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.
New Britain Rock Cats
3B Miguel Sano
Notes: I’ll be writing a full scouting report on Sano this week at BP, but I’ll drop a few notes here as a tease. First of all, Sano is one of the best players I’ve ever seen in person. I was able to watch numerous batting practices, pre-game fielding drills, and live game action, so the sample might be small but it offers ample sustenance. Sano is a legit five-tool talent, which goes against several reports that you might be reading online. He’s a gifted physical specimen, with mature size and strength, but the body isn’t as high maintenance as I expected and his overall athleticism was above average. On several occasions, Sano showed a burst of speed down the line and on the turn that resembled an NFL tight end, a graceful out route from a 6’4”, 250-lb. beast of a man. I clocked him at ~4.17 from home to first on a ball he rolled over to the left side, which is absolutely flying for a man of his measurements. The power is extreme and it made me question my religious beliefs, but the biggest discovery of the trip was Sano’s skill at the hot corner, a position that many (if not most) assumed would not be his home at the highest level. Sano is going to play third base in the majors, and he has a chance to be above average at some point in the future. He is still raw and error prone, as I saw him step back on a ball and let it chew him up. But the leather is better than people realize, and with more repetition, he will refine that tool to major-league quality. Sano is at his best coming in on the ball, as he has a feel for fielding and making a quick glove-to-hand transition. He can flash the leather to the backhand as well, showing off a few highlight reel plays that saw him react quickly to the arm side, backhand the ball from the ground, spring to his feet, and fire a 70-grade missile to the first baseman for the out. He has the chops. He just needs refinement. The hit tool is his biggest weakness and I doubt he hits for average at the highest level, but he has good bat control for his size and swing leverage, and he understands the difference between a ball and a strike. The end game for Sano is probably .265 with some on-base ability (fear/recognition), and power that could play to its potential, which means 35-plus bombs year after year. Given that fact that he will be a competent (if not better) third baseman, his profile could make him one of the most dangerous and valuable players in the game.
Series Stats: 6-for-14; 1 2B; 2 BB; 2 K
Notes: Pinto can really hit; short and quick to the ball and he makes hard contact. The 24-year-old has a good approach, and I liked his ability to recognize pitches out of the zone and lay off. A good fastball hitter, he was able to track and barrel balls to all fields, and he showed good raw power in batting practice. I don’t see a great hitter, but he isn’t an empty stick, and his approach puts him in situations to take advantage of mistakes. Behind the plate he is okay, but I didn’t see a great catcher. He can receive, but he was only popping in the ~2.02 range, which is acceptable but not above average. The arm itself is strong, although his release isn’t especially quick and his arm action can get long. Despite his age and lengthy minor-league experience, I think he’s a sleeper prospect in the Twins system, and a player with a major league valuation.
Series Stats: 1-for-11; 1 2B; 1 K; 1 BB
Notes: I was disappointed in Rosario’s defense at second, as he looked uncomfortable on balls hit right at him and his reactions to either side appeared slow, both in live action and in warm-ups. It should be noted repeatedly that the field conditions were terrible because of consistent rain over the weekend, but his approach and his actions weren’t of major-league quality. Given his athleticism, it seems likely that the outfield is a better location for his skills, but with repetition perhaps his glove can take steps forward at the keystone. But in the small sample, it wasn’t just the fact that he made errors and didn’t play well, it’s how and why those errors were made in the first place.
At the plate, he was struggling to find holes on the diamond, which is partly due to his approach to hitting. Rosario has fast hands, and the bat speed is easy to recognize as a positive attribute. But his swing path is very elevated, as he appears to be trying to hit the ball over the fence with every swing. It’s a batting practice approach that he brings to live action, and it might pay off for the 21-year-old if only he had the strength of a power hitter in the first place. The majority of his line drives fell short of the fence, despite being very well struck. He clearly has a natural feel for hitting, but I didn’t get the impression that he knows who he is as a hitter yet. Instead of using the whole field and spraying line drives with a more linear swing, Rosario worked in the deepest part of the field (up the middle) and lacked the punch to find over-the-fence success. He doesn’t have the body to develop the type of power his swing is trying to execute. With his bat control and bat speed, he could really develop into a good hitter if he works the gaps and takes advantage of his strengths instead playing into his weaknesses. He’s a tweener for me right now, more a hit tool/speed type than a complete player.
