Saturday, March 28, 2015

2015 Top Prospect List: #13 Phillip Ervin, of


DOB: 7/15/1992
HEIGHT: 5-10, WEIGHT: 205, B/T: R/R

Phillip Ervin was drafted by the Reds with the 27th overall pick in the first round of the 2013 draft out of Samford University. Coming out of college, he was viewed as a player who could roll out of bed and hit .300. In fact, he rarely fell short of the .300 mark in his amateur career. The Reds were clearly gambling on what they viewed as a plus hit tool from a player who might be able to hold down an up-the-middle defensive position. 

Upon signing, Ervin was shipped out to the rookie Pioneer League, where he acquitted himself well for the Billings Mustangs, before finishing up the season strong with the Dayton Dragons. It was a solid professional debut for Ervin at the tail end of a long baseball season and he appeared poised for success in 2014. 


Phillip Ervin's 2014 season was mystifying. He finished up the 2013 season with a quick 43 AB cup of coffee with the low-A Dayton Dragons, during which time he hit .349/.451/.465/.916. The Reds sent him back to Dayton to start the season, but it's easy to imagine the organization thinking it would be a quick stop on the way up the ladder. It was anything but, as Ervin never escaped Dayton.

For the Dragons, he hit .237/.305/.376/.680 with 7 homers and a 110/46 K/BB ratio in 561 PAs. A polished college hitter striking out 19.6% of the time against low-A pitchers is a sizable red flag, especially for a player whose hit tool was supposed to carry him.

A bit of context *might* help Ervin here, as he underwent offseason surgery on his left wrist prior to the 2014 season. So, that might help explain his struggles, as his wrist was reportedly weaker than normal.

Here's what Jeff Graupe had to say about Ervin in an article by Mark Sheldon:

"I think Phillip's wrist bothered him early, more than he let on," Reds player development director Jeff Graupe said. "To his credit, he didn't make any excuses and played. It wasn't hurting, but maybe weak, coming off of the injury. He put himself in a hole, tried to generate and get four hits in every at-bat and chased it. He got away from being the process-oriented hitter he had been. I think he's better for it. I think he will have a good year, coming up. He's still one of the better offensive players in our system."

So, it's very possible that Ervin's season was impacted by his wrist and that may have prevented him from driving the ball or effectively using the entire field. With that in mind, here's a look at Ervin's 2014 spray chart, courtesy of


As for specific impressions, here are a few things that I saw in 2014:

  • There are reports of Ervin being overly pull-conscious during the 2014 season, but that's not something I saw when watching him, nor does his spray chart really reflect it.
  • Ervin seemed to struggle with the high fastball, both in laying off of it and in catching up to it. That may have something to do with his reported wrist issue or maybe it's just a pitch and location that he can't handle and needs to take.  
  • His pitch recognition seemed solid, though somehow he seemed to struggle more with differentiating between fastballs and breaking balls than he did in identifying pitches in the strikezone vs. pitches outside of the strikezone. 
    • On the plus side, he didn't chase pitches out of the strikezone very often. 
    • On the downside, he was susceptible to getting out on the front foot too early when he was fooled on the breaking ball.
  • A bit too often, Ervin was out on the front foot on breaking balls and then late on high fastballs, which is a tough combination for a hitter to overcome. 
  • Ervin runs well, both on defense and on the bases. 

Despite his struggles, Ervin is likely ticketed for high-A Daytona in 2015, where he'll hope for better results. In this particular instance, it's too bad that the Reds moved out of Bakersfield, as Ervin's confidence might actually have benefited from hitting in a very hitter-friendly home park and league. Regardless, if Ervin's wrist was a significant factor in his performance, then his return to health might be all he needs to hit the ground running 2015.


At the plate, Ervin is conventional and compact, his swing doesn't involve a lot of extraneous movement. While being compact could help with being quick to the point of contact, it's difficult to imagine his swing generating good power. It's a swing that seems to be driven by the upper body much more than the lower body, which robs it of some power generation.

On some level, Ervin's swing reminds me of Indians prospect Clint Frazier. Frazier is renowned for his absurd bat speed, which he generates more with his hands and forearms than his lower body. Ervin settles for merely good bat speed, but his swing also feels like it's more hands and forearms than lower body. Like Clint Frazier, Ervin occasionally uses an abbreviated follow-through, almost cutting off the swing before it can finish more naturally. Clint Frazier's ability to generate plus-plus bat speed with his hands and forearms allows him to generate power, even if he doesn't utilize the lower half as effectively as other hitters. Ervin, on the other hand, doesn't generate that type of bat speed, so his inefficient use of the lower half limits the type of power he can generate.

