On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
“I like to study pitchers who are similar to me – what works for them – and right now I’m focusing on Garrett Richards.”
In December, Eno Sarris wrote about how Adam Ottavino was interested inSteve Cishek‘s platoon splits. More specifically, the Rockies reliever wanted to know why his Marlins contemporary had so much success against opposite-handed hitters. By gleaning such information, Ottavino hoped to improve his own numbers versus lefties.
When I talked to him last week in Phoenix, Ottavino admitted he’d been barking up the wrong tree. He’s since moved on to a more appropriate research subject.
“Cishek wasn’t really a good case study for me, because he throws differently than I do,” said Ottavino. “We have the same repertoire (fastball-slider), but we don’t give the hitter a similar visual.
“I’m focusing on Garrett Richards now, because he throws across his body like I do. Plus, my velocity spiked toward the end of the year, so while he’s throwing a tick harder, we’re in a somewhat similar range. Some of his pitches cut a little more, and maybe sink a little differently, but at the end of the day, we both throw across our bodies with the same two pitches. It’s a similar set of variables.”
Ottavino’s velocity comp raised an eyebrow, as Richards’ fastball averaged 96.4 mph last year. But, as he inferred, the difference wasn’t marked – Ottavino’s heater averaged 94.3. Opposing hitters may want to be especially wary of it in 2015.
“I’m looking at Richards’ usage and the areas he’s attacking,” explained Ottavino. “I’ve noticed that hitters are very defensive against him. It seems like he’s throwing up-and-in to a lot of lefties. That’s an area I haven’t really gone to much and it’s one of the things I’m focusing on.”
Ottavino will remain slider heavy – 47.2% last year – as the pitch is his bread-and-butter. Based on his study of Richards, he may begin utilizing it differently.
“He keeps his backdoor breaking ball a lot shorter than his put-away breaking ball,” said the Northeastern University product. “That could be evidence I should vary my breaking ball against lefties like I do against righties.
“I’m always trying to evolve faster than the hitter can evolve to what I’m doing. I’m looking for any type of anything that could help me. I like to study pitchers who are similar to me – what works for them – and right now I’m focusing on Garrett Richards.”
by David Laurila - March 15, 2015
Will Middlebrooks is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to explaining his unfulfilled potential in Boston. The 26-year-old third baseman is hesitant to blame injuries – no one wants to be seen as an excuse-maker — but there’s no denying his familiarity with the trainer’s table. Wrist, finger, leg, back – he’s been on the disabled list four times in three years, and on numerous occasions has played hurt.
Middlebrooks is a Padre now, having come to San Diego in exchange for Ryan Hanigan this past December. He’s also – at least for the moment – unencumbered by malady. I asked if injuries were the root cause of his uneven performances in a Red Sox uniform.
“No, of course not,” responded Middlebrooks. “That hasn’t been the only thing. There’s a big learning curve when you’re a young player. You’re learning pitching. There are guys adjusting to you and figuring out your weaknesses. It’s that cat-and-mouse game we always talk about.”
It’s hard for a cat to catch a mouse when he’s hobbled, and Middlebrooks has a plodding .695 OPS in 232 big-league games. He has the potential to do much more, particularly in the slugging department. Prior to his 2014 power outage – just two dingers — he had 32 home runs in 660 at bats. A mechanical adjustment may help him invigorate his long-ball stroke.
“The biggest thing I did this offseason was free up my hands a little bit,” said Middlebrooks. “I was always an elbow-up guy, and couldn’t really load. I had to load more turning my upper body, so the only way to get to the ball was to open up, and I’d get outside the baseball. Now I’m a little lower with my elbow, which frees up my hands. Before, I felt stiff and cut off to balls in, and now I feel a lot more free and easy.”
Middlebrooks made the adjustment after studying video of himself this winter. Why weren’t Boston’s hitting coaches – Greg Colbrunn and Victor Rodriguez – able to help him implement those same changes?
“Those guys worked their butts off trying to help me,” said Middlebrooks. “It’s just a matter of something clicking.”
"Players," he said, "are evaluated on their talent, performance, flexibility, communication and teammate behavior independent of their current or prior status."
Dodgers' Zach Lee, Chris Reed get second chances for first impressions
Zach Lee and Chris Reed sat down to stretch Saturday morning on the outfield grass of a practice field between the minor and major league clubhouses at the Dodgers spring training complex.
For the pitchers, both former first-round draft picks, that seemed appropriate since that's where both their careers appear to have stalled: between the minors and the majors.
Five years after spurning an offer to play quarterback at Louisiana State in favor of a $5.25-million bonus to sign with the Dodgers, Lee has a 32-35 record and 4.16 earned-run average at four minor league stops. Once rated as the Dodgers' top prospect by Baseball America, Lee no longer ranks among the top 10.
Four years after leaving Stanford and agreeing to a $1.6-million bonus, Reed has a minor league record of 9-31 with a 4.12 ERA. The Dodgers' No. 5 prospect three years ago, he started this year ranked ninth.
