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October 18, 2013
Bush League: Previewing the Winter's Pitching Prospect Breakdowns
The advent of MLB.tv has revolutionized the baseball experience, granting access to the nearly 2500 games that take place each season in the majors and opening many avenues of analysis. But the extensive footage available via MLB's younger brother, MiLB.tv, is often overlooked. Though the video quality may be lacking, the minor-league product offers valuable glimpses of the game's elite prospects.
One of the perks of watching MiLB.tv footage is the chance to witness a lighter side of the game in venues where the fan experience often takes priority over on-field achievement, a trait that is necessary in an environment where the best athletes are likely to move on at a moment's notice. One of my favorite adaptations in a minor-league park is the Batdog, a golden retriever who is responsible for clearing the lumber for the Trenton Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees.
Minor-league teams recruit all sorts of sideshow acts to entertain the audience between innings, and with no commercials to fill the airtime on MiLB.tv, we are often gifted with an up-close look at some of these unusual performances. Max Patkin gained national acclaim as the “Clown Prince of Baseball” for his antics at minor-league ballparks as well as his role in Bull Durham, and though Patkin retired in 1995 and passed away in '99, his legacy has since been continued by one Myron Noodleman. Noodleman is the stage name for Rick Hader, who happens to be the uncle of former Saturday Night Live cast member Bill Hader. The Wikipedia page for Noodleman lists him as the fifth such “Clown Prince of Baseball,” and he carries his nerd schtick across the minor leagues.
Goofball antics and crazy dances can be found throughout the minor leagues, not all of which are staged on the field. Sometimes the footage on MiLB.tv will pan to the stands, where eccentric fans have an opportunity to steal the spotlight for 15 seconds of quasi-fame. I came across one such fanatic while watching a recent minor-league game, in which a misplaced Packers fan was showing off his double-jointed dance moves in front of the crowd at a game for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers low-A affiliate).
The chance to catch Batdog, Myron Noodleman, or Packman in-between innings is merely a bonus, because the action taking place center stage on MiLB.tv is easily worth the price of admission (currently $19.99 for off-season access to the library of archives). The participating affiliates include all 30 Triple-A clubs, 21 teams from Double-A, and more than a dozen squads from the various levels of A-ball.
The minor-league games provide a tremendous opportunity to evaluate players’ development as they rise through the system. Just as I did last winter, I will be rolling out another batch of prospect evaluations this offseason in my Bush League series, leaning on video available through MiLB.tv. Let's take a sneak peek at some of the pitchers who will be under the microscope this winter.
Kyle Zimmer, Royals
Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Syndergaard’s height provides natural downhill plane, while his strong posture allows for repetition and fastball execution, though the early returns indicate a tendency toward excess spine-tilt on breaking balls. Both his fastball and curve are rated as plus pitches, with the heater earning a 7 grade from Jason Parks and the prospect crew, and his changeup has the potential to be another plus pitch for a Mets org that has churned out a number of high-end pitching prospects in recent years. The footage of Syndergaard is limited, and the liabilities of minor-league video are evident in the grated feeds of the following clips.
Robert Stephenson, Reds
Julio Urias, Dodgers
My favorite anecdote from Urias' final outing was not even the velocity, but rather a snap-throw to first base that picked off the first batter of the game following a first-pitch single, definitively demonstrating the degree to which this teenager is advanced well beyond his peers.
Jameson Taillon, Pirates
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks
The Bush League series will be in full effect once the postseason is complete, with extensive analysis on each of the pitchers listed as well as a handful of other prospects who inspire intrigue. I highly recommend MiLB.tv for those who are keeping warm by the hot stove this winter, both for the entertainment value as well as the opportunities for prospect analysis. Enjoy the thrills of minor-league baseball, and be thankful that we don’t live under the threat of tarpnami warnings in the offseason.