Our second live look of the regular season had us in Kannapolis to catch the Intimidators take on the Rome Braves. A four-run 9th inning rally fell short with the tying and winning runs on base, as the home team fell 6-5. This article will cover the performance of some specific White Sox prospects in that game, and includes videos and scouting notes. We also interviewed some players, but those interviews will be published in a post later this week.
Our scouting visit to Charlotte the previous day was covered in this article, if you want to look at yet more prospect notes and videos.
THE STARTER - Yency Almonte
20-year old Yency Almonte was acquired this offseason as the PTBNL from the Gordon Beckham to LAA trade last August. He's not a guy who made our Top 30 prospects list in January, but he is an arm just outside that group to watch. In this game he threw 6 innings of 3-run ball, giving up 6 hits and a walk against 6 punch-outs. But let's see how he's getting the job done.
Almonte has a 3/4 slot delivery. He's slow in the wind-up and accelerates in pretty quickly, and from the stretch he does seem to rush into his motion a bit. Despite the late and rapid acceleration it doesn't look very high effort (once he's settled in - more on that later). One of his strengths appears to be consistency in delivery. His motion and delivery are indistinguishable across all three of his pitches, except in the follow-through of the change where his arm seems to give it a way a bit at the very end (but that late it may not matter much).
This 6'3" right-hander struggled in the first two frames with command, and it appeared he was over-throwing. His first slider came in at 87 and had only minimal movement, and the fastball tends to be pretty flat when it's around 93-94 as it was early. Those pitches got hit hard. And when he was missing the zone it was almost always outside, to both RHB and LHB. All three runs and five of the six hits he allowed came in those first two frames.
Once he settled down (third through sixth innings), the command and stuff improved and he was more focused on the bottom of the zone. When it's more 91-92, Almonte's fastball has some sink and tail away from right-handed batters. Similarly the slider has a little more bank to it when its 83-85, and he was locating it pretty well in that velocity range. His change, which was considered more of a work in progress coming into the season, was his best pitch on this day. The slow ball came in the low 80s, with nice fade and some run away from left-handed batters. In the end, his pitch mix seemed to be around 50% fastball, 35% change-up and 15% slider.
Here are a couple full at-bat videos of Almonte pitching, to give you a sample of all three pitches (these are from the 3rd/4th innings after he'd gotten in a groove)...
"Showtime" Almonte (his nickname and Twitter handle) is on the younger side for A-ball so there's no need to rush him. There's potential there, and if he's more the 3rd-6th inning pitcher I saw than the 1st-2nd inning version, he's definitely one to watch. Depending on how the slider develops, he could end up in the bullpen, but there's no reason not to keep starting him for now.
Kelvis Valerio relieved Almonte to open the 7th, and he's somewhat new to the relief role having worked primarily as a starter in previous seasons. After dancing around some hard hit balls in the 7th, his luck ran out in the 8th and he ended up allowing three runs that frame without recording an out. While his fastball velocity has increased moving to the pen (compared to when we saw him in Bristol in 2013), none of his pitches had much movement. The fastball ran 90-93 and was pretty flat, his slider 84-86 with inconsistent shape and the change was 80-81. All three pitches were hit hard in this outing. Here is a video, this one featuring fastballs and sliders:
Matt Cooper made his Class A debut in this contest, mopping up Valerio's mess and throwing 2 scoreless, hitless innings with a walk and two strikeouts. The club's 16th round pick in 2014 had been in extended Spring Training until a few days ago. Cooper stands out first for an unusually high overhand delivery. The fastball was 89-91 on the gun, didn't have any discernable horizontal movement but has serious downhill plane. What mostly helps this righty get outs though is the combination of a curve (75-79) and change (78-80) that have nearly the same velocity range and look identical out of the hand, but the curve has a 12-6 or 12-5 shape while the change fades to the arm side (both late). Command seemed strong with all three pitches. Sadly, the plate appearance I filmed was mostly fastballs and only one offspeed pitch:
One of the biggest mysteries baseball-wise in the lower levels of the White Sox minors, Eddy Alvarez was the position player I was most curious to see. If you don't know the background, you can start by reading our interview with him from August. Long story short, he played one year of JuCo ball then didn't pick up a bat for 3+ years while he was winning medals in speed skating. On returning to baseball last year as a 24-year old he lit up the AZL and SAL in his 2.5 months of play, but we weren't sure if there was really something there.
