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September 7, 2017

Eyewitness Accounts

The Fort Wayne TinCaps Rotation

by Will Siskel


The Fort Wayne (San Diego’s Low-A) rotation features a mix of high-profile international signees, the 71st-overall pick in 2016, the return in the Derek Norris trade, and a former dual-sport D3-kicker who threw seven perfect innings with as many strikeouts in my viewing. They range in age from a precocious 18 to a “seasoned” 22 years old. There’s a future double-plus fastball, multiple future out-pitches, and varying body types and mechanics. As with all Low-A rotations (or position players), the Fort Wayne rotation is an example of projection and ceiling, a profile that the Padres have amassed in abundance the last couple of years. But what separates this group from, well, most any Low-A rotation, is the fact that most of these guys feature realistic projection as big-league arms. Of the six men profiled here, only one—last year’s fifth-rounder Lake Bachar—doesn’t currently project for that floor, and even that may very well be the product of a shoulder injury that had his sitting velocity down a full five-plus miles-an-hour in my look.

This is the only Midwest League rotation that warrants its own article. As former Prospect Team writer Tucker Blair showed in a well-worth-another-read 2015 feature on a High-A series, most A-ball rotations are composed largely of organizational depth with a select few carrying big-league projections. What you’ll notice in the reports below is an absence of organizational depth OFPs. Michel Baez has a serious impact profile, while Adrian Morejon and Pedro Avila both could become above-average starters. Reggie Lawson and Ronald Bolaños are interesting in their own rights, with big fastballs and flashing secondaries that portend paths to eventual No. 4 starter roles. And if healthy, Bachar could very well develop into a spot starter or contribute in low-leverage relief roles. Each pitcher carries considerable risk, but their collective ability to flash major-league potential is unique for the level.

Some highlights from the arsenals include the aforementioned double-plus fastball, which belongs to Baez. He sat at an overpowering 95-98 in his first inning, and while he dipped down to 92-95 later in the start, he has the frame to suggest flagging velocity won’t be a roadblock as he matures. And on top of the raw velocity, it’s a heavy pitch with downhill plane and run. He elevates it for swinging strikes, and he showed the ability to spot it to both sides of the plate. Here he is elevating it effectively for an above-zone whiff:


the one below was spotted outside effectively:

The best out-pitch among the six starters also belongs to Baez, and it’s an absolute deadly changeup. In one specific plate appearance against Dodgers’ first-rounder Jeren Kendall, he landed one in the zone to get ahead, elevated with gas for strike two, and followed with a devastating change that showed vicious drop below the zone for a swinging strikeout. What makes it such an impressive pitch is the two-plane movement from his height and the velocity separation. He has more than just a feel for it:

He also flashed a curveball that looked like this:

Baez’s fastball-change combination was the best in the rotation, but there were plenty of other contenders for the title. Pedro Avila touched 95 into the eighth inning, and he commanded the fastball well in spite of ample life to set-up his other pitches, like this change:

He can spin it, too:


That would normally make for a season’s-worth of featurable gifs from a Low-A rotation, but not in this case. Morejon running his FB in on the hands of lefties and backing it up with a tight curve, Lawson working his own exciting gas-and-hook combo, and Bolaños spotting 95 under the hands...all of these moments came courtesy of one full-season rotation.

The depth of the Padres system is among the best in minor-league baseball, but it is still a rare thing indeed to see so much big-league-caliber talent concentrated at one (low) level like this. Below are Eyewitness Accounts for each of the six hurlers, which will have to be enough to tide us over for now, until the next wave of impressive Friar starters, led by first-rounder MacKenzie Gore, hits Indiana next season.

