The Whitecaps were gracious enough to host me for the weekend. I had the privilege of seeing West Michigan play three games. Here are some thoughts on players in general.
SP Edgar de la Rosa: Huge, imposing pitcher. Seriously, he's gigantic. Every bit of his listed 6'6 240. DLR has a three-quarters arm slot, and a bit of effort in his delivery. He has trouble staying balanced after delivery, often falling off to the first base side of the mound, or even spinning in a circle after delivering the ball. Not only is that bad for fielding your position, but it's difficult to stay balanced and repeat your delivery/arm slot when your landing is so off kilter. For as hard as he threw (93-95), he was getting squared up relatively often. There were not a lot of uncomfortable at bats against him. He left his fastball up a few times, and it got pounded when he did. He had a slider at 81-82, but it didn't have much plane, and he couldn't throw it for strikes. The slider also lacked spin, and needed overall tightening. It was more of a vertical pitch than a horizontal one. He threw one change up, by my count, which wasn't really a usable pitch at this point. Overall, I view Edgar as a reliever, and think that it's possible he makes the transition next season. I wouldn't be surprised to see him add a tick or two as a reliever, and sit in the mid to high 90's consistently.
RP Chad Smith: short, tight slider from a three-quarters arm angle. He was consistently 93-94. Reports of him up to 97. As a college guy having a lot of success, I'm frankly confused why he's still in WMI. His numbers say he's too good for the league. So does his stuff. I see a future middle reliever here, with the potential for a bit more if he can consistently locate the fastball. Midwest league hitters are no match for him at this point in time. He likes to attack hitters, and the slider is often a swing and miss pitch.
RP Angel Nesbitt: 95-96 T97 with a little bit of run. He's straight over the top. The slider was better than the other times I've seen him, but still consistently below MLB average. He'd throw a couple that flashed plus, then 3 or 4 "spinners." Didn't seem like it was difficult to pick him up. His pitches lacked "conviction," and by that I mean he didn't seem to have much of a purpose for every pitch. His stuff is a bit flat, and even though he was throwing 95-96, batters didn't seem uncomfortable. I see his ceiling as a decent org guy, and unless he adds some deception, I doubt he cracks the majors.
Guido Knudson- 94-95 relatively straight. Pounds the zone. Has an 83-84 MPH slider that is about MLB average. Threw a couple cutters at 88 that fooled hitters. Solid. Not overpowering, but with some refinement, may cut out an MLB career for himself. At the very least, nice org guy.
Calvin Drummond- Funky, over the top delivery with a lot of moving parts. Saw mostly 92-94 with an 84-85 MPH slider that was more of a vertical pitch than a horizontal one. His fastball was relatively straight, which isn't surprising given the arm slot. With his unusual delivery, would not be surprised to see his mechanics fail him at times. He also flashed a 77-78 MPH curve that I liked quite a bit. Wish he would throw it more. He threw something at 80, which I couldn't quite make out. Was probably a variation of the two breaking balls, or an odd gun reading. Didn't see much life on the fastball. However, he racked up 8 strikeouts over 4 IP, and I was sitting there a bit confused. It was a tweener appearance for Drummond, as he was making a spot start. It wasn't a full start, nor a relief appearance. I wonder if he looks any different in relief, or throws a tick or two harder. I'd project him as a reliever for now, and proceed with a little bit of caution, here, as Drummond is a month away from his 24th birthday. Kind of in between a prospect and an org guy at this point.
RP Yorfrank Lopez- 89-91. Straight. Short breaking ball. Change at 76-78. A little bit of run and sink. He took some off, added a little, and was a nice little organizational find for the Tigers. Don't see a big league future here.
RP Josh Turley: High 3/4 arm angle. 87-88 t 89 with some run on the fastball when he threw 2 seamers. Otherwise, straightened out. Pounded the zone. Had a plan of attack. Threw an 80 MPH slider that flashed sharpness, but others that were frisbees. He had an excellent 80-82 MPH change up that was a legit swing and miss pitch. The change up is his bread and butter and calling card. Also heard rumors that he messes around with a knuckle-ball in the game. I didn't see it, but am intrigued. Don't see the stuff playing at the higher levels with more advanced hitters, but could add extra trickery.
OF Connor Harrell: Big, strong kid. Good body. Ran well. Covered plenty of ground in CF. Could see him playing all three positions at a major league average level. Should stick in center for the time being. Didn't see him air out any throws in the game, but have seen reports of an MLB average arm. Made consistent, hard contact this weekend. Would like to see how he does against more advanced pitching. Had no trouble handling MWL fastballs, but interested to see how he adjusts to premium velocity and more advanced breaking stuff. Saw a bit of a hitch in his load, but will iron out his swing/approach with time. Had a 4.14 H-1 time on him, which is plus, and an 11.1 on his triple to LCF, which is also plus. I don't see an every day player here, but definitely a 4th OF prospect who should ultimately play in the major leagues.
