By Ashley Marshall
Last week, New York Mets prospect Cesar Puello checked off another “first” in his young career by homering twice in the same game for Binghamton.
The 22-year-old Puello told me that his approach in the box is the same in every game and in every at-bat, regardless of the situation. He said he’s always sitting on the fastball and he indicated that he’s working harder on using the whole field.
I also spoke with B-Mets manager Pedro Lopez, who praised the young hitters abilities and work ethic. I asked him whether he thought he was ready for a bigger role higher up in the lineup (Puello had spent a lot of time batting sixth and seventh). Here’s what Lopez had to say.
On the progress Puello has made:
I will tell you what — watching him last night hit a home run and coming down and hitting two more tonight, I’m really pleased with the effort that he has put in up to this point. He has been working hard and shrinking the strike zone, and he got good pitches to hit and got his foot down.
On the type of hitter Puello is:
He is a gap-to-gap hitter with power, but we don’t know how much power yet because that is the last thing to show. I’m just glad that he hit the home runs that he has hit in this series so he knows the power is there. Young kids do not trust the process all the time, and they want the results right away.
On Puello’s power, which he graded a 70 (on the 20-80 scale):
Right now, he’s concentrating on getting good at-bats and getting good pitches to hit. When he does, he doesn’t miss them.
Seeing him take batting practice, he can hit the balls as far as anybody in the game right now. But that is not what we are looking for from him, we’re looking for him to get good pitches to hit. He’s still being aggressive in the strike zone, but when he does get good pitches, he’s able to not miss them.
On giving Puello a bigger role:
That has been in my thoughts, but I’m trying to get him to feel comfortable. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. For a young kid, when you move them up [in the lineup], they feel like they have to do something. We’re trying to show them that they have to wait for the game to come to them. Eventually, if he keeps doing what he is doing, that will happen. Keep things the way they are right now and make him feel comfortable. [Moving up] will be the next step.
On Puello’s work ethic and overall tools:
The way he goes about his business is as good as anybody in the game right now. He is focusing on becoming a complete player. It shows in his defense and his power shagging. It shows in him taking good routes and hitting the cut-off man and his daily routine in the cage. He’s doing everything in his power to become a good player. For a 22-year-old to have that work ethic, it is good to see.
By Ashley Marshall
Braves top prospect J.R. Graham exited his start on Monday after feeling some discomfort in his shoulder between innings.
He was optimistic that tests the following day would provide a clean bill of health, but on Wednesday he was placed him on the disabled list.
When I spoke with Graham about his injury immediately after the game, he voiced his disappointment at having to come out. He said he was making progress in several different aspects of his game and felt like he had been able to fix a couple minor flaws in his mechanics.
Here are some quotes from Graham that did not make it into the original story.
On making adjustments:
“I felt like I was pitching well. These past couple of games, I’ve been working hard with different pitch grips and pitching from the other side of the rubber.
“I’ve been working on some stuff in my bullpens, so it was nice to get back out on the field. I’ve been locating my pitches well and I’ve been throwing my breaking ball.”
On changing his position on the mound:
“I talked about it with pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn and I talked to [pitching coordinator] Dave Wallace and I pulled out information from Don Sutton. We talked about it and decided to pitch from that [third base] side to give the hitters a different angle and make it more uncomfortable.
“But I wasn’t locating the fastball from that side of the rubber, so I made the change to go back to the other side which worked well last year and at the beginning of this season.”
On following in the footsteps of teammate Alex Wood, who recently added a spike curveball to his repertoire:
“My changeup felt really good this year and it’s coming along. I’ve worked on my breaking ball and I’ve got more depth off of it. When I get hitters 0-2 or 1-2, I’m trying to put them away with the breaking ball.
“I’ve been trying to find a grip that works for me on a more consistent basis in any count.
“I’ve been using a spike curveball from talking with [Tim] Hudson and [Craig] Kimbrel and [Jonny] Venters. Just picking their brains on some minor stuff in big league camp and they have had successes with it. If they can, why can’t I? It gives me the location and movement I want.
“Alex Wood told me he thought it would be a good pitch for me. I was hesitant, but I bought into it and called Don Sutton and he gave me some information. He said to spin it as fast as you can, not just throw it as hard as you can — as many rotations as possible before it gets to the plate.
“There’s not much a difference [in the grip]. I just lifted my pointer finger and put more pressure on my middle finger. If you don’t get on top of it, it will slip out or go over the catcher’s head.”
By Ashley Marshall
The first month of the Minor League season has been everything but dull.
