Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Year of Positional Pitching/Pitcher Hitting

One of the most entertaining anomalies throughout baseball, Oakland has had a significant amount of positional craziness between desperation arms and DH calamity that has even produced a permanent shift with that of Sam Roberts. Beloit's organizational middle infield cog and most prominent positional reserve for instances in which positional pitching was required, the former rotation ace at VMI has entirely transitioned forth from the void of non-prospect infield status to an intriguing relieving chip thanks to his continual utilization in blowouts through April for the Snappers. Possessing a 88-90 MPH fastball with sinking action and a decent slider, Roberts has at the very least resurrected his prospects of heading out to Stockton with the aging Virginia native having been extremely doubtful to have ever arrived in California through his lumber and leather. Roberts' control, very likely attributed to an impromptu spring shift with zero prior conditioning beforehand, was completely non-exsistent as the 25 year old produced a less than exceptional 24:19 K/BB through his cumulative 39 2/3 IP. After his initial five appearances while still technically classified as a utility infielder, Roberts went 7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K while demonstrating more of an ability to pitch than his statistics would indicate prior to his first official bullpen appearance on June 21st after having 1 1/2 weeks to prepare. Since that point, Roberts went 32 1/3 IP, 31 H, 8 ER (1 HR), 15 BB, 20 K while holding opponents to a brilliant .067 ISO (7 XBH) as he smoothly transitioned towards his permanent post upon the mound while even showcasing better strikeout tendencies to conclude his campaign with a 7:1 K/BB over his final four appearances (7 IP). While there may not be as extreme a study as Roberts throughout the organization, wackiness still ensued with positional novelties occurring incessantly through the summer:

Within the AZL, Jean Carlo Rodriguez partook within his technical domestic debut upon the mound as opposed to within the infield as the natural middle infielder and the 2013 DSL academy MVP was forcibly made to apply himself during an emergency situation. The versitile Venezuelan born and Panaminian native infield asset surged forth within La Victoria to highlight the Dominican ballclub following his organizational debut upon the island. Batting .302/.373/.379 through 222 plate appearances, Rodriguez established himself as a disciplinary oriented farmhand with a 19:20 BB/K while flashing bursts of speed potential with 12 swiped bases through 17 attempts that acquired him a flight towards the United States to undergo his sophomore stint within the midst of the AZL. Unsuspecting his form of debut, Rodriguez was thrust into a blowout academy opening day contest as a pitcher with two outs in the 8th frame and proceeded to induce an inning ending groundout versus the lone batter he faced. Following that, the teenage breakthrough prospect underwent significant regression as he encountered more advanced repetiores and churned out a measly .065 ISO through his limited 115 PAs (3 XBH) while emerging with a lackluster .184/.296/.224 statistical result. Attributable towards more weak hit contact and thus a .209 BABIP, Rodriguez still demonstated strike zone recognition with a 14:13 BB/K as his realistic ceiling resides in that of a defensive oriented piece and line drive bat with some pinch running upside. Rodriguez still has an opportunity to mature and fill out his 5'10"/170 pound physical frame as he progresses; turning 19 this upcoming January. Especially with a positional transition unlikely, Rodriguez shall have to bank upon his developmental ceiling and acquire some semblance of power ability should he attempt to ascend upwards upon prospects lists. If he intends upon rallying his organizational stock, the Caribbean asset shall have to consistently avoid situations as he encountered in June during his AZL debut. 

Aside from Sam Roberts within Wisconsin, Ryan Mathews accompanied his fellow 25 year old Midwest League companion with numerous appearances outside of his predominant corner outfield post for the Snappers. Most notably, Mathews acquired a victory with a perfect two frames during the 16th and 17th innings of a Beloit victory as Phil Pohl crushed a walkoff dinger to claim a seldom seen result for a Turtle ballclub that bucked usual tradition of Oakland Midwest League affiliate excellence. Making a cumulative three outings, Mathews amassed a 4 1/3 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 0 K result indicative of prototypical positional output while inheriting the duties previously embodied through Sam Roberts. Through an offensive lens, Mathews regressed following his snub from a probable Stockton assignment after a consistent debut full season campaign through 2013 as the 6'3"/195 pound Beloit veteran embarked upon a .269/.317/.454 campaign between 350 PAs with 33 XBH (12 HR) alongside an accumulated 23:85 BB/K. The elderly outfield prospect did excel through August with a stretch of three contests with 4 HRs including a near dinger that was erased through a herculean defensive effort as Mathews' flexed his power capability and concluded things with a respectable .185 ISO that could boost him forth towards California to commence the approaching spring. Lacking the prior extensive collegiate pitching experience Sam Roberts had, Mathews shall be exclusively restrained towards offensive duties with occasional pitching appearances sprinkled throughout the remainder of his Oakland stay. 