SP Jake Thompson: There is reason to be excited about this kid. However, for a 19 year old, he had minimal body projection remaining. He's physically mature. That isn't to say that with another offseason or two of conditioning and strengthing, he couldn't add a tick of velo, but you're not going to see him fill out like a Briceno (who was 180 dripping wet, by the way). Thompson worked mostly in the 90-92 range with plus sink and good life. he threw down hill often. I would like to see him work off this fastball a bit more, and throw it with a bit more conviction (or #rig if you will). He needs to attack hitters with this pitch, because it's quite good. I could see him working in the 91-94 range when it's all said and done. His fastball command came and went, and he hit a couple of guys, which is certainly not the norm. His slider was clearly his bread and butter. He threw it harder, softer, as a chase pitch, and as an out pitch. On 0-2, he would throw a slower variation, tempting the hitter to swing at a pitch in the dirt. He worked mostly off the slider, and would pitch backwards frequently. The slider was mostly in the 83-85 range, and when he took a bit off, it dropped to 80-82. The pitch is major league average right now, and I could see it easily becoming a plus, or even plus, plus pitch. He trusts the slider implicitly. Overall, Thompson threw 50 FB, 31 SL, three curveballs (at 77-78 that he will probably scrap, or throw 5% of the time) and three change ups. It's clear he doesn't really trust the change up yet. It was clearly a below average pitch, but with his advanced feel for pitching, I wouldn't be surprised to see it end up at major league average down the line. This winter, I wouldn't be surprised to see Thompson work exclusively on developing the change up, and improving fastball command. I see him as an innings eating, middle of the rotation starter in the major leagues. While Thompson has a lot to work on, the overall repertoire and advanced feel for pitching was extremely impressive for a 19 year old.
2B Harold Castro: This is why you don't always pay attention to numbers when scouting. Unfortunately, Harold only played one game when I was there, but I came away impressed. He's probably 140 pounds, and I could see him adding as many as 30 pounds as his body fills out, and he grows into his "man body." I absolutely loved the swing from the left side. It's short, quick, and direct to the ball. He has an advanced feel for hitting. Even though his walk total is extremely low, it's not like he swings at the first pitch all the time. He needs to do a better job of working himself into hitter's counts, and ultimately working walks, but I would not classify him as a "hacker." In the field, he moved really well. He made a play going to his left that was Hernan Perez quality. The defense is easily average, and the range could end up pushing his defense to a plus. He ran well, and stole second, causing the catcher to throw the ball into CF, while he took third. I love the tools. The ceiling is ultimately really high, but the gap between his on the field play and consistently producing, even at the high minors, especially the big league level, is large. Keep an eye on this kid. He has the ceiling of an above average 2B, however, he also could never make it out of A ball.
OF Raph Rhymes: Did all of the little things to help his team win. Will gladly take a walk. Has excellent plate discipline. Decent bat to ball ability. Won't hit for much power, but will made some hard contact. Was adequate in the field. I don't know if you're looking a major leaguer here, as he doesn't have any above average, or really any major league average tool (plate disc aside), but he's an extremely good org guy. Have seen guys with similar talent end up playing in the majors in a back up role. Is a "grinder" for sure.
RP Corey Knebel: Wow. I want to see the 38 players drafted before this guy. He was recently taken 39th overall by the Tigers in this year's draft, and they've definitely got something here. He trotted out for the save and the first pitch was a curveball that I would describe as a "big league curveball." Plus, plus spin and depth. A legit swing and miss pitch. Knebel featured 4 pitches. He threw a 92-94 MPH fastball, but has been up to 96 this year, and I have read reports that have him throwing even harder. The fastball had excellent life on it, and it definitely had conviction. He attacks. The slider was average, but I only saw one of them. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a solid average pitch, because he has an innate ability to generate spin. He threw a change up at 83 which had some arm side run. It was only 11 pitches, but his inning was up there with any relief inning I've seen this season, at any level. I'm of the opinion that he could throw in the big leagues as a reliever right now. I would love to see the Tigers try him as a starter. He has the repertoire, that's for sure. Knebel showed command and control of three pitches, with the possibility of four, each projecting to be average or above. If he doesn't end up a starter, could still have immense value as a high leverage reliever, even a closer. I was not surprised by the news of Knebel heading to the AFL. Midwest League hitters don't stand a chance against him right now. He's a man amongst boys, as his last ten appearances show (11 IP 3 H 0 ER 1 BB 18 K).