Things I’ve Been ___ On
[Author’s note: I always think of more things to mention and this got out of hand pretty quickly. The final word tally is over 6500, but it all breaks down into discrete sections of 250-500 words, which are manageable. You will manage.]
One of the things I rarely see addressed is when people of repute in some field admit their own flaws and indiscretions in analysis. It’s as if the only real way to continue building our own ostensible authority is to focus on our own successes and elide anything that doesn’t cohere with that vision. For the people doing the baseball journalism or looking towards front office work as a career— perhaps for any other industry— I suppose credibility and the insistence of it are necessary. But as something of a removed observer on the subject of baseball, who prefers to do it out of interest rather than think of it as a vocation, I’m blessed with the ability to talk about happenings without stressing too much about credibility. If I’m right or wrong, since the subject is relegated to a hobby, I don’t think of it as reflecting poorly on who I am.
People wanted a mid-season review. People often want prospect lists too, but those suck because they presume steady and identifiable stratifications of talent, parity amongst teams, and comparable risk/reward factors. Even outside of prospecting, the utilities I would find for listing would comprise a small list in and of itself. So I’m more content to do a review, but with a twist: I’m not going to talk about what has happened and presume objectivity. Instead, I’m going to address, as best I am able, the areas in which I made private or public predictions as to player development and talk about where I’ve been right to this point, where wrong, and where I can give myself an incomplete grade. In some cases, I won’t talk about what interests you specifically and there isn’t a single thing about unexpected breakouts, but this is my experiment.
I know that people rely on me for some of these perspectives because I’ve been starting at this stuff for an inordinate length of time, but my judgment is by no means perfect and I have my own biases and instances where I’ve shot from the hip. I want people to recognize that when I’m saying these things, I’m giving my own perspective based on what data I have and how I do my own calculus with it. I can be wrong. I can hit on some things out of acuity and others out of happenstance, and miss out because of bad process and bad luck. I can also hope that people try to come at these quandaries with the same rigor I try to [now and then], but for now I’ll just share what I’ve found.
Abraham Almonte is being overvalued by management and is more likely a 4th outfielder at present
One of the things I spend a lot of mental bandwidth on is how, in our society, the types of stories and narratives we promote are the ones we most need or want to hear, regardless of their actual frequency in the real world. It can be the more passive “deus ex machina”-styled narratives of “something will come to change everything for the better” or it could be a more take-charge mindset of “hard work and perseverance pay off.” Both are insidious in their own ways, but the intentions are good: things will change for the better and we will either be agents or participants, but nonetheless.
Abraham Almonte was a story coming into camp. It was a selling point of his. Early in his pro career, he became an alcoholic in response to the grief he was living with after the loss of his father. As injuries and other issues forced him to the sidelines, he only went deeper into the bottle. Then, something of a miracle: a religious vision, restored health, renewed commitment to his sport. It’s the kind of story we’re familiar with. We may even be looking for it. It’s all about overcoming adversity and if he could lose so much and still thrive, then so could we. We might even experience miracles.
Of course, what I was worried about was the quality of the data was on his recovery. We had 2011, a full season in Tampa for the Yankees, and then parts of a double-A season. Last year with us, he spent 3/4ths of his minor league time in Tacoma and hit more home runs than ever before, but I also was watching him for a few of those and saw them scrape the wall. With how hitter-friendly the PCL has become, I treat those numbers only with slightly less suspicion than I do Cal League numbers.
Almonte’s plate discipline went sideways in the majors this year. He was striking out more than anyone else in baseball for a time, I believe. The speed never really played up as expected and after a while he was gone. To his credit, June resembled something more in line with what he had done last year, hitting .306/.379/.482 in around a hundred plate appearances, but a month prior he his line was a .202/.245/.263 and he was striking out more than a quarter of the time. Even now, you can see some home/road variance and July has shown some regression from June.
Almonte will probably be back in the major leagues. He’ll probably be a good baseball player by baseball standards. He’ll still have his story going for him too. But in the overall picture, I’m a skeptic of him producing a lot, while happily accepting that he will have a major league career and/or a career as a motivational speaker. I’m not against the narrative, just how it’s been used as packaging.
