Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Top Prospect List: #6 Nick Travieso, rhp

Courtesy: Mavericks Baseball

DOB: 1/31/1994
HEIGHT 6-2, WEIGHT 215, B/T: R/R

When you are operating in a free market system (or, the Major League Baseball equivalent), knowledge is power. In order to consistently best your competition, you need the competitive advantage that only information can provide. The better the organization's information, the greater the probability that subsequent decisions will be sound.

The obvious example of gaining a competitive advantage through increased knowledge is statistical analysis, which was used to great effect by the early adopters, who gained a distinct competitive advantage over their less innovative competitors. The information generated by statistical analysis provided new and different insight into the "true" value of players. However, organizations lean heavily on information from other sources as well. A large part of a GM's job is to (1) build an organizational structure that generates valuable information, (2) establish proper distribution channels for that information, and (3) ensure that this information is both available and actionable for the relevant decision-makers.

The Reds, after years of operating with a dismantled and diminished scouting department (which struggled with both quality and volume of information), have become one of the very best organizations at drafting and developing talent. Part of their success comes from building a proper scouting network, which generates more and better information. This network, and the information it gathers, led directly to the decision to draft Nick Travieso.


The Reds selected Travieso out of Archbishop McCarthy High School in Florida with the 14th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 draft.

Travieso was a teammate of Nicholas Arias, who happens to be the son of Tony Arias, the Reds director of Latin America scouting. Travieso was also friends with Tony Fossas, who serves as the pitching coach with the Reds' Billings Mustangs affiliate. As Chris Buckley, senior director of amateur scouting, stated about the selection of Travieso: "Sometimes, you feel you have a little advantage. When you have that information, we were hoping we had some information the other scouts didn't. Travieso is a very impressive young guy. We've been following him for a couple years. He's been in everything. We saw him pitch at the end of the fall on the USA Team." Obviously, the organization had a very good, long look at him.

The Reds drafts in recent years have had a decidedly Floridian-flavor to them, having used first round selections on Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, both out of the University of Miami, and now Nick Travieso. They also selected Jesse Winker in the supplemental round out of Olympia High School in Florida. The likely reason for these selections is the impressive scouting coverage the organization has in the state, which is the home of Buckley, Arias, and assistant director of Latin America scouting Miguel Machado. Obviously, coverage is only as good as the quality of the information it generates, so time will tell whether the Reds had a better valuation of Travieso than the competition. Still, the recent track record is encouraging and the Reds clearly have high hopes for Travieso. In fact, Buckley tossed out Matt Cain as a comparison for Travieso (though, Travieso himself references Rogers Clemens), so if the Reds' valuation is correct, then it could pay big dividends for the organization.

The Matt Cain comparison is interesting, because while the parallels are obvious (high school righthanders, good fastballs, stocky builds), Cain has always been, at least for me, a pitcher who is somehow greater than the sum of his individual parts. Every time I look at Cain's individual parts, they never seem to add up to his MLB performance level. I can't quite put my finger on what makes him THAT good. Regardless, the comparison is likely used in reference to Cain's overall performance level, not whatever mystical quality enables Cain to be more than the sum of his parts. The comparison also imposes a set of expectations on Travieso, begging the question of whether he has the ability to meet or exceed them. 


Courtesy: Mavericks Baseball
Travieso began his high school career at renowned American Heritage (which has produced notable MLB prospects, including Eric Hosmer Deven Marrero, and J.C. Sulbaran), where he served as closer during his freshman year, leaning heavily on his fastball and change-up for success in the role. He subsequently moved to Archbishop McCarthy and saw his draft stock rise even higher upon joining the rotation. Interestingly enough, he didn't join the rotation until his senior season, throwing only 18 total innings as a junior. From a performance standpoint, he made the transition to the rotation seamlessly, as evidenced by his 8-1 record, 0.76 ERA, and 100 Ks in 65 innings pitched. However, the substantial increase in workload was something of a challenge, requiring a great deal of conditioning work and, unlike during his time as a closer, the use of a pitching windup. Here's a quick interview with Travieso by Redlegs Review that's worth a read.

Travieso signed with the Reds, less than two weeks after being drafted, for $2M, forgoing his commitment to the University of Miami. This enabled him to get in a limited amount of work at the professional level. He tossed 21.0 innings in the rookie Arizona League, which included a 4.71 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .250 BAA, 0.77 GB/FB ratio, and a 14/3 K/BB ratio. Those 21.0 innings constitute 8 appearances, all of them starts. Obviously, that's far too limited of a sample size to draw any conclusions of value, but at least he got his feet wet at the professional level and will know what to expect heading into the 2013 season.


Travieso stands tall on the rubber, glove high in front of his face, legs shoulder-width apart, at the start of his delivery. He starts the delivery with a small step, rotating the left foot to parallel with the rubber. Once he weight shifts to his left foot, he rotates his right foot down onto the rubber before bringing his leg left up into the leg kick.

He utilizes a good leg kick, bring his knee up past parallel and incorporating body coil to create tension, and potential energy, in his spine. When his leg kick reaches apex, the foot doesn't point down towards the ground, which some believe can increase the rate of fatigue over the course of the game. 

From apex, he unpacks his leg kick to begin his drive to the plate. He utilizes a long stride, which permits full and complete hip rotation. He also delays his upper body rotation long enough to create good separation between his hip rotation and shoulder rotation. The differential between the rotation of those two components operates to create substantial force, reducing the need to generate force with the arm. This differential also aids in the efficient transfer of the force generated in the windup to the baseball.

Travieso uses a high three-quarter, rather close to straight over-the-top arm slot. While his elbow does get slightly higher than his shoulder at one point in the delivery, by-and-large his elbow maintains good position relative to his shoulder. He also gets his arm up into proper throwing position in time, maintaining good sync between his lower and upper body.

Overall, Travieso does a nice job in both phases (creating and unleashing force) of the delivery, which explains how he manages to touch the upper 90s with his fastball. There is, however, some effort to his delivery that could increase the stress on his arm. He also might already be maxed out in terms of the force that his delivery can generate and impart to the baseball, which may leave less room for improvement on his current arsenal than would normally be expected. As for his delivery, the one unusual aspect pertains to his stride and the plant foot of his stride.

Travieso's delivery has a cross-fire action. Not that unusual in and of itself, but notable because it is not driven by the typical causes. The usual cause of a cross-fire delivery is a combination of a closed off landing position of the stride and a lower arm slot. Travieso's delivery, however, contains neither. His arm slot is very close to over the top, while his stride foot doesn't land in a closed off position. In Travieso's case, the cross-fire action seems to be caused by the length of his stride.

I'm a big advocate of a long stride, as it ensures strong lower body drive and effective hip rotation. However, there are limits on the length of stride that can be effectively used. Ideally, the stride isn't so long that the pitcher is unable to get out over the stride leg, which appears to be the case with Travieso.  

After Travieso strides and delivers the pitch, his momentum doesn't consistently finish out over his stride leg. Instead of getting his upper body out over his long stride, the body frequently comes up short and the extension of the stride leg checks the momentum, causing his body to recoil. After he releases the pitch, Travieso's left knee flexes/shudders slightly, appearing slightly unstable, as it pushes back against the momentum generated by the delivery. The stride is so long that his body can't get out over the knee, which causes the knee to check the momentum. As a result, the momentum of the delivery works around the knee, finishing towards first base and causing his body to fall in that direction on the follow-through.

A pitcher like Tim Lincecum uses a very long stride, but Lincecum is also highly athletic (even having the unusual ability of walking on his hands) and flexible which enables him to finish out over his very long stride. To date, Travieso has been effective with this stride, but it'll be interesting to see if it poses any problem going forward. If it impacts his consistency or durability, then, unless Travieso can find the athleticism to finish out over the stride leg, he may have to shorten up his stride. As it stands, both his body type and athleticism may work against his ability to effectively utilize and maintain his current mechanics. So, that is of slight concern, as shortening the stride could lead to a reduction in the force generated and imparted to the baseball. 

