At the plate, Santana’s calling card is power, which he has to all fields. In the five games I’ve seen him play, he’s bashed three homers, including two over the right-field fence on elevated fastballs on the outer half of the plate. Unfortunately, the rest of the tools play down due to poor pitch recognition, a willingness to expand the zone, and a questionable approach. The last part was evident in a game I saw last Sunday.
Santana was facing Tacoma’s Mike Kickham, and in the first few innings, the left-hander had demonstrated a complete inability to throw strikes on his glove side of the plate. With runners on base, Kickham threw an inside strike to Santana. This was only the second or third time Kickham had thrown anywhere near that spot all game, but Santana swung anyway, grounding out. Given Kickham’s struggles—and having already homered on a fastball on the outside corner in his first at-bat—I can’t figure out why he wasn’t waiting for something in a similar location.
Santana looks shaky in right field. He showed a plus arm and he has plenty of speed, but he occasionally looks unsure of himself while tracking a fly ball and he needs to stay switched on at all times. He misplayed a routine line-drive single into a double on Thursday when he casually stabbed at a ball hit right at him, deflecting it several feet to his left. Ultimately, he’s young enough to learn how to make more contact, but right now he looks like much less than the sum of his tools, and I have a hard time projecting more than a role-45 player at this point.
Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Houston Astros (Triple-A Fresno)
A strained lat and a forearm problem limited Wojciechowski in 2014; his velocity dipped, his location suffered, and he never quite got comfortable throwing his off-speed stuff. An offseason of rest appears to have helped him recover his old stuff, as he looked like a different—and better—pitcher on Sunday than he did when I saw him last June.
The big right-hander mixes a two-seam fastball with a sinking changeup, a slider, and an occasional cutter. He sawed a lot of lumber with his two-seamer, an offering that sits in the low 90s and features plenty of late horizontal break. His slider hovers around 80-82, and I do mean hover, as it’s generally a very flat pitch. His sinking changeup sat in the same velocity band as his slider, and he got both righties and lefties to chase the pitch.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that an alumnus of the Military College of South Carolina merits a mention for discipline and composure on the mound. He maintained an even keel in the face of two brutal fielding plays behind him and did well with runners on base as he was quick to the plate, and kept runners close with a decent pick-off move and a varied rhythm to the plate.
Wojciechowski has the stuff and build to stick as a backend starter, but his arsenal plays down because of subpar command. He crossfires, but his bigger problem might be head movement; as he’s getting set to release the ball, Wojciechowski’s head jerks violently, movement that destabilizes an otherwise efficient delivery. Without average command, the Citadel product profiles best as a reliever, where he’ll be able to add a few ticks to his fastball and air out his best stuff over shorter outings.
Nolan Fontana, 2B/SS, Houston Astros (Triple-A Fresno)
Defense is the strongest part of Fontana’s game. The former Florida Gator is a no-doubt shortstop—for now anyway. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds he’s big for the position and any lost athleticism could push him to second down the line— where he combines quick hands and feet with sound fundamentals and an above-average throwing arm. Fontana isn’t a flashy defender and his range is about average for the position, although it plays well because he has good instincts at short. He did some work at second base this spring, and that'll come in handy with Carlos Correa's recent promotion to Fresno pushing Fontana to the other side of the bag.
At the plate, Fontana is an extremely patient hitter. He’s walked in over twenty percent of his minor-league plate appearances and almost always sees several pitches over the course of an at-bat. Good pitchers can and will attack his approach, challenging him to hit first-pitch strikes that aren’t in the center of the plate; it will be up to Fontana to adjust.
When he does try to put the ball in play, Fontana employs a swing engineered for contact. He uses a small load and a short, balanced stride with minimal hip rotation. He has above-average bat speed and a line-drive swing with just enough loft to make you think he could pop 8-12 homers if he sold out for more power. In the viewings I had, he struggled with pitches on the outer half, and it does look like his compact stroke is designed to handle pitches on the inside part of the dish, as the only balls he really barreled were on the inner third. He has an above-average feel for the strike zone, although he will chase pitches down and out of the zone if he falls behind in the count. I have him as a 45-player at the next level, although that jumps quickly if he demonstrates that he can maintain his walk rates against the world’s best arms. As a baseball rat who draws praise for his makeup and dedication to his craft, he’ll go as far as his bat takes him.
