MESA, Ariz.–Astros’ righthander Brad James cruised through the high Class A Carolina League at Salem with nary a problem in 2007.
James, a 2004 29th-round pick out of North Central (Texas) Junior College–the same school as Astros’ catcher J.R. Towles–often relied on nothing but his sinker during his stint with the Avalanche and rarely focused on his secondary stuff.
For James, there was no reason to.
His 88-91 mph sinker and slider equaled 9-2, 1.98 numbers at Salem, where he rolled up ground ball after ground ball and held opposing hitters to a .207 average.
But after he was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi, James ran into trouble. His sinker alone wasn’t going to cut it against much more advanced hitters in a bat-friendly league like the Texas League, where the 23-year-old righthander finished the year completely on the flip side of his Carolina League success.
In 47 innings, James went 1-5, 5.17 and hitters nearly hit .300 against him.
So far in the Arizona Fall League, James is 1-0, 3.27; has allowed just one walk in 11 innings and is the proud owner of a 2.22 GO/AO ratio.
“In Salem, he was like ‘the guy.’ “ Mesa manager Dave Clark, who also had James in Corpus Christi, said. “He was leading the league in everything. But when he got to Double-A, he found out pretty quick that it’s not that easy of a jump.
“More than anything, it was a learning experience for him. Whenever he’d get out there, he’d be so amped up. And hell, he was out of gas by the third or fourth inning just trying to use all his pitches and trying to overthrow everything.”
The Prosper, Texas native was able to settle in at times in Double-A, but Houston sent him to the AFL to get more innings while using his full arsenal of pitches.
And that includes a changeup. James wanted to have success so badly during the regular season that he rarely used the pitch in high Class A, and his third pitch still lags behind his sinking fastball and slider.
“For me, this is a late-round guy who wanted to get noticed,” said a scout from an American League club. “And he did, but at the expense of his development in some ways. Yeah, the sinker is good and the slider could be an out pitch for him. But his arm speed and location make his changeup a below-average pitch. He shows some potential with it sometimes, but this is a two-pitch guy for the most part.”
Not to get all Peter Gammons on everyone, but Cubs outfielder Sam Fuld–a Gammons favorite seemingly forever–is tearing up the AFL as the season closes in on the end of the first half.
Tuesday marked the first time the 2004 10th-rounder failed to reach base in 13 AFL games after he went 0-for-3 in Mesa’s 9-3 loss to the Peoria Saguaros.
But other than that, Fuld has more than opened the eyes of every scout and front-office executive he’s played in front of.
In 53 at-bats, Fuld is hitting .353/.435/.604 with a pair of home runs, a pair of triples and four doubles. He can play any outfield spot and serves as the Solar Sox’ leadoff man to set the tone in the lineup for the big bats–like Brewers’ outfielder Matt LaPorta.
“The guy’s unbelievable,” LaPorta said. “Just the way he goes about it every day I think everyone learns something from his mental approach. He’s a guy you want on your team.”
After reaching the big leagues in September for the first time in his pro career, Clark said it was only a matter of time before he sticks in Chicago . . . or anywhere else.
“There’s no doubt about how valuable he is,” the Solar Sox manager said. “He can hit, he can run, he can throw, he can steal a base, he plays great defense. You talk about a five-tool guy–there he is. He’s a leadoff lefthanded hitter. He’s a catalyst. He does so many things well. Everything I’ve seen is above average and he can help any major league ballclub right now.
“And there a lot of them watching right now.”
• Both teams had a hard time picking up fly balls–as well as pop-ups–out of the desert sky in Mesa on Wednesday. Astros’ center fielder Josh Flores threw his hands up in the air with no idea where the ball was right before it landed on the warning track in the third inning of the Solar Sox’ 9-7 win. In the fourth, Diamondbacks center fielder Aaron Cunningham was closing in on a ball hit to right-center by Fuld before losing it as it fell between Cunningham and right fielder Travis Snider. “This is the toughest place to pick up balls in the outfield in the United States,” Peoria Javelinas manager Tony Franklin said. “During day games out here, you just say a little prayer whenever anyone hits a fly ball.” . . . Padres lefthanded reliever Will Startup easily has the most unique delivery in the AFL this season. Startup’s mechanics are something to be seen rather than read about, but the Braves’ 2005 fifth-round pick out of Georgia appears to have had Chuck Norris as a pitching coach somewhere along the way during his career. As the 23-year-old lefty goes into his delivery, he kicks his front leg–high, lightning-quick and borderline violent–before getting his balance going forward and hitting his release point. “He’s pretty deceptive, but it’s a different kind of deception than I think I’ve seen,” Snider said. “It’s tough to pick the ball up out of his hand with that crazy leg kick. You can get caught up in that pretty easy. It’s almost like someone waving something in front of your face and then it’s on you.” Startup was dealt from Atlanta to San Diego along with Wil Ledezma, for Royce Ring at the trade deadline in July . . . Not to be outdone, another lefty with an interesting delivery is the Phoenix Desert Dogs’ Ryan Mullins. The Twins’ lefthander has a slight hesitation at the bottom of his front leg when he gets going–almost double-pumping his front foot before his plant and release. Mullins creates more natural deception than Startup, mostly because his 6-foot-6 frame helps hide the ball better. A third-round pick out of Vanderbilt in 2005, Mullins pitches at 86-89 mph with his fastball, has an upper 60’s to low 70s breaking ball and finishes out his repertoire with an 80 mph changeup. “It’s just very difficult to pick the ball up out of his hand,” said a scout from a National League club. “The deception is very natural with him.”