Here's a look at Travieso's draft video courtesy of

Here's a good look at Travieso courtesy DiamondScapeBaseball on YouTube:

At this point, it's too early in Travieso's development to draw any real conclusions, especially since any potential red flags are of the correctable variety. Still, all the fundamentals you want to see are present, which is impressive considering how little he experience he has pitching from the windup. At the same time, there is some effort to his delivery and I do wonder if there is actually less projection to his game than we might expect, especially given his body type and already maxed out delivery. There may just not be that much more ceiling left to his projection. While more experience and professional coaching could lead to further refinement and polish, he already has a solid foundation for his mechanics.


Travieso features a 3-pitch mix, headlined by a fastball that sits 92-95 mph and has, on several occasions, touched 99 mph. As Travieso said, "I've hit it a few times, not just once. I've been blessed by God with the ability to throw that hard. I'm usually sitting in the 93-95 mph range." In addition to the good fastball, he throws a two-plane, low 80s slider with good late break that he utilizes effectively down in the zone. He also has a changeup that shows promise, but needs to be more consistently located. Finally, Travieso has experimented with a cutter that may become a more integral part of his arsenal at the professional level.

As it stands, Travieso's power fastball/slider combination would serve him well out of the bullpen, but he'll be developed as a starter and work on any additional offerings needed to be effective in that role.


The Reds selected Nick Travieso higher than he was projected to go in most mock drafts (and, higher than I would have taken him, as there were other pitchers I preferred), another indication that they value him higher than the market. If Travieso pans out, then it becomes increasingly likely that the Reds have successfully built a competitive scouting advantage in Florida.

Travieso is an interesting combination of inexperience and a high current baseline of performance. It's so early in his professional career that it's difficult to say whether his limited pitching workload in high school will be a benefit or a hindrance. It might be the former in that it reduces wear and tear on the arm. It might be the latter if his inexperience drags down his performance level and significantly lengthens his development path.

As it stands, I'm somewhat skeptical about his ceiling due to questions about his body type and potentially maxed out pitching mechanics, but he has a lot of career ahead of him to alleviate those concerns. Of course, if he can't improve or sustain his repertoire as a starter, then a shift to a high-leverage reliever role is a legitimate fallback plan.

For now, Travieso's blend of attributes and risks lands him at #6 on the list. His first full professional season will reveal much more about his likely career trajectory.

John Fay, Hall of Fame Voting, and IPEDs

Today is the deadline for mailing in Hall of Fame ballots. This year is more challenging than most, because the first wave of infamous (alleged) IPED users is eligible. So, instead of wrestling solely with the question of whose production is worthy of enshrinement, voters, in the absence of guidance from the Hall of Fame, are left to establish their own voting criteria.

You've heard all the arguments and they run the gamut, with the extreme ends of the spectrum occupied by "never voting for anyone with the slightest whiff of IPED stench" to "excluding the IPED question entirely from the voting calculus."

While I certainly have my opinion, it's hard to definitively state that one person's argument is better or more valid than another. Is there a right answer to this question? Probably not. But, while a correct course of action may prove elusive, there remains an incorrect course of action. The clear-cut incorrect course of action is to abstain from voting. To decide that the question is simply too difficult. To submit a blank ballot in protest or to not submit a ballot at all. In short, to abdicate your responsibilities.

To quote the great Walter Sobchak: "Nihilists! F*ck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos."  Or, if you prefer something more classic, you can go with Dante: "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, preserve their neutrality."

Now, we aren't talking about Nihilists and the IPED issue doesn't rise to the level of a "great moral crisis" requiring a trip to the hottest places, but the underlying point remains: form an opinion, take a stand, do SOMETHING even if it's wrong.

All that said, today John Fay, unfortunately, announced that he's punting on the IPEDs/Hall of Fame issue. Here's what he had to say:

I simply can’t do it. I put off mailing in my 2013 Hall of Fame ballot until today’s deadline.

It will not be sent.

I’d rather abstain than play judge and jury this year. The two most deserving players statistically of the 37 on the ballot are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds was the best hitter I’ve seen. Clemens was the most dominant pitcher.

Both should be absolute locks to be first-ballot inductees.

But Bonds and Clemens also top of the list of players linked to performance-enhancing drugs. I believe both players used PEDs. From the BBWAA Rules for Election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame:
“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

I’m one of the eligible voters as a 10-year member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. I feel woefully unqualified to judge the “integrity, sportsmanship and character” of players in the steroid era.

I’ve read a lot of columns from fellow voters. Some vow to never to vote for anyone with PED taint on their record. I didn’t vote Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire on those grounds in the past.

At some point last night, I made up my mind that I would vote Bonds and Clemens on basis that they would have been Hall of Famers if they used PEDs or not.

There’s also the argument that steroids in 1990s and 2000s were like the amphetamines in 1970s and 80s. Everybody used them, so just vote based on the stats.

But this morning, I was too torn to pull the lever.

My gut feeling is that I’m done as a voter. Maybe time will give me clarity on the issue, but, right now, I’d rather not vote than send in a ballot I don’t fully believe in.

Now, I certainly understand the difficulties faced, and frustrations felt, by baseball writers. They are being given greater responsibility and less guidance than at any time in recent memory. Add in the fact that, whatever their vote, some faction of the internet will criticize it. The ability of social media to stampede public opinion with the digital equivalent of torches (tweets) and pitchforks (blog posts) is disconcerting. Anyone willing to stand up and voice their opinion voluntarily incurs the risk of a stampede. None of this excuses a writer's refusal to voice an opinion. To cast their vote and make an argument. It's a challenging job, but it's a job that must be done and the eligible writers are among the privileged few who get to do it.

This is another step in furtherance of an emerging and disturbing trend. In today's society, more and more (and I'm looking at you Washington, D.C.), the "do-nothing" option is being taken. Somehow, it's being argued that refusing to carry out the job you agreed to perform is a valid and viable option. People whose job it is to make decisions on the tough issues are refusing. People whose professional responsibilities require them to act are choosing inaction.

I like and respect John Fay, but maybe the most important thing he wrote he saved for last. Maybe he's done as a voter. I give him credit for the seriousness with which he considered the matter. It would, after all, have been easy to fill in a few random bubbles and drop it in the mail. The fact that he didn't reflects the seriousness with which he attempted to perform his task. Even so, if you punt away your responsibilities, then it's time to move on and let someone else wrestle with the issues. These issues, in all their complicated glory, remain even if people refuse to address them.
Major League Baseball has taken serious strides to eliminate IPEDs from the sport, but it will never be able to remove the IPED stain from its history. The best Major League Baseball could hope to do is effectively consign the IPED problem to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, even that wouldn't grant a reprieve to baseball writers, as the Hall of Fame is the embodiment of history. And, now, it falls to the Hall of Fame voters to wrestle with the consequences of this history, advance the discussion, and work towards some type of resolution. Abdicating voting responsibility is the only course of action that fails to satisfy all of these goals.

This situation reminds me of a clip from the new movie Zero Dark Thirty, containing the following (paraphrased) quote: "Look around the room. There's no other agency in another building or on another floor that's going to get the job done. We're it. There's no one else."

Obviously, MLB Hall of Fame balloting falls well short of the life and death struggle depicted in Zero Dark Thirty, but the issue similarly falls to baseball writers to resolve.

There's no one else.   

