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More talk about season rebounds

Last week, I wrote a feature that focused on Courtney Hawkins, Brandon Nimmo and Trevor Bauer and how, in different ways, they were all bouncing back from either up-and-down or subpar seasons in 2013 to have solid-to-outstanding 2014 campaigns to date.

As is often the case, I had way  too much information from the conversations I had with players and farm directors. Rather than send them into the vitrual trashbin, never to be seen again, I figured I’d post them here for your perusal. Some of it was used partially, but most of it didn’t make it into the final version of the story.

 

Brandon Nimmo:

“The numbers weren’t horrible, but they weren’t where I’d like them to be. This year, one of the biggest things was in the offseason, I got to some warmer weather sooner. I was little more focused on bringing the baseball aspect of it into my workouts instead of just focusing on strength and speed. Going to IMG for seven weeks really helped. We worked on everything from mental to vision to strength and speed and flexibility. We also would go on the field and work on the swing, get out there, hit with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Starlin Castro. To hit with those kinds of guys, I really benifitted from picking their brains a little bit. I’m stronger, more control of my body, which is going to happen as I mature.”

“I put the work in this offseason, lets see the results. So far, so good. There will be some bad times, but I’m trying to be more consistent and iron out those down times more.”

“You can’t let one bad game spiral into a week or two of bad games. Or maybe you had a good game, or got some cheap hits, you need to realize that’s not what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to hit the ball on the barrel all the time. You’re picking up small things that might help you not fall into those long droughts. When you’re in the droughts, you try to [remind yourself] it takes a little bit of time. Maybe you created a bad habit and it’s not going to take one swing to get out of it. [Learning to deal with success and failure are] both essential in developing for a Major League career.”

 

 Courtney Hawkins:

“I had my times where what I was capable of would pop out. I’d start feeling good and say, ok time to breakout. You really do have to take things pitch by pitch, day by day. If you let one at-bat get to you, you’re going to be screwed that whole game. I can tell you from personal experience.”

“I don’t worry about the media stuff this year. Last year, I’d read stuff and say, ‘I’m going to prove them wrong.’ I just go out and play ball now.”

“At instructs, I was hitting well again. It didn’t really click until this offseason. My second offseason, I knew how to go about stuff. I didn’t take much time off. I stayed in the groove and kept going at it. When I came into the hitting camp in January,they could tell the difference. I felt good in Spring Training. Toward the end of Spring Training, they lowered my hands more. Since then, I’ve been putting my bat on the ball more.”

“Last year, whenever they told me to do something, I did it. That’s why you saw so many different stances. I kept tyring to find something that was clicking. You ‘d be back to square one every time.  Lowering my hands clicked fast for me. But it doesn’t always work that way. You have to work on it.”

“I was tyring to get that callup, but you can’t think that way. It’s so much easier to play when you’re not worrying about the other stuff. That first summer, I had the mentality, all I worried about was just playing ball. My whole mindset changed. Now I’m back to that, just go out and play ball and not worry about anything else.”

White Sox farm director Nick Capra (on Hawkins):

“This last year, experience of first full year of baseball, maturity has a lot to do with it, him learning he didn’t have to be in a hurry to get in the big leagues. In his mind, he thought he was on a fast track. He got ahead of himself.”

“We moved him from CF to LF this year. He’s responded tremendously. His defense has improved. He looks like an OF with a passion to [play defense].”

“There are different personalities, different kids. They have to find themselves somehow, rather than look at what other people are doing. They have to focus on what they are capable of doing and how they’re doing.”

On whether in hindsight they feel they rushed him:

“I don’t think so. When he signed, he progressed rapidly. We got him to Kannapolis and he really stood out in the SAL. We got him to the Carolina League for the playoffs and he excelled. We thought he’d settle in during his first full year and grow on the success he had before. It’s easy to look back, but no I don’t think so.”

On his progress:

“I think it was more of a gradual thing. He worked on things in instructs that he brought into Spring Training. Then we worked on other things in Spring Training. A lot of it was the mental things that figure into how you play. He’s adjusted to things rather well. You have to have confidence and it plays a big factor in how you compete. This kid had never failed before. He failed a little bit last year. Now it’s about how he responds to failure. He is definitely a more confident player last year.”

