Will the Astros salvage the first-overall pick they did sign?
Take a moment to forget about the Brady Aiken mess and think about last year’s first overall selection. Mark Appel was supposed to be on the fast track. You aren’t supposed to struggle if you’re the first overall selection, and the 6-foot-5 right-handed starter with a prototype body had the look of a player who would move quickly, stopping only briefly in Lancaster and Corpus Christi to humble inferior hitters with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball. If you’ve been paying attention to his season, you know this hasn’t exactly gone as planned.
What has happened
First, appendicitis in January sidelined him for most of the spring. Regardless, the Astros aggressively sent him to Lancaster to begin the season. I was able to catch an early start of his, on April 10th, and was impressed with the raw stuff he brought to the table. Then 22, Appel showed a fastball that touched 98 mph, and paired it with a sharp, bat-missing slider (scouting report). Immediately after this start, on April 14th, Appel’s velocity dipped and only touched 91 mph. As has been well documented, the Astros installed a tandem or “piggyback” pitching rotation, where two “starters” would pitch back to back in the same game. Also, some pitchers would be subjected to only three days of rest, which happened to Appel in these two starts. This obviously took a toll on Appel, and there were rumors of shoulder soreness after the second start. He was sent to extended spring training to get some rest and have proper time to build stamina for the season. After returning, he had the worst start of his season on May 31st, surrendering 10 earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. Five days later, he was diagnosed with tendinitis in his right thumb and scratched from his next start. After getting the standard four days of rest (and sometimes more), he continued to struggle. Recently, the Astros made it public that Appel had a right wrist issue and received a cortisone shot. It’s unclear whether the thumb tendinitis is connected. I took in his start on July 10th with intentions of pin-pointing his problems.
A look at Lucas Giolito in Lakewood brought back memories from 2012.
Lakewood is not what you expect when you think of minor-league towns. Just off a main road not far from a recently rebuilt Jersey Shore, Lakewood is not small town America. It’s overcrowded New Jersey, within commuting distance of our nation's biggest city, a place where it's go big or go home. It's not the kind of place you expect to see perspective-altering performances from 19-year-old kids in A-ball.
In-person looks at several Triple-A assets of the Reds, Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees.
Erik Johnson, RHP, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte) Large-framed right-hander with high waist and strong trunk and legs; body a little soft but strong and durable. High-3/4 delivery; stays closed and has some natural deception; hides ball; stabs behind back but recovers well; repeats delivery fairly well. Creates velocity more with muscle than arm speed. Pitches with good plane; commanding mound presence.
Sinker/Cutter mold. FB 87-90 heavy with sink; topped out at 90 (five times). Average fastball in general; fringe-average velo and command. Reluctant to pitch inside; better FB command to glove side. Cutter 83-85; above-average pitch; 10-4 movement with some depth; commands well and can throw for strikes but doesn’t miss many bats; suffers from “cutteritis”—was overly reliant on cutter to detriment of his other pitches. CB 72-73; shallow and soft 11-5 breaker; doesn’t miss bats and doesn’t invite batters to chase; soft “show me” pitch thrown as a surprise for strikes in FB counts. CH 78-80; rarely used and showed very little confidence in; flashed some drop in warmups but was firm and up in the game. Fairly quick to the plate (typically 1.30–1.40 range). Big, strong, durable kid who keeps the ball down but gets by on soft contact and groundballs; doesn’t miss enough bats. No. 5 starter.
With three looks at the Blue Jays pitching prospect this year, Chris is able to draw some lines.
Over the course of a season, I like to get multiple looks at a starting pitcher prospect as a baseline for establishing developmental trends and gauging progression. Similar to when sitting on a position player prospect for a series or stretch of games, there can be variability from look to look in regards to what you see. It’s possible, for instance, that in an isolated appearance a pitcher is working on one particular pitch or certain aspect of his game that doesn’t reveal the full scope of his arsenal. Or, the arm just doesn’t have it, for whatever reason, on a given night. It’s important when building the book to be able to reference reports from various points in time to compare, contrast, and look for clues that assist with making projections.