Yet for both this spring marks a new beginning. Gone is Logan White, the assistant general manager for scouting, and Dejon Watson, the player development chief, who drafted and helped develop them. In are an entirely new front office and a new player development director in former big league player Gabe Kapler.
"It's not necessarily a step back, not necessarily a step forward," said Lee, a 23-year-old right-hander who has pitched just twice this spring, giving up a hit in four innings. "Obviously coming from the old regime, where they knew exactly what I was capable of, this is kind of an opportunity for me to show some things that I can do."
Reed, a 24-year-old left-hander, is taking much the same approach. But he's also taking added comfort from the fact Kapler is promising to look beyond the stats to find out what those numbers really mean.
"They're not looking at just ERA. They're looking at things that you can actually control," said Reed, who has given up a run and two hits in three innings of relief this spring. "I like that a lot. A lot of times you get caught up in your numbers. You're like, 'Oh God, I just gave up all those runs.'
"But in reality it's a little blooper over the shortstop. You can't control that."
either pitcher control what the front office does, so they're trying not to read too much into the team's decision to sign three starting pitchers over the winter, giving them three more arms to climb over on their way to the majors.
But they can control what they take away from their struggles. Which is why Lee considers last season — statistically his worst as a pro, with a 7-13 record and 5.39 ERA at triple-A Albuquerque — a positive experience.
"Pitching in more of a hitter's ballpark, I really learned that I had to find ways to get balls on the ground," said Lee, who set career highs with 27 starts and 150 innings pitched. "I couldn't rely on just weak contact off bats for fly balls. I had to get the ball on the ground.
"In doing so, some of my pitches really improved."
And that, as it turns out, is exactly the kind of development Kapler is looking for.
"Players," he said, "are evaluated on their talent, performance, flexibility, communication and teammate behavior independent of their current or prior status."
Notice he said nothing about records.
Danny Santana: Getting into the proper position
- · Updated: March 15, 2015 -
FORT MYERS, FLA. – Scouts now regularly scour Latin America for the best young baseball talent but, somehow, most of them pretty much ignored Danny Santana in 2007 when it was his time to sign with a team and chase the dream.
“One of the first things they are going to do are the projectables,” said Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ scouting director at the time who was about to be promoted to vice president in charge of player personnel. “What is the [prospect’s] body going to be like?”
So the players with size, or who are projected to add size, or throw hard or have a mean curveball are pursued — and paid the big bucks. Ask Santana why he wasn’t a big-time prospect at the time and he raises his eyebrows.
“I was skinny,” said Santana, who was born in Monte Plata, Dominican Republic.
“He might not have even been 130 pounds then,” Radcliff said.
It’s hard to believe that when Santana — now beefed up to 175 pounds — leaves a jet stream as he rounds the bases, throws a laser to first base or drives a pitch for an extra-base hit.
Santana batted .319 with 27 doubles, seven triples, seven home runs and 20 stolen bases after being called up on May 5 last season, helping revive the Twins lineup into a unit that had the third-most runs scored in the American League after the All-Star break. Santana is one of the reasons the Twins hope to show continued improvement this season.
And to think the Twins signed him in December of 2007 for a modest $37,000.
About seven months later, Oakland signed a towering 6-7 pitcher named Michael Ynoa to a then-record $4.25 million bonus. The righthander has not pitched above Class A ball. Scouting is an inexact science.
Santana was summoned to the Twins to play shortstop last summer, but ended up in center field most of the time because the Twins were in crisis mode to fill the position and he had played a few games there while coming through the system. That just revealed what kind of athlete he is.
“I don’t know why, but Robin Yount’s name keeps coming up,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor, Yount’s buddy with the Brewers. “MVP at center field and shortstop. It’s a rare gift set when a guy can excel at those two positions. For [Santana] to be able to step up last year and do what he did, there was a learning curve up there but obviously when you have a chance to settle in at a position defensively, it helps your overall game.
“It’s not a lot of athletes that you can expect to be able to fill those two holes.”
Skills stand out
Different things stand out to teammates about Santana.
Santana, 24, has fast hands that allow him to adjust to breaking balls at the last possible instant.
“He has some of the quickest hands I have ever seen,” Twins first baseman Joe Mauer said. “He’s able to wait on those pitches, then fire on them. He’s going to be a good hitter … he is a good hitter.”
Torii Hunter noticed Santana last season when he was with the Tigers and playing against his former team.
“His plate presence,” Hunter said. “He battled at the plate — reminded me of [former Twins shortstop] Cristian Guzman a little bit, maybe better. Whenever they needed a hit or baserunner, he was the one who would get on base. If you made a mistake, he would hit it hard.”
Brian Dozier was the first to draw an eye-opening comparison to Jose Reyes when he saw Santana play last spring.
“He impacts the game,” Dozier said. “He’s got a gift and can do a lot of things with the bat.”
