First AB: Erik Swanson, RHP
Guerrero takes a first pitch fastball from Swanson at 95 for a called strike. I already notice that he isn’t nearly as aggressive a hitter as Bichette. He likes to get comfortable with his at-bats and see what a pitcher has to offer instead of swinging out of his shoes at the first pitch. The next pitch is a fastball that he fouls off. He seems comfortable now, but his swings are also quite violent. Swanson brings a third straight fastball, and Guerrero fouls it off again. It seems like Guerrero can use the whole field and was just working with what the pitcher was giving him, which was high heat. On 0-2 again, Swanson tries a slider at 86: no luck, and called a ball. On 1-2, Swanson fires a 96 mph fastball. Guerrero swings and misses. Our hero is 0-1 in High-A.
Second AB: Erik Swanson, RHP
Like he did in his first at-bat, Guerrero takes a first called strike. I’ve watched enough low-level baseball to learn that most of the time, you could just stand there and you will eventually find yourself at first base. Once you get to High-A, that strategy ceases to work and you have to start thinking like a pitcher. “How will they attack me? What are they most comfortable with? When do they fall into patterns? Where are they likely to throw certain pitches? Why are they throwing this pitch?” On 0-1, Guerrero sees another fastball up in the zone and he pops it up for a weak out to the second basemen. Our hero is 0-2.
Third AB: Andrew Schwaab, RHP
Schwaab is a different look for Guerrero. Unlike Swanson, who had a big fastball with a high slot, Schwaab is a side-armer who throws a lot of sliders and relies more on deception and location. Like he has done before, Guerrero takes the first pitch, this time a slider at 83 for a called strike. The next offering is another slider; swing and miss. This is probably the best pitch I have seen Schwaab throw all year—it flashed above-average with late depth, fooling Guerrero. On 0-2, Schwaab goes to another slider, and Guerrero takes it for strike three. I am sure Guerrero was expecting a slider, but that it would be one out of the zone for a chase pitch, not one that would paint the corner. Through three at-bats, I have not seen him put one ball in play.
Fourth AB: Jose Pena, RHP
Like Schwaab, Pena is here to fill a role. Mainly his role is to eat innings and provide depth to the bullpen. Also like Schwaab, he is a side-armer. Pena is fairly generic; he is 88-89 with sink, and a true sweeping slider at 75-78. He has had success this year, and has even made a brief cameo in Double-A, which is a far cry from rookie ball, which was where he had spent the majority of the past 6 seasons.
A couple of weeks ago, we had the annual rite of summer in baseball, complaining about how the All-Star game rosters are selected. Sometimes, the rosters pick themselves. The guy who’s having the best season is also the guy who’s been the best at his position for the past few years and he’s also the most beloved player in the league.
An at-bat by at-bat look of Bo Bichette during a three-game look.
A little background: I saw Bo Bichette a decent amount as an amateur in 2016. He was a very divisive player because of the on-field ability, as well as the background involving his family and brother, Dante Bichette Jr.
On the field, few players had the kind of tools Bichette had. His raw power graded out quite highly, as he did it with ease, with many—including myself—putting a future 70 on his raw power. His arm also graded out highly. While I graded it as plus, one could make a case for a 70 arm. An above-average runner in high school, he has slowed down to average, but he still forces infielders to make quick decisions. He has such quick wrists and incredible bat speed to help make up for what is a long, noisy swing with a big leg kick. This is what an impact player was supposed to look like. There were concerns, though. Scouts and executives who saw his brother, Dante, and his results in pro ball soured on Bo because they were similar in terms of their bodies, swings, and attitudes. Neither Bichette did any of the big showcases in the state of Florida. Some were concerned with Bo’s attitude, referring to him as a brat, or a prima donna, among other things.
I still have memories of Bichette burned into my head, memories that are difficult to ignore when viewing him in the present. I know he has all of the tools and ability in the world, I have seen him make all the plays, and that might be distracting me from some of his faults and errors. Of course, I need to judge him fairly. What follows below is an at-bat by at-bat breakdown of a three-game viewing of Bichette. I will follow with a similar breakdown of Vladito later this week.
Game 1 - 7/12 v. Tampa
First AB: Erik Swanson, RHP
This is a good arm going up against Bichette. Swanson has some velocity, 93-95 (t96), he flashes an above-average slider, but doesn’t have much command so he is more than likely a reliever. Bichette attacks a first-pitch slider, 86, down in the zone, soft groundout to the pitcher.
Second AB: Erik Swanson, RHP
Bichette fouls the first pitch fastball, 94. Next pitch, 94 inside, called strike; good pitch, chalk one up to the pitcher there. Swanson then goes fastball 95, down, Bichette is late but has such quick wrists to put the ball in play, Bichette hustles down the line, 4.25, makes it a closer play than you would think.
Kevin Pillar's suspension led to Anthony Alford's debut.
The Situation: With backup outfielder Darrell Ceciliani on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and starting center fielder Kevin Pillar suspended by the team, the Blue Jays have need of an outfielder for a few days. They’ll be using this as an opportunity to get their best outfield prospect’s feet wet in the majors.
The Background: Anthony Alford was taken by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2012 draft out of Petal High School in Mississippi. He was expected to go higher, but signability concerns attached to his NCAA football commitment dropped him to Day 2. The Jays gave him $750,000 as part of a two-sport deal that also allowed him to play football at Southern Mississippi. He began focusing on baseball full time in 2015 and immediately broke out at the plate, smashing both A-ball levels to the tune of .298/.398/.421 and breaking onto top 100 lists. His 2016 return to Dunedin was marred by a concussion and leg injuries, but a healthy Alford has resumed mashing the baseball this season, posting an .866 OPS in 33 games in the Eastern League.
Toronto's young closer has a potentially dominant cutter, if he can just figure out how to use it.
Earlier this week BP Toronto ran an excellent article by Kyle Matte about Roberto Osuna’s evolving array of breaking stuff. Specifically, Matte wrote about Osuna’s development of a cutter in 2016, and the way (as he observed, providing considerable evidence) it somewhat cannibalized his slider. Whenever a pitcher adds a new pitch to his arsenal there’s reason to hope that it will add a new dimension to his game, but there’s also cause to worry that it might eat into the effectiveness of one or more of his other pitches.
Last week, I wrote aboutDan Straily’s effort to flesh out his two-seam fastball this winter and about his expressed concern that doing so would compromise his changeup or slider. As I did with Straily’s sinker, though, I thought I'd dig into Osuna’s tunneling numbers to see whether the cutter offered a benefit that might make the tradeoffs worthwhile. What I found was pretty interesting, so I thought I would briefly share it here.
As one grows older, it becomes a habit to search for baseball players who fasten themselves like tent stakes into the past. Rickey Henderson, my favorite player as a boy, was still around stealing bases and hunting for jobs when I was out of college, hunting for jobs. Roger Clemens held out as the last active member of RBI Baseball for Nintendo, 20 years after its release. Bartolo Colon remains the last link of Major League Baseball to the city of Montreal. These players serve as a connective tissue between generations and eras, keeping one fastened to youth for just a little longer.