Utilized sparingly with California, Stockton's lone occurrences of positional panic transpired during their home schedule opening on April 10th as they trudged through an 18 inning (5 1/2 hour) contest and were forcibly made to trot out Wade Kirkland and Dusty Robinson with an extraordinary depleted bullpen cast already having reached their cumulative innings limitation for the night. Wade Kirkland, already boasting tremendous amounts of affiliated pitching appearances including an outing in which he threw the final two frames for Stockton before smacking a walkoff HR during May 2013, orcastrated an 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K effort as Dusty Robinson emerged for his initial pitching appearance with a 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 K as Stockton finally secured a victorious result before even more absurd scenario unfolded. Dusty Robinson has since been dismissed from the A's organization while Wade Kirkland has continued to peg away as an exclusive organizational filler with periodical assignments north towards Sacramento while primarily serving as a reserve asset for scheduled Daniel Robertson and Chad Pinder rest. 

Jeremy Barfield acquired an outstanding amount of noteriety as the 2014 campaign began for his positional shift and attempt to difinitively switch towards the mound in an attempt to piggyback on the efforts of Sean Doolittle two seasons prior. Despite amassing promising and extremist quantities of swings-and-misses and therefore strikeouts, Barfield would succumb to outings in which he struggled and labored through while his control was blatantly inconsistent and disintegrated through every other appearance as one would expect for someone partaking in their initial attempt on the mound versus California League bats. With his contract expiring following the conclusion of this season, Barfield opted to cease the organization's experimentation and requested to revert back towards the outfield as he has since been housed within Midland chugging away offensively. However, Barfield has taken part through two technical positional appearances versus Texas League competition and ironically enough dominated with a 1 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 27 pitches (19 strikes) output. Not comfortable outside of the batter's box though, Barfield likely shall remain as a permanent organizational filler should he latch onto another organization this offseason. Joining Barfield within Midland, Conner Crumbliss made two seperate appearances going 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K for the Puppy Dogs as the another Midland asset to have been opted for during extra inning contests. 

Within Sacramento, Colin Walsh and Luis Exposito each acquired duties on the hill with Exposito producing a 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 0 K, 22 pitch (7 strike) result while somehow avoiding to permit a run through his lone appearance in Washington while Colin Walsh went 3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 1 K through two distinct outings. Sacramento also yielded the lone pitcher offensive appearances upon the campaign as the lone represntative during the 2013 romp was Andres Avila in Beloit while partaking in an individual plate appearance. With Nick Buss having been DFA'd and therefore branded ineligible for Sacramento's contest in which he was scheduled for DH duties, Arnold Leon and Paul Smyth were made to awkwardly and uncomfortably navigate through the three plate appearances as each struck out during their attempts as Leon made himself all the more unattractive to any intrigued national league ballclubs that believe him to be able to succeed within a rotation format. 

Discounting Sam Roberts' performance following his transition, Oakland's positional options amassed a cumulative 18 2/3 IP, 18 H, 10 R, 14 BB, 10 K result in a predictable, yet entertaining, output nonetheless. Already having undergone their Barfield commitment and Sam Roberts shift coupled with further intrigue with another permanent transition residing in that of Jesus Rivas, the converted DSL outfielder who debuted amongst Vermont and the AZL on the mound this season, Oakland has still proven themselves open to experimentation should a lively arm correlate with stagnant offensive performance. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Roasted Lamb: Chris Lamb cements his place in A's lore

      (Photo Courtesy of: Donn Parris)

Having already had a successful California League induction, Chris Lamb's breakthrough 2014 rampage through Beloit and Stockton culminated in a historic and awe inspiring outing in which Lamb abused an unsuspecting Rancho Cucamonga lineup for an unprecedented 17 strikeout performance. Additionally, Lamb tied the California League record for consecutive punchouts with 10 amassed straight including a mindboggling duration of fourteen struck out of a cumulative fifteen batters faced, with the lone exception occurring upon an infield single. Concluding with a final 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 17 K result, Lamb shattered the previous placeholder of Arnold Leon's 13 strikeout outing for Sacramento during July that knotted Sean Murphy's start in Burlington during the 2012 campaign for the single most punchouts having been accumulated through a lone appearance. More so reminiscent of Pedro Martinez than the 11th round acquisition from the 2011 draft proceeding that embarked on his third consecutive Midwest League assignment to open his 2014, Chris Lamb suddenly has since amassed three seperate double digit strikeout performances for Stockton with the remainder of the organization having only produced six during this season (Tim Atherton, Arnold Leon, Zach Neal, Matt Buschmann, Jake Sanchez, Nate Long). The Berkley native has burst forth from the cusp of non-prospect status forth towards a probable Midland assignment to commence the 2015 campaign in a remarkable sequence for the southpaw in one of Oakland's most prominent storylines to have emerged from the previous few months. More prevalent however, the question remains of Chris Lamb's prospect probability and his potentiality throughout the remainder of his organizational ascent with arguably the best pitching performance throughout the entirety of minor league baseball this season having emphatically been dropped upon his résumé. 