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2013 Top Prospect List: #4 Daniel Corcino, rhp

DOB: 8/26/1990
HEIGHT 5-11, WEIGHT 205, B/T: R/R

Back in 2008, the Reds signed Corcino, then 17-years old, for $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He immediately demonstrated good make-up, a strong work ethic, and a good aptitude for pitching.

The easy and common comparison for Daniel Corcino is Johnny Cueto. In fact, it's a comparison that he himself embraces. Like Johnny Cueto, Corcino hails from the Dominican Republic, is on the short side (5-11), has a stocky build, and throws hard.

The obvious question is whether the comparison to Johnny Cueto is accurate or simply lazy. The more I think about these types of comparisons, the more I wonder about their validity. Obviously, these comparisons are intended to provide a common point of reference, allowing baseball professionals to immediately get on the same page about the profile of the player and his possible ceiling. At the same time, these comparisons, fairly or not, impose a set of expectations on the player in question. While those expectations can prove to be an overreach, in this case they serve to nullify the lingering scouting bias against short righthanded starting pitchers, a criticism which is rarely applied to Corcino. It's difficult to doubt Corcino's chances based on his height when everyone deems his closest comparable to be a pitcher like Johnny Cueto.

In this instance, given their respective player profiles, the Cueto comparison seems reasonable. Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily follow that Corcino will reach the heights attained by Cueto, as Johnny changed his pitching profile at the MLB level to become more of a ground ball, less of a power, pitcher. Even so, Corcino is certainly trending the right direction.  


Corcino spent the entire season with double-A Pensacola. Early in his career, the Reds worked Corcino at multiple levels during a season, but the last two seasons have seen him spending time at only one level per season. Coincidentally or not, Corcino's breakout came in 2011, driven by significant improvement in command, when he spent the entire season at low-A Dayton. This deliberate development plan for Corcino could pay real dividends for the organization. After working exclusively at low-A Dayton in 2011, he skipped high-A Bakersfield to spend 2012 at double-A Pensacola. It was an aggressive assignment, but one for which Corcino proved ready.

For the Blue Wahoos, Corcino posted a 3.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .216 BAA, 0.86 GB/FB ratio, and a 126/65 K/BB ratio in 143.1 innings spread over 26 games. That level of performance translates into a 4.1 BB/9 and 7.9 K/9, which are both off from his 2011 performance, likely the result of skipping a level and facing much more advanced competition. It'll be interesting to see if those rates bounce back next year in his second season against advanced hitters. I expect some improvement in both rates and just how much improvement will be a significant data point in projecting his ceiling going forward. In addition to the less effective walk and strikeout rates, his paltry ERA was somewhat undercut by his 3.79 FIP and he benefited from unsustainable hit luck, as evidenced by his .268 BABIP. Further, he gave up a not insignificant 13 unearned runs, some of which may not have been entirely the fault of his defense.

The highlight of Corcino's season was the June 16th game against the the Mobile BayBears. In that game, Corcino tossed 8.0 innings of no-hit ball, walking 3 and striking out 9, before yielding to Wilkin De La Rosa, who promptly finished off the combined no-hitter for the Blue Wahoos. For the game, Pensacola's manager Jim Riggleman had capped Corcino's pitch count at 110 pitches and didn't want to push him, especially with the league's All Star game right around the corner.

Overall, it was an impressive season for Corcino, especially when you factor in his age (21), which gives him a boost for age vs. level. Also, it's worth noting that Corcino was actually better in the second half of the season, so the workload clearly wasn't a problem as he was stronger as the season went along.

Given his recent usage pattern, he seems likely to spend all of 2013, his age 22 season, in triple-A with an eye towards a big league job in 2014.


Corcino starts with his legs shoulder-width apart and glove up high, peering in over the webbing to get the catcher's sign. A small step towards first base with the left foot starts the weight transfer, unweighting the right foot to enable him to rotate it down onto the rubber. He then brings the left foot up into the leg kick, slightly exceeding parallel at apex with good hip rotation. From the initial set position through the apex of leg kick, Corcino keeps his hands in the same position: in close to his chest in front of the letters.

Courtesy: Unknown
One interesting aspect of Corcino's mechanics is what he does when he reaches the apex of the leg kick. Instead of immediately driving to the plate, Corcino draws his lower leg in towards his thigh. Instead of his stride foot hanging directly below his knee, he pulls it back in front of his right knee. Once he reaches that point, he drops his stride foot, extending his stride leg before driving to the plate.

At times, he does a more extreme version of this leg action out of the stretch as a type of slide step. He brings his foot up without elevating the knee very much, giving his delivery a flamingo-type look, before he extends his leg and drives to the plate. Ultimately, Corcino gets to the position needed to drive to the plate, but he requires an extra step to get there. Still, as long as he gathers himself properly before driving to the plate, the stride should be effective in transferring force to the baseball.

As for the stride itself, the length is good, though a tick shorter than that of pure power pitchers like Aroldis Chapman. Corcino's stride foot lands in a slightly closed off position. This, coupled with his lower arm slot, results in a cross-fire delivery, as the force generated by his windup pulls his upper body across his lower body. His right leg crosses all the way over his left on the follow through, leaving him in poor fielding position as his lower body is facing second base. This cross-fire delivery prevents his momentum from being delivered directly towards the plate, instead checking the momentum and forcing it to work somewhat around the body.

Courtesy: Michael E. Keating/The Enquirer
The cross-fire delivery operates to preclude a full, complete rotation of the hips. When the stride foot lands closer to third base, it's inherently a closed off position. This closed off position limits the maximum distance that the hips can possibly rotate in the delivery, which subsequently limits the ability of the kinetic chain to generate force. Corcino's hips rotate as much as permitted. When the hips can rotate no further, the remaining momentum has to go somewhere, causing his upper body to rise up slightly after he releases the pitch.  

Corcino throws from a low three-quarter arm slot, which always raises the question about handling opposite-hand hitters. There are several MLB starting pitchers who have had success from a lower arm-slot than that used by Corcino (i.e. Chris Sale, Justin Masterson, etc.), but they are also significantly taller than Corcino and benefit from more leverage from longer levers. So, Corcino potentially faces a compound problem: finding success from a lower arm-slot with a shorter stature. However, Corcino doesn't suffer from significant platoon splits, handling lefthanded hitters fairly well with his secondary offerings. Corcino also maintains his elbow in good position relative to his shoulder throughout his delivery and gets his arm up into proper throwing position in sync with the other moving parts of his delivery.  
While Corcino does a nice job generating momentum in the first phase of the delivery, the differential between his hip and shoulder separation, acceptable, but not substantial, limits the efficiency of transferring that force to the baseball. One of the red flags raised by scouts about Corcino is that his delivery contains "effort". The limited differential between his hips and shoulders is the main reason why, as it requires him to generate more force with his arm than would otherwise be required.

In Corcino's case, this limited differential is more likely to increase his risk of injury than decrease his performance level, as he offsets this lost force with his arm, which he is able to do in part because of his quick arm action. So, he effectively replicates the force that he would generate with a greater hip/shoulder differential, but does so at the cost of increased stress on the arm. 

Here's a good look at Corcino in action for the Blue Wahoos, courtesy MetsgeekTV on YouTube: 

And, here's a look at Corcino's slider, courtesy of

Overall, Corcino has solid mechanics. The issues I see have more to do with efficiency than significant red flag risks. Ideally, he would eliminate the closed off landing position and incorporate a more full and complete hip rotation, reducing some of the effort in his delivery. But, even as they are, the mechanics should support a high performance level and not significantly raise the injury risk. The inefficiency may lead to a faster wear rate on the arm, but overall Corcino is fundamentally sound.


