Prospect Notebook: Slider Has Keyvius Sampson On The Right Track

No one had a better Wednesday than Keyvius Sampson.

The Padres’ righthander set a career high with 12 strikeouts while allowing only two hits in seven scoreless innings of work for Double-A San Antonio.

As the game moved on, Sampson got better and better. He didn’t allow a hit in his final six innings. In the sixth inning, he struck out the side on 10 pitches. He struck out five of the last six batters he faced.

Keyvius Sampson

Keyvius Sampson (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

In the early going, Sampson wasn’t as impressive as his stats may have indicated. He struggled to locate to his arm side in the first two innings, but he got out of very limited trouble because Tulsa’s hitters were chasing his slider out of the strike zone.

But once he entered the third inning, everything was working for Sampson. Because he had demonstrated that he could throw his curveball for strikes and because Drillers hitters couldn’t lay off his slider that was breaking out of the zone, the hitters found themselves vulnerable to two-strike fastballs. Seven of his final nine strikeouts came with the fastball, with two of them being called strike threes against hitters who appeared to be looking for Sampson’s slider.

The slider, which Sampson added this year, explains a lot of why Sampson is much better in his second try at the Texas League. After going 8-11, 5.00 for San Antonio last year, Sampson is 5-4, 2.73 for San Antonio this year. Missions play-by-play man Mike Saeger mentioned on Wednesday’s broadcast that Sampson’s getting twice as many swings and misses on pitches out of the zone this year compared to last year, which in large part is because of Sampson’s newfound slider.

Billy Hamilton, of, Reds: Hamilton is known for many things: his 155 stolen bases last year, his blazing speed from home to first and his excellent range in center field. But all of a sudden, Hamilton is starting to add a little power to his game as well.

Hamilton hit his fifth home run of the season yesterday as Triple-A Louisville beat Charlotte. After hitting only two home runs last year and only seven in his first 1,500 pro at-bats, Hamilton has suddenly found himself able to drive the ball out of the park.

Of Hamilton’s 12 career home runs, four have been inside-the-park, but this year four of his five home runs have left the yard. Three of Hamilton’s five home runs this year have come from the left side. which is notable because Hamilton’s lefthanded swing has always been the weaker side for the switch-hitter.

Courtney Hawkins, of, White Sox: Hawkins’ feast-or-famine approach hasn’t let up since he returned to high Class A Winston-Salem from a month-long trip to the disabled list at the start of June. Hawkins still strikes out way too much (39 strikeouts in 84 at-bats in June), but when he makes contact, his power is some of the best in the minors.

Hawkins took advantage of a hanging breaking ball from Salem’s Miguel Pena to hit his 14th home run of the season on Wednesday. Hawkins’ home run landed well beyond the fence in left-center field, and was estimated at 415 feet by the Winston-Salem Dash radio broadcast crew.

It was Hawkins’ seventh home run of the month. Despite missing a month, he’s second in the league in home runs. He’s also second in the league in strikeouts. And as great as his power is, his average remains below the Mendoza Line at .184 after 163 at-bats.

Max Stassi, c, Astros: Stassi was having an awful June. He had only four hits with a woeful .093 average this month. In just a few swings, he changed his whole month around on Wednesday.

Stassi hit a pair of home runs, including a second-inning grand slam on a line drive just over the fence in straightaway center field. He followed that up with a much longer shot to left field in the fifth. It was part of a four-hit, eight-RBI night for the Double-A Corpus Christi catcher.

Stassi, acquired by the Astros from the A’s in last offseason’s Jed Lowrie deal, has had plenty of injury problems over the years, which explains why he’s topped 100 games only once in his soon-to-be five year pro career. This year he missed all of April recovering from sports hernia surgery.

Max Kepler, of, Twins: Speaking of prospects who have missed time, Kepler was sidelined for the first half of the season as he recovered from a forearm injury. He was sent to low Class A Cedar Rapids just in time to step in and replace the promoted Byron Buxton in center field.

So far Kepler has managed to handle filling in for Buxton quite capably. He homered for a second straight day on Wednesday and has now hit safely in five straight games.

Jimmy Bosco, of, Cardinals: Bosco, the 13th-round pick of the Cardinals this year out of Menlo (Calif.) College, became the first short-season State College player to ever hit for the cycle with his four-hit performance on Wednesday. It was Bosco’s fourth consecutive mult-hit game as the center fielder raised his average to .429.