Do Baseball Rivalries Exist

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Friday, 18 July 2003

The Futures All Star Game

If Major League Baseball’s Annual All-Star Game is a present, then I’m the kid who sits on the floor playing with the wrapping paper. This year’s game was pretty good, but for the most part, when you get right down to it, the All-Star tilt is usually a snooze. I like the Homerun Derby. But a guy like me gets positively starry eyed over the Futures Game.

The Future’s Game is quite possibly the best idea Major League Baseball has had in the last 50 years. It’s almost as if Major League Baseball saw the increasing popularity of Minor League Baseball, and the increasing fascination of it’s fan base with developing young stars, and decided to use that to market both their future stars, and the sport itself, in an effort to grow the game ….

Naaaaaah …….

That couldn’t be. Now I’m just talking nonsense. (What was I thinking? And shouldn’t it be played on Wednesday Night?)

But happy accident or not, the Futures Game is always one of the highlights of the summer for me.

I am a moderate in the stat analysis vs. baseball savvy ground war. I started as a baseball guy, and in the last 10+ years, I have learned to appreciate, embrace, and integrate the numbers into my thinking.

I like to think of myself as hybrid.

I live in New England and there is a full palette of minor baseball available to me. I see a lot of players, but I can’t see all of the players that play around me and there are Texas League guys, and PCL guys who I’m just not going to get to see play unless I can con someone into sending me a tape. For me, the Futures Game is a chance to “lay my hands” on players who, to this point, I’ve only been able to examine remotely with stats.

It’s a feast for the baseball guy in me.

So I hid all of the stats, and the prospect sheets with player’s histories, and splits, and indicators, and I decided, as I always do, to simply sit and watch the game.

I just wanted to see how these kids looked and played.

And seeing that someone will actually pay me to do it (great country America, huh?) I figured I’d share my notes with you.

So the rules were that I couldn’t look up anything about the player, except age and maybe height and weight. If I didn’t know it already, or couldn’t figure it out by watching the kid, it wasn’t important for this exercise.

These are impressions that come strictly from what I saw. I did not look up their histories or indicators to test my impressions before I wrote this. I wanted to just note pure reaction.

Now this is one game. And this particular game was pitching heavy. The pitchers dominated the hitters. You simply can’t form any long-term conclusions about a player based on this game, or any one game, of course.

The players are pumped and/or nervous. They are in unfamiliar surroundings, playing with people they never met until 24 hours before. It’s not a true test, especially for hitters, and especially in games like this one.

In two of the past Futures Games, I have been on site, and seen BP and that helps fill out a report on a hitter. You can hear and see how the ball comes off his bat and get a better idea of his personality. I wasn’t there this year, so all I have to use is the game itself, which is little more than a peep show in terms of the hitters.

Still there are certain things you can see, in all the players, things that you can take away with you, and add to the stats to help fill out your picture on a player.

I watched the game live and scribbled some notes. I watched the game again on tape and made some more notes. It’s all stream of consciousness. But here are some of the things I saw:

LHP Neal Cotts (CHW) – Came over the Foulke/Koch deal … Fastball: 87-89 (topped at 92), slider, and/or hard curve (79), not a lot of vertical movement on this pitch … Pitched inside very well especially on left-handers … Motion is a hair past the range of control to try and generate velocity, which probably contributes to his control issues. I don’t think he’s quite ready. He needs a third pitch, more drop on his breaking stuff and pitch that changes the hitter’s field of vision. Serviceable velocity with little movement. He also needs to repeat his motion better. Needs time and more tools, I think. But I know his command has been good in the minors so I won’t put much stock in today. But I do think he might struggle a bit if you see him before next September, which is very likely.

RHP Rich Harden (Oak) – I loved him before this game. After his inning of work, I wanted to have his babies … Free and deceptively easy delivery produces mid-90’s fastball (several 97s, a 98). Can live up in the zone if he wants, climbs the ladder on hitters … 85 MPH shallow breaking pitch (change, maybe?), not great but the 10-mph separation from his fastball makes it more effective … He definitely got better as the inning wore on. He was tight in the first few pitches. Rich threw a much better curve to Dave Kelton later in the inning at 85, sharp break, good drop, basically 1:00 o’clock to 7:00 o’clock. Those were two of only three off-speed pitches thrown … Loved his motion. Command was a bit shaky this outing, he could have been a bit finer, but it looked like he was just a bit over excited. He threw several pitches well of his target. I’d like to see his lower body built up a little, but that will come. Can’t wait to see him with the A’s. Deserving of the hype…no doubt.

