Hitter of the Day: Adam Brett Walker, OF, Twins (Chattanooga, AA): 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 K. Walker can still run into a fastball with the best of them, and even at the Double-A level, he’s going to do some damage. Of course, as the competition level increases, the amount of swings and misses that come along with his power increase as well, casting doubt on his ability to utilize his thump in games.
Pitcher of the Day: Jorge Lopez, RHP, Brewers (Biloxi, AA): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. The strike-throwing prowess that accompanied Lopez to the Florida State League last season did not join the Brewers right-hander on his team’s season-long opening road trip, as his control dipped down to its previously unacceptable levels. He rediscovered it Tuesday, at least for one night.
Lopez is missing more bats than ever, which had been allowing him to get away with the high-wire act of having free base runners on board, but that will catch up with him eventually if he doesn’t throw strikes like he did yesterday. The lack of command and third pitch have him headed toward a bullpen role, but it’s a good arm that could work well out of the ‘pen
Best of the Rest
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (Iowa, AAA): 4-5, 2 R, 2 HR. Technically not a prospect, but a good sign nonetheless for a former mainstay on these pages.
Vincent Velasquez, RHP, Astros (Corpus Christi, AA): 7 IP, H, R, 2 BB, 9 K. Velasquez has been stellar in his first taste of Double-A action after getting a late start to the season due to a strained lat. The Astros have been bringing him along slowly to begin the season, but Tuesday’s outing marked the longest of his five appearances to date. He continues to miss bats at a remarkably high rate despite the new challenge in competition, thanks in large part to his mid-90s velocity and plus changeup.
A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros (Lancaster, A+): 2-3, R, HR, K. Showing off an advanced approach to go with strong power and plate-discipline skills, Reed is hardly being tested in the California League, where he’s happily exploiting the hitter-friendly environments. There’s some swing-and-miss to his game that the Astros would like to see ironed out, but some of that will always be present because of his propensity for working deep counts. The Astros have been aggressive with their prospect promotions recently, so seeing him in Corpus Christi after the All-Star break wouldn’t be shocking.
Tim Cooney, LHP, Cardinals (Memphis, AAA): 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K. We often talk about the jump from A-ball to Double-A as being the biggest along the minor-league ladder, but that’s only because we fail to mention the gap between Triple-A and the majors, a cavernous ravine into which many fall along the way. To wit, we have Cooney, who has had no issue with Triple-A this year, or at any of his minor-league stops for that matter, but got torched in his first appearance as a major leaguer. He’ll be on the Memphis-to-St. Louis shuttle all year whenever the Cardinals need an additional starter, and he provides them with a strong depth option for this season and yet another potential starter for the next few years.
Dominic Smith, 1B, Mets (St. Lucie, A+): 2-5, 2 R, 2 2B, K. See below.
K.J. Woods, 1B, Marlins (Greensboro, A-): 2-4, R, HR, 2 K. Just because a player is built to hit for power doesn’t mean he knows how to do it yet (again, see below), but Woods is getting the hang of things in his first taste of full-season ball. He’ll need to tap into every bit of the power his 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame has to offer in order to pan out, but he’s already showing signs of knowing how to use it.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Rockies (Modesto, A+): 2-3, R, HR, K. With most prospects, I’d be all over the approach and the 50-to-7 K:BB ratio, and I’ll admit, it’s a concern. There’s a lot of aggressiveness there that needs to be reined in. But Tapia’s bat-to-ball skills are strong enough to potentially get away with that sort of hacking, even though reaching his full potential with the hit tool (among the, if not the, highest in the game) will still require development in the approach.
Fight Another Day
Justin Nicolino, LHP, Marlins (New Orleans, AAA): 3 IP, 8 H, 8 R (7 ER), BB, 2 K. Nicolino’s last minor-league start could be coming at any time now, as he’s had almost nothing but success (Tuesday not withstanding) at the minor-league level. He’ll be the first name called when the Marlins need to reach into their farm system for rotation help, and while the ceiling isn’t high, the refinement is. Big-time strike-throwers without swing-and-miss stuff are bound to get hit around like this every now and then, but in general, that’s a strong combination of skills to possess.
Notable Prospect Starters
Aaron Blair, RHP, Diamondbacks (Mobile, AA): 5 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 6 BB, 2 K.
Jarlin Garcia, RHP, Marlins (Jupiter, A+): 7 1/3 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K.
Michael Kopech, RHP, Red Sox (Greenville, A-): 1 2/3 IP, 2 H, 2 R (0 ER), BB, 3 K.
Casey Meisner, RHP, Mets (Savannah, A-): 8 1/3 IP, 8 H, R, 2 BB, 3 K.
The Dominic Smith Situation
Background: Smith, a first-round pick (11th overall) in 2013 by the Mets, has generally struggled as a professional to live up to the offensive bar set by his position and draft status. I wrote about him in great detail a few weeks ago, expressing my concern about his development and his ability to make the necessary adjustments to pro ball. Since that article, in an apparent attempt to have Murphy’s Law renamed after me, Smith has hit .377/.400/.642 with his lone home run of the season.
I’ll take this bullet by bullet:
- First and foremost, I want to make something very clear: anytime I write a negative report on a player, I genuinely hope that I end up being wrong. I don’t take negative reports lightly. They are much more difficult to write than positive reports and take significantly more time and effort. For as much fun as I have with Mets fans (much of it warranted, some of it not), I want their prospects to succeed as much as anyone’s. I want to be wrong on Dominic Smith, and if I see notable developmental improvement in my next look at him (hopefully this weekend), I’ll be the first to point it out. Until another look, however, all I can do is go off the performance.
- This isn’t the first hot stretch for Smith as a professional. If we’re picking arbitrary end points, Smith also had a 13-game stretch last season in which he hit .436/.458/.564 (June 25-July 9), only to post a .607 OPS the remainder of the season. If we want to expand this to full months, Smith’s line this May was .276/.321/.429. His 13 doubles were extremely impressive and represented his highest total in any month as a professional. His .750 OPS was his third-highest in any month as a professional (.758, May ’14; .771, June ’14). These are the only three months in which he’s broken a .750 OPS. This isn’t meant to bring Smith down, but to provide context. He’s gone on hot streaks before because he’s a talented hitter, but has failed to translate it into continued success, and even those stretches (with the exception of two weeks last year and the last two weeks) haven’t been the kind of production needed from a first baseman.
- Smith’s biggest improvement over the past two weeks has been in his extra-base production, with 14 of his 18 doubles on the season coming in the midst of his current 15-game hitting streak. If we want to look at the positives, he’s now leading the Florida State League in doubles. On the other hand, even with his recent burst of power, he still has only the fourth-highest isolated power mark among FSL first basemen, largely due to his lack of home runs.
- Doubles are great, and are often a sign of more power to come, but until we begin to see home runs hit with more regularity, Smith’s ceiling hasn’t changed. In his scouting report, I wrote, “If he makes the necessary adjustments, he could turn into an slightly above-average major-league hitter in the Yonder Alonso mold.” That’s still the case. If this is more than just a hot streak, and he’s made real adjustments since my last viewings, however, this would signal a significant developmental step forward toward reaching that ceiling. If that’s the case, that’s big progress in two weeks. I truly hope that it is.
The conclusion here is that we shouldn’t be drawing one. Not based on 800 teenage at-bats and certainly not based on two red-hot weeks. We’ll have eyes on him again soon and see what adjustments have been made, but in the meantime, just enjoy him having some success. I know I am.