At the plate, Ervin uses a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance. His pre-pitch stance involves a small bat waggle as he waits on the pitcher. The bat waggle involves bouncing his hands in an up-and-down movement, ideally finishing up in front of his right shoulder just before he strides forward. As the pitcher drives to the plate, Ervin uses a small stride forward to meet the pitch. As he strides, he draws his hands back and up in order to load up for the swing.

Once his stride foot lands, he starts to fire his hips. He's a bit inconsistent in driving his right elbow into his back hip, which is what syncs up the rotation of the hips to the upper body to power the swing. That inconsistency creates inefficiency in force generation and leaves his arms with more work to do in the swing. The farther the arms are away from the body, the slower the rotation of the core. The slower the rotation of the core, the less force imparted to the baseball.

In addition to that inconsistency, he occasionally cuts his follow-through short, which can also limit the force generated by the lower half. All of which means that his swing is driven more by the upper body, which can be problematic unless you have elite hand/bat speed. Inefficiency in generating force can prove even more problematic for a hitter, like Ervin, of smaller stature, as he's already going to have a harder time generating leverage and force in the swing.

Here's a look at Ervin in action during the 2013 season, courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube:

One thing I noticed during the 2014 season was that his bat waggle seemed just a bit larger and lower than it was in 2013. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any video to effectively demonstrate that slight change, but that's the impression I got from watching him play in 2014. Maybe it was made in response to his wrist injury. It wasn't apparent in every swing. Still, the slightly larger and lower waggle slightly increased the distance the hands had to be drawn back to load up for the swing. The farther the hands have to be drawn back, the farther they have to travel to reach the point of contact.

In the end, maybe 2014 was a perfect(ly ugly) storm of events for Phil Ervin:

1. A lingering wrist injury,
2. A swing that relies more heavily on the hands and upper body, and
3. The occasional use of a slower and longer movement to load the hands.

All of those factors could explain a lackluster, at best, 2014 season in which his performance declined across the board and he struggled to catch up to high fastballs. Or, maybe he simply wasn't as good as the organization thought he'd be. The sample size from his 2013 season was very, very small and his performance level, while solid on the surface, could have been propped up by batting average hit-luck. Maybe the common evaluation of his 2013 season was clouded by confirmation bias stemming from his high draft position. Maybe he was an overdraft by the organization. Maybe his 2013 professional season was actually more luck than production. Maybe each improper valuation served to prop up the other until the wheels came off in 2014. Or, maybe he just wasn't healthy.

Whatever the reason, his prospect status definitely took a hit last year. Whether his status rebounds depends on Ervin's ability to fix his hitting, as his hit-tool was going to be his carrying tool, without it he's not getting carried anywhere.

The 2015 season will provide a huge data point on Ervin's career trajectory.


Ervin has good speed and good athleticism. His arm is solid both in terms of strength and accuracy. He can effectively handle all three outfield positions, but his defensive ceiling in centerfield might be solid/average. Last year, he played 38 games in leftfield, 68 games in centerfield, and 23 games in rightfield.

On the bases, Ervin has the speed and instincts to generate positive value, which is something of a rarity in the Reds organization. Setting aside Billy Hamilton, the Reds farm system simply hasn't produced many legitimate threats on the basepaths. Ervin doesn't have Hamilton speed, but he baserunning could still be a value-driver for him. In 2014, he swiped 25 bases in 30 attempts, a nice total and success rate. If he can reach base at a sufficient clip, then his speed will only add to his overall value.

As it stands, Ervin would likely need to shift to a corner outfield spot in order to factor into the organization's future plans. So, the fact that he's a bit fringy in centerfield isn't a huge problem at this point, as if the organization actually needs him out there then that means that Billy Hamilton didn't pan out. If that happens, then the organization will have bigger problems than Ervin's average or less centerfield defense.


Ervin has the type of profile that can deliver legitimate and diversified value. If he develops, then he could provide positive production at the plate, in the field, and on the bases. However, he only go as far as his hit tool will take him, as he doesn't have enough on-base skill or power to survive a low batting average.

