Image credit: (Photo by Matt Brown/Angels Baseball LP/Getty Images)
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.—This is not the same Roberto Baldoquin. That much was clear the moment he stepped on the field for Opening Day.
Baldoquin, the Angels’ $8 million Cuban shortstop signing in Dec. 2014, is back at high Class A Inland Empire for the third time in four seasons. In his first tries at the level in 2015 and 2016, he hit a combined .217 with one home run, missed more than 50 games each season due to injury, and was universally regarded as a non-prospect by evaluators.
But Baldoquin has returned to the California League in 2018 as a different player. He has bulked up considerably in his shoulders, pectorals, and biceps, and made noticeable improvements in his pitch recognition and plate discipline.
The result has been a 9-for-18 start with a double and three triples.
“I’ve just been working really hard and staying focused on what I’m…working on with my hitting coach,” Baldoquin said through a translator. “Basically I changed the way I lay my bat down, but for the most part it’s just making good decisions on the strike zone.”
“Sometimes some guys take a little bit longer than others, so we’re hoping this year we get that pop that we’re looking for,” Inland Empire manager Ryan Barba said. “He’s put in his work, I’ll tell you that. He’s working his butt off in the weight room, on the field. What I’ve seen is a guy that’s busting his but. Whether it’s hitting, fielding, on the bases, it’s been spectacular.”
Time isn’t on Baldoquin’s side. He turns 24 in May and has yet to play above the Class A levels. But he’s at least trending in the right direction, something that could never have previously been said.
“It’s a lot better,” Baldoquin said. “I feel like I can communicate with my teammates, my coaches better than before. It’s a been lot easier.”
JOSE SUAREZ SHOWS HIS STUFF
Jose Suarez is among those helping to elevate a fast-rising Angels’ farm system. The 20-year-old lefthander followed a brilliant Opening Day start by Griffin Canning and a successful rehab outing by Andrew Heaney with a marquee performance of his own for Inland Empire.
Suarez, the Angels’ No. 13 prospect, struck out 10 in five innings in his season debut against San Jose. After allowing a double to Jacob Heyward in the second inning, Suarez retired the final 11 batters he faced, eight via strikeout.
The stout southpaw sat 90-94 mph with his fastball, threw changeups that consistently earned plus grades from scouts in attendance—with one evaluator saying it had the potential to become a 70-grade pitch on the 20-to-80 scouting scale—and showed a sweeping mid-70s curveball he located to both sides of the plate. He also worked with an exceedingly quick tempo, throwing a pitch every eight seconds at one point.
Suarez, who signed for $300,00 in 2014, has seen his velocity increase each successive year, from 88-92 mph in 2016 to 89-93 in 2017 to 90-94 at present. His changeup previously graded above-average, and his curveball was in the developmental stages as recently as last year.
Now, everything has ticked up. Combined with his quick arm, repeatable delivery, and ability to dictate the tempo, Suarez is starting to excite in the Angels’ system.
MELVIN ADON BRINGS THE FIRE
When all else fails, always count on the Giants to have a collection of flamethrowers in their system.
Adon stood out as the latest for high Class A San Jose. The Giants’ No. 14 prospect followed Beede in the opener, and his first five fastballs checked in at 98, 101, 100, 102 and 100 mph. He settled into the 96-100 mph range over the course of his three-inning appearance, and also showed an impressive 84-86 mph backdoor slider to finish off lefthanded hitters.
While his control faltered during one crucial stretch—he uncorked a 97-mph fastball for a wild pitch that allowed the tiebreaking run to score and then walked two of the next three batters—Adon managed to stay in and around the strike zone for most of his outing.
Rodolfo Martinez, the Giants’ No. 24 prospect, made his season debut in the third game of the series. His fastball sat 94-96 mph, down from the 98 he showed at Double-A Richmond last year and the 99-101 he flashed with San Jose in 2016. Even with the lower velocity, he delivered two scoreless innings without issue and even got an occasional swing and miss on his slider, a focal point of his development as he tries to move back up the minor league ladder.
Dylan Rheault, the Cal League saves leader a year ago with 21, came on in the middle innings Saturday and sat 93-95, touching 96 mph. The 6-foot-9 righthander also showed a slider that generated swings and misses, and overall pitched two hitless innings with three strikeouts.
JAHMAI JONES PROGRESSING AT SECOND
Jahmai Jones has officially moved from center field to second base full-time. While he played shortstop in high school, Jones has never before played second base, and his inexperience showed at times.
In the season opener, the Angels’ No. 3 prospect was late on deciding whether to flip the ball to the shortstop or take it to the bag himself on a double-play ball, forcing Inland Empire to settle for a forceout. An inning later, he froze on going after a ground ball up the middle, thinking shortstop Luis Rengifo was going for it. He made his first error shortly after, dropping a pop-up over his shoulder in short right field.
But Jones recovered to have a clean game the next night and, most noticeably, is showing the quickness and athleticism to get to balls in both directions.
“He’s athletic, I’ll tell you that,” Barba said. “You take an athletic baseball player and you move him from center field to second base, and the aptitude that he has, getting some of the infield knowledge that he has…. just to see him evolve over spring training and the footwork he’s learned over certain plays and what have you, he’s come along pretty good.”
Jones’ lateral movement drew the highest praise and he had no issues with his glove work, reading hops and picking up grounders with ease. He made every throw he needed to accurately and on time.
As important as the physical attributes, Jones has embraced the position change completely.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Jones said. “It’s a lot of fun out there, being in the infield, constantly in the action. It keeps me locked in. I’m just looking to have a good season there.”
TYLER BEEDE’S FINAL TUNEUP
Giants’ No. 3 prospect Tyler Beede made a tuneup start for San Jose in the season opener in preparation for his major league debut.
Beede’s start with San Jose on April 5 was made to ensure he was on the appropriate five-day schedule to make the April 10 start in the majors. Beede normally would have pitched at Triple-A, but poor weather in Tacoma—where the Giants’ Triple-A Sacramento affiliate played—made the Giants drop him down to San Jose, where there was no risk of a postponement.
Beede sat 92-94 mph and touched 97 in the opener and struggled with his fastball command, but he showed a swing-and-miss slider, a cutting two-seamer and a mid-70s changeup to keep hitters off balance. He worked through five innings with one hit and one run allowed, three walks and four strikeouts.
ADJUSTMENTS TO COME FOR SANDRO FABIAN
Sandro Fabian is known to be a free-swinger, and that hurt more than helped in the season’s first week. The Giants’ No. 7 prospect struck out seven times in his first 21 plate appearances, and hit .158 overall.
Fastballs up, changeups up, and sliders low and away have all been a problem for Fabian, and have resulted in a high volume of swings and misses.
The 20-year-old outfielder has a track record of learning and adjusting quickly. How that adaptability clashes with his natural free-swinging ways figures to be one of the more intriguing subplots of the California League season.