I had the opportunity to watch the last 6 innings of the Arizona Fall League Rising Star Game. Unfortunately, that means I missed the battle of 1.1 vs. 1.2, as Gerrit Cole took on Danny Hultzen in the early innings. The matchup failed to live up to the hype as Cole couldn't keep pace with Hultzen. Cole gave up 5 runs and 4 hits in 2/3rds of an inning, while Hultzen struck out the side in the first on 14 pitches and didn't allow a hit in his two innings of work.
Overall, I was impressed with the talent on display, even though on paper I didn't think it would be all that impressive outside of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Still, there were a few impressive players, including Will Myers. Myers had a down year in 2011 as he struggled through injuries, but looked good at the plate and moved very well in the field for a converted catcher. He looks to be fully back on track.
Most interestingly, at least to Reds fans, was the work of Brad Boxberger. Boxberger worked a 1-2-3 inning, so he worked out of the windup the entire time and featured a fastball that sat in the 94-95 mph range, a change-up with very good late sink, and a power slider in the mid-80s.
Boxberger squared off against S.I. cover boy and uber-prospect Bryce Harper. And, encouragingly, Boxberger made very quick work of him. It took Boxberger just four pitches to strikeout Harper. Boxberger started him off with two change-ups with very good sink, the first of which was off the outside corner. After starting him off down in the strike zone, Boxberger then changed the eye level by elevating the fastball. His third pitch was a 94 mph fastball up, but was too far inside. The fourth pitch was likely a do-over of what the third pitch was supposed to be, but this time with better execution. This time, Boxberger elevated the fastball and hit the target set by the catcher at or a tick above the top of the zone. Harper took a hack, but couldn't catch up to it.
The final line speaks for itself, as Boxberger acquitted himself very well in his appearance, but here are a few observations that won't show up in the box score:
1) Boxberger has some looseness to his delivery, an appearance largely caused by his long arms and the big arm swing he uses in his windup. After breaking his hands, Boxberger uses a large circle to bring his pitching arm up into proper throwing position.
2) Boxberger threw a handful of sliders during his appearance, but I thought it was noticeable from his mechanics when he was throwing it. I'm not entirely sure what it was, but his delivery was different when he threw the slider. First impression was the arm speed was different, but the slider is generally more of a power pitch, so I'm not confident that that's what it was. If it wasn't that, then it had to be either the grip on the pitch or the arm slot. Whatever it was, I thought his mechanics differed on the slider than on the fastball and change-up, which could be a problem against sophisticated hitters at the MLB level.
3) While the slider underwhelmed me, the change-up impressed me a great deal. His change-up had a significant amount of sink to it (almost to the point where it looked like a true sinker), which would play well in Great American Ballpark. Additionally, such heavy sink gives him a nice weapon that most power pitchers do not possess. Power pitchers are typically fly ball pitchers because they utilize their stuff up in the zone. Boxberger has the fastball and strikeout rate of a power pitcher, but if he can continue to generate such significant sink then he should be able to work effectively in both the top and bottom of the strike zone.