With up to 120 teams on the field on any given day, there’s always something to see. At every level and in every league, interesting stats are abundant.
The Indianapolis Indians, for example, are a perfect 15-0 when leading after five innings, while the Toledo Mud Hens are 3-11 in one-run games. Elsewhere, both Bowie and Mississippi have won three games when trailing after eight innings and 15 teams have yet to score in double digits at least once this season, led by the trio of Columbus, Charlotte and Jupiter (highs of seven).
April has seen 57 grand slams, 19 players with at least five hits in one game, five cycles (Negrych, Triunfel, Lambo, Almonte, Lipka) two three-homer performances (Romak and Murphy), a one-hitter and a no-no.
A total of 913 players have hit 2,005 homers, and San Jose’s Devin Harris has more longballs in the past week (seven) than 2,081 other players have hit in the first 27 days of the new season.
Here’s a word cloud showing what has been happening across more than 300 game recaps, league notebooks and promo previews on MiLB.com over the past 30 days.
It’s no surprise to see “prospect(s)” mentioned more than 700 times, although I wasn’t expecting to see “Walker” pop up 70 times.
I suppose when Taijuan Walker – baseball’s No. 5 prospect — has a 1.55 ERA, 32 Ks in 29 innings and two runs allowed in his past three starts, his name appears a lot. Also, Cedar Rapids’ Adam Brett Walker is batting .284 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 22 games.
April All-MiLB Team
It includes nine batters — eight position players and one DH — assembled into a batting order. Like real-life lineups, mine includes players with high on-base percentages and good speed at the top of the order, the most productive hitters in the heart of the lineup and a mixture of power, discipline and speed in the lower third.
1. Thomas Coyle, 2B
2. Byron Buxton, CF
3. Scott Van Slyke, 1B
4. Miguel Sano, 3B
5. Nick Franklin, DH
6. Stephen Vogt, C
7. Nolan Fontana, SS
8. Brian Bogusevic, LF
9. Kyle Johnson, RF
- Thomas Coyle is off to a hot start with Class A Bowling Green. He’s hitting .349 with 11 extra-base hits (including two homers) in 23 contests. Don’t let his 5-foot-7 frame fool you, he has some thunder in that bat. A prototypical leadoff hitter, the UNC product has a .471 OBP and he is a perfect 12-for-12 in stolen base attempts. He has walked more times (19) than he has struck out (12) and he has scored 20 Midwest League runs.
- Teenage outfielder Byron Buxton has 31 hits in 22 games, good for a .392 clip with Cedar Rapids. The Twins prospect has the ability to hit for average and power (four homers, five doubles). He’s no slouch on the basepaths, as evidenced by nine steals, and he’s averaged almost one RBI per game (21 in 22 contests). He also has a 19-17 walks-to-strikeouts ratio and a 1.194 OPS.
- Scott Van Slyke is crushing the ball at Triple-A Albuquerque. The 26-year-old has eight homers, one off the Minors lead — and 26 RBIs in 25 games. Not just a power hitter, the 6-foot-5 first baseman is also batting a ridiculous .419. Van Slyke hit a career-high 23 homers across two levels in 2009 and there’s no reason to think he can’t replicate his 100-RBI effort from four years ago.
- It’s no surprise to see Miguel Sano in the cleanup spot. His nine homers for Fort Myers are tied for the Minors lead, and he’s complemented the power game with a .368 average and 21 runs scored. He’s struck out more than twice as often (28) as he’s walked (11), but with the kind of run production he’s given the Twins’ Florida State League affiliate, that’s not a real concern. He’s slugging .747 with a 1.183 OPS through 25 Class A Advanced games and his 17 extra-base hits are tied for second.
- Nick Franklin is another hitter feasting in the friendly PCL environment. He’s hitting .410 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 17 games and has a 2-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio with Tacoma. The first-rounder made 64 Triple-A appearances last year and the indication is that he’ll continue to make giant strides in the Mariners system. His .538 OBP leads all Minor Leaguers.
- Backstop Stephen Vogt is 35-for-80 (.438) in 19 games with Triple-A Sacramento. Among those 35 hits are six homers, six doubles and two triples, producing to a .788 slugging percentage. He has 19 RBIs and 19 runs scored, and while he wasn’t walked a whole lot (nine times), he’s only whiffed nine times. With a .494 OBP and 1.282 OPS, Vogt is among the elite catchers in the opening month.
