Saturday, October 30, 2010
From: Texas (Drafted in 5th round of 2009 Draft by Giants)
Belt was drafted twice as a pitcher (by the Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2006 draft and by the Braves in the 11th round of the 2007 draft) before the Giants grabbed him in the 5th round of the 2009 draft and decided to turn him into a full time hitter.
When SanFran drafted him they told him they were going to make him a full time hitter and make significant changes to his swing. Belt was willing to be coached and the Giants’ minor league coaching staff did a great job revamping his swing mechanics. The results have been staggering, as Belt just finished a season in which he moved through 3 levels of the minors (finishing with a brief stint at AAA), hitting .352 in 492 at-bats with 43 doubles, 23 HRs, 93 walks (only 99 strikeouts), a .455 OnBase% and a huge .620 Slugging%.
Those numbers combined with what I saw over my weekend in Arizona have me convinced Belt is a legit middle of the order threat. With the Giants likely to have an opening at either first base or in left field next season, we’ll probably see lots of Belt.
Belt gets good weight transfer and excellent hip rotation in his swing. There's some noise as he gets his weight back and loads his hands, but once he starts moving forward he's fine. I didn’t get to see anyone pitch him hard and inside so I’d like to see how he handles it, between that extra movement and the length of his arms (remember, he's 6’5”), he may have trouble hitting that. When he gets his arms extended he should produce above-average or better power. Belt has quick hands and good bat speed. He's still mostly a line-drive hitter who squares balls up to the gaps but even if the power doesn’t develop any further Belt will hit around 20 HRs a year.
As far as speed goes, Belt had 20 steals this year, but it won't be a part of his game at the big league level, because is speed about average. He likely stole a number of bags earlier in the year simply by taking advantage of Class A pitchers who were not paying attention to him.
One thing Belt needs to work on is his focus. He gave away a few at bats here and there and that won’t fly at the major league level. I’m sure with age and experience this will come.
As a defender, Belt is very good first base. The Giants have played him at the corner outfield spots just to see if he was viable out there, but his future is at first base, given his good hands there, as well as his poor routes and jumps in the outfield.
Future MLB Comparison: Paul Konerko
Thursday, October 28, 2010
From: Southern Door High School in Brussels, WI (Drafted in 2nd round of 2004 draft by Royals)
As if the Braves didn’t have enough young, fire-balling bullpen arms taking the majors by storm, they may have another one in Erik Cordier. Drafted in 2004 by the Royals and traded to Atlanta for Tony Pena Jr, Cordier made it to AAA at the end of this past season. The raw stuff I saw from him in person points toward a major league debut in 2011, but hiss numbers dictate otherwise.
Cordier’s fastball was electric, sitting between 93-95mph and touching 97 once. Even more impressive was that he sat at that velocity over several innings as a starter. I’d imagine that he’d be able to consistently sit between 95 and 97 if he were pitching right out of the bullpen. He had a sharp slider with good tilt and a changeup that is usable and plays up because of how hard his fastball is. The second time through the lineup opposing hitters began timing his fastball and he got knocked around. He’ll have to get comfy with that slider to keep that from happening in the future.
He gets very good extension out front in his delivery, and his late release point should help all of his pitches play up as it gives hitter less time to track the ball.
He walks a ton of guys, almost 5 per 9 innings. If that doesn’t improve he’ll likely have stretches in the majors where he is dominant and stretches where he is incredibly difficult to watch. The stuff is there, the control is not.
Future MLB Comparison: A Right Handed J.C. Romero
Oliver Drake(Baltimore Orioles)
From: Navy (43rd round of 2008 draft)
The Orioles have a stable of young pitching prospects that are ahead of Drake as far as organizational depth is concerned, but Drake can still contribute on a major league level at some point in his career. That’s more than you normally get out of a 43rd round pick, one of the last rounds in the draft. He wouldn’t have gone that late if teams knew he was draft eligible as a sophomore but a lot of teams were unaware. Fewer still realized that Drake could bypass his military commitment if he dropped out of the Naval Academy. The relationship he developed with the O’s scout assigned to his region allowed him to be comfortable to do so and he signed for $100,000.
Drake has a low 90s fastball that topped out at 92mph when I saw him. He can cut it but loses some velocity when he does. His slider is good enough to offset opposing righties but his straight changeup is not good enough to neutralize opposing left handers. His stuff is not good enough to plow through a major league lineup 3 or 4 times.