If his wrist injury was the real culprit behind his 2014 struggles, then he should rebound nicely and restart his march towards the big leagues. It wasn't long ago that he was viewed as a polished college product with a pure hit-tool. If he can regain that reputation, then he'll reemerge as a valuable asset for the organization, but there's now significantly more risk to his projection than there was one year ago. That risk includes the possibility that, if his offense doesn't rebound or his defense slips a notch, he's a tweener, not quite enough glove for center and not enough bat for a corner spot.

For now, the hope of a rebound combines with his now heightened risk profile to land Ervin at #13 on the list.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Top Prospect List: #3 Raisel Iglesias, rhp


DOB: 1/4/1990
HEIGHT: 6-2, WEIGHT: 185, B/T: R/R

Raisel Iglesias successfully defected from Cuba in November of 2013. The Reds signed him in June of 2014 to a 7-year contract worth $27M, including a $5M signing bonus. Here's what Walt Jocketty had to say at the time of the signing about what the organization's scouts saw in Iglesias:

"They felt he had four quality pitches," Jocketty said. "They felt he could be a starter and be a starter very soon. They've seen him pitch several times three innings of relief, and when we get him to the United States and a little bit stronger, we feel he'll be a starter in the next year or so, hopefully."

And, here are Mark Sheldon and Jesse Sanchez on Iglesias' experience in Cuba and in international competition:

"Iglesias pitched three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top baseball league. He had a 1.68 ERA with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts in 15 games (two starts) during a span of 53 2/3 innings, during the first half of the 2012-13 season, but he struggled with his command in the second half and finished with a 3.29 ERA.
Iglesias also shined for the Cuban national team at the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands and during Cuba's five-game series against the U.S. college national team last summer.
Iglesias gave up two runs and three hits while striking out over 4 2/3 frames in five games during the World Baseball Classic for Cuba in 2013."

Iglesias signed too late to log any time in the minor leagues in 2014, so his organizational debut occurred in the Arizona Fall League.

Iglesias logged a mere 7.0 innings in the AFL, but undeniably he was impressive in that stint. He posted a 0.00 ERA and a 7/3 K/BB ratio with only 1 hit allowed. Obviously, small sample caveats run rampant here, but I watched him pitch an inning and his stuff and command supported the performance level. He looked good, especially for someone pitching after such a long layoff.

Despite limited experience on American soil, the now 25-year old Iglesias has obviously turned the right heads in the organization, as he's laid claim, at least in the short-run, to a spot in the 2015 MLB rotation. In the long-run, he hasn't proven any more than Tony Cingrani that he's able to handle the responsibilities of an MLB starting pitcher.


Iglesias is listed as being 6-2, but some people peg him as closer to 5-11. Even setting aside the height issue, he has a slender type frame, so he's not a big framed pitcher by any definition. That said, he has a loose athleticism that creates some explosiveness in his delivery.

The defining characteristics of Iglesias' delivery are a quick tempo and a general looseness. His arm action is quick, fluid, and loose.

Iglesias stands with his right foot rotated on the rubber positioned on a 9-to-3 o'clock line, while his left foot runs more 1-to-7. He then uses an aggressive rocker step towards first base to start the delivery before bringing his left leg up into the leg kick. He is very fluid and strong in going from rocker step to leg kick to unpacking the leg kick to drive to the plate. His moves are performed with confidence and intent. At the apex of the leg kick, his knee is up against his chest and he incorporates a significant amount of body coil, to the point that he shows the number on the back of his jersey to the hitter. It's not as extreme as Johnny Cueto, but it's pronounced.

After he breaks his hands from apex, he starts his arm swing, dropping his pitching arm down in a half-circle, before bringing it up into throwing position. At the bottom of his arm swing, Iglesias uses a bit of a wrist-wrap (see photo below), which some theorize adds a bit of fatigue and stress to the arm over the course of 100 pitches.

Courtesy: Ross D. Franklin, AP

As Iglesias drives to the plate, he brings his arm up into throwing position in a timely manner. In addition, he maintains good elbow position relative to shoulder throughout the delivery and throws from a high three-quarter arm slot, though once in a while the slot seems to vary depending on the pitch he's throwing. That's not unusual in Cuban pitchers, but it's problematic if you believe in the benefits of Pitch Tunneling.

Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar, The Enquirer

In his drive to the plate, Iglesias uses a long stride. It feels like he shortened it up a bit from the one he utilized in his Cuban days (see photo below), but it's still interesting to see just how far he can stride and still get his upper body out over his stride leg. That speaks to good athleticism.

A long stride allows ample room for the hips to fire and clear, which is important for hip/shoulder differential and, therefore, the efficiency of the kinetic chain. It also allows the pitcher to release the ball slightly closer to homeplate, allowing his velocity to play up a tick.

Courtesy: Kazuhiro Nogi, Getty Images

Unfortunately, Iglesias has two components to his delivery that nullify the unrealized hip-clearing benefit of the longer stride: (1) a Cueto/Tiant twirl (see photo below) and (2) a closed off stride.

As to the first, Iglesias uses a Cueto/Tiant like move at the apex of his leg kick, rotating his upper body and showing his back to the hitter. As I've talked about with Johnny Cueto, the potential problem with this type of move is that it forces the hips and shoulders to uncoil at the same exact time. Instead of a differential between the rotation of the hips and the rotation of the shoulders, they become one piece. As a result, the drive to the plate becomes much more rotational, which is inevitable when the lower and upper body are opening up in sync via the same movement. Given that, it's not surprising that the momentum of this more rotational delivery pulls both Cueto and Iglesias to the first base side on the follow-through.

As to the second, Iglesias also falls off to the first base side for another reason: he uses a closed off stride. His stride foot lands significantly closer to the third base side than normal (see below photo), which forces him to throw across his body. So, he has something of a cross-fire delivery, which forces the momentum to work around his closed off stride position, rather than more directly towards homeplate. The inevitable result of the cross-fire delivery is falling-off-to-first-base in the follow-through.

A cross-fire delivery can increase deception, but it also hinders force creation and transfer. So, there's good and bad with that delivery component. Personally, I value efficiency and force creation more than deception, but there are obvious examples of pitchers who have had success with the cross-fire delivery.

Still, the Cueto/Tiant twirl and closed off stride position limit the effectiveness and efficiency of the kinetic chain. If force isn't generated by the body and efficiently channeled by the kinetic chain, then that force has to be made up by the pitching arm. The more force the pitching arm has to generate, the more stress it endures.

Given the lack of hip/shoulder differential, it also wouldn't surprise me if Iglesias suffers the same type of strains of the oblique/lat that Johnny Cueto suffered. But, people are different and Cueto has a different body type than Iglesias. Cueto is thicker and tighter, whereas Iglesias is much leaner and looser, so maybe he's better equipped to avoid those ailments.

Here's a look at Iglesias pitching in the AFL, courtesy MLBProspectPortal on YouTube:

And another look at Iglesias, this time a slow-motion look courtesy of MooreBaseball on YouTube:

Here's a final look, courtesy of Mike Rosenbaum on YouTube:

Overall, Iglesias has some funkiness to his delivery. The wrist wrap, Tiant Twirl, and cross-fire delivery are potential red flags and I wonder if his velocity and power are more the result of a naturally quick arm action than of the force generated by the body and transmitted to the baseball. I don't love his mechanics, but maybe a very quick, very loose arm make those issues moot.

As it stands, Iglesias is having good success and is on the fast track to the big leagues. It'll be interesting to see how his arm handles a full starter's workload.


Iglesias works with a 4-pitch mix: a four-seam fastball that sits 92-95, a plus-slider, a hard curveball, and an inconsistent changeup. It's a mix that should allow him to be an effective starting pitcher.

When I saw him in the AFL, the slider was the true standout. It had very good depth and power and two-plane break. He threw it hard enough to back-foot it to lefties, so it could be an effective pitch to hitters of both handedness. In addition to the slider, the fastball was also a strong pitch, as it had good velocity and he commanded it well.

Working in relief, a well located fastball and a nasty slider were really all he needed to succeed in the AFL. As a starter, he'll need to reintroduce his changeup and curveball into the mix. Given his polish and command, he won't need maximum velocity on the fastball to succeed, but he will need to carry some velocity with him to the rotation.


As of now, there really isn't much of a track-record to work off with Raisel Iglesias. However, in the outing I saw in the Arizona Fall League he looked electric. The fastball was popping with good velocity and location and the slider was a put-away, swing-and-miss pitch. He now has to prove that he can be electric enough over longer outings to be a successful starting pitcher at the MLB level. And, he needs to establish a track-record for durability as a starting pitcher.

