April 14, 2014
Notes from the Field
Carolina League Notes: Wilmington vs. Myrtle Beach
Jason Knapp RHP, Texas Rangers
Got the back story on Knapp from Chi Chi Gonzalez and Cody Buckel. Knapp was originally in the Cliff Lee trade going to Cleveland, had two shoulder surgeries the next year and was cut by Cleveland. Has been out of pro ball since 2010, I believe. He met up with his old pitching coach at UPenn and started a throwing program. Paid for his own third surgery and started working hard. Since last surgery, Knapp said it took him roughly 16-18 months to feel healthy. Threw at UPenn for a full year and got noticed by a Rockies scout; explored his options and signed with Texas. He’s on a strict throwing program; every outing is 25 pitches or less, no throwing the next day after an outing, extreme running the next two days. He threw Wednesday during the day and I asked Chi Chi how he felt yesterday and everything was good. Knapp threw flat grounds from 45-60-75 feet yesterday; marked the first time throwing the day after an outing. The plan is to build arm strength until he feels 100 percent, then keep him in relief.
Big, physical frame; all of listed 6-foot-5 and 235; heard he’s put on 25 pounds since last fall; delivery comes with effort; hip/shoulder rotations are in unison and on time; arm comes through clean and fast from traditional ¾ arm slot; stayed over front knee and on top of pitches; stays tall through delivery, creating good downhill plane. FB 93-95 T96; heavy sink and downhill plane; broke a bat with it; ball jumps out of his hand; command was a little loose but showed good control; didn’t miss spots by much. Wasn’t trying to nibble; just looked like he was missing with his stuff. I think as he builds arm strength, the velo could tick up even more. I saw the chart from his first outing and the velocity was 93-97; good to note he’s held velo through a couple outings. CT 91-92; late, sharp break; comes out just like FB and then darts late; used it to get inside to lefties; potential plus pitch. CB 80-81; great 11-to-5 shape; two-plane snapping break; showed good depth and bite; strikeout pitch. Potential to be plus-plus.
Future Role: 55; late-innings reliever.
Knapp is an extremely intriguing guy. The command is presently below average, but remember this is a guy who hasn’t pitched in pro ball since 2010. I think it will get to at least average or solid-average with more reps. I really think if he can stay healthy he can move through the system fast. He’s 23, so it’s not like he’s extremely old and the clock is ticking. The main thing with him is health and it always will be. He’s a strong, physical kid, so I trust his body to hold up. The plan is for him to just be a reliever, which is the right decision. There’s no reason for them to get cute and ruin him.
Keone Kela RHP, Texas Rangers
Medium build, with good lower half; front side stays closed, then explodes to plate; stays tall through delivery and can land on stiff front leg; deep arm action but super fast arm; comes from high ¾ slot, creating extreme plane; hides ball a long time, tough to pick up. Command profile was average for me. FB 95-98; premium velocity and plane; minimum movement, pretty straight; had a few with natural minimal cut; 65 grade. CB 80-81; true 12-to-6 shape; plus spin; showed depth with good bite. Potential plus pitch.
Future Role: 50; late innings reliever.
Heard the issue with him is throwing back-to-back days. He didn’t throw the next day for me but intriguing arm. Pen guy all the way.
Alex Claudio LHP, Texas Rangers
Tall build but skinny; listed at 160 and that’s accurate; between low ¾ and sidearm slot; slight crossfire delivery; stays low and is athletic; long stride toward plate and stays over the top of front side well; hides ball well and stuff got swings and misses. FB 85-88; big arm-side sink; makes up for low velo with big movement and plus command. Used movement to start pitch off the plate and end in strikeout; 40 grade. SL 76-78; showed bite and some tilt; did get soft with it often and it lost bite; Used it to get lefties to chase; wouldn’t throw it to righties. Future 30 grade. CH 68-72; parachute action; hard arm action, plays well off the FB; big arm-side fade and commanded well; fed this to righties and got an extreme amount of swing and misses. Future 70 grade.
Future Role: 45; middle-innings reliever.
His CH is his bread and butter. SL wasn’t good but CH got over 10 swinging strikes. Could be tough matchup guy in the bigs.
Jose Leclerc RHP, Texas Rangers
Small build and frame; don’t think he’ll ever add weight; keeps good balance through delivery; deep arm circle with extremely fast arm to high ¾ arm slot; stays closed a long time and possibly cuts off hips early; creates good downhill plane, surprisingly from short frame; makes up for everything with extremely fast arm. FB 94-96; downhill plane; dead straight; command profile was solid-avg; 60 grade pitch. CT 87-89; minimal, late break; might even be his SL but just spins and doesn’t break; comes from same arm slot as FB. 30 grade. CB 74-76; showed 12-to-6 shape; showed depth and bite; broke early a few times and hitters could see it. Future 55 pitch.