Ronald Bolanos

Born: 08/23/1996 (Age: 20)
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6' 2" Weight: 195
Mechanics
Classic starter's build, strength through legs, loose and athletic; full-wind, direct to plate from stretch; solid mechanics with distinct phases to delivery from windup; high-three-quarters slot, arm will drag, gets long in back and shows the ball; foot strike on line, easy delivery; 1.33 from stretch.
Evaluator Will Siskel
Report Date 08/19/2017
Affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A, Padres)
Dates Seen 08/15/2017
OFP/Risk 50/Extreme
Realistic 40: Swingman/Middle Relief
MLB ETA 2021
Video Yes
Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
FB 50 60 91-95 96 Sat 94-95 in short outing; easy velocity with wiggle, above-average run, some downhill plane, life; attacks inside against lefties, commands well to the hands; makings of plus-plus raw offering if he can hold it throughout start; dipped to 91 in taxing three-inning outing; will cut off delivery, sail pitch high and arm-side; pitch plays well below velocity at present due to present 40 control; mechanics project to average control and command.
SL 40 50 82-84 87 Flashed tilt and bite, tight pitch with late action; tendency to overthrow and spike it at present, got around others; potential out-pitch when thrown properly; highly inconsistent at present with well-below-average control, potential average pitch even if command and consistency never quite gets there.
CB 40 45 76-80 Wandered between 11-5 and 10-5, shape varied; short horizontal movement with some depth, good ones flashed average; very inconsistent, often spiked, poor present control.
Overall

Bolanos is a talented arm with a big fastball, though he had a tough outing in this look. The ease of the delivery, despite some mechanical flaws, projects to work in a starting role. He lacked consistency with any of his secondaries, but both breakers flashed as legitimate offerings on a few occasions. He only threw a couple changeups, one of which flashed fringe-average shape and separation. He has the ceiling of a No. 4 starter, but is far away and needs significant development time to harness his secondaries and develop consistent fastball command.




Michel Baez

Born: 01/21/1996 (Age: 21)
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6' 8" Weight: 220
Mechanics
XL frame with long levers; will struggle with balance and get off line early; arm drags a bit in back, high-three-quarters slot; inconsistent drive and landing at present, flashes quality extension when he gets downhill efficiently; there's a lot for him to control physically, flashes physicality to harness it though; 1.32-1.41 from stretch.
Evaluator Will Siskel
Report Date 08/20/2017
Affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A, Padres)
Dates Seen 08/19/2017
OFP/Risk 70/High
Realistic 55: Low No. 3/High No. 4
MLB ETA Late 2020
Video Yes
Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
FB 55 70 92-97 98 Plus-plus velocity (95-98) out of the gate, heavy pitch, downhill, plane, and run; flashes of east-west command, elevated effectively to generate swinging strikes, well-above-average swing-miss; command faltered high and arm-side, velo dipped to 92-94 (t95) by fourth inning; plays down presently due to command/control inconsistency and flagging velocity; frame and physicality to improve command, hold velocity; velocity and movement for plus-plus projection.
CH 55 70 83-86 87 Extreme dive and tumble with excellent plane; sells pitch, consistent arm speed, plays off fastball with above-average velocity separation; shows ability to land it in-zone for strikes, pitch can also really fall off the table, well-above-average swing-and-miss potential; will have to hone command of movement and release, but really buy this pitch.
CB 40 55 77-79 11/5 shape, moderate spin rotation and depth, average horizontal movement; can land it ball-to-strike, spins it well, nascent trust to work backwards with it; can get slurvy, will leave it up at present, couple backed up including one hanger for a homer; spotted a few with 10/5 shape and tighter rotation; some risk that it doesn't tighten up, projection pitch.
Overall

Baez is a 21-year-old starting pitcher from Cuba currently excelling in his first crack at full-season ball. He struck out 11 in four innings in this start, but also got tagged for two homers. There are two legitimate weapons in the fastball and change, both of which project to plus-plus pitches thanks to plane, arm speed, and excellent movement. The development of the curveball will determine whether he reaches what is a very high ceiling. Long-term he'll have to battle the challenges of being 6-foot-8 and the standard mechanical difficulties that presents, but the ingredients are here for a frontline starting pitching prospect.