When Marte walked to the plate for his first at-bat of the series against Fresno, I overheard one of Fresno’s young starters describing the young Dominican’s plan at the plate, “This guy will swing at one of the first two pitches every time he’s up.” It proved to be only a slight exaggeration, as Marte hacked at one of the first two offerings in four out of five at-bats that night and about a dozen times total over the course of the four-game set.
While Marte loves to swing the bat, the 21-year-old switch-hitter isn’t a relentless hacker. Like any hitter, he’ll chase a good off-speed pitch, but I’ve seen him lay off changeups that dive out of the zone, and elevated fastballs that would have enticed less disciplined hitters. Marte uses a short, whippy swing, and he’s shown an impressive feel for the barrel for a player his age. He sets up with his hands and elbows elevated and drops them into a more natural hitting position as a timing mechanism, and despite the odd hand placement, he’s demonstrated an ability to catch up to mid-90s velocity and to make solid contact to all fields. Between his slight stature—listed at 165 pounds, he certainly isn’t rounding down—and a short swing with minimal loft, Marte is unlikely to hit double-digit home runs as a big-leaguer. As he fills out though, some of his hard, line-drive singles will turn into doubles, and with plus speed, he’ll leg out his share of infield hits.
As a defender, Marte has impressive lateral quickness in both directions and clearly has enough range to stick at shortstop. His arm is weak for the position, however, and his footwork is still improving. On one grounder in the hole, Marte fielded the ball on the run and then needed five or six quick little steps to get his feet set and in a throwing position. While he may grow into the position—particularly if the Mariners can coax more out of his arm—his skills appear better suited for the keystone. Overall, it’s realistic to think that the Dominican can develop into an average regular or an excellent utility player, and possibly a bit more if he can sting the ball in the majors like he has so far throughout his minor-league career.
Jordan Pries, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
As a 6-foot-0 right-hander with a fastball that sits 87-89, Pries relies on command and good sink on both his two-seamer and changeup to get outs, generally on the ground. He has enough control of his arsenal—which also includes a slider—to get ahead in counts and induce whiffs from batters prone to expanding the zone, but he doesn’t have an out pitch for advanced hitters and his command isn’t sharp enough to consistently keep him out of trouble. Ultimately, Seattle’s lack of starting depth may get Pries a big-league audition this summer, but he doesn’t have the kind of profile that succeeds long-term in a major-league rotation.
Northcraft is a big-bodied, right-handed pitcher who throws with a low three-quarters arm slot. He repeats his drop-and-drive delivery pretty well, both in the windup and out of the stretch. There is some arm drag and he doesn’t hide the ball well, particularly against lefties already at an advantage due to the low arm slot.
Northcraft uses three pitches: a fastball that sits 87-89, a flat slider with long but early break, and a tumbling change that sits in the high 70s and low 80s, a tick below his slider speed. Neither of his off-speed pitches are particularly sharp, which leaves him reliant upon his fastball command to generate weak contact. Although he was proficient in moving the ball from side to side, his inability to induce a swing and miss ran up his pitch count early in the game and he tired noticeably in a long fifth inning. He has some feel for pitching—he showed he can attack a hitter’s weakness and he’s comfortable throwing a backdoor slider to lefties—but it’s a middle-relief arm at best for me.
Others of note: What is there to say about Austin Hedges that hasn’t already been said? Not much, except that you can add me to the list of people who have seen the young catcher throw out a plus runner stealing on a good jump… Leonel Campos touches 97 with his fastball and flashes a plus slider. The former soccer player now has 18 strikeouts in 13 innings, and if he can stay around the strike zone, he could make an impact in San Diego’s bullpen shortly… Pitchers are taking advantage of Ronald Torreyes’s aggressiveness. He’s walked just once this year and he’s getting himself out by chasing pitcher’s pitches early in counts… John Hicks is off to a slow start at the plate, but I’m more concerned with his throwing. Most of his throws on stolen-base attempts tail toward the runner, undercutting the utility of his good feet and quick release. Twenty-four-year-old right-hander Mayckol Guiape throws strikes, hits 93 on the gun, and mixes in a tight, two-plane slider. He looks ready for middle relief work at the next level.
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