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Pontes Of View: May 11

Pontes Of View returns with a profile of 10 starting pitchers’ outings from the last week of minor league games.

Highlights this time include a trio of lefthanders: Brandon Walter of the Red Sox, Kyle Harrison of the Giants and Antoine Kelly of the Brewers.

We dive in deep to each start, mixing in some discussion of the pitcher’s arsenal, pitch shape, velocity and overall future role. 

Jose Butto, RHP
Double-A Binghamton (Mets)

May 3: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO 

Signed out of Venezuela in 2017 at age 19, Butto burst on the scene in 2021 after noticeable growth as a strike-thrower during instructional league in 2020. He reached Double-A by late July and returned to the level to begin 2022.

After three good starts for Binghamton to begin the season, Butto’s final outing of April was his worst of the season. He allowed five runs over 4.1 innings. I was in attendance for his first start of May, and it was a return to form for Butto against Hartford. Early on, he was sharp and needed just 25 pitches to get through the first two innings. He walked the leadoff batter of the third but then proceeded to strike out the following two batters before inducing a grounder off the bat of leadoff hitter Isaac Collins in a 1-2 count.

Butto then labored through the fourth, allowing a single and hitting a batter. He did strike out three batters that inning as he landed changeups in two-strike counts. Coming back out for the fifth, Butto looked gassed and his fastball command, which was good early, suffered. He allowed a leadoff double, followed by a hard-hit fly out that advanced the runner to third. He induced a routine ground ball to shortstop, but the ball was lost in the transfer and the runner was safe at first as the run scored.

Butto’s final batter of the day hit a single on the second pitch he saw. It was an up-and-down performance for Butto, but he showed a fastball at 91-94 mph with good ride and late explosiveness. His low-80s changeup missed bats and he mixed in a fringe-average breaking ball at 77-79 mph. He is likely a back-end starter with a spot starter floor.

Taj Bradley, RHP
Double-A Montgomery (Rays)

May 3: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO, 1 HR

After leading the minor leagues in ERA in 2021, Bradley entered the season as the No. 52 prospect in baseball. Drafted out of the Georgia prep ranks in the fifth round in 2018, he was one of the youngest players in his draft class and had very little experience on the mound leading up to his senior year.

The righthander turned 21 a few weeks before the season and was assigned to Double-A Montgomery this spring. Coming into the season, Bradley relied heavily on a fastball and slider plan of attack, mixing in a curveball and changeup on occasion. In this start, Bradley showed better feel for a variety of pitches. While still primarily fastball-heavy early in counts, he didn’t use his slider as a crutch as frequently as he had in the past. Over the first few innings, he battled his command a little, some of which was an inability to land his changeup low to his glove side in two-strike counts to lefthanded batters.

After Biloxi’s Joey Wiemer led off the second inning with a home run, Bradley reined it in. He proceeded to sit down the final nine batters he faced, including six via strikeout. His fastball sat 95-97 mph and touched 98, showing trademark plus vertical break by getting more than 18 inches of ride on average. Bradley mixed in his slider at 88-91 mph, a cutter at 91-94 mph, a downer curveball at 78-80 and a split-changeup in the upper 80s.

Bradley used his cutter quite a bit in fastball counts, and that gave him another look to work off his plus fastball. His curveball was more of a strike-stealer or show-me pitch, but he didn’t shy away from it. I wouldn’t describe his command as sharp on the day, but he managed to get all of his pitches in the zone and challenged hitters with velocity and movement.

Ultimately, Bradley has the stuff to dominate whenever he’s throwing strikes. When you factor in his relative inexperience on the mound, it’s easy to see front-of-the-rotation potential from Bradley. In order to get there, he’s going to need to identify a true putaway pitch versus lefthanders, whether that comes in the form of his curveball or changeup.

Tanner Bibee, RHP
High-A Lake County (Guardians)

May 4: 5 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO, 1 HR

A fifth-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton last July, the righthander was off to an impressive start to his pro career. He didn’t allow an earned run over 11.2 innings in April. In his first start of May, Bibee went toe-to-toe with Dayton righthander Joe Boyle.