Still, a well commanded fastball and a plus slider is a good place to start, so for now Iglesias lands at #3 on the list.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 Top Prospect List: #8 Kyle Waldrop, of


DOB: 11/26/1991
HEIGHT: 6-2, WEIGHT: 216, B/T: L/L

Kyle Waldrop is a classic case: an athlete trying to develop the specific skills that drive success in professional baseball. Baseball isn't football or basketball or the criminal justice system, it doesn't surrender easily in the face of pure athletic brilliance.

Baseball makes you work. It values the subtle skills over the jaw-dropping tools, which explains why Kevin Youkilis carved out a stellar career, while the Wily Mo Pena Experience never caught fire.

Fortunately for the Reds and Waldrop, those baseball specific skills emerged in 2014, turning him from an athlete with tools into a baseball player with skills.


The Reds selected Waldrop out of Riverdale High School in Florida with the 367th overall pick in the 12th round of the 2010 draft. He might have gone higher in the draft if not for what was seen as a strong football commitment to the University of South Florida. A $500,000 signing bonus lured him away from the gridiron and he hasn't looked back.

Waldrop oozes athleticism. He was a Division 1 football prospect at wide receiver, but also played on the defensive side of the ball. Here's a look at his high school football prowess, courtesy of K Wally on YouTube:

He had the athleticism to play football at a high level and the good sense to choose baseball for a career path. Both positives on the ledger. 


The light came on for Waldrop during the 2014 season. He started off with Bakersfield, a return engagement with the Blaze. His second spin around high-A was a substantial improvement over the first go around, as he posted a .359/.409/.516/.925 slash line with 6 homers, 11 steals, and a 56/22 K/BB ratio over 288 Plate Appearances. That performance earned him a promotion to double-A.

For Pensacola, Waldrop kept crushing, barely falling off against much more advanced pitching, and proving that his early season performance was driven by more than a hitter-friendly home park in a hitter-friendly league. For the Blue Wahoos, he hit .315/.359/.517/.876 with 8 homers, 3 steals, and a 44/17 K/BB ratio over 252 Plate Appearances.

Between the two levels, Waldrop hit a combined .338/.385/.516/.902 over 540 Plate Appearances in a clear breakout season. He finished it off with a stop in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .300/.325/.462 over 83 Plate Appearances, maintaining a good performance level at the tail end of a long season.

Here's a look at Waldrop's spray chart for 2014:

K.Waldrop 2014 Spray Chart

He's a bit pull-oriented, especially on ground balls, but sprays the ball around well enough to keep pitchers and defenders honest. And, he can drive the ball to the opposite field, so he's not just slicing or fisting the ball the other way.

As for his plate approach during the 2014 season, I was pleasantly surprised and rather impressed. The general impression that I formed in watching him play is that he's an aggressive hitter with good pitch recognition skills who really doesn't chase the ball out of the zone very often.

As for specific impressions, here are a few of the things that I saw:

  • I watched Waldrop ambush a first pitch fastball from Jeremy Hellickson, who was on a rehab start, for a double to rightfield. Taking a big rip on the first pitch was a fairly common occurrence. 
  • I also saw Waldrop work into a deep count off of Matt Lollis, laying off outside pitches, and then going with the pitch to hit an opposite field homer. 
  • Facing lefty Greg Nappo, he took two fastballs for called strikes and chased a slider off the plate for a swinging strikeout. Like most hitters, Waldrop's pitch recognition and propensity to chase seem to decline when he falls into pitcher-counts. 
  • Facing lefty Alex Sogard, Waldrop fought off some tough breaking balls. He made good "swing/no-swing" decisions throughout the plate appearance until chasing a two strike breaking pitch for the strikeout.   
  • Facing uber-prospect Archie Bradley, Waldrop worked a full-count walk and showed good pitch recognition. In the next AB, he singled on a slow roller to third base. 

Waldrop frequently jumped on the first pitch and showed strong pitch recognition. His aggressiveness will likely prevent him from posting strong on-base percentages, but should also help limit the strikeouts. He also doesn't have a ton of swing-and-miss to his game, as he does a nice job of getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He seems to be able to to recognize and dismiss pitches easily, especially when he has count-leverage and can look for the pitch and location he wants. When he loses count-leverage, then his recognition and approach both seem a bit weaker. Still, his overall approach is strong, even though he's not quite as patient or disciplined as one might wish.

