Feature Photo: Mike Clevinger, RHP, Indians
Here are this week’s profiles from around the minor leagues, as Chaz Fiorino takes a look at a Braves’ hurler and shortstop playing at Triple-A Gwinnett; C.J. Wittmann takes in a Reading series vs. the Trenton Thunder, and gets views of the Phillies’ loaded Double-A roster of high-profile prospects; Dave DeFreitas looks at Julio Urias and Mike Clevinger, and Mauricio Rubio publishes new video of three prospects to watch from the Class A Midwest League.
International League Prospect Spotlights
John Gant, RHP, Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/205 | B/T: R/R | Age: 23 yrs, 9m
I got my first live look at Gant during his May 14th start at Pawtucket. The first two things that stood out with Gant are his size and delivery. Gant has the ideal pitcher’s frame with an athletic 6’5”, 205-pound frame. The delivery is unorthodox, as he raises his left leg as if he’s delivering to the plate; puts it back down and pivots into more of a stretch delivery before another high leg lift and delivery to the plate. The delivery creates some otherwise-lacking deception with his long arm action in back and average arm speed. It works for Gant, and he seemed able to repeat his delivery consistently, maintaining his leverage and balance over the rubber with a clean arm action. The delivery has also allowed Gant to vary his tempo and delivery times towards home, creating added difficulty for hitter’s timing.
Other positives for Gant included his ability to command and control at least three average-grade offerings. The fastball ranged 90-to-93 mph with most 91-to-92, showing the ability to locate it to both sides of the plate and is an average-grade pitch overall. Gant’s best secondary pitch was his changeup at 78-to-81 mph, with split-like tumbling action and it was an above-average offering based on movement and control, and his confidence and feel to throw it in any count. The curveball was 74-to-76 mph that he began to incorporate the second time through the order. The first few that Gant threw lacked feel for his release point – he was casting them towards home. The pitch improved as he continued to throw it. It’s at least an average pitch with 11-to-5 late break, and he effectively threw it to both right-handed and left-handed hitters, occasionally doubling up on the pitch.
Based on this look, I saw a major league-ready back-end starter with an average fastball/curveball combination, a plus changeup, and an overall average-grade command and control profile. – Chaz Fiorino
Ozzie Albies, SS, Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett, International League)
Ht/Wt: 5’9”/160 | B/T: S/R | Age: 19 yrs, 5m
I got my first live look at Albies in a doubleheader at Pawtucket on May 14th. Albies ranked as the #59 preseason top 125 prospect at 2080 baseball. The first things that stood out with Albies was that he was a 19 year old, switch-hitting shortstop in Triple-A; hitting at the top of the lineup; easily making him one of the youngest – if not the youngest – player in the International League. The second thing that stood out was his undersized 5’9”, 160-pound frame.
Offensively, Albies has an all-fields, line-drive approach with a long, smooth, slightly uphill path from both sides of the plate. The bat speed was evident, along with the impressive hand-eye coordination and contact ability for a switch-hitting youngster. On top of the athleticism and future potential as an average switch-hitting middle infielder, Albies best tool is his double plus speed that can generate 70-grade run times to first base and offers base-stealing potential on the basepaths.
Based on this limited look on the defensive side, I did not see reason to believe that Albies can stick at shortstop despite the clear athleticism. Albies displayed below-average arm strength across the diamond with poor accuracy. Albies appeared to drop down and rear back to sling it towards first base, and he seemed to lack fundamentals trying to backhand balls directly in front of him – he simply just did not make things look easy overall. I see a move to second base as his future. It doesn’t help that he’s got Dansby Swanson breathing down his neck, in the proverbial sense, in Double-A, projecting as the shortstop of the future for the Braves. – Chaz Fiorino
Julio Urias has always stood out in his pro career. Seeing him in 2013 pitching for the Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers’ Short-Season A level), he had a smoothness to his actions and a level of body control that you usually only see in some of the better established big league veterans. At 6’0”, his listed height is generous, but he has added some thickness since I saw him last. He has always had a thick, strong lower half, and he really loads up well on his back side before driving towards the plate.