Indians farm director Ross Atkins (on Trevor Bauer):

“I can tell you I haven’t met many pitchers that are as passionate about delivery mechanics, about pitching philosophically and mechanically, as Trevor. It’s been great for us to learn with and from him about him and about pitching. He has incredible toughts about pitching.”

“Even last year, when he wasn’t at his ‘best,’ we were still extremely encouraged. His results and velocity weren’t where they were. We didn’t see him back off from trying to master his skills and craft. Obviously, this year in Spring Training, you see the spike in velocity and strikeouts, how he’s pitched this year, we’ve been extremely encouraged. Although the results have varied, we’ve never been disappointed with his commitment. I know he had a hard time with last year. He was extremely frustrated. The fact he was coming close to making such a significant adjustment to his approach and still was competing, it gave us faith he’d find that comfort level eventually.”

“With Trevor, we really have been, from the start, extremely impressed and encouraged by his process and how committed he is to being great. He’s never tried or focused on , ‘I’m going to show or prove to someone,’ it’s not about how he was traded. It’s always about how can I be great. That’s why we’ve always been so encouraged. Now that he’s having more productive results, obviously we’re encouraged by that. I can honestly say , there were never levels of discouragement. He’s always been in a very good place.”

“All pitchers have ebb and flow. He’s now higher than we’ve every seen him, consistently in the mid to high 90s. His curve, slider and changeup are all average to slightly above-average weapons. They vary which one is most effective; that makes him more interesting.”

 

 

 

 

It’s (Minor League) Opening Day!

That’s right, folks. Today’s the day we get to watch all those prospects (save those in the big leagues) in action. You can check out my story about where the Top 100 prospects are playing right here. And I highly recommend the MiLB.TV package so you can watch these guys in action.

Obviously, I’m not the only one excited for Opening Day. The players are fired up about the start of the 2014 season. I asked Marlins prospect Andrew Heaney (He pitches Friday for Double-A Jacksonville, a game that is on MiLB.TV.) about what Opening Day means to him and what his hopes for the 2014 season are. Here’s his outstanding response:

“Opening day means a fresh start both individuals and as a team. It’s my first minor league opening day because I was hurt last year. I wanna prove myself throughout the course of a full year. I want to get better at the things I need to work on. If I can do that I’ll consider it a successful season for myself.” — Andrew Heaney

The Twitterverse has been ablaze with Opening Day excitement as well. Here’s a string of what some of the game’s best prospects have been  tweeting yesterday and today:

There are obviously many  more. You can check out my list of top prospects or, even better, look at the comprehensive one @MLBPipeline has going

Draft update: More (bad) news on Dylan Cease

A couple of days ago, it was reported here that Dylan Cease would miss this year’s National High School Invitational, which began on Wednesday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina (Cease’s Milton High School lost its opener to The First Academy).

At the time, Cease was hopeful that rest would be all he needed for an elbow that had been bothering him. An initial MRI reading, he reported, showed no tear.

While he still hopes to avoid surgery, there might be a little less cause for optimism. MLB.com has learned that an additional reading of the MRI uncovered a small tear of the UCL. UCL tears often lead to Tommy John surgery.

For now, though Cease is opting to get what is called Platelet-Rich Therapy (PRP), where platelets are injected into the elbow. Will Carroll does a discusses the treatment in this thorough discussion of Matt Harvey’s injury (Harvey waited weeks after being diagnosed before having the surgery, trying to rehab first).

Cease will be out for about six weeks and it seems doubtful he’ll pitch again for Milton. If all goes well, he could potentially be able to throw in pre-draft workouts for scouting directors and general managers as the June Draft approaches.

This approach is not without precedent, though the majority do end up going under the knife. Takashi Saito, says Carroll, is the first Major League player known to have tried PRP therapy for an elbow injury. Zach Greinke also had the injection for his elbow and avoided surgery (Chad Billingsley, on the other hand, had the PRP treatment late in 2012, but ended up going under the knife in April 2013). Adam Wainwright suffered a UCL sprain in the Minors in 2004, managed to avoid TJ surgery until 2011.