Overall, it was a successful season of realized potential for Kyle Waldrop.


Waldrop uses a set of solid, fundamentally sound swing mechanics. It's not surprising that Waldrop and Winker are frequently mentioned in the same sentence, as they resemble each other at the plate, same handedness, similar physical builds, and even a small arm-bar in their swings.

Waldrop's pre-pitch stance is quiet with a small bat waggle. He sets his feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. It actually reminds me quite a bit of Jason Giambi.

Courtesy: Unknown

The similarities between the two end once the swing fires. For one thing, Waldrop's hands aren't as far back as Giambi's, which gives him a slightly longer path in loading the hands.

Once the pitcher drives to the plate, Waldrop uses a small stride forward to trigger the weight transfer, while at the same time drawing his hands back to load up in the swing. He has a fairly deep load, which straightens his lead arm almost to the point of an arm-bar:

Despite the deep handset and near arm-bar, Waldrop still manages to create a relatively short, compact swing. He does so in part by using "bat lag", which 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.

Waldrop maintains a somewhat smaller "lag angle" (angle between lead arm and bat), which comes along with a slightly steeper and more direct angle of attack. This lag angle helps him generate good power by delaying the release of the barrel in the swing and allowing the rotation of the shoulders to both create power and deliver the bat to the point of contact.

Waldrop also does a nice job of driving the back elbow into the back hip, effectively syncing the upper body with the rotation of the hips. The left photo above is a tick earlier in his swing than the photo on the right, and, in going from the left photo to the right, you can almost see the explosive rotation in the front hip.

While Waldrop's pre-pitch stance reminds me of Jason Giambi, his swing reminds me more of Kole Calhoun. Both use a compact, but powerful stroke that frequently involves keeping both hands on the bat during the follow-through. Also, slightly stockier type bodies and a consistent ability to make hard contact. Just good, solid hit tools.

Waldrop does a nice job of firming up his front side to give the force an anchor point around which to rotate. He also maintains good balance throughout the swing, generating power without losing body control.

If I have a concern with Waldrop's swing, it's that his stride occasionally gets disconnected from the swing. Once in a while, he strides early, then has to pause slightly before firing his swing. That break interrupts the creation and effective transfer of force, leaving him with a largely upper body swing. The lack of effective use of the lower body reduces the force generated in the swing. Of course, he doesn't do it all the time and it's not an issue that should be difficult to eliminate.

Overall, it's a compact swing that generates significant power, which is a valuable, and unique, combination of attributes for any hitter. Frequently, power requires length in the swing, so being short and powerful should allow for good contact AND good power.

Here's a look at Waldrop at the plate, courtesy of Moore Baseball on YouTube:

Pretty impressive.


On the defensive side of the game, Waldrop can handle leftfield. He has good athleticism and average speed, but his arm strength is a tick below average so he probably can't slide over to rightfield. To increase his versatility, Waldrop has started working at first base and he should be able to handle that position just fine. However, Joey Votto's presence means that, barring injury, there won't be much opportunity for Waldrop at 1b.

In the final calculus, Waldrop is a bat-first prospect who will go as far as his offense will take him. His defense isn't a drag on his value, but his defensive ceiling is probably average, which isn't ideal for a player already relegated to the bottom of the defensive spectrum.

Given that Votto is entrenched at first base and Jesse Winker is likely the future in leftfield, it'll be interesting to see how Waldrop figures into the organization's future plans. If he hits enough, then he'll force his way into the lineup.

Defense won't be a value-driver for Waldrop, but it also won't act as a drag on his value.


Kyle Waldrop can hit. He has a solid hit tool and good power. He's an aggressive hitter, so drawing walks won't be his forte, but he also doesn't chase the ball outside the zone all that often. His aggressiveness seems to be of the "in-the-strikezone" type of aggressiveness, which is a good thing for a hitter with his combination of hit-tool and power.

Overall, Waldrop seems to have really figured things out at the plate, which is good enough to land him at #8 on the list.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 Breakout Candidate: Kendall Graveman, RHP

Graveman is coming.

I really didn't like the Josh Donaldson trade for the A's and not just because I wanted the Reds to reel in Donaldson. I didn't like the return for an impact hitter with gold glove caliber defense. It felt light. Then I watched Kendall Graveman pitch. He might have changed my mind.