Pedro Avila

Born: 01/14/1997 (Age: 20)
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 5' 11" Weight: 170
Mechanics
Shorter right-hander with good build; limited physical projection, some maintenance weight; first-base side, double-taps foot on rubber for timing at takeaway, pointed medium leg kick; gets extension and stays online through drive; high three-quarter slot, slight arm wrap, syncs consistently with lower half, brief tilt and pause with angled front shoulder can disrupt hitters' timing; really comfortable and easy from the windup, low-effort; rushed from stretch, less comfortable, arm will drag out of the stretch, compromised command high and arm-side; confident mound presence, gets it and goes; 1.44-1.53 from stretch, will quick pitch 1.16-1.21
Evaluator Will Siskel
Report Date 08/21/2017
Affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A, Padres)
Dates Seen 08/20/2017
OFP/Risk 55/High
Realistic 45: Back-end starter
MLB ETA 2020
Video Yes
Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
FB 55 60 90-94 95 Led with the fastball early to set up the rest of the arsenal; flashes ability to spot it for called strikes; 4-seam 92-94 (t95), downhill run and life, heavy pitch; held velo, touched 95 2x in the 8th; attacks the hands, flashes quality east-west command; 2-seam variant at 90-91, additional run and some sink; average command at present, projects to above average
CH 55 60 82-84 Out-pitch, throws in any count; bottom falls out, serious fade and tumble; arm-speed replication is there, aggressive approach with pitch, generated a lot of whiffs with it, consistently flashed plus; chase pitch; left it up a few times, signaled a couple with shorter arm action; above-average command at present, potential plus command with this pitch.
CB 45 55 74-76 Best ones show 11-5 shape, tight with late sweeping horizontal movement, bat-misser when he buries; flashed ball-to-strike, landed in zone to both sides; inconsistent shape, frequently more 10-5 with fringy depth, backed up on him at times, mainly from stretch; below-average command at present, pitch flashed above-average and can get there with average command
SL 40 40 83 Only showed a couple, not a difference-maker; short horizontal movement, moderate spin, some tilt but mainly short sweeping action, clear fourth pitch
Overall

Avila is an advanced pitchability righty with the stuff and makeup to back it up. He breezed through the opposing lineup early in this start, spotting everything and sequencing very well, before losing shape on his secondaries in the final innings before being pulled. The risks here are tied to curveball projection and size. The stuff can flatten out up in the zone, so developing requisite command of the lower-half of the zone will be paramount. The fastball-change combination with multiple breakers gives him a path to the back of a rotation in spite of his size, while additional projection for the curve opens up the potential for a higher role.


Lake Bachar

Born: 06/03/1995 (Age: 22)
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6' 3" Weight: 210
Mechanics
Slow and deliberate to plate; thick through middle, will require maintenance; well-below-average arm speed, short arm action, drags arm a bit; good timing mechanism with toe tap, repeatable delivery, easy with mild exertion to arm action; hides ball to create mild deception, left-handed hitters will see him well.
Evaluator Will Siskel
Report Date 08/21/2017
Affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A, Padres)
Dates Seen 08/17/2017
OFP/Risk 40/High
Realistic 30: Quality Org. Depth
MLB ETA 2020
Video Yes

Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
FB 40 45 87-89 90 Touched 90 once in outing; some downhill with two-seam action, shows cut, wiggle; low velocity causes it to peter out/tail; present 50 command, potential above-average command with below-average movement and velocity
CB 45 45 78-80 Can spin it in warmups, left up consistently in game; can get depth on it, potential fringe-average pitch with command/control profile; shows confidence to work backwards and sequence it, varies shape, shows tight slider rotation at times; present 50 command, potential to develop above-average.
CH 30 30 81-82 Inconsistent arm speed, slows it down, left some up; not enough velocity separation to be a difference-maker, mild fade, tunnels reasonably off fastball plane; feel to bury it, will pitch backwards with it.
Overall

22-year-old former fifth-round starting pitcher battled shoulder injuries to begin this season. He threw seven perfect innings with a whiff for each inning in this outing, and gets the most out of his below- to fringe-average stuff with pitchability and control. His lack of an out-pitch means very little margin for error, however. Unless the fastball comes back to pre-injury levels, current trajectory of an emergency depth ceiling, with realistic role of quality organizational depth.


