Pontes Of View: May 20

EASTLAKE, Ohio—Few rosters in the minor leagues, let alone the High-A Midwest League are as flush with pitching talent as the Cleveland Guardians High-A affiliate Lake County Captains. Led by the Guardians 2021 first-round pick Gavin Williams, the Captains roster includes the Guardians top three picks in last July’s draft as well as five of their first seven picks, all pitchers. 

Facing off against the Dodgers High-A affiliate, Great Lakes, it was a series rich in talented pitching prospects from two of the best pitching development organizations over the past decade. In a remix on previous Pontes of View articles, we’ll focus strictly on live, in-person views from Week Five. 

Wednesday, May 11

Aaron Davenport, RHP

High-A Lake County (Guardians) 

Selected in the sixth round out of Hawaii, Davenport stands out for his athleticism, silky smooth mechanics and long Rapunzel-like golden blonde locks. He’s undersized at a listed 6 feet, 180 pounds, but he is muscular and twitchy, moving with loose and easy actions on the mound and fielding his position well. He throws a kitchen sink’s worth of pitches at batters, mixing a four-seam, cutter, slider, curveball and changeup. His stuff plays up due to a quick operation that slings the ball from a three-quarters slot with a cross-fire finish. 

During this start he consistently got whiffs on his fastball and slider, mixing in his changeup and curveball when needed. His fastball sat 90-92 mph with some ride and natural cut. He located it well and played it off of his slider, changeup and curveball. His command was mostly locked in but he did struggle to land it arm side at times. 

His slider was an average pitch with some sweep and late drop. He struggled to command it, but he did flash a few above-average sliders. His curveball was his primary secondary offering as an amateur but he mostly used it in this start as a change-of-pace pitch. He froze a couple of batters with it, including one in a two-strike count. He commands it well but it’s a mid-to-high-70s offering, likely most effective in limited doses. 

His changeup was inconsistent but he found the feel of it for a few at-bats and was able to get a few ugly swings and misses and some off-balance fouls. Overall, it was a deep pitch mix of average to above-average pitches, with some projection for added power and velocity in the coming years. 

Early on Davenport was sharp, retiring the first six batters he faced on just 19 pitches. On the second pitch of the third inning he hung a slider to Edwin Mateo for a home run to right field. He battled through this inning command-wise, hitting a batter, walking another and catching some bad luck with an infield single. He did manage to only allow a single run in this inning, striking out Aldrich De Jongh on a swinging strike to get out of a bases-loaded jam. 

In the fourth, Davenport went right at hitters, showing them a variety of pitches in any count, getting weak contact and allowing a single. He came back out for the fifth but allowed a triple, followed by a sacrifice fly and a walk before being pulled.

Davenport possesses a deep arsenal of pitches and a pitchability factor that allows it to work. He still has remaining projection. He should get stronger and could add some good weight in the coming years. As with any pitcher with a deep arsenal of pitches, any given day he’s unlikely to have all of his offerings at their best. It does, however, give him a variety of options to keep hitters off-balance. 

Cade Smith, RHP

High-A Lake County (Guardians) 

A former teammate of Davenport’s with Hawaii, Smith signed as an NDFA following the 2020 draft. He’s been relief-only as a professional, spending a majority of his first pro season with Low-A Lynchburg before seeing three late season appearances with Lake County in 2021. 

Smith made a couple of appearances in the series, sitting 92-94 mph and touching 95 mph at peak. It’s a lower-spin offering with an efficient axis as he averages above 18 inches of induced vertical break. His ability to get ride is noticeable in the results as he generates swings and misses at the top of the zone. He pairs it with a hard-breaking slider at 82-84 mph with late sweep. 

It’s a two-pitch relief-only profile but there’s some quality in the fastball and slider combination, though it’s uncertain if it’s enough to propel him to a major league career. 

Lael Lockhart, LHP

High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers) 

A money-saving ninth-round pick signed for $2,500 last July out of Arkansas, Lockhart has an unusual story. He was primarily a position player for his first three seasons at Houston, amassing 177 games as a hitter between 2017-2020. He earned the Cougars Friday night role entering 2020, but following the cancellation of the 2020 season, Lockhart transferred to Arkansas as a pitcher for the 2021 campaign. He made 14 starts for the Razorbacks in a truncated starter’s role of three to five innings. Post-draft, Lockhart worked as a reliever out of the Great Lakes bullpen. He returned to the High-A Midwest League to begin 2022 and has primarily been used as a starter this season. 

Lockhart made the start versus Lake County on May 11, going five innings. He allowed an earned run on four hits, a walk and six strikeouts. His lone earned run came off the bat of Jhonkensy Noel who took him deep on a poorly placed 88 mph fastball. Overall he pitched well, working primarily from a three-pitch mix, throwing fastballs early for strikes and then attacking with a series of sliders and splitters. 