Let's start with defense. Alvarez was given the starting shortstop job with Kannapolis, which was already a positive indicator (as was a ringing and profanity-enhanced endorsement from manager Tommy Thompson). In this game he handled a few routine plays competently, and got one chance at a spectacular play - which he made. A ground ball up the middle deflected off both the second baseman and second base itself (don't see that every day), Alvarez zigged and charged, picked it up barehanded and got the runner at first with an off-balance throw. On a final note, sitting with a couple of the starting pitchers on the Intimidators, they remarked that they quite liked having Alvarez (as well as second baseman Christian Stringer) behind them for their very good range.
On the offensive side, Alvarez is a switch-hitter and his approach is quite different on each side. From the left, he starts with a setup routine and stance that are quite unusual. He dangles the bat around waist high across the strike zone (and right in front of the catcher) dangling it like a fishing rod while the pitcher comes to his final set position, before slowly raising his hands to a spot about even with the top of his head and the bat nearly vertical as the pitcher starts their motion. He finally lowers and levels it to a more typical hitting-ready position as the pitch is released and starts his stride, which involves a leg kick that involves hanging and twisting. If it sounds complicated... it is. See the video here:
I've never seen anything like it and I can't say I understand it, but he somehow manages to get around pretty quickly anyway. He didn't have trouble putting wood on the ball with any fastballs he saw in this game. When he did whiff it was on offspeed stuff. He didn't put much drive on the ball from the left side while I watched him, but he's got enough power to have hit some balls out of the park this year and last. As exemplified in that video, Alvarez tends to work long counts.
I didn't get a full-effort home-to-first to time, but on the ground-out to second in that video above where he eased up about two-thirds in he still got to first in about 4.2 seconds. Reports from a coach indicated he's got very good speed, but needs to refine his baserunning techniques. He did seem to take some unusually big primary and secondary leads from first.
Finally, from the right side, which is said to be weaker. I didn't get video, so I'll describe it here. He's in a much more typical stance as a RHB without the bat noise, and his swing is more compact. In his one at bat from that side, he got a first-pitch fastball at 92 on the inner half. Eddy kept his hands in nicely and turned on it, lacing a line drive double into the left field corner.
Outfielder Mason Robbins was a more highly touted prospect out of high school, but had some struggles in his college years and the Sox were able to grab him in the 25th round last June. In his time with Great Falls last season, Robbins showed a nice combination of power and contact numbers, and now he's in full season ball having turned 22 just before Spring Training. He's been exclusively a corner guy in the outfield.
Robbins looked good at the plate in this game, knocking a triple in the RCF gap, lining out to a similar area in another at bat, and drawing a walk. He's got quick hands and gets the head out fast, but he sells out leverage to cover the outer half and he's extended more than he should be. That said, the swing is short and efficient and he generates power without the leverage (which is good and bad). Here's a video of his triple:
The biggest surprise is what happened after he hit the ball. From home (contact) to third, the stopwatch says 11.7 or 11.8 seconds, which is pretty darn fast (at least 60 grade, possibly 70). Scouting reports indicated previously that speed wasn't an aspect of his game, but it certainly appears he's got it when he needs it on the basepaths.
With his strength and bat-to-ball skills, some adjustments to better use his lower body could make him an interesting prospect going forward.
*NOTE: Probably the highest profile position player prospect on the team, catcher Brett Austin, didn't play as he heals up from a minor roll of his ankle. Thus I was not able to get video.*
Watch this site for interviews of a handful of prospects on the Class A Kannapolis squad, to be published soon.
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