Corcino has a solid, three-pitch repertoire, including a fastball that sits in the 92-94 mph range and touches 95-96, a good biting slider, and improving 83-85 mph change-up. The change-up was taught to him by Mario Soto, the organization's pitching guru and one of it's most valuable coaches in the farm system, at the organization's academy in the Dominican Republic. The change-up is a difficult pitch to master due to the touch and feel it requires, which can be especially problematic for pitchers who rely on power. Corcino's change-up has developed into a solid pitch, though he continues to refine it and would likely benefit from throwing it a few miles per hour slower. Corcino has also flirted with a 2-seam fastball, which, if he can master it, could become an effective weapon down in the zone for a pitcher with fly ball tendencies. 

There are two questions revolving around his repertoire. First, whether his height will limit both his ability to throw on a downhill plane and work effectively, and consistently, in the lower part of the strike zone. Second, whether his arm-slot will lead to inconsistency with his slider, as the closer the arm-slot gets to side-arm, the harder it is to consistently keep the hand upright enough to get the bite, tilt, and depth needed for an effective slider. 

The first issue still seems to be something of a problem, as Corcino has a tendency to work up in the zone, which typically leads to fly balls and, in Great American Ballpark, trouble. When you add a lower three-quarter arm slot to a shorter pitcher, you may end up with a flat, hittable fastball. At this point, it hasn't been a problem, but it  bears watching whether his fastball becomes too flat and hittable as he faces more advanced hitters. The second issue doesn't seem to be a problem, as he keeps his hand upright enough to stay on top of the ball, giving him the shape and wrist snap necessary for his slider to be effective. Corcino has shown the ability to throw a late biting slider just below the strike zone to generate swings-and-misses. As he climbs the ladder, he'll need to raise that up into the bottom of the strike zone, as more advanced hitters are less apt to chase pitches outside the strike zone.    


The 2013 season will provide a key data point for Daniel Corcino's career projection. If his second season against advanced hitters sees a return to those stellar walk and strikeout rates demonstrated at the lower levels, then he could emerge as a top of the rotation type talent. If those rates remain at 2012 levels, then he's probably destined for the back of the rotation or high leverage innings in the bullpen. As it stands, his current balance of risk and performance projects out as a #3 starter, but next year will likely prove pivotal.

Corcino compares fairly well with Johnny Cueto at a similar point in his development, but Cueto evolved into a different pitching profile than he sported in the minors. Will Corcino find success with his current pitching profile? Or, will he, too, have to evolve to find consistent MLB success? While I still wonder how effectively he'll manage the combination of shorter stature and a lower arm-slot, Corcino's current combination of youth, stuff, and solid mechanics lands him comfortably at #4 on the list. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2013 Breakout Candidate: Rick Porcello

While I'm working on the next prospect write-up, I thought it would be fun to post a quick hitter on a potential breakout candidate for 2013. No, he's not a Red, but I stumbled across Rick Porcello's career stats and couldn't help but notice that he shared some of the same trends in his peripherals that made me think 2012 could be a breakout season for Homer Bailey.

That worked out pretty well, so I'm now wondering if history will repeat itself or if Homer's breakout was mere coincidence. Later this offseason, I'll take a look for a breakout candidate on the Reds, but for now here's a look at Porcello's trend lines for the same four peripherals I used with Homer: 

Courtesy: Eric Seals/MCT

2009: 2.74
2010: 2.10
2011: 2.27
2012: 2.25

Porcello has always had good control and has maintained it throughout his MLB career. 

2009: 55.4%
2010: 57.0%
2011: 61.4%
2012: 62.8%

F-Strike% is the percentage of batters that the pitcher starts off with a first pitch strike. Major League average is 59%. It's an important metric for the simple fact that getting ahead in the count permits the pitcher to tilt the probability of success in his favor. Porcello has been gradually trending upward, showing improved command inside the strike zone.

2009: 7.0%
2010: 5.9%
2011: 6.3%
2012: 7.5%

In 2012, Rick posted the highest SwStr% of his career, which is encouraging given the correlation between swing-and-miss strikes and strikeout rate.

2009: 4.69
2010: 4.65
2011: 5.14
2012: 5.46

Obviously, a strong strikeout rate is important to dominating pitching and Porcello posted the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2012.

Now, while Porcello is showing annual improvement in the above areas, he hasn't quite reached the levels attained by Homer in SwStr% and K/9, so his ability to minimize the damage done by balls in play will be more important than it was for Homer. With that in mind, here are a couple of additional peripherals that support a step forward by Porcello:

2009: 4.9%
2010: 7.7%
2011: 10.5%
2012: 15.8%

IFFB% is the percentage of fly balls that stay on the infield. Infield fly balls are valuable because they are the most automatic out among the different types of balls in play. If a pitcher isn't going to get the strike out, then the infield fly ball is the next best outcome. Surprisingly (as I wouldn't necessarily expect this to be within the pitcher's control), Porcello has shown significant improvement each and every year in generating infield fly balls, which minimizes the potential damage caused by allowing contact.  

2009: 1.89
2010: 1.57
2011: 1.73
2012: 2.36

And, of course, ground balls are always desirable, as they rarely go for extra base hits. If a pitcher can keep the ball on the ground, then the chance that the hitter will earn extra bases is diminished. Porcello has been driving his ground ball/fly ball ratio down over the last few seasons.

Overall, Porcello is showing similar trend lines in his peripherals to those preceding Homer's step forward in 2012 and while he isn't flashing quite the same the dominating stuff that lifted Homer to new heights, he's also showing improvement in his ball-in-play peripherals. It's easy to dismiss a one year spike in performance, but when a pitcher demonstrates incremental improvement in performance on an annual basis it becomes much more difficult to dismiss.

If I was a gambling man (and I'm not), then a step forward by Rick Porcello wouldn't be a sucker bet. One factor that potential cuts against a step forward by Porcello is the Tiger team defense, especially on the infield, which won't exactly be a boon for higher contact pitchers like Porcello. On the other hand, he also gained valuable postseason experience, including a nice turn in the World Series, which can only help his confidence.

I'll be curious to see how all this shakes out in 2013. I'm expecting good things, including a spike in strikeout rate and an overall step forward, from Rick Porcello. If the Reds actually needed starting pitching (and seriously, how bizarre is it that they don't???), then I'd be advocating that they make a play for him.   

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2013 Top Prospect List: #5 Didi Gregorius, ss

DOB: 2/18/1990
HEIGHT 6-1, WEIGHT 185, B/T: L/R

Evaluating prospects requires balancing projected ceiling with the probability of reaching it. Didi is a pure probability play. He doesn't have the projected ceiling to be an impact offensive player, but his defense, when coupled with declining performance baselines for MLB shortstops, makes him a high probability prospect. The days of Larkin, Jeter, A-Rod, Nomar, and other well rounded players patrolling the 6 position are over, which once again gives rise to the legitimacy of relying on defensive minded shortstops, like Didi Gregorius. 

The Reds organization has done a tremendous job of rebuilding both their amateur and international scouting capabilities after Marge Schott eviscerated the scouting budget to save a few dollars. Recently, the organization made aggressive, and expensive, international free agent signings of outfielders Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Duran, but they are getting much better returns on the unheralded, and massively less expensive, signings of Johnny Cueto and Didi Gregorius. The Reds signed Didi out of Curacao for a paltry $50,000 back in 2007, a prime example of both the type of value signings that exist only in Latin America and the absolute importance of smaller market teams being active in the international market.

As MLB salaries continue to escalate, the potential return on investment with the Latin America players is just too high to ignore, especially since the newly implemented MLB rules put a cap on signing bonuses for international free agents, ensuring that international signing bonuses won't increase at the same rate as MLB free agent contracts. So, the value of these signings will continue into the foreseeable future. Organizations just to have to use their allocated international budget wisely, selecting the right players to bring into the organization.  