Role: 45; middle-innings reliever.
Jorge Alfaro C, Texas Rangers
Looks great physically; lower half is thick and sturdy; upper half looks filled out and strong; looks like he’s filled out a bit and is still athletic; doesn’t need to add any more weight IMO. Hit: Has extremely strong hands and wrists; short, quick stroke; plus-plus bat speed with leverage; exaggerated hand hitch in load was much calmer; still needs refinement in approach; often went up free-swinging and did not adjust to the situation; has a relative idea of the strike zone but did expand the zone and had trouble with spin down in the zone; presently struggles with recognizing spin; swing got wristy a few times and he rolled over good pitches. Future 50 grade. Power: Ox-like raw strength; natural leverage and good extension through contact; needs more hip torque and usage for in-game power to play plus; at times, can try to crush mistakes with all upper body and forget to get thick lower half involved; BP sessions were legit, showing off the plus raw power and ability to use it throughout the whole field; believe it will transfer to game. Future 55 grade. Glove: Much improved from last year; showed strong wrist and has improved his pitch framing; got plenty of good looks of his blocking ability and ability to adjust because Buckel had no clue where it was going; deadened most balls in the dirt for easy front pickup; at times, glove got too stiff and ball popped out; still has the tendency to jump out of crouch to throw, costing his pitchers a few strikes; foot work was better but still improving, rushed it a few times. Future 55 grade. Arm: Extreme arm strength; quick transfers from glove to hand; improved foot work helped when throwing; 1.84 and 1.79 pop on 2B back pick; 80 grade. Run: Got out of the box and accelerated; stayed in athletic stance and had swift strides; 4.24 on groundball in the hole; added weight and stayed athletic; 50 grade.
Overall Role: 70: all-star.
I want to get ambitious here and I don’t want people to freak out. I know the tools might not match up exactly with the role but I think Alfaro is a stud. He’s going to be at least an average hitter with solid-average to plus power. His glove is improving and he’s definitely a catcher for me. The arm strength is elite and his footwork and blocking skills have improved since last season. From a premium defensive position, he will be enough defensively and more than enough at the plate. In a league where having a serious asset at catcher is rare, Alfaro could be special.
Cody Buckel, RHP, Texas Rangers
Small, slender frame; front side flew way open, way too early; landed on stiff front leg and front foot was landing on the first-base side of the left-handed batter’s box; even more exaggerated than Matt Garza; hip and shoulder rotation was very early and arm dragged through the zone; fast arm; threw with maximum effort at all times. FB: 100 percent effort to reach 89-91; had zero idea where any pitch was going; 20 grade control/command; had six walks and HBP in one-plus inning of work; have to wonder if he’s hiding an injury. If not, there’s no way he reaches Double-A level. I want to wait and see if he is hurt, but if not….
Future Role 30; organizational player.
Nick Williams OF, Texas Rangers
Wiry frame; has a little build but a lot of room for growth; would feel comfortable if he put on 15 pounds; plus-plus athlete. Hit: Unmatched bat-to-ball skills; plus-plus bat speed and has perfect slight lift coming through the hitting zone; has a true feel for the strike zone and recognizes spin early; tracks the ball extremely deep and uses the whole field well; comfort zone in game is left-CF; can hit premium velocity; features loose hands in pre-swing but gets the bat in a slight angled position toward backstop, making path to the ball short and quick; gets hips involved and has very good barrel control; showed great ability to adjust; needs some refinement in approach; bit of a free swinger currently but I love that he believes he can hit every pitch; most of the time he’s right. Future 70 grade. Power: Present gap-to-gap pop; has more present pull-side power; think it will end up more 2B pop with over-the-fence ability hinging on added strength; power will come from plus-plus bat speed and lift in swing. Future 50 grade. Run: Very good athlete; stays low and has quick strides; 4.19 to 1B on groundball, 7.75 to 2B; aggressive but not a good baserunner presently; got bad jump and was thrown out in game on 2.00 pop time; 60 grade. Glove: Athleticism saves him often; presently extremely raw and reads/routes are very questionable; will make the routine play; don’t think he sees the ball well off the bat but has the speed to make up for some mistakes; with work it could play average eventually but presently well below; not a CF for me. Future 50 glove. Arm: Little longer release; got behind ball well to throw; lost steam and arched a bit coming in; possible could get stronger with added strength. Future 40 grade.