RHP Trevor May
Notes: May was frustrating, and not just because he struggled in the start. He was frustrating because he not only looks the part physically but also has a very good feel for his secondary stuff, showing a plus changeup, an above average curve, and a nice little slider that he could throw for strikes and bury. He was frustrating because the 6’5’’ righty is an extreme drop-and-drive pitcher; his back leg collapsing to the point of contact with the mound. He was able to generate power, and his fastball worked in the 92-93 range with comfort, but arrived flat and was tattooed for hard contact. He was frustrating because he was tipping the secondary stuff by staying taller in the delivery with less back-leg collapse than with the fastball. Despite the velocity, the flat plane and lack of movement on the heater not only brought down the effectiveness of the pitch but prevented the secondary stuff from playing beyond their already solid-average-to-plus grades. He can miss bats with the curve and the slider, and the changeup has a lot of action. But that fastball was flat and getting barreled up by barrels that aren’t exactly going to be playing major roles at the highest level, so that’s a problem. He’s a future major leaguer, but I thought he looked more like a reliever than a mid-rotation arm. I’ll put up a more detailed scouting report this week.
Reading Fightin Phils
Series Stats: 8-for-18; 1 3B; 1 HR; 1K; 0 BB
Notes: Franco’s numbers are ridiculous so far this season, and he’s hitting almost .500 since getting called up to the Double-A, a level where hitters often get exposed and exploited by the step up in pitching. Franco has been the one doing the exploiting, but my opinion of the player stands in contrast with the on-the-field production. Franco has a long swing, one that starts with a very deep hand load that takes the hands back and up before sending them back down and into the path of the ball. Because of the timing kick and the hip rotation, Franco can struggle to stay back on off-speed offerings, but often saves himself with exceptional hand-eye coordination that allows him to somehow place the bat on the ball despite being off-balanced and seemingly out of control. His raw power is legit, an easy 6+ on the 2/8, and he doesn’t have a problem timing to fastballs. He’s going to hit for power, but I have doubts about the hit tool and his ability to negotiate major-league quality stuff and sequence. The swing is long and the approach aggressive, and that’s a dangerous combo to have when it comes to consistency and game utility.
The profile is made more complicated by Franco’s shortcomings at third, which unlike Sano, are legit. His glove isn’t terrible, as you can see quality actions if you really squint and want them to be there. But I’d put a 4 on the leather at present, with perhaps a chance to reach fringe-average through repetition and approach, assuming he wants to improve at the position. The arm is strong, but poorly utilized, as he throws from the hip and the accuracy isn’t sharp as a result. The range isn’t great either, but he has a good first step in the field and can make it work in the short term. I suggest it’s a limited solution because the body is a bit sloppy, with a big butt and a thick chest that isn’t what I would describe as chiseled. I don’t want to suggest he is lazy based on a weekend series, but I watched his actions from first contact with the field during workouts all the way through the games, and I would suggest he approaches the game with less intensity than others. Given the high-maintenance body, the glove, and the limited range, Franco doesn’t look like a long-term fixture at third. Full report coming this week, but I’m not as high on Franco as others, despite watching him rake over the weekend. I think the hit tool lets him down and limits the effectiveness of the power, and I think the defensive limitations hurt his value and put more pressure on the bat to carry the load. He’s a future major leaguer and maybe even a regular, but I don’t see the first-division player other have been writing about.
LHP Austin Wright
Series Stats: 8 IP; 7 H; 2 ER; 2 BB; 5 K
Notes: Interesting arm. Excellent size (6’3” 220 lbs.) and stuff from the left side. He had University of Virginia mechanics, complete with the exaggerated back bend. His fastball had some life and good velocity, working 93-94 early on and 91-93 as the pitches piled up. From a higher slot, I thought his changeup had good tumbling action, and he showed a good, short curveball in the upper 70s. His command wasn’t sharp and the secondary stuff played around average, the fastball had some quality, especially when he was able to work it inside to righties. The 23-year-old could develop into a back-of-the-rotation type, as he held velocity pretty well and his delivery remained consistent for the entire game. The secondary stuff wasn’t plus but it wasn’t just for show either, so there is a major-league ceiling here, although one that it isn’t very high.
LHP Jesse Biddle
Series Stats: 6 IP; 9 H; 2 ER; 2 BB; 2 K
Notes: Biddle is an easy top 101 prospect in the game, but he wasn’t at his best in this start. He looked fatigued and sluggish, and his offerings lacked bite or intensity. The lefty started the game working 90-92 without much movement. The delivery was athletic and smooth, but as the game went on he started flying open and losing his release. After a few innings, he was working upper 80s and struggling to get 90, missing arm side and up (out of the zone). His curveball was very loose and loopy at 70-72, falling into the upper 60s as the game went on. He just wasn’t sharp. He showed some pitchability by getting outs without his best stuff, and he kept his cool after making several errors in the field. He tried to back-foot a few sliders to right-handers, and he ended up casting them and failing to find the target. The field conditions were poor (especially on the mound) and Biddle just looked gassed from the jump, so it’s hard to put too much into this one start.