The first week of the Arizona Fall League has come and gone. We saw some tremendous play, with Blue Jays top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. being named the Player of the Week and Astros pitcher Forrest Whitley tabbed as the Pitcher of the Week.
Guerrero Jr., featured in a profile here last Sunday hit .643 with six RBI in his first three games for the Surprise Saguaros. He also had four doubles and 13 total bases.
Whitley, the highest regarded pitching prospect in baseball by virtually every prospect analyst and organization, struck out seven of the first eight players he faced in his first outing. He went 3.1 innings and pitched to a no-decision. He allowed a hit and two earned runs. He walked two and finished with eight strikeouts.
Today I will offer a scouting profile of several more Arizona Fall League players.
FORREST WHITLEY-RHP/HOUSTON ASTROS (Scottsdale)
B/T: R/R- 6’1” 210 (as listed in the 2018 Arizona Fall League Information Guide)
Forrest Whitley is earning his evaluation and reputation as the top pitching prospect in baseball. From what I have seen, Whitley is making great progress towards a permanent role in the Astros rotation. His graduation may take place as soon as the coming season.
After I tweeted that Whitley is 6’7″ and 210 pounds, Whitley’s dad Matt was kind enough to notify me via twitter that his son is actually 6’8” and 218 pounds. So much for the league’s Information Guide. Remember last week I doubted the 200 pounds listed for Vlad Guerrero Jr. in that same Guide. Guerrero Jr. looks much heavier than that to me.
Whitley has an excellent repertoire that includes a terrific fastball that ranges from 92-97 miles per hour, an outstanding curveball, and an above average slider and changeup. He doesn’t hesitate to use any of the four pitches in his arsenal, but his fastball is his bread and butter. In the recent game I scouted, Whitley threw mostly fastballs and each was within his normal range. He did top out at 97 miles per hour, and each pitch seemed effortless, with movement that helps keep the hitter off balance. Whitley is extremely good at elevating the fastball and having hitters chase that pitch that looks so hittable. He certainly gets a very high share of swings and misses.
A power pitcher with that long, lean frame, Whitley chooses to pitch out of the stretch position. If there is any concern, it might be that he still has a bit of work to do commanding his fastball and reducing his walk rate. However, he can recover his command quickly and avoid trouble.
I was very impressed with the way Whitley could repeat his delivery. When he walked a hitter, he didn’t panic and lose concentration. His mound presence and his savvy on the mound carry him through his outings. It is easy to tell he is working hard on improving his command.
I was able to time Whitley at between 1.25 and 1.28 seconds delivering the ball to the plate with a runner on first. The combination of his delivery to the plate to a catcher with good POP and throw mechanics should minimize stolen bases.
Whitley was a 1st round 2016 pick of the Houston Astros out of Alamo Height High School in San Antonio, Texas. He was the 32nd player selected in that draft.
Whitley has pitched parts of three seasons in the Astros organization. In February this year, Whitley was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball for violating the drug prevention and treatment policy. He also missed time with an oblique injury, so he has some missed innings to make up in the Arizona Fall League. It clearly appears those brief moments in his career are in the rear view mirror.
Whitley entered the fall with a composite 3.28 ERA in 137.1 innings pitched. His WHIP of 1.187 reflects a walk rate of 3.3 per nine innings coupled with an average 7.3 hits per nine innings. It is his 13.3 strikeout rate per nine innings that excites the Astros and scouts. There is no question if he stays healthy, Whitely has the ability to continue on that high strikeout path.
Whitley lost a considerable amount of weight late in high school and once was pitching from a larger frame. His lanky frame now makes him an athletic and physically fit pitcher with an outstanding arm and solid pitching mechanics.
While Whitley’s fastball is his best pitch, his curveball, slider and changeup are so good he just mixes them in and adds tremendous deception to his offerings. The hitter can’t really sit on the fastball with Whitley’s ability to mix and match in any given sequence. His slider moves late and buckles the knees of the hitter. With a sweeping 12-to-6 curveball at his command, Whitley is very tough to face. In short, the hitter has to be ready for anything at any count.
Given his size, his athletic ability and his outstanding repertoire, probably the most impressive aspect I’ve seen from him is Whitley’s mature mound demeanor. He can climb the ladder with the best of them, elevating that fastball and teasing the hitter into thinking they are seeing a fat pitch right in their eyes. He is smart enough to navigate a lineup with poise and confidence. If he gets in trouble, I am confident he can pitch his way out.
After a year with a couple speed bumps, Forrest Whitley needs to stay healthy and just pitch. He has to be able to control the moving parts of a long body that moves downhill to the hitter. Cleaning up his command and continuing on a good path by getting important innings under his belt this fall will help move his development along.
Summary: A power pitcher with an excellent well above average repertoire highlighted by a 92-97 MPH fastball.
Scouting Grade: 60
TYLER NEVIN-1B-3B/COLORADO ROCKIES (Salt River)
The son of major league player Phil Nevin, he and his father have something very important in common. They were both 1st round draft picks in the MLB First Year Player Draft. Phil Nevin was selected No. 1 overall in the draft in 1992. His son Tyler was selected by Colorado with the No. 38 pick in the 1st round of the 2015 draft. Tyler was selected out of Poway High School in Poway, California.
Long and lean, the younger Nevin’s natural ability is evident on both sides of the ball. He projects as an outstanding middle of the order hitter as well as a solid, well above average defender at first base.
Having just completed the 2018 season playing for Class-A Advanced Lancaster in the California League, Nevin has advanced to the Fall League rather quickly. He finished his 4th season as a professional, hitting .328 with 13 homers and 62 RBI. And after watching him hit, I totally understand those outstanding numbers.
Nevin is a true gap hitter. He uses both gaps with excellent eye-hