“George, why is it you always get to sit in the shade / While I have to stand in the sun?”
–“Sundays in the Park with George”
George Valera showed really well for me two weeks ago. That doesn’t necessarily mean the box scores popped, but in this case they did. Over five games he went 6-16, with two home runs and five walks against seven strikeouts. He showed off plus-plus bat speed and plus raw power and made hard contact to all fields. He showed a level of plate discipline and strike zone knowledge I haven’t seen at this level since Brandon Nimmo—there’s a comp you’ll never see on Valera—to the point that I just wrote down “incredible takes” during one at-bat. Off that look, despite having some concerns about his defensive home and swing-and-miss—issues that also perturb the rest of the prospect team—he looked every bit the part of a Midseason 50 prospect. And well, he was a Preseason 50 prospect, we’ve ranked him there the last two lists now. All he’s done since is post a near .300/.400/.500 line as a 21-year-old in Double-A.
This should be a layup.
Within these webpages, Jarrett Seidler recently opined on what makes a good hitting prospect. It’s never really been as simple as being young for your level and posting a .900 OPS. That should point you in the direction of good hitting prospects, but Jarrett proposes a series of questions that don’t directly touch on the statistical outputs. Valera checks every box except one “Does he make enough contact when he swings?” You won’t really see that in the box score and would have to squint awfully hard over a five-game look. His K-rate is a tick over 24%, which all in all is fine for 2022 baseball, especially when you never almost never expand and do his kind of damage on contact. But then you ask one deeper question: “What’s his contact rate in the zone” and your eyebrows go up a little. If you are gonna get the Brandon Nimmo comp you need Brandon Nimmo’s z-contact rate, and Valera is under 75% in Double-A. And that’s against Double-A quality sinkers and lazy sliders at his thighs. I suppose it’s not disastrous, but it’s enough to be worried that the 24% K-rate will be significantly higher in the majors.
Another question Jarrett poses is “Do we have reason to believe any of these things will get better or worse?” Well, we’re pretty sure Valera will see much better stuff in the zone in the majors than he has in the Eastern League. But for every hitting prospect the arc of the baseball universe always bends towards having to adjust to the best shit on the planet. I specifically mentioned sinkers and sliders down in the zone because that did seem to be the hole for Valera in my look. He was trying to whip and lift and often found his bat path carving out real estate well above those pitches. We know he knows the zone. I saw what to my eyeballs looked like plus hand-eye in terms of getting the bat on the ball around the zone. He was generally happy to hit the ball hard where it was pitched.
So what gives?
Ethan Moore wrote a piece last week that caught my eye while I was ruminating on Valera’s hit tool. He theorizes that bat tracking is the next great frontier in analyzing hitter’s swing decisions. I’ve comped Valera’s swing in the past to a “one-off scribble on Merce Cunningham’s notepad, deemed unsuitable for even his stage” and “attractive in the same way a Seijun Suzuki film is—noisy, chaotic, frenetic while just barely under control, and probably best enjoyed in cinemascope.” Ethan and I are perhaps looking for different things on our baseball analysis journey, but his point is a good one.
Valera is actually a bit quieter pre-swing now, but his wide open, stooped stance cuts the kind of figure you’d expect to see on a 19th century slugger’s tobacco card. It’s how you’d imagine Casey from Casey at the Bat standing astride the plate. It’s unusual to the point that perhaps I am missing something obvious, something that perhaps advanced 3D modeling would unlock. Perhaps something that could be tweaked to unlock better contact in the lower half of the zone. But projecting all that is currently more in the realm of science fiction writers than prospect mavens. Although I occasionally consider myself both.
Of course, I didn’t actually need the Phillip K. Dick precognition here, did I? A simple text message got me Valera’s z-contact, chase, and avg/max exit velocities before I even sat on the series, in the course of trawling for an early Midseason 50 draft. I don’t like to have that information before I go to the park. I’ve always thought there was value in finding the gaps between the stats and the scouts. But I’ve also overranked a bunch of guys with this profile over the years. So what’s the value add of going to the park if I’m just going to write a 50 hit tool here again?
And I am.
|Born: 11/13/2000 (Age: 21)|
|Bats: Left||Throws: Left|
|Height: 5′ 11″||Weight: 185|
|Primary Position: LF|
|Secondary Position: CF|
|Average build, athletic frame, not notably physical, limited projection left|
|Dates Seen||6/14/22-6/17/22, 6/19/22|
|Affiliate||Akron RubberDucks (AA, Guardians)|
|MLB ETA||Risk Factor||OFP||Video|
|Hit||50||Wide open, stooped over like an old timey baseball card photo, steps/dives in to close, waggly and rips it up through the zone with 70 bat speed, barrel control is better than you’d think, but still tops a lot of balls or swings over at his thighs, never expands, some incredible takes. Does damage on contact, but not enough maybe, super high variance hit tool, on-base should be solid though. Stays in well against lefties, can get him inside given how much he dives in|
|Power||60||Ball goes boom when he gets the barrel on it, and it’s plus raw that plays line to line. Consistent hard contact although the top end exits are just “good.” Approach should allow him to get to most of the raw. 25-home-run type bat with plenty of doubles to the left-center gap as well.|
|Baserunning/Speed||50||Perfectly fine runner but violence in the swing means he’s never going to pop big home to first. Not a base stealing threat but won’t be station to station|
|Glove||55||Graded here as a left fielder, has played all three spots and saw in all three. Aggressive defender that tracks well in the gaps, straight line speed isn’t ideal for center although he wouldn’t kill you there and could handle a smaller outfield.|
|Arm||55||Accurate, solid, better fit for left than right.|
|High variance, impact offensive corner outfielder. Under our old system would argue to 60/40 and he’s more likely to be one of those than just an average regular. Potential impact on-base and slugging even in a corner, might hit .220. I know what I’m betting on here though.|
“Coming from the hat / Studying the hat / Entering the world of the hat / Reaching through the world of the hat / Like a window / Back to this one from that”
–“Finishing the Hat”
I did not need to send a text to get Andrew Painter’s 2022 pitch data. I just needed to go to Brooks Baseball. The Florida State League, Pacific Coast League, and Charlotte Knights home games are all semi-public to the point that you can find a nice little text box like this with a cursory Google Search.
You can dig deeper as well, get all the same advanced metrics and scatterplots you’d expect to find for major leaguers. You can get a feel for the shape of the stuff. You can supplement it by watching somewhat choppy video from a St. Lucie start.
Or you can drive an hour and forty-five (which always ends up being closer to two with I-84 traffic west of Waterbury) to see Painter after his promotion to the South Atlantic League.
What am I adding here?
I am not adding a stop to Kent Falls Brewing on the way home after my GPS returns me through the always bucolic Northwest Hills of Connecticut—the dogs need to be let out—and that’s too bad because they have a bunch of interesting spontaneous fermentations and farmhouse ales right now. But I can tell you that it was his worst start as a professional—although you could also glean that from the box scores.
The dreaded non-representative look.
Still, a lot of this gig…ideally…uh, hypothetically…
Well, I mean I’m less sure of all this now, it’s the point of this column.
Anyway one of the philosophical underpinnings of this gig is to be able to tell you why Andrew Painter is good, when he is not pitching well.
It is after all, just one look.
The fastball is good. That’s kinda important. He sat 96-98, touched 100. When he was on top of it with plane it was a thunderbastard of a pitch, but the command was below-average and it rode high and cut at times. The curve looked like a potential plus offering, but bled into the rather average-ish slider. That said I think both breakers get there, and honestly I’ve seen far worse changeups from a prep arm one year out from the draft. It’s a lot of projection, but it’s a prep arm one year out from the draft. And it’s a high-end projection.
Did I need a cannonball run to Wappingers Falls to opine on that? Ask me again after one foeder-conditioned pilsner.
|Born: 04/10/2003 (Age: 19)|
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|Height: 6′ 6″||Weight: 205|
|SWU, medium tempo, average arm stroke, three-quarters slot. Big man, but simple delivery that he repeats well enough for now.|
|Affiliate||Jersey Shore BlueClaws (High A, Phillies)|
|Pitch Type||Future Grade||Sitting Velocity||Peak Velocity||Report|
|FB||70||96-98||100||Cuts at times, shape and command below-average, but swing and miss pitch when he’s getting it steep and down in the zone.|
|CU||60||78-80||80||Good 12-6 shape, but can snap it off at times, shows late downer action, confident enough to throw it 3-2 for a strikeout. Works it north-south well for his experience level.|
|SL||55||81-83||83||Slurvier action than the curveball, more 11-5, bores in/away, threw it more but the curve was presently ahead and showed more S+M shape.|
|CH||40||89-90||90||Firm with some fade, lacks arm speed.|
|High upside 2021 prep arm that can beat A-ball hitters with his fastball, with enough breaking ball command to back it up. Raw and projectable arsenal/frame, could go in a number of directions and is currently on the IL for what the Phillies have termed “load management.”|
“Stop worrying if your vision is new / Let others make that decision / They usually do / You keep moving on”
I’m going to have seen around 20 games of Ezequiel Tovar by the end of this weekend. That’s around 30 percent of the total games he’s played this year. It’s hard to get more representative than that. I was excited to see him this season given what was an aggressive pre-season assignment, and he’s only been one of the best hitters in the league as a 20-year-old. As I usually do I knocked out the Hartford reports early with one eye open to changes over the course of the season. But mostly this week I’ll be digging in on the Binghamton trio of Álvarez/Baty/Mauricio—granted it’s their third trip here this season, the schedule is weird.
Still, I pay more attention to Tovar than I would most other prospects 20 looks in, because he’s continued to grow on me slowly but surely, and I thought he was a solid regular in April. Usually the opposite happens, the more I see the more I nitpick, but despite getting annoyed when he still drops the back shoulder to try and dig out sliders in the dirt 300 plate appearances in, on balance, he just keeps hitting. And he is after all, only 20.
In the field, my initial impression was that the range was a step light for a true plus projection at short, but it’s harder to find a flaw in his defensive game at this point. Scouts coming through have talked about him in the same glowing terms I do, and yeah that matters a little.
Any random series of Tovar has been more impressive than the best look I got at Brendan Rodgers at this level. And while we likely overranked Rodgers a tad, he seems to be a perfectly cromulent regular now that he’s healthy. That matters even more.
The frame of reference.
Perhaps it’s coming into a pointed focus now.
