Monday, August 17, 2015

A Look at a Trio of Promising Arms

Kyle Castle/ photo
  I've written a great deal about the approach to the June draft that the Toronto Blue Jays have taken in the tenure of GM Alex Anthopoulos.  It has been flexible, and changed in response to new draft rules, and fluctuating draft crop quality, but one thing has held firm:  this is an organization that is not afraid to roll the dice.  Not afraid to look for players in non-traditional markets (Anthony Alford), players with concerns about height (Marcus Stroman), players with college commitments (Daniel Norris), and senior season role change players (Matt Boyd).
   Two elements unify almost all of their draft choices: projection and athleticism.  They will take a player that other teams might pass on if they see those two qualities in abundance.

   Projection is the ability to visualize a player not as what he is now, but what he might be in three to four years time, with a transformed body and, in the case of pitchers, streamlined mechanics.
  Athleticism is the ability of that player to make the changes necessary to make that projection a reality.

   This would explain, of course, the Blue Jays preference for drafting high school players.  For one, scouting a pitcher is relatively easier than scouting a hitter.  Scouts can quantify a pitcher's performance:  delivery, velocity of pitches, plane on his breaking ball, etc.  The unevenness of pitching, especially at the high school level, can make evaluating hitters more of a subjective process.

   Secondly, while some teams aren't afraid of letting colleges develop their talent, and there are some highly-regarded programs in terms of pitcher development, the Blue Jays are part of a group of teams that prefers to get their pitchers as soon as possible, getting them into pro ball and refining (or in some cases, re-making) their mechanics before they learn bad habits in college.

   Over the past few days, thanks to, I was able to watch three pitchers who took different routes to pro ball, but all have that athleticism and projection in common:   2013 7th rounder out of Santa Monica HS, Conner Greene, 1st round pick Jon Harris from Missouri State (the Jays had drafted him out of high school in the 33rd round in 2012), and 2011 International Free Agent Angel Perdomo.

  Greene was 6'3", and all of 165 pounds when the Blue Jays drafted him.  He's added about 20 lbs to his frame since that time, and has been on a rapid ascent in the system this year.  Beginning the year with Lansing, striking out 65 hitters in 67 innings, Greene was getting stronger with every start in his first year of full season ball.  Promoted to Dunedin at the beginning of July, he burst onto the prospect radar with a 7-inning, 10 strikeout effort a month later, that earned him a promotion to AA New Hampshire.  A bump in curveball velocity was responsible for much of that:

  Heading into his New Hampshire debut, the 20-year old Greene had not given up an earned run in his last three starts, a stretch of 18 innings.  He survived a rocky first inning, in which his first five pitches were balls, aided by a 4-6-3 double play.  In the second, he needed only 7 pitches to exit the inning, helped again by a 6-4-3 twin killing.  After a tidy nine-pitch third, Greene ran into a bit of trouble in the 4th, hitting 96 on the gun to strike out Cleveland's top pick from last year, Kyle Zimmer, and then inducing his third double play of the night to escape the inning unscathed.
   Greene cruised through the 5th and 6th, attacking the strike zone better than he had earlier in the game, his confidence obviously growing.  He left after 6 shutout innings, giving up only 3 hits, walking 3, and striking out 1.  Greene threw 70 pitches on the night, 43 for strikes.  He induced 9 ground ball outs, while giving up only 3 flyball outs.  He had only two swinging strikes on the night, but did not give up much hard contact - the video quality tailed off late in the game, but I counted only two hard hit balls on the night against him.
   With the vacancies created by the Blue Jays trade deadline deals, there is now room for up-and-comers like Greene.  His fastball/sinker/curve combination plays well, and with runners on, there is always the threat of the double play ball.
  Here's the inning-ending ground ball that Greene finished his start with:

   I didn't chart the piggyback start of Harris and Perdomo, in order to get a general impression of them first.  I have to add that the video quality from Hillsboro was excellent - good camera angles, picture quality, and even replays.  Kudos to that organization, and let's hope Lansing and Vancouver can eventually come up with video as well.

   The Blue Jays were thrilled to get Harris with the 29th pick of the first round.  Here's Baseball America's scouting report on the tall right hander:
 He stepped into the Bears' weekend rotation as a freshman and had immediate success, but he's now a significantly more physical pitcher and the fastball that quickly dipped to the mid-80s when he was in high school now sits at 91-93 mph all day and he will touch 95. Harris mixes in a pair of breaking balls, a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus and a solid-average slider that he is able to throw for strikes. His changeup is a potentially average pitch as well, and some scouts have seen each secondary pitch flash plus. Harris missed two starts with an ankle injury but pitched a complete-game shutout in his return from injury, answering any questions about his health. Harris has pitched deep into games consistently this year. He's worked into the eighth inning of eight of his last nine starts and was averaging 110 pitches an outing this year. Harris' control is still shaky at times--he's walked 3.2 batters per nine innings but he also generates lots of swings and misses (10.8 strikeouts per nine innings).
  Harris has had only modest success with Vancouver this year, but not much was expected from him after throwing over 100 college innings.  His pitch count has been limited, but his most recent start against Hillsboro showed much of what BA reported about him.  He struggled a bit in the first two innings, and needed both a nifty 4-6-3 double play on a slow roller, and a pair of sparkling defensive plays by 3rd Baseman Justin Atkinson to get out of trouble, but he began pounding the bottom of the strike zone in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and while he gave up 4 hits in this outing, only 2 were balls that were hit hard, and one was an opposite field, down the line double.  His fastball peaked at 93.
   Harris can get out of synch with his windup, and he loses the strike zone for a few pitches as a result.  He was able to make adjustments to his delivery, and came up with his best pro outing, shutting Hillsboro out on over 5 innings, walking a pair, and striking out 4.  We have not seen the best from Harris in his first pro season, but this was a glimpse of maybe what to come next year.
   Video of the final out of Harris' outing:

   As good as Harris was on this occasion, he was outshone by newly promoted lefty Angel Perdomo.  The 6'6" Dominican has been on my radar for a little over a year.  The 2011 International Free Agent was not a huge bonus signing, and he pitched in this game like he had something to prove.  Brought along slowly by the Jays, he didn't make his stateside debut in the GCL until last year, and after demonstrating good command at Bluefield, he got the call to the Pacific Northwest.
   Perdomo has a nice, loose, and easy delivery, somewhat reminiscent of Aaron Sanchez - but with far more control.  Coming into the game in relief of Harris in the 6th, Perdomo allowed only a walk through four innings, and threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 13 hitters he faced.  His length allows him great extension on his pitches, and gives his fastball some late life.  The Hillsboro play-by-play man gave no indication as to Perdomo's velocity, but the Hops' hitters were overmatched against the 21 year old, who retired 7 of his 12 outs via the strikeout.
   This was an impressive outing.  It was only one game, but Perdomo already shows superb command of his fastball.  Time will tell with his secondaries, but this is one live arm.  It's unfortunate that there's no video clip to share, because of the these three strong performances by Blue Jays prospect pitchers, this was the one that stood out the most.

   Greene is by far the closest to MLB ready of the three, but will likely need at least another year of seasoning in the minors.  Harris and Perdomo should both start in full season ball next year, with their starting point being either Lansing or Dunedin.  Harris, despite his struggles, is the more polished of the pair, and may move quickly this season if he's successful.  The Blue Jays ultimately may have to decide if Perdomo is more effective in a relief or starting role.

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