Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dan Langfield Suffering From Impingement in Throwing Shoulder

Here's some much awaited, though not encouraging, news on RHP Dan Langfield from Greg Sullivan of The Herald News:

It’s a new experience for Dan Langfield, and it’s a frustrating one.
The Somerset High graduate — a 2012 third-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds — has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. He remains at the Reds’ spring training camp outside Phoenix, Ariz., where his baseball life is downright dull. He said the injury has been diagnosed as an “internal impingement” in the pitcher’s right throwing shoulder. 
He said he first felt it in January and his agent notified the Reds. Langfield said he easily passed every strength test on his right arm, but the pinching persisted. 
“It’s frustrating not being able to be out there and not doing my job,” he said.
Rehabilitation has involved a lot of stretching and a buildup of distance throwing from 45 feet to, he hoped, 90 feet by the end of last week.
“I’ve got a little ways to go. I’m not rushing anything. I want to avoid any surgery at all. ... Running and rehab. That’s about as fun as it gets.” 
Langfield has been back throwing for about a month and he’s hoping to be back in action within a month-and-a-half, but, he confessed, “there is no official timetable. We’ll let it run its course.” 
Langfield last fall was named by as the 10th best prospect in the Pioneer League, the rookie league in which the righthander pitched very well this summer.

Shoulder injuries are obviously the worst kind of hell for a pitcher. Hopefully, rehab carries the day, but it's not encouraging that he's passed every strength test and still can't get past the impingement.

2013 MLB Draft: Who the Reds Should Avoid

Well, the draft is right around the corner, so I'm working to pare down the list of players I'd like to see the Reds draft. It's a much longer list than normal due to the Reds draft position and a watered down draft class. There just isn't much certainty in the draft outside a likely top 3 of RHP Mark Appel, RHP Jonathan Gray, and 3b Kris Bryant. So, it's a bit more work and I thought I'd start off with a few guys I'm crossing off my list.

In the first round, I'm looking for as much upside and as much certainty as I can get. I want the best blend of performance level, upside projection, and risk. As a result, I want to avoid as many red flags as possible, including those flaws that may be of the correctable variety. While there may be flawed talent available that can be "coached up" into impact talent, it's better to go with the player who doesn't have the flaw in the first place.

All that said, here are a few guys I'm crossing off my draft board:

Hunter Harvey
RHP Bandys High School (N.C.)
6'2, 168 lbs

I've seen a mock draft that had the Reds selecting Harvey with the 27th overall pick. Harvey is the son of former MLB closer Bryan Harvey, so he has the bloodlines on his side. He also has a similar build to Reds prospect Robert Stephenson, rather long and lean. He doesn't have the same velocity that Stephenson had, though Harvey's slim build may leave room for additional physical projection and perhaps a few more miles per hour on the fastball. He also throws a curve and a change-up, but both need work.

All that said, my problem with Harvey is purely mechanical. Harvey's leg kick is problematic in my view. When he reaches the apex of his leg kick, he unpacks the leg kick BEFORE driving to the plate. Instead of utilizing the potential energy created at the apex of the leg kick, he instead lowers his leg kick before driving his momentum to the plate.

Here's a look, courtesy of baseballfactoryTV on YouTube:

Interestingly, his leg kick out of the windup ends up looking a lot like his slide step out of the stretch. In both situations, his actual drive forward to the plate occurs with his left foot close to the ground. To me, it's just too inefficient, bleeding force out of the delivery that will be a drag on his performance level and/or increase the stress on the arm. There's just not enough lower body drive in the delivery.

Is it a fixable flaw? Possibly. But why roll the dice on a first round pick who may need to have his mechanics immediately reworked? In a later round, where the risk is lower, I might consider Harvey, but not in the first couple of rounds.

Cross him off the list.

Phil Bickford
RHP Oaks Christian H.S. (CA)
6'4, 200 lbs

Bickford has a good frame and a quick arm. He throws a mid-90s fastball, but lacks quality secondary offerings.

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

Bickford is fairly sound mechanically. He incorporates his lower body well and has a clean arm action. However, his mechanics are somewhat funky due to a closed off stride and a cross-fire delivery. The cross-fire delivery is paired with a low three-quarters arm slot to give his mechanics an unusual look. However, the lower arm slot may lead to both struggles against opposite side hitters and difficulty in developing an effective breaking ball.

A pitcher's arm slot must be taken into account when determining what pitches to incorporate in his arsenal. Bickford's low-three quarter arm slot makes the curveball problematic, as it's difficult to stay on top of the ball to get the proper spin. He'll likely need to utilize a slider, but he'll need to maintain the proper hand position in order to get tilt on the pitch.

Overall, the cross-fire delivery and low-three quarters arm slot makes it difficult to envision him developing into an impact starting pitcher. Is it possible? Sure, Justin Masterson is the best example. Is it worth burning the 27th or 38th overall pick in order to find out? No.

Cross him off the list.

