And here we are at Part II of my California League review for 2016. In case you missed Part I, which covered position-player prospects, you can find it here. That article includes links to all of the Eyewitness Reports I filed this year, along with a published version of my 2016 Scouting Database for all of the hitters I saw with any regularity. I’m still adding a few stragglers to both that list and the one you’ll find below, so note to check back if you don’t see a guy you’re interested in reading about.
Today, it’s the pitchers’ turn. One note on my evaluation process, I’ve found that one of the things it’s really easy to do in player evaluation is get caught up in first impressions, and let them harden quickly into definitive opinions. And there’s certainly pressure for that process to take place; the job of an evaluator, after all, is to predict future performance and value likelihoods based on what he or she sees. But I’ve found that pitchers got the short end when I was first trying to evaluate them. I was disciplined and trained to give position players a few looks before starting to form real opinions about them, and that is of course a standard best-case approach. Hitting is hard, and anyone can misread the occasional flair off a burly slugger’s bat. But with pitchers, I found that if I saw a guy throw 90-100 pitches and work into a lineup for the third time, that’s a broader base of gained knowledge than I get from just a one-game look at a position player. And an internal scale for positional value adjustments became quickly apparent: pitchers start every five days, and broadly speaking we look at one-game pitching samples as on par with (ideally) three- or four-game.
I’ve tried to move past forming definitive opinions on pitchers off of one-game looks as much as possible, however. Some days you just can’t spin your breaking ball right, or find your balance point at the top of your drive, or get your spine position just right for a consistent release point. Some days…you just don’t have it. And I’ve tried to be as mindful as possible of that reality in particular when talking about and projecting arms this year, and that’s why you’ll note in the linked database a broad swath of pitchers, especially relieves, who lack OFP/Realistic numbers.
And now, on to the pitchers of the Cal.
Go North, Young Man…And Make Sure the Right Guy’s Starting Before You Do
The stars were consistently misaligned for me with regard to pitching matchups and geography for the league’s top arms this season. Just one of those years. An inordinate concentration of starting talent up in Stockton, San Jose, and Modesto, coupled with some bum luck in the rotation schedules, left me missing out on a handful of consensus crop-cream arms in Daniel Gossett, Andrew Suarez, Yency Almonte, Heath Fillmyer, and Samuel Coonrod, to name a few. And don’t even get me started on High Desert; the Mavericks boasted arguably the best collection of starting prospects to come through the league, including three guys likely to receive ample air time in our Rangers’ Top-10 discussions this fall in Yohander Mendez, Brett Martin, and Ariel Jurado (plus a top-50 midseason in Luis Ortiz). Unfortunately they also boasted about 467 other dudes in their rotation at various points this year, and through some bum luck in how the rotation shook out I managed to miss everyone except for Jurado (who, it should be noted, is excellent).
Personal pity party aside, Grant Holmes was the best arm I did get to see this year, earning the only 60 OFP I put on any Cal League starter—and I did so only after revising up in the wake of some demonstrated growth mid-season. His fastball-curve combination gave him the best one-two punch I saw in a starting role, and he made significant strides in honing his changeup into a playable third pitch while cleaning up some elements of his delivery that had been in need of address in early-season looks. Dinelson Lamet, who snuck into the back end of our Padres’ Top 10 last winter, showed the goods in a limited Opening Day look. As a good example of what I was talking about above, I didn’t see Lamet throw a changeup in his five innings, and it was like 50 degrees and spitting rain. But the fastball-slider combination was delightful, as was the idea of his frame wearing 200 innings or coming out of a bullpen with the tying run aboard. And on the flipside, while it took me a hot minute to finally catch him, Josh Sborz made it worth the wait. It was an interesting profile, with two breakers and no change across multiple looks, but there’s a tasty fastball-slider combo there. And his organization-mate Mitchell White tantalized in an ever-so-brief late-season look. White showed superb athleticism, a gnarly cutter, and a four-seam-curveball mix behind it that left me excited to see him in a full-time starting role next year.
Some other guys didn’t quite move the needle for me across multiple looks. It’s easy to see why the Rockies were optimistic about the uber-projectable Ryan Castellani, but his drive was inconsistent and raw, and I’m not sure I saw quite enough combination of raw stuff and body control to buy into a mid-rotation profile. I saw more of a 45 pitcher, whose delivery may ultimately play better in the bullpen. The Giants’ Jordan Johnson, meanwhile, gave me Jekyll and Hyde starts: his changeup ruled the day in an early-season look, while his delivery had come unglued and he’d lost all feel for that same pitch a few weeks later. He’ll be an interesting guy to watch next season.
