months and spent the second half getting back on track. The trademark heat is still intact, and his ability to command the fastball will dictate the height of his ceiling.

Report Card

Balance

40

Momentum

50

Torque

70

Posture

45

Repetition

40

Overall

C

Most pitchers suffer more instability as they move down the kinetic chain, but Romero goes against the grain with a delivery that begins imbalanced but stabilizes as he nears release point. His motion includes a third-base drift as he approaches max leg lift, accompanied by a rock back toward second base during his stride. His back-side collapses with a vertical drop into his stride, and he often remains off-balance to the third-base side into foot strike. The balance issue was more pronounced in the first half of the season, and there were starts in which he over-exaggerated the “stay back” approach:

When Romero is on his game, he has more flex in his knees as well as his spine, allowing him to track closer to the plate and extend his release point. His velocity is fueled by 70-grade torque, with massive hip-shoulder separation when Romero lines up the gears. He utilizes a huge upper-body twist and he is patient with a delayed trigger when everything is clicking. On the downside, his trigger timing is shaky and often leads to misfired bullets.

The southpaw starts and stays on the third-base side of the rubber and his lean takes him even further north of the stripe, elements which could stand in the way of his finding consistency. Romero's momentum can also be volatile, a statement which is true of most developing pitchers, but it is notable in this case because of the mechanical similarities between his windup and stretch. He uses essentially the same lift and stride regardless of whether there are men on base, and though he does pick up the pace a bit with a runner on first, his timing patterns are very similar in either situation. A pitcher's momentum is a key determinant of his timing, and it follows that Romero should have an advantage for repeating his delivery, but his charge to the plate ranges across the fat part of the bell curve, between 45 and 55 on the scale.

There is more in the tank for Romero, but mechanical reliability stands between him and the majors. When he does get there, we can look forward to some entertaining strikeout celebrations, provided he doesn't get whiplash. —Doug Thorburn

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here
Ryan Parker is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ryan's other articles. You can contact Ryan by clicking here

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor Leagues

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