Jonathan Crawford
RHP Florida University
6'1, 205 lbs

Crawford features a plus fastball, touching 96 mph on the gun, and a hard, biting slider. He also throws a change-up and a curveball, which are behind his other two offerings. Crawford raised his profile with a no-hitter for the Gators in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament and an effective turn for Team USA. As a junior, Crawford posted a 4.03 ERA with a 64/33 K/BB ratio and a .248 batting average against over 80.1 innings. His performance level hasn't matched his raw stuff.

However, again, the problem with Crawford is mechanical. As with Hunter Harvey, it's a lower body issue. Like Harvey, Crawford unpacks his leg kick before driving to the plate, robbing his delivery of force. Crawford also uses a short stride, limiting his ability to fully and completely rotate his hips, though the early unpacking of the leg kick really doesn't give him much force to transfer through the hip rotation.

Crawford also suffers from inconsistency in his lower body action. Harvey may have unpacked the leg kick too early, but at least he has the body control to maintain consistent actions. The same can't be said for Crawford. Crawford's stride occasionally lands in a closed off position, creating a cross-fire delivery that causes him to fall off to the first base side. Other times, his stride foot doesn't land in such a closed off position, but he still seems to struggle to finish out over his plant foot.

For me, the early unpacking of the leg kick creates too much inefficiency and too much stress on the arm. The inconsistency in the lower body action may also be creating control problems. There's just too much performance risk and injury risk to justify an early round pick.

Cross him off the list.

Sean Manaea
LHP Indiana State 
6'5, 235 lbs
Courtesy: SportsPix/2012

Manaea was projected to be a top 5 pick heading into the 2013 season. Last summer in the Cape Cod League, the southpaw was throwing 95-96 mph with a plus slider. However, his stuff just hasn't been quite as good for Indiana State this year. It was later revealed that Manaea has been dealing with both hip and shoulder soreness this year. Hip soreness is one thing, but shoulder tightness is much more concerning.

“We thought it was normal soreness after his last start because he’s been pushing it a little bit coming back from the hip. It just didn’t loosen up and then he said it didn’t feel right when he was out there. We didn’t want to risk it,” ISU coach Rick Heller said.

The Reds simply can't afford to be wrong with their high draft picks. Manaea's shoulder injury simply presents too much injury risk for the organization to incur.

Cross him off the list.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #10 Amir Garrett, lhp

DOB: 5/3/1992
HEIGHT: 6-5 WEIGHT: 210 B/T: L/L

When considering likely top 10 candidates for this list, I wasn't expecting Amir Garrett to claim a spot. However, after analysis revealed question marks about other likely candidates, Garrett did just that.

Garrett is a pure upside prospect. He brings risk to the table in the form of a lengthy development path, but he's largely an empty slate at this point. As the years have gone by, I've gained a greater appreciation of certainty/probability in a prospect, but here Garrett's upside is simply too good to ignore. The main concern I have on Garrett is simply commitment. Or lack thereof.

When the Reds shifted Aroldis Chapman from the rotation back to the closer role this offseason, I didn't have much of an objection. In a vacuum  it seems like an inefficient use of an asset and that's what had people up in arms. After all, 200 innings are more valuable than 50. But, even setting aside the other considerations (i.e. stamina to start, declining performance level in multi-inning outings, etc), the determining factor was Chapman's stated desire to close. The margin for error at the highest levels of the sport is razor thin and forcing someone into a role they aren't completely committed to filling seems like a recipe for trouble.

That raises the obvious question on Garrett, whose first love is basketball. He's unwilling to focus on pitching until the basketball powers-that-be tell him that his basketball career is over. Sooner or later, we all get told.


The Reds selected Garrett with the 685th overall pick in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft out of Henderson International High School. Garrett didn't even play baseball as a senior, choosing instead to focus on his basketball career. However, he did participate in pre-draft baseball workouts, showing enough athleticism and raw stuff on the mound to impress those teams in attendance.

The Reds were willing to roll the dice on his size, stuff, and athleticism. In fact, they were impressed enough to accommodate his desire to continue playing basketball. So, they not only signed him to a contract and gave him a ~$1M signing bonus, but also permitted him to continue playing basketball at the collegiate level. They obviously feel he's worth the wait.

Since that time, Garrett has been playing basketball for St. John's University, only pitching for the Reds in the instructional and rookie leagues during the basketball offseason. Obviously, having 8 or 9 months go by without picking up a baseball really complicates his development.

Recently, Garrett announced that he was transferring from St. John's to Cal State Northridge with the full intention of continuing his basketball career. As a sophomore at St. John's, he averaged only 5.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 20.1 minutes per game. He was playing as an undersized power forward and had seen his average minutes per game decrease from 26.9 in his freshman year.

Courtesy: Andrew Theodorakis/N.Y. Daily News
At St. John's, Garrett had a solid academic career, but had a couple of on-court incidents worthy of mention. After a loss, he had to be separated from a Georgetown player in the handshake line. Also, he was ejected from a loss at Notre Dame for leaving the bench when a teammate got into a fight with an opposing player. Just a healthy dose of competitiveness and having a teammate's back?  Or, evidence of something a bit more troubling?

While the move from St. John's basketball program to Cal State Northridge's seems to be a clear downgrade, it must be noted that Northridge just hired former NBA player Reggie Theus as head coach. So, the program may be on the upswing. Still, it seems likely that Garrett's professional prospects in basketball are weaker than they are in baseball. If true, then he'll be focusing on baseball full-time in the near future...if he has the desire to do so.


