We were treated to a gorgeous drive through the Appalachians this afternoon, and I arrived at the Smokies Field just in time for batting practice. Unsurprisingly, Schwarber was hitting bombs on to the concourse in RF, with Vogelbach right behind him in the power department. I was able to interview Billy McKinney and Corey Black as well, and should have those up sometime next week. For the 10th straight night, the total scores of the teams didn't surpass six runs, remarkable when you think about it. Frank Batista toed up against Aaron Blair, a consensus top 70 pitching prospect for the Diamondbacks. On to the recap...
Aaron Blair - Blair was on tonight, throwing seven innings of shutout ball, striking out four will giving up three hits and walking one. All of the hits were weak singles, and he induced poor contact throughout the night. Schwarber and McKinney both did not start the game, but he plowed through the Smokies, showing off a fastball consistently in the 91-93 range and a plus change. The only time the velocity dropped was in the seventh, but it only reduced to 90-92. He's a large player who can definitely take the rigors of the position. In his windup, he has a big leg kick where his front knee actually ends up facing 2B before he delivers the ball home. He got good plane on his fastball, although it didn't move much on the night. His curve also had great vertical movement, and dropped it in for strikes on a few occasions, though the change was his go to pitch. It sat 80-83 with late fade and he controlled it magnificently throughout the night, keeping it low which led to many swinging strikes. He kept the same delivery late into the game, and landed up-right which allowed him to make a good play defensively. Overall, I saw a sure-fire MLB pitcher with #3 outside if his changeup or curveball is on in a given night. A very polished and advanced pitcher, who can succeed in the MLB this year
Frank Batista - Before the game, Batista was 5-0 with a 1.11 ERA, stats can be deceiving though. The 5'10", 175 pound right hander had a smooth, repeatable delivery that was fast to home plate. His fastball sat 88-91 with little movement, and he threw his changeup, an average pitch, a ton on the night. Once hitters knew what to expect with him (more offspeed stuff), they began teeing him up. In the first inning he got ahead of hitters early, but the BayBears recognized this and came out swinging early in the counts, and Batista couldn't adjust. I saw a pitcher who may, and that's a big may, be able to squeak out a role in the 6th inning or as a long reliever, but I wouldn't count on it. He's a great guy to have in the organization though, but I don't think his stuff can back up his numbers at all
Albert Almora Jr. - He was a mixed back this game. When talking to McKinney, he noted Almora's work ethic, however in the field he seemed a little lazy. He did make a great diving catch running in, but also had a horrible error on a line drive hit by the pitcher. Rather than stay back, Almora sprinted in on the ball and jumped up, not recognizing the slice, and it skidded of his glove for a triple. It should have been an inside the park homer if anyone but the pitcher was running. At the plate, Almora seemed to try to be more patient, but it looked forced to me. It was as if he wasn't even thinking about swinging the first couple of pitches of every at-bat. He swung over a couple of changeups from Blair, and swung-and-missed a lot. However, he did scorch a ball both times he hit, but there where fielders in the way both times. Almora's still got a lot of work to do in the minors, so I don't see a promotion to the majors until late next season at the earliest.
Willson Contreras - According to people who work with the Smokies, Contreras receiving skills have improved a lot this year. He didn't allow any balls to get by him, and appeared to be doing well. He also showed off a plus-arm when he gunned a potential base-stealer at 2nd. At the plate, he made weak contact most of the night. I was looking forward to him, and his approach seems to be decent, Blair's just a really advanced pitcher for the level. I think there is more here than what we originally thought.
Jacob Hannemann - In the field, the former Cougar showed off his plus speed and athleticism by making two spectacular plays, and he also made a Sportscenter #2 play the other night as well. I think he could easily man CF if given the chance, but Almora is playing there for the Smokies presently. At the plate was a completely different story though. He has a plan at the plate, yet lacks contact skills. He didn't strike out at all but made weak contact throughout the night. He may be able to fit into a 4th type outfielder role, but his feel for hitting is going to have to improve a lot in order for him to reach the Cubs.
Brandon Drury - Playing 2nd instead of his usual 3B, Drury looked fine on the few balls hit there, though he was a little slow to be a plus defender. At the plate was where I was impressed by Drury. He has a large body and a smooth swing through the zone. He struck out his first time facing Batista, but the 2nd time he adjusted, expecting strikes and breaking balls, and clobbered a ball to LCF. From watching his batting practice, he definitely has the power, it's all about its in-game utility though, which will be reliant upon his hit-tool. He should be a big-leaguer in some capacity thanks solely to his bat.
Notes: Elliot Soto and Stephen Bruno combined for a nice double play where Soto glove-flipped the ball before Bruno made a strong throw to first. None of the relievers looked interesting, although Tyler Ihrig was inducing some weak contact, his fastball sat in the 85-88 mph range. Rademacher has a nice approach at the plate, although I'm still wondering whether he'll be able to hit enough. He also showed off a plus arm in right on a throw home
Last day of the trip is tomorrow as I make my way over to Chattanooga to check in on top prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, though with my luck they should both have the day off. Stay tuned for that report sometime Saturday.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Observations
Tags: 5/28, Aaron Blair, Albert Almora Jr., Arizona Diamondbacks, Bijan Rademacher, Billy McKinney, Brandon Drury, Chicago Cubs, Corey Black, Dan Vogelbach, Elliot Soto, Frank Batista, Jacob Hannemann, Kyle Schwarber, Minor League Baseball, Mobile BayBears, Observations, Scouting, Stephen Bruno, Tennessee Smokies, Top Prospects, Tyler Ihrig