In-person report: Kannapolis Intimidators prospects, June 2016

These are detailed reports on White Sox prospects I watched late last week in two games at Kannapolis. I also interviewed a handful of them, and those interviews will be published in a separate article the following day.

I took in games on June 23rd and 25th. The game on the 23rd was only 4 innings, shortened by rain. This article will cover a handful of the hitters and all the pitchers I saw, followed by a few small notes on other players. Videos for some of the players are embedded. More videos of them and other players can be found on our YouTube channel.

We will first cover 5 position players, then 4 pitchers, then I’ll “empty the notebook” and put a few points out there on some hitters I didn’t write up in the feature sections.

The Position Players

Seby Zavala

The White Sox system has a severe lack of young catching talent, from the majors all the way through the top three levels of the minors. But when you get down to Low A and rookie leagues, you start to see some legitimate prospects, and the one currently at the front of that queue (until Zack Collins gets his feet wet at least) is Seby Zavala.

As a 12th round pick out of San Diego State in 2015, Zavala didn’t garner much notice. Then he broke out with an offensive performance in the AZL that easily outpaced any other catcher and most other position players in the league. Scouting reports from multiple sources observing in Arizona had some things in common – good hitter’s eye, works long counts, some power from a short stroke, a marginal arm and athletic but unrefined actions behind the plate.

What I saw in two games in person in Kannapolis impressed me. He does indeed work pitchers hard in the count and I didn’t see him offer on any bad pitches. Zavala starts in a crouch with his hands somewhat low, but they come up to a ready position early on and pause there until decision time. The swing is compact and the hands are quick, and he has moderate leverage when he’s swinging in the zone. He’s got a little more speed than your average catcher (clocked 4.25 seconds home to first on a fairly high-effort sprint), but not enough for that to be a significant part of his game.

Here’s a video (open face) of an at-bat which resulted in a double to right-center field:

Defensively, Zavala is a quiet receiver who showed some good lateral movement and didn’t struggle blocking any pitches in the game and a half I observed. One of the knocks on Zavala from rookie ball was his arm – which made it a surprise that he’s been at or near the top in the SAL in attempted base-stealers thrown out this year (33 CS out of 82 attempts, good for a 40% CS rate). I was fortunate to get video of one of his throws, which happened to nail a runner at second. Here’s the tape on that:

I get a pop time of right around 2 seconds flat on that, which is around major league average. The throw was straight to the bag, and at about the right height, though the defender caught the throw out front. In addition to that play, Zavala also back-picked a runner off first base later in the game, so he’s clearly comfortable with that play too (sadly I didn’t get video of that one). I also heard multiple positive reports on his work with the pitchers. As defense seemed to be the biggest question mark for Zavala coming into this year, I’d say the 22-year old is in a good place right now. He’s not likely to be a high end defensive catcher, but he’s got enough skills he should stick there.

Micker Adolfo

I only got to see Micker (pronounced MIKE-er) in one game, as he was activated from DL rehab the night before. From my first in-person look, the key word to describe him is “raw”. This is his 3rd season of pro ball, but due to playing in short season leagues and missing time to injuries (hamstring strain, broken leg on a slide, hook of hamate bone break from swing stress),he’s got just 86 games under his belt. Remember too that this is a 19-year old who skipped DSL and is playing in a full season league.

At the plate he stands deep in the box in somewhat of a crouch, back elbow high, with a bit of a bat wag. Stride includes a small leg kick. The bat speed is there but his swing gets long. He looked more tentative in his swings in the game than in BP, though he was out of action for a while and had only that brief tune-up in AZL before this game. He didn’t put on the big power show in BP I somewhat expected either, perhaps for the same reason, but he did lace deep line drives with relative ease. He went the other way in two of his three at-bats, with the other trip ending in a topped grounder to third.

The box score shows a double for him. He was trying to go to RF with it, but he missed the barrell and snuck a grounder past a first baseman who was playing way off the line. Here’s a video of that:

His time to 1B on the way through was 4.4 seconds or so, which even if you’re friendly about making the turn puts him maybe around average. He was slow to accelerate out of the box, and it appears he was getting faster going 1st to 2nd. Overall offensively, I didn’t see his best side, though there were hints (mostly in BP) of what could be lurking.

I didn’t get to see a lot of Adolfo in the field, as he only had a few touches in right field and only one throw that was under play stress. The throw was strong and on-line. His routes were, in at least a couple cases, meandering. He’s got enough speed and plenty of arm to play the corners just fine, but he probably needs a lot of reps to get better defending the position, just as he does with the bat. Adolfo should repeat Kannapolis next year, though with the way the White Sox operate, he likely won’t.

Landon Lassiter

This UNC product was a personal pick of mine to jump onto the prospect radar this year, and he seemed to reward that view with a torrid April at the plate (.343/.439/.414, nearly as many walks as strikeouts) for Kannapolis. But he’s proven to be streaky, hitting pretty dramatic peaks and valleys since, at least statistically. He was a 21st round pick last year just as he turned 22, but his draft stock fell due to a lackluster final college season that ended early when he was kicked off the team. He was a roll of the dice, worth it that deep in the draft.