He is aggressive on the mound and works quickly. His May 14th start was no different, with his advanced feel and fastball command on display. His fastball stayed on the corners, and he located it to the glove side with ease, while changing the eye level of hitters. He features one version of a big curveball that he can locate for strikes, and then other tighter variations that will take hitters out of the zone. His easy arm action plays it up, and despite the big shape, gets it to ‘take-off’ at the end with late bite for put away. He does have a tendency to get a little too fast at times, and his body will get out in front of his arm, leading to fastballs up in the zone, but it does seem like something that he is aware of and able to correct pitch to pitch.
Seeing him each of the last three seasons, I tabbed his circle changeup as his future best secondary. Coming out the with the same arm speed as the fastball, it gets late bottom and grades out at a future 60. However the feel he has with his breaking ball has obviously improved, and he shows an ability to change the shape. In 2013 I had that pitch as future average, but think I may have been a bit light. What he showed in this viewing was an average to slightly above offering, and the occasional snap he was able to dial up shows the ingredients of a future plus pitch. He may only have a three- pitch mix by definition, but his advanced feel, and ability to manipulate the action on all his pitches, will lead to fits for big league hitters. While his fastball was up to 93 mph for me as a 16 year old and then up to 96 as a 17 year old, he has learned to throttle it back and forth, and it now sits in the low-to middle 90’s with an extra gear when needed.
Currently, Urias is sitting on a 22-inning scoreless streak after six shutout innings on Saturday, and, barring injury, he will be part of the Dodgers big league club at some point this year. There have been talks about him slotting into the back end of the pen at first, ala Adam Wainwright (RHP, Cardinals) in 2006 when he got called up; however, given the depth of their current rotation; the fact that very little is expected of LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu this season; and Kenta Maeda’s eventual trip back to earth, the temptation of slotting their #1 prospect into the rotation for 120-to-140 innings to fill out the season may be too much to resist. -Dave DeFreitas
Mike Clevinger, RHP, Indians, (Columbus Clippers, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210 | B/T: R/R: | Age: 25 yrs, 5m
Before his trade from the Los Angeles Angels to the Cleveland Indians, Clevinger was a right-handed starting pitcher that had yet to make good on the potential that made him a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft. His progression was slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2012 and he struggled to maintain consistent velo upon his return in 2013 and into 2014. When he came to the Indians halfway through that 2014 season, he was seen as more of an arm-strength project – he has always had shown the ability to get some swing and miss with his stuff, but limiting the walks was one big issue that continued throughout 2014, which was his first full season post-TJ surgery (27 free passes over 55.1 IP with High A Inland Empire pre-trade and 11 BB over 20.1 IP post-trade).
The 2015 season, however, was a different story, and also a testament to Cleveland’s player development staff, as Clevenger’s walks per nine innings dropped from 3.9 in 2014 to 2.3 in 2015, paired with 145 Ks over 158 IP. His stellar 2015 performance pushed him to towards the top of Cleveland’s prospect list, and had the organization thinking about him joining the big league club in 2016.
While there has been some regression in his SO/BB numbers across his first seven starts this year for the CLippers (4.3 BB/9), what he showed on May 11th versus the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a start I reviewed on video, was encouraging. He cruised through four innings, pumping in first pitch strikes to the majority of his hitters. His four-seam fastball is straight and flat, but does have life in the strike zone and gets some ride when up.
Clevinger’s long, lanky frame helps him create decent angle and he will get some two-seam tail to glove side on occasion. He has a short arm in back that works to hide it a bit and it does seem to get on hitters, however, he will have to locate in the strike-zone better at the next level to be successful. He showed a quick hand and feel for spin on both his breaking balls; the slider is his out pitch and showed three-quarters depth with late bite and he looked comfortable using it to both righties and lefties. He can subtract a bit and throw it for strikes, but his best one is down and out of the zone for put-away.