Most scouts don't think fondly of the lefty however, a difficult concept for most to accept for an individual who just obliterated an opposing MiLB lineup. Lamb's ceiling likely resides within that of a middle relief asset however, as the southpaw's fastball is arguably his most inferior pitch with the least amount of potentiality. Throwing 87-91 MPH with an occasional 92 MPH velocity bump, Lamb's delivery is predecated upon his funky arm angle and deception while mixing in a decent breaking offering in that of his curveball while flashing a potential 45 grade changeup and split variation at times. Lamb rather dismantled Rancho based on his outstanding command he demonstrated that evening as opposed to his repetiore, making the feat even more remarkable and unlikely with Lamb hitting his placement within the strike zone on every single offering during his 15 batter stretch  that was immensely assisted through that of a swing oriented and discipline deficient lineup thanks to Los Angeles' offensive organizational philosophy. Previous Stockton assets to have dominated Cucamonga include Sean Murphy and Trevor Cahill, who each recorded eight strikeouts out of the initial nine batters they faced versus the ballclub while Dylan Covey achieved his lone plus strikeout outing with Stockton thus far versus the Quakes. 

Lamb was still able to sustain his dominance for an unbelievable seven frames in what shall likely culminate in a career best performance for the probable 2015 Rockhound. Lamb's command consistency that he has flashed occasionally with Stockton shall have to be sustained through an entire campaign should he desire to be retained within a rotation format, as Texas League and Pacific Coast League bats will consume the 25 year old whole should he not be duplicate his command precision showcased in Southern California for 6-7 innings through 25 outings throughout every campaign: an impossible feat. Lamb shall have to migrate towards a bullpen exclusive facility past Stockton as the lefty has presently demonstrated his capability to do so, initially commencing within the Ports relieving core and opening within Beloit as their closing option. Presenting limited projection while leaning upon deception, secondaries, and control, Lamb's prospect unfortunately shall not shift through that of a scouting perspective. He still could potentially arrive within the majors as a long relief asset should his performance correlate with a injury or bullpen desperation. 

Regardless, his historic outing for Stockton still shall be firmly entrenched within memories of those Oakland minor league curators as one of the most dominant single contest performances for any lone arm ever associated with the A's organization. 

Tempering the Michael Ynoa backlash

      (Photo Courtesy of: Donn Parris) 

Having succumb to an onslaught of physical issues throughout his stay within the A's organization, Michael Ynoa has since devolved from practical demigod and international savior towards enigma and chastised entity within the Oakland system having undergone Tommy John surgery, had continual and prolonged absences due to elblow and shoulder discomfort and even a bout of Chicken Pox that prevented the 6'7" righty from attending his initial major league spring training camp. Even despite a lone option remaining for Ynoa prior to a dreaded waivers assignment following his 2013 offseason 40 man exemption, the Dominican bonus baby was retained within Stockton following a lackluster initial stretch through the California League after a breakthrough crusade through Beloit as his control disintegrated and a shoulder hindrance kept Ynoa sidelined for essentially the entirety of August. The 22 year old has since emerged once more during this campaign within an exclusive bullpen capacity to handcuff his cumulative innings amassed and present a more rapid route towards Oakland with plus results upon the mound during his first entire gauntlet residing in California with 62 punched out through his 42 2/3 IP for the Ports. Still, similar cries about Ynoa have been heard following the declaration of the $4.25M acquisition as the "Next Felix Hernandez" as a wiry 16 year old uncovered in 2008 as no performance seemingly shall satisfy disgruntled A's fans whom have roundly jeered the highly touted prospect for his inability to remain healthy and present control issues. Even MLB pundits have soured on the farmhand, witnessing him gradually slip through organizational prospect ranking interpretations as his teenage status has evaporated and Ynoa has had occasional difficulty taming full season offenses. Ynoa's backlash however has been completely unwarranted with those failing to recognize that the lanky right hander still remains at an approximate 1.2 years below the average prospect age for the California League, has incorporated a slider into his repetiore with plus potential and has additionally witnessed a velocity increase as of recently with Ynoa scraping triple digits. The premier principle of scouting minor league talent is that upside and ceiling are to be more highly regarded and revered, especially for an individual whose 6'7" frame is a classical example of pitchers with excessive height who often fail to harness control until the utmost latter stages of their prospect development. Having already demonstated his capability to generate extremist strikeout production versus California League bats, Michael Ynoa still remains firmly as a top five organizational farmhand for Oakland with easily the greatest amount of upside comparatively to any other potential Oakland challenger. 

