So I went to the Chiefs game with my wife with the intention of watching four players: SS Marco Hernandez, Taiwan Easterling, who was in RF, LHP Kyler Burke, and RHP Ben Wells. I was also hoping that RHP Ben Wells would piggyback Burke's start, but Burke pitched well and made it into the 7th inning.
I wound up teaching my wife what I know and what to look for, which was fun. She's a casual baseball fan, but very observant, so she did really well, but I'll get to that later.
I sat in the second row behind home plate, slightly off center toward the visitors side. It wasn't the best angle, but it wasn't bad either and I was able to get a decent feel for breaking pitches and a good view of hitter's swings.
Sitting to the right of me a few rows up was Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita with about 3-4 Cubs scouts. I introduced myself to Fleita and told him I write about the Cubs.
He smiled and said, "I won't hold that against you."
I said it was Cubs Den. And then he said, "Oh, well in that case, job well done, young man!" (Okay. I made that part up.)
What I did do was make some small talk and then asked him what to expect from Kyler Burke. He told me 88-92 mph fastball, curve, and a change. Sure enough, that's exactly what he did. His FB was generally 88-90 but did touch 92 on a couple of fastballs, including one in the 7th.
The first thing you notice about Burke is that he's a big, athletic looking pitcher. My wife commented that he carries himself on the mound like he owns the place. I told her that's called presence. And Burke definitely has that on the mound. There's a quiet confidence about him. He acts like he belongs on the mound.
He has a nice simple, repeatable delivery and easily worked in the 88-90 range the entire game. When Luis Liria came to relieve Burke in the 7th, I asked my wife what's different about this pitcher. She said he's righty and he's smaller for starters.
And then she watched him throw and said, "Wow, he really looks like he's giving it everything he has. The other guy was throwing it more naturally."
"Not bad!", I said. I think she's a natural.
Burke has an effortless delivery while Liria's appeared to be giving max effort. Both pitched in the same high 80s- low 90s range. Burke also threw a curveball. Many times it had a nice sharp bite while at other times it appeared to break a little early.
All in all, the big lefthander didn't throw as hard as a previous outing where I was told he touched 94 mph, but he commanded the fastball well. He worked into the 7th and still had good life on his fastball, but after surrendering a double and a single with a pop-up sandwiched in between, the Chiefs brought in Liria. After a sacrifice bunt got the runners to second and third, Liria surrendered a double to allow both inherited runners to score. Both runs were charged to Burke, who finished the day at 6.1 innings, 5H, 3ER, 2W, and 3Ks. The only other run he allowed was on a solo HR by Orlando Calixte. I don't know much about the Cougars' farm system, but Calixte looked like a pretty interesting player to me.
The Chiefs lost 4-3.
Another observation I had about Burke is that he fielded his position well. He made a nice snare on a comebacker that bounced high and to his right. He then quickly whirled, threw to 2nd to start the double play. His easy, balanced delivery puts him in good fielding position and as a former athletic OF prospect, it isn't surprising that he helps himself defensively on the mound.
The second player I was excited to see was Marco Hernandez, despite an average around the .115 mark going in to the game. The first thing you notice is his athletic build. As my wife said, he just looks like a ballplayer. The next thing you notice is his confident gait to the batters box. Not cocky, just confident. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was the team's best hitter rather than a guy hitting .115. He promptly struck out, but came back the next time with a line drive up the middle for a single and then tripled over the CF's head in his 3rd AB in the sixth. The ball had some surprising carry for a player of his leaner build. He also showed good speed going from 1st to 3rd.
In the field he made one of two great defensive plays in the game. He snared a line drive at the top of his leap and then easily doubled off the runner who was about 1/2 way down to 2nd. He also showed good actions at SS on two grounders. His footwork was sound as he sort of flowed through the ball, and he had more than enough arm to make the throws. Looks like he has great body control out there. Hernandez displayed his diverse skillset and didn't look like the struggling player we've been following. I think this kid has a chance to get out of this funk and stick in Peoria.
Taiwan Easterling played RF made the other fine defensive play. For the second night in a row, he threw out a runner. This time he cut down a Cougar player at the plate trying to score from 2nd on a single. It was a perfect throw and from my vantage point -- and I had a good one, it looked like the runner slid in under the tag. Maybe the ump was as impressed with the throw as I was and just gave it to him. I kid, of course. It was a bang-bang play and it could well be that I was the one who saw it wrong.
Easterling has a very solid, athletic frame. I was expecting to see someone a little lighter, but he's a strong looking kid. The ball jumps off his bat, particularly on a line drive double into LF. He also had an opposite field single. With Zeke DeVoss on 2nd, Easterling was likely trying to move him over to 3rd, but he hit the ball solidly and it got past the second baseman for a single. Easterling then showed some of his speed by easily stealing 2B, although the Cougar's catcher didn't seem to have the quickest release in the world. Maybe next time I'll bring a stopwatch and look geekier than I already do when I go to a baseball game.
Overall, I was impressed with all 3 players. I happened to pick the guys that had a good day, but I do think they all have shots at being big leaguers. Of course, they're far from that right now.
- 2B Zeke DeVoss isn't a big guy and was clearly smaller-framed than Easterling when the two stood close to each other, but he looks pretty solid himself, in a more tightly wound sort of way. He can also fly. He stole 2nd base so easily that I'm sure he could have done it standing up. DeVoss did make one baserunning mistake when he got caught between 3rd and home with Easterling at 2nd. He was pretty aware of the situation, however, and managed to drag the run down long enough to get runners at 2nd and 3rd again, where they would have been anyway had he just held up. So a mistake perhaps, it did look like he was running on contact, but even if it was a mistake, he made a smart play to fix it.
- Pen-Chieh Chen was in CF but didn't stand out this night except for his speed. Boy can he fly. He gets down that line in a hurry. Would like to see him and DeVoss in a race sometime.
- 1B Paul Hoilman is a big guy with a big swing. He has a decent approach and his swing is a little long, so it's not surprising he strikes out as much as he does, but man when he connected he sent a screaming line drive off the wall in LF. That thing had hair on it.
- I talked about Liria's max effort delivery. He also had inconsistent arm speed on his change. There were two times where you could clearly see him slow up. He didn't have a great outing but he did seem to have good life on his fastball. I couldn't get a feel for his slider from where I was sitting.
- My wife thought I was sort of a geek for both recognizing Oneri Fleita and getting excited about meeting him, though she said that in the most loving way possible. Then she asked who else I would get geeked about meeting. I told her that writer/scout Kevin Goldstein sometimes goes to the games and I've never met him. She asked me what he looked like and I said, he's bald and wears glasses, to which she responded, "I think you just described half the guys in this place". I then mentioned that he'd probably be wearing a fedora, which narrowed it down considerably. Anyway, if he was there, we didn't see him.
In short, I had a blast. And I'm thinking my wife might get a scouting job before I do. I'm really looking forward to going again in June (2nd, 3rd, and maybe the 4th). Hoping to see some of you guys there.