OF Grady Sizemore (Cle) - Upright stance, quiet swing, quick bat … Not a lot of head movement. Grady bounced single up the middle on low, 96 mph FB in his first AB … Took a mistake pitch from Song in his third AB and blasted it to the RF bleachers. Narrowed his zone on the first pitch he saw, got the fastball over the plate his was hoping for, and jumped on it. Nice theory, recognition, and execution.

RHP John Van Benschoten (Pit) – Tall, powerful, build. Fastball around 91. Curve at 80 mph, good drop. Everything was down and mostly inside. He made two mistake pitches in the middle of the plate but got away with them. Nice body, good motion. Not a ton of velocity, but I think there’s more there to be had with a little refinement and pitching maturity. Saw one curve basically, and it was pretty good. I liked his location and penchant to stay down in the zone. It’s still early in terms of his pitching career. He is good now and still has a lot of growth potential. If they can coax 3 more MPH out of him and teach him an effective change. He’ll be something.

3B Andy Marte (Atl) – Good bat speed. Got through an armpit-high 91 mph FB and lifted it to CF. Impressive to catch up to it … Bad pitch to swing at, but showed some talent to get it to CF.

RHP Edgar Gonzalez (ARZ) – Fastball at 90-92 (topped at 93), with a nice tail, in on right handed hitters. Good sharp movement but not too late and the break is flat (horizontal) which will work against him in the Majors. Changes speeds well. He threw his fastball in two different gears. His change checked in at 81 with the same running movement towards RH hitters. He did show one breaking pitch that moves the other way and looked around 90. I would have liked to have seen that one a couple more times. Needs time and needs to use that curve more, but his movement will get him to the Majors.

C Joe Mauer (Min) – I’ve seen a lot of him in New Britain. Lanky right now but should fill out well. One of his major problems is he’s just too good a catcher. He should be moved to first but he’s so good behind the plate (great feet), it’s a difficult to imagine it will happen. Quick hands and swing, slight upper cut, willing to go the other way. Likes to swing and doesn’t like to wait, but his zone command is good and getting better. Power will come when his 20-year-old body fills out. Another one who deserves the hype.

OF Dave Krynzel (Mil) – Tough AB in the first inning, fought hard. I liked Dave’s afternoon in a “he just looks like a ballplayer” kind of way. He’s not an All-Star caliber player I don’t think (I’m talking MLB level), but he has some speed, controls his strike zone, understand the concept of battling in his AB, and working the pitcher, and he was very solid in center (good instincts, good techniques). Could probably help the Brewers OF now, and should be a contributory MLB regular eventually … Potential leadoff hitter in the Majors.

RHP Gavin Floyd (Phil) - Holy Cow! 6’6”, 215 pounds at 20 years old … Fastball at 91-93 (a 94). It’s tails slightly towards right-handers, but not as much as you like … I saw an 83 MPH change and then an 86 later in the inning. Both were up where everything else was down … 10-mph separation is a good start, but the change needs time ... Good clean, disciplined, delivery for a young pitcher of his size and it looks like he repeats it well already, but his command is raw … He snapped a very sharp curve at Alexis Gomez that even beat catcher Joe Mauer. It was 78 mph and bit hard. A scary curve ball. Exciting. It was the only one of those he threw. Great size. He already has a good motion installed and he’ll gain some velocity. At 94-95 with that curve on a leash, and a reasonable change, he will be tough. A good-looking prospect.