Eyes on Ben Lively, Ryan Wright, and Matt Anderson, along with the Cubs' high-profile international signings from last summer.
Ben Lively, RHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
Broad shoulders, thick legs, muscular build; 6-foot-4, about 210; body to log innings; repeatable delivery; gets downhill well; hides the ball behind his torso and snaps it on the hitter with a quick arm; plenty of deception; three-quarters; fastball 88-92; runs it and cuts it; true ghostball; explodes on the hitter; if I didn’t have gun readings I’d guess 95-plus based on the swings; hitters weren’t comfortable all night; third time through the lineup was still pumping the fastball and jamming guys; gets 92 with runners on; amped up after striking out a batter to escape a jam; good control with it, pounded the zone for the most part (got squeezed) but the command was hit or miss; up the zone and challenged guys often; he won most battles, but going forward he needs the get the ball down.
Curveball 71-76; lacked bite early; loopy and hangs over the plate; tightened it up and it flashed late; much better around 74-76 mph, and had some two-plane break; dropped it in for some first-pitch strikes; scout said he had a hammer his last appearance, but didn’t see an above-average CB on this night ; SL 82-84 mph; sweepy break; not much bite; lengthened it with two strikes; used it vs. lefties and righties; commanded it well; better against righties; pounded the outside corner and just off the plate; CH around 85; some dive and tumble; thrown only a handful of times; used it right after his FB to keep the hitters off balance.
Brandon Nimmo, CF, Mets (St. Lucie)
Well built for 21, yet has a frame that will support more weight. Classic left-handed stance, quiet hands with a slight knee bend; swing is short and quick with a slight uppercut; generates natural backspin on the ball, which helps project above-average future power. He doesn't know how to drive the ball yet, but when he does the power will come and the doubles will turn into home runs. Extremely patient approach at the plate; absolutely will not expand the strike zone, even in RBI situations. Plus runner underway but not an explosive first step. Should be able to stay in center field for the foreseeable future.
RHP Hunter Harvey (Orioles)
6-foot-3 accurate; nice broad shoulders and beautiful frame to add good weight; great physical projection; very athletic; 3/4 arm slot; uses high kick to create good momentum toward the plate; stretch: 1.40 to 1.53 range; has slight crossfire; also can open early and land toward first-base side; front-side glove can get big, creating deception before throwing front side through; ball explodes out of his hand; hips and shoulders rotate in unison and arm comes through fast; easy release; low-effort delivery; stays over top of pitches well; uses tall frame to create plane; repeatable mechanics; presently more of a thrower than pitcher and needs work with pitchability; very good demeanor and killer mentality on the mound and I love it; also plus-plus hair flow.
LHP Sean Manaea
Pitcher’s body; 3/4 arm slot; thick lower half but comfortable; athletic; stands tall throughout delivery; crossfire action, foot lands on first base 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 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; front side and hips opened early, causing arm to drag through and command to get loose; was corrected after mound visit. 1.37-1.66 range. Fastball 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 velocity tick up and sit but huge deception and movement pitch; did not get squared one time all night. Changeup 80-84; parachute action; arm-side fade; plays extremely well off fastball because of arm action; feed it to righties to get swing and misses; tough to pick up because of delivery. Slider 76-81; plus spin and tilt; good bite and late break; will add and subtract to vary break and depth; at lower velocity still had good shape and effectiveness.
2nd viewing: Sat 92-94 early; got comfortable in 89-92 range; touched 95 early; can reach back for more velocity when needed; showed ability to cut the ball at 89-90, effectively used to get inside to righties; broke Hawkins' bat with it (shocking); pitch rarely got squared; double-digit swing and misses with it. Future 70 grade. Changeup 81-84 all game; big deception; same pitch I saw first viewing. Future 60 pitch. Slider 79-84; velocity was up; plus spin and tilt; great shape; good bite and late break; added and subtracted well; varying depth and break; stays effective at lower velocity with bigger break; produces massive numbers of swings and misses. Future 70 pitch.