The curveball has 12-to-6 break with snap and not a lot of hump. It comes out on a similar plane to the slider and he showed slightly better ability to locate here than with the slider. He also mixed in a changeup with some gradual arm-side fade. The arm speed plays it up a bit, but it looks like probably his fourth offering. It looks like he still has the tendency to lose the plate at times, but his stuff gives him some margin for error, and so long as he can continue the K:BB rates he showed in 2015, he stands to make a meaningful contribution to the Indian’s rotation at some point this summer. – Dave DeFreitas
Ed Note: Clevenger got the call to the big leagues on Wednesday May 18th, going 5.1 IP and giving up 5 H, 4 ER, 1 BB and striking out five, getting a ND in the Indians’ 8-7 extra-inning win over the Reds.
Double-A Prospect Spotlights
Lively put up video game like numbers at the High A level of the Reds’ system, and under their instruction in 2014. Acquired in the trade sending Marlon Byrd the the Reds on 12/31/14, Lively has had continued success in the Phillies’ farm system over the past two seasons. Lively brings a strong frame, build, and athleticism that give him the durability to repeat his easy, fluent mechanics. Lively doesn’t overpower hitters by any means, but a deceptive arm action and the extension he gets towards home allow his 88-92 mph (T93) fastball to play up, and hitters have a hard time timing it. Along with deception, Lively has plus fastball command which sets up his secondary offerings nicely.
Lively doesn’t feature a true-weapon secondary pitch but coming out of the same arm slot, having plus fastball command and the ability to sequence hitters intelligently all make his secondaries effective offerings. He features a changeup, curveball and slider that all play in the fringe-average to average range. Lively’s changeup is his best secondary pitch (average) and the 8-to-10 mph velo separation with arm side fade will make it effective to both RHH and LHH. His ability to throw his fringe-average curveball for strikes in any count and as a chase pitch kept Double-A hitters off balance and expanding the strike zone often. Lively’s slider has some bite and depth in the 83-to-84 mph range. Overall, Lively features a four-pitch mix, all in the 45-to-50 grading range, and with plus command, a sturdy build, and a deceptive delivery, it all adds up to a ceiling of a back end of the rotation starter. – C.J. Wittmann
There are not many players who can change a game with one particular tool like Quinn can. He is an off-the-scale runner with HP-to-1B times routinely in the 3.8 range from the right side, and even lower from the left side. New to center field, Quinn’s reads and reactions are just average but he has the speed to make up for late or bad reads. Along with that speed, Quinn has an explosive first step, so he has the range to track down balls deep in both gaps. Along with an average glove in centerfield, Quinn collects himself well when to throw and has easy plus arm strength with plus accuracy. Bringing an 80 run, 50 center field defense and plus arm grades, Quinn doesn’t need to provide a ton of value at the plate to be an everyday regular.
