Now that we’ve entered the Statcast era, the amount of information available to baseball fans is only increasing. At our fingertips is the ability to check the release point, velocity, spin rate, and location of any pitch thrown in the major leagues last season. We can check a pitcher’s extension toward the plate. We can explore how many balls a hitter drove more than 90 mph off the bat, on Sundays, in 3-1 counts, against lefties, in night games only (Ed. note: Don’t ask us to do that). The breadth and specificity of the data available to us is incredible.
This isn’t the case in the minor leagues. Scouting reports from credible analysts, video, and sifting through basic statistics remain the best ways to get to know a player. There are plenty of numbers available, but the real details that can be unpacked at Statcast or Brooks Baseball for major league players, are not publicly available from minor league games. Every minor league park does have Trackman in place, and the exact same information is recorded as in the major leagues, but very little of it is available to the public.
That may be beginning to change.
Over the past season, MLB Farm has begun publishing heat maps and spray charts for balls in play in minor league parks. This apparently isn’t Trackman data, but instead is inputted by local stringers according to one source. A recent post at FanGraphs investigated the results and found them imperfect, but reasonably accurate. The actual process MLB is using to publish these charts is rather elusive. As a result, it’s not going to give you the same level of accuracy as the major league numbers, and should be used mainly for entertainment purposes.
While this isn’t the most useful of information, taking a look through some of the Tigers better prospects’ charts does occasionally reveal an interesting detail. Let’s take a glance at the spray charts of three hitters, and then three pitchers, to see if there is much to be gleaned from them.
Paredes spray chart doesn’t tell us a ton, but it does reveal one key detail you may have missed if you don’t watch MiLB.tv. Paredes can go to the opposite field just fine, but his bread and butter is his power to the pull field. There are a few cheapies to left, but I wouldn’t sweat it too much, as I’m unconvinced the charts are perfectly correct with regard to distance. Besides, Paredes is still 19, with plenty of time to increase his physical strength. As you can see, bat speed isn’t likely to be an issue, but it’s likely he still gets fooled and rolls over to the left side of the infield a bit too often.
Perhaps the best takeaway from Rogers spray chart is the fact that he displays power to all fields. His miss is to roll over weakly to the left side of the infield, but it’s encouraging to see a lot of balls driven deep to center and right field. Overall, this seems like the kind of spray chart the Tigers dream of. Rogers hits the ball all over the park, and with plenty of authority. Just needs to keep trimming the swing and miss from his game.
The Tigers second round pick in 2018, Meadows was just getting his feet wet this season. He played just 28 games of rookie ball, mainly for Gulf Coast Tigers West. So there’s little to say about the left-handed prep prospect. We can, however, hope that those two massive dongs to right field give some indication of his nascent raw power. We’d probably like him to go oppo a little more as he develops, but he was in high school this time last year. There is plenty of time to worry about such tendencies down the road.
Now let’s move over to a few pitchers. We know Faedo was hit hard upon his arrival in Erie. He gave up 15 home runs in just 60 innings of work. We don’t really need a spray chart to tell us it didn’t go well. However, it is rather revealing just how many other balls were drilled to the deep parts of our theoretical ballpark. Again, I caution against trusting the distances down to the feet as overlaid on this generalized ballpark map. But while there may have been some soft home runs, there also appear to be a lot of balls that could’ve gone out, and didn’t.
Now that’s the stuff right there. Manning allowed three home runs with West Michigan, and four in Lakeland, but what’s really notable is the general lack of hard contact. There are something like 15 balls on that chart, max, that could be described as hit close to, or over, the walls. And most of those were outs. Instead, there are a lot of short singles on liners and grounders into the shallow part of the outfield, a lot of groundouts to both sides, and an awful lot of balls that never even reached the infield dirt. Things may be different in a better home run park in Erie in 2019, but you might advise the outfielders to play in just a bit more this year.
For our final subject, let’s take a look at a pitcher the Tigers acquired this season, but who didn’t pitch in the Tigers’ system. The Double-A Texas League, where Shore spent most of his season, is generally considered a bit more home run friendly than the Eastern League, but there aren’t major differences. Shore is a command and control guy with an average sinker and an above average changeup.
As you’d expect, his spray chart looks like a groundball pitcher’s. Lots of infield outs and weak contact, but also, as compared to Manning, for example, more hard contact outs close to the walls or beyond. However, it also looks better than Faedo’s chart. Shore doesn’t have the breaking ball to rack up solid strikeout totals, so in his case, limiting that hard contact, and avoiding free passes to keep hitters off the bases when the hard contact comes, are going to be key to him reaching his ceiling as a fifth starter.
Don’t get carried away
Generally speaking, there isn’t a lot to learn here that you couldn’t learn simply by reading our prospect profiles or other scouting reports available. However, it is an example of the data revolution finally reaching into the minor leagues as well. It’s just not the caliber of data one expects from actual Trackman data. We may never get all the info teams have, but bit by bit, more detailed information is starting to find its way into the public domain. For all of us who follow the minor leagues intently, this is a very good time to be a prospect hound.