Last year, when Yordano Ventura hit 100 mph on the radar gun, it was sometimes a bad thing.
Ventura has one of the best fastballs in the minors, but at low Class A Kane County, sometimes he got a little too focused on hitting triple digits instead of worrying about getting hitters out.
This year's he's learned that lesson, and through the first half of the season at high Class A Wilmington, Ventura pitched with less effort and better results. He's 3-5, 3.30 with 98 strikeouts in 76 innings. But as he showed as the World starter for the Futures Game, he can still throw 100 mph when he wants to.
Given a one-inning outing in front of Royals fans, Ventura aired it out. He touched 100 mph three times on the Kauffman Field Pitch FX. His slowest fastball was 98 mph. The Kauffman Field Pitch FX system is generally considered to run a little hot, but it's worth noting that Ventura's peak velocity matched that of Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole, also considered one of the best arms in the minors.
Ventura has dropped down his arm slot slightly this year in addition to focusing on throwing with a free and easy delivery. The perfect inning of work in the Futures Game was also the fitting setup for a move to Double-A. The Royals have promoted him to Northwest Arkansas, where he will join former fellow Carolina League all-star Sugar Ray Marimon in the Naturals rotation.
For a pitcher who has cruised through most of his minor league career, the last month has been a little disconcerting for Taijuan Walker.
At the start of June, Walker was 4-1 with a 2.23 ERA. It was a pretty amazing first two months for a teenager pitching in the Double-A Southern League. In the last month, Walker has gone 0-3, 9.36, getting drilled in start after start including a three-game stretch when he didn't make it out of the fourth.
As he got ready for his first Futures Game appearance, Walker wanted to explain that there wasn't much to worry about. His stuff is still the same, he's just lost the feel for his secondary pitches in recent outings.
"Physically I feel fine. Everything feels the same, I just hit a bump," Walker said. "Lately I've been a one-pitch pitcher. I need to show my curveball. Hitters in Double-A can hit a fastball. I need to be able to show I can throw a curveball for strikes. My last couple of outings I didn't feel like I had (the curveball or changeup)." [...] Continue Reading »
KANSAS CITY–With his plus power, Mike Olt is one of the best third base prospects in the game. And thanks to a lot of hard work, he's turned into a very solid third baseman defensively as well.
But whenever he gloves a ball that's hit to his left, he knows that he's going to get an earful.
Jurickson Profar, Olt's teammate on the left side of the Double-A Frisco infield, is the best shortstop prospect in the game. And like any elite, and young, shortstop, he thinks that he can get to about anything, which means that balls hit to Olt's left are also within the range of Profar's rangy glove and his above-average arm. [...] Continue Reading »
KANSAS CITY–Since it's an all-star game, there aren't really any scouting reports for World or U.S. players to pore over before the Futures Game. You go out, you play your game and you have some fun. If you're a pitcher, you don't really worry about whether a hitter is vulnerable to a slider outside. If you're a hitter, you are best off just assuming that everyone you face can really bring it.
But that doesn't apply to facing Billy Hamilton. The Reds shortstop will bat lead off for the U.S. team, and it's not really possible for a player with 104 steals at the all-star break to not be noticed. And you don't need an advance scout to know that if Hamilton gets on base, he'll likely be stealing second.
Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt will be behind the plate if Hamilton gets on. He said that he and the World team pitchers talked about that possibility when they arrived in Kansas City on Saturday. If anyone has a chance to catch Hamilton, Bethancourt may be the guy to look to. He has one of the strongest arms in pro ball and consistently turns in 1.75-1.8 second pop times from home to second. His best time in a workout is a Pudge Rodriguez-like 1.65, but even he knows that Hamilton will be tough to catch. [...] Continue Reading »
KANSAS CITY–It's often hard to tell when your hometown team hasn't won a playoff game in 27 years, but Kansas City is a baseball town. And anyone arriving for this week's All-Star Game festivities finds that out very quickly.
In other cities, the All-Star Game and the events surrounding it are a big event. In Kansas City, it feels like THE event. Local sports talk stations are having debates about how loudly the Royals fans should boo American League home run derby captain Robinson Cano during the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game for leaving Billy Butler off the AL squad. When a line-drive high average hitter with a career high of 21 home runs being snubbed is a big story, you know that the town is taking things very seriously.