Reggie Lawson

Born: 08/02/1997 (Age: 20)
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Height: 6' 4" Weight: 205
Mechanics
High-waisted, lanky frame, projection left; inconsistent delivery, upper-half will get angular and rotational, strays off line; high-three-quarters slot, moderate crossfire, has trouble clearing front shoulder, will fly open; hard drive, flashes ability to get downhill; 1.34-1.41 from stretch.
Evaluator Will Siskel
Report Date 08/21/2017
Affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A, Padres)
Dates Seen 08/16/2017
OFP/Risk 50/High
Realistic 45: No. 5/back-end starter
MLB ETA 2021
Video Yes
Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
FB 50 60 91-93 94 Downhill plane with natural cut; plays fairly straight, heavy pitch, some late life up in the zone; command comes and goes, projects to be a consistent issue; potential to grow into additional velocity, command/control issues cause raw grade to play down.
CB 50 55 75-78 Big depth, 11/5 shape, quality horizontal action; tight pitch with some snap to it, showed ball-to-strike utility, works as a chaser; signals it sometimes, some flattened out in zone.
CH 40 45 86-88 Sporadic usage in this start; arm speed synced pretty well, firm with some vertical drop; below-average velocity separation, potential to miss regardless, projects fringe-average utility.
Overall

Lawson has a great starting pitcher’s build, but his upper-half mechanics will determine if he can access his stuff going forward. Only 20, his development will come down to FB command and the consistency of getting down the mound on-line. The fastball-curve combo bodes well for his future success, but he's going to require a long development path. He’s still raw, but already shows flashes of what he’ll have to do to contribute at the major league level.



Adrian Morejon

Born: 02/27/1999 (Age: 18)
Bats: Left Throws: Left
Height: 6' 0" Weight: 165
Mechanics
Thicker through legs, heavier than listed 165, mature build for 18, body restricted him in viewing, will require maintenance; crossfire, arm action a little long in the back, high-three-quarters slot, gets in trouble when he can’t clear front shoulder and leaves FB high and arm side; solid pacing; gets more extension and better drive from stretch, less rotational with the upper half; 1.41-1.47 from stretch.
Evaluator Will Siskel
Report Date 08/21/2017
Affiliate Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low A, Padres)
Dates Seen 08/18/2017
OFP/Risk 55/Extreme
Realistic 45: Back-end starter
MLB ETA 2022
Video Yes
Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
FB 45 55 90-92 93 2-seam action, downhill run from left side, moderate sink; flashes arm-side command but frequent misses high arm-side; poor command/control, several balls center-cut, not able to spot it consistently; questionable glove-side command.
CB 45 55 77-79 1/7 curve, tight rotation with depth and downward bite, lands it for strikes; can spin it in warmups, left it elevated in-game; flashed ability to locate low and take it glove-side; out-pitch material with natural feel for spinning it, command questions keep projection south of true plus.
CH 45 50 83-84 Vertical dive, quality fade; flashed average; showed ability to backdoor with above-average fade, flashed arm-side command.
Overall

The control and command were off all night, but Morejon showed flashes of all three pitches in a brief, tough outing. The fastball movement and solid velocity from the left side combined with natural feel to spin a curveball with depth and downward bite bodes well as a starting point, and he also threw a changeup with the makings of an average pitch. He's a young kid who requires a lot of projection and will need a lot of time to develop. There's potential for an above-average starter here, but he will have to drastically improve the control, command, and consistency to get there.






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