Part of what made Didi intriguing was his athletic bloodlines, as his father and brother both played professional baseball internationally. Didi himself spent some time on the international stage, holding down the shortstop position for the World Cup winning Dutch national team. 

Didi arrived in the organization with little fanfare, but with a solid bundle of skills and abilities that he would soon put on display.  


Didi started out the season at double-A Pensacola. For the Blue Wahoos, Didi hit .278/.344/.373/.717 with 11/8/1 2b/3b/HR, 49/29 K/BB ratio, and 3 steals in 7 attempts over 316 ABs and 81 games. He hit line drives at an 18% clip. Didi's performance earned him a promotion to triple-A Louisville.

For the Bats, Didi posted a .243/.288/.427/.715 slash line with 10/3/6 2b/3b/HR, 31/12 K/BB, and 0 steals in 2 attempts. He hit line drives at a 21% clip and impressed the organization enough to earn a late season promotion to the majors.

For the Reds, Didi logged 20 ABs, posting a slash line of .300/.286/.300/.586 with 5 strikeouts against 0 walks. He hit line drives at a 13.3% clip, swung a very aggressive 59.7% of the time, saw only 3.19 pitches per plate appearance, and 41.2% of the pitches at which he swung were outside the strike zone. His time at the big league level was indicative of his aggressive, early-count hitting approach. 

Didi finished out an extended 2012 season with a spin around the Arizona Fall League, posting a .284/.333/.392/.725 with 3/1/1 2b/3b/HR, 4/6 K/BB ratio, and 2 steals in 3 attempts over 74 ABs and 20 games. His performance level was a bit disappointing given that the AFL is such a hitter friendly environment, but it was at the tail end of a long season, so fatigue was likely a factor. 

Throughout his 2012 season, Didi's slash line was fairly consistent, continually exhibiting limited on-base skill and power production.  


At the plate, Didi utilizes a significantly wider than shoulder-width stance and a vertical bat waggle. As the pitcher sets to deliver, Didi utilizes a two-step stride, drawing his foot back, landing with a toe tap, before striding forward to meet the ball. The first step of the stride triggers a hitch to drop his hands down from up by his left ear and back into hitting position. As he strides forward, he transfers his weight forward, which triggers the swing. Didi gets good extension out through the pitch and uses a two-handed follow-through the finish of his swing, which brings the benefit of increased bat control and balance. Didi maintains good balance throughout his swing, but also doesn't generate that much force that has to be kept under control.

One of the consequence of Didi starting from a wide spread position that gets even wider through his stride is that he struggles to incorporate his lower body into his swing. The obvious problem that creates is in power production, as power in the swing is generated substantially by the core, specifically the rotation of the hips. Didi doesn't effectively cock his hips to generate load for his swing. As a result, he has minimal potential energy stored to unleash through his hip rotation. Further, his foundation is so wide and his swing so driven by the upper body that he doesn't always execute a full and complete weight transfer, seemingly hitting off his back leg like Mark Teixeira (...without the power). His limited hip rotation means he doesn't generate enough force to drive his lower body into proper hitting position by rotating up onto the toe of his back foot. Another issue that occasionally plagues his swing is that he doesn't consistently hit against a firm front leg, rather his front knee has a tendency to leak forward toward the pitcher (a much less extreme version of Dustin Ackley's problem). Instead of a firm front leg, his knee has the occasional tendency to bow out towards the pitcher, making effective hip rotation even more difficult, as this position frequently leads to the hips sliding forward towards the pitcher. Hitters need a firm front leg as an anchor around which the momentum can rotate.

As a result of his inconsistent, inefficient lower body action, Didi fails to both build and unleash force in the swing. This lack of rotational momentum leaves Didi with an underpowered upper body and arm swing.

Here's a look at Didi in action, courtesy of MetsgeekTV on YouTube: 

While Didi struggles to consistently incorporate his lower body into the swing, at times he also seems to extend his arms too early in the swing, further limiting his ability to drive the ball. As a hitter, you want to stay as compact as possible, keeping your hands in close to your body until you fire the swing. The main reason relates to the generation of force, as the rotational energy of the body imparts greater force to the swing if the hands are in closer to the body. The best example as to why was offered up by Chris O'Leary (and it's so good and drives home the point so effectively that I have to give him full credit): spinning figure skaters. If you watch a figure skater spin, they rotate much faster with their arms in close to the body than they do when they extend their arms out away from the body.

Courtesy: Unknown

It's the same principle in hitting, the rotation of the body imparts more force to the swing when the hands are kept in close to the body until extension is needed. If the arms extend too early in the swing, then they slow down the rotation of the body. Didi occasionally gets extended too early, reaching for the ball due in part to limited lower body action, as evidenced in the photo below (note: arms extended too early, slight drift of the front knee towards the pitcher, not rotating up onto the back toe):

Courtesy: Unknown
While I have largely focused on the red flags in his swing mechanics, he does have the ability to do it right (see photo below and note: firm front leg, stronger hip rotation improving the drive of the body up onto toe of back foot, though it still happens too late). He's just inconsistent. If he can refine his swing mechanics, then the chances of sustainable success against MLB pitching will improve. If he continues to utilize a largely upper body swing, then he can still be an effective contact hitter. A high contact rate is the key to batting average and typically generates singles at a high rate. And, given his defensive position and skills, a high batting average would be enough to cement his status as an MLB starter. But, he'll need to be able to drive the ball consistently in order to develop into more than just a bottom of the order, glove-first player.

Courtesy: Alan Diaz/AP

While Didi's swing mechanics effectively limit his power, his hitting approach limits his ability to get on-base. At the plate, Didi uses a very aggressive, early-count approach, which limits both strikeouts and walks. A hitter has to see at least 3 pitches in order to strikeout and 4 pitches in order to draw a walk, so any hitter who consistently forces early outcomes to his At Bats will limit both of those outcomes.

The clear problem with this type of approach is that it leaves the hitter with a batting average driven OBP. And, if a player has limited base stealing ability and minimal power, then the early-count approach means the value of his entire offensive game is predicated on an empty batting average.

On the plus side, Didi does exhibit good pitch recognition, allowing him to identify the pitch before making the swing/no-swing decision and reducing the number of times he gets fooled. He also has good hand-eye coordination, enabling him to get the barrel of the bat on the ball and increasing his contact rate. All factors that could enable him to post a solid batting average at the MLB level.

Didi's lack of power precludes him from hitting in the middle third of the order. His limited on-base and stolen base ability will make it difficult for him to be an effective table-setter, though the standards for a second place hitter seem to have fallen over the years. So, Didi will likely hit 2nd, 7th, or 8th, to be determined by the height of his batting average. If Didi can hit for a good average, then his contact skills and batting average driven OBP will slot in nicely in the 2nd spot in the order. If not, then he will bring nothing but an empty batting average to the 7th or 8th slots in the order.  


Gregorius is likely to be a glove-first player for his entire career, a comment on both his offense and his defense. His defensive skills are built on quickness, athleticism, and body control. Gregorius moves very well laterally and has good first step quickness, enabling him to cover a lot of ground. His body control also him to make the acrobatic plays and get to his feet (or whatever position needed) to throw accurately and complete the play.

Didi's best tool is his arm, which allows him to convert a good percentage of those far ranging plays into outs. He can make the plays from deep in the hole because both his arm strength and accuracy are strong. On the downside, Didi still struggles with his hands, as he doesn't cleanly field as many balls as he should. He needs to refine his fielding actions and soften his hands in order to reduce his error totals. Overall, there is a great deal to like about his defensive skills.  