Tyler Pike has a great rep for a guy that has only slightly better-than-average stuff and bad command
For a while now, we’ve regarded the Mariners as being a “top-heavy” minor league system, with significant drop off from the first tier of talent down to the next. One of the side effects of this is that when consensus emerges later in the list, people think of it as confirming that x prospect is really good and then I have to shake my head when people are making those awful projected 2017-2018 rosters that have Tyler Pike in the rotation.
Reading the actual profiles in the lists, of course you don’t have many people who think that Tyler Pike is much more than a #4 starter. Nevertheless, that squeamishness I get from seeing him in the top ten doesn’t go away, because of that false appearance of parity I referenced earlier. I think I had him as the sixth-best pitching prospect in the org coming out of the winter and that’s accounting for how badly all of us seemed to understand Elias.
But now it falls on me to justify that view point, so I’ll talk stuff a bit. Pike has an average-to-slightly-better heater on velocity and the change that most left-handers do. To his credit, he has flashed better velocity, though all pitchers are to some extent able to reach back like that. He’s not a guy who has a good grip on his breaking ball as of yet. He’s also not a guy who hits the strikezone a lot and some have questioned his ability and aptitude to work inside. Whether this is because he’s spooked or because he lacks that kind of precision, I can’t say. He hit one guy in 100+ innings all of last season. Against a league average of 9% BBs, he had a cumulative mark of 12.8%, 14.4% against right-handers and 7.6% against fellow lefties.
If you were looking for him to hit more dudes, hey, he’s up to eight now. If you were looking for him to walk fewer, well, nuts to that because he was at sixty-one through his fourteen High Desert starts plus four in Jackson. That BB% of his is higher than it was even last year, and the Ks didn’t come with him when he flew to Jackson. Sure, he’s moving up the chain, but that’s about all at the moment.
Victor Sanchez sometimes has a reputation that’s out of proportion with what he does
I’ve kind of been a Sanchez-hater over the years, in part because he just didn’t have that projection and in part because, although you could tell he was focused an intense about the pitching aspect of things, I felt like he dogged it on the fielding and other aspects when watching him in Everett. I don’t intend to sing of men and arms and scrappy white dudes who are an improbable 110% on every play, but when a guy shows uneven attention to his craft, you worry about his ability to improve in other areas. Whether or not he feels entitled to x and y at the expense of z becomes a question. With Manny Ramirez-level talents, you can tolerate it; not so much with Victor Sanchez talents.
I was willing to give him another shot coming into this year because the reports coming back were improved. But, coincidentally, though he was trying to pitch with better command by not blowing it past hitters, the results were not especially heartening. We’ve talked about the flaws of K/BB, how as BB approach zero the reflection of talent has diminishing returns. In Everett, Sanchez had a 19.7 K% and a 7.7 BB%, good for a 2.56 K/BB. In Clinton, it was 16.9% Ks and 3.8% BBs, good for a 4.39 K/BB. The K/BB improves, but it’s not really a reflection of talent increase as such, or improvement of prospect status.
Given that he was promoted to Jackson out of the gates and skipped a level entirely, it doesn’t seem like the right thing to talk too much about what he’s done. Also, hey, he was injured. But he’s now allowing a lot of hits, has given up more home runs through his first 54.2 innings of double-A than he did in about 200 prior innings. If you thought the walks were also behind him, whether from translation or regression, they’re closer to 2012 levels than 2013 levels..
Sanchez had a rep as a polished, top international prospect who dominated weaker competition. He’s always been young for everything he does. But the ceiling, when you’re just throwing an average fastball and a pedestrian curve… even if you have a great change and great command, that’s probably not enough to compensate unless you’re in that top tenth of a percent in command. Which is hard to do. Still a mid-rotation guy, still less ceiling than other prospects in the system, not bad as such, but perhaps he has a reputation outpacing reasonable expectations of him. He can turn in crazy outings now and then as #3s and #4s can [against the Mariners], but this isn’t sustainable, generally.
Austin Wilson was starting to get his act together at the end of the minor league season
No narrative foreplay here; I feel like the numbers sort of speak for themselves. This is what we had entering 2014:
June: 29 PA, .111/.172/.148, 27.6% Ks, 6.9% BBs, 5.3% LDs
July: 118 PA, .238/.322/.352, 18.6% Ks, 7.6% BBs, 8.4% LDs
August: 79 PA, .296/.367/.606, 15.2% Ks, 7.6% BBs, 11.9% LDs
Those are just positive trends across the board. You hardly ever see stuff like that. And so for me, it seemed a solid bet to say that Wilson would do well and adjust to being a pro faster than initially expected. Not everyone shared my opinion, but data was on my side.
