Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies
I was in attendance for Gray’s first spring outing of the year on March 7th against a mostly regular Cubs lineup. It was certainly a “shake the rust off” appearance; Gray worked deliberately while also struggling to execute his secondary pitches. He was often working from behind in the count, and his day ended with Anthony Rizzo taking a 3-0 fastball deep out to center field for a no-doubt homerun.
Gray’s fastball showed the same velocity we’ve come to expect, ranging between 93-97 mph and settling in right at 94-95 over numerous innings. It looked like a four-seamer, showing more late gear than lateral movement. His firm slider was in the 83-86 area, though it was short and fairly one-plane in this look. Gray mixed in some circle-changeups at 82-85 as the outing progressed, and while the pitch showed some arm-side turnover, both his changeup and slider had a “first spring outing” look to them. He threw a softer, rolling curveball in the mid-70s a handful of times as a second-look breaking ball.
While it’s always important to keep in mind that early spring outings shouldn’t be over-thought, the question will be if Gray will consistently have a secondary offering that grades out above 50 to accompany his double-plus fastball. He has a power-pitcher’s frame and great velocity, but to get close to the ceiling envisioned for him when he went second in the Draft, he’ll need to figure out more control and depth on his slider.
Mike Clevinger, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Originally a fifth-round selection out of a Florida junior college by the Angels in 2011, Clevinger came to the Indians in a one-for-one deal for Vinnie Pestano. He’s quietly turned into one of the Tribe’s better pitching prospects, though injuries, and a short leash coming back from them in 2014, likely contributed to Clevinger developing out of the public eye. 2015 was his first full professional season, and he spent most all of it as a starter with Double-A Akron. Though it isn’t a traditional development path for a prospect—and he will be 25 years old throughout the 2016 season—Clevinger left the scout section abuzz in a two-inning appearance against Seattle, flashing numerous plus pitches and filling the zone with a poised presence on the bump.
Clevinger’s fastball ranged between 93-97 mph, sitting consistently at 94-95. It’s a straight four-seamer, but he consistently showed the ability to power the ball past hitters and get swings and misses. He showed progressively better feel for a slider at 82-85 that flashed solid-average (if not a tick better) at its best, and looked like a reliable second pitch. His third pitch was a hard splitter at 87-90, though it was too firm (almost looking like a two-seam fastball) at the higher end of velocity band. Clevinger rattled off some better splitters during his second inning of work, though, flashing a handful with pretty nasty life bottoming out and running away from left-handers.
Despite the injury history and some effort through his delivery’s release, Clevinger kept his pitches around the strike zone like a starting pitcher—and his 2.29 BB/9 last season across 26 Double-A starts only backs that. He pitches from an abbreviated semi-windup, taking a forward step before going into his leg kick. He has an extra-tall leg lift leading into an aggressive, long stride to the plate. Clevinger’s arm works very quick through a standard high three-quarters release point, though as mentioned earlier, there is some head-snap upon release and his back side swings around hard. Clevinger has a DeGrom-esque body type and athleticism (and perhaps most importantly, hairstyle), affording him the body control to fill the strike zone despite some thwack in his mechanics.
Clevinger put himself more firmly on the prospect radar last season, and after seeing surprising velocity from him this week, he’s a potential breakout prospect who isn’t all that far away from the big leagues.
Tony Zych, RHP, Seattle Mariners
I saw Zych at Louisville as an amateur, and while anticipated that he would have been pushed to the big leagues a little sooner, he’s still essentially the same arm-strength/slider-type of reliever he projected as entering the 2011 draft. The stuff is definitely plus; it’s the effort in his delivery—and subsequent issues with control and consistency—that will dictate the leverage situations in which he best profiles at the big-league level.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Zych pitches exclusively from the stretch, with violence and effort through his delivery’s finish. Though not as dramatic as when he was an amateur, he still has noticeable head-whack and recoil as he lets go of the ball. It’s tough to be fine within the zone when there’s so much noise at the end of a pitching motion, though with his fastball velocity, he’ll never have to be a true command artist.
