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Archive for May 2010

Prospects In Action: Zack Wheeler, RHP, Augusta GreenJackets – May 12, 2010

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If you’re a first round pick or a budding superstar, chances are you don’t want me in the stands when it’s your turn to take the bump.

A few weeks ago, I coaxed a bad start out of the Rome Brave’s Arodys Vizcaino.

And last Wednesday, I hexed the Augusta GreenJacket’s flamethrowing righty Zack Wheeler. In just 2.2 miserable innings, Wheeler gave up six hits, six earned runs, three bases on balls, two wild pitches, and a hit by pitch.

How’s that for a line?

I wanted Wheeler to do well last night. I mean, I really did. About six months ago, I wrote this post about Wheeler. It basically put me behind the wheel (no pun intended) of the Wheeler bandwagon, before there even really was one. There’s just something about a 6’4″ righthander that touches 95 miles per hour that intrigues me like nothing else but maybe a pizza with a donut topping.

But as is the course of the last couple weeks, another big prospect left town a beaten man, leaving me wondering how much longer I can continue this bad luck streak of awful starts by good pitchers.

When the night started, it looked like Wheeler was ready to deal. His bullpen session left the family next to me confounded; they hadn’t seen anyone with the velocity of Wheeler and they weren’t afraid to repeatedly admit it, noticing my notebook and hoping I was someone who could quote them in something worthwhile.

And even the catcher, Tommy Joseph, was feeling good about their chances: “Ah, it’s just an 88 mile per hour changeup. No big deal!”

And, like clockwork, Wheeler’s first inning went well.

His fastball sat at 95-96 according to the stadium gun, a pretty big bump from the 93 he had been previously reported at. One pitch caused a buzz amidst the Charleston fans when it registered at 99 miles per hour on the big board. It was an obvious glitch in electronics, an outlier of the purest sense, but a cool glitch, nonetheless.

The first thing I noticed about Wheeler was his delivery. It features an odd hesitation with his lead foot; instead of using the weight of his right leg to propel his arm and body weight forward, he basically takes it out of the mix, dangling it over the forward part of the mound until his snake-like right arm reaches its pinnacle and begins its downward movement. Only then does he finally drop the foot. The hesitation, once spotted, seems very out of place for a power pitcher. In person, it’s much more pronounced than in any of the video I’d previously seen.

You can clearly see that he is not consistently repeating the movement in this video. On the first pitch, the hesitation is apparent, but by the third pitch, there’s almost no delay.

That being said, Wheeler generates tremendously easy velocity from his tall, broad, and lanky frame.

His changeup had good running movement, coming in at 87-89 miles per hour. He didn’t throw many curveballs, which was a major disappointment since I’ve heard it’s a good looking pitch. When he did throw it, it spun in almost exclusively at 78 miles per hour. It has a tight rotation and looks like it could be a true power curve. My only notes are: “78, 78, 78, small break.”

In the first, Wheeler gave up just a run on a bloop single to left field.

But that’s just about all the positives I have to report. Check out this recap of Wheeler’s second inning:

  • Deangelo Mack grounds out, second baseman Ryan Cavan to first baseman Luke Anders.
  • Garrison Lassiter strikes out swinging.
  • Kelvin Castro singles on a fly ball to right fielder Ryan Lollis.
  • With Raymond Kruml batting, passed ball by Thomas Joseph, Kelvin Castro to 2nd.
  • Raymond Kruml singles on a ground ball to center fielder Evan Crawford. Kelvin Castro scores.
  • Jimmy Paredes doubles (5) on a fly ball to center fielder Evan Crawford. Raymond Kruml scores.
  • Justin Milo singles on a ground ball to left fielder Dan Cook. Jimmy Paredes scores.
  • Luke Murton walks. Justin Milo to 2nd.
  • With Robert Lyerly batting, wild pitch by Zack Wheeler, Justin Milo scores. Luke Murton to 3rd.
  • With Robert Lyerly batting, wild pitch by Zack Wheeler, Luke Murton scores.
  • Robert Lyerly grounds out, second baseman Ryan Cavan to first baseman Luke Anders.

It was ugly. When Joseph allowed the passed ball, it looked like there was a breakdown in communication between the battery mates. However, that wasn’t my biggest concern.

In the second inning, Wheeler’s velocity dropped almost four miles per hour. Instead of the 94-96 he was tossing in the first, his first five pitches in the second were 90, 91, 90, 92, and 90. And it remained there for much of the inning. He got back up to 94 during the Luke Murton at-bat, but the results were just not there.