The good news is that through sixty-five games in Clinton, spanning some 271 PAs, he was hitting .298/.385/.519, and while the Ks had ticked back up to 20.7%, his BB% was 8.9% and his line drives were around 22%. Very good, generally trending positive on a month-to-month level, prospect on the rise.
Well, as we were complaining about how he wasn’t getting promoted to the Cal League when Peterson was on his way to double-A, he hit the DL and hasn’t played a game since June 24th. He may take some time to adjust back and I don’t know if they’d promote him from the DL to a new league, but he’s definitely looking like one of the better hitters in a system that oh god needs hitters so badly.
Dominic Leone is better in the short-term than Carson Smith, maybe even long-term as well
Last year, Smith had a K-rate that no one was touching, coupled with stuff and extreme groundball tendencies. He was really hard to square up on, but sometimes you didn’t need to, as he was vulnerable to the walk. Leone on the other hand had more of a starter’s arsenal, good but not great pitches, and superior command of what he was doing with them. To side with Leone was to side with a slight polish advantage over clear stuff even though Smith had some crazy results in double-A.
How Leone has worked out as well as he has, I’m not entirely certain. He’s improved his K% in the majors and the command has been good enough to get by, though not quite as good as might have been hoped. Leone has been versatile, with left-handers only having a slight advantage against him, and he’s been fungible, with eight outings of two or more frames when I was checking earlier in the month. Chris Young and Roenis Elias saved the rotation, but Leone has a solid case for having saved the bullpen.
Smith, on the other hand, just hasn’t been as interesting. It had been so long since I’d heard about him that I felt like he had to have gone the DL and yes, he was gone for a month from late April on. When he’s been back, we haven’t really seen that same dominance out of him. In his first twenty-four appearances, he struck out three guys once. Last year, through forty-four outings, he struck out three+ seven times. His overall K% has dropped from 35% to the low-twenties. Walks have come down slightly too, but not enough to compensate for that extreme loss of Ks. And his splits have reversed somehow, which is danged weird. In this case, I don’t want to be right at the expense of Smith being good, but that’s been the story so far.
This Patrick Kivlehan guy might actually be interesting
I can totally understand the mindset that wants to be sour on tools guys. Under Frank Mattox, we drafted players largely on their physical abilities and the results sucked. We also did it to an extent under Fontaine, with more success overall but not a lot of hits or perhaps any. Patrick Kivlehan was mostly an athlete coming here, having been on the Rutgers football team for a few years before trying out for baseball and somehow winning the league’s triple crown even though no actual baseball players had ever done that. It’s weird insofar as you think of baseball as being a sport centered around specialized skills, but this was a thing that happened and nothing will make it un-happen.
There wasn’t a lot after his Everett debut that inspired confidence. Between two levels, he had struck out just under a fifth of the time and the walk rate was holding at 7%. He had significant home/road splits in both Clinton (.165 OPS difference) and High Desert (.301 OPS difference). His month-to-month K and BB% had about 10% separating highs and lows and little to signal any consistency. He had a strong close to the year, but in High Desert, who doesn’t? To cap it all off, he was terrrrrible in the AFL.
In retrospect, I don’t have a clue why I stayed on the ship when a lot of other people were diving off frantically. They had justification and I didn’t. But sometimes we ignore data because we’ve had good feelings and who knows. The fact is that Kivlehan has increased his walks this year by about one-and-a-half percentage points and the Ks have dropped a little rather than getting worse. There’s the month-to-month inconsistency sometimes, but overall he seems to be improving and the good months are looking better. In April his K% was at 23.1 and his BB% was at 5.8. In June, when he had a crazy high BABIP and was squaring up on everything, he had a 13.9 K% and a 10.2 BB%, all while hitting .385/.444/.573.
Kivlehan is a guy who is going to benefit from more time in the high minors facing more skilled competition. He’s unlikely to be ready or capable of fully adapting in his first go at the majors. I don’t even know what corner he’s best suited for between the physical abilities and the performance. But hey, he’s improved his stock so far and seems to be getting incrementally better at doing skill-related baseball things. And he hits! Hitting yaaaaaaaaay.
