Feature Photo: Tyler Cyr, RHP, Giants
This week I take a look at five Double-A arms from the Eastern League, including Justus Sheffield (LHP) Yankees), who was returning from a seven-week stay on the disabled list, and Cole Irvin (LHP, Phillies), the Phils’ 2016 fifth-rounder who, despite a late-season drop in velocity, showed off a command and control profile that makes him a good bet to be a future number four starter. Jose Mesa (RHP, Yankees) has been building his pitch counts in a late-season shift to a starting role for the Trenton Thunder; Tyler Cyr (RHP, Giants) has improved his strike-throwing ability since the All-Star break, and the funk in the delivery of Jacob Waguespack (RHP, Phillies) looks better suited to a return to the bullpen for Philadelphia.
2080 Prospect Spotlights
Cole Irvin, LHP, Phillies (Double-A Reading, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (As of April 1, 2017): 23y, 2m
Irvin, a fifth-rounder from the 2016 MLB Draft out of Oregon, made quick work of the lower minors after signing for a well-over-slot $800,000. He has been showing off off his plus to double-plus control (2.1 career BB/9 in 197 innings) and above-average command of his four-pitch arsenal at Double-A Reading since being promoted June 28. In my view on September 1, despite a late-season drop in fastball velocity, he worked seven innings versus Trenton, reaching a three-ball count just once, and showing advanced sequencing and impressive feel on the mound.
Irvin is easily playing 25-to-30 pounds above his listed weight at this point, and the added core strength to his well proportioned six-foot-four frame should pay dividends with his durability down the road, though arm fatigue after passing 150 innings of work this year was apparent. He has a polished delivery, with a long arm action that’s quick through his 3/4’s slot, and while there is some effort in the delivery and some stab in the back that shows the ball early, it’s also online, balanced, and repeatable, with a consistent release point across all of his offerings.
His projectable fastball was at 87-to-91 mph for most readings (T92). His command was plus, and the movement was above average both in terms of two-seam tailing action, and cut action and some heft in the lower velo band. The arm strength is there to reach back for 93-to-95, as he did in the FSL All-Star Game, so he should settle at average sitting velo, with the pitch playing up a grade due to both the command and movement.
He has feel for his average slider in the 82-to-86 mph range, at the higher velo blending into the shape of the cut action of his fastball, and showing average depth and sharper bite in the lower range, where it was most effective while retaining a fastball look out of hand. His curveball was at 74-to-77 mph that he showed feel to change the depth and break from gradual to sharp, and he threw it for first-pitch strikes. He’s got above-average command of both breaking balls. His changeup was at 78-to-82 mph showing tumble, and the arm speed sells it as a solid-average offering.
He comes with some moderate risk, and proving his strength deep into a season will be key, but the added strength in the body and polished mechanics should help the velo, and play up the arsenal, in 2018. Irvin is a strike-thrower who is constantly working around the edges of the plate, and he shows a natural feel for spin. Add to that his above-average or better command of his three best pitches, and it makes him a legit candidate to be a solid number four starter in the big leagues. If the arm strength fades deep into the season, he’ll still have a floor of a Role 50 number five starter/swingman.
Jacob Waguespack, RHP, Phillies (Double-A Reading, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’6” / 225 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (As of April 1, 2017): 23y, 4m
Waguespack came the Phils as a non-drafted free agent in June, 2015, and though he continued to work from the bullpen in the low minors as a pro, the Phillies have been testing him as a starter since mid-May, and following a 10-start run at High A Clearwater, he was promoted to Double-A Reading on July 31.
Waguespack’s delivery is full of moving parts, with a deep stab in the back and a big wrap, an extra-long arm action, shoulder tilt, and a drop-and-drive push that lowers his release point dramatically, all but eliminating the advantage of his big frame. He finishes way out over his plant foot, and it’s tough to time up and repeat the actions consistently. It contributes to his below-average control, with a 3.4 BB/9 rate over 105 innings this year (roughly in line with his 3.6 BB/9 over 72 innings in the Sally League in 2016), and it also makes him slow to the plate, with 1.52-to-1.60 second delivery times that bring some added risk when he’s working with runners on base.
His fastball was 91-to-94 mph, and while it showed some run at the higher velos, the movement was below average and it was lacking plane and mostly true. He struggled for feel for the 84-to-87 mph slider in this look, but it has the ingredients of an average pitch. It had short break and looked slurvy, but he flashed more bite when staying on top of it at its lower velo. His curveball was below average at 78-to-80 mph, and while he could drop it in for first-pitch strikes with 11-to-5 shape, the break was gradual and lacking snap. His changeup was fringe average at 81-to-83 mph, showing fading action and some tumble, and he showed confidence to use it in fastball counts to keep hitters honest.
Waguespack’s below-average control and lack of meaningful movement will make it tough to turn over lineups at the higher levels with consistency. The funk of his delivery can offer a change-of-pace look out of the pen, but his ceiling is limited to that of a Role 30, AAAA arm that’s best used in middle relief.
Jose Mesa, RHP, Yankees (Double-A Trenton, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/230 B/T: R/R Age (As of April 1, 2017): 23y, 7m
Still building his pro resume after Tommy John surgery following his 24th-round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft, Mesa is starting to stretch out beyond two-to-three inning relief outings, hitting high-70’s pitch counts for the first time as a starter since his promotion to Trenton July 31 after compiling just 51 1/3 full-season innings out of the bullpen prior to his promotion.