- Shortstop Nolan Fontana has better production that you’d ordinarily see out of a No. 7 hitter. He’s batting .360 with 19 RBIs in 25 games for Class A Advanced Lancaster and has drawn a Minors-best 27 walks compared with 20 strikeouts. The second-rounder reached base in more than half of his plate appearances and has provided the JetHawks with 24 runs, 19 RBIs and four stolen bases.
- Veteran outfielder Brian Bogusevic spent all of 2012 in the Majors, and considering his red-hot start, he likely won’t be hanging around in Iowa too long. He’s hitting .420 in 24 games and he has seven doubles, 10 RBIs and five steals in six tries. His plate discipline numbers (13 walks, 14 strikeouts) in the PCL are much better than they were in the big leagues (41 walks, 96 strikeouts), and while he won’t hit for a ton of power, he’s spraying balls all over the place.
- Kyle Johnson is one of those players who’d serve the purpose of a secondary leadoff hitter in a fictional lineup. He has a .347 average with Burlington and has yet to be thrown out in 16 stolen base attempts. He’s drawn 15 walks in 21 Midwest League games and he has plated 10 runs from the top of the order.
What do you think of the lineup? Who would you add or exclude? Share your thoughts in the comments below. With hundreds of possible candidates, it’s impossible to please everyone, but hopefully this is a pretty good start.
The Rockies’ David Dahl (to MiLB.com colleague Ashley Marshall): “The one that stands out the most was [the Reds'] Robert Stephenson who pitched for [Class A Short-Season] Billings. I only faced him one game, I think he went seven innings. He was honestly like a Double-A pitcher already. It was really cool to see, and it was fun to face. He was throwing like 97 [mph] to 101 with three really good pitches. You never really knew what he was going to throw. If he was behind in the count, he could still throw his dirty curveball or change when you were sitting on the fastball. He was just a really good pitcher. He had everything working that day.”
The Mariners’ Stefen Romero: “Probably [the Astros' Jarred] Cosart. He’s pretty tough. I saw him in the [Arizona] Fall League. He’s just one of those guys who can spot up everything, knows how to command all his pitches really well and keeps you guessing, off balance.”
The White Sox’s Marcus Semien: ”Last year, I had a pretty tough game against [the Nationals', and now Twins'] Alex Meyer from [Class A] Potomac. He’s probably one of the better ones I have seen. [With Meyer's height], I was not able to pick up the ball. One of worst games of the year was against him. He throws hard and has a good slider.”
The Padres’ Jedd Gyorko (to MiLB.com colleague John Parker): ”That’s a hard one — there are a lot of good guys. Maybe Danny Hultzen from the Mariners — he’s a tough lefty with a three-quarters drop-down motion and a great changeup.”
Fifteen MiLB Prospects Answer This Question: What Jersey Number Do You Hope to Wear When You Reach the Majors?
The Royals’ Yordano Ventura: ”Because Pedro [Martinez] was 45, and I want to be the first one after Pedro.”
The Tigers’ Bruce Rondon: “My dad’s favorite number — his dream was to watch me pitch with Detroit wearing number 44. Unfortunately I didn’t get that number, but I have the one right before, number 43. Honestly, he has never told me why [he liked that number]. I always ask him why and he never wants to tell me, but that’s his favorite number. I told him that one day he has to tell me what the number means to him.”
The Rays’ Jake Odorizzi: “My jersey here is that. If I don’t make it out of Spring [Training] or do, I’ll be wearing that. I’ve always had that number growing up. My friends and I just wanted to be in the 20s, and that was the one I settled on. This is the first time I’ve been able to wear it at the Major League level, which I’m excited about.
The Yankees’ Tyler Austin: “I would love to wear it. That is my favorite number. My brother wore 21. I wore 21 growing up, so it was like an always-21 deal. I wore it all throughout high school and travel ball, so I would love to wear 21 if the opportunity presented itself for me to wear that number. Guys usually pick it before I do [on Minor League clubs]. They usually get in there and pick their numbers before I have a chance to get in there.”
The Rockies’ David Dahl (to MiLB.com colleague Ashley Marshall): “I haven’t really thought about it. I’m just trying to get there. When I was a freshman in high school, I got the last pick out of all the numbers; 21 was available, so I used that all the way through high school and then I used it my first year in [Class A Short-Season] Grand Junction, so now I like it a lot.”
Here is Profar at Class A Short-Season Spokane (2010), Class A Hickory (2011) and Double-A Frisco (2012) in advance of potentially his first assignment to Triple-A Round Rock, where would begin but perhaps not stay too long this month. Click on any picture to begin a slideshow. For all past editions of Prospect Uniformed, head here.