Amir is tall and lean with long levers which should help him generate good whip on his pitches. Standing 6-5 and tipping the scales at only 210 pounds gives him a near ideal pitching frame. On the mound, he stands very tall with legs shoulder-width apart. His rocker-step is a small step towards third base, un-weighting his left foot so he can rotate it down onto the rubber. Once he rotates his body on the rubber, he brings his left-leg up into a very strong leg-kick. His knee comes up past parallel with enough hip rotation to generate body coil and tension in the spine.

At apex, a few things become readily apparent: he has a real loose athleticism, very long legs, and good body control. Garrett demonstrates very good balance at apex and throughout the delivery. When he begins to drive to the plate, he starts to unpack his leg-kick. He uses a stride of solid length, allowing an effective and full hip rotation. He gets a measure of differential between the rotation of his hips and the rotation of his shoulders, allowing him to generate force with his body, but less differential than ideal. He doesn't delay the rotation of the shoulders quite long enough to maximize the force generated by the kinetic-chain. While the mechanics may be slightly less efficient than ideal, they are solid.

While his mechanics may rely on his arm to generate velocity a tick more than is ideal, he does have a very quick, live arm enabling him to do just that. Garrett works from a high three-quarters arm slot and has a clean and loose arm action. His arm swing involves dropping his pitching hand straight down after breaking his hands, giving him a small measure of deception, and then bringing the arm up into proper throwing position at foot strike.

As for his stride foot, it lands in good position, bringing his momentum directly to the plate and allowing for a full and complete rotation of the hips. He maintains good balance throughout the delivery and finishes in proper fielding position. Garrett's athleticism gives him good body control and should, with more experience, allow him to consistently repeat his mechanics and arm action.

Here's a brilliant look at Amir Garrett in an extended spring training game courtesy of Jason Cole on Vimeo:

Amir Garrett, LHP, Cincinnati Reds Extended Spring (5/21/2013) from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

Given his lack of experience, Garrett is pure projection. His athleticism, body control, handedness, and physical stature are what drive his value. His size and athleticism generate very good velocity, while his body could allow him to consistently repeat his delivery.

One potential issue with Garrett is that he breaks down his back side when driving to the plate. He deeply flexes his back leg when driving to the plate, dropping his back shoulder down and giving his delivery the appearance of "throwing uphill". That could reduce his ability to throw on a downward plane and lead to inconsistent command and missing up in the zone. In addition, his deceleration phase has a bit of arm recoil, as his arm bounces back up after the follow-through. A flawed deceleration phase may increase the stress on the arm. The recoil may be the result of "throwing uphill", which could be preventing his upper-body from finishing out completely over his stride foot.

Another potential issue, Garrett seems much more rushed when working out of the stretch. He has a fairly smooth, consistent tempo when working out of the windup, but uses a much faster tempo working out of the stretch. Obviously, it's good to be quick to the plate with runners on base, but it's problematic if he's so rushed that he can't properly gather his momentum before driving to the plate.
Despite his relative inexperience, Garrett has a solid set of pitching mechanics. There are a few potential issues, but they are of the type that can be smoothed out with additional experience. And, as of now, Garrett doesn't have a sufficient track record to establish whether these issues will negatively impact his performance.


Garrett features a three-pitch mix, headlined by a mid 90s fastball that can touch 95/96. He has also demonstrated feel for his curveball, which he can snap off with bite and depth. With continued refinement, the curveball could become a plus-offering. And, like seemingly all raw pitching prospects, he rounds out his arsenal with a fringy changeup in need of refinement.

Simply put, what Garrett needs is more innings. More pitches thrown. More batters faced. More experience. If he continues to refine his secondary offerings, then his repertoire could support either a starting or relief role. And, as he continues to mature and build up arm strength, he could add more velocity to his fastball. But, he really needs to get out on the mound and just throw, throw, throw.


Garrett is difficult to properly value. His limited track record makes it easy to dream on his potential, but could also be hiding flaws from view. There's a bare minimum of performance history to examine, so it's pure tools and physicality that land him at #10 on the list. What Garrett needs for his development, and what we need for proper evaluation, is two full seasons of pitching. Until then, it's difficult to know exactly what we have in Garrett. For now, he's a boom-or-bust prospect with a massive and varied range of possible career outcomes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spraying Bullets

Some quick thoughts on the season thus far:

  • This has to be worth something: the great Rickey Henderson loves Billy Hamilton. Henderson said "He reminds me so much of me, I had to go hug him. At (Class A) Stockton, we did everything to stop him, but he's just going to steal when he wants." Now, Rickey was only talking about Billy's wheels, but Henderson was great because he got on-base at a very high clip and provide a bit of pop. Still, it's an encouraging endorsement and Billy is starting to hit at triple-A (including a stretch of 11 hits in 24 ABs, arbitrary endpoints be damned!).  
  • The uproar over Dusty's refusal to switch Zack Cozart out of the 2nd spot in the order is only mildly interesting on a micro-level because it has minimal impact. Lineup construction may, at best, generate an additional win or win-and-a-half over the course of a season. So, it's not so much that the proper lineup would make a massive difference, rather that it's a minimal improvement that costs nothing. In an era when teams are scrounging for anything resembling a competitive advantage, it's somewhat disconcerting for us not to pluck the low-hanging fruit. The added 1+ wins come from (1) maximizing the number of Plate Appearances that your best hitters receive, as happens when you hit higher in the order (each lineup spot gets ~2.5% more PAs than the one directly after it) and (2) based on historical data, the 2nd spot in the order generates more value than the 3rd spot in almost every way of reaching base due to who's typically on base and with how many outs. So, having Cozart hitting second is bad on a number of levels. To me, the lineup construction issue is more interesting on the macro-level. Things got complicated for the organization when Ludwick went down with an injury. But, it's difficult to believe that we failed to find 4th/5th outfielders in whom we could believe. There are players out there who, at minimal cost, could step in and fill the void created by Ludwick's absence. Xavier Paul has put up solid numbers, but his playing time is still sporadic. If we can't count on him to step up and start, then why is he on the roster? Given that we are in win-now mode, is it excusable for the front office to have failed to bring in better depth??? 
  • Chris Sale and Shelby Miller: A remarkable and scary thing has happened over the last week plus. Shelby Miller tossed a near perfect game, allowing only a single to the leadoff hitter before retiring 27 straight batters and posting a 13/0 K/BB ratio in the process, while Chris Sale also flirted with a perfect game before settling for a one-hit shutout with a 7/0 K/BB ratio. Truly remarkable performances for each. Performances that elevate already stellar seasons. The scary part is that both were Shadow Draft selections of mine, Shelby in 2009 and Chris in 2010. That's scary because either I'm starting to understand what makes a good pitching prospect or I've now managed to use up all of my luck on things unrelated to lottery tickets. For more reasons than one, I'm rooting for the former. 
  • In my 2013 rankings, I rated Tucker Barnhart the Reds 13th overall prospect. In that write-up, I mentioned not only that I loved Barnhart's footwork and defensive prowess, but also that I thought the game may actually be moving back in his direction. That there was an evolution in the valuation of catcher defense. My reasoning was based, in part, on the new studies of the substantial value to be potentially derived from pitch-framing. And, in that spirit, there's a tremendous article on pitch-framing written by Ben Lindbergh over on Grantland. The article, which is lengthy, discusses the issue and provides hypnotic video clips comparing framing done right with framing done wrong. It's definitely a recommended read. 
  • The Milwaukee Brewers couldn't believe that Donald Lutz managed to keep his homerun fair. Part of the reason he was able to do so is the "bat lag" I mentioned in his write-up. Wily Peralta, who gave up the homer, had this to say: "I thought I made a great pitch and he put a good swing on it, so there's nothing I can do about it. He kept his hands inside and put the barrel on it and made good contact. I don't think he'd do that again. It was the difference in the game." If you want a more extreme example of what I was talking about, then take a look at this photo of golfer Sergio Garcia: 
    Note the small angle formed by the shaft of the club and his left forearm. It's an angle that requires the clubhead has to travel a long distance in a short amount of time to catch up to the hands at the point of contact. For both Garcia and Lutz, despite the lag in their respective swings, the swinger still gets the head of the bat/club into proper position at the point of contact. Lutz's lag certainly isn't as extreme or dramatic as Sergio's, but the lag enables him to keep his hands inside the ball and, despite a slightly later barrel release, still get the barrel to the point of contact in a timely manner. By keeping his hands inside the ball, he was able to hit the ball off the foul pole instead of hooking it foul. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #23 Henry Rodriguez, 2b/3b


DOB: 2/9/1990
HEIGHT: 5-8 WEIGHT: 200 B/T: S/R

After doing these write-ups for a number of years, it becomes very clear that if you are a one-dimensional player, then it had better be a helluva dimension. To reach the majors, you really need a diversified skill set. If you have just one real value-driver, then it's a steep uphill climb to the majors.

At this point in his development, Henry Rodriguez is looking very one dimensional. At best, he's looking like an empty batting average type player. Earlier in his career, it looked like he might provide some speed and average glove-work, but those components have tailed off, maybe because of injuries.

Rodriguez has endured some significant injuries, including a broken ankle late in 2011 and a broke thumb, which cost him a month-and-a-half, in 2012. At the very least, those injuries didn't help his development and may have dragged down his physical tools. In that spirit, it may be telling that he stole 33 bases in 2010 and 30 in 2011, but only 8 in 2012, his first season back after the ankle injury. As a prospect, Rodriguez was already marginal in a number of areas and, whether or not injuries played a part, his development has stalled.


In 2012, Henry piled up the frequent flier miles, making stops at the rookie Arizona League, double-A Pensacola, triple-A Louisville, and a quick cup of coffee at the major league level.

