Notes From MiLB Opening Weekend
It’s difficult to know what to make of small-sample minor league performances, as the fog of random chance, luck and results bias play havoc. Now imagine all of those factors are present, but add real and not metaphorical fog and clouds…THEN try to make intelligent judgments about prospects. Not so easy. In lieu of definitive judgments, I hope you’ll accept these random scouting-style notes from the opening weekend of the Minors, with a heavy dose of the PCL. Pretty much accidentally, I caught a bit of each game of the Rainiers opening series against Albuquerque. I missed yesterday’s game against the El Paso Chihuahuas, as I am still not quite ready to pay hard currency to watch a team named as one would name a U-10 soccer team (Jeff Francouer, Brooks Conrad and Adam Moore are all on that team, which kind of makes me want to go check them out).
1: Nick Franklin is a big-league ball player, masquerading as a PCL 2B. Ok, no points for game-changing insights on this one, but Frankin’s been excellent at the plate to open up – including two HRs in wet, cold weather – and he’s played a very solid 2B. Chris Taylor’s getting the majority of the SS starts, and you can kind of see why despite the paucity of chances for any player thus far. Still, it’s always interesting to see what a player does when he’s sent down – Franklin’s good enough to make a lot of AL teams, but Cano and Miller is a pretty unf$ckwithable DP combination. I watched the opener with Chris Crawford who pointed out how much Franklin used to “glide” at the plate – that is, how he’d have all of this somewhat unnecessary forward momentum in his swing. He’s still showing signs of that, but he’s also showing signs of his ability to barrel up tough pitches. The season isn’t old enough to know how his platoon splits are going to be, though I suppose it’s nice he’s 1-1 against lefty pitching. He’s looked good on double-play turns at 2B, but I thought his defense looked decent last year, so this may not qualify as news.
2: Chris Taylor is a talented player, but may need an adjustment period. The RH-hitting SS put the ball in play consistently, but made a lot of weak contact. In a line-up that hit remarkably well, Taylor’s *extremely* small sample slumplet stood out. But Javier Baez is in a slump, and Taylor is both a superior defender and hasn’t gotten into a fight with a teammate. This will be the only time Taylor and Baez are compared and or contrasted all year, so savor it. Taylor’s got a lot to play for this year, as a solid year would make him a very attractive trade chip, especially to teams that DON’T see Nick Franklin as a big-league SS.
3: Zach Lee, the Dodgers prospect, is a tough PCL pitcher, though it’s somewhat difficult to project how he’ll fare in the majors. He reminds me a bit of Tyler Skaggs, when the lefty was a Diamondbacks prospect – plenty of scouting cred, and flashes of ability to induce weak contact, but park effects and inconsistency led to a so-so performance record. The Skaggs that’s currently in the Angels rotation is a different animal thanks to the Angels’ overhauling Skaggs’ delivery (essentially, removing the changes the D-Backs made after Skaggs went to Arizona in the Dan Haren trade), but 2012-2013 Skaggs seems like a good comp. Lee works in the low 90s, with a solid slider. He’s got decent control, but it’s nothing remarkable, as his plunking of Taylor indicates. The contact was, by and large, noticeably poor, but it’s also hard to see how Lee would do markedly better against major league hitters.
Brendan Gawlowski had a good recap of his start at Prospect Insider, and you should check that out here. He was taken with Lee’s ability to generate weak contact, and it’s true, Lee got some really ugly, ugly swings and 60-foot whatever-is-worse-than-pop-flies from some Rainiers bats, but it’s just so tough to judge whether that’s an artifact of the April weather, some hitters still adjusting to AAA, or what. I agree with everything Brendan says, I’m just not sure I agree what it portends.
4: The M’s control-artist youngsters fared about as well as you could hope in their new assignments. Defensive-end sized righty Victor Sanchez, the 19 year old Venezuelan was pushed to AA Jackson this year and opened his 2014 campaign with a solid 5 IP start against Chattanooga with 6 Ks and no walks. Sanchez’s 2013 teammate, South African Dylan Unsworth, had a solid start in a tough place to pitch: High Desert. The righty went 6 innings, giving up an unearned run on 4 Ks and 1 BB. That’s a perfectly acceptable ratio, but in the 2013 regular season, Unsworth gave up all of two walks, so for him it was an uncharacteristically wild outing. Heralded lefty Tyler Pike had decent results, but walked 3 in his 5 IP start (he also notched 4 Ks). Edwin Diaz didn’t quite make it it to 5 IP, but had a solid first start for Clinton. The lanky righty out of Puerto Rico opened a lot of eyes last year, and he’s on the prospect radar for a reason, but it’s kind of stunning to realize that he’s a few months *older* than Sanchez.
5: DJ Peterson’s assignment to High Desert was somewhat cautious, as the college-trained 3B could probably handle high-minors pitching. But the M’s opted for the slower route, and put him in the hitter’s paradise of the Cal League. Results thus far have been pretty much what you’d expect – he’s hit quite well in his first week, with 8 hits in his first 6 games. That’s solid, but he’s been left in the dust a bit by Gabriel Guerrero, the hyped prospect who was pushed to Clinton last year, and failed to live up to prospect hype or his uncle’s name. He’s taken to the Cal league, however – he’s 11-23, with four XBHs against four Ks. The M’s are woefully understocked with OFs, so a big season from Guerrero would be timely.
6: Jesus Montero really stung the ball once, on Friday. Other than that, it was an extremely disappointing opening to a critical season for Montero. I don’t mean critical for the M’s playoff chances, or critical for Montero’s place in the M’s plans, I mean: critical to allow Montero to keep playing affiliated ball. That sounds way too dramatic, like a Hot Sports Take on twitter or something, but Montero’s now a guy with a PED suspension, no defensive position and serious platoon splits. He really needs to get off to a good start to earn some playing time away from Ji-Man Choi, and Choi needs practice hitting lefties, which could push Montero to DH (his defense thus far has been predictably bad). If Montero’s a DH going forward, and, realistically, he is, he needs to hit a ton in the PCL. Aaaaannny minute now. Here he is running out an IF grounder as Miguel Olivo smirks in the background. If this was a tarot card, it would mean an imminent career change, or a serious health problem.