In the first frame, Bibee came out firing. He attacked with a barrage of fastballs at 94-95 mph and a sweepy slider sitting 83-84. He ran into some trouble in the second inning by allowing back-to-back hard-hit balls on fastballs that caught too much of the plate. The first mistake was a belt-high fastball to Rece Hinds that the slugger deposited deep to left field at a reported exit velocity of 111 mph. The following batter hit a hard liner to the wall for a stand-up double.

After that, Bibee locked in and went into terminator mode. He retired the next nine batters he faced, including seven via strikeout. He opened his final inning of work with a strikeout, then things went sideways. A misplayed bloop to left field turned into a triple, he then walked the following two batters before a sacrifice fly scored the runner at third. He was able to buckle down and retire the following batter on a ground out to first base to strand a pair of runners.

Overall, Bibee showed feel for three pitches. His fastball sat 94-95 mph and touched 96 into the fifth. He missed bats with his slider and showed above-average command of the pitch, landing it in the zones that forced hitters to react. His changeup showed up the second time through the order and was an effective weapon to lefthanded hitters that Bibee sold with good arm speed and late tail.

It was a good outing in that Bibee’s misses tended to stay around the zone. He’s going to be susceptible to hard contact because of his high fastball plan of attack without much deception in his operation. Still, his ability to throw strikes, mix pitches and repeat his mechanics without a great deal of effort give Bibee the look of a potential starter.

Joe Boyle, RHP 
High-A Dayton (Reds)

May 4: 4 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 6 SO

The 6-foot-7 righthander first burst on the scene with Notre Dame in 2019 followed by an all-star turn in the Cape Cod League over his draft summer. Selected in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, Boyle got a late start to his 2021 season and debuted in the Florida Complex League in early August. He was promoted to Low-A Daytona in late August and made four starts.

Assigned to High-A Dayton this spring, Boyle is off to a hot start. He didn’t allow an earned run in the month of April. Blessed with loud stuff, Boyle sat 95-97 mph during this start and reached back for 98 mph when he needed it. He was overwhelmingly fastball-heavy, but he mixed in his low-90s slider and low-80s curveball in two-strike counts. Things started out rough, as he walked three of the first five batters he faced and allowed a hard-struck double to Lake County’s Jhonkensy Noel.

Boyle then locked in. He retired six consecutive batters, five via strikeout. A one-out fielding error followed by a single made things a little tight in the fourth inning, but Boyle escaped with a ground ball and a line out.

Overall, Boyle looked solid. His lack of command over the first five batters ran up his pitch count and made this a less efficient outing than it could have been. Once he locked in, he cruised through the lineup. Much of this had to do with Boyle getting ahead early with fastballs in the zone and landing his secondaries in two-strike counts. When Boyle gets his loud stuff in the zone, he’s nearly unhittable, but too often he battles his command and puts himself in difficult situations. Despite the warts, Boyle has improved his profile as a starter by leaps and bounds since his amateur days.

Dylan Smith, RHP
High-A West Michigan (Tigers)

May 4: 4 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1 HR 

A third-round pick out of Alabama last July, Smith is an athletic righthander with a projectable frame and good stuff. His arsenal is led by a fastball-slider combination with good movement profiles. He gets heavy ride on his mid-90s fastball and sweep and downward break on his slider at 81-83 mph. He mixes in a high-80s cutter and a changeup at 83-85 mph.

Smith was sharp early on in this one, facing the minimum over the first three innings, generating lots of weak groundball contact and pounding the strike zone with fastballs and sliders. Entering the fourth inning, Smith was cruising with a low pitch count. That’s when things went off the rails, courtesy of a couple of softly-hit singles to right field, followed by a sacrifice fly and single up the middle.

The struggles continued in the fifth. Smith walked the leadoff batter and an infield single followed. His final batter of the day, Brayan Buelvas, took a belt-high fastball and deposited it over the high wall in Lansing’s left field. Overall, Smith showed promising stuff early before things snowballed. The two runs he allowed in the fourth were a bit of bad luck because none of the balls were all that well hit.

By the fifth inning, the righthander looked gassed, losing his release point and subsequently his command. Smith showed a lot to like in his build, athletic movement and bread-and-butter fastball and slider combination.

AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP
Low-A Augusta (Braves)

May 4: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO

The Braves paid Smith-Shawver an over-slot bonus of $997,500 in the seventh round last year. He had a difficult pro debut in 2021, but his plus-plus arm speed and raw athleticism provided reasons for optimism. Assigned to Low-A Augusta this spring, Smith-Shawver made four starts in April, culminating in a strong five-inning, one-run effort in his final start of April.

In his first May start, Smith-Shawver started off strong, going four scoreless frames before a disastrous fifth inning. He sat 95-97 mph on his fastball with plus vertical break. He attacks batters with fastballs and a cutter-like slider in the 87-90 mph range. After cruising through the first two frames on 27 pitches, Smith-Shawver ran into some trouble in the third, allowing a walk and a single in the inning. He managed to get out of the jam by getting a fielder’s choice to eliminate the lead runner after the single and a fly out following the walk. In the fourth, he was back to cruise control as he sat down the side on 10 pitches, striking out a pair.

Smith-Shawyer struggled consistently when targeting his pitches to his glove side and low against lefthanded hitters. Some of that was a lack of feel for his changeup, but much of it was his lack of command to that side of the plate. Smith-Shawver was at his best when he was attacking righthanded batters high in the zone with his fastball and working away with his slider to his glove side. He did seem to find feel for his changeup working the outer half of the plate during a strikeout of Carolina’s Hedbert Perez in the fourth inning.

Overall, there’s a lot to like with Smith-Shawver, particularly his fastball shape and velocity. He finds his gas easily and held his best velocity deep into this start. The development of his secondaries in the coming years will pave the way to a future as a starter or a high-leverage reliever.

Brandon Walter, LHP
Double-A Portland (Red Sox)

May 5: 6 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 10 SO

A 26th-round pick out of Delaware in 2019, Walter emerged from the 2020 shutdown and dominated over two Class A stops in 2021, pitching to a 2.92 ERA over 89.1 innings. The lefthander was assigned to Double-A Portland this spring and turned in an impressive April by allowing just three earned runs over 23 innings while striking out 29 batters without issuing a walk.

Walter’s ability to throw strikes, miss bats and drive ground balls has as much to do with the quality of his pitch mix as it does his advanced feel for all of his offerings. He features a true sinking fastball at 91-94 mph and heavy arm-side run. The pitch averages somewhere around 16-17 inches of horizontal break. The sinker is the least-used of Walter’s three pitches and is used primarily as an early-count strike-stealer and groundball driver.

It’s the combination of a plus slider and potentially plus-plus changeup that make Walter a viable starting pitching prospect. His slider is a low-80s sweeper, getting over 15 inches of horizontal break with between -1 to -3 inches of vertical break. He used the slider effectively throughout the outing as an out pitch in left-on-left matchups and showed the ability to back-foot it to righthanded batters.

The changeup was a standout pitch for Walter, who was landing it early on for called strikes on the outer half of the plate and burying it in two-strike counts against righthanded hitters. As Walter cruised through the first five innings versus Reading, only Jhailyn Ortiz touched anything he threw. Ortiz accounted for both of the hits Walter allowed through the first five innings.

Walter’s ability to change his plan of attack and mix up his pitch sequencing from at-bat to at-bat was the most impressive element during this start. He attacked hitters early with fastballs and fed them a diet of well-placed changeups and sliders. Other times he pitched backwards by throwing a left-on-left changeup, followed by two sliders. Despite just three pitches to choose from, Walter managed to keep hitters guessing, and by the fourth inning it seemed any pitch could come in any count. Walter did run into trouble in the sixth inning but was able to work through a bases-loaded jam.

The only downside to the start was that Walter issued his first walk of the season. He reached 28.2 innings before issuing one. Overall, Walter offers a starter’s combination of two swing-and-miss secondaries, command of his arsenal and the ability to drive weak groundball contact. Walter is an advanced arm in the high minors ready to help the Red Sox in the short term. 


Kyle Harrison: Giants 2022 Minor League Player Of The Year

Kyle Harrison met little resistance after a promotion to Double-A and could be on a fast track to San Francisco, especially if he masters a third pitch to pair with his deadly fastball/slider combo.

Gavin Stone, RHP
High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers) 

May 5: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 SO

Taken with the penultimate pick of the five-round 2020 draft, Stone has been a bit of an unsung success so far as a professional. After a strong debut in 2021, Stone saw a late-season promotion to High-A Great Lakes. Stone returned to Great Lakes to begin this season and is off to a fast start. In his first start of May, Stone went six innings of a seven-inning doubleheader game.

