Chris Kline's AFL Road Trip: Scouting Jered Weaver
By Chris Kline
SURPRISE, Ariz.--Angels righthander Jered Weaver finished up 2005 at Double-A Arkansas, allowing three earned runs on six hits in his final start against Midland in the Texas League championship series. His fastball, slider and changeup were all quality pitches into the postseason, where he struck out 16 in 13 innings over two starts.
But so far in the Arizona Fall League, Weaver has quickly found out that this isn’t the Texas League anymore. In seven innings, the Angels’ first-round pick in 2004 has allowed seven runs on 12 hits. His secondary numbers are still solid, with a 12-2 strikeout-walk ratio.
Known more for his long holdout than anything he’s accomplished as a pro, the 2004 College Player of the Year is scuffling against more polished hitters.
And he doesn’t even have to face the likes of Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales or Billy Butler—they are his teammates.
“He has excellent command of four pitches,” a veteran American League scout said. “And he has good deception through how deliberate he is. I know he’s been working on speeding up his time to the plate, but he’s still deliberate with that overstated windup just like his brother. The problem isn’t in the time to home, it’s that through that kick and wind, he tends to over-rotate and his slider flattens out as a result. He can really get around on that slider.
“He’s got better consistent command of the two-seam and four-seam fastballs, and his changeup has some nice sink to it. The two-seamer’s got sink too, it’s 86-89 (mph) with some good life down in the zone. The four-seamer’s harder, 91-95 with good movement.
“He’s got two variations of a slider—one is more of a get-me-over pitch, not a hanger, but not a true wipeout pitch either. The second version is harder, with more movement down and away. He’ll go anywhere from 70 to 80 (mph), and one of the keys to that pitch being effective is his ability to change speeds and locate. But he’s got to stay on top and not get around it too much. That’s when he gets hit. And when you get hit out here, it’s likely going to be hard.”
Teaching With Technology
Marlins roving hitting coordinator John Mallee is serving as Grand Canyon’s hitting coach, which is unusual in the AFL, where minor league managers or coaches normally fill such roles. Players have taken advantage of Mallee’s presence in the league this season for his technological approach to hitting. Every morning beginning at 7:30, Mallee sits down with each hitter to go over film of the previous day's at-bats. And none have benefited more than Yankees first baseman Eric Duncan and Twins outfielder Denard Span.
“With Duncan, it’s been more about getting him to believe in his strengths than trying to cover up his weaknesses," Mallee said. "He had a bad year in Double-A this year, but the kid’s 19 and playing at that level. He was more concentrated on letting pitchers dictate than using his strength to pick out pitches he could drive. He didn’t want his weakness exploited, so he tried to cover it. Now he’s letting pitches in that weak zone go by and doing a better job of pitch recognition and being more selective—maintaining aggressiveness but being aggressively under control and patient. It’s just been changing that mental approach with him.”
Duncan, who struggled to make consistent contact at Trenton, batted just .235 in 451 at-bats, but showed plus raw power with 19 homers. In the Fall League, he’s been brilliant. In 39 at-bats, the Yankees first-round pick in 2003 is hitting .436-5-14.
And then there is Span, who started the year in high Class A Fort Myers and ended it in Double-A New Britain. A 70 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, Span draws comparisons to Juan Pierre.
“Fastest guy out here,” Mallee said. “And he has the intangible of wanting to learn—doing everything it takes to learn. He’s been videotaping games in the playoffs, breaking down at-bats, trying to see what guys do at that level and applying what he can to his own game. He’s learning situations better. He’s a guy that’s going to figure it out and take that knowledge, apply it and carry it with him.”
Big 12 Battle
It was Nebraska versus Baylor in the only game action in the AFL on Tuesday as Phoenix righthander Shane Komine (Athletics/Cornhuskers) faced off against Grand Canyon righthander Steven White (Yankees/Bears). Both pitchers were coming off injuries, as Komine had Tommy John surgery in July 2004 and missed a full year, while White battled an abdominal strain, missing two months this season. And both were impressive. Komine, a.k.a. the Hawaiian Punchout, allowed two runs on four hits and struck out five over five innings. His fastball topped out at 94 mph, his curveball was above average and his changeup also had good bite, diving down in the zone.
“I’m just having fun out there,” Komine said. “Being away from baseball for a year really made me appreciate the game so much more than I ever did. Everything felt real good tonight. It was just one of those games where everything felt right and having nights like this really makes it that much more special. You don’t take anything for granted.”
White allowed two hits and struck out three over five shutout innings—but it took him a while to get back to the pitcher he was before the abdominal injury he sustained back in April.
“I think it was a matter of time before I got my mechanics straightened out, and I feel that’s what I’ve done out here—I’m not just going out there trying to throw as hard as I can every pitch,” White said. “I missed forever, and when I came back I was out of whack pretty bad. I just had to keep working to figure out what I was doing. I was flying open and not controlling my hands in my delivery—not keeping them close to my body. I went through everything—a total breakdown in my mechanics—to try to figure out what I was doing differently. Once I finally did that, I finished out the year well and it’s carried over here.”
In 11 innings this fall, White has allowed just two runs on five hits. That makes him one of the lucky arms in the AFL, where hitting reigns supreme.
“It seems like every batter, you look up to see who you’re facing and you say to yourself, 'Oh, I’ve heard of him . . . Oh, I’ve heard of the next guy too . . . Oh, this guy rakes; I better watch what I’m doing on every little thing.’ Having that kind of competition has actually helped me out because it makes me focus a little bit more. It’s a lot of fun doing it. And if you don’t focus on every little thing, you’re going to feel it.”
• The Brewers pulled first baseman Prince Fielder from the AFL on Tuesday, adding utilityman Vinny Rottino in his place. Fielder batted .143 with three homers in 21 at-bats this fall. Milwaukee also pulled righthander Mitch Stetter, but has not named a pitcher to replace him. Stetter went 0-0, 9.00 in five AFL innings.
• Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero planned to leave the AFL on Wednesday for his native Venezuela, where he will play the remainder of the winter with Pastora. He batted .421 in 19 at-bats for the Desert Dogs. “Man, I am so happy to go home to Venezuela,” Montero said. “I just can’t wait to play there, in front of my family and friends again. I’ve been here for eight months and haven’t seen them since then. It will be nice to go home to play there again.”
Montero also brought up BA’s AFL Top 20 prospects list, waxing philosophical about who should be at the top. “Brandon Wood, obviously he’s No. 1,” the 22-year-old catcher said. “Stephen Drew, Kendrick, (Lastings) Milledge, (Andy) LaRoche. There are a lot of hitters here. I know I wouldn’t even be close to making the list, even if I stayed here. No one knew who I was before this year. When I saw my name in Baseball America this year, I kind of knew people were taking notice.”
• Phil Avlas will replace Montero on the Phoenix roster. A 24th-round pick in 2001 out of Kennedy High in North Hills, Calif., Avlas found out he was headed to the AFL three days before instructional league ended—about a week ago. Like Montero, Avlas started the year at high Class A Lancaster and finished at Double-A Tennessee—mostly playing in the shadow of Montero’s bat. “This is a great opportunity for me,” Avlas said. “This was one of my goals before the season, so it all worked out as planned. This is the best of the best, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
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