Zych may have the best raw fastball of any prospect viewed in week one in Phoenix. It’s an absolute bowling-ball of a sinker, consistently at 95-97. The pitch has noticeable, heavy arm-side sink and two-seam tail; his fastball is both a swing-and-miss offering as well as one that should induce plenty of ground balls. During a quick big-league cameo, he recorded a 50 percent ground ball rate. Zych complements his power sinker with a hard, shapely slider between 83-86 mph.
The Mariners are now without one of their key bullpen cogs from last season (Carson Smith sent to Boston)—and the raw quality of Zych’s two offerings aren’t substantially unlike Smith’s stuff. Zych had a successful call up last season in Seattle, and he is a good fit in a big league bullpen so long as his velocity and stuff remains. Whether that’s a seventh, eighth or (less likely) ninth-inning piece remains to be seen.
Adrian Sampson, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Sampson—a Washington State native now with his hometown club—entered a Cactus League game in relief, and though he’s been used as a starting pitcher throughout his minor league career, he will find his most best contributions when used in a middle-relief role. Sampson was the prospect sent from Pittsburgh to Seattle in the deadline deal that netted the Pirates J.A. Happ. As a starter, he has fairly generic stuff with command that probably prohibits it from genuinely profiling in a big league rotation—not to mention a smaller frame and some wrap in the back of his delivery. In relief, he’s able to fall back on revving up his arm strength and not needing to incorporate a third pitch. Sampson’s fastball was 93-96 in relief, sitting at 94-95. He didn’t need to mix his change in given the shorter outing, favoring what looked like a 85-87 mph cutter/slider hybrid with fairly short glove-side action. Sampson’s command of his secondary pitch wasn’t terrific throughout the outing. Though it was a short look, I got a gut feeling he’s a candidate to get caught in that Quad-A limbo until he can refine his ability to land a non-fastball in the zone.
No one has ever questioned Eibner’s physicality and power/speed toolset. He’s an athletic 6-foot-4, 220 pounder who has played the majority of his career games in center field—cracking double-digit homerun totals in all but one of his pro seasons. Eibner was even voted the “best outfield arm” in the Royals system two years running by coaches and scouts. From a tools perspective, it isn’t hard to see why Kansas City selected Eibner in the second round—and it’s the raw tools that give him some utility as a bench piece despite the fact he’ll play all of 2016 as a 27-year-old who has yet to reach the big leagues. That said, strikeouts have plagued him and likely will always hold him back from being a regular. A 2015 season spent entirely at Triple-A Omaha was his best in terms of statistical output and cutting down on strikeouts, but from my Cactus League looks I feel that is more a byproduct of repeating the level a handful of times. Eibner really struggled altering his swing against non-fastballs, and even in the video below, readers can see some clear swing-and-miss with Eibner out on his front foot. Though his ceiling is not what it once appeared it could have been, the raw tools make Eibner an interesting lower-tier prospect to follow—while also potentially making him a good fit for a change of organizational scenery.
Carlos Estevez, RHP, Colorado Rockies
Estevez was one of the Rockies’ pitchers to come in relief of Gray against the Cubs. Tall and lean, Estevez seemed to be building up his arm-strength early in the spring—his fastball reached the high 90s in the California League and AFL in 2015—but was sitting 91-94 on Monday. In a quick one-inning appearance, Estevez showed a fluid arm action in front of his delivery, and the easy finish to his fastball that indicated to me that he’ll get back to his regular velocity as the spring progresses. As with his fastball, Estevez’s slider was a tick softer and more one-plane than he generally shows. At best and in mid-season form, his slider has drawn average grades from scouts with more depth and power, generally coming in at 85-88. He worked 82-85 with the slider in Monday’s warmup outing.
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