Last year, Graveman did something I've never seen before. He pitched at five different professional levels (A, A+, AA, AAA, MLB) for the Blue Jays. And, he pitched well at every stop. That's not a fluke. That's not an accident. What he does works, it just doesn't excite the scouts and pundits.

If you believe in the Defense Independent Pitching (DIPs) concept, then you put a lot of stock in those parts of the game within the pitcher's control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Strikeouts move the needle and excite the establishment. Rightfully so. Velocity is what sets baseball hearts aflutter, but there's room under the tent for a wide variety of styles, as long they generate success. And, dominating the other two components of DIPs can lead to a great deal of success.

Kendall Graveman, Courtesy: Unknown

Kendall Graveman has very strong control and command and he gets a massive amount of ground balls, which limits the home runs he allows. In fact, he allowed only 2 homers and 31 walks (1.62 BB/9) in 172 combined professional innings in 2014. He doesn't have the strikeout rate (ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 K/9), but he excels in ground balls and limiting free passes. That type of profile should play very well in Oakland, given that organization's combination of pitcher-friendly home park and strong team defense, so Graveman seems to be in a perfect position to succeed in 2015. All he needs to do now is secure a rotation spot.

Graveman's stat line isn't the most interesting thing to peruse, but he becomes vastly more interesting when you see him work. Here's a look at him, courtesy of Oakland Athletics on YouTube:

On the mound, Graveman uses solid, functional mechanics. He doesn't have any unorthodox or extreme elements to his delivery. He maintains good balance, tempo, and body control throughout. The most unusual, at least in this day and age, part of his delivery is that he brings his hands up over his head, a move which I've always preferred. His elbow maintains good position relative to his shoulder throughout and his arm gets up into proper throwing position at foot-strike. If there is any area of concern, it might be in the deceleration phase, as he occasionally has a bit of recoil in his follow-through which could increase stress on the arm. Still, on the whole, his mechanics are solid and very functional.

Still, it's Graveman's repertoire that really intrigues. He uses a fastball that sits 89-94 while working as a starter and a touch higher as a reliever. Graveman has a nasty sinker that has very good downward movement and arm-side run to it. He also has the ability to both cut and run the fastball. When coupled with his plus command, Graveman's ability to create lateral movement in both directions means that he can effectively attack both sides of the plate and hitters of both handedness. Graveman can really control the entire strike zone, while his sinker allows him to rack up massive ground balls. When he's at his best, it's really difficult for hitters to square up Graveman's pitches, even though he leans heavily on his fastball/sinker combination.

In addition to his fastball/sinker combo, he also throws a changeup with average potential and a curveball and slider. It seems unlikely that he'll throw both a slider and a cutter, as those are different degrees of the same pitch and trying to throw both could limit the effectiveness of each. So, to the extent that he even needs one, he'll likely utilize only one of his breaking pitches going forward.

Graveman also benefits from a very good work ethic and strong makeup. He has a good understanding of how to pitch and makes the most of what he's got. He's not the type who's going to beat himself.

Overall, I'm pretty high on Kendall Graveman. While most pundits project Graveman to be a 5th starter type due to his lower strikeout rate, I could see him climbing as high as a #3 starter. Given his strong command and ability to shape his pitches, it wouldn't surprise me if his strikeout rate eventually improves a tick, though that might depend on improvements in his breaking ball of choice. Even if he doesn't improve his strikeout rate, Graveman should be a very effective MLB starting pitcher and it could start as soon as this year.

Kendall Graveman is my breakout candidate for 2015.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Quick Thoughts on the 3/5 ST Game

Another day, another game against the Indians:

**Johnny Cueto looked good. Quick, efficient, fastball heavy appearance.

**Jay Bruce beat the shift with a groundball single through what is normally the shortstop position.

**Trevor Bauer pitched for the Indians. He's one of my favorite MLB pitchers and I believe he's in line for a very good year.

**Donald Lutz played 1b and made a couple of nice scoops. He looks comfortable over there. Lutz is still behind the development curve due to coming late to baseball. Still, he still strikes me as a player who could produce positive value at the MLB level if he can catch up in the development department. He has some athleticism and a nice swing, just needs improvement pitch recognition and plate discipline. Unfortunately, time is against him.