RHP - Seung Song (Mon) – From Boston in the Cliff Floyd deal last year. I saw a lot of him in Lowell a couple of years ago when he worked for the Red Sox. His calling card is a nice 12-6 curve that he can throw as low as the mid-70s. The problem is that his FB sits in the high 80s (87-88, but one supposedly at 94, that’s what the gun said anyway, if so it was a career best) so the separation in velocity isn’t as good as you’d expect and his curve rolls more than snaps. Song also throws that curve a lot, so hitters will begin to time it. He also has a straight change, but one of them showed a tail in to right-handers. The breaking stuff fools low-level players but he may find the going more difficult as the hitters get more sophisticated at the higher levels. And they’ll probably rake his fastball in the majors, which will render it useless and therefore undermine his curve. I have my doubts about this kid.

2B Ramon Nivar (Tex) – Doubled, left field line, first pitch he saw … plus speed.

RHP Zack Greinke (KC) – In my office it sounded like I was watching a fireworks show … “ooooh … aaaah …. oooohhh … aahhhh” … I watched Zack’s inning of work about 4 times. Not much top end velocity (88-89 with a tail in on right-handers, and I saw a 91 and 92) but he has an array of plus breaking pitches. He threw two absolutely ungodly breaking pitches in the inning, a 74-mph 2- to- 8 o’clock, and a 58-mph job that was worth at least a warning from the physics police. He threw breaking pitches at 88, 85, 81, 74, 64, and 58 mph in the inning. Yes… the gun said 58 mph and I believed it. Zack has a smooth, mature delivery, and he has a clue on the mound. He’s knows what he’s doing and he’s very composed. It’s funny how you can just see what’s going on in a player’s head isn’t it? Zack was totally under control out there and the wheels were turning every second. I’m not making a comparison here (so don’t say I did), but if you haven’t seem him, the only way I can describe this outing is … think Greg Maddux playing whiffleball. Remember how I loved Barry Zito? I love Zack. And remember, I’m not big on speed and location guys. I like power pitchers. But this one is going to be very good.

RHP Chin-Hui Tsao (Col) – This guy is Seung Song 2.0 … Sharper breaking pitches and more top end velocity (91-94). He absolutely froze Chris Burke with a tremendous 74-mph curve that was a thing of beauty … Nice change with command .and …(oooops, sorry there’s another one of those curves! But J.J.Hardy golfed it for a single) … Good motion. Good command. It looks like he’s quite a ways along in terms of pitching maturity (he’s polished). The problem is that all I can think is “Will the breaking stuff actually break in Colorado?”

2B Chris Burke (Hou) – Best facial expressions of the game. He’s still trying to regain full use of his knees after the curve that Tsao punched him out with. I’ll bet he’s still looking at the tape.

RHP Clint Nageotte (Sea) - His first fastball was 93, and over the middle of the plater. Alexis Rios deposited it in the RF bleachers. His next few fastballs were 93-94. I saw a nice sharp 80-mph curve, an 84-mph slide with a good bite and another one with better bite and big break. He showed one 95-mph fastball with a nice tail. Clint’s slider really caught my attention. Lot’s of break, sharp, and late. He kept the ball down. Clint will be a power pitcher with a nasty breaking pitch. He looks like he could fill out, eventually forming a Clemens of Schilling-type of body. His fastball looks very heavy and with that sharp slide and a change (to be installed?), he could be nasty. Very promising.

CF Alexis Rios (Tor) – Went with Clint Nagoette’s first offering, a 93-mph fastball over the middle outside of the plate and took it out to right-center. This kid is 6’5” and only 185. He’s 22 so you have to figure he can put of a few pounds. Alexis is a free swinger but here he showed he can kill a mistake and do it to the opposite field to boot. He hasn’t shown a ton of power yet but this shows me he has some power potential.

OF Felix Pie (CHC) – Hey an 18-year-old Dominican that actually looks 18! Nothing you can tell in one AB on a kid like this except the same impression I had of a young Rafael Furcal the first time I saw him, specifically … The kid looks like he belongs. He wasn’t awed or overmatched by the experience. Tall, lanky, his swing is going to have to be shortened and simplified, but it’s too early to even worry about that.

