I spent my Tuesday in Geneva, Illinois for the 2012 Midwest League All-Star game. I took a lot of notes, but instead of cramming everything into an awkward narrative, here's what I saw:
- I got to the park in time for batting practice, which is always a good thing, because media is allowed on the field during that time. It's a chance to not only watch a player swing the bat more than you'll ever get to see in a single game, but also to get an up-close view. I ranked the most impressive BPs on Twitter thusly:
- Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins. Sano did hit bunts, sprayed some to right field, sprayed some to left, and then rotated out. When he rotated back in, he put on a show, with plenty of easy home runs to left, a couple off the scoreboard and one over the batter's eye in center field. It's crazy power, but it's also created some bad habits of late as he's gotten pull happy and turned into a strikeout machine, which has pulled his Midwest League averages down to .237/.351/.490.
- Josh Sale, OF, Rays. I always thought his name was pronounced like “Sally”, but the stadium announcers gave it a European flair with “Sah-LAY.” That certainly sounds cooler. After an ugly showing last summer, Sale has been among the most impressive hitters in the Midwest League since joining Bowling Green in May, with a .305/.414/.621 line in 30 games. He's compact and muscular, and there's a lot of coil in his swing with plenty of leverage.
- Ryan Brett, 2B, Rays. He's a little second baseman and he hits lasers all over the place. What's not to like?
- Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Angels. Cowart and his .293/.348/.479 line at Cedar Rapids has earned plenty of praise and it's easy to see why. There are lots of young switch hitters, but few who have a consistent swing from both sides.
- Yadiel Rivera, SS, Brewers. A ninth-round pick in 2010, Rivera hit .194/.224/.262 in 2011, and this year he's up to .238/.266/.409. Those are frustrating numbers, as he's a big, athletic shortstop who can really play the position. He deposited at least five home runs in batting practice, where, luckily for him, nobody throws breaking balls.
With batting practice over and 90 minutes to go before game time, I went to cool off in the suite set up for media and baseball officials. I quickly ran into a scout who saw my tweet of the batting practice rankings and he stated his case for Detroit's Steven Moya. Moya was the most talked about player at the game, and that was before his bases-clearing triple in the second inning. At six-foot-seven and 240 pounds, he catches your eye like no other, and while there are some Grand Canyon-sized holes in his swing, he also has special potential if he can close them and tap into his power. He was barely on anyone's radar entering the year, but he'd easily be on a revamped Tigers Top 11 now.
The game was not exactly good, as the East scored five in the first, eight more in the second, and never looked back while cruising to an 18-2 victory, but it's an All-Star game, and we're here to see players, not a result. The first pitcher of note was San Diego's Adys Portillo, who started for the East. Signed for $2 million four years ago, Portillo is finally living up to expectations with a 1.92 ERA in 13 starts and nearly a strikeout per inning. There's some concern about the amount of weight he's put on since signing, but he carries it well and sat at 95-97 mph with his fastball, which is the only pitch he threw on the night.
Portillo got to pitch to his battery mate Austin Hedges, who is also generating plenty of buzz this year. He's the best defensive catcher this league has seen in recent memory, and showed why early in the game: he exploded out of his crouch to find a wild pitch, then gunned down a runner trying to advance, all with plenty of room to spare. If he even hits just a little bit, he'll be an everyday catcher in the big leagues, but his offense has been a pleasant surprise. His short swing is quick to the ball and 19 of his 43 hits have gone for extra bases as part of a .274/.337/.459 line. If he can hit like that all the way up the ladder, he'll turn into one of the game's best catching prospects.
Cubs left-hander Kyler Burke was a story for becoming the first player to make the league's All-Star game as both a position player and a pitcher. The former toolsy outfielder has a 2.31 ERA as a left-handed starter for Low-A Peoria, but he was hammered on Tuesday, and retired just two of the eight batters he faced while never getting out of the upper-80s with his fastball. As a 24-year-old in Low-A, he's already a long shot, and there wasn't much in this game to provide any room for optimism.
Shark McGwire, Mia Hamster, Manatee Ramirez, Monkey Mantle, CentiPete Rose, Mackeral Jordan and Harry Canary were all there. Can anyone explain the Zooperstars to me?
The Midwest League is not one for pitchers this year, and the while the Blue Jays kept Justin Nicolino and Aaron Sanchez out of the game, we did get an inning from Noah Syndergaard, who sat at 92-95 mph with good life on his fastball. His secondary offerings are still works in progress, but his fastball is a weapon. It's hard not to wonder if that will equal a bullpen role down the road, but he'll get plenty of time to figure things out, and it might not be the worst thing. With so much impressive young pitching in the system, some of these guys are going to have to move into relief roles eventually.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor remains a joy to watch. He went 2-for-4 with a run, RBI and stolen base on Tuesday, but again, it's his defense that makes him stand out. He began an inning-ending double play on one of those groundballs where you think to yourself, “that's maybe a double play in the big leagues, but almost never in the Midwest League.” He has great instincts, great hands and great actions.
Rays left-hander Felipe Rivero didn't have a good inning, allowing a hit and walk in a scoreless frame, but it's easy to see how he has a 2.42 ERA over 74 1/3 innings for Bowling Green with a 66-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's short and skinny, but he generates fantastic arm speed with a whippy action that had him touching 95 mph on Tuesday and usually putting the pitch where he wanted it. His breaking ball was decent; while it's difficult to see him profiling as a starter long-term, it's certainly not time to rule it out yet, either.
Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley threw a perfect inning with three groundball outs, and his two-seam fastball is pretty special. Coming in at 94-96 miles per hour, the pitch has plenty of downward plane thanks to Bradley's height and arm angle, but also plenty of sink. He's had some scuffles with his command this year, but the Midwest League is hitting just .156 against him, and his breaking ball is an easy plus pitch.
If I told you about a 30th-round pick from the 2008 draft who was spending his third year in the Midwest League, You wouldn't be too interested, but in Michael Tonkin's case, you should be. The Twins farmhand has taken a huge step forward in 2012, and in 22 games, he has a 1.38 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 39 innings against just nine walks. More importantly the six-foot-seven right-hander pounds the strike zone with a 95-96 mph fastball as well as a much improved low-80s slider. He was certainly the the surprise of the night.
- One of the final pitchers of the night was Angels right-hander Austin Wyatt, who wasn't good, but prompted one of those cool late-game discussions in the scout section. Wyatt is somewhere between a side-armer and submariner and he has a deceptive 1.21 ERA thanks to only four of the 13 runs he's allowed being earned. Right-handers are hitting just .134 against him, so you don't want to completely bet against him, but here's the question that came up: how many side-arm or lower guys made it to the big leagues by coming up that way? Brad Zeigler was converted to the role by Oakland. A veteran scout in the crowd noted that Dan Quisenberry took on the style at Double-A just days before the Royals planned to release him. We went through a long list of pitchers, and each time somebody in the rows of scouts knew all about that pitcher's conversion story. It wasn't until after the game that I looked up Chad Bradford who began pitching that way in high school. So Wyatt just might have hope left.
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And don't get my daughter started on Birdzerk, Babyzerk and whatever other 'zerks there are. Also ridiculously hilarious to her.
Actually, taking a kid to a minor league is so much more enjoyable for them than a major league game.
As always, thanks for the info. It's nice to see Portillo and Hedges doing so well.
Also, the last paragraph is fitting for an old school Moneyball joke. So why am I not surprised that scouts STILL missed on Chad Bradford?