Drake has an over the top delivery. His arm action lacks deception and is a little stiff. While his delivery does incorporate some effort, it isn’t an ultraviolent action (see Scherzer, Max) that would point toward future injury or anything like that. Combine acceptable mechanics with his large frame and he profiles as a guy who can give you multiple innings.
Drake has struck out a respectable 7 batters per 9 innings throughout his pro career but has recently struggled with walks. Combine the walks with fringy stuff and you’ve got a guy who gives up 1.40 base runners an inning which is not a good number. I don’t think Drake will be good enough to plow through a major league lineup 3 or 4 times. At most he profiles as a long, innings eating reliever who comes in to soak up garbage innings.
Future MLB Comparison: Dave Herndon
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
From: High School (Cypress, CA)
The Cubs seem to be perpetual disappointments. It seems every year they have a bunch of players that have uncharacteristically poor years. This year they had several, including Derek Lee, Carlos Zambrano and most applicably to this post, Aramis Ramirez. The potential heir apparent to Aramis is Vitters, who was the number 3 pick in the 2007 Draft.
Vitters has one of the nicest swings I’ve seen from someone this young. He took the ball the other way in BP, which is a good sign and I don’t remember seeing him swing and miss at a single pitch all weekend so he has good hand-eye coordination, enough that he’ll be a .290+ hitter in the majors one day. He has the power to regularly hit between 20 and 25 HRs a year.
However, he has an extreme lack of patience and plate discipline. Vitters walks in just 6% if his plate appearances and hasn’t posted an OnBase% higher than .300 since he was in Low-A ball as a 19 year old. This is a huge problem and one that will limit his value if he does not improve.
Vitters looked good defensively when I saw him, which is refreshing considering that his reputation as a defensive liability was growing. Now he’s not Adrian Beltre or anything, but he had decent hands and footwork and definitely has the arm to play 3rd. Some scouts though he’d eventually have to move to first base which would destroy his value because he likely won’t get on base enough to be an effective regular there.
Future MLB Comparison: Pablo Sandoval
From: Dominican Republic
Congratulations to the Texas Rangers on their American League Championship. Not only do you have a chance to win the world series but you still have some nice pieces in your farm system for the coming years. One of those pieces in Engel Beltre.
Beltre was signed for $600,000 out of the Dominican by the Red Sox who included him in their trade for Eric Gagne at the 2007 trade deadline. He’s always had an impressive set of tools but it looks as though he is beginning to put it all together and may be ready for the major leagues toward the end of next season.
Beltre has great bat speed. He can let the ball travel deep in the zone before he swings which allows him to spray the ball all over the field. He loads his hands a little deep, almost barring his lead arm so he might have trouble hitting inside pitches. He gets his weight back well and loads his hips, creating excellent rotation and leverage as he brings his weight forward with his swing.
Beltre doesn't have great plate discipline (he’s only walked 75 times in4 years of pro ball) and he swung an awful lot while I got to see him. At 20 years old he’s getting past the point where we can just wave off his lack of walks as a product of his youth. Only one major leaguer had as many PA as Beltre did in 2010 (488) while drawing fewer walks (A.J. Pierzynski, with 15), and it's time for Beltre to be more selective so he can start using his other offensive gifts. The plate discipline issue is more a lack of patience (perhaps the "I can hit everything" problem) than a lack of pitch recognition, because he seemed to have the ability to recognize breaking stuff and adjust accordingly.
He's an above-average runner with an above-average arm and should be able to stay in center field. I didn’t see him have to make any tough plays or get a read on the routes he takes to balls but things I’ve read indicate he has good instincts and could be an elite defender in Center.
Future MLB Comparison: Austin Jackson
Monday, October 4, 2010
This is the NL's deepest offense, one without the two or three easy outs found in most lineups in the weaker league; every starting player in the Phillies' lineup was worth at least one win above replacement (WAR) this season, even if we exclude the value of their defense. Their two best hitters are Chase Utley, whose only weakness is his tendency to get hurt because he plays so fucking hard, and Jayson Werth, who had a tremendous free-agent walk year in large part because he beat up right-handed pitching, generally a weak spot for him. Ryan Howard remains a masher of right-handers who will chase sliders down and away until our Sun implodes, making him valuable early in games with a right-hander on the mound but an automatic call for the opponent's lefty specialist in the final innings. Jimmy Rollins had a calf injury that ruined his 2010 season (it's hard for almost any hitter to hit with any kind of leg problem) then missed three weeks in September with a groin strain that may not be fully healed by the time the playoffs start. That left Shane Victorino as the more likely leadoff hitter, but he had a down year with just a .329 OBP and struggles mightily from the left side, limiting his viability in that leadoff role.