He began the start striking out the side in the first, followed by an efficient second inning where he induced four ground outs—one was misplayed and the batter reached via error. The third inning was even more efficient as he only needed eight pitches to retire the side, as he struck out Aaron Bracho on a series of sliders and splitters. He followed by allowing a single to Connor Kokx, but two pitches later Lockhart induced a double play off the bat of Joe Naranjo

He ran into real trouble in the fourth as the first baserunner of the inning reached on an error. Lockhart then gave up a long home run off the bat of Jhonkensy Noel. The next batter singled. Lockhart then fell behind the next hitter, 3-1, but induced a ground ball to erase the runner at first. Two pitches later he was able to get another ground ball to escape the inning with just two runs on the board. 

He made fairly quick work of the side in the fifth, striking out two, allowing a ground ball single and a first pitch groundout off the bat of Petey Halpin to end his day. 

Overall, Lockhart is a fringe prospect, but his unusual background and the Dodgers track record of developing pitchers make him perhaps more than meets the eye. His fastball lacks power, sitting 88-89 mph, touching 90 mph, which is well below-average velocity in 2022. The pitch, however, features above-average ride and some late life. 

He’s less reliant on his fastball the deeper he gets into at-bats, using it early in counts to set himself up to throw his low-80s slider with acute sweep, and his splitter at 78-80 mph is his best bat-missing pitch. He used a nearly equal amount of fastballs and sliders and his splitter usage was high as well, seeing a 25% usage rate on the day.

Lockhart is a crafty lefthander who lacks power, but shows some athleticism and potential projection to get his fastball velocity to average. 

Antonio Knowles, RHP

High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers) 

A 2021 13th-rounder out of Florida Southwestern State JC, Knowles is primarily a two-pitch reliever who works off a fastball and slider combination. His primary pitch is his slider as he throws it nearly twice as much as his four-seam. His slider sits 82-85 mph with heavy sweeper shape. Despite the heavy usage, it’s far and away his best bat-missing pitch. He generated some whiffs across a pair of appearances in the Lake County series, using his fastball as a secondary look. It sat 92-93 mph with natural cut. 

He worked a pair of clean innings, allowing a pair of singles in each, walking none, with no strikeouts. He pitched to contact, as he delivered ground outs and line outs in bunches. His slider had good shape and was effective in getting whiffs despite its elevated usage rate. His fastball lacks defined shape or power, and he has to hide it a little. Still, there is enough there to suggest that improvements to his fastball shape or added velocity could work as a one-inning reliever. 

Ryan Sublette, RHP

High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers) 

College relievers are overall a mixed bag in professional ball. Some blossom into starters, others fail in Class A. Sublette was one of the more reliable college relievers for Texas Tech in 2021, working out of a true multi-inning fireman role. He remains in a relief role this season with Great Lakes, and received a trio of appearances during the Lake County series. 

Sublette showed true reliever-quality stuff, sitting 94-95 mph and touching 96 mph on his four-seamer with heavy bore and moderate ride. He was able to work elevated in the zone due to his flatter approach angle generated from a low release height. He gets over six and a half feet of extension down the mound which creates a tough angle for hitters. He mixes in a mid-80s bullet slider. Sublette went right after opposing batters with the fastball over and over again. He showed average command of the pitch as well, with an effectively wild element. 

Thursday, May 12

Mason Hickman, RHP 

High-A Lake County (Guardians) 

A standout for Vanderbilt’s 2019 national championship team, Hickman twice ranked in our Top 500 draft prospects in 2017 (437) as a prep and in 2020 (161) following the pandemic-shortened season. The Guardians drafted Hickman in the fifth round and paid him a $340,000 bonus. He debuted in the Midwest League last spring and made 20 starts for Lake County. He returned to the level to begin 2022, and has seen some success in a hybrid long-relief/starter role. May 12 was his second start of the season, as Hickman went four scoreless, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out six on 59 pitches. He generated nine swinging strikes and did a good job getting whiffs on all four of his pitches, as the fastball, slider, curveball and changeup all had a pair of whiffs during the outing. 

Hickman’s four-pitch mix lacks power but he has distinctive shape on each of his offerings. His fastball sits 88-90 mph with heavy ride and hop, giving Hickman the shape on his four-seam to live above the margins in the upper quadrants and miss over the top of opposing hitters’ barrels. He pairs that with a trio of secondaries, but his primary offspeed usage is split between a slow, downward-breaking curveball and a low-80s slider with tight horizontal break. He mixes in a changeup but the feel for the pitch can come and go. During this outing, however, Hickman showed great feel for the pitch, landing it for a strike each time he threw it. 

Hickman allowed a baserunner in every inning but did a good job of limiting hard contact, as hitters were often off-balance or caught between his fastball and secondaries that were 10-18 mph slower than his fastball. Hickman’s ability to battle from at-bat to at-bat and throw strikes when needed was noticeable. It wasn’t the type of performance where one is blown away by the stuff, but the execution was impressive.

Hickman has limited upside. He has a deep arsenal of pitches and starter characteristics, but he lacks the power and velocity to crack it as a back-of-the-rotation starter at present. The pinpoint command needed to walk such a tightrope is absent as well, making his future in a starter’s role unlikely. If Hickman can add velocity without sacrificing spin efficiency on his fastball, there could be a viable bulk relief ceiling. 