At the dish, Lassiter showed a fluid stance and approach, with hands moving and body rocking back and forth (also he’s the rare pro hitter that doesn’t wear batting gloves). On swinging he does lunge a bit, even when it’s over the plate and he doesn’t need to, so he loses leverage. He also flies open early, and doesn’t show much top hand. Incongruous with the lunging, he does work long counts, which aligns with the ability to draw walks that he’s shown. As a final note, he was well behind fastballs a number of times when I watched him, but he also hooked one into left field that made the track – this suggests more that he’s in-between than a lack of ability to catch up to heat. It could also mean he’s guessing. Like Adolfo, I got the impression I was seeing a hitter who doesn’t have his timing right at the moment. Here’s a video of one of his at-bats, ending in a fly-out to left-center field:

Defensively, he’s got very good range in left field, and I saw him cover a wide field from foul line to well towards CF. He also made a diving play coming in that he made a good jump on and timed perfectly. I only saw one materially in-action throw, coming to the plate, and he multi-bounced it from mid-left field (though it was on-line). I’d want to get more looks, but unless it was an outlier, his arm is probably on the fringe side. He was an infielder at one point in his college career.

Max Dutto

I wasn’t expecting to write about Dutto, the team’s 9th round pick in this year’s draft. The 22-year old senior signee ($10,000 bonus) came up to Kannapolis when Johan Cruz (who I didn’t get to see) went on the DL. But the Cal product impressed.

Hitting-wise, Dutto showed good zone judgment, laying off poor pitches and only swinging and missing a couple times, at least one of them going through a change-up that appeared to be a strike. He’s got a nice-looking swing that would be conducive to loft, and in BP he had some of the loudest-struck balls I heard over a couple days. In terms of speed I timed him home to first in 4.2 seconds on a jail break (about 50-grade speed for a left-handed hitter), seen in this video of his at-bat ending on a G-4 with a nice defensive play (and possibly a bad call at first)…

Defensively, the brief story is, I think he sticks at short. He showed smooth actions, soft hands, and enough arm to make throws from into the 3B hole with something on them. This isn’t just a senior sign org guy – he’s someone to keep an eye on.

Antonio Rodriguez

Rodriguez was signed in 2012 as a 16-year old for a $400,000 bonus, one of the largest the White Sox handed out that year. At the time, scouting reports highlighted his speed, potential ability to be a CF, and some raw power. His results in his 2014 and 2015 stints stateside weren’t much to write home about, though some power started to show last year. Now with Kannapolis, he’s posting somewhat pedestrian numbers, but making decent contact. He’s also been playing mostly corner OF.

In my looks at him, like Adolfo, he oozes athleticism. He ran a 4.1 to first base on a close play, which is 60-grade speed. I saw him make just one throw in the outfield (he was the DH in the longer game I saw), though it was reported to me by people who’ve watched him play regularly that he’s got a strong arm. At the plate, he has a swing with lot of lift action, hands often finishing high, but there’s significant load noise. In BP he made some very loud contact, but also didn’t barrel up as consistently as other hitters. In the games I got to watch he didn’t do much at the plate to write home about, but you could see some decent bat speed at times. Here’s one of the videos I got:

Again like Adolfo, he’s raw at the plate, but doesn’t have as much raw power. He needs reps, and in his age 20/21 season there’s no rush just yet. He and Micker should make a nice combination in Kannapolis in 2017. For now, the raw tools are enticing, but the hit tool needs refinement and power hasn’t yet translated.

The Starters

I saw two starters in this game, both of whom have worked relief in the past and I suspect they may both end up back in that role again. You won’t find either on any top prospect lists, but they both ended up with good results driven by contact that was just enough off the barrel, and command of a variety of pitches.

Brannon Easterling

Easterling is a broad-bodied 6’4″ with a strong base – not much physical projection available on the 25-year old. Taken in the 20th round in 2014, he spent his first two years in rookie leagues. The tall Texan started this season in the bullpen, but has recently been put into the rotation.

Brannon throws a 4-seam fastball that was mostly 87-90 in this outing, though I was told that in a relief role he gets up to 93. That pitch has a little arm-side tail and some sink. His main secondary pitch is a slider at 80-83, and it seemed to have more sink than slide (same scout said the slide piece also is a little faster when he’s on short innings). Those two pitches are both heavy and help him generate a lot of ground balls. There was also a change-up he threw less often, that I saw at 80-81. His delivery is pretty upright, clean and repeatable. Here’s some video of Easterling:

Given he’s now in the rotation, if the Sox see him having some future, it likely means he’s getting in quick reps now given his age. That way, if he’s got something, he can launch up the system pretty quickly in a relief role the next year. This is the path the team took with Brad Goldberg, though obviously that was a different profile. As a small side note, he did show a pick-off move that was better than most righties have, especially at this level.