There will be no such controversies on Sunday at the Futures Game, which begins at 5 p.m. ET (ESPN). On the best day of the season for prospect watchers, Royals fans in attendance will have plenty of hometown heroes to cheer for. U.S. manager George Brett has already stated that Royals' outfield prospect Wil Myers will play the entire game in front of the fans of his future team. Royals pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi (U.S. team) and Yordano Ventura (World team) will be the starting pitchers. [...] Continue Reading »
Baseball America bird dog scout Dave Perkin attended the Futures Game and had these impressions:
• Mike Trout, of course, was the most exciting potential five-tool player in the game. I had him getting down the line in 3.88 seconds. My concerns with him center around some hitting mechanical issues: His bat starts behind his head, and he sometimes fails to complete his swing across his face or around his head; and finally, I'd like to see him really let that top hand go–use it to whip and fire the bat head. He pushes it a bit now. When he does that, he'll reach his power potential.
• Fellow Angels farmhand Hank Conger had a really tough day catching and throwing, and was visibly upset with himself on that front. He redeemed himself with the homer, but I still have some of the same worries I had from his days as an L.A. area prep. Conger still overstrides, and will often flip that front side open too soon. So you will get the occasional home run but the batting average isn't what it could be. [...] Continue Reading »
ANAHEIM—I had a chance to talk quickly to World coach Charlie Montoyo, the Triple-A Durham manager who threw some of the World team's BP, while BA's SoCal birddog, Dave Perkin, also took it in.
Both were impressed with Yonder Alonso's batting practice, and Alonso lost some balls to dead center with impressive power. He dropped his back shoulder a bit but was squaring balls up with ease.
Carlos Peguero of the Mariners, who has as much raw pop as anyone in the minors, also impressed with his power display. Perkin said Peguero's approach, from what he saw in BP, does leave him vulnerable to pitches on the outside corner, and that's been evident in Peguero's career in terms of strikeouts. [...] Continue Reading »
ANAHEIM—Here are the starting lineups for Sunday's Futures Game at Angels Stadium. The most notable keys are that Angles low Class A phenom Mike Trout isn't in the starting lineup, and that the starting pitchers are Simon Castro (Padres) and Jeremy Hellickson (Rays).
2b Brett Lawrie
ss Ozzie Martinez
1b Yonder Alonso
3b Alex Liddi
lf Carlos Peguero
rf Wilkin Ramirez
c Wilin Rosario
cf Gorkys Hernandez
dh Francisco Peguero
Starting Pitcher: Simon Castro [...] Continue Reading »
ST. LOUIS—Thanks to XM Radio, I’ve been able to watch the last four Futures Games from field level, doing interviews during the game from the dugouts. This year, I was back in the U.S. dugout, and had some extra points that didn’t make it into our Twitter feed.
• Brett Wallace was our first interview during the long rain delay, and the Cardinals third baseman was outstanding to talk to. Wallace relayed that he stayed in touch with former Arizona State teammate Mike Leake, who was the Reds’ first-round pick this year, and made sure to reach out to Leake after his poor start against Texas in the College World Series. I’m paraphrasing here, but Wallace said he predicted to anyone who’d listen that Leake would get back on the mound and throw well in Omaha, and he did, throwing six solid innings and striking out seven on two days’ rest.
I got Wallace’s attention by asking him if he’d gotten a pregame brawl started prior to the Futures Game, as Arizona State staged before losing the 2008 super-regional to Fresno State. Wallace rolled his eyes but was a tremendous sport anyway during the interview, to his credit. [...] Continue Reading »
The U.S. got the go-ahead run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but J.C. Sulbaran (Reds) ultimately held on for a 7-5 World victory. Working with a 90-92 mph fastball, Sulbaran easily retired Daryl Jones (Cardinals) on a foulout and Jason Castro (Astros) on a pop to center. He walked Mike Stanton (Marlins) and Danny Espinosa (Nationals) to add some drama, and then Jemile Weeks (Athletics) tried to redeem for his error in the top of the seventh by smashing a liner to deep center. Tyson Gillies (Mariners), who moved to center for the seventh, went back and caught it to end the game.
Two poor defensive plays by the U.S. helped the World take the lead with four runs in the seventh. Brett Lawrie (Brewers) led off with a sharp double to left, went to third on an infield hit by Starlin Castro (Cubs) and scored on a wild pitch by Trevor Reckling (Angels). Castro was on second base with one out when Alcides Escobar (Brewers) chopped a grounder up the middle. U.S. second baseman Jemile Weeks (Athletics) gloved the ball and tried to flip it to shortstop Danny Espinosa (Nationals) in an attempt to hold Castro at third, but the ball got way. Castro scored and Escobar took second. Reckling struck out Tyson Gillies (Mariners) looking on a curveball and gave way to Brad Lincoln (Pirates).
