Pontes Of View: Four Top 100 Pitchers Highlight Week Two
After being grounded the first week of the season, Baseball America's Geoff Pontes flew to sunny Florida this week for some on-location live looks.
Here are the reviews from his live looks as well as looks from viewing MiLB.TV. These game notes span from April 14-23. All velocities are via the broadcast, sources and the radar gun for the live looks included.
Thursday, April 14th
Cole Winn, RHP
Triple-A Round Rock (Rangers)
The Rangers’ 2018 first-round pick made his second start of the year at Sugar Land. He went four scoreless, scattering four hits and a walk while striking out four. He threw 69 pitches on the night, 43 for strikes, and relied heavily on his fastball and curveball. His fastball sat 93-94 mph early before dropping down to 91-93 in the final few innings. His mid-80s slider wasn’t effective and was mostly pocketed for his curveball, a high-70s pitch with good depth that breaks late in flight to the plate. He mixed in his average changeup effectively against lefthanded hitters, though it produced more weak contact than whiffs. Winn struggled to command his curveball, and the pitch seemed to get predictable as the game wore on. Hitters began to lay off of his curve and sit on his fastball, which by the late innings was starting to get squared up by Sugar Land hitters.
Cade Cavalli, RHP
Triple-A Rochester (Nationals)
After an inconsistent 2022 debut, Cavalli looked like he had put it all behind him over the first three innings of his second start. Locked in, Cavalli challenged hitters with his fastball to all four quadrants, getting swings and misses as well as called strikes on the pitch. He effectively mixed in his two breaking pitches and looked every bit a potential frontline starter. Then the fifth inning happened. Cavalli’s command disappeared, he got behind in counts and surrendered four consecutive hits. He allowed two runners to score before getting the hook. His bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score, leaving Cavalli’s line for the night as four innings, eight hits, five earned runs, one walk and seven strikeouts on 82 pitches, 51 for strikes. His stuff is unquestioned, but his command remains inconsistent.
Sunday April, 17
Calvin Ziegler, RHP
Low-A St. Lucie (Mets)
The Mets’ second-rounder last year was making his second start of 2022. Ziegler looked strong early as he struck out five of the first six batters and faced the minimum through the first three innings. He ran into some trouble in the fourth, allowing a home run to Clearwater’s Jadiel Sanchez. Ziegler sat 93-95 mph on his fastball and ran it up to 96, while mixing in a lower-spin curveball at 79-83 mph. He got 10 whiffs on the day—six on his fastball and four on his curveball—and got ahead early against batters. It was a good look from a projectable teenage Canadian with power in his fastball and curveball combination.
Tuesday, April 19
Marco Raya, RHP
Low-A Fort Myers (Twins)
The day's game between Fort Myers and Jupiter was two hours flat, in large part due to Raya’s mastery. He needed just 68 pitches to get through six innings and sat 94-95 mph from start to finish in this outing. Raya’s fastball had a high amount of vertical break and generated whiffs. His slider showed impressive sweep at 84-85 mph and was consistently Raya’s best pitch. He mixed in a downer curveball at 78-81 mph and used it in lieu of a changeup. Overall, Raya’s combination of power and movement on all his offerings was highly impressive. His feel for his entire arsenal and ability to throw any pitch in any count for a strike made this one of the better starts of the year. Raya was placed on the injured list following this start after he had his wisdom teeth removed, but he should be back shortly. Raya is one to watch in the coming months. He has one of the best arms in the Twins organization and perhaps one of the best in the low minors.
Wednesday, April 20th
Steven Hajjar, LHP
Low-A Fort Myers (Twins)
A 2021 second-rounder out of Michigan, Hajjar was an early draft favorite heading into his draft year. His results were strong but there were questions about how his stuff would play against professional competition. Due to a heavy workload last spring, Hajjar didn’t pitch after the draft and instead debuted this spring in the Florida State League. Making his second start, Hajjar went 4.1 innings, allowing an unearned run and three baserunners on two walks and a hit batsman. He mixed five pitches, flashing both four-seam and two-seam fastball variations, a curveball, a slider and a changeup. His four-seam sat 91-93 mph throughout the outing with plus vertical break. He generated 12 whiffs on the pitch and showed the ability to locate it along the top of the strike zone. His high-spin curveball was his best secondary on the day, sitting 77-80 mph with spin rates in the 2,600-2,700 rpm range. His slider was a tight, bullet-spin slider that sat in the low 80s, and his changeup showed well as a third pitch against righthanded batters. This was an encouraging outing because his velocity was up from his college days.
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Grayson Rodriguez, RHP
Triple-A Norfolk (Orioles)
Dominant outings and Grayson Rodriguez are fairly synonymous at this point, and his turn on Wednesday was no different. He went 5.1 scoreless innings against Durham, mixing all five pitches while limiting contact and working in or around the zone. His fastball was down a few ticks from his usual 95-97 mph but was just as effective at 94-96 mph. He mixed in his cutter against lefthanded hitters, using it as a fourth pitch to play off his changeup and curveball, his primary secondaries. Rodriguez used his slider exclusively against righthanders but was willing to throw any pitch in any count to any batter. His variety of pitches and pitch shapes through his three velocity bands and ability to land each of them for strikes set him apart from other pitching prospects. He’s as comfortable stealing strikes with his curveball or cutter as he is attacking batters high in the zone with elevated fastballs and then playing his changeup off of it. The contrast between his fastball and changeup are particularly noticeable when looking at the separation he gets in vertical break, something that’s proven to be more important than velocity separation. There’s little left for Rodriguez to prove in the minor leagues, outside consecutive outings of 100-plus pitches.
Saturday, April 23
Brayan Bello, RHP
Double-A Portland (Red Sox)
Boston’s No. 5 prospect is off to a hot start in 2022 after a breakout 2021 season. The righthander continued to look the part on April 23, going 5.1 innings before reaching his pitch limit against a tough Binghamton lineup. Bello sat 95-97 mph and mixed in four-seam and two-seam variations on his fastball. His secondaries were very strong. He mixed a tight bullet-spin slider at 84-86 mph and a changeup with tumble and fade at 88-90 mph. His fastball doesn’t induce many whiffs despite the elevated velocity. The pitch’s primary function is setting up his slider and changeup early in counts. Early on in this start, Bello mostly generated bad contact before really beating down in the third through fifth innings, racking up the swinging strikes and strikeouts. He was pulled with one out in the sixth after reaching his pitch count, but he mostly kept the Binghamton lineup at bay outside of Brett Baty, who had a few hits off Bello on the day. Overall, Bello has a starter’s profile with big league velocity on his fastball and a pair of bat-missing secondaries to neutralize batters of either handedness.
Daniel Espino, RHP
Double-A Akron (Guardians)
This was arguably the most dominant start to an outing of the year. Espino struck out the side in the first inning on 10 pitches. He came within a foul ball of an immaculate inning in the first. He then proceeded to retire the next eight batters via strikeout for 11 consecutive strikeouts to open the game. Espino then allowed a home run to Bowie’s Gunnar Henderson with two outs in the fourth. He retired the next batter via strikeout before striking out the first two batters of the fifth. He allowed back-to-back hits before getting his first out on a ball in play to end the fifth. On the day, Espino faced 18 batters and struck out 14 of them. His fastball sat 99 mph early and touched 100 multiple times. He mixed in his upper-80s slider and a changeup. He was extremely locked-in early, challenging batters and owning the strike zone. While Grayson Rodriguez remains the top pitching prospect in baseball, Espino is rising quickly behind him.