Jones is a tweener and thus not much of a prospect
A great thing to be wrong about, in retrospect. While I ducked out of making an Elias opinion known (I knew who and what he was, but was willing to let it happen rather than predict, though I leaned favorable), I vocalized my sentiments about Jones. He hadn’t played center field with great consistency. He hadn’t hit for enough power outside of that to justify putting him in a corner. He was a speed guy in a non-speed position. It didn’t really make sense if you were trying to think “prospect.” If you think “prospect” about guys who are twenty-five and getting their first full taste of triple-A ball.
I don’t think any of us could have foreseen Jones as a major leaguer vs. his minor league track record. As I checked his MLB stats early in July, he had only a 16.5% K-rate. That would best his mark from last year by a full percentage point, over a full season. In the minor leagues, he had a career success rate of 68.75% on stolen bases. In the majors, he missed one in his first nineteen attempts.
There are things I’d love to see improve in Jones’ game. I’m not begging him to hit for power because I don’t think that’s going to come right away, but I do think that he could stand to walk a little more and that a few walks here and there could go a long way towards getting him some additional hitting value. But collectively, we really undersold how much he was willing to work and how much he was going to solicit the advice of anyone willing to let him shadow. He’s asked the right questions and put in corresponding efforts. He’s not perfect or even finished, but that’s kind of awesome given the Mariners’ hitting prospects and their tendencies to stagnate. It also makes you think a lot more of his ability to stick around, even if slumps are in the future for him. Like… right now, for example.
Edwin Diaz is the prospect most likely to make the next step and take his place as the system’s best non-Walker, non-Paxton pitching prospect
Tee hee whoops.
Here’s the thing about plateau leaps in performances: We often assume that they have to come from some fix, some change in approach, that thenceforth is going to be sustained. A pitcher throws a no-hitter or close to it and we think something has clicked. Some player just hits a bunch of home runs in a short span and we think he’s got it. In Diaz case, it wasn’t just a few outings, it was a half-season in Pulaski where he was mostly unhittable.
You can’t blame me for trying to draw that favorable conclusion, or wanting to. In the AZL his BB% was 18.9 and he looked as raw and flawed as we all were told he would be. The following year in Pulaski, the BB% dropped to 6.9% and the Ks jumped by 8.2% to over thirty. Pitchers who have fastballs that can touch mid-90s, throw quality breaking balls, and good control numbers on top of all that tend to be high-end prospects.
This season has seen Diaz’ BB% go back over ten and his Ks drop to roughly levels than they were at in Peoria (i.e. ~20+%). His months have fallen in a range so far, from 18.7 to 24.8% Ks and from 12.9 to 7.7% BBs. He’s not coming all that close, even in a single month, to hitting the marks he hit on average last year, though July so far has been looking pretty sweet.
I don’t know what’s wrong with him this year any more than I knew what went right last year. I’m also no more capable of answering if he can start long term. There are a lot of things we just don’t have adequate information on. But I can pine for video and people who could just look at his motion and say “oh, you’re doing this differently, maybe you should go back to this other thing.” Development is really inefficient, you guys. And Diaz doesn’t look like he has the consistency to rise rapidly.
Our next shortstop prospect to break out and inexplicably start hitting a bunch is none other than Tyler Smith!
We all have tendencies to misunderstand trends in stupid and illogical ways, and in my case it was to claim “we will keep getting hitting shortstops out of perceived utility players!” Part of it is perhaps a misunderstanding of Pulaski stats as being meaningful, again. Part of it was my being intrigued by BA’s claim that he had the best strikezone discipline in system, better than more obvious choices of Ty Kelly and Choi. Part of it was an overestimation of the talents of a guy who was just older than his competition. But hey, I was right about him being more of a hitting force than Jack Reinheimer, who was picked three rounds ahead of him and has had a .650 OPS for some time.
Smith has done some things right this year and the BA claims on him weren’t too far off. He increased his BB% from 7.7 in Pulaski to ~12% in High Desert, not bad at all for skipping two levels. But then you look at his total walks and he’s only roughly in the system’s top five despite having a bunch of guys around him with 40-70 fewer plate appearances. And the Ks, while not an issue as such, at a little high at ~18% for what he provides otherwise.
