I visited Birmingham from August 15th through the 17th, where I took in three games. What follows below is a scouting-centric piece (accompanied by video I shot and edited) about the Birmingham Barons’ pitching staff. To read my interviews with five Barons players – Tim Anderson, Tyler Danish, Nick Delmonico, Peter Tago (covered below), and Danny Hayes, click here. Here’s a deep look at what some pitchers showed on the mound.
(RHP) Frankie Montas:
In the Futures Game in Cincinnati, Frankie Montas proved his critics right. Montas’ fastball was lighting up radar guns (98-100, touching 102), sure, but he got smacked around and struggled in the All-Star Weekend event. The fastball straightened out and there are other things in play in order to have a successful appearance beyond just fastball velo – mainly feel for pitching/sequencing and hitting your spots. Adrenaline did Montas in in the Future’s Game, likely getting “(radar) gun-happy” amidst the National stage against elite competition. What I saw in-person (8/16), though, was encouraging. In this game, Montas was pitching instead of throwing. He dialed back his heavy fastball (95-97, reaching back for 98 on a few occasions when he needed to) in favor of control and command. That, and his above average slider (83-86 with good horizontal movement), proved highly effective, as Montas struck out the first four batters of the game (finishing with nine strikeouts and two walks in a five inning effort). Montas also threw an unremarkable 84 mph changeup. Those four plate appearances are one of a few reasons scouts and fans point towards the bullpen for Montas’ future. It’s an easy projection, especially given those two (well) above average offerings. But Montas – who’s a big personality, funny, and well-liked by his teammates – was able to accomplish that without overthrowing and repeating his relatively clean mechanics.
There were, of course, reasons to be less optimistic about his future as a starting pitcher. The fastball and slider control/command was inconsistent at times, which proved frustrating given the potential for elite swing-and-miss potential should he hit his spots and keep the slider down. Also, one NL East scout remarked about how it was possible that a 22-year-old weighed 270 lbs. Montas is going to have to work hard to keep off even more bad weight as he gets older. This showed on an error on a bunt to Montas’ right, where Montas ambled over and nonchalantly bent over with his upper body instead of getting down into an athletic position to field and throw the ball to first. Overall, though, I saw a pitcher that was still learning the craft, making the transition from thrower to pitcher – dialing his big fastball down in favor of control. His slider is a true out pitch and you’d like to see it mixed in more early in the count, which could be the case as Montas gets more confident with it. Montas was called up briefly as an extra-arm, 26th man for a doubleheader earlier this season. His two-pitch offering is undoubtedly major league ready and Montas could contribute out of the pen as a September call-up. While he’s likely destined for the bullpen, I wouldn’t be so quick to throw that label on him. That same NL East scout – who has seen more than a few of his starts this season – said that he’s progressed nicely this season as a starter and liked what he saw in this start.
(RHP) Myles Jaye:
Following a rough first full season go-around* (he did made a spot start for the Barons in 2013) at the AA level last season – 1.51 WHIP (10.0 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 5.0 K/9 in 132 IP), Myles Jaye has bounced back nicely this season. Early on in this outing, however, Jaye just did not have his best stuff and showed flashes of his 2014 version that got barrelled consistently. The fastball was an underwhelming 89-91 (touching 92), the slider flattened out and was 83-84, while the curveball was at 78 mph. Jaye clearly struggled with his release point and feel for the offspeed stuff as, oftentimes early on, he was visibly upset and frustrated with his execution. The velo-drop was somewhat surprising, as in March of 2014, Baseball Prospectus had him sitting “93+” in Arizona with the velocity holding late into the start. Jaye’s resiliency in this start encouraged me. His final line would not suggest that he had too much trouble in this outing (8/17): 6 IP, four hits, three earned runs, four walks, and three strikeouts. But given how he started out in the game, his effort proved to be quite a triumphant one. While early-on in the start he yelled in his glove after spiking a curveball for ball four to Johnny Field, he regained the feel for the pitch as the bender came back to him later in the start. It showed good, moderately tight rotation and above average depth. Jaye’s delivery/mechanics were very clean and sound, but, as I said, he struggled with his release point for his breaking pitches. From a makeup standpoint, there was a lot to admire about Jaye. By not spiraling after an erratic start to the game, Jaye was able to return to form later in the start by effectively sequencing his curveball and slider. Jaye is still young for the level – just 23 years old – and has bounced back from failure, both in 2015 and in this start I saw in-person.