Here is a look at Didi's athleticism, body control, and arm strength, courtesy of   

And, here's another look at his range and body control, courtesy of

Finally, here's a look at Didi's range and arm, courtesy of

Overall, Didi has the tools and skills necessary to be an above average defensive shortstop at the MLB level. I don't see him as being an elite, impact player with the glove (in the Ozzie Smith, Adam Everett mold), but he can legitimately handle the position and could be better than average. For a point of reference, I would rank recent Reds shortstops, based solely on defensive ability, as follows:

Paul Janish > Zack Cozart > Didi Gregorius

All three are, or have the ability to be, above average at the position. For me, Janish is the best combination of range, arm, and hands. Cozart has the best hands, giving him the advantage on the chances he reaches, but falls a tick short of Janish in range and quite a bit short in arm strength. As for Didi, he has good arm strength and range, but not the best hands.

While Didi's value is driven by his defensive tools, he also gets a big boost from the watered down shortstop position at the MLB level. Simply put, there is a real scarcity of legitimate options at the shortstop position. Whether that's merely cyclical, spurred on by new revelations and advances in defensive metrics, or driven by the crack down on IPED usage, shortstop isn't quite the offensive position it used to be. There are still a few impact hitters around, but both the quantity and quality of shortstops seems to be in a down cycle. And, ultimately, scarcity drives value.  


At the beginning of the offseason GM Walt Jocketty proclaimed that the Reds weren't trading Didi. After I had already started working on this write-up, Jocketty wisely changed course and traded Didi. The merits of the trade itself are best left for another post, but it was clear that Didi represented surplus talent. And, smaller market organizations like the Reds, who are in win-now mode, don't have the luxury of surplus assets. If the Reds are going to get over the hump, then they need to throw everything they have into productivity at the MLB level.

It came down to who was the better option for the Reds: Zack Cozart or Didi Gregorius. For me, they chose wisely. Didi is a flashier player, but his limited current offensive production and lack of further projection to his game made Cozart the better choice. Cozart is not only a very capable defender at shortstop, but he also provides solid pop (even if GABP aided), a combination which simply makes him more valuable and reliable than Didi. Cozart's presence and the limited offensive projection to Didi's game made him more valuable to the Reds in trade than between the lines.

In the end, Didi has a chance to be a legitimate MLB starting shortstop, but his position on this list has more to do with positional scarcity than the quality of the aggregate production he is likely to provide. Overall, I much prefer Zach Cozart and have significant questions about Didi's hit tool. That said, despite Didi's limited offensive game, it's difficult to overlook the probability that he will become a multi-season starting shortstop at the MLB level, a fact which lands him at #5 on this list.   

Monday, December 10, 2012

2013 Top Prospect List: #2 Tony Cingrani, lhp

DOB: 7/5/1989
HEIGHT 6-4, WEIGHT 200, B/T: L/L

Reds director of scouting, Chris Buckley, has stated that Tony Cingrani was one of his "gut-feel guys." Given Buckley's track record, Reds fans should feel very comfortable trusting his gut.

The level at which Cingrani has performed in his 1+ professional seasons has completely altered the perception of him as a prospect. In professional baseball, it's not easy to shake a label once it has been applied. Cingrani has done that. However, I now think it's fair to wonder whether he is still being undervalued. Whether the original view of him is still dragging down the current view.

Given that the previous opinion was based, at least in part, on Cingrani before he changed his mechanics and before he switched from the bullpen to the rotation, it arguably has little bearing on the pitcher he is now. If we didn't have that initial data point, would he rate higher than he is now? (Is this scenario akin to the Daniel Kahneman improper anchor effect?) If you throw out the original opinion and view him based solely on who he is now and what he has done as a professional, then he *might* actually be considered even better than the current hype, which would really be saying something. 


The Reds selected Cingrani out of Rice University with the 114th overall pick in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft.

Cingrani actually began his collegiate career by pitching two seasons at South Suburban Junior College in Illinois, breaking both the single-season and career strikeout records.  He transferred to Rice and posted a lackluster 8.58 ERA in six starts as a junior. Due to his struggles, he reworked his pitching mechanics at the behest of Rice pitching coach, David Pierce, and head coach, Wayne Graham, resulting in a breakout season as a senior. (Another example of taking the good with the (alleged) bad when it comes to college programs. Programs like Rice, with pitcher workload, and Stanford, with the swing mechanics they teach, take so much criticism that it becomes easy to overlook all the things they do well.)

In 2011, as a senior, Cingrani was used as a closer and truly excelled, posting a 1.74 ERA, 12 saves, and a 66/10 K/BB ratio in 57.0 innings. The baseball program at Rice University is one of the best in the country, but also, justifiably or not, has the reputation of overworking its starting pitchers. As a result, Cingrani's time in the bullpen could be a blessing, as it arguably reduced his injury risk and left him with a fresh arm when he reached the professional ranks. Working exclusively as a reliever also, for better or worse, enabled him to rely heavily on his fastball, a focus which made that a special offering and left his other offerings unpolished. The final benefit of Cingrani's bullpen role was a lowered profile, which enabled Chris Buckley's "gut" to land him in the 3rd round for the Cincinnati Reds.

2011 AND 2012 SEASONS

Shortly after the draft, some pundits, including John Sickels, immediately pointed to Cingrani as a sleeper for the Reds. One of the great things about sleepers (for organizations) is that their lack of mainstream appeal limits their leverage, which resulted in Cingrani signing a contract quickly enough to pitch in the 2011 season. He wasted little time in proving those pundits (and the Reds scouting department) correct.

Cingrani joined the Billings Mustangs of the rookie Pioneer League, where he dominated the competition to the tune of a 1.75 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, and 80/6 (!!) K/BB ratio in 51.1 innings. As a college age prospect, he had a significant age vs. level advantage, but he even outperformed that expected advantage, raising his prospect profile and setting himself up nicely heading into the 2012 season.

In 2012, Cingrani started out in high-A Bakersfield, but again proved way too advanced for the competition, posting a 1.11 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and a 71/13 (!!) K/BB ratio in 56.2 innings. His GB/FB ratio was a neutral 0.94 and his batting average against was a miniscule189. It was clear that he was too polished for high-A and the Reds promoted him up the ladder to double-A.

Courtesy Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
At Pensacola, Cingrani continued to roll, posting a 2.12 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 101/39 (!!) K/BB ratio in 89.1 innings. He also put up a neutral GB/FB ratio of 1.03 and a .192 batting average against. The organization was impressed enough to give him a September call up to the big leagues.

For the big club, Cingrani pitched 5.0 innings over three appearances, posting a 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and a 9/2 (!!) K/BB ratio. During his MLB stint, Cingrani leaned heavily on his fastball (91.0% of the time), occasionally mixing in his slider (5.0% of the time) and changeup (4.0% of the time). Obviously, going forward, he'll need a better mix of pitches, but it was an impressive debut, though not one that earned him a spot on the postseason roster. When considered in total, Cingrani's two promotions and performance at three separate professional levels was just as impressive as his remarkable 2011 debut.   


There's something special about Cingrani's fastball. For a pitcher with very good, but not elite, velocity, he generates swings-and-misses at a very high rate. For a pitcher still developing a consistent breaking ball, his strikeout rate is tremendous. So, is it deception? Is it late "rise/hop" like Matt Cain's fastball? Whatever it is, it's not readily apparent, so we turn to the mechanics.

There's an amusing and insightful article on discussing Cingrani entitled "Cingrani Looking Smooth: Billings southpaw racking up strikeouts with easy delivery."  Amusing because the article is paired with the following photo:

Courtesy Chris Talley/

Insightful because of the following blurb: "Cingrani said he worked to tweak his mechanics and that his arm and lower body became synched. That allowed him to throw with more velocity and be more consistent in the strike zone."

