The doyens of the baseball media will always tell you they have buried any vestige of youthful fandom. It’s a job. If pressed, they may confess that, okay, they have a rooting interest. They pull for two hour-and-thirty-seven-minute pitcher duels, or that their game story, 90 percent finished, isn’t blown up by a bad bullpen or a two-out rally.[i] And after watching a bevy of short-season bullpens over the years, I can empathize. There is not a worse feeling in the world then being a half-inning from the hotel bar—which closes in a half-hour because this is Tennessee on a Tuesday night—only to be immediately confronted by a four-pitch walk.
I root for predictable pitching rotations unmarred by rainouts,[ii] slow ground balls to short that elicit good home-to-first times, and this year, that they’d actually get the goddamn Hartford stadium built at some point.
As a Connecticut resident, I have reasonable access to a lot of minor league baseball. It isn’t the I-40 corridor or anything, but there's a dozen or so parks in three different leagues within a four-hour drive. As an added bonus, I don’t have to worry about getting out of or through New York City.[iii]
And as a lifelong Connecticut resident, I am used to what we might politely term “construction boondoggles.” Heck, one of our governors went to jail (the first time) for one. They have been rebuilding the 91/95 interchange in New Haven for what seems like a decade. And for a decade before that, it felt like they were expanding I-84 near Waterbury.[iv] There’s now talk of lowering the 84/91 interchange, which I probably won’t live to see to completion, but whatever.
And whatever my personal feelings about publicly-funded stadiums, the new Hartford park was going to be so gosh darn convenient: ten minutes from my office, on the way home, four Top 101 prospects playing there. Sure, it will create an even worse bottleneck downtown than we already see at rush hour, but I get there early for batting practice, so…
But as you may have heard, this has been…well, a bit of a boondoggle.
So I have gotten used to driving a lot on the weekends. After all, I have twelve parks within a four-hour drive.
And Hartford does have four Top 101 prospects.
Raimel Tapia, OF
Baseball Prospectus has long been fertile recruiting ground for the Raimel Tapia cargo cult. Jason Parks put 7s on both hit hit tool and OFP coming out of the Pioneer League as a 19-year-old. Ryan Parker went further, breathlessly penning an elucidation of his swing akin to David Foster Wallace describing a “Federer Moment.” Tapia has made the BP 101 the past three seasons. He has made the top 100 for other national publications exactly zero times in the last three seasons.
I first saw Tapia in Asheville at the end of 2014, the ardent fervor for him as a prospect was already well-stoked.
“Okay, I get it.”
The dude could hit. His approach was raw. He probably wasn’t a major league center fielder, and I wasn’t sure the bat would play to a role 6 in a corner, but it was pretty neat. Anyway, I was there for Dom Smith and…oh man, the rest of that Savannah team was not great. Especially in the second half.[vii] Okay, so I was there for Dom Smith and dinner at a.Lure.[viii]
But even I am beginning to get seduced by the myth-dream of Tapia’s barrel control. The set-up is busy. The load is long. The exaggerated two-strike crouch is a too-clever-by-half affectation you’d expect to find in an over-30 Twilight League. Then he will line one off his shoe tops into center field, or somehow stay on top of a 2-1 fastball at the letters—that yeah, he shouldn’t be swinging at anyway—and rifle it through the 3.5 hole.
It was easy to see Tapia in the Sally League and think, “yeah, but that won’t work against better arms.” And he does still expand the zone too much even for his present prodigious bat-to-ball abilities. But it is getting better. He works counts. He’ll take a breaking ball every once in a while. He can foul off just about anything to extend an at-bat.[ix] He’ll never be patient per se, but he is walking more and striking out less. He’ll never have Vlad Guerrero’s power, but I am pretty convinced he could at least double off a ball that bounced at the plate (and 10-15 home run pop isn’t out of the question with that kind of bat speed). [x]
And like my forbearers, I will gloss over the rest of the profile. He’s only a solid-average runner at this point, and it doesn’t play in games to that level, because he has some of the worst instincts on the basepaths I have ever seen. His outfield jumps and routes have improved, but I still think he’s a better fit in a corner. There is still some risk in his swing-at-everything-I-think-I-can-barrel approach, and while doing this in Double-A is more impressive than doing it in Single-A, it isn’t doing it in the majors. And even then, he might end up more of a tweener. But then you watch that swing again, and it is the promise of baseball manna from heaven.