Courtesy: Unknown

He logged only 18 PAs in the Arizona League, a stop made as part of his rehab for the broken thumb. For double-A, he hit .348/.385/.439/.824 with 2 homers and an 18/9 K/BB ratio over 144 plate appearances. His performance level took a hit when he reached triple-A, as he hit .244/.264/.333/.597 with 3 homers and an atrocious 35/6 K/BB ratio over 221 plate appearances. Regardless, it earned him a cup of coffee in the majors, where he posted a .214/.313/.285/.598 line with a 2/2 K/BB ratio over 16 plate appearances.

Overall, it was an uneven season for Rodriguez. He seemed to hit the wall between double-A and triple-A, which is somewhat surprising given that the jump to double-A is usually considered the most difficult and he handled that one well. However, triple-A is frequently populated by older players with MLB experience, so maybe it's not surprising that his K/BB ratio plummeted when facing more experienced pitchers who have a greater understanding of how to exploit overly aggressive hitters.


Rodriguez is a switch-hitter. His mechanics are solid from both sides of the plate, which when paired with his good hand-eye coordination gives him a solid hit-tool and the ability to consistently put the barrel on the ball. Even so, the problem that Rodriguez faces is twofold. He doesn't support his hit-tool with on-base ability and his smaller stature limits his ability to generate power, leaving him as something of an "empty batting average" type hitter.

Courtesy: Unknown

Pre-pitch from the left-side, Rodriguez has a very open stance and holds his hands up high by his left ear. He actually uses two variations of his stride. In one version, he uses a two-part stride. The first part is a step towards the plate, landing on just the toe, to close up his stance, before striding forward to transfer the weight and meet the pitch. In the other version, he uses one continuous motion for his stride. Using more of a leg-kick stride, he draws his front foot back, lingering in the air for a moment, before striding forward to meet the pitch. The former leaves him less susceptible to being fooled by offspeed pitches, while the latter likely generates a touch more power.

Pre-pitch from the right-side, Rodriguez again uses an open stance, but holds his hands lower than he does from the left-side. His stride is similar to the one continuous motion stride he uses from the left-side. He uses leg-kick type stride, drawing his foot back, lingering in the air for a moment, before striding forward to transfer the weight and meet the pitch.

From both sides, in order to generate load, he draws his hands back and down into hitting position and turns his front hip inward as he strides forward. At his best, he buries his back elbow in close to his back hip until reaching the point of contact and generates sufficient lower body rotation to drive up on his back toe, getting good extension despite a fairly compact swing. At his worst, his high leg-kick stride gets him out on the front foot, leaving him with minimal lower body rotation in his swing and forcing him to reach for the pitch with nothing more than an arm swing.  

Rodriguez doesn't have plus bat speed, but his swing path is a slight upper-cut which should maximize the size of his contact zone. He uses his hands well in the swing, allowing him to make consistent, hard contact. However, his smaller stature and shorter levers make it difficult for him to generate leverage and power. His swing is more fluid and natural from the left-side, but more powerful from the right side. Overall, he's solid from both sides of the plate, which would should enable him to avoid a significant platoon split and remain a viable option from both sides of the plate.

Here's a look at Rodriguez courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube:

At the Major League Level, the Reds could use another professional hitter or two. Players with plus hit-tools in the mold of in their primes Placido Polanco, Martin Prado, or Billy Mueller. The former two never brought much OBP to the table, but they more than made up for it with very strong hit-tools that allowed them to post consistently high batting averages. Unfortunately, despite several seasons of .300+ batting averages, it looks like Henry's hit-tool and production are going to fall short of that level, which makes his limitations in other areas all the more glaring.


The Reds have a choice with Henry Rodriguez. Play him at third where he's a tick below average. Or, play him at second where he's well below average. Whichever they choose, he just doesn't generate much defensive value.

Courtesy: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

At second, Rodriguez just doesn't have the necessary range, nor does he acquit himself well around the bag. At third, his range is less of a problem, but his arm isn't great. Given his solid speed, it's surprising that it hasn't better translated to his range in the field.

In fact, it's surprising that he isn't a better defensive player overall, as he does have good athleticism. But, his instincts aren't great, leading to poor reads off the bat and underwhelming range. Further, his hand actions aren't great, as his conversion rate on the balls-in-play that he reaches isn't strong. Over his minor league career, he has a lackluster .971 fielding percentage over 1619 chances at second base and a .932 fielding percentage over 380 chances at third base.

Some scouts have questioned Rodriguez's focus in the field and openly questioned whether his defensive problems are more the result of questionable makeup than a lack of athleticism.


At one time, Rodriguez looked like a potential league average starter at the MLB level, but his positive attributes have fallen off, while his negative attributes haven't improved. It's not too late for him to improve, especially if lingering injuries are causing the decline in his performance level, but at this point his ceiling is looking more like that of a utility infielder than a legitimate MLB starter.

The Reds could use another player with a pure hit-tool, as their MLB lineup is lacking in that area. At one time, Rodriguez was on a development path that would have landed him in the majors this year, but his development has stalled, calling into question whether he'll be able to regain his footing and reclaim an MLB career.

For now, he checks in at #23 on the list.

