Pontes Of View: Scouting Pitching Prospects In Week One Of The MiLB Season
Going to the park is a key part of our coverage at Baseball America. In fact I often refer to the park as “the office” to my long-suffering wife.
But sometimes even baseball writers have responsibilities and can’t make it into the office. With my wife out of town, I settled in for some remote work—or what regular folks call watching a game on MiLB.TV.
In this piece, I make observations and provide summaries from the pitcher starts I watched between Saturday, April 9, and Wednesday, April 13.
Saturday, April 9
Gavin Williams, RHP
High-A Lake County (Guardians)
This was arguably the most impressive start I watched over the opening weekend of games. Williams' fastball sat 95-97 mph, he touched 98 multiple times and mixed in both a slider and a curveball that flashed plus with good velocity on each. The hitters for Lansing were overwhelmed, as Williams struck out six with no hits and two walks across four innings of work. The early TrackMan numbers show above-average vertical break and heavy arm-side run. His slider sat 85-86 mph and his upper-70s curveball showed plus-plus depth.
Sunday, April 10
Gordon Graceffo, RHP
High-A Peoria (Cardinals)
The Cardinals' fifth-rounder out of Villanova was a standout during our spring training looks. He ran his fastball up to 100 mph on the back fields and showed his improved velocity from 2021 was no fluke. It was more of the same on Sunday afternoon, as Graceffo sat 94-96 mph, touching 97 mph. He mixed in three secondaries in a slurvy curveball in the low 80s, a cutter-like slider in the mid-to-high 80s and a low-to-mid-80s changeup. His curveball and changeup were his primary secondaries on Sunday, in large part due to the lefthanded heavy Wisconsin lineup he faced. He spotted his fastball all over the zone and beat hitters with velocity. He didn’t walk a batter on the day and of the 18 balls he threw, I only marked one as a badly missed location. He had eight swinging strikes and 10 looking, struck out five and allowed two hits. Graceffo is a name to follow this spring and summer, with an unusual up-tempo rock-back delivery.
Maddux Bruns, LHP
Low-A Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers)
The 2021 first-rounder’s first inning was electric, as he sat 94-96 mph on his fastball, ramping it up to 97 mph with heavy riding life. The most impressive takeaway from the inning, however, was Bruns’ ability to command the pitch to both sides of the plate. He mixed in a hard-biting curveball at 76-77 mph that got swings and misses and a slider at 85-86 with tighter shape. He struck out three in the inning and allowed an infield single.
Liam Norris, LHP
Low-A Visalia (D-backs)
Norris is a big-bodied lefty drafted in the third round of the 2020 draft out of the North Carolina prep ranks. Norris was impressive going blow for blow with Maddux Bruns over the first two innings. He sat 94-95 mph on his fastball with ride and a flatter approach angle, mixing in a harder curveball at 79-81 mph with some early sweep and late downer break. He racked up 10 swinging strikes in the first two innings alone, and looks like a name to follow in the coming months.
Andry Lara, RHP
Low-A Fredericksburg (Nationals)
This was an impressive outing despite Lara going just three innings. Lara was really efficient and only had a couple of uncompetitive pitches. He got swings and misses on both his fastball and slider. The four-seamer sat 93-95 mph with ride. His breaking ball is more slurvy at 80-83 mph but he located it to the front and back door with ease. He gave up three hits on the day but two were infield singles his infielders couldn’t make a play on and the other was a seeing-eye single up the middle. He allowed only one hard-hit ball on a fly out in the first inning. He put two on in the third after allowing back-to-back singles but he escaped the jam by getting a strikeout and a double play on a liner to third.
Sandy Gaston, RHP
Low-A Charleston (Rays)
This was not Gaston’s sharpest day. I’m not sure his final line of 2.2 IP, 4 ER, 2 BB, K shows how bad his command was in his third inning of work. It was truly a tale of two different pitchers. In the first inning Gaston had five swinging strikes, mostly on his fastball. The pitch was 93-96 mph with late riding life and a flatter approach angle. After the first inning, batters were on his fastball as he showed little ability to locate his slider or changeup. By the third inning Gaston completely unraveled as he walked two batters, hit another, threw two wild pitches and gave up a home run. The stuff is very good, but he’s really a two-pitch guy at this point and even his fastball and slider combination has some command issues to overcome. He's an interesting arm, albeit a wild one.
Richard Gallardo, RHP
Low-A Myrtle Beach (Cubs)
The command really stood out for Gallardo, as he didn’t miss often and when he did few of his pitches were overthrown. The fastball had above-average velocity at 93-96 mph but the movement was flat. It had dead-zone shape and didn’t really fool hitters. He did locate it well and was adept at sneaking it in for strikes early in counts. His curveball—that the broadcast called a slider—was really good at 77-80 mph with good depth and two-plane break. He located it for called strikes and generated whiffs on the pitch. His fastball was hit fairly hard and that could become a problem as he moves up the ladder of the minor leagues.