Role: 60; first division regular/could be occasional all-star
Nick Williams is going to hit. This was easily the best natural hitter I’ve seen live. He made a few terrible reads and even started the wrong way when tracking a ball in CF. He’ll never be an asset on defense but he’s athletic so it could get it done. He can run but needs work on the bases. Williams’ hit tool is well above the rest of his game and if he’s going to hit that well at the highest level, I’m not really sure how much the Rangers will care about the defense.
Joey Gallo 3B, Texas Rangers
Massive, thick frame; all of list 6-foot-5; thought he could add weight and he has; lower half is very sturdy and muscular; wide, broad shoulders with lean muscle upper half; very good athlete for how big he is; very good control of limbs and body; I want my son to have his build. Hit: Wide base stance, slightly open; slight front leg-kick timing to come closed as pitch comes in; loose hands; has extreme strength and plus bat speed; swing has serious leverage; hips turn in then explode, creating extreme torque when deciding to swing; he’ll have trouble controlling the barrel and adjusting to quality off-speed; swing is extremely long but makes loud contact often; loves to get hands extended; has made noticeable improvements in pitch recognition and plate discipline; controlled the strike zone well all series and calmed approach in two-strike counts; recognized spin much better and tracked the ball deep into hitting zone; still will be a lot of swing-and-miss. Future 45 grade. Power: Off-the-charts raw pop; creates extreme bat speed from body and has massive strength; has big lift in swing; has top-of-the-scale power to all fields; great post-contact extension; improvements in hit tool quality will allow raw power to play at the highest level; 80 grade. Glove: Robotic actions at 3B; has okay reactions off the bat; can make backhand play down the line; still improving footwork; could see a move to OF. Future 50 grade. Arm: Elite arm strength; makes hard throws with ease and they stay on a line to first; accuracy is a problem; has tuned down arm to improve accuracy; 70 grade. Run: Aggressive but smart baserunner; takes the extra and makes good reads with balls in play; long strides. Future 40 runner.
Role: 65; first-division regular/all-star
Gallo hit massive shots in BP that we all have seen before but that’s not what impressed me. He struggled against Manaea and arm-side stuff but made an adjustment each night. Gallo was sitting on breaking pitches and still driving fastballs. Against Almonte, he crushed a mistake to right-center for a homer like he will usually do. His next at-bat, runners at first and second, he laid off a plus-plus CH (one of the best Almonte threw all night) just off the plate, fading away. I anticipated Gallo was going to swing out of his shoes but he took it. He then took a strike on the outer part of the plate, which was a pitch he could drive but he chose to be patient. Almonte threw him a CH down and Gallo sat on it and drove it through the hole in between first and second, hitting behind the runners. His last at-bat against Almonte, Almonte tried to come inside with 95. FB had heavy sink and started at Gallo’s hip and ended up on the inside corner. I saw Gallo shuffle out of the way of this pitch before. This time he opened the hips, kept hands inside the ball and got extreme extension post contact. The ball got lost in the night. The adjustments he’s made have impressed me. And even if the hit tool never reaches my projected assumption, I still think he’s Pedro Alvarez at the plate at least.
Sean Manaea LHP, Kanas City Royals
Pitcher’s body; ¾ arm slot; thick lower half but comfortable; athletic; stands tall throughout delivery; crossfire action, foot lands on 1B side of home; hips rotate with shoulders and back leg swings through post release; has good momentum to the plate; keeps good balance throughout even though he has back-leg swing; longer arm action and arm got offline at times, varying his release point; big deception in delivery; hides ball a long time and gets on hitters fast; varies times to home to hold runners; will mix in high leg kick with slide step; 1.37-1.66 range. FB 89-96; sat 91-93 early on and touched 95, 96 twice; then went 89-90 later; missed bats at any velocity; ball jumps out of his hand with arm-side run; also throws some with sink; was still missing bats at 89; want to see the velo tick up and sit but huge deception-and-movement pitch; did not get squared one time all night. Future 70 grade. CH 80-84; parachute action; arm-side fade; plays extremely well off fastball because of arm action; feed it to righties to get swinging strikes; tough to pick up because of delivery. Future 60 pitch. SL 76-81; plus spin and tilt; good bite and late break; will add and subtract to vary break and depth; at lower velo still had good shape and effectiveness. Future 60 pitch.
Role: 65; no. 2/3
Manaea biggest asset is his deception. He repeats his mechanics with ease and his command profile is solid-average to plus. I didn’t see the consistent high velo on the FB but it didn’t really matter because his stuff still missed bats. I’ll see him again on Monday with an even more detailed report, but I was impressed.