Monday, May 6, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #19 Drew Cisco, rhp


DOB: 7/29/1991
HEIGHT: 5-11 WEIGHT: 201 B/T: L/R

The Reds have effectively used the farm system to support the MLB team. Trades and promotions have made the Reds into a consistent contender at the MLB level, while at the same time depleting the talent in the minor league system. That is exactly how the farm system is supposed to be utilized, but the Reds are now working to rebuild the farm system to ensure that sufficient talent is available to provide depth in the short-run and impact talent in the long-run.

As it stands, the Reds have a nice top tier of talent, but lack depth in the system. To rebuild the depth, they'll need some of their lower tier players to take a step forward. Now that he's healthy, pitcher Drew Cisco is one such player who could make that jump.


The Reds selected Cisco with the 187th overall pick in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of Wando High School in South Carolina.

During his high school career, Cisco was always the staff ace and earned All-Lowcountry honors four times. As a senior, Cisco tossed 77 innings and posted a 10-2 W/L record, a 0.91 ERA, a 100/13 K/BB ratio, and 56 hits allowed in 77 innings pitched. Cisco also performed admirably at the World Wood Bat Association Championship.

His high school coach, Jeff Blankenship, had the following to say about Cisco:

"He's one of the most focused players we've coached, on the mound and at the plate," Blankenship said. "He bats third in our lineup, which is a very important spot in the order. He's walked 12 times in 44 plate appearances. That's a sign of his patience, his poise. It's something he was born with. When he's out there on the mound, there are no distractions. He's that focused. Sometimes, when he walks off the field, you want to shake him to get him out of that mode so you can talk about the finer points of pitching." 

It's not surprising that Cisco has polish and poise beyond his years, as it's in his blood. Whether it's nature or nurture, there is no doubting the positive impact on Drew of his baseball playing family. Drew's grandfather, Galen Cisco, played in the majors for parts of 7-seasons and served as an MLB pitching coach, his father, Jeff, played minor league baseball, and his brother, Mike, is now pitching in the Phillies organization.

By the time the draft rolled around, Cisco was rated as the 74th best prospect by Baseball America. He had a commitment to the University of Georgia, but the Reds bought him out of it with a substantially over-slot bonus of $975,000. Obviously, it took a decent chunk of money to get it done, but Cisco was a very good value in round 6.

Unfortunately, before Cisco could throw a professional pitch in anger, he underwent Tommy John surgery keeping him out all of the 2011 season. He returned to the mound in 2012 in the late-season Pioneer League.

For the Billings Mustangs, Cisco logged 15 starts, posting a 3.39 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1.30 GB/FB ratio, and a 45/7 K/BB ratio over 58.1 innings. His walk rate of 1.1 BB/9 and strikeout rate of 6.9 KK/9 supports his pitching profile, which is command/pitchability rather than power/stuff. Performance level aside, it was most important that he got through the season healthy, which he managed to do.

Going forward, he'll need to demonstrate that he has enough pure stuff to maintain effectiveness against advanced hitters. In the mean time, his plus command and polish will likely ensure a measure of success against less advanced hitters.


Cisco uses very solid, functional mechanics, which match his pitching profile. He's a control pitcher who stays in control of his mechanics throughout the delivery. I do wonder, however, if he would benefit by trying to wring a bit more force out of his mechanics to increase the velocity generated. Or, would any improvement in performance level from increased velocity be outweighed by a decline in command/pitchability? In the future, that's a question that may need to be answered, as his pitching profile may not be one that lends itself to success against more advanced hitters.

Pre-pitch, Cicso stands with his feet shoulder-width apart and his glove just below his chin. His rocker step is a small step towards first base, unweighting his right foot to enable him to shift it down onto the rubber. He then brings his left leg up into a leg kick, which exceeds parallel with the ground and includes some body coil.

At the apex of his delivery, Cisco maintains good balance and body control, allowing him to easily transition into his drive to the plate. Up to apex, Cisco does a solid job generating force, after apex he does a solid job imparting that force to the baseball. He could do a better job in the generation of force and he could do a better job in efficiently transferring that force to the baseball, but both of these aspects of his delivery are certainly solid even if they put a tick more stress on the arm than is ideal.

As you can see from the below photos, Cisco doesn't get much separation between the hip and shoulder rotations, which limits his ability to "sum the force" generated by his body. You can also see that his stride foot lands in a slightly closed off position, restricting his hip rotation and forcing his momentum to work slightly around his body. The downside of throwing across the body is that it can reduce the efficiency of the delivery. The upside of throwing across the body is that it can increase deception of the delivery.

As for the stride itself, it's of acceptable length and he doesn't land on the heel, which would increase instability. In addition, his throwing arm is in solid, if ever so slightly late, position when the stride foot touches.

In addition, in the above photo you can see Cisco's front shoulder opening up early, almost in time with the opening of the lead hip. If you aren't going to generate velocity by summing the force generated by the kinetic chain, then you need to generate it with the pitching arm. Cisco leans more heavily on the latter, than the former in generating his velocity. And, what he generates isn't plus, causing him to adopt a command/control pitcher profile.

While the obvious benefit of plus velocity is the ability to limit contact, an ancillary benefit is a significantly larger margin for error. If you throw 97 mph, then you can get away with far more location mistakes than if you throw 90 mph. You can still be successful at a lower level of velocity, but your control needs to be impeccable and you need to ensure that your mistakes drift off the plate instead of over it.