Will Leitch, one of America’s best sportswriters, has a feature in the current issue of New York Magazine called “The Glass Arm: Inside the art and science (but mostly still art) of keeping pitchers from getting hurt.” Check it out here.
On a warm, windy day in Tampa, everyone—fans, coaches, other pitchers—stops what they’re doing to watch Brett Marshall throw. It’s just a warm-up, with no actual game action scheduled for a few more days, so he’s not really letting it fly, but he doesn’t have to. Everyone is still staring.
It’s not the velocity, although that’s there. It’s not the distinctive thump of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt the way it does only for those blessed with such lightning arms. It’s how easy it looks. Each motion looks like the last motion, which looks like the last motion, which looks like the last motion. The fastball comes in at a consistent 94 mph, but it’s the changeup, widely considered his best pitch, that you have to keep an eye out for; the arm action is perfectly deceptive for being so repeatable. Marshall looks fluid and simple, like he could throw forever. To watch him pitch is to think that throwing a baseball is the most natural thing in the world. When he finishes, a group of fans standing on a walkway above burst into applause. He has simply been playing catch.
In the clubhouse afterward, Marshall is taking a sip of water and checking his iPhone with his non-throwing hand. He is 22 years old and seems unaware of the show he’s just put on. The display is over, just another workout session in a career full of them. Marshall has been in the Yankees organization for five seasons, and has climbed through the team’s minor-league ranks at the exact pace you’d want him to. He will likely spend this season in Triple-A Scranton, one stop from the bigs, where guaranteed contracts and the major-league-minimum salary of $490,000 a year, at the very least, await. If he puts up the kind of numbers scouts think he’s capable of—double-digit wins, with a 4.00 ERA, 175 innings a season, say—he could well earn $10 million a year or more. He’s on the verge of becoming a millionaire and playing for the New York Yankees in front of the entire world. And he knows it could all blow up in a second. “You just want your arm to hold up,” he says. “You have to not think about it. I do not, man. Not at all.”
Marshall is a Texas kid (baseball scouts have long had a fetish for Texas pitchers, from Ryan to Roger Clemens) who exploded on the scouting scene his junior year in high school. The fact that he had started out as a shortstop made many scouts believe he would be less injury prone because he’d thrown fewer pitches (the “you only have so many bullets in the gun” theory). Marshall lost the last start of his high-school career when he hit a batter in the state semifinals to force in the deciding run. It was his 146th pitch. The Yankees drafted Marshall in the sixth round in 2008. He pitched a total of twenty games (poorly; his ERA was 5.21) before his arm started feeling sore and the Yankees shut him down. He then had Tommy John surgery. He was 19.
This got me thinking about how many pitching prospects still in the Minors have undergone the operation we most associate with baseball’s best hurlers. So I wondered how many of the 29 pitchers that I interviewed in-depth last season for our Prospect Pitch series (first edition here, and you can click to other editions using the drop-down menu in the middle of the story) went under the knife. Here’s what I found:
Have undergone Tommy John:
- Cam Bedrosian (Angels) – “It’s frustrating. It is,” he said. “Coming back from it, it’s been tougher than I first imagined. I thought, ‘Once I get to about 12 months and get back in the system and throwing again, I’ll be all ready to go.’ But it’s been a lot tougher getting a feel for everything. My first couple of starts were a little — I was a little wild. It was hard to control the fastball and other pitches. Each time I throw, I feel a little bit better.”
- John Gast (Cardinals) – “I was more of a slinger — I had a lower arm slot in high school — and I had Tommy John surgery and changed my motion. [The slurve] was a little easier to throw when you’re slinging across it. I’m a little more on top than I was, but not by much. The action of the pitch hasn’t changed; the hitters are just better.”
- Drew Hutchison (Blue Jays) — Had the surgery not long after we spoke.
- Brett Marshall (Yankees) – “My first year, I threw a lot of curveballs. Every day, even after a start, I’d throw 100 curveballs on flat ground, just spinning ‘em, trying to get a feel for it. So after Tommy John [surgery in 2009], I was like, ‘Give me my sinker back. That’s what I had when ya’ll signed me, and that was one big thing that got me drafted.’ I have been throwing it ever since.”
- Eric Surkamp (Giants) – Had the surgery not long after we spoke.
- Navery Moore (Braves) – “I was throwing pretty hard in high school for my age, and that’s how I got hurt,” said Moore, who was clocked at 96 mph before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow in March 2007. “I grew fairly quickly, and then out of nowhere, my body had to adjust to throwing that hard, on top of [using] mechanics that probably weren’t the best. … The hardest thing after [surgery] was getting my feel back. My arm strength was back, but it was just something about confidence and repetition to get back the feel for breaking pitches; I was trying to do too much with the breaking pitches.”