RHP Denny Bautista (Fla) – This distant relative of Pedro and Ramon Martinez was the pleasant surprise of the day. He’s almost scrawny at 20 years old, and his motion is a bit jerky, but he throws in the mid-90s (mostly 94 this day with a 96) with an intermittent tail. He showed an ineffective straight change at 87 (not enough velocity separation). Denny threw a very sharp curve. My wife though I was nuts because I watched 4 seconds of tape about 12 times to see his fingers. Pedro’s movement especially on his change, comes (at least partially, but I think mostly) from having freakishly long fingers that will actually bow backwards like a banana when he straightens them out. After watching that segement of tape more than the Zapruder film (“back and to the left … back and to the left”), I can now conclude that Denny has long fingers as well. Add a couple years, twenty pounds, a few more pitching discussions with Pedro and Ramon at the Martinez family outings and you are going to have an absolutely filthy pitcher on your hands. He finished his inning with two Tom Gordon-esque 12-to-6, 74-mph benders that were very pretty. This kid is something special.

3B Kevin Youkilis (Bos.) – He walked … imagine that. You know how if you miss-match the poles of a pair magnets they repel each other? Kevin can somehow create this effect on the strike zone. I can’t explain it. But I shake my head at Kevin and have since Lowell. If a guy has below average power and speed, can he contribute to an MLB lineup at third base, even if he posts a .400+ OBP? I guess we’ll find out next year, won’t we? “They” say he’ll develop power, and he might, but “they” also said that about Sean Burroughs and I didn’t believe it then either.

1B Ryan Howard (Phil) – Just look at him! (Oh you can’t … sorry). Stocky, powerful upper body, great bat speed (but a long swing). Probably can hit the ball a country mile, but his whiffed this time. Not terribly selective in this AB. He goes on my watch list.

RHP John Maine (Bal) – I’ve been thinking that at 23 years old, I have to discount his A-ball performance a bit. His command has been good, but his stuff just isn’t compelling. This day his fastball settled at 90 mph, give or take a foot. He threw one rolling curve at 83, but only got to throw to one batter. I still reserve judgment. Let’s see him at AA before we go totally nuts.

RHP Preston Larrison (Det.) – Huh???? Sponsors exemption?

C Justin Huber (NYM) – Gunned down J.J. Hardy with an excellent throw. Great footwork. There was more tail on the ball than you’d like but given that he was catching an unfamiliar pitcher (Denny Bautista) with lots of movement it was a great throw. How great would it have been to hear the conversation on the mound between Huber (Australian) and Denny Bautista (Dominican) in their inning? Get Luis Tiant (Cuban) out there as pitching coach and you could feed a pack of translators and linguists for a year. At least Chin-Hui Tsao wasn’t pitching.

LHP Travis Blackley (Sea) – Another Australian. Crikey … Good range of speeds from an 88 mph fastball to 85-mph slider to 81 and 79-mph changes. But that’s about all I saw that I liked. Steve Smitherman (OF Reds) took his high 78-mph change out of the ballpark for the win. Nothing compelling here.

LHP Jorge De La Rosa (Bos) - He’ll be overlooked by most publications but Jorge has some stuff. You always pay attention to a lefty who gets in the mid-nineties (94). He has a plus (if still inconsistent) change and a plus curve to boot. Jorge has a lot of speeds to show you, works inside, and has developed a nice repeatable delivery. The Sox are stretching him out to start and he has a middle-of-the-rotation ceiling.

LHP Royce Ring (NYM) – Came to the Mets in the Robbie Alomar deal and may be headed towards the end of the pen now that Armando Benitez is gone. He’s been raised as a closer in the White Sox organization and the Mets will hold open auditions the rest of the way, so Ring may arrive at any time. He’s ready. Royce throws in the high 80’s (saw a couple 90-mph offerings) and has a good curve that separates nicely at 75-76-mph. He may not have enough velocity to survive as a lefty closer, but he’ll settle into the Mets pen in a post-seventh inning role of some sort.

Zack Greinke was the apple of my eye this day, but Rich Harden did nothing to lower his stock as the game’s best pitching prospect. Denny Bautista was the hidden jewel of the day and Gavin Floyd, John Van Benschoten, Clint Nageotte, and Chin-Hui Tsao all showed why they are regarded so highly. It was definitely a pitchers game and there is definitely a wave of good your pitching headed our way.



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