Finally, in the above photo, you can see that Cisco uses a high three-quarters arm slot. When coupled with his shorter stature (5-11), a lower arm slot makes it more difficult to get downward plane on the fastball. If you lack downward plane on the fastball, then it becomes easier to hit because it's flatter as it passes through the strike-zone. As a result, you need to offset the flatter fastball with plus velocity, plus command, and/or plus movement. Obviously, Cisco doesn't bring plus velocity to the table, so he'll likely need to rely on location and movement in order to have an effective fastball against advanced hitters.

Here's a look at Cisco working for the Dayton Dragons, courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube:

Overall, Cisco has solid, though far less than ideal, mechanics, which he repeats very well in part due to good balance and good tempo.  His ability to repeat his mechanics helps him generate plus command. However, in part, his balance is good because he's only controlling minimal forces in the delivery, as he simply doesn't generate significant force with his body. That could lead to a lower performance level and a higher injury risk to his pitching arm. Given that his fastball is already at the lower end of the acceptability spectrum, anything that acts as a drag on performance level could prove to be significant.


Cisco primarily features a four-pitch mix. He uses a four-seam fastball that sits in the 88-92 range, a two-seam fastball that sits 87-89 mph with good movement, a big curveball that clocks in between 76-78, and a change-up with sink. His pitches mostly grade out as average, though the curveball may already be above average. His curveball isn't a true 12-to-6 type due largely to his three-quarter arm slot, but he does spin it well and it has good bite. The change-up has a bit of arm-side run to it and good potential. His impressive command and polish also makes him comfortable throwing all his pitches in just about any situation.

Cisco's fastball velocity isn't plus, but he effectively commands both the two- and four-seamer to both sides of the plate. As for the two-seamer, he can cut it or sink it, which helps offset the lower velocity level and induces ground balls. Additionally, the fact that Major League Baseball is moving away from the age of steroid infused gorilla ball should only help those whose game is not defined by power. Given Cisco's build, there isn't significant physical projection left to his game, but his velocity might improve a tick as he continues to mature physically and settles into the throwing regimen of professional baseball.


Cisco was a popular selection when he was first drafted, as his tremendous polish and command intrigued people despite his average arsenal. However, Tommy John surgery largely knocked him off the prospect radar, but he's now healthy and ready to get his career back on track.

Cisco's repertoire limits his ceiling, but his command, polish, and pitchability still make him an intriguing prospect. If he can manage his injury risk and find a way to offset the lack of downward plane on his fastball, then he may prove to be an effective and valuable starting pitcher as he climbs the ladder. If he can't find an effective fastball, he may be able to find success in a long relief role where he can pitch backward and generally lean more heavily on offspeed pitches.

For now, Cisco checks in at #19 on the list.

Friday, May 3, 2013

2013 Top Prospect List: #18 Donald Lutz, 1b/of

DOB: 2/6/1989
HEIGHT: 6-3 WEIGHT: 250 B/T: L/R

Donald Lutz has one of the most intriguing back-stories in the system. He's one of very few European prospects to sign on with an MLB organization. He's a player with natural ability who picked up the sport later in life. He's a physically large player, but one who also has solid athleticism. Overall, he's an intriguing bundle.

However, Lutz has some legitimate talent to go along with the compelling narrative. He doesn't have a diversified set of tools, but if developed properly, and used correctly, he could emerge as a valuable offensive contributor for the organization.


Lutz is gaining a lot of notoriety for being a "German developed" player, but he was actually born in Watertown, NY. He was, however, raised in Germany and as a result didn't play baseball until he was almost sixteen years old. Hockey was his preferred sport and like a lot athletes with hockey backgrounds he swings from the left side despite being naturally righthanded.

Lutz picked up baseball as a teenager and was ultimately signed out of Major League Baseball's Europe Academy. The Academy brings together the best European and African talent to work out for several weeks with top Major League coaches and instructors. The MLB European Academy is a centerpiece of MLB's player development efforts in Europe, which includes 25 off-season player academies in 9 nations. Since its inception in 2005, over 50 players from the MLB Academy have signed contracts with Major League clubs.

The Reds, through global scouting director Jim Stoeckel, signed him out of the Academy in 2007. There are two ways to look at Lutz getting a late start in the game of baseball. The obvious one is that he lacks the experience that other prospects bring to the table. On the other hand, it also reveals an aptitude for the game, as he's come a very long way in a limited amount of time.


Lutz split time between three different levels during the 2012 season. From lowest to highest, he spent time at Rookie ball, high-A, and double-A.

He logged a quick 14 ABs in the Arizona Rookie League, posting a .643/.706/1.071/1.777 slash line against clearly over-matched pitching.

He spent the majority of the season at high-A Bakersfield. Over 253 ABs, Lutz hit .265/.325/.561/.886 with 18/3/17 2b/3b/HR, and a 71/19 K/BB ratio.

He finished up the season at double-A Pensacola, hitting .242/.315/.389/.704 with 5 homeruns and a 32/13 K/BB ratio over 149 ABs. He also dealt with a strained oblique while with Pensacola, which sapped some of his power production.