The photo shows the arm swing that Cingrani used at Rice before tweaking his mechanics, so it's a poor fit for both the title and substance of the article. The blurb supports the notion that Cingrani followed through with the refinements to his mechanics to more effectively generate force with the lower body, resulting in improved performance and less stress on the body.

As with Robert Stephenson's mechanics, Cingrani's mechanics are very clean during the first phase. It's the second stage, after the apex of the leg kick, where things get interesting.  The primary difference between the mechanics of the two prospects is efficiency. Cingrani does a better job transferring all the momentum generated in the first phase of the windup to the baseball in the second phase, whereas Stephenson's delivery bleeds some momentum due to his limited hip rotation.

Cingrani begins his windup with an actual rocker step, which is becoming increasingly rare. These days, it seems much more fashionable to simply step down and forward with the stride foot to begin the windup. Cingrani takes a legitimate step towards third base to trigger his windup, which I prefer both for its fluidity and potential for increasing the generation of momentum. After the rocker step, he rotates his body and brings his leg up into the leg kick. His knee comes up past parallel and he maintains good balance at the apex. His leg kick doesn't include much body coil, as his knee doesn't wrap around the body, but he does manage to cock his hips. 

As he begins to unpack the leg kick and drive to the plate, he breaks his hands to begin his arm swing, which is probably the most recognizable characteristic of his mechanics. Even after he reworked his mechanics, Cingrani still has a long arm action, beginning when he breaks his hands and ending when he brings the ball up into throwing position. Cingrani's arm-swing goes from 9 o'clock to almost 3 o'clock. When his arm reaches 6 o'clock, he begins using a wrist-wrap. Before he changed his mechanics at Rice, he would swing his straight arm all the way up to the 9 o'clock position (see photo above), a la Madison Bumgarner and Marc Rzepczynski, but now Cingrani bends the elbow to a 90 degree angle when the arm reaches the 5 o'clock position, just before bringing the arm up into throwing position. It's impressive just how quickly and effectively Cingrani revised his mechanics, which isn't always easy to do.

In the two photos below, taken at similar points in his delivery, you can see the refinements he made to his arm swing, as his pitching arm is more rigid in the left photo and more fluid and flexed in the right photo. Cingrani believes the refinements he made to his mechanics allowed his upper and lower body to work more effectively together.

Courtesy Eric Sorenson
Courtesy Chris Nelson,

Cingrani's longer arm swing and the use of the wrist-wrap actually cause him to be late in getting the arm up into throwing position. When his stride foot lands, his pitching arm is not up in proper throwing position. However, while this is usually a bit of a red flag, it may actually work to Cingrani's advantage, as the lagging arm seems to effectively delay the rotation of his upper body, increasing the differential between his hip rotation and shoulder rotation. This differential increases the force he can impart to the baseball and reduces stress on the arm by generating more of the required force with the lower body. The coordination and rotation of Cingrani's upper and lower body is both very impressive and highly efficient. The strong hip rotation and delayed shoulder rotation combine to ensure that the hip rotation simply pulls the upper body and the arm right along with it, rather than the arm having to generate that force by itself.     

Another factor that seems to really boost Cingrani's fastball is his physical stature. He stands 6-4, which gives him longer arms. Taller pitchers, with longer arms, not only release the ball slightly closer to the plate, but their longer levers also have the ability to generate more whip-like force. In the kid's game of crack-the-whip, the longer the whip, the more force generated at the end of the whip.

The combination of Cingrani's kinetic-chain mechanics, longer arm, and longer arm-action seems to give his arm-action added whip-like force. When his hips fire, they pull his upper body (including a long and loose arm that generates its own whip-like force) right along with it.   

Cingrani utilizes a high three-quarters release point when he pitches. Some people point to good deception as a reason for his impressive fastball, but, in light of his extensive arm swing, I'm not convinced that that's the main the reason. He really shows the ball to the hitter when he brings it away from his body, but there is a touch of deception when he brings the ball to the release point, as the delayed shoulder rotation keeps the ball lower and hidden behind his head for a touch longer than normal.  

After he releases the ball, his strong body rotation naturally brings his trailing leg all around to finish the pitch and controls his momentum into a balanced, squared-up fielding position.

Here's a good look at Cingrani in action courtesy of Steve Fiorindo on YouTube: 

And, since I couldn't decide between the two, here's another good look at Cingrani courtesy of Mike Newman on YouTube:

Overall, Cingrani features my favorite pitching mechanics in the system.


Cingrani has 90-94 mph fastball that serves as his main pitch. The whip-like arm action, possibly adding rise/hop to the pitch, and a touch of deception in his delivery enable his fastball to play up, as it gets on the hitter sooner than he expects. He also has the ability to locate his fastball, not just throwing strikes, but consistently hitting his spots inside the zone. To go along with his impressive fastball, Cingrani features both a slider and changeup.

The changeup, which has late movement, fading to the arm side, is already a plus pitch. And, the movement on the pitch works to his advantage, as it tails away from a righthanded hitter, giving him an effective weapon against opposite side hitters. The fact that he already has a pitch to get opposite side hitters out is yet another reason for long-term optimism.

The slider is the pitch that Cingrani needs in order to be an effective MLB starter, as his main two pitches are essentially straight offerings. He needs a breaking ball to change the eye level of hitters, giving him a pitch with a two-plane break. His slider shows flashes of being a very good pitch, but remains inconsistent. Still, giving the arm-whip generated by his mechanics, he should be able to get good wrist snap on a breaking ball. If he can master it, it'll increase his effectiveness, especially against lefthanded hitters. Cingrani has leaned heavily on the fastball (and justifiably so) in his professional career, but his other pitches have the potential to be effective in their own right.   


Before digging into both pitchers for these write-ups, I was expecting Robert Stephenson to rate higher than Tony Cingrani. Cingrani turned out to be more impressive. In the long run, Stephenson certainly could turn out to be the superior pitcher, but, for me, Cingrani's combination of effective and efficient pitching mechanics, lefthandedness, plus fastball, and higher probability of panning out simply outweighed Stephenson's better velocity and more polished breaking ball. 

It'll be interesting to see how Cingrani's career plays out. He needs to continue refining his secondary offerings in order to have consistent success as a starter, but has had experience and success as a reliever. The Reds rotation is also getting crowded, especially if the "Aroldis to the rotation" experiment is carried through to fruition. At the same time, Cingrani has yet to run into a level of competition that has managed to slow him down, though the MLB experience was a very, very small sample size.

Given his ability and upside, the Reds would be wise to see what he can do as a starter, even if the temptation is to shift him to the bullpen. For now, Tony Cingrani lands comfortably in the #2 slot on the list.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2013 Top Prospect List: #3 Robert Stephenson, rhp

DOB: 2/24/1993
HEIGHT 6-2, WEIGHT 190, B/T: R/R

The Reds haven't really missed on a first round draft pick since 2004. Terry Reynolds served as scouting director in 2004 and 2005, which saw the Reds land Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce in the first round. Chris Buckley took over in 2006 and has kept the organization on a roll ever since. That bodes well for 2011 first round pick Robert Stephenson.

The Mat Latos trade drained the organization of a lot of upper level talent, but the Reds have effectively replenished the lower levels of the system with high upside players like Stephenson.


The Reds selected Stephenson out of Alhambra High School in Martinez, California with the 27th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 draft. Given the success of the team in 2010, the organization was relegated to the back end of the draft. Regardless, they still managed to reel in a potential impact arm, a testament to the ability of the Reds scouting department.

Stephenson entered the draft was a fair amount of hype, as he threw no-hitters in consecutive games at Alhambra High. On the season, Stephenson posted a 7-2 record and a 1.33 ERA, allowing 29 hits over 64 innings, and posting a 132/23 K/BB ratio in 13 games. He was named the San Jose Mercury News' Gatorade California Baseball Player of the Year.

