The Situation: Where others have tried and failed, 23-year-old Dominican pitcher Danny Salazar will attempt to step into the Indians rotation as a rookie and stake his claim at the highest level. The promotion might be seen as a surprise to some, but Salazar has been shoving it in the upper minors and has the mental fortitude to make the jump.
Background: Salazar was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 and started his slow climb up the professional ranks, logging 25 starts at the complex level before making the jump to full-season ball in 2009. The production was hit and miss. The electricity of the arm showed up but he was more often than not unable to harness it or find consistent utility of his secondary offerings. His career veered off course in 2010, when his elbow decided to have a sad and require Tommy John surgery, which basically ruined the better part of two seasons and cost the young arm valuable developmental time. Salazar returned healthy and his powerful fastball was not only lively but under more control than ever before, and the secondary offerings, especially the slider, were flashing above-average potential. Building on a strong recovery season, 2012 was the big step forward for the 6’0’’ righty, as he pitched his way to the Double-A level and put himself firmly on the prospect map, ranking sixth on the Baseball Prospectus Indians’ Top 10 list after the season. Another developmental step forward in 2013 has put Salazar on major-league soil, and the continued refinement of his command and improvement to his changeup can take a lot of the credit for the rapid rise.
The A's call up young pitching prospect Sonny Gray.
The Situation: With the All-Star break looming, the Athletics do not have a need for a fifth starter until late next week. Accordingly, Oakland is utilizing that roster spot to provide Sonny Gray with his first taste of major-league action, with the 2011 first rounder to work out of the A’s ‘pen.
Background: Gray was a first-round selection out of Vanderbilt University back in 2011, showcasing some of the best raw stuff in the draft but slipping to the A’s at 18th overall due to the depth of talent in the draft class, some questions about his sub-six-foot stature, and the quality of his off-speed. The former ‘Dore carved up the Texas League after signing in 2011 but took a step back, developmentally, in 2012, struggling to implement some mechanical tweaks and suffering through some regression in stuff and command.
In search of more bang from second base, the A's call up a former first-rounder.
The Situation: The first-place Oakland Athletics have received lackluster production out of the second base position in 2013—.264/.339/.343 and just one home run through 89 games—and now look to Triple-A Sacramento for an offensive boost in the form of Grant Green. After a solid but unspectacular year in Sactown last summer, Green has broken out in his second tour through the hitter-friendly PCL, triple-slashing .318/.374/.500 through 81 games whiles launching 11 home runs and 25 doubles.
Background: After entering his junior year at USC as a potential top five draft pick in 2009, Green struggled at the plate and in the field, ultimately dropping to Oakland as the 13th overall selection that June. Since then, he’s slowly climbed through the minor league ranks, showing steady growth in his game, and particularly in his approach at the plate. After shuffling around the diamond through his first three full seasons, Green made the permanent move off of shortstop in 2013 and looks to have found a permanent home at the keystone.
Max Scherzer violates a central tenet of pitching, with great success.
Perhaps no piece of conventional pitching wisdom is as logical as the need to pitch inside. The act of pitching inside should, in theory, yield a number of benefits, ranging from less predictability to increased effectiveness on outside pitches. Pitching inside is also one of those things where each preceding generation did it better (anecdotally, at least) and more often than the current generation does. Still, nearly every revered pitcher will lecture about the importance of pitching inside. Consider Sandy Koufax, who, according to the aptly named book Koufax, once said, "Show me a guy who can't pitch inside and I'll show you a loser."
True as that may be in most cases, there is a pitcher in Detroit named Max Scherzer who might improve his record to 14-0 tonight, and in the process show that inside pitching is less important than it seems.
OF Micker Zapata (White Sox) Zapata was one of the standout talents on the field during MLB’s International Showcase in the Dominican Republic back in January, as the power potential was on full display. At the end of the day, it’s most likely a corner profile, but the power could make him a middle-of-the-order masher, as some scouts have put plus-plus grades on the tool. Given the lack of high-end talent in the White Sox system, Zapata found himself a top five prospect in the system the day he signed for $1.6M. Obviously he’s raw, and this will be true of most of the talent found in the July 2nd talent window, but Zapata shows good bat-to-ball ability, and could develop into more than just an all-or-nothing power hitter. Kudos to the White Sox. This is going to be a very good prospect. –Jason Parks
RHP Marcos Diplan (Rangers)
Despite a market reputation as a baseball factory, the Dominican Republic doesn’t produce a lot of quality major-league starters, a reality with numerous explanations [possible explanations]. A lack of pitchability is often seen as the biggest villain. Diplan stands out for his impressive raw stuff and his advanced pitchability for his age, attributes that help offset his diminutive size and the reputation of the region for producing more relief arms than impact starters. When I saw Diplan back in January, the right-hander pounded the zone with a low-90s fastball (touched 93) delivered from a lower slot. He showed feel for both a fading 80 mph changeup and a low-70s curveball, brought into game action with the swagger of a much more physically imposing arm. He was the best arm I saw at the Dominican Showcase, and it wasn’t even close. –Jason Parks
Putting eyes on Miguel Sano, Maikel Franco, Jesse Biddle, and others.
A four-game set between New Britain (Twins) and Reading (Phillies) was just what the heart needed: an occupational vacation to the resorts of the Double-A level, sipping radar gun readings on the beaches behind home plate. New Britain is a casual little town in the middle of Connecticut, slightly southwest of Hartford, and slightly southwest of being a city I ever want to find myself in again. But the action on the field swept me away, and the Rock Cats’ staff were some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered on the minor-league scene, so I will no doubt find myself on an Eastern League holiday again very soon. Here are some observations from the experience.
With Mike Pelfrey injured, the Twins bolster their rotation with a former first-rounder.
The Situation:Mike Pelfrey hit the shelf with a back injury, and Gibson was already on alert-five in Triple-A, eagerly awaiting his first major league opportunity.
Background: Gibson was a highly touted collegiate arm coming out of Missouri, but a few velocity valleys and an injury concern (forearm stress fracture) pushed him down the board. He fell to the Twins with the 22nd pick and signed for $1.85M. Most thought that when and if healthy, Gibson could move through the ranks of the minors in short order and provide the major league staff with an innings-chewing arm with upside. Healthy in 2010, the tall right-hander looked the part, making 26 starts and logging 152 IP in his minor league debut, erasing most of the injury concerns, and looking like a safe bet to develop into an above-average starter.