Jimmy Kingsbury, RHP
Low-A Modesto (Mariners)
Kingsbury has excellent secondaries and a low release that plays up his deception. It’s a dead-zone fastball with below-average velocity but he commands it well and sets himself up by getting ahead in counts. The secondaries have a nice contrast of movement types. His slider is sweepy, moving heavily to the glove side, his changeup has hard, late arm-side run and his curveball shows depth with some horizontal tilt. His command for his breaking stuff comes and goes. It can be really sharp one at-bat and then he’ll have two or three bad misses. There’s effort in the operation but he gets the most out of his body physically.
Mason Black, RHP
Low-A San Jose (Giants)
Black worked primarily with his fastball, mixing in some sliders and the rare changeup and curveball. His fastball was up to 95 mph and sat 92-94 mph comfortably with ride and late jump. The slider had some bite, as did his changeup. He was extremely efficient over his four innings of work and limited hard contact, and his misses out of the zone were close. He really located his fastball to all areas of the zone and that set him up early in counts over and over again. Black had a smooth operation with some effort at the point of release.
Ty Madden, RHP
High-A West Michigan (Tigers)
Madden has good physicality and fluidity in his motion. He got a lot of swings and misses on the fastball early, with plenty of velocity and hop. Madden doesn’t have much deception in his release, which Jonny DeLuca jumped all over in his first at-bat. He’s going to have trouble with hitters that can cover the top half of the zone. He got a few fringe-strikes low in the zone, but he does show the ability to locate his fastball low to the glove side. His curveball is loopy but the velocity at 81-82 mph is good, and his slider was hard at 84-85 mph. Madden throws a lot of strikes and attacks with his fastball to both sides of the plate.
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Nick Nastrini, RHP
High-A Great Lakes (Dodgers)
Nastrini struggled with command in the first before settling down. He had a hard-luck error on a routine ground ball to the shortstop to start the second, then buckled down and went right at the next two batters, mostly with his fastball sitting 95-97 mph. He mixed in a slider in the mid 80s as well. Nastrini doesn’t get as many swings as you’d expect but when he does it’s more often whiffs than contact. Nastrini can lose command of his stuff in the middle of at-bats.
Tuesday April 12th
Bobby Miller, RHP
Double-A Tulsa (Dodgers)
This start came on Tuesday and was arguably better than both Williams' and Bruns' turns. Miller came out sitting 99-100 mph on his fastball and went right at hitters. He pounded the zone with strikes for four innings, only needing 51 pitches to get through his 2022 debut. He bullied the Amarillo lineup with fastballs and sliders. The latter was located again and again while sitting 85-87 mph. He dropped in a few changeups and generated a combined 22 swinging and looking strikes. If Miller can prove that he can hold this level of stuff into the sixth and seventh inning he could be a member of the Dodgers rotation by July.
Brandon Pfaadt, RHP
Double-A Amarillo (D-backs)
Over the first few innings Pfaadt was going blow for blow with Miller, sitting 94-96 mph on his fastball, mixing in his slider at 83-85 mph with two-plane break. He generated eight swinging strikes over the first two innings before Amarillo hitters started to sit on his fastball and came through with a flurry of hard-hit balls. His command waned around the same time and he stopped locating with the same precision he had in the early going. He showed a changeup as well but it wasn’t nearly as effective as his slider. Pfaadt has a starter's tool kit with at least average command.
Wednesday, April 13th
Ryan Cusick, RHP
Double-A Midland (Athletics)
Acquired by the Athletics in the Matt Olson trade, Cusick is a powerful righthander that primarily works off of two pitches in his fastball and slider. The fastball sat mid-to-upper 90s on Wednesday night, and he mixed in a hard-breaking slider in the mid-to-upper 80s. Cusick was a far more polished version of himself than the pitcher we saw at Wake Forest, consistently challenging hitters in the zone with his big stuff. He struck out eight batters, six swinging, with a total of 30 combined swinging and looking strikes over five innings. Even more impressive is 17 of those were swinging strikes. It was an impressive outing for the 2021 first-rounder as Cusick married his big stuff with improved command.
George Kirby, RHP
Double-A Arkansas (Mariners)
It was a strong start from Kirby as he dominated all night. While his high-90s fastball missed bats with his typical plus-plus command, it was his secondaries that stole the show. Kirby commanded his slider and changeup better than he had in his previous start. He showed noticeable improvement with the confidence and command of his offspeed, showing the ability to steal strikes arm side to lefthanded batters. Overall he missed bats on all four of his pitches, racking up 18 swinging strikes by my count. Kirby did a great job controlling contact as a majority of the balls in play came in the form of ground balls. It was an electric five innings from the Mariners top pitching prospect.
Eric Silva, RHP
Low-A San Jose (Giants)
The former UCLA commit was selected by the Giants in the fourth round of last year’s draft. The righthander pitched the first two innings of San Jose’s game against Fresno on Wednesday night. He allowed just two baserunners on the night and no contact in the air. He sat 94-96 mph on his fastball and mixed in two different breaking balls, a harder slider and a tighter, slurvy curveball. On the night he struck out four batters, with six swinging strikes and six looking strikes across 36 pitches. Silva is a potential breakout arm in the lower levels of the Giants system.