Thick and meaty reports on two high-profile minor-league teams.
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.
Looks at Mark Appel, Miguel Almonte, and others on Jason's getaway day.
RHP Miguel Almonte: Limby righty with a very fast arm; from 3/4 slot, slings the ball, achieving above-average movement to his pitches; delivery requires a lot of coordination and balance, and is torque-heavy with a power generating letter-high frontside and hip rotation; struggles with opening up early and missing everything to the arm-side; started to lose his delivery later in the start and couldn’t find his release point; excellent extension when he finishes and stays over the ball.
Fastball is easy plus offering in the 92-94 range; can show both hard boring action into righties and heavy dive lower in the zone; command could eventually push this pitch above the plus distinction; changeup is money offering; solid-average to plus at present; 83-85 with excellent arm speed and heavy vertical action; pitch has both deception and movement and can be deployed in any count against any stick; slider is below-average at present; could get to average with more command and a sharper break; pitch in the upper 70s with some tilt, but its more slurvy and loose than tight, and it often starts to break too early on the arm-side and sweeps across the zone; low-70s curveball is actually tighter pitch with more bite but wasn’t utilized in the start.
The Tigers and Stephen Drew could help each other out, and the Royals come close to picking a fifth starter.
Could the Tigers and Stephen Drew rescue each other? News surfaced over the past couple of days that Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias could spend most of the 2014 season on the shelf with long-term injuries to both of his shins. Detroit’s only internal replacement is Hernan Perez, who turns 23 on March 26 and did little at the plate in a 71-plate-appearance sample last year.
Sean Manaea (Royals): Multiple looks so far in camp; live batting practice session/two innings of live game action. Big, strong body; carries the size well; upright posture with straight/high leg lift; arm is slightly lower than standard 3/4 slot; works well; clean action and quick arm; creates good angle despite lower slot; stays over the ball; fastball has ghost qualities at any velocity; hard to square up/track; in game action, worked 93-94 in first inning; spotted east/west; best pitch was lefty-lefty with 93 on the outside black for called strike; second inning was mostly 92; some arm-side run; secondary stuff showed in live batting practice session; fastball was 89-90 (early in camp), slider was slurvy but effective; hard to track and square; changeup flashed high-end quality; could see a plus-plus future; fastball arm speed with heavy vertical life; limited look but no doubt an effective offering.
The Angels talk contract with Mike Trout, the Royals try to decide what to do with their bullpen, and Seattle reassesses its needs.
Royals could explore multi-year deal with Greg Holland
The Royals got on the same page with their closer on Wednesday, when the sides compromised on a $4.675 million salary for the 2014 season. Kansas City Star beat writer Andy McCullough wrote in the article summing up the agreement that a longer-term pact might be in the cards.
Holland turned in a third consecutive elite season last year, recording 47 saves in 50 tries to go with a shiny 1.21 ERA that meshed well with his 1.39 FIP. He struck out 103 batters, issued only 18 walks, and served up only three home runs in 67 innings. You could easily argue that the 28-year-old was the league’s best closer.
In a high-heat era, how do low-heat pitchers get the job done?
On Thursday, Robert Arthur provided a statistical look at how pitchers without velocity succeed. Arthur concluded that arsenal depth—although less predictive of success than velocity—was the key. It's an intuitive takeaway, yet an important one. The league has seen an influx in velocity in recent seasons (with more firepower on the way). Consider this nugget: the starting pitcher with the 50th-fastest average heater in 2009 checked in at 91.5 mph; in 2013, that spot belonged to a pitcher whose fastball averaged 92.2 mph. Pitchers as a population appear to be gaining velocity.