Cease should get the injection early next week and then it will be time for everyone, Cease, pro teams, even Vanderbilt University (where Cease is committed), to wait.

Updates to this story will come as news develops.

Draft update: Dylan Cease to miss NHSI

Dylan Cease, ranked No. 26 on MLB.com’s Draft Top 50 list from this past fall, was slated to be among the highlights at the 2014 National High School Invitational. Instead, an elbow issue will force him to be able to only watch the action as his Milton High School team returns to th NHSI for the second straight year.

Cease, owner of one of the better fastballs in the class that regularly touches the upper-90s, is resting his powerful right arm for a month after dealing with a sore elbow. Cease said that he first felt discomfort in a start with game-time temperatures of around 30 degrees.

“I got to the fifth inning and it started feeling sore,” Cease said. “I should’ve rested for two weeks, but I tried to work through it. It’s still sore, so now I’m going to give it a month.”

Cease will receive an injection and will hope that rest and rehab will do the trick. He had just gotten MRI results back and was told there was no ligament damage, allowing the Vanderbilt commit to breathe a sigh of relief.

“I don’t need surgery,” Cease said. “I was just happy to hear that. I’ll get the shot and see what it does and we’ll go from there.”

Cease has tried to remain optimistic about the prognosis, and the MRI results certainly helped. But he admitted the tension over the condition of his right elbow had gotten to him a bit.

“It is kind of stressful,” Cease said. “People act like it’s armaggeddon, like I’m going to have to have my arm cut off. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”

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If all goes well with this course of action, Cease could return to the mound with enough time to show scouts that he’s fully recovered and ready to go.

Cubs camp extras

Not a lot of extras from my final camp visit. I guess I left it all out on the field. You can see if you agree by reading my Spring Training camp report. You can also view the Cubs’ Top 20 list, Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fists the big league needs, as well as Jim Callis’s 21-25 prospects (he did their Top 20).

Here’s the video piece:

 

There was one answer Neil Ramirez gave me, before we were rudely interrupted by a team meeting (what nerve). I asked him about what had happened to cause him to kind of back up after he made that huge leap forward in 2011, and what he’s been able to do to get past it (He was better in 2013 than in 2012).

Ramirez: I think I put a little too much pressure on myself after 2011 coming into 2012. I thought I had to do a little too much. Now I’m back to worrying about what I can control.

Good news for the Cubs, who while rich with hitters, could use Ramirez’s contributions on the pitching front.

With that in mind, my One More Guy is another arm:

OK, it might seem like a copout because Callis has him at No. 21, too, but I still like Duane Underwood‘s upside, even after his terrible 2013. One of the key reasons for his struggles was the fact he was not in good shape to start the year. But when I was in Cubs camp, farm director Jaron Madison used Underwood as an example of one of a few arms who had really worked hard this offseason. I’m intersted to see what that translates to on the mound in 2014.

 

Dodgers camp extras

After a brief hiatus (I got to spend some quality time with the B3 family), I’m back at it, heading to Arizona after my travels through Florida. On the site today are reports from Dodgers and Giants camp (I’ll post separately on my Giants extras).

For the Dodgers, be sure to check out:

I do have some extra stuff from 2013 first-rounder Chris Anderson. We talked a bit about the struggles he had at times during his junior season at Jacksonville (which led to a really interesting talk about pitch counts — he’s not a fan). At any rate, I asked him if he was concerned about how he was up-and-down a little bit and what impact that would have on his Draft status:

Anderson: I wasn’t too worried about it. I think every pitcher has those days when it’s just not their day. The college season is so short, you’re under a lot of pressure to perform every single week, but you only have a couple of months to perform. With those rough starts, I think it made me better, I learned from them and got better as I went on with the year.

You come to an organization that has a pretty good track record for developing pitching, especially power arms. How excited are you to be in that next wave of guys to be able to keep building on that track record?

Anderson: I’m very excited. I’m blessed to get this opportunity with the Dodgers here. They’ve given me a great opportunity. I’ve just come out here to work hard and try to become the best I can be.