That being said, Quinn does have the ability to hit, and he has surprising pop for his size. From both sides of the plate, he had an understanding of the strike zone and a patient approach, and he recognized pitches well out of the pitcher’s hand. With plus bat speed generated from his strong wrists and hands, Quinn has a little lift in his swing, and with his ability to barrel pitches in all quadrants with authority, there is a chance Quinn’s power could reach a below-average level instead of the projected 30 grade many have suggested. – C.J. Wittmann
There are many reasons why prospect websites and publications have J.P. Crawford ranked in the upper echelon of prospects in the game. Crawford has silky-smooth actions at shortstop with plus reads and reactions, plus range and a plus arm. With that profile at the premium shortstop position, any kind of value he brings at the plate is a bonus, but to me, that could be argued as Crawford’s strength. He has an innate feel for the barrel with an all-fields approach to go with keen pitch recognition skills. His patient approach and ability to work pitchers, and the strike zone is advanced for his age, and his present BB:K rate of 30:21 over 166 PAs is not surprising. Crawford features plus bat speed with lift in his swing. With some added strength, there is a possibility Crawford’s power could get to an average grade. Along with those skills, Crawford will flash plus run times with long, graceful, athletic strides, and he should continue to keep his speed and agility with added strength. Overall, Crawford’s high baseball IQ and mature approach in all facets are unique. His overall profile could feature four plus tools and another average one – all at a premium defensive position – giving him the ceiling of an all-star-caliber player. – C.J. Wittmann
Single A Prospect Spotlight
Sborz entered the 2016 season as the 20th-ranked prospect in the Dodgers’ organization; a slightly depressed ranking due to the upper levels of their system being loaded with some baseball’s best prospects. I was able to get a look at Sborz on May 12th versus the Lancaster Jethawks, my first look at him since his College World Series appearances with Virginia in 2015. While his final line (9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 6 Ks and 1 BB across 5. 2 IP) was pedestrian, it does not reflect how well he threw and the level of stuff that was on display. He had little help from his defense and at least five of the nine hits were off of weak contact; with three slow rollers for infield hits, a bleeder that snuck through a drawn-in infield and one broken bat flare that found outfield grass. The homer and two doubles he gave up were scalded, but, all-in-all, he deserved better.
Sborz boasts at least two potential plus offerings with his fastball and slider to go along with above-average future command. Nothing he throws is straight — his fastball gets tail to both sides and has some serious late hop in the strike-zone, and will also get some cut action to the glove side. He can really dial up some bore in on righties, as well. The slider has tight, ¾ depth and bites late; he is a little inconsistent with it now, as he will drop his elbow and get on the side of it at times, but it has the makings of a swing-and-miss pitch. He will mix in a curveball, but he used it sparingly this time out and it showed more as a variation of the slider.
His strong frame, athletic actions and compact delivery make it easy for him to repeat, and while he does have some effort and looks a bit deliberate at times, as he gains better feel for his rhythm I see things smoothing out. Not that they are the same pitcher, but with his body type and the efficiency of his actions, I see a little bit of Zack Greinke in there. Since the draft, there has been some industry discussion on whether or not Sborz should stay in the rotation or focus on becoming a back-end of the bullpen guy. For me, it hinges on his development of the changeup. He threw three on May 12 at 84 mph, but they lacked much action and he did not show feel. Should he be able to develop the pitch, it will give him something going away from lefties and I think he’ll have a real chance to be a solid middle-rotation guy. – Dave DeFreitas
This Week at 2080 Baseball…
- Dave DeFreitas and Mike Shubin launch their NPB Update Newsletter, covering the top talent from the Nippon Professional Baseball League, and previewing players who could make the jump to the major leagues in the next season or two.
News and Notes
- The Binghamton Mets are letting fans vote for their team name in 2017, and, well, you can imagine how that’s going. Check out the, shall we say, ‘unique’ choices here, courtesy of Cameron DeSilva at Fox Sports. This might not end well.
- Oft-injured Byron Buxton (OF, Twins) should be back on the field tonight (May 20) according to cbsports.com, after missing the last seven days with back spasms. Buxton is batting .301/.356/.494 in 20 games since being sent down to the minor leagues by the Twins on April 25th.
- Charlie Wilmoth of MLB Trade Rumors had an opportunity to sit down with Triple-A president Randy Mobley for an interview on the state of the game at that level. It’s worth a read.
- After being selected in the eighth round of the 2015 MLB Draft by Washington, Koda Glover (RHP, Nationals) was just assigned to Double-A Harrisburg (Eastern League), joining some of the best arms in the Nats’ farm system, says Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.
- Jay Floyd of Phillies Nation has a nice profile of Dylan Cozens (OF, Phillies) , the on the 2012 second-round pick, and the reason for his hot start at Double-A Reading this year – including five homers in a recent 10-game span, which on its own is as many as he hit in 96 games at Class A Clearwater in 2015.