Every weekday we take a look at some of the notable prospect performances from the day before.
Carlos Truinfel, ss, Mariners: At the big league level, a batting order is generally put together based on what’s going to get the team’s best hitters the most at-bats over the course of a game and a season.
At the minor league level, the same rule generally applies but with a tweak--if you want to see who are considered the team’s better prospects, you can usually find them batting in the first or, at worst, the second inning whether they are producing or not. Many teams have rules that their top prospects have to hit at the top of the order night after night, so if you see a big name (or formerly big name) prospect batting sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth in a minor league lineup, it’s generally either a sign that the team is trying to protect a young hitter they believe is currently a little overmatched by the league, or the player isn’t nearly as much of a prospect as they once were.
Triunfel has batted ninth more this year than any other spot in the Triple-A Tacoma lineup. Last year, he spent more time hitting eighth in Tacoma than anywhere else. As a player who has now spending a fourth year in the high minors, he’s not batting ninth because he’s trying to catch up to the level. Players know the score--coming into the clubhouse to find you’re batting ninth is a daily reminder for Triunfel that he’s not the prospect he once was.
It’s been several years since Truinfel was an elite prospect--he last made the BA Top 100 Prospects list in 2008 and he has gone from being the Mariners’ No. 4 prospect in 2008 to the team’s No. 31 prospect this year.
But on Wednesday, Triunfel was batting second just as he did most everyday back in 2008 when he was a prospect on the rise. And with a showcase spot in the batting order, Triunfel had a night to remember, hitting for the first cycle by a Tacoma Rainier since Raul Ibanez pulled off the feat in 1997. Triunfel came into the game on a 1-for-20 slump. He came out of it with a special baseball to save as a memento.
The Mariners’ shortstop got the hard part out of the way early with an opposite-field triple down the right field line in the first. Triunfel went oppo again in the third for a double. Just an inning later, Triunfel led off the fourth inning with his first home run of the season, with a ball to the left-center field power alley that just cleared the wall.
Again, only an inning later (it what was a brutal night for Fresno starter Mike Kickham), Triunfel lined a single to right field. He came oh so close to turning it into a double, but halfway to second base, Triunfel turned around and ran back to first to secure the cycle. Triunfel actually could have stretched it into a double, as he singled again on an infield single in the seventh to finish off a 5-for-5 night.
One cycle is not going to erase the concerns about Triunfel’s hitting ability--he hasn’t posted a .400 or better slugging percentage since he left hitter-friendly high Class A High Desert in 2008, and he doesn’t walk enough to post high on-base percentages. He may have a future as a big league utility infielder, but likely will never be a big league regular.
Joc Pederson, of, Dodgers: Unlike Triunfel, Pederson bats second most every day, and with the way he’s going, this prospect on the rise will likely continue to rack up the first-inning at-bats. Pederson hit a pair of home runs, his fourth and fifth of the season, for Double-A Chattanooga.
Pederson also extended his 11-game hitting streak with his home run barrage. Seven of those 11 games have seen Pederson extend the streak with only one hit, which explains why he’s hitting “only” .308, but his .712 slugging percentage is pretty special for a relatively neutral hitters league like the Southern League.
Alex Wood, lhp, Braves: The first time a scout or pitching coach sees Braves lefthander Alex Wood, they have to cringe a little.
Wood's delivery is a catalog of don'ts. He has a pronounced stab as he brings the ball back to begin his windup. He also wraps his hand during the stab, something that often leads to control problems. And then there's the finish where Wood ends up braking his follow through with all his weight on his front leg and a small hop to avoid having to bring his trail leg through.
It's ugly. It's something no one would ever teach. And it’s quite effective, in part, because of the variety of unusual moving parts.
As his left arm stabs and wraps the ball at the start of his delivery, he brings his glove hand out in front of him to his keep his balance--the flash of glove gives hitters something to fixate on while they can't see the ball. The ball itself stays hidden behind Wood's back until late in his delivery which makes it hard for hitters to pick it up.
Somehow Wood has figured out how to throw strikes with his unconventional delivery, and as long as he does that, his stuff is enough to keep hitters from settling in. It's also an explanation for why many teams think it's often best to let a pitcher stick with an unconventional delivery instead of completely reworking it--there's a lot of muscle memory that is difficult to override if you try to change things. Let the hitters (or an injury) determine if there is ever a need for a change.
In Wood's case, the unsightly delivery explains why Atlanta was able to pick up a lefty with a solid changeup and a 91-95 mph fastball in the second round of last year's draft. He's moved extremely fast since, jumping to Double-A for his first full season. In three starts with Mississippi, he sure hasn't looked overwhelmed.
Wood was in command again on Wednesday as he held Jackson scoreless for seven efficient innings. He struck out four, finishing off three hitters with high fastballs (that were clocked at up to 95 mph on the stadium gun) and a fourth with his improving breaking ball. Wood's breaking ball has been his biggest question mark, but on Wednesday he showed the ability to throw it for strikes and the confidence to throw it back-to-back to hitters.
It was the second time in three starts this year that Wood has not allowed a run. He's now 0-1, 1.13 this year with 17 strikeouts and only two walks in 16 innings.
The other concerns about Wood's delivery revolve around whether it's suited for him to stay healthy as a starter over the long-term. He's already had Tommy John surgery as a high school pitcher, but he made 30 starts in two years at Georgia and has not missed a turn as a pro.
Jameson Taillon, rhp, Pirates: Scouts have been waiting for Jameson Taillon to start dominating hitters for a couple of years now. That wait may be over.
Taillon allowed only two hits in seven scoreless innings for Double-A Altoona on Wednesday, lowering his ERA for the season to a nice, round 1.00. In his previous start, Taillon had allowed a pair of runs, his only runs allowed in three starts, but he also made up for it by striking out 10.
For all the concerns about players playing in the World Baseball Classic, Taillon is an example of some of the benefits. Pitching for Team Canada, Taillon showed his ability to succeed against a stacked Team USA lineup during the WBC. After facing Brandon Phillips, Ryan Braun and Joe Mauer, facing a lineup that features Joe Panik and Javier Herrera seems pretty survivable.