|Born: 08/01/2001 (Age: 20)|
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|Height: 6′ 0″||Weight: 162|
|Primary Position: SS|
|Average frame, some room to fill out upper body further but should maintain most of his twitch/athleticism.|
|Dates Seen||17x 4/2022-6/2022|
|Affiliate||Hartford Yard Goats (AA, Rockies)|
|MLB ETA||Risk Factor||OFP||Video|
|Hit||55||Even stance, rhythmic weight transfer with leg lift, never out of balance even when swinging over offspeed. Plus bat speed, looking to hit line drives. Can handle elite level velocity, struggles with better breakers down, but he’s 20 and the approach is solid enough. Will hit it where it’s pitched, doesn’t get pull happy. Enough struggles with non-fastballs so far to keep it below plus, but should be a very solid hitter.|
|Power||50||Wants to be level and extend, prefers to work gap-to-gap, but will absolutely crush a mistake, average raw at present will get to solid-average as he fills out, should get to most of it.|
|Baserunning/Speed||45||Low 4.3s for the most part, not a burner, but speed plays better laterally in the field than straight line base-to-base. Good, aggressive baserunner underway, and will get some steals.|
|Glove||60||Silky shortstop, glides in the field, has grown on me from 55 to true plus over the breadth of the looks. Smooth on the turn, actions and hands are plus, gets to more balls than you’d think given the foot speed. Good internal clock. Not super loud at the 6, but seems to make at least one plus defensive play a game.|
|Arm||60||Might be 55 arm strength and carry, but ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately from a variety of angles and on the move makes the throwing play up.|
|Tovar is one of the youngest players in the Eastern League and while the lack of game experience shows through at the plate from time to time, he’s a true two-way shortstop with offensive upside past the grades above. I wouldn’t be shocked if he grows into more power than this, and even if the hit tool falls a little short, the defensive nous should make him a regular for a number of years.|
“In our perfect park / Made from flecks of light / And dark”
I’m not just watching Álvarez, Baty, and Mauricio. Max Scherzer started Wednesday. Both Jarrett and I have already written about the value of rehab looks, but while there’s certainly utility to our day-to-day work seeing what the major league version of the soft-tossing lefty or a true Role 6 looks like, we won’t be out here comping Andrew Painter or Griff McGarry or Gavin Williams or even Grayson Rodriguez to Scherzer. You don’t comp Hall of Famers.
It’s fun watching them from behind home plate though.
I was having a conversation recently about working from home, and I didn’t think I’d ever really go back to an office. As a 40-year-old freelance prospect writer, I’m not exactly opening doors to corporate America anyway.
“What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?”
“Well, I once ranked Robert Gsellman as the 17th best prospect in baseball.”
Then someone pointed out that I do have an office, and it’s the ballpark.
It’s easy to forget some days. And I’ve just spent 2000 words arguing in a roundabout way that yeah, I should work from home a few more days a week. But then you see Max Scherzer stuff 94 underneath the hands of a kid who has seen a lot of 94 mph fastballs, but absolutely none that looked like that.
Or in the midst of futzing around with all four of his offspeed pitches, there’s one slider that just disappeared in a way that makes every other slider you’ve ever seen at this level look like a rolling little slurvy thing. You don’t need to calibrate to an 80 really. It’s always this obvious.
I’ll always want to see it.
I’ll text people about the other stuff.
Oh, one more thing. Don’t try to send me interoffice mail here. They are going to have to forward it soon, and anyway, the interns tend to eat the letters.
|Born: 07/27/1984 (Age: 37)|
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|Height: 6′ 3″||Weight: 208|
|Full overhead windup, uptempo delivery, stab down, loose and easy, slot is a tick below three quarters. There’s late acceleration with some torque and whack. You can see why there was reliever risk here in…uh…2007.|
|Affiliate||Binghamton Rumble Ponies (AA, Mets)|
|MLB ETA||A while back|
|Pitch Type||Future Grade||Sitting Velocity||Peak Velocity||Report|
|FB||80||93-94||95||The best 94 mph fastball you will ever see. Moves in and out well. Feels like 98 when he’s locating. Just playing catch. Could dominate this level with just this pitch if he wanted.|
|SL||80||83-85||85||The best here were the kind of pitches that will make a 23-year-old role 4 consider a career change. The slider is just there and then it isn’t. The radar gun and ultimate position of the glove tells you what it was. It’s too late for you and too late for the hitter. He did at times struggle with the shape and command of the pitch. I do not consider this a long term concern|
|CT||60||87-90||90||Didn’t really have the good cutter, eschewed it some to lefties in favor of the curve and change, tough to gauge on rehab. Previous looks suggest it’s at least plus|
|CH||70||82-84||84||Tunnels well off fastball, like slider just disappears late, not as consistent. but regularly showed plus-plus power fade|
|CU||55||72-74||74||Pops it in 10-5 with enough depth. Shows a little early for true plus grade.|
|Yeah, it’s Max Scherzer. This was cool.|
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