I don't think I could make it as a scout. Now I think I have a pretty good eye for the game, and I'm generally a curious and open-minded guy. I believe I could learn the ropes with some time and tutoring. However, I would totally be dead by 33 of a heart attack. Here were my breakfasts the last three days: donuts, pork sandwich, donuts. I usually eat okay when I am able to shop or cook for myself,* but on the road, I am a gastronomic nightmare.
*Okay, that's a bald-faced lie. I just got home from work and started editing this piece while snacking on a slice of cibatta smeared with butter and a jello pudding cup.
But goddamn was that 11 AM pork sandwich worth it.
So I salute the itinerants that wander the minor league parks of America, staying in La Quinta Inns and eating out of their cars. I would love to do it, if I could just learn to say "I'll have the salad." And ultimately, I don't think I can limit myself to 150 words, well, ever. So here we are.
Yes, it's another Amazin Avenue road report.
Before the season started I had hoped to catch at least a dozen games in Binghamton this year. They are in New Britain for 7, so that would get me 20 looks at a very intriguing pitching staff and a.. less intriguing line-up. I have a soft spot for Bingo, too, even if it is a four hour drive through endless hills that my new car does not enjoy traversing. They have a long history as an affiliate, and I would be sad to see them go. That said, I am not going to complain too vehemently if the Mets end up in New Britain next year, 15 minutes from my parents' house. The lodging is a lot cheaper, the drive shorter, and I know where all the good bars are.
Usually this is the point where I give an anecdote from my trip informed by a bit of local color or somesuch. This time, though, not much to report other than the aforementioned pork sandwich. Oh, and apparently Ground Round still exists.
I caught the Friday night and Saturday afternoon games. If you follow me on twitter, you probably know how Friday night went. If not, well, let's just say it was a bit chilly.
Now, let's get to the report.
Throw away the line from the boxscore Friday night. Here is what I saw: A straight up electric arm.
His first fastball of the game was 98, and he sat 94-96 for the evening. The Aeroes struggled to catch up to the heater all night, and even the two-run double he gave up was basically just slapped the other way. Wheeler's fastball has a ton of natural cut to it, which just makes things even more unfair for opposing batters. A couple of his nastier offerings looked like mid-nineties cutters, which is just ridiculous. I know there are some concerns about his mechanics/durability over the long term, but the velocity looked like it came easier to Wheeler then say, Familia.
He struggled with the feel for his breaking stuff early, but by the third innings was breaking off some very nice curveballs. Once he got comfortable with it, he was willing to throw it early in counts and even double up with it. He set up Nick Weglarz with two nice backdoor curves and then blew a 96 mph fastball by him to get out of a third inning jam. If he can consistently do that, and keep hitters from sitting fastball early in counts, he will be very, very tough to hit.
His fastball command can come and go. He was consistently falling behind hitters, but his stuff is good enough that the Aeroes couldn’t really make him pay. If he comes over the plate on 3-1 to MLB hitters like that, they will. As I said, he struggled with his breaking stuff early, not throwing a strike with it until the third inning. Slider lags well behind the curve, lacks a sharp break and can get slurvy.
Grades (General and oft-repeated disclaimer: I am not a scout)
Change-up: Incomplete (only threw one that I saw)
The fastball has plus-plus potential, but even right now it would be an above average MLB pitch. Better command will make it play up even more. The curve certainly flashed plus, with a hard 11-5 break, but Wheeler also spun his share into the left-handed batters box. I’m willing to cut some slack on the breaking stuff in general, since I can’t imagine it was easy to get a feel for the baseball on a breezy evening that dipped into the 30s. I know I couldn't feel my fingers at least.
I had Wheeler behind Harvey as the #2 prospect in the system coming into the season by a close, but comfortable margin. Nothing I saw really made me reassess this. Harvey is still the safer pick. Wheeler’s ceiling is still higher, but not that much higher. The lack of a change still stands out here, and Wheeler is a bit further away. That said, if Wheeler does put some things together in Binghamton, I could see him blowing by Harvey on prospect lists come October. I’m not necessarily betting on it, but it should be on the board. On a pure stuff level, Wheeler's is the best in the system.
The velocity bump seems to be for real. Gorski was sitting 89-91 and touched 92 on occasion. The radar gun Greg Peavey and Mark Cohoon were passing back and forth a few seats over from me generally confirmed the stadium gun. Gorski has good command of the pitch, working both sides of the plate, and is comfortable pounding down in the zone or going up the ladder with his heater. The change-up was rated by Baseball America has the best in the organization and it lived up to its billing. It was generally 81-83 and showed good sink and fade, and made Akron's line-up look silly. I also love the speed at which Gorski works, he gets the ball back and immediately sets himself for the next pitch, whether the batter is in the box or not. When the batter steps back in, he starts his motion.
The slider needs some work, like Wheeler’s it is kind of slurvy. Gorski didn’t throw it much, probably because he didn’t need to. He's going to be a flyball pitcher. This isn’t all that surprising, as there is a strong correlation between fastball velocity and groundball rate, and even now, Gorski’s velocity is only averageish. His best weapon, the change-up, is also not a big groundball pitch. This is something worth keeping an eye on this year, as NYSEG is more home run friendly than Digital Domain. He did walk three guys, but the strike zone was all over the place. This was not lost on Pedro Lopez, who jawed back and forth with the home plate umpire on occasion.