Alaska Abney, RHP

High-A Lake County (Guardians) 

A 15th-rounder who signed for $125,000 last July out of Coastal Carolina, Abney is a righthanded submariner who sits 86-88 mph while touching 90 mph on a true sinker with dive and heavy run. Due to his submarine operation, his release height is just above 2 feet. It’s an unusual look with more power than is typically there for a submarine-style reliever. His slider is unusual as it’s a high-70s sweeper that gets substantially more ride than his fastball. It’s a two-pitch mix but the unusual look and deception works for Abney. His struggles so far in 2022 have come from struggling to throw strikes. 

Abney made a five-out appearance to earn the win, as he went two scoreless innings, striking out two on no hits, no walks and a hit batsman. If Abney can harness his command and throw strikes consistently he has a future as a change-of-pace reliever.

Gavin Stone, RHP

High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers) 

In what turned out to be Stone’s final High-A start, the 2020 fifth-rounder out of Central Arkansas efficiently dominated the Lake County lineup over five innings of work. 

Stone was covered in last week’s P.O.V article and many of the same characteristics were present during his May 12 start. Stone allowed some traffic early, yielding a hit in the opening frame, followed by a single and a double in the second. With two outs in the second, Stone locked in, retiring the final 10 batters he faced, four via strikeout. His efficiency was on full display over his final three innings as he recorded two separate seven-pitch clean innings in the third and the fifth. It was another outstanding appearance for Stone, who’s made a habit of that a little less than two months into the season. 

His fastball sat 92-94 mph with late life and explosiveness as it reached the plate. Stone worked primarily off of the fastball, locating it to both sides of the plate and driving groundball contact when hitters squared the pitch up. His slider was inconsistent early but over his final three innings was locked in and he located it well to the glove side part of the plate, showing some two-plane break from the batter’s perspective. His changeup flashed plus, as he used it to keep lefthanded hitters off-balance, generating lots of ugly swings. 

Stone possesses a true three-pitch-mix with a starter’s command of his arsenal and the ability to live on the edges of the strike zone to all four quadrants. There’s a certain level of execution that’s missed in Stone’s underlying statistics. Whether it’s weakly hit ground balls, pop ups or strikeouts, Stone looks to generate outs as quickly as possible.

Friday, May 13

Cole Percival, RHP

High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers) 

Son of Los Angeles Angels great Troy Percival, Cole was signed as a nondrafted free agent by the Dodgers following the 2020 MLB Draft. He spent 2021 at High-A Great Lakes, making 26 appearances mostly as a reliever. The righthander returned to Great Lakes this spring but has been used in a starting role, making six starts across eight total appearances. He went toe to toe with Gavin Williams on Friday, delivering four innings, allowing one earned run on four hits, two walks and three strikeouts. 

He sat 93-94 mph on his fastball, touching 95 mph multiple times. The pitch lacked hop but had enough late life to play at the top of the zone. He paired his fastball with a mid-80s slider with sweepy shape and a low-80s changeup that worked as his bread-and-butter pitch with two strikes. He generated ground balls on all of his pitches but his slider worked like a cement mixer, driving ground ball contact 100% of the time it was put into play. 

It was a solid look from Percival, who may have enough velocity and feel for his secondaries to cut it in a bullpen role long term. As a starter, he lacked a true putaway pitch and it was easier for batters to make contact the second time through the order. 

Gavin Williams, RHP 

High-A Lake County (Guardians) 

While Tanner Bibee is making a strong case for “ace” of the Lake County staff, the Guardians 2021 first-round pick is the de facto “Friday Night Guy” for the Captains. He started opposite Percival on May 13, Lake County’s first “Fireworks Friday” of the season, as the Captains transformed into the Picantes De Lake County, donning their neon green “Copa de la Diversión” jerseys. Gavin Williams brought the fireworks in the first, sitting 94-96 mph, showing an ability to throttle the fastball and attack high in the zone with late life, showing the traits of plus vertical break. He mixed in his mid-80s slider and mid-to-high-70s curveball with depth and two-plane break. He missed bats on both pitches, and mixed in a changeup that was inconsistent but flashed above-average shape a few times.

He retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, four via strikeout, before running into some trouble in the fourth. Great Lakes led off the inning with back-to-back hits, first a double off the bat of Eddys Leonard followed by a single from Jordbit Vivas that scored Leonard. Following a flyout, Vivas was caught stealing second and Williams induced a ground ball to second base to end the inning.

He saw some traffic in the fifth and sixth but was able to escape each inning unscathed, going 5.2 innings, allowing a run on five hits and a walk and striking out six. He needed 86 pitches, throwing 59 for strikes (68.6%), generating 16 swinging and 10 called strikes. It was another strong performance for Williams, who was reviewed in P.O.V earlier this season. There’s a legitimate case to be made that Williams is the best college pitcher from the 2021 draft class. 

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