Under-the-Radar Guys I Liked
Sometimes there’s a man who just gets you as an evaluator. Really hits on all your sweet spots, shoves his way through multiple impressive performances and into a tiny corner of your heart. Sometimes…there’s a man. Parker French may just have been that man for me this season. I caught him twice, and in the intervening months between viewings all he did was refine the consistency of an already-repeatable delivery, add a couple ticks to an already-lively sinking fastball, dramatically improve his formerly-poor slider, and work in a really impressive, natural cutter to round out his already-pretty deep arsenal. He lacks swing-and-miss stuff, but he has all the makings of a really nice, durable, ground-balling back-end guy, if the velo gains hold: he was 92-94 (t95) in his final start of the year.
Speaking of deep arsenals, Houston’s Trent Thornton showed an ability to control five pitches, which he used to launch a full-scale attack on the zone with advanced sequencing in my look. While he’s on the smaller side for a right-hander that harbors aspirations to start games, there’s some pedigree and feel for the craft that could very well propel him to a big-league rotation. The Dodgers’ Trevor Oaks fits the bill for this section as well: his velocity on a heavy fastball crept up into the mid-90s, and he manipulated it with two-way action to cut in effectively on lefties. For what he lacks in secondary quality he makes up with fearless control around the lower-third of the zone, and he showed me the stuff of a valuable innings-eater. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Houston’s Rogelio Armenteros in this space, as he was a personal favorite as a big-bodied Cuban with surprising velocity, feel to add and subtract like a veteran, and a natural ability to spin the ball effectively.
Need Some Relief? Call the Padres and Giants
It is staggering how many power arms there are in the Padres’ system. Bracketing the seam-bursting rotation they had at Fort Wayne this year (and, fingers crossed, will have at Lake Elsinore in the spring), the Storm’s pitching staff featured some highly intriguing arms in its own right. All told I saw eight future Padres come through with sitting velocities of 94 or better, which made the Friars’ affiliate far and away the highest-octane staff in the league. Recent big-league-debuter Jose Torres was the best of the bunch, and on the short list of best relief prospects I saw this year. His 65-grade fastball and above-average slider from the left side showed as a true high-leverage combination. Yimmi Brasoban, Trey Wingenter, and reigning fifth-rounder Lake Bachar also showed impressive velocity among other big-league traits. Meanwhile, in Rodolfo Martinez and Reyes Moronta the Giants boasted two of the hardest throwers in the league, with the former the only guy to pop triple digits for me this season (he topped at 101 in the All-Star Game).
Elsewhere several other big fastballs dotted the potential-high-leverage landscape, led by Jimmy Sherfy in the Diamondbacks’ system. Sherfy’s 96-97 heater explodes late with some mild sink, though he likes to work it up north in the zone where it can straighten out a bit. The Rangers’ Nick Gardewine is a big dude with a correspondingly big fastball that, between velocity and crazy plane from his 6-foot-7 frame, gives him the kind of primary weapon you just can’t teach. Jerry Vasto in Colorado’s system was up to 95 in my look, with perceived velocity that plays above the radar gun. And while he was pretty terrible results-wise in my handful of looks when he was a starter, Yaisel Sierra apparently started popping 96s and 97s after he converted to relief, which if true would mark a pretty substantial jump from the steady low-90’s he showed as a starter.
Finally, my favorite paragraph of all, the one where I get to talk about wacky situational relievers. The Astros tend to find a couple side-winders off the draft scrap heap every year, and Jacob Dorris was one of the better ones I’ve seen across a handful of mid-season looks. He runs his fastball up into the high-80s from a low slot, and showed excellent feel for spinning a multi-shaped breaking ball that really did a number on High-A hitters before a dominant Double-A debut in August. And if it hasn’t happened already, we should launch a #Pray4Colby hashtag in support of Colby Blueberg’s lost delivery. Across a bunch of early-season looks he boasted a uniquely funky delivery to a uniquely situated release point. But by the season’s second half the delivery had been streamlined considerably, to the great detriment of his command and deception.
Below you’ll find links to all of the Eyewitness Reports I’ve submitted on pitchers in the Cal League this year, along with the link to my full database of another 60-plus pitchers that I’ve written up over the course of the season. There are links within that document to any corresponding “Notes from the Field” and “Monday Morning Ten Pack” pieces for players where relevant.
Yimmi Brasoban, RHP, San Diego Padres – Eyewitness
Parker French, RHP, Colorado Rockies – Eyewitness
Dinelson Lamet, RHP, San Diego Padres – Eyewitness
Trevor Oaks, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers – Eyewitness
Josh Sborz, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers – Eyewitness
Yaisel Sierra, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers – Eyewitness
Trent Thornton, RHP, Houston Astros – Eyewitness
Jose Torres, LHP, San Diego Padres – Eyewitness
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