David Dahl, OF
As first reported by Baseball Prospectus, I was the low man on Dahl coming into this season. And then he went and turned himself into a three-true-outcomes Double-A masher. That, I did not expect. It's clear where the additional power is coming from. Dahl is in grip-it-and-rip it mode, selling out for pull-side power. When it works, he makes some loud, loud contact, but it's left him vulnerable to anything soft, or running away from him. There's nary an attempt to just go with the pitch, but on balance so far, the payoff has been worth it.
Dahl doesn't need to hit a ton anyway. He's a premium athlete that clocked a 4.05 to first on a grounder to short. He is a better center fielder than Tapia, although the two are trading off at present between center and corner. He has a plus arm with clothesline carry, so could handle right field, where his athleticism would make him one of the best defensive corner outfielders in the game. And Dahl's a potential 20/20 threat even without the Coors effect. We're probably going to blow him up on our midseason prospect list. The approach at present does worry me though. Double-A arms are already inducing a lot of swing-and-miss when he's up. Weirdly, he might be a bit higher risk than Tapia nowadays.
Antonio Senzatela, RHP
I wrote about Senzatela’s first start off the DL for a recent Notes on the Field. I gather Rockies fans weren’t thrilled[xi] I picked that start to throw a future pen role on him. Well, I saw him a second time, and the good news is he had more velocity and the stuff looked sharper. The bad news is I still think he’s a reliever long term, because the original projection had almost nothing to do with his stuff being down a bit coming off the DL! But it’s not really bad news. He might be a very good reliever!
Senzatela’s fastball was 91-97, sitting 93-95. He’ll overthrow the pitch at times, but the command profile was better—if still fringy—in my second look. The slider flashed plus and was tighter overall, even up into the mid 80s. The change is still too firm and moves too much like the fastball—that is to say, not a whole lot.
And I like that he is a bulldog on the mound. When Senzatela got into a bit of trouble he went right after Portland’s lineup, and I started to see more 96-97 on the gun, good sliders earlier in the count. He's got a potential 70 fastball, even with the 45 command and lack of plane, but there isn’t a third pitch here at present. I can squint and maybe get the change to 40, but that may not cut it, especially since he didn’t hold the velocity as well as you'd like. By the end of his outing, Senzatela was more in the 91-94 band, with a softer slider. It is difficult to see him going multiple times through a major-league lineup with his current repertoire and mechanics, and as it is, he is getting by while pitching almost exclusively off the plus heater. That can work in Double-A as a starter, but it is a much tougher road to hoe in the majors.
[i]I often come back from games and my wife asks me normal questions like “Who won?” or “What was the score?” I only remember about fifty percent of time.
[ii]Or snowouts in upstate New York, or “damp grounds” four days after it rained in the Appy.
[iii]Unless I am going to Brooklyn or Staten Island…which I don’t anymore.
[iv]Where shockingly, said Governor first cut his teeth in politics. Hmmmm.
[v]Passing through Lebanon, I drove by the home of William Williams, Continental Congress delegate and signer of the Declaration of Independence. I assume Amy Sherman-Palladino could have a bit of fun with that.
[vi]Well, more precisely, my GPS took me back roads instead of 91 to 84 to route 2, because traffic was already bad at 4 PM. Bodes well for the new stadium smack dab in the middle of that interchange.
[viii]If they have the foie gras deviled eggs on special, make sure you get that, but everything there is good in a low country, haute cuisine sort of way.
[ix]Including a pitch so far inside, he ended up fouling it off the top of his thigh, as I describe here.
[x]These are of course context neutral. Tapia could hit .330 with 20 bombs playing home games in Coors, and I’d just shrug.
[xi]“I hear things. I don’t understand most of it, but I hear it.”
Thank you for reading
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