The back end up of the lineup is stronger than the lineups that Phillies pitchers will face in the postseason, but it still has its weaknesses. Raul Ibanez has returned to his usual form of struggling against left-handed pitching, and Carlos Ruiz's apparently strong plate discipline is partly a function of hitting directly ahead of the pitcher, as his walk rate dropped substantially this year when he hit seventh. Placido Polanco's struggles late this season could be due to wear that comes with age but also could be related to the bone spurs in his left elbow for which he recently received cortisone shots. His value could be limited in October because of the injury. It's an older, injury-plagued lineup that is full of patience and power when fully healthy, but several key contributors enter October at less than 100 percent.
The Phillies remain one of the best base-stealing clubs in baseball as far as success rate goes (as they have been the past two years), but their raw stolen-base totals dropped this year. With Rollins' leg injury and Utley a year off a hip injury (and getting deeper into his 30s), the Phils likely won't be as aggressive on the bases this October as they have been, but at least they are unlikely to run into a slew of outs through baserunning follies.
Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt all have worked as nominal No. 1 starters in the past year and change, with the first two among the top 10 starters in the league this year and Oswalt doing a pretty good poor-man's ace act himself. Halladay, a possible NL Cy Young Award winner, clearly found the National League to his liking, using his cutter heavily with three other effective pitches. He's no longer the extreme ground-ball pitcher he was earlier in his career, but he misses more bats with the cut fastball and has taken his control to ridiculous, Cliff Lee-like levels, becoming the first pitcher since 1923(when Nucky Thompson reigned supreme) to throw 250 innings with 30 or fewer walks. Hamels struggled with both reduced command and bad luck on balls in play in 2009, and he was likely to return to his true talent level. his The world once again get to see Cole’s plus-plus change, which he'll throw even when behind in the count against left- and right-handed hitters. Oswalt's rejuvenation this year is in large part due to heavier use of his own above-average changeup, which has helped his fastball play up. Aside from reserving his slider mostly for right-handers, he'll use any pitch to any hitter in just about any count. Joe Blanton is fat.
Not only are those three tremendously effective, they also are durable and have helped the Phillies get by without really overhauling a problematic bullpen by providing the team with more innings than any other MLB team got from its starters this year. Brad Lidge can look unhittable at times (especially recently), but it would be kind to say his command is game-to-game. Setup man Ryan Madson is more consistent, featuring one of the best changeups of any reliever in baseball, a pitch that he uses almost half the time in two-strike counts. He also throws a hard slider/cutter in the upper 80s, more to right-handers, but it's more of a show-me pitch to keep hitters off the fastball.
Beyond those two, the 'pen thins out quickly. Jose Contreras is the Phillies' next-best weapon thanks to a tick upward in velocity with his move to the 'pen. He'll work with a lot of two-seamers and sliders, but the two-seamer is the only thing he throws that might move in toward a righty, so he's more specialist than full-inning guy.
The Phillies lack a great left-left weapon for late-game matchups if Madson and his changeup aren't available, with J.C. Romero's control a chronic issue and his recent back injury leaving questions, but they could boost their pen a little by adding Antonio Bastardo as a second lefty.
The Phillies didn't field their ideal defensive alignment often in 2010, but they should have it for the postseason. Utley remains one of the top defenders at second base, with good range but better instincts and hands, while double-play partner Rollins has been one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball for the past few seasons (again, injury may come into play), and third baseman Polanco has made up for his loss of agility with good hands.
The Phillies are thinner in the outfield, where Ibanez is awful in left, and Victorino -- who has been hobbled by injuries -- has lost a step in center. Werth can fill in for Victorino but is best suited in right, where his arm can add value as well.
The Phillies have fewer weaknesses than any NL team and probably as few major weaknesses as any playoff team. Their late-game relievers are shaky but capable of performing at an extremely high level; they have a few key lineup members hobbled by injury or vulnerability to left-handed pitching; their fourth starter is nothing to write home about, unless you’re writing home about America’s growing obesity problem. They enter October in relatively good shape overall (except for Joe Blanton ……who is fat), with their top three starters all looking extremely strong and every expected offensive starter at least nominally ready to play. Any series loss before the World Series will be an upset.
I’ll have my reaction to the Phillies playoff roster when it comes out.