Stephenson attained that level of production with plus arm strength that tickled 97 mph on the radar gun and a biting curveball that, while inconsistent, has plus potential. And, he tinkered with a change-up and a slider that he rarely needed against high school hitters. Those attributes were enough to get him on the radar of MLB scouts, but he also offered plus makeup and intelligence. He was known to have a solid commitment to the University of Washington and a strong academic background in high school. So, his high school resume certainly fit the part of a 1st rounder.

The Reds did well to land that type of arm so late in the first round, but now need to manage his risk and develop his game. 


Stephenson signed his first professional contract too late to pitch in the 2011 season. As a result, his first professional game experience came when the Reds assigned him to the rookie Pioneer League Billings Mustangs to begin the 2012 campaign. For the Mustangs, Stephenson demonstrated the polish and upside that made him a first round pick. In 30.2 innings, he posted a 2.05 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, allowing only 22 hits (2 of which were homers), and a 37/8 K/BB ratio. It was a dominant performance and it earned him a promotion to low-A Dayton.

Stephenson found low-A to be tougher sledding. In 34.1 innings, he compiled a 4.19 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, allowing 32 hits (4 of which were homers), and a 35/15 K/BB ratio. He might even have gotten off a bit easy, as he also gave up 7 unearned runs. He gave up 3 of those unearned runs during his August 22nd start, but the error itself came on a ground ball to the shortstop on the second batter of the inning and didn't result in any runs scoring on that play. However, the inning got away from Stephenson after that and the 3 runs that came around to score were classified as unearned.

Overall, Stephenson logged 65.0 innings in his first professional season and managed to stay healthy. A positive first season and one on which he will be able to build going forward.      


Let's get this out of the way up front, Stephenson has solid mechanics. And yet, it took me a bit longer to write up this section, because there was something about his mechanics that didn't sit quite right with me. And, I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There is a bit of effort to the delivery, that was apparent.  But, the reason for that effort was bit more challenging to identify. Still, after watching more video of him, the potential red flag became more apparent.

Part of the appeal of Stephenson is that he looks the part. He has a very good frame for a pitcher, standing 6-2 and tipping the scale at a wiry 190 lbs. He's not muscle bound, giving him fluidity and room for more physical projection as he matures. He also looks very good mechanically in the first phase of his mechanics, everything up to the apex of the leg kick, but not quite as good or efficient in the second phase, everything after the apex of the leg kick.

Here's a look at Stephenson's draft video, courtesy

Stephenson starts his windup with a small step towards first base with his left foot, which un-weights his right foot, enabling him to rotate it down onto the rubber. He then brings his left foot up into a high, aggressive leg kick, which exceeds parallel and ends with his left knee up against his chest. His leg kick also involves some coil, as the leg wraps a bit around the body, building momentum to be unleashed during the delivery. At this point, his mechanics are very solid. At the apex of his leg kick, Stephenson is in a very strong position. He has good height on the leg kick, good body coil, and maintains strong balance over the rubber, not drifting one way or the other. Throughout the first phase, Stephenson is very solid and at the apex he's in almost ideal position (see photo below). He has effectively built momentum through his movements and now is ready to unleash it.

Courtesy Paul Ruhter, Billings Gazette
From the apex, Stephenson unpacks his leg kick and begins to drive towards the plate. His arm action is clean. His arm swing effectively brings the ball up into proper pitching position in sync with his stride footing landing. His stride foot lands properly, making contact on the toe just before the heel hits to properly cushion the impact. Throughout the delivery, his elbow maintains good position relative to the shoulder. He also finishes in a balanced, squared-up position that should enable him to effectively field his position.

Again, all in all, Stephenson has solid pitching mechanics. However, there are a few small areas of concern, including (1) utilizing a short stride, (2) limited hip rotation, and (3) an insufficient deceleration period.

For a pitcher with a tall, lanky frame, Stephenson uses a comparatively short, underwhelming stride and a less than explosive drive to the plate. The obvious benefit of a strong leg drive is that every bit of velocity you can generate with the lower body is velocity you don't have to generate with your arm. And, the less stress you have to put on the arm, the lower your injury risk. Part of the reason a longer stride equates to higher velocity is because a longer stride allows for a fuller and stronger hip rotation. You simply can't rotate and clear the hips as effectively if your stride is shorter.

Stephenson's shorter stride cuts off the rotation of his hips, forcing his shoulders to rotate early. Despite being in near ideal position at the apex of his leg kick, he doesn't maximize the momentum created by that position. The shorter stride limits the differential between the rotation of the hips and upper body, which means less momentum is generated by the body and has to be made up by the arm. Stephenson's delivery simply doesn't allow sufficient time to effectively delay the rotation of the upper body, causing the shoulders to rotate earlier than is ideal.

Due to the limited rotation of the hips, his right leg seems to linger behind him (which you can somewhat see in the baseball card photo to the right) as his arm delivers the pitch. Ideally, you want a pitcher with fast, full hip rotation and a delayed upper body rotation. Stephenson is almost the opposite, featuring a slower, limited hip rotation and an early upper body rotation. Due to the shorter stride, limited hip rotation, and early shoulder rotation, Stephenson's delivery has effort to it. The inefficiency of his delivery bleeds momentum, for which he must use the arm to compensate.

Another consequence of the shorter stride is that Stephenson's delivery has an upright look to it. He doesn't really finish with his upper body in a forward lean out over his plant leg, as his upper body stays fairly upright from the apex of the leg kick through the follow-through. In fact, his upper body seems to come up out of the delivery before it finishes. The upright delivery precludes his pitching arm from finishing naturally, instead its momentum is cut short. Instead of the arm finishing naturally, low and outside the left hip, Stephenson frequently finishes by bouncing the arm back up in the direction it came. A proper deceleration period is necessary to properly slow down the arm and mitigate the injury risk. Cutting short the deceleration period of the delivery is like slamming on the brakes to stop the car, eventually the brakes wear out.

Overall, Stephenson has solid mechanics, I want to stress that again because when you raise and talk about potential issues, even small ones, it can overshadow all those things that he does well. Stephenson generates momentum very well in the first phase, but he has a touch of inefficiency in the second phase that adds effort and forces his arm to work harder.


Courtesy Paul Ruhter, Billings Gazette
Stephenson features a big time fastball that touches 97 mph on the radar gun and a biting, 12-to-6 curveball that shows flashes of brilliance, but remains inconsistent. And, like seemingly all power arms coming out of high school, his third offering is still unrefined.

Stephenson can throw a slider, but at the professional level it's likely to be an either/or with the curveball/slider. Since the curveball is more refined and effective, that's likely his long-term breaking ball. If he scraps the slider, then he's left with his unrefined circle change-up for his third offering. Power pitchers in high school typically dominate with hard stuff and rarely need to develop a third pitch, typically the change-up, because of the level of competition. Additionally, the change-up is materially different from the power stuff, as it requires touch and feel.

Here is a very good look at his biting curveball from

If Stephenson can consistently locate his curveball, then he'll have the knockout pitch he needs to succeed against advanced hitters. The ability to locate both a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball would be a lethal combination for Stephenson, even if the change-up remains inconsistent.


Stephenson has a bright future and the Reds did very well landing this much upside at the back end of the first round. The stuff and makeup are there, but he'll need to refine his mechanics and continue to polish his secondary offerings as he climbs the ladder. Stephenson's stuff, makeup, and physical stature gives him a legitimate top of the rotation type ceiling, but he has some development and injury risk to manage before he gets there.

Stephenson is the best pure power pitcher in the system, whose combination of upside and risk lands him comfortably at #3 on the list.