While Stone didn’t tally big strikeout numbers on the day, he was incredibly efficient. He needed just 68 pitches to get through six innings. Stone had three innings with single-digit pitch counts as he pounded the strike zone early and often by going right after the aggressive hitters in the Beloit lineup.

Stone located his four-seam fastball with good ride to all four quadrants, sitting 93-95 mph before dropping down to 91-93. He showed a pair of breaking pitches in a mid-80s slider with cutter-like shape and a low-80s curveball with moderate depth. He located both of these well, but mostly used them as change-of-pace pitches. His changeup was the real standout. It’s a mid-to-high-80s tumbler with heavy arm-side run. The lack of vertical break plays extremely well off of his fastball shape, and Stone sells it with arm speed.

Stone’s command overall was sharp, and he rarely missed the strike zone by much. His command backed up a bit in the sixth inning, but it’s fair to say he got squeezed by the umpire on a couple of calls on the edges of the zone. While Stone’s line lacked strikeouts, he got outs in the most efficient way possible. On the day, Stone had eight ground outs with just three balls leaving the infield.

Antoine Kelly, LHP
High-A Wisconsin (Brewers) 

May 6: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 10 SO 

Kelly is a tall, athletic lefthander who was the Brewers’ 2019 second-rounder out of Wabash Valley (Ill.) JC. Entering 2022, Kelly had pitched just 51 pro innings, a majority of them in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019. He missed much of 2021 as he recovered from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, logging 19.1 innings.

Assigned to High-A Wisconsin out of camp this year, Kelly had an encouraging opening month in which he allowed just six earned runs over 16.2 innings with 23 strikeouts to 13 walks. In his first start of May, Kelly’s command of his arsenal was as locked in as ever. He masterfully quelled the Fort Wayne lineup for five innings.

Kelly allowed an infield single to the second batter of the game, but it was really just a miscommunication by his infield. He attacked hitters early in counts with fastballs to both sides of the plate and elevated. He sat 95-97 mph early before dropping down to 93-95. He threw nearly 70% strikes on the day, and many of his misses were chase pitches in two-strike counts. Kelly didn’t just miss bats, he put pressure on hitters by landing his three-pitch mix to both sides of the plate. He didn’t allow any hard contact, and all three of his fly balls were routine outs.

Kelly got squeezed in his single walk of the game. He threw well-executed pitches in succession that were both ruled balls. While Kelly allowed two baserunners on the day, it’s fair to say each came with an asterisk. With a power, mid-90s fastball with more than a foot of horizontal break, a sweepy slider and a changeup that’s beginning to flash average or better consistently, Kelly has the mix of an impact arm who could fill a variety of roles.

It’s rare to see this level of power, movement and deception in a single package. If Kelly can consistently look the way he did in this start, he’s got a future as a starter. If the command never fully materializes, he’ll likely provide value as a high-leverage reliever.

Kyle Harrison, LHP
High-A Eugene (Giants)

May 6: 4 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 10 SO

The 2020 fourth-rounder out of high school has quickly established himself as one of the most highly touted pitchers in the low minors. Assigned to High-A Eugene out of camp, Harrison entered this start with a 3.00 ERA and 32 strikeouts to five walks. In this start he struck out 10 while allowing two hits and three walks.

Most of Harrison’s trouble came in the third inning, when he was squeezed on consecutive pitches that could have been strike three. Once he had to pitch from the stretch, his command seemed to waver. Up to that point, he had mostly attacked in the zone, particularly early in counts. He was able to get out of a bases-loaded jam with a called strike in a 3-2 count.

On the day, Harrison’s fastball sat 93-95 mph playing up due to his low release height and deceptive motion. He mixed in mostly his mid-80s slider as his primary secondary, showing a few changeups. His stuff was dominant at times, but he went in and out of pinpoint command, and he had several misses that landed fairly well off their intended target. He struggled at times in two-strikes counts, throwing too many easy takes.

Overall, Harrison showed flashes of brilliance, with a fastball-slider combination that could be deadly at times. If Harrison is able to hone his command in the coming years, he could blossom into an above-average major league starter.

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