**Jim Day interviewed Billy Hamilton and then did an imitation of his voice, which didn't seem...appropriate. Hamilton continues to impress me. He spent the offseason working out with Delino DeShields and added muscle to his frame. He should be improved this year, maybe by quite a bit. During the first part of the interview, Todd Frazier, wearing sunglasses, was lurking directly behind Hamilton. Frazier looked like a Secret Service agent for Hamilton or maybe just a guy who lacks an appreciation for personal space. The camera cut away to game action and when it cut back to the interview, Frazier was gone. I would guess that it was a bit that never came off, but as it was it seemed a bit strange. Or, maybe Tyler Durden sliced a single frame of Todd Frazier into the telecast.

**Aroldis was know what that means.

**I got my first look at Aristides Aquino. I now get the hype. He just looks like an explosive/electric type talent in the batter's box. There's a long development road ahead of him and lots of possible wrong turns on that journey, but he could be an impact talent.

**Burke Badenhop was awful. Fortunately, it doesn't count.

**Jimmy Pickens made a very weak throw from leftfield. The throwing motion was just as weak.

**I like Bradley Zimmer for the Tribe. I can see why he was a first round pick.

**Michael Lorenzen was dealing. Heavy fastball. Nasty curveball. Brilliant behind the back defensive play to showcase his athleticism. Granted, he was facing minor leaguers, but when he's rolling it seems like gravity, destiny, or some other force is on his side. Still, it's somewhat surprising that his repertoire doesn't generate more strikeouts. Thom and Chris were talking about Lorenzen pitching in the majors this year, but I wouldn't mind letting him work a full season in the minors. It still feels like there are a few small adjustments to be made if he's going to be a starter at the MLB level.

**It seems odd that a functional southpaw like Jose Mijares bounces around the league as much as he does. There have been some rumblings about character questions, but he might prove to be a valuable member of the Reds bullpen in 2015.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Quick Thoughts on the 3/4 ST Game

A few quick thoughts on Wednesday's game against the Indians:

**Thom is already annoying me. I understand announcers can't know all the young talent in these games, but do a bit of homework on the more obvious ones. Also, avoid the jarring overstatements. Kevin Gregg has had a "great" career? Really?

**On the other hand, nice bit of insight from Brantley about the seams on the baseball, including how the college game is intentionally lowering the seams to increase offense and how MLB's baseball already has reduced seams.

**DeSclafani looked solid, but I'm still not seeing anything electric in his repertoire.

**Holmberg was Holmberg. He's always going to flirt with trouble due to high contact rates. So, it's tough to get a read on how he actually performed when the hitters he faced were less likely to produce damaging contact. Still, an encouraging first step.

**Billy Hamilton drove two balls solidly and dropped down a fairly decent bunt. He talked about wanting to hit the ball on the ground more and how he lowered his hand position to accomplish that, but he drove both of those balls well.

**Devin Mesoraco wants to catch "9 out of 10" games, which works out to 145 games behind the dish. That's a helluva of a workload, Yadier-esq.

**I still don't get Brandon Phillips' personality, but, whatever, he evidently lost 15 lbs this offseason. Finally, deciding that his declining offense and footspeed were problematic.

**Brayan Pena talked about the Latos' recent comments, providing more evidence that the team is unifying to fend off an external threat.

**I still like Tucker Barnhart behind the dish, very strong receiving skills. Chad Wallach looked solid back there, but at times his footwork looked shaky and once or twice he seemed to struggle, as a taller catcher, getting low enough. There weren't any basestealers, but I'd like to get a live look at Wallach's catch-and-throw ability.

**Neftali Soto is such a disappointment. There's really no compelling reason for him to be in the organization any longer.

**Kyle Waldrop looks the part, but had a rough day at the plate. Still, pitchers are ahead of hitters.

**Raisel Iglesias wasn't great. But nothing too discouraging. The Soto error didn't help. Iglesias showed good arm-side run on his fastball. Fastball command was spotty, missing up consistently for stretches.

**Interesting point by Brantley on how Iglesias changed his arm slot on one particular pitch, going more over the top on a fastball. Brantley talked about it as an advantage, though I've heard other organizations wanting to eliminate the common Cuban pitcher tendency of using multiple arm slots because it eliminates deception on the pitches. If you believe in the idea of pitch-tunneling, then multiple arm slots would be a disadvantage.