Usually when I'm picking which games between the Barons and Tennessee Smokies I want to see I decide based on the pitching matchups, and this year worked out well. I've seen several guys in the Barons rotation before, but new arrivals Chris Beck and Myles Jaye were at the top of my list. Both are in their first stints at AA and neither has gotten off to a very auspicious start. Both of them took losses in these games, but I think I got a few useful notes about both.
Let's start with Chris Beck. It's often said about pitchers in spring training or in the minor leagues that it is sometimes difficult to project their numbers exactly to big league performance because they may be working on specific things such as building up arm strength or throwing specific pitches. Chris Beck's game (a 4-1 loss) was the single most obvious example of a guy working on stuff I think I've ever seen.
First some videos, including warmups and in-game.
One thing that really impressed about Chris was his velocity for most of the game. I've always thought that the radar gun at Smokies Park is about 1-2 m.p.h. slow based on guys like Andrew Cashner or Daniel Webb who get big league callups and reach higher numbers than I see on the Smokies' gun, so there's a correction built in here. For the first 6 innings, Beck's fastball sat comfortably at 90-92 and topped out at 93 on the official gun, so I think he was legitimately throwing 91-94.
He got a lot of outs on his fastball and didn't give up a run until the 6th inning. And I should stress, I really mean "he got lots of outs on his fastball." I'll admit I didn't look at the radar gun after every pitch so I might have missed one or two, but the entire first two times through the Smokies' lineup I did not see him throw a single offspeed pitch. The first time I saw anything from Chris that wasn't a fastball was in the 5th inning when the leadoff hitter came up for his third at bat. Prior to that, every pitch I saw from him was 88 m.p.h. or above on the radar gun. I can't tell if he was mixing in a cut or 2-seam fastball; he occasionally would throw one at 88-89, but I spent 5 innings wondering if he didn't have an offspeed pitch at all.
In the 5th inning he broke out the offspeed stuff a few times to a few batters, and suddenly struck out two guys in two innings. If I had to guess, I'd say that for whatever reason, Beck is seriously working on his fastball right now. He mostly controlled it well with the exception of one hitter; Rubi Silva.
Silva is a pretty decent base stealer and Beck saw him twice early in the game. Both times, it seemed like Beck was more scared of him than he would have been of Jose Abreu. Beck had good control most of the game, but Silva saw 8 pitches and took 2 walks. Beck walked 3; 2 of them were 4 pitch walks to Silva. Again, I'm not in his head, but if a pitcher wanted a chance to work on his pickoff move to 1B during the game, I think that's what it would look like (he did catch at least one runner in a rundown during the game). After one of those walks, Silva did try to steal second and Miguel Gonzalez gunned him down successfully.
So even during the game I kept thinking to myself that Beck really looked like he was "working on stuff." Then the 7th inning rolled around and that's when the game was lost.
Beck came out for the 7th inning and just from the radar gun I could tell something was up. His fastball that had been sitting in the low 90's was suddenly topping out at 88. Beck gave up a solo HR that gave the Smokies the lead, then loaded the bases, mostly on fastballs in the 86-87 mph range. The manager left him in a couple batters longer than I would have.
His numbers for the game show 3 runs and 8 hits, but more than half of the damage was done in the 7th when you could see that he was gassed. Beck gave up two hits and a run in the 6th, a leadoff homer to start the 7th and two more hits, a walk and another run followed before he was pulled. His first 5 IP: 0 R, 3 K, 2 BB, 3 H. Next 1.1 IP: 3 R, 0 K, 1 BB, 5 H.
Maybe he's still building up arm strength at this level, I don't have all the answers, but I hope when you look at Beck's stats for the next few weeks you might keep this game in mind.
This was a guy who looked like he had a plan for stuff to work on. He looked really good for 5 innings while basically throwing only his fastball. He started working in his offspeed pitch and that's when he picked up a few strikeouts. If you're wondering why his strikeout totals are so low, that might be a good reason.
Myles Jaye was up in the next game and, honestly, this one was kind of disappointing. Cubs prospect Kris Bryant frankly...absolutely killed him. Two solid, opposite field home runs early in the game when Bryant came up with men on, including a 3-run shot in the first inning with 0 outs to dig a deep hole. This was a rough game for Jaye. Here's some video, the last one shows an at-bat by Bryant. It's not pleasant.
Unlike Beck, I could clearly see Jaye working in offspeed stuff early in the game, I think I saw both a changeup/slider and a curve featured (one in the low 80's and one in the upper 70's). His fastball did not measure up to Beck's. Jaye topped out at 89-90 and sat consistently at 87-88. Beyond the numbers, I can just say he got hammered in this game. Jaye got in trouble early with lots of damage done by Stephen Bruno and Bryant and that was about it.
To finish up, here's a few of the relievers I saw. I didn't see anyone jaw-dropping but maybe some promise in some of these guys.
This is big lefty Nelvin Fuentes, who came in relief of Beck. Here you see a flyout with (IIRC) 1 out that allowed a run to score; the run was credited to Beck. Fuentes looks like a big guy, nothing incredibly weird about his motion, sat at around 89 on his fastball.
Fuentes was followed by righty Cody Winiarski, who you see next. Again, high 80's on the fastball, didn't see too much else from him. Gave up 3 hits and 1 run in the 8th inning, opened the gap a little more, but the run wound up not mattering.
In game 2, the ballgame was so far out of reach that the relievers we saw were guys who didn't even have their numbers listed on the Barons website. Lefty Jarrett Casey came in first. Gave up 3 runs in just over an inning, including RBI's by Kris Bryant...but hey, at least he kept Bryant in the park. Bryant only doubled off the fence on him, earlier in the game the balls flew past it. Again, he sat in the high 80's on his fastball.
Finally, Ryan Kussmaul came in to endure the final inning+, gave up a couple more runs in the process. Kussmaul also sat around 88-89, has this funky sidearm motion but got in the same trouble the other pitchers got in.
That's it for these games, I hope you found something interesting.