The significant velocity increase for Ynoa has been attributable to his exclusive relief restriction with a prescribed 93-97 MPH fluctuation present through his starting duties previously. The massive presence upon the mound has since spiked dramatically to 95-99 MPH FB consistently with an inconsistent changeup and newly introduced slider to complement his arm slot that have seen plus results for Ynoa and furthermore could see him retained a late inning bullpen role even upon arriving within Oakland. Ynoa's secondaries have visibly been lagging behind an already major league quality fastball he's punctured through inferior Cal League offenses with at the moment, but both still present average to even plus projection in the case of his breaking offering. The largest critique one could note of would be Ynoa's erratic tendencies to locate the strike zone in certain instances and even more so his non-present command at the moment with numerous offerings, while technically within the strike zone, have not been quality strikes and thus been subjected to hard hit contact. Ynoa's delivery and mechanics occasionally, and admittedly, have dissolved at times which have nullified his outstanding repetiore and produced lackluster statistical results through the lens of encompassing single metrics such as ERA and FIP. This is rather customary for gigantic pitchers however, with the majority of individuals possessing excessive height failing to grasp control and, through correspondence, command until the latter stages of their development and even trickling forth into the major league tenures. An example would be Randy Johnson, considered one of baseball's greatest pitchers throughout the history of the sport boasting a 6'10" presence and one of the most superior fastballs ever witnessed. However, Johnson's dominance never surfaced until his age 29 season, leading the majors in walks distributed in 1990, 1991, and 1992 while having additionally permitted 96 BBs through his initial entire MLB campaign of 160 2/3 IP while rifling through an absurd 318 BBs allowed in his lone four full MiLB campaigns (399 IP). Johnson is an extraordinarily extreme example on a successful tangent of the spectrum however as Ynoa's career will most certainly not become as decorated, it rather just presents a comparison in the common trend of those with growth and how that affects them. Regardless, with gradual development, Ynoa shall apply reins to his delivery and ought to be able to successfully repeat it consistently, even if it requires another few campaigns. 

Ynoa's health has long since been associated with joking throughout the Oakland fanbase with his continual disabled list stints and constant physical pains that have severely stunted his ability to amass frames during his MiLB induction. For an individual who achieved a height of 6'7" prior to even having had been eligible for a driver's license in the United States and then furthermore requesting him to partake in excessive and unrelenting stresses upon one's body with an unnatural pitching motion, it would've been unbelievably miraculous had Ynoa avoided a significant surgery throughout the entirety of his career. Ynoa's genetic disposition additionally doesn't assist as he unfortunately doesn't possesses the mutant-like ligaments some within the sphere of baseball seem to. Pitchers with excessive height also and unfortunately succumb to a litany of injuries through their campaigns as Ynoa once more has had to sustain the drawbacks of pursuing a profession with demands to contort and apply ungodly amounts to stress to susceptible joints that were never intended to endure said means. This path for Ynoa has entirely to have been expected from his initial signing and the unrealistic expectation placed upon him and since continued to haunt the prospect. 

The rationale for Oakland's distribution of the loftiest bonus for an international amateur arm still remains relevant for Ynoa's present upside. With the potentially to possess two above average to slightly above average (Fastball and Slider) pitches and another major league average (changeup) offering, Ynoa's ceiling rivals some of the most outstanding pitching prospects throughout the entirety of the baseball landscape. Those who continuously relish within inpatient tendencies ought not to associate themselves with Ynoa any longer, as his development to acheieve his potential will be sluggish comparatively to others such as a Carlos Rodon or Archie Bradley with Ynoa most likely having to combat into some major league service time before he can finally unlock a portion of his ceiling. Even should Ynoa aspire to only a fragment of his potentiality, the 6'7" enigma still shall emerge as a valuable asset for Oakland; making his historic investment more than worthwhile.