Mesa works downhill from third base side of the rubber and generates good angle to make him a tough look out of his high ¾’s slot. The arm action is free and easy, and he works with moderate-effort mechanics and average arm speed. His upright finish allows him to really drive the ball down in the zone, and he repeats well for a big guy, making him tough to barrel up. He’s limited hitters to a .132 BAA in 34 1/3 Double-A innings, and sporting a 10.8 SO/9 rate.
His heavy fastball was at 90-to-93 mph and sitting mostly 92 mph, and the angle and downhill plane play it up to an above-average pitch. It’s at it’s best when he’s working in the lower half with mild run and tail, where it’s tough to get the barrel under it. His command was inconsistent in my two views, and he’ll get hit when he misses his spot and the pitch flattens on him, though the damage has been kept in the park (0.61 GO:AO rate, but just four home runs allowed in 84 innings this year).
The curveball was fringy, with 11-to-5 shape, loopy break and limited snap at 74-to-76 mph, though he showed the confidence to drop it in for some first-pitch strikes. The slider was also fringy in the 82-to-85 mph range, coming in short with more sweeping action than bite. Both project to average as he gains more feel for them. His changeup was average and it had tumble at 82-to-84 mph to generate some swing-and-miss.
His control numbers have dropped to a tolerable 3.4 BB/9 this year from a gaudy 6.4 BB/9 in 42 innings last year, and that could wind up closer to an average number as he stretches out his innings. He’ll also need to monitor his weight, as his XL frame has some natural thickness to it, but it lacks some definition at present. Mesa will have a chance to advance quickly in 2018 if he can prove his durability. He has a moderate-risk ceiling of a Role 50 number five starter if his BB/9 rate polishes up with experience. His realistic role, however, is that of a solid Role 40 swingman/middle reliever, where the present control numbers are survivable, and the stuff could play up in shorter stints.
Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees (Double-A Trenton, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (As of April 1, 2017): 20y, 10m
Sheffield showed no ill effects from his stay on the DL for a strained oblique dating back to July 6, using his fastball aggressively in a pitch-count-shortened, three-inning start on September 3 versus Reading. Working with tight and repeatable mechanics from his filled-out 200-pound frame, Sheffield’s plus fastball was in the 92-to-95 mph range (T96) and sitting mostly 95 mph in this shortened stint, with some two-seam tail in the lower range, and some ride up in the zone as he challenged hitters early and often. His command of the fastball wasn’t dialed-in, and a few misses left up in the zone were the primary culprit for his five hits allowed, but he did not walk a batter in the outing, and he controlled all four of his pitches well.
Sheffield ‘s above-average and hard slider showed 3/4’s depth and bite in the 85-to-89 mph range. He was effective in getting lefties to chase it out of the zone for putaway while also adding and subtracting from it. He threw just a few average curveballs at 83 mph, and they came in with more hump than the slider with 1-to-7 shape and tight spin, and shape is distinct enough to separate it from the slider and give him some deception in his breaking stuff. His changeup was also above-average, coming in firm with late dive in the 86-to-87 mph range, and it’s fastball look out of hand had bats swinging over the top of it.
While the outing was short at just 54 pitches, it looked like all systems were go for Sheffield to pick up where he left off in July, and he’ll be heading to the Arizona Fall League to make up for innings lost to the disabled list this year. His control numbers came down to fringe average (3.1 BB/9, from 3.8 last year) and with his refined mechanics and quick tempo, those numbers could improve a grade – or two – as he matures, even with the moderate effort he has in the delivery. Still pitching in just his age-21 season, his ceiling of a Role 60 mid-rotation starter looks realistic at this point. He could find himself in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after a few starts at Trenton to start his 2018 season with confidence.
Tyler Cyr, RHP, Giants (Double-A Richmond, Eastern League
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (As of April 1, 2017): 23y, 10m
A converted starter taken in the 10th round of the 2015 draft, Cyr was playing well above his listed weight in my view on August 25, looking closer to 220 pounds. He shows his numbers from a closed, rock-step wind-up, and he stayed tall in his crossfire delivery to generate angle and deception from his high-3/4’s slot, helping to play up his fastball/slider combo.
His average fastball was sitting 91-to-94 mph, and his above-average cutter was in the 88-to-91 mph range. The cutter was the more effective of the two, with late dart that was particularly effective versus lefties, who are hitting just .174 against him this year (RHH are hitting .333), and he’ll get swing and miss on the pitch (10.4 SO/9 rate). The four-seamer showed some flat run with average movement, but his command was inconsistent and the use was limited. His slider is more of a slurve at 80-to-84 mph, and it was an average offering with limited depth but good sweeper action, and he showed some feel to add and subtract with it. He has the confidence to control it for first-pitch strikes and get some swing and miss in and out of the zone, but his command when using it for chase was inconsistent.
He’s been more hittable in 2017, and his H/9 has trended up to 9.1 over 49 1/3 innings this year versus 6.7 over 73 2/3 innings between two A levels in 2016, showing that his command still needing some refinement versus advanced bats. He’s got below-average control (3.6 BB/9) this year (up from 3.1 BB/9 over 73 1/3 innings last year), but he progressed as a strike-thrower since the All-Star break, with a 24:3 BB:SO rate over his last 21 1/3 innings, and the cutter in particular is proving tough to backspin, with just five home runs allowed over 144 2/3 career innings.
Cyr is still developing as a reliever, and the deceptive delivery fits the role. 2017 was his first season of Double-A ball, and if the control profile continues on its current path of improvement and the slider develops more consistency as a put-away offering, he could become a solid Role 50, second-division set-up/late-inning situational arm. He’s a reliever to watch in the 2017 Arizona Fall League.