Pinch-hitter Rene Tosoni (Twins) doubled off the glove of first baseman Chris Carter (Athletics), who lived up to his reputation as a defensively-challenge player. Dayan Viciedo (White Sox) followed with another double, giving the World a 7-5 lead with a half-inning to go.
Chia-Jen Lo (Astros) almost had a seven-pitch bottom of the sixth, but third baseman Dayan Vicieco (White Sox) sailed a throw over first baseman Alex Liddi (Mariners) with two out for a two-base error. After reaching Desmond Jennings (Rays) stole third–a Futures Game record?–and Josh Vitters (Cubs) and Chris Carter (Athletics) drew walks to load the bases. Lo buckled down and struck out Scott Sizemore (Tigers) on 95-mph fastballs to keep it a two-run game.
Casey Kelly (Red Sox) continued to reinforce the notion that he has a brighter future as a pitcher than as a shortstop. He needed just eight pitches to get out of the sixth innings, getting all three outs with a 93-94 mph fastball: a comebacker by Dayan Viciedo (White Sox) and flyouts by Carlos Santana (Indians) and Nick Weglarz (Indians).
Luis Perez (Blue Jays) got two quick outs in the bottom of the fifth, but he couldn’t close the door before the U.S. took the lead. Scott Sizemore (Tigers) singled off a changeup, Daryl Jones (Cardinals) singled off a 91-mph fastball and then Jason Castro (Astros) jumped on a curveball, drilling a three-run homer down the line for a 5-3 advantage.
Luis Durango (Padres) led off the top of the fifth with the World’s second bunt single of the day, then became the second member of the World team to steal second base after getting picked off. Tyson Gillies (Mariners) accomplished both of those feats in the third, then stole third base. Durango tried to do the same and was thrown out at third by Jason Castro (Astros). Danny Duffy (Royals), who threw 92-93 mph, got Alcides Escobar (Brewers) on a groundout before walking Gillies, then gave way to Jarrod Parker (Diamondbacks). Parker threw four pitches, including three 95-96 mph fastballs, to get Alex Liddi (Mariners) on an easy fly to right. Still 3-2 World, heading to the bottom of the fifth.
Jhoulys Chacin (Rockies) showed a nice changeup and curveball in the fourth inning, striking out Danny Espinosa (Nationals) and Desmond Jennings (Rays) to get out of it. He led off the inning by retiring the best prospect in baseball, Jason Heyward (Braves) , on an easy groundout to second, and sandwiched the strikeouts around a walk to Eric Young Jr. (Rockies).
Using almost only a 94-96 mph fastball, Mat Latos (Padres) needed just eight pitches in a 1-2-3 fourth, getting two groundouts and an easy flyout to left.
Francisco Samuel (Cardinals) received a nice welcome from the hometown crowd, but he couldn’t locate his 94-97 mph for strikes. That wasn’t a huge surprise, but the fact that Eric Young Jr. (Rangers) pulled a 97-mph fastball into the seat in right-center was. Young is better known as one of the best basestealers in the minors than as a power hitter. After Samuel issued a pair of walks and allowed Desmond Jennings (Rays) to steal two bases, he got Chris Carter (Athletics) to pop out and was pulled in favor of Leyson Septimo (Diamondbacks). Pedro Alvarez (Pirates) drove in a run with an infield hit, but Septimo struck out Chris Heisey (Reds) on an 85-mph slider and Tyler Flowers (White Sox) on a 95-mph fastball to get out of the inning with a one-run lead.
Tyson Gillies (Mariners) gained a run for the World Team solely with his speed in the top of the third. Facing Brian Matusz (Orioles), Gillies bunted the ball between the mound and first base and BA’s Ben Badler (sitting in the stands) clocked him in 3.4 seconds to first base as he beat it out for a single. Matusz picked him off first base, but Gillies beat the throw to second base for a steal. Then he swiped third and eventually scored when Barbaro Canizares (Giants) grounded into a double play. Interesting thing about the inning was that Matusz worked mostly with his fastball (91-94 mph) when he has a reputation for sometimes relying too much on his fine secondary stuff.
Yohan Flande (Phillies), the only non-replacement Futures Gamer this year who wasn’t written up in the 2009 Prospect Handbook, escaped a two-out rally in the second. Sitting at 91 mph with his fastball, Flande retired Pedro Alvarez (Pirates) on a strikeout and Chris Heisey (Reds) on a grounder before Tyler Flowers (Braves) and Jason Heyward (Braves) touched him for consecutive singles up the middle. But he fanned Eric Young (Rockies) on an 87-mph cutter to get out of it. Still World 2, USA 0 after two innings.
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