Q: Is Richie Shaffer expected in the majors this year? There doesn’t seem to be much in his way and he’s off to a strong start at Triple-A (again). – Carpoon
A: There’s no doubt that Shaffer has gotten off to another really nice start in 2016, doing what he always does in controlling the strike zone and hitting for power. Similarly, there is little doubt that his path to the MLB roster is at least reasonably open. Having players like Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce ahead of him on the roster should not be a hindrance to his permanent big-league arrival. Shaffer should get a shot around mid-season and I wouldn’t be surprised if he logs 300 plate appearances as the Rays try to figure out exactly what they have going forward.
All that said, I still believe there are significant causes for concern over his long-term value. I trust Shaffer to work deep into counts and find his way on base, and I also trust him to run into one on occasion and drive the ball out of the park. Despite doing those two very good things, Shaffer still does not possess the bat speed to maximize his positive traits in game situations. As we saw last season, MLB pitchers are likely to exploit his underwhelming hitting ability and relegate him to more of a fringe or reserve role.
Q: Thoughts on the early season starts by mid tier SPs (Conner Greene, Spencer Adams, Mike Soroka, Michael Fulmer, Sean Newcomb, Amir Garrett) and higher tier SPs (Glasnow, Giolito, Berrios)? Any concerns, impressions, changes in value? – Jon S.
A: I will say right up front that I don’t think there have been any significant shifts in the overall evaluation and projection of any of these pitchers based on 20 or so innings in 2016. That said, there have been some intriguing developments that bear watching.
Based on what I saw in Double-A last year, I was surprised to see Conner Greene start the season back in High-A, and I think he’s proving that he’s too much for Florida State League hitters even if whiff totals might not bear that out, at present. I would expect him to head back to Double-A soon and if he continues to command the fastball the way he has in his first few starts, then I think he will find even more success this time around. Greene’s still a potential mid-rotation starter that could be ready next season.
Fulmer and Berrios are up in the big leagues already, though Berrios is more likely up permanently. Speaking with scouts that have seen both of them this spring, they looked much the same as they did the end of last year, as potential no. 3 and no. 2 starters, respectively. I would expect both Tyler Glasnow and Lucas Giolito to join Fulmer and Berrios in the big leagues later this summer, though the expectations for both will likely be considerably higher. Giolito is a freak of nature and someone that has been discussed at length. Nothing he has done this spring has changed the belief throughout the scouting community that he could be an ace-level pitcher. Glasnow has thrown more quality strikes early this season, which could be the most significant development of the crew you mentioned. If that continues, Glasnow could cement his projection toward the front of the rotation rather than the middle.
I would expect Sean Newcomb to join them in the big leagues later this summer with a similar projection. Newcomb’s early results with tons of walks are mildly worrisome, but they are not a deviation from his past track record, meaning control is still a developmental focus for him. At the other end of the spectrum, Spencer Adams and Amir Garrett have been pounding the strike zone, cutting already low walk rates and allowing their quality raw stuff to play up and them to pitch deeper into games. Cutting their walk rates to the level they have so far this season may not be sustainable, but even some modest regression here still gives them a chance maximize their potential as mid-rotation arms.
Rounding it out, BP’s David Lee recently profiled Soroka really well here, and based on what I’m hearing from the scouting community, he could be a guy on the rise as he continues his development this season.
As I noted above, the needle hasn’t moved much for any of these players at this early juncture. However, if I had to pick one player whose early performance stood out the most and whose stock could be the closest to spiking already this year, I would have to pick Tyler Glasnow. His control and command have taken a significant step forward and that was the vital step necessary for him to reach his considerable ceiling.
Q: When looking at a player in, say, the Appalachian League vs. a player in Double-A, as an evaluator are you looking for the same things? When I watch rookie league games should I be focusing more on mechanics, stuff, etc., rather than in-game results? Is it different for Low-A, High-A, etc.? – Andrew E.
A: This is a good question and an important realization for individuals with scouting aspirations. What you should be looking for between the rookie leagues and Double-A is dramatically different. As Andrew alluded to above, the evaluation at the lower levels centers on tools, athleticism, raw stuff, and physical projection. While there is still an attempt to evaluate feel for the game and the potential for tools to manifest in game situations, the focus is most consistently on the dream of what a player could become and how the tools and physicality will develop over time.
As you begin to move up the ladder and evaluate talent at Low-A, High-A, or Double-A, the evaluation slowly shifts toward actualization of tools/stuff in game situations. That’s not to say raw ability and projection are non-factors at these levels, but with higher levels comes more of an expectation that the player is able to turn athleticism and raw ability to game skills. If by the time a player reaches Double-A an evaluator is forced to continue discussing tools and projection rather than production, there must be reasons those evaluative factors can still overcome; factors like age relative to the league, and how long the player has been at the level.
The ability to step back from the tools as you move up levels and evaluate what the player does and does not do on the field, can be a difficult developmental step for an evaluator. Staying focused and making a concerted effort to round out your evaluation by considering the immediate on-field game action and the dream of projection is the mark of a quality evaluator.
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