The good news? No major left/right splits, home/road splits within the margin, trends that overall look positive with regard to his plate discipline, at least coming into July (18% Ks and 9.9% BBs in April, 14.6% Ks and 15.5% BBs in June). He’s doing all right for himself, but he’s not breaking out like Taylor or Miller broke out or hitting in a way reflective of a prospect in the Cal League. He’s just about where everyone thought he would be: a future utility guy. Useful, but not super useful, just super utility.
This is a year in which Julio Morban will stay healthy!
I’ve had a soft spot for Morban since he’s one of the few big international signings we’ve made that have actually done anything with the bat. He’s had the talent to move him up the ladder so far and has really done well considering his age and relative experience, but you notice certain inconsistencies in his profile that become difficult to ignore. For example, in the past three years, despite being in full-season ball, he was only playing about eighty games a year.
Some guys leave their injury concerns behind and reach a point where they’ve grown into their bodies and are now less fragile. Some guys, instead, are Chris Snelling. Morban played six games with Tacoma from April 18th to April 27th, and then he disappeared for a while and didn’t turn up again until late June in Jackson.
I believe that there’s more to Morban than we’ve seen. He’s always been promoted to a new level each year. He’s always managed to tread water or do a little better, which is hard to imagine when he only had 325-350 PAs to adjust to a new level of competition. It is conceivable that once he sticks in a league and achieves a level of mastery over it, that he produces more than we’ve yet seen from him. It is not conceivable, at the moment, that he will remain healthy enough to plan around in any meaningful way.
Tyler Marlette hasn’t hit southpaws well ever. Worry?
In the absence of hard scouting data on particular subject, I’m often left to interpret stats like bone casting or runes. Now, I’ve always liked Marlette. The ability to hit a ball out of Petco as a teenager is difficult to ignore and there was never much data to suggest he absolutely couldn’t catch. But then, when I was writing up profiles earlier in the year, I noticed something I really did not like: his splits against left-handers were reversed from what you’d expect. Discounting his debut year for the irrelevance of the sample, you had a .586 OPS (54 PA) vs. a .777 OPS (159 PA) in 2012 and a .548 OPS mark (44 PA) vs. an .861 mark (253 PA) as your left/right splits from last year.
The number of plate appearances is hardly meaningful as samples go, but the difference was so dramatic it didn’t seem incidental. Was he being outsmarted at the plate by those crafty southpaws? Or was it that he couldn’t hit the offspeed pitches which left-handers usually have a better grip on at the level and was being exploited as a fastball hitter? Neither option appealed to me.
This year he’s logged more PAs against left-handers than ever before in a season and is smashing them as it seems he rightfully should. I look in early July and see that he’s hitting them for .379/.390/.690, which suggest he’s seeing them really, really well, but would it kill him to walk now and then, I mean really? Of course, the RH mark has drifted back to the .750 range, but that’s really not so bad.
So one concern has been addressed but now we have to consider that seven of his first nine dingers came at home and the defensive reports coming back have been less positive. More problems present themselves! Oh no prospecting!
Gabriel Guerrero is being overrated on his power potential given that his plate discipline is awful
This has only been a recent addition to the “who knows?” category, since I expected Guerrero to be exposed in the Cal League. For a long time, Guerrero’s road slugging was below .400 and I was not filled with good feelings looking at that. More recently, it’s been fairly similar to his home slugging and yes, I went out and cross-referenced and it turns out that only one of his road home runs was hit at a park I would consider “cheap.” This somewhat diminishes my concerns about him getting into bad habits and such.
Likewise, his BB% as I look in early July is sitting at 6.2%, an improvement of 2% over last year. The less good? Well, the K% is holding around 22+% and while the overall batting lines are similar, he’s a better walker on the road by 2+% and also strikes out 7-8% more, which is weird because if anything you’d be thinking he’d swing with move freedom at home.
Overall though, the plate discipline is still inconsistent and his K%s have bounced from 26.7% in April to 16.8% in May and back up to 29.2% in June. The walks have likewise been up and down and all the while we’ve had some diminishing returns on slugging, going from .519 to .461 to .315. From one month to the next. That .315 in particular is just unsustainable, but given how bad his discipline was in June, you can extrapolate as you will.