Outside of a rough stretch in double-A, the power, which is his calling card, was on full display during the season.


Lutz will go as far as his bat will take him. He's an offense-first prospect, as, at their peak, his defensive skills and position will create only minimal value. In some ways, he reminds me of Juan Francisco. Good power potential, but limited defensive value and no speed. At similar points in their development, Lutz has more on-base skill, but a lesser hit tool than Francisco.

Courtesy: Rich Pilling/ Getty Images North America
In his pre-pitch stance, Lutz stands with an open, slightly wider than shoulder-width stance. As the pitch comes to the plate, Lutz closes up his stance. His stride starts by moving in towards the plate, where his foot lands flat before rising up onto the ball of the foot. He rises up onto the ball of his foot to trigger his weight transfer, dropping the foot back down to the ground as his weight moves forward. So, it's really a two-piece stride, operating first to close up the body and second raising and lowering the heel to trigger the weight transfer from back foot to front foot.

Lutz's two-piece stride is similar to that of Jeff Gelalich, as both utilize an initial movement before rising up on the ball of the front foot. In so doing, they rise up, standing somewhat taller, and rotate the front hip slightly inward to cock the hips.

While this lower body movement is happening, Lutz is using a very unusual arm action to load his hands for the swing. Pre-pitch he holds his hands up by his left ear with a high back elbow. In order to load his hands, Lutz basically drops his hands down and back before bringing them back up to a position similar to the starting point. In essence, he moves his hands in a sizable circle in order to load up for the swing. While he's moving his hands in a circle, he's also twirling the bat head in a big circle. So, there's a lot of circular movement involved in loading his hands.

For me, the defining characteristic of Lutz's swing is the whip-like action. He generates good bat speed and really throws the head of the bat at the ball. He uses his hands very effectively in his swing, even his circular style load is very loose and fluid. In general, his swing has a more "handsy" feel to it, though he still incorporates sufficient lower body rotation into the swing.

Lutz seems to more effectively utilize "bat lag" than the typical hitter. "Bat lag" is a positive component of the swing and refers to the barrel of the bat lagging behind the hands in the swing. The longer the hitter can maintain that lag, the more power will be generated by the swing. When the bat emerges from the lag position, the barrel comes around and into the point of contact.

Lutz maintains a slightly smaller "lag angle" (the angle between the right forearm and the bat) than the 90 degree angle maintained by the average hitter. Lutz's smaller "lag angle" gives his swing a slightly steeper angle of attack, caused in part by a more straight line (rather than rounded) hand arc path. His hands move down towards the ground in a straight-line-like direction before somewhat abruptly moving forward in a straight-line-like direction to meet the pitch. This less rounded hand arc path, and smaller lag angle it creates, helps him generate good power by delaying the release of the barrel in the swing.

Given Lutz's combination of solid lower body rotation and strong hand action, it's not difficult to see why he's able to generate such good bat speed and power with his swing. He really whips the bat through the zone, so the question with Lutz is whether his hit-tool will be good enough to allow him to reach his plus-power. He needs to be able to make consistent contact or else the power will never come into play. Power without contact is no power at all.  

Here's a look at Lutz at the plate, courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube:

Overall, there are things I like about Lutz's swing mechanics, which are fundamentally sound. In fact, despite his lack of experience, I'm oddly optimistic about his hitting going forward.

Lutz has the type of power that could make him an impact hitter, but significant questions remain about whether his hit tool will allow that power to be playable at the MLB level. The whip-like action in his swing is impressive, but also raises questions about whether he has the type of hand-eye coordination and bat control necessary to consistently put the barrel on the ball against advanced pitching.


Courtesy: Chris Carlson, AP Photo
Lutz will always reside at the bottom of the defensive spectrum. Over the course of his professional career, he has spent 185 games at first base, 83 games in leftfield, and 20 in rightfield. There are 225 million reasons why first base isn't a legitimate option for Lutz and rightfield is a pipe dream, so leftfield represents his best bet for playing time with the Reds.

Due to the fact that he picked up the sport later in life, he simply hasn't had enough repetitions to become a polished defensive player. He has decent athleticism and speed for his size, but his lack of experience really works against him.

Lutz simply needs to get more experience on defense. The consistent repetitions in the field will help him with his defensive actions and his reactions. He has decent instincts, but needs to improve his initial read off the bat. He'll never be a plus defender, but he likely can become adequate at the bottom of the defensive spectrum.


Lutz is the unfortunate combination of raw and older. Picking up the game later in life both lengthens his development path and shortens the time he has to complete it. That works against him to a certain extent. As it stands, he's made good strides, but he simply needs more experience to polish up all aspects of his game.

His bat remains his ticket to the majors. The power potential is legitimate. Going forward, he needs to demonstrate enough hit-tool to reach his power production and enough on-base ability to increase the value of his offensive production. An offense-first player provides little value other than what his bat provides, which means there very little margin for error in his development. Consequently, Lutz needs to demonstrate more than just power to be a contributor at the MLB level. For now, despite his likely negligible defensive value, Lutz brings enough offensive upside to the table to land at #18 on the list.