My One More Guy would be Jesmuel Valentin. Maybe I’m putting too much stock in the MLB bloodlines, but I think he still has a chance to hit, probably play 2B, and has a good understanding of the game.

 

Yankees camp extras

My last Spring Training stop in Florida was at the Yankees’ Minor League facility.  Here’s the resulting Spring Training report, as well as the new Top 20 ranking and Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fits the organization’s needs. Jim blogged his picks for prospects Nos. 21-25.

Here’s the video piece:

And boy, do I have extras for you. Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman and I discussed all sorts of things during our chat. First, about Mason Williams and previous reports about his lack of effort:

Newman: It hasn’t been this spring and it wasn’t for most of the time last year, either. He has momentary relapses, and they’re relapses out of frustration. He’s doing fine there. With young kids, it happens. There aren’t many Derek Jeters who show up here and know what it’s like to play hard every day. So we teach them that. Gary Sanchez and Mason are 21, 22; they’re like college juniors. They’re learning this stuff.

Some of the problems, Newman thinks, stem from the amount of attention young players get before they set foot in the big leagues. Some can handle it, others can struggle, not only with expectations, but with a certain sense of entitlement that can come with fame that comes prematurely (at least in Newman’s opinion):

Newman: Twenty-five years ago, when I started doing this, people didn’t do what you’re doing. I never talked to anybody about prospects. If I had my way, I’d never talk about them ever. They haven’t done anything yet. Now they have this notoriety in short order and they haven’t done anything to deserve it, other than be talented. They won the gene pool. They have to learn how to play and perform. They’re making progress. Mason’s problem is not going to be effort.

Now, if you thought Newman was talkative, you need to meet Eric Jagielo, one of the most engaging prospects I’ve met to date. Here’s the rest of our conversation.

Going back to last year, at what point did you get to finally take a breath and look back at everything that happened?

Jagielo: I was able to take some time off right after instructs. I was able to go back to Chicago for a little, then go to Notre Dame. I think that was the first time it all kind of settled in. I was planning on working out at Notre Dame, so I was there. I was able to see some friends and guys from my class and realized that my life had changed a little bit, for the best. But I was in a different kind of spot. Was the chance to reminisce a little bit. My three years at Notre Dame were the best years of my life. This is a new chapter and I’m excited to get it started.

Was it weird to be there and your friends are still in classes?

Jagielo: Especially the first couple of weeks. The coaches here, they said to make sure to take my time off. The college season, it was basically three years straight, with going into fall, then to spring, then to summer ball and then right back to fall ball. It was kind of three years of straight baseball. Especially with the hamstring injury, I really wanted to get healthy for this first full season of pro ball and be an everyday guy. Everything is good. The Yankees did a wonderful job, keeping me back for a couple of weeks after the Draft, smoothing things out and making sure there was nothing wrong with it. Then, when I did make the debut in Staten island, I was ready to go. I felt fine there. I was able to participate in instructs and get the best instruction.

You’re 21, you’re working out with Derek Jeter. How long did it take before you weren’t star struck?

Jagielo: Looking back at it now, I don’ t know if I ever got past it. This spring, you see him, you’re thinking about working out with him. Every time you use him on TV, or the tribute to him retiring, you’re like, wow, you’re on the same field with him.  It’s an honor. To be able to talk to him and have a different kind of conversation rather than when you’re a little kid and you’re asking for an autograph…just trying to pick his brain so you can just do things they’ve done.

There’s a profile for 3B. They think power production. Do you have to remind yourself  to stay within your own approach? Do you have to make sure you don’t go out there and try to fit that profile?

Jagielo: Reggie Jackson was out here during instructs. I was in a group with Aaron Judge, who just has ridiculous power. He miss-hits balls and he’s inside-outing balls and he’s hitting them over the right-field fence. We were talking and he said, “It doesn’t matter how the ball gets over the fence. You’re going to get your home runs. Just stay with the backspin, just stay with the middle of the field, gap approach and do your things and the ball will fly.” I think that’s when it hit me, you can’t try to be anybody else but yourself. God gave you so much talent and power. What I have now, I try to pride myself on that, the doubles, the gap guy, run production. I don’t think you have to move up in the rankings just by hitting home runs. What I’ve been trying to do is take the singles when they need to be singles and then hammering the mistakes when you need to and putting them over the fence.