So Guerrero hasn’t been exposed as badly as I thought and he had been walking more in the first half (July, as I look, is under 4%), but the issues that made me suspicious about his prospect status and ability to hit balls far, i.e. his K tendencies, are still present and the most recent completed data set we have doesn’t like him especially and is illustrative of his inconsistencies. I’m willing to give this one an incomplete for being sometimes bad, sometimes good, and not in the way I predicted.
Ketel Marte is Wilson Valdez
Perhaps I’m becoming more of a curmudgeon as I do this. Where previously I would delight in the prospect of any guy having some kind of major league career given the odds, Ketel Marte had a scouting hype coming into the season and continuing to this day that seemed frustratingly at odds with how I perceived him as a prospect. With a feature article on him at MLB.com as a rising prospect, the buzz has reached deafening levels and I’m trying to present my own misgivings about it without being a total asshole about it.
When I made the Wilson Valdez comp, I was looking for a guy who was a glove-first shortstop in the minor leagues, hit for average in the .260-290 range, and had an overall OPS around or just south of .700. Valdez was actually worse than that coming up until he reached the high minors, but Marte has never cracked the .700 mark over a full season himself and his better ISO loses ground to a worse BB%.
What we’re looking at when we look at Marte is a guy who has yet to crack a 5% BB% or a .080 ISO over a full season [note: he just recently topped that ISO mark by hitting his semi-annual dinger]. Players with that profile only survive at premium positions and their averages/bat control tend to be the main force driving their value. Because I don’t play fantasy baseball and am terrible at paying attention to other teams, I only tend to think of Mariners as comps , so take these as inadequate illustrations: on the high end, you would have someone like Ichiro (~6% BBs, ~.090 ISO) and on the low end you could have someone like Brendan Ryan (~7% BBs, ~.080 ISO). I don’t think Marte has Ryan’s defense because people still talk about how he’s looked more comfortable at second and occasionally question his arm strength. That his career average is around .280 leads me to think he isn’t Ichiro either.
But again, I don’t know how I feel being the lone dissenter relying heavily on stats for this. And to be fair to the scouting crowd, Marte is only twenty, in double-A, and has been promoted pretty aggressively throughout his career. I think we all agree that he’s going to have a major league job, but I’m considerably more bearish about his future.
Luiz Gohara is right on the heels of Diaz for best pitching prospect in the system
Had he started in Clinton, this might have happened. He did not. Instead, our first Gohara sighting came on June 21st, in Peoria, when he had a 6.2 inning stint where he gave up an unearned run on five hits and a walk while striking out nine. He followed that up by running a 7/1 K/BB over six frames, again in Peoria. That was enough to get him to Everett and for start #3 of the year, he walked as many as he struck out and lasted 2.1 innings, and followed that up with another outing where the ratio was the same and he lasted 3.2 innings.
Rare is the instance in the minor leagues where a player can go unaccounted for months at a time and still maintain high-end prospect status. When he didn’t show up in Clinton, when he wasn’t on Everett to start the season, immediately the memory drifted back to the shoulder issues that caused him to tail off last year. One isn’t saying anything by pointing to this, but when there’s only so much information to go on, you go with what you have.
More conservative ETAs had him five to six years out at the start of the season. Now, they aren’t looking so off, as it might be hard to see him in Seattle in, say, 2017, at the present rate of development. The lack of consistency means he’s not looking like a fast-riser either, whether there is or is not a shoulder issue. INCOMPLETE, PARTIALLY DUE TO COMPARISON TO DIAZ.
Steve Landazuri might be our best high minors rotation prospect outside of Walker and Paxton
I’ve thought of Landazuri as being on a career path similar to Brandon Maurer in that, had he been pitching in another state, he would have been a recognizable prospect, but California guys can get lost when the talent around them plays at such a high level. Landazuri throws and works hard enough and was exiting his High Desert tenure with some good peripherals, including a K% of 22.6 and a BB% of 6.3%. He seemed like a guy whose combination of performances (not much in the way of splits, good ratios) and skills (three-pitch mix, above-average velocity) would eventually get him noticed.
For the first four starts, I felt like a genius for making this prediction. He had 23.0 innings under his belt and ran a 30/3 K/BB in that span while only allowing twelve total hits. He was brilliant! I was brilliant for knowing he would be brilliant! Then things stopped being good and we both stopped being brilliant.