Miguel Almonte RHP, Kansas City Royals
Six-foot-two is probably right; filled out lower half a bit; easy, fast arm from ¾ arm slot; hides the ball a long time and has excellent deception; long stride to home and hips rotate in coordination with shoulders and arm comes through fast; can open up a bit early at times but mechanics are repeatable; delivery is easy and ball comes out his hand fluently; creates good plane; complete command profile is presently below-avg. FB 92-96 T97; sat 95, 96 most of the game; lot of arm-side life and good downhill plane; command was average early but got loose; needs work to command arm-side. Future 65 grade. CH 83-86; plus-plus arm action; plays extremely well off fastball; great deception in pitch; big arm-side fade and vertical action; best off-speed often; will throw it in any count. Future 70 grade. Want to get another look at the CB. This is a much better breaking ball than he’s ever shown. It’s got tight spin, nice 11-to-5 shape and showed good depth with bite. Mid-high 70s velo and got overthrown and touched higher. He still got soft with it and it lost shape a couple times but it got a ton of swinging strikes, including Nick Williams a few times. I’ll see Almonte again before month’s end. I think it will end up solid-average, but flashed plus a few times. Almonte threw one SL at 83.
Role: 60; no. 3 starter
He needs to work on the command profile and I think it can get to solid-average. Almonte’s development of his CB has been interesting. If it keeps progressing and gets to plus then watch out.
Hunter Dozier 3B, Kansas City Royals
Dream build; tall, broad-shouldered and filled out; muscular throughout his whole body; has size and durability to withstand the longevity of a season; I want my second son to have his build. Hit: Wide base setup; hands start slightly above back shoulder; has a slight bat wrap at times but won’t be an issue; has great strength in wrists and hands; bat speed is plus; will use the whole field; very comfortable going the other way and comfort zone seems to be right-center; swing has natural leverage; very good feel for the strike zone; plate discipline and pitch recognition are strengths; hips get involved and uses whole body; picks up spin early and tracks ball deep into the hitting zone; very intelligent hitter, gets himself into hitters counts often and takes advantage; have seen him make in-game adjustments consistently. Future 60 grade. Power: Ox-like strength; swing has lift and plus bat speed are contributing factors; power to all parts of the field; displayed BP power to pull side and opposite field; translated to game well. Future 60 grade. Glove: Clean actions at 3B; gathers himself well to get into throwing position; showed soft hands and clean transfers to hand; played two tough hops correctly and made athletic backhand play down the line. Future 55 grade. Arm: Strong, accurate throws across the diamond; ball stayed on a line didn’t arc; clean arm action; 60 grade. Run: Athletic and stayed in athletic stance; long strides; consistently in the 4.25-4.29 range; smart baserunner. 50 grade.
Role: 65; first-division regular
I’m a big believer in this kid. I think he’s a very polished player and the tools are mature. He has such natural feel for the game that it seems it comes easy to him. I think he’ll be an above-average player and make the Royals draft look great.
Bubba Starling CF, Kansas City Royals
Build is strong; big, broad shoulders and wide hips; can fill out a little more; another great body set-up. Hit: Wide base, open stance setup to start; hands start quiet but has a bad wrist hitch in load; when starting to swing, back elbow pinches to his hip and back shoulder dips; swing path is on upward path through the hitting zone; has little barrel control and has trouble adjusting; has serious pitch recognition issues and little plate discipline; will expand the zone often; has plus bat speed; has trouble with anything down in the zone; big swing-and-miss; at times, will show good approach then look lost; will use the right side often; will get tied up with velo on the inner half; often makes weak contact in BP and in game. Future 30 grade. Power: Plus-plus raw; big lift and bat speed helps; can get good extension post contact on balls on outer half; BP pull-side power but yet to translate to game; hit tool will always limit power potential. Future 45 grade. Glove: Reads/routes were good off the bat; plus range due to plus run; very good athlete and has athleticism for bad reads; makes routine plays. Future 60 grade. Arm: Gathers himself well before throwing; uses whole body to get maximum effort in throw; ball explodes out of hand with velocity; reaches all places on a line and accuracy. 70 grade. Run: Consistently in the 4.1 range; instinctive runner; smart on the basepaths. 70 grade.
Role: 45; below-average regular.
He’ll play and reach the highest level based on the defensive profile but hit tool will limit the power and be subpar. Starling made one in-game adjustment I took note of. His second at-bat he rolled over an outside FB for 6-4 groundout. Next at-bat, was thrown the same pitch, let it travel and crushed it to RF for a HR. Bubba will flash stuff like this then punch out on pitches that were never near the zone. Frustrating. I just don’t think the kid ever puts it together at the plate.
CJ Wittmann is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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