(RHP) Mark Blackmar:
Acquired in a trade (along with Miguel Chalas) from the Baltimore Orioles for Alejandro de Aza in August of 2014, Blackmar – a physically maxed out, 6’3” 215 lb 23-year-old (young for level) doesn’t possess swing and miss stuff, as evident by a pedestrian 9.6 K% this season. Blackmar does, however, make up for the lack of “stuff” with above average command, sequencing, and feel for pitching. In my viewing, Blackmar featured an 87-89 fastball with run and some sink, a sweeping slider (80-83) with moderate spin and decent tilt, to go along with a fringe average changeup that was left up and hammered twice for home runs. Blackmar worked both sides of the plate and was not shy to work inside. With an unimposing fastball, that’s how – and why – Blackmar succeeded in this start. He went 6.1 IP, gave up four hits, two earned runs, one walk, and one strikeout. In my video linked above, you’ll see just how effortlessly Blackmar worked, consistently generating weak contact on grounders and a couple infield fly balls. This is someone who is just going to continue to get outs and could force the issue to be added to the 40-man in the coming season(s). I could see Blackmar carve out a role as a Seth Maness (Cardinals RHP) reliever type who comes out of the bullpen and gets ground ball after ground ball in medium to low leverage situations. In the images below, taken from MLBfarm.com, you can see his somewhat extreme ground ball tendencies – something the White Sox surely identified when trading for him.
Mechanically, Blackmar gets good extension from his plant leg and throws over the top, which could play up his perceived fastball velocity. The delivery isn’t particularly clean, but Blackmar makes it work. He faced the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays AA), which featured an impressive collection of position players with advanced approaches, mainly Jake Bauers, Daniel Robertson, Cameron Seitzer and others. Later in the series, Blackmar – said by some to be the best ping-pong player on the team – was assigned to chart the series finale. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, he diligently charted the game and even stayed after the game – long after the fans had left – to scan and revise his chartings. Blackmar is going to continue to get outs by getting hitters out in front and anxious. As one scout told me, you’re going to see him in AAA soon and wonder how he continues to get guys out.
(RHP) Peter Tago:
While Jaye has overcome a lot since his rough 2014, Peter Tago – a former first round supplemental pick (47th in 2010) of the Colorado Rockies – was driven to the brink of retirement. Tago struggled mightily in his career with the Rockies, to the tune of – in 289.2 IP – a 6.4 BB/9 to 5.8 SO/9 and a 6.52 ERA. In 2014, the Rockies gave up on him as a starter, converting him full time to relief, as he made 43 appearances for A+ Modesto. In 60 IP, he posted a 1.85 WHIP and a 1.02 SO/W ratio. The White Sox selected him this past season in the minor league portion of then MiLB Rule V draft and, so far in 2015, he’s moved up through three different levels (A, A+, AA). Equipped with a mid-nineties (94-95) fastball with good life and two slider variations – CT/SL hybrid 80-81, SL (more of a 3/4 curve) 77-81, Tago has established himself as a legitimate bullpen option for the White Sox going forward. In this relief appearance (8/15), Tago demonstrated good mound presence, poise, and a delivery with good deception. The body, mechanics, and mound presence – albeit with less of a whippy arm action and a more potent fastball – reminded me a lot of former White Sox reliever, and well-traveled vet Octavio Dotel. The fastball bored in on right handers and Tago commanded his pitches in high leverage counts. In this viewing, the 3/4 curve/slider was more effective than the CT/SL offering.
(RHP) Kyle Hansen:
I did not get velo readings on Hansen (though, Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel has had him at 92-96), but it’s a big arm with above average arm strength. The delivery is max-effort with a moderate head-whack, and a stiff plant leg, and you’d like to see better plane on the fastball – which has some run – with his large frame (6’8” 200 lb). At 24 years old, though, he’s an interesting bullpen arm. The slider flashed (above) average at times with deception and late movement.
(RHP) Raul Fernandez:
Fernandez curiously held a spot on the 40-man roster for a while before being outrighted. The reports on the big arm are true – he sat 94-95 in my viewing – but he was all over the place and did not show a reliable, average secondary offering. With that arm, I could see why he was claimed in first place from the Rockies and subsequently added to the 40-man. But with his erratic control, let alone command, the fastball grade plays down even in spite of the consistent velocity.
(RHP) Tim Crabbe:
Crabbe, 27, has had some relative success with the Barons after being acquired mid-season from the Diamondbacks. The fastball velo and life was fringy, but I really liked his curveball, which he’s had some success with given an 8.0 K/9 in 28 IP this season with the Barons. He dominated in a three-inning relief stint of Myles Jaye in my viewing: 3 IP, one hit, four SO. The curve was an out pitch with good shape, depth, and bite/tight spin. While 27 and likely an org arm, that curve was an M.L. average offering.
One note: It should be noted that all three of the starters I saw were acquired via trade – Jaye from the Blue Jays along with Daniel Webb for Jason Frasor – within the last few seasons. As has been the case for the last few seasons, there’s ample pitching depth and the White Sox identified, especially with Montas, some interesting arms that are big league prospects. Blackmar is my sleeper prospect of the bunch to crack the 25-man at some point and have success as a ground-ball reliever. As always, thank you for reading!
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