Landazuri tweaked a muscle in his back after the fourth start. It didn’t sound like something that would last all that long, but we didn’t see him again for almost two months. And when we talk about pitcher injuries, the arm is rightly regarded as the most vital piece, but really there are just so many moving parts in a delivery that any other injury is likely to throw the whole motion out of whack. We saw this play out with Paxton in the “my back hurts and now my arm hurts” sort of way.
Through his first six starts back (haha, back), Landazuri hit five innings once and never struck out more than three. On the plus side, that seventh outing lasted seven frames and he struck out five and only walked one. I’m guessing that he’s not mechanically right yet and I don’t know what it would take to get him back to that state. I still believe though.
Tyler O’Neill will be a better ballplayer than expected
Like the Kivlehan situation, this was a “numbers vs. gut” scenario in which I thought one thing was going to happen that ran counter to what I was seeing evidence of. What I had seen, over O’Neill’s time in Peoria, was a guy with pretty extreme left/right splits in very limited time, similarly extreme home/road splits, and production that tapered off over the course of the season as his strikeout rate steadily increased. I had come in expecting to list him as one of the top ten hitters in the org, but discovered that his overall line was undermined by other trends that were occurring, and so I kept that prediction in my back pocket.
It was a pretty bold promotion to skip him over Pulaski and Everett to have him take on Clinton as a nineteen-year-old Canadian and we might consider this a template for what could happen with Morgan next year if he pulls out of this nosedive he’s in. The results weren’t great for O’Neill, but neither were they disastrous. In his favor, his wOBA+ was 112, no mean feat for a kid his age, and his ISO was higher than it was in Arizona which, allow me to emphasize, is really hard to do in April and May in the Midwest League because the weather is ornery. In his dispraise, he was striking out more than ever and walking less.
Perhaps you are wondering why I’ve only cited April and May. Following a game in which he went 1-for-5 with a double and struck out three times, a first this season, Tyler O’Neill punched a wall. The wall won. The wall always wins. I’ve probably heard tales of about five or ten different minor leaguers over the years getting into fights with walls or drinking fountains and the inanimate objects always come out victors. Psychologically, it’s probably a side effect of being so good at something for so long and then entering a situation where everyone was similarly talented. Except that I didn’t know too many people in college who tried to punch through a printer because they were on the crest of the curve in some math test.
The diagnosis was that O’Neill would be out for about ten weeks. That was mid-May. If he’s lucky, he’ll get an August to work with, but overall we don’t have enough data here to say whether he was capable of adjusting back or what kind of performance we should expect from him going forward. Nor will we exiting the season.
Ji-man Choi is our hero
Not yet technically untrue! As one of the bigger Choi cheerleaders, I thought that this would be one of the best years for him to establish himself as part of the team: Smoak has been weak but curiously not-usurped for some time now and the longer Choi took to impress the major league team, the more he would end up being compared to D.J. Peterson in ability.
Choi went on the suspension list hitting .394/.500/.545 in Tacoma. Not a great deal of power, but walks and plate discipline and seeing and hitting the ball proficiently. But suspension list. I still think he’s got a good chance of being innocent, but a lot of the contextual information (injury history, sudden breakout) skews things to where the guilt is very much plausible.
Choi couldn’t afford to lose fifty games of development. Lose them he did. After returning to active playing time, he got about two weeks of consistent at-bats before the collective rehabbing needs of injured Mariners and the presence of Xavier Nady (now gone!) forced him to spend the better part of a week on the bench. If any good came of that, it was that they eventually tried to play him in left field, which was a shock to me, since I figured they’d try him out at his old position of third beforehand. So he is perhaps gaining a small amount of versatility, and had gotten a good week and a half of solid at-bats before sitting again for a few days.
If he were just not hitting, I think that I would be more willing to put this in a wrong category, or at least equivocate and point out that I didn’t say when he would save us all. In this case, though, I can feel like I’m not quite being a homer by pointing out that he has had inconsistencies in his playing time and is trying to learn a new position in our new and rather limited sample. We’ll check in again in the future when we may know some more things. We may know more about a lot of things in the future, but we’ll have more things to think about generally and also not know a lot about those. Existence is usually transitioning from one manifestation of doubt to the next.