Was he pitching with adrenaline in the first? Did he over-exert himself? Or had he just lost control?

I don’t know. But I do know that to the semi-trained eye, each time an abbreviated velocity reading popped on the board during the second, I put a mini red flag up. And when he lost all control during the second half of the second inning, I was reminded of something I saw during the bullpen session.

While working in the bullpen, Wheeler would start his windup, then look down to see where that lagging lead foot was, and then continue on.

I do not know if the pause I saw was present when he pitched in high school. But to me, it certainly looked more pronounced and intentional. It did not look like he was quite comfortable with it yet and it looked like something he was thinking about. And when you pitch, you don’t want to think.

Strangely enough, Augusta’s manager sent him back out there for the third. His velocity returned, but after a hit-by-pitch and a nasty walk, Wheeler’s night was over.

So, there it is. I wish I could send San Francisco fans revelatory information about the ace potential of Zack Wheeler, but I simply can’t. I’m still confused by what I saw.

For one inning, Zack Wheeler looked every bit the $3.3 million San Francisco thinks he is worth. But for the next 1.2 innings, he looked every bit Jason Grilli, the last pitcher the Giants picked up in the first round.

We’ll just have to wait.

Note: That obnoxious high-pitched voice isn’t me. That little rat ruined made my night a living hell.

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Know Your Prospects: Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, Citadel Bulldogs

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It’s more difficult to spell than the longest name in baseball, Saltalamacchia. And its pronunciation is even more mind boggling than Duchscherer.

For baseball writers everywhere, there’s a new brain aneurysm causing name on the scene.

Wojciechowski. First name Asher.

Prounounced Woah-jeh-how-ski, I have the name copied so I can simply press Apple+V whenever it comes up. When I started this blog, I didn’t know I’d have to become proficient in the study of Polish linguistics.

But, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to avoid the name for any duration. Currently ranked 23rd in Baseball America‘s April Draft Preview, Wojciechowski has established himself as a first-round talent while pitching for the hometown Citadel Bulldogs.

I’ve had the opportunity to see Wojciechowski pitch on numerous occasions. Early in the season, it was easy to temper expectations for him. He was raw, his aggression unbridled, and maybe he was trying a little too hard to replicate his success from 2009. His fastball command was inconsistent, so hitters sat on his curveball and routinely laced it for hits. During more than one early season outing, Wojciechowski yelled “FUCK!” into his glove as hitters fed on his secondary pitches.

Wojciechowski has progressed steadily since then and has, by a large margin, become the Southern Conference’s best pitcher. As of April 30, Wojciechowski lead the league in earned run average (2.47), strikeouts (98 through 73 innings), batters struck out looking (68) and wins (8).

A 6’4″, 230 pound, righthander out of Beaufort, South Carolina, Wojciechowski is one of the more advanced pitchers I’ve seen at the college level, both physically and stuff-wise.

His tall, but stout body is perfect for his leg-driven motion. His frame is surprisingly compact and moves quickly when he drives off the rubber with his large quads, meaning he gets all of his weight behind every pitch.

As a result, Wojciechowski is a power pitcher in the purest sense. His fastball resides in the low-to-mid nineties. During the Citadel’s game against Appalachian State on March 26, he sat at 91-93 with the pitch. As the season has progressed, however, he’s actually sustained that velocity and his fastball now sits closer to 93-94, even late into games.

Wojciechowski also possesses a good slider. The action on the pitch looks more like a power curveball, but I’m assuming he’s told scouts that it’s a slider because on nearly every outside scouting report, they call it a slider. Still, I’m sticking with my guns and calling it a power curve. Whatever it really is, the pitch sits at 89-91 miles per hour and has also shown positive development as the year has worn on.

Even though it’s not his best pitch, Wojciechowski shows absolutely no hesitation throwing his breaking ball, no matter the count. In several outings, I’ve actually felt he was throwing it to a fault, like he refused to accept that it’s not an out-pitch. Now, however, the pitch isn’t a pitch you can really sit on. It’s got good, sharp lateral movement and when he can command it, he uses it to expand the plate well.

His changeup, like so many young pitchers, is almost non-existent. He’s only thrown it a handful of times in the three games I’ve seen. It needs work.

Wojciechowski has a lot working for him, though. His success in the Southern Conference has made him an imposing figure. When he toes the rubber, opposing batters feel like they can’t win, like they can’t hit, like they can’t do anything.