The fastball is average, but that’s not a bad thing. I don’t see him adding any more velocity, though it will be interesting to watch as the weather warms up if he gets up to the 90-92 that was being reported last year. The command makes it play up, and there’s a bit of deception in there, but he’s not going to blow guys away. The change-up is already quite good, if he gets a bit more consistency with it, it becomes a true plus offering. The development of the slider is going to be the key to how high his ceiling is. If he can get it even close to MLB average, I think he can be a good back of the rotation arm. Right now it is more of a show-me pitch, but I'd like to see it get to the point where he can be effective throwing it inside against righties.
GORSKI! But seriously, as much as I was a cheerleader for him last year, I had tempered my expectations some coming into his start Saturday. Two years ago he was a non-prospect. Last year he was a 23 year old in the Florida State League. There were conflicting reports on his velocity for much of the 2011 season. But after seeing him live, I’m still a believer. He still has a lot of starts ahead of him in AA, but I came away from this one more confident he’ll have a good season and confirm his Top 15 prospect rating in the organization.
And in the end? Well, if the slider doesn’t come around, he’s a nice bullpen arm that can get righties out as well. But I can definitely see a major league starter here. His stuff held up well throughout his start, and he has that classic starter’s build (though he does seem a big ganglier in person than his listed 6’4”, 210 lbs) I think he passes the AA test and moves up some lists this year. I could give you some boilerplate here about lefties figuring it out later, or the change-up taking longer to harness than other pitches, but occasionally players just defy what we consider a traditional prospect to MLB track. I think Darin Gorski is one of those guys.
The stuff is pretty close to major league caliber at this point. Fastball sat 92-94 on Friday night, and he paired it with a a mid 80s slider that flashed some outright nastiness.
The velocity was down a tick on his second consecutive day of work, and his command wasn't quite as sharp. I do worry that his arm angle may cause some platoon problems down the road.
The fastball has above average velo and a little bit of run to it. The slider is a potential wipeout pitch, but he still needs some work commanding it. In March, I had hoped he would get at least a few innings in the upper minors. In April, I'm not sure he will need much more than a few.
Edgin is pretty close to a finished product. I don't think his arsenal is quite good enough overall to be a late inning reliever, and I think good right-handed bats will give him some problems, He looks like a good middle reliever to me. Props to Toby Hyde for aggressively ranking him #19 on his Mets Top 41 list. I still think that's a bit high, but he should be on everyone's list.
Power, power, power. Made some of the hardest contact of anyone on the field. Smoked an RBI double Friday night, and then just missed a home run in the ninth. That was especially impressive since nothing was carrying in the cold weather. Marte followed that performance up by lacing an opposite field triple off the RF wall Saturday afternoon. Didn't look too bad at 3B all in all. He's not Brooks Robinson over there, but he didn't look like lost or anything. He won't turn 21 until June. He's reasonably patient at the plate and has a good approach in general. You wouldn't guess he was just 20 or that he and struggled last year in Advanced A.
There's just not a whole lot else beyond the power stroke right now. He's already down to average speed, and his arm at 3b is only okay. I'd need to see him a few more times to get a better feel for if he can stick there, but everyone else seems to think he ends up at 1b or LF, which puts a lot more pressure on the bat.
Glove (@ 3B): 40/30
Marte is still all projection. He'll show you flashes of why he ranked so highly coming out of short-season ball (Last April, the AFL) and then he will sputter for seemingly months at a time. I just don't know that he is a major league third baseman, and I don't know that he will retain enough foot speed to play the outfield. I do still like the bat, though. I was kind of surprised he was pushed to AA, but he doesn't look out of place there. I think he can be an average-> above regular, I'm just not sure exactly where yet.
Cups of Coffee
Brad Holt- I will probably be the last person to give up on Holt, but I think there is still a glimmer of hope here. Yes, it was only one inning, but the fastball looked good and all of a sudden he has a curve that looks like it could be a real weapon. The same pitch that looked mediocre in the AFL in 2010, and merely serviceable when I saw him last year, now looks like a buzzsaw. Going forwrd, he's worth keeping an eye on at least.
Robert Carson- I think the move to the pen will help, the fastball was up to 93-94, touching 95. When I saw him as a starter last year he was more like 91-92. The home run was a bit unlucky as the wind just kind of took it over the right field fence. Didn't throw the slider much, but it's been a good offering in the past.
Elvin Ramirez- Took an inning to get going as he was only 88-89 to start, and the curve was all over the place. Second inning was much better as he was up into the low 90s, topping out at 94. The curveball looked much better in his second inning of work as well. He hasn't thrown a professional inning in a year, so we can probably expect an adjustment period.
Matt den Dekker- The scouting report hasn't changed much here. He struggled on Friday night against a LHP with a lower arm slot, but then smashed an opposite field double Saturday afternoon. He covers a lot of ground in CF. I still think he will have a long MLB career. I just wonder if there is that much development room left.
Juan Lagares- Took a walk, made some decent contact, played a nice right field while chasing after all the windblown flyballs. It was tough for me to get a real read on Lagares, though I will note that he's not as fast as you might think. He's athletic, but only has average footspeed which I think will keep him from playing CF in the majors. When I go back in May, I am going to make a point to watch him a bit more closely.
Bonus Sandwich Report
I had the Pork Spiedie at Lupo's Original Char-Pit two towns over. It's basically chunks of marinated and spit-roasted pork on an Italian roll.
Pork Quality: 50
The pork was okay, not quite as tender as I had hoped, but the marinade was salty and spicy and all kinds of good. The bread was a solid Italian hoagie roll, but it played up due to absorbing the salty goodness from the marinade. I think it might actually be better in the chicken version, since to me chicken is kind of an otherwise ho-hum meat. I have high standards for my pork.