Santana never really had a big offensive season in the minors, although team officials began to think Santana had a chance to be really good when he was in Class A.
“It was when he was at Fort Myers,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “We put him on the [40-man] roster, and we had people questioning why we would do that. His skills stand out. He can really run, he can really throw. He’s got the strength. He’s a switch hitter. He can drive a baseball. So we put him on.”
Santana batted .286 at Class A Fort Myers in 2012, then .297 at Class AA New Britain in 2013. Santana also drove the Twins nuts with inconsistency — particularly in the field, when he would flub routine plays.
An obvious sign of encouragement is that when he reached the majors, there was no dropoff from his minor league numbers. He debuted May 5 against Cleveland as a pinch runner, but stayed in the game and singled off Cody Allen for his first major league hit. Santana said he was nervous for about two weeks, but soon believed he could play on an MLB level.
“My goals for this season is to be the same,” said Santana, whose English is improving. “Just a couple more walks, a couple more stolen bases. Those are the only goals I want for this season.”
Room to grow
Santana still has things to work on. He will have to prove he can be reliable in the field. He gets in trouble when he tries to do things in a hurry instead staying under control.
“He’s gifted,” said Dozier, who was signed for $30,000 in 2009, giving the Twins a $67,000 middle infield. “He’s got some of the quickest hands and footwork I’ve ever seen. You challenge him when we work together to be in sync. Practice on slowing everything down.”
And will the Twins remain committed to keeping Santana at shortstop? If Aaron Hicks doesn’t earn center field and Eduardo Escobar continues to hit, will they consider putting Escobar at short and return to Santana to center field? So far, all of Santana’s work in this camp has been at shortstop, a clear sign that’s where the Twins want him to settle in.
Offensively, he might have been living large last season. His .405 batting average on balls put into play would have led baseball if he qualified for the league leaders. Scouts will focus on him even more, looking for holes in his swing to exploit.
The Twins are convinced Santana will continue to improve, the way he has since the club took a $37,000 flyer on a skinny little infielder.
“I think we all think he’s going to continue to grow in terms of the dynamics of his offensive game,” Molitor said. “One thing a lot of players face, although his wasn’t a full season, when you’re up here the first time, you might have been projected and there’s some expectation there. But now that you’ve accomplished certain things, even for a short time, the bar has been raised. The old sophomore jinx for me is the guys that, all of a sudden now, they have to aspire to do what they did in the past. I have a lot of confidence in that kid. He’s a really good listener and applier.”
Russell reflects on trade to Cubs: 'I was a little shocked'
Former A's top prospect sees 'new opportunity' in Chicago
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
LAS VEGAS -- Addison Russell was just as surprised by his trade to the Cubs last July as the A's fans who were led to believe he would be Oakland's starting shortstop this year.
"I was a little shocked," said Russell, ahead of an exhibition start at shortstop against the A's in Las Vegas on Friday, "and more confused than anything.
"When I got to thinking about it and started talking to a few people, though, they were telling me it was a good thing. The Cubs wanted me, and they got me. I look at it as a new opportunity."
The A's 2012 first-round Draft pick (11th overall) blazed through their system, getting at-bats at the Triple-A level by the end of 2013. Russell missed most of the first half of the 2014 season with a hamstring injury, but it appeared he was taking off again upon his return.
The A's, meanwhile, were plotting for a trade for starters Jeff Samardzija andJason Hammel to bolster their rotation ahead of the Trade Deadline. By sacrificing not only their top prospect in Russell but another first-round Draft pick, outfielder Billy McKinney, and starter Dan Straily, the trigger was pulled.
"I think everyone was initially shocked, not only trading him [Russell] but Billy, too, for that matter," said Matt Olson, the A's second Draft selection in 2012. "Addison was the guy they were grooming to take over at shortstop, and obviously I know they had their big league club in their best interest. That was a move they had to make to make that playoff push, but there was definitely shock at first."
"I was kind of flying through the farm system and playing well at each level and looked forward to playing with the A's for several more years," Russell said. "The trade just really surprised me. I wasn't expecting it. It definitely would've been cool to play at the big league level with the team that drafted me."
Russell and Olson stay in touch, and they dined together just this week. Their third partner in crime, shortstop Daniel Robertson, is in big league camp with the Rays, after the A's dealt him, too, in the Ben Zobrist deal this winter. They also flipped Samardzija to the White Sox, landing four players in return -- including their new shortstop, Marcus Semien.
At the time of his trade, Russell seemingly had a clear path to the big leagues. With the Cubs, though, the 21-year-old is housed at a crowded position, behind everyday man Starlin Castro, so he's been taking reps at second and, on occasion, third, in hopes of hastening his journey to the big leagues.
There's never been concern about his bat, as he's shown so far in Spring Training.
"He's one of the best to watch," Olson said. "You'll see him hit balls so far, you're wondering, 'How did he do that?' It's something special, just because he makes it look so easy."