- Jake Petricka (White Sox) – Had the surgery way back in 2007.
Antonio Osuna spent 11 seasons pitching in the Majors, and yet his baseball-reference.com bio says only this:
Antonio Osuna is the uncle of Roberto Osuna, who was considered one of the top international prospects in the summer of 2011, signing for $1.5 million.
…is the nephew of former major leaguer Antonio Osuna. Roberto made his minor league debut at age 15 with the 2011 Mexico City Red Devils. Used on a limited basis, he was 0-1 with a 5.49 ERA, 25 hits, 11 walks and 12 strikeouts in 19 2/3 IP over 13 games for the Red Devils through July 27. Timed in the mid-90s, he was rated as the fourth-best international prospect by Baseball America in the summer of 2011. In late July, Osuna said that he would be signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, who had missed out on 2010′s top Mexican amateur prospect, Luis Heredia. A deal was not finalized until late September, when Toronto and Osuna agreed on a contract worth $1.5 million; only Heredia had gotten a bigger deal as a Mexican amateur. He only got $375,000 of his signing bonus, as the Red Devils got the remainder.
That should put into perspective how much potential the younger Osuna has, and take care of much of the background you need for the following Q&A. Here are a two more facts:
- Osuna excelled as a 17-year-old at Rookie-level Bluefield and Class A Short-Season Vancouver in 2012 (stats here)
- Osuna will be 18 years old for the entirety of the 2013 season
Onto the interview: I caught up with the Spanish-speaking Osuna this morning. Thanks to Bluefield pitching coach Antonio Caceres for interpreting on the call.
Osuna on how Spring Training is going: “Everything is going well, just working hard to get ready for the season.”
On what he’s working on right now: “The first thing is getting in good shape and working on all the things I need to work on to become a better pitcher. I am 218 pounds now. I used to be 230-something. I feel much better. I think I’m in better shape than I was last year.
On his interactions with Major Leaguers like Jose Reyes and coaches: “It’s great to see those guys work out and throw here. I’m just focusing on myself so that I’m ready for the opportunity to go to the big leagues one day. Dane Johnson and Antonio [Caceres] have helped me make the transition to pro baseball last year and the kind of the success I had last year.”
On what he is working on now with Johnson and Caceres: “I’m just sharpening my pitches. I’m trying to make sure my I’m repeating my mechanics because I’ll be pitching at a higher level this year.”
MiLB.com will publish the seventh part of my nine-part series on top-ranked prospects who are also top-rated defenders by next week. The piece focuses on the Cardinals’ Oscar Taveras (bio, stats here), the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball. In terms of interview extras — answers that didn’t make it into the story but are significant nonetheless — see below. Enjoy.
Taveras on playing center field in Spring Training (via MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch): “It has helped a lot, me being able to move and read balls in center field. But I don’t know where I’m going to be. Wherever there is an opportunity, I’ll take it… I’ve just played all three outfield positions and I’m comfortable wherever the manager puts me.”
Taveras on the big league camp experience (via Langosch): “I’ve learned a lot from the veterans, especially defensively. I’m happy to be here and learn from those guys. Jon Jay has helped me a lot, especially on where to position myself for some hitters. I feel more confident out there now. I look up to Jay. I like how he’s aggressive out there on balls.”
Outfield teammate Chris Swauger on whether Taveras knows how good he is: “He doesn’t listen to it. He just goes out and plays the game. It’s not as if he is over-thinking stuff or feels the pressure to perform. All he’s really worried about is the game. He doesn’t pay attention to what people are saying about him. I think all Oscar wants to do when he wakes up in the morning is go play baseball. When you play the game like that, everything outside is just noise.”
Swauger on what position Taveras plays long-term: “I think he can play center field, but he has no problem transitioning. To me personally, I think center field is the easiest outfield position to play because you’re straight on. I think he has the speed, range and instincts to play center field, but playing in the corners, not having that priority on fly balls and not having the view, if you want to throw him in right, he has one of the best arms I have ever seen. His routes are good enough for center field and his arm is good enough for right field.”
Double-A Springfield manager Mike Shildt on Taveras’ position long-term: “The good news is he has shown himself to be serviceable in center field.”
Shildt on Taveras’ overall progress: “I look out and see him being more consistent with his work habits, his focus. He has a real sense of purpose now. He has started to take ownership of his defense.