Wojciechowski begins his motion upright and holds his glove over his face so the batter can only see his glaring eyes. Looking in my notes, on more than one occasion, I’ve recorded something along the lines of: “Looks like he’ll rip your face off when he’s on the mound.” When he goes from the stretch, he begins by expanding his whole body, just showing the opposing team how physically dominant he is.

And when he’s at his best, he doesn’t let up and pounds the strikezone, over and over, with his boring fastball. With that coming at you at 95 miles per hour and a sharp breaking pitch, he’s been nearly unstoppable in the Southern Conference.

Some scouts say he’s a bonafide number two or number three starter at the major league level. Others say he’s a flamethrowing reliever.

Like that offspeed pitch, there’s some thrash over what Wojciechowski is, what he will be, or where he’ll end up.

Either way, his dominant 2010 has been a fun ride. And no matter what the future holds, I’ll be watching.

Video of the Day: Roger Clamens eats batboy.

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There’s so many reasons to love minor league baseball. The beer is a cheap, you can move through the stands freely, and finding parking doesn’t make you want to stab yourself in the throat. And where else can you see a mascot named Roger Clamens eat the home team’s batboy?

Written by dylansharek

May 2, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Know Your Prospects: Jose Ramirez, RHP, New York Yankees

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Jose Ramirez.

During my two-plus years of religious attendance at Charleston RiverDogs’ games, I don’t think I’ve seen a better product come through this system.

I wasn’t planning on going to tonight’s game against the Hickory Crawdads, the Ranger’s low-A affiliate, but when I saw Ramirez was the starter, I packed up the camera, the notebook, and my program and headed out to Joe P. Riley, Jr. Park. I was so intrigued by the sneaky-fast fastball and the it’ll-make-you-look-foolish changeup he displayed on April 26 that I had to find out if they were mere figments of my imagination or if this guy could possibly be the real deal.

And once again, Ramirez blew me away.

In six very, very strong innings, the 6’1″ righthander gave up just two hits. One of those hits, a first inning double by Hickory’s Cody Podraza, was all the Crawdad’s needed to secure the 1-0 victory.  Still, we all know wins and losses don’t mean everything.

Sitting at 80-83 miles per hour, Ramirez’s changeup is as advanced as any pitcher’s I’ve ever seen, at any minor league level. With his motion, you can’t tell the difference between his fastball, which ranges from from 89-93 and routinely touches 94, and his changeup. At this level, the batters are completely overpowered, overmatched, and overwhelmed.

He shows the ability to adeptly work both halves of the plate, popping fastballs in on hitter’s hands and stretching them out with changes on the lower half of the zone.

Ramirez’s curveball, which ranges from 79-84 and is an 1-to-7 offering, leaves a lot to be desired, but it has shown flashes of development. He threw it much more tonight than during Monday’s game against the Rome Braves, but he routinely left it up in the zone or down in the dirt. Still, it’s clear that it’s the pitch he’s working on. He never seemed to get a good feel for it tonight, but if he ever does, well…

What makes Ramirez so intriguing isn’t his great natural stuff, but the projection left in that stuff. He’s so tall (6’1″) and so thin (just 155 pounds), that it’s not improbable to believe he can add another 2-3 miles per hour to his heater as he ages.

Did I mention he’s not even 21 yet?

Ramirez’s free and easy motion makes me like him even more. There aren’t too many moving parts and it appears as though he’s made an unnatural movement as natural as possible. I’m no expert on pitching mechanics (that’s a direct shout out to you, Adam Foster, of Project Prospect), but if I had to wager a bet, I’d say his mechanics are as close to clean as you can get.

All of this means his stuff should play well at higher levels. And if I had to guess, I’d say he has two starts max, if they decide to promote him aggressively, at this level before he moves on to high-A Tampa. If he deals anywhere near as well as he has here in Charleston, he’ll be on the fast track to the upper levels of the minor leagues.

In 2009, Ramirez added the MLB.com Short-Season Pitcher of the Year award to his resume after going 6-0 with a 1.48 ERA and a paltry .159 batting average against. If they keep him with the RiverDogs for just a little bit more of the season, it’s easy to imagine him bolstering that resume.

This year, I’ve seen the Braves’ RHP Arodys Vizcaino in game action. Sure, it wasn’t the best game Vizcaino has ever pitched, but I didn’t see anything from him that would make me take him or rate him higher than Ramirez. When each pitcher develops and grows into their physique, I don’t think it’s at all preposterous to propose that Ramirez will have a better fastball, a better changeup, but a worse curve.

I really don’t think that Ramirez is having a good run or that he’s facing inferior competition; he’s just the latest of the Yankees’ international signees to breakout.

And that’s the true story of the game.