Johnathan Frebis

Mr. Frebis was a deep round pick (33rd) out of Middle Tennessee State in 2015. He was listed at 6’3″ and 230 pounds at the time, but he looks more svelte than that now. He did well in Great Falls in his draft year at 22 years old, but struggled in Kannapolis that year, in the bullpen for both stints. Back to Low A for his age 23 season, Frebis was a mild surprise add to the rotation (he did start in college).

Getting an in-person view of Frebis, he seems to fit the definition of the “crafty lefty”. He’s got a fastball that ran 85 to 89 mph, a cut-change in the low 80’s with some nice movement, and a curve in the mid-70’s with good bend. The angle is around 3/4, maybe slightly lower, giving him some good oblique against lefties. He commanded his pitches well, resulting in a quality outing. He’s been tougher on lefties this year and seemed that way in this case as well. One last thing – he’s got an odd little twitch he does with his front leg, where he kicks but then snaps the foot back before extending to plant – reminiscent of a former White Sox pitching prospect, Todd Kibby. Here’s one of the video clips I got:

He probably profiles better in the pen, where he can maybe push his velocity up a bit more (just as Easterling apparently does) in shorter innings and focus on left-handed batters. The White Sox do like to put relievers in the rotation sometimes at the lower levels, to get them reps and perhaps build up arm endurance and strength, and that may be what they’re doing with Frebis.

Other Pitchers

Ian Hamilton

The team’s 11th round pick (and slightly over-slot signing) this year, Ian Hamilton, made his first appearance in a full season league in this game. The just-turned 21-year old has a relatively small frame for a pitcher with his velocity at a listed 6′ that might be friendly.

But the stuff was impressive and indicative of that over-slot bonus. Hamilton works slowly, and has a long set. His stride is short so he’s arm-heavy, something the White Sox will almost assuredly have him change at some point. His fastball sat 93-94 with a late run to his arm side. The slider is a tight one in the mid-80’s with serious movement. When he focused over the plate and glove side, he seemed to hit the edge pretty consistently. But when he went arm-side, not as much.

Here’s video of Hamilton:

He should be a fairly fast-mover despite his relatively young age, though he does need some mechanical work.

Tanner Mendonca

24-year old relievers in Low-A usually are usually pedestrian org guys, but Mendonca’s stuff and his back story are more than that. This 6’4″ righty was drafted by the Twins in the 17th round in 2013, but for an out-size six figure bonus. Scouting reports talked about a mid- to upper-90’s fastball and a hammer curve from a high overhand slot. He went to their AZL affiliate where he struck out about a batter per frame, but also walked a whopping 14.3 per nine innings and was summarily released before he’d been in the system even a year. The White Sox signed him and his peripherals improved dramatically in that same league the very next year: K/9 to a ridiculous 17.3, and BB/9 to a very nice 2.7. In 2015 he went to Great Falls but only put in about 22 innings due to a minor injury.

Here in 2016 we got our first live look at him, and if it weren’t for the name and number on the back of his jersey, you wouldn’t think this was the same guy. He’s now throwing from a low 3/4 angle with lots of body rotation. The fastball ran 89-93, and instead of the sink he was previously noted for, this heater’s main feature was fade back towards RHH. He also showed a slider around 82-83 that had nice two-plane break, and he was almost entirely in the strike zone with both offerings. There was no sign of the curveball. Here’s the video we got (also posted earlier for the Zavala throw):

It’s not often you see a team drop a pitcher’s slot down low and actually see improved command results, but that seems to be what the White Sox have done with Mendonca. There’s some stuff to work with here, but he’ll need to be promoted and challenged before he’s truly on the radar.

Emptying the Notebook

Here are some smaller bits on other players I watched:

  • Tyler Sullivan has been the leadoff hitter for the I’s most of the year, and you can see him working pitchers pretty hard. He has noticeable barrel control, able to get wood on pitches all over and outside of the zone. He’s also got premium speed – I didn’t get a stopwatch time on him, but watching him in center field, he flies and looks good at the position. There’s not significant power there, but if he can improve the hit tool, he’s got 4th OF potential.
  • Danny Mendick showed some strong defensive skills, with soft hands and and plenty of arm for any infield position, though he does sling it from down low. With the bat he’s got a bit of a load hitch that might give him trouble, but he makes it up partially with a quick, short stroke.
  • Bradley Strong is a scrapper. The 23-year old is only 5’8″, but he looked very comfortable defensively (playing 2B in this case), showed a strong arm on a throw while headed away from 1B, and has a little pop in his bat. He also has an Ichiro-like swing going on where he appears to be starting his run to first base before he’s even finished his swing.
  • Cody Daily was the best BP show. Long levers, bat speed, leverage and some significant raw power. The swing is long, but he gets the head around.

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