Tigers camp extras

The Tigers package is up. Go take a look:

Here’s some more stuff from VP David Chadd, mostly on how the Tigers’ system isn’t perceived as being very strong externally.

Chadd: If you don’t dig down to the lower levels and you’re just skimming the upper levels at Double-A and triple-A, you’ll miss guys. If you’re just doing that, to some people, it might look like we don’t have a lot. But we think we do.

You can always improve, there’s no doubt about that. As a scout, and a scouting staff, you always have to self-evaluate, what you’ve done and players you’ve been able to promote to the Major League level. It’s not just scouting, that includes player development as well because it’s hand-in-hand. Saying that, you can never have enough talent in your system and we’re constantly trying to improve that, but I think some bright spots over there are Drew VerHagen; he’s throwing very well so far in camp. Tyler Collins has done well, Devon Travis, he’s been on a tear since he’s been over there. Daniel Fields has looked good. We’re pretty pleased with where we’re at. Are we satisfied? No. Will we ever be? No. But we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve seen so far in camp.

And here are some extras from my conversation with Devon Travis, starting with a follow up to the question that’s on the ST report about him watching all of the veterans on the Tigers when he was growing up:

You have to be careful with the veterans when you say you grew up watching them. You don’t want to make them feel old.

Travis: You’re probably right. If they heard me say that, they’d probably not be too happy.

Going into the year, there probably weren’t expectations, but looking back now,  you’ve raised the bar a little bit. You’re no longer off the radar. People are going to be watching to see what you do. The expectations have definitely gone  up.

Travis: I think that’s something I appreciate. It will make me work harder. I feel a lot of guys get to that point and they kind of shut it down and say, ‘I’ve done this or I’ve done that.’ For me, it’s just more reason to work. It gives people more reason to bash you. If you’re in an 0-for-20 slump, now it’s ‘Oh, what happened? Last year was a freak year.’ I know how all that goes and  I try to stay away from it. At the same time, it comes along with it.

One of the reasons the Tigers were interested in you was that Tigers scout Bruce Tanner saw you play against the Phillies in a Spring Training game when you were at Florida State. People on the outside may look at those games against college teams as a waste of time, but for you, it made a huge difference, didn’t it?

Travis: For us, as college guys, it’s an opportunity to go out and have fun, but at the same time, test yourself and see what it’s like to play at that level. I take every game seriously, whether it’s a scrimmage or the final game of the season. I’m thankful for that. I don’t think I even got any hits in that game, but the opportunity to play in any of those games is something every kid should take advantage of.

And my One More Guy:

I think I’ll give the nod to Austin Schotts, No. 24 on Jim’s 21-25 list. He had a terrible 2013, but it’s hard to look past his athleticism. I dig Jim’s Shane Victorino upside comp.

Astros camp extras

The Astros prospect package is live! Here’s my report from Spring Training, their new Top 20 list and Bernie Pleskoff’s look at how the system addresses short- and long-term needs.

For your viewing pleasure, the video piece from camp as well:


Some good extras from my conversations, especially with GM Jeff Luhnow. I had one Q&A left over from my chat with George Springer:

Everyone talks about all the prospects in the Astros system. As a group, are you excited collectively to get to the big leagues and help turn things around?

Springer: As players and kids, the dream is to play professional baseball at the highest peak, to get there. At the same time, you still have to have the utmost respect for the guys who are in the clubhouse now, who have gone through the struggles, who’ve had success and not had success, guys like Castro, Altuve. That’s something to honor. As a player, it shows how they’re able to handle failure, adversity and success at the same time. I think for kids who are coming up, that’s something to look up to.

Now, on to my conversation with Luhnow. We’ll start with continuing on what he was saying in the story about wanting to maintain a top level system.

Luhnow: [We hope] we can consistently maintain it in the top 10-15. Obviously, as you graduate players to the big leagues, you lose some of that. I think we’re well-positioned to do that because we have an interesting system. We’ve got players that are top prospects that are both pitchers and position players. We also have players that are spread throughout the life cycle. We’ve got really good players in rookie ball, A ball, Double-A, Triple-A. They’re not all going to show up all at one time and then we’re going to have a barren system after that.

The other thing I think we’re counting on is our second tier prospects, if you will, being good major league players. When I was in charge of the Draft and player development in  St. Louis, there were a lot of players that were considered second-tier prospects, like Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, Allan Craig, Lance Lynn, even. None of these guys ever made the Top 100 prospects. They were good players, performers in the Minor Leagues. Ultimately, those are the guys that created a ton of value when it came to the 2011 World Series and the last couple of years. I think we’re seeing a bunch of guys like that, that are sleepers in our mind. Guys like Preston Tucker, Nolan Fontana, guys that aren’t sexy because they don’t wow you with blinding speed or awesome power, but consistent performers that are going to go out and do the job. Brady Rodgers, Andrew Thurman, guys like that, who we feel are a big part of our system right now.

One of the biggest changes we’ve realized, in doing the Top 20, is how much more talent there is at 11-20. It used to be hard to come up with 20 guys, now players are being left off who are pretty good.

Luhnow: The depth is important to us. There are going to be injuries, there are going to be poor performances. That’s just part of the nature of what happens in baseball. Also, some guys are going to step up and surprise. Jonathan Meyer is a perfect example. He’s re-establishing himself. This is a big year for him. He’s either going to make himself into a Major League player or drop off people’s radar. Even those guys not on any list (he mentioned Jio Mier as one) still have the chance to bounce back. That’ll be fun to watch this year.

We talked about camp standouts and while I went with Preston Tucker in the story, Luhnow had a lot of good things to say about Mike Foltynewicz impressing in camp as well.

Luhnow: [Major League pitching coach Brent] Strom doesn’t have a lot of history with him and then you see a guy throwing 100, who’s got that good delivery and good mentality, it’s easy to be impressed with a guy like that. I do think he has the chance to break through that last barrier and get to the big leagues and be a pretty dominant pitcher. We balance the speed to the big leagues with role in the big leagues. He could probably get there quickly as a reliever, but we really feel we want to continue to give him the chance to be a starter. So far his outings have been pretty impressive.

He’s starting to develop a repertoire that’s effective. His curveball, you used to see it at times, it’s now becoming more consistent. He has a changeup that we spent a lot of time last year trying to convince him to throw it. When you throw 100, you don’t really want to throw a changeup that much, but he’s doing it and he’s having more success with it. As he develops the repertoire, he’s going to realize in Triple-A and in the big leagues that you need a full repertoire to get guys out. It’s not just about throwing gas.

And, finally, my One More Guy:

It has to be the guy who I listed as the camp standout, Preston Tucker. I really like the Allen Craig comp Luhnow made in terms of them both having been college senior signs, later in the Draft, who just went out and hit. Craig hit his way to the big leagues and an All-Star appearance. Whether Tucker can reach those heights remains to be seen, but his .303/.373/.506 so far as a pro is certainly a very good start.

Nationals camp extras

All the Nats stuff is now live. As always, you have many options:

I don’t have a ton of extra stuff, using most of it the Spring Training Report. One extra question and answer from Sammy Solis:

Now that you’re actually not worried about rehabbing, what are you working on? Outside of logging innings, what do you feel you need to work on in order to be ready?

Solis: I think I got back to even with pitching in the Arizona Fall League. I wouldn’t say I’m working on one specific pitch. I would say, just like any other guy out here, I’m getting back to season form. Location and feel for pitches, not just one single pitch.

And here’s my One Extra Guy for their system:

Teddy Cahill did a great job on this Top 20, in my opinion. This isn’t a case where I would actively advocate to get this guy in, but I do like Aaron Barrett’s arm a bit. Yes, he’s 26, which makes him a little long in the tooth in the prospect world, but it’s taken him a little time to figure out his role. He has a plus slider that can get big league hitters out right now and he’s commanding his fastball better. He gets swings and misses (12 K/9) and ground balls (1.72 GO/AO in 2013). He saved 26 in Double-A, but he’s probably not a closer at the highest level. He is, however, ready for a shot to contribute in Washington.

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