My first look at Phillies pitching prospect Adonis Medina this spring was so boring that I managed to not write about it at all—not in a Ten Pack or Eyewitness Report, not in my column, not even as a throwaway line in a bit about someone else. He was, more or less, the same guy we wrote up in the Phillies offseason top ten: 90-94 with a heavy fastball, a slurvish curve and a firm change that both needed generous projection to get to average, but a strong feel for pitching and good command for his age. With more physical projectability left than you’d think, we snuck him onto the back of the offseason 101 as the 91st-best prospect in baseball. There are dozens of pitching prospects with this rough outline and they populate around the 75th-to-150th spots in any given global top 101 list. I marked him as a guy to check back on and probably Ten Pack on a rainy week.

I managed to hold off the Ten Pack long enough to get a recent second start from Medina. The fastball was up to sitting 92-96, still heavy when he wanted it to be but also being manipulated better throughout the zone. The change was still the change, but the breaking ball was new: a big, sweeping slider that he worked extensively for both called strikes and chases. This was the potential out secondary pitch that didn’t appear in the first look—nor any of the public scouting reports on Medina—and if this was a legitimate look it represented the difference between being in the glut of future mid-rotation guys to something more. It also would cause me to put Medina in strong consideration for our forthcoming midseason top 50 list.

So how do we tell the difference between variance and projection? A couple ticks on the fastball is significant if it’s real over the long haul, but it could also be the difference between a cold day and a warm day, spring and summer, or just Adonis Medina waking up on the right side of the bed. The breaking ball busting out is obviously a big deal, but maybe Medina just had his best slurve that day against a Kannapolis lineup with some plate discipline flaws. What’s a prospect writer to do?

Often, these things can be gleaned from behind-the-backstop chatter. Just by paying attention, I learned from the Lakewood charting pitchers that Medina has functionally scrapped his curve (throwing a few a game max) and is regularly throwing this slider now as his primary offspeed pitch. Knowing that, I feel a lot more comfortable with throwing a plus future grade on the slider and acknowledging at least that part as real advancements. Charters are often good sources for what a player is throwing and whether the arsenal has changed recently.

Scouts can also be a great resource for the minor-league prospect writer. There are certainly scouts that like to do their jobs in relative quiet, or who don’t like to give anything up to public-side evaluators. And don’t get me wrong, that’s their prerogative; they’re there to do a job and it can be easier without your friendly neighborhood prospect writer butting in. But many scouts will share thoughts, tidbits, velocity readings, and other information during the game that can fill in your evaluation of the player, especially if you’ve seen them around the circuit enough and developed a cordial relationship. That can be especially important when trying to figure out what’s real and what’s a blip. In this case, unfortunately, there were only a couple scouts at the game, and there wasn’t much chatter in the section.

There’s also good old-fashioned sourcing involved in all this. I don’t consider myself a reporter in any real sense, but I do have what I think is a pretty good network of baseball professionals, observers, and writers that I talk to, starting with the most obvious: the dozen or so other prospect team members here at Baseball Prospectus. So here’s what I was able to find out about Adonis Medina with regards to the key questions: he’s thrown this hard in the past, but the velocity is more of a game-to-game, up-and-down thing than a true bump. On the flip side, I did find out he’d been tinkering with a distinct slider since last year, and my look at it as way ahead of his other offspeeds was probably representative.

We mentioned in our offseason report about Medina that we wanted to see one of his secondary offerings turn into a “consistent bat-misser” to project the profile ahead moving forward. Now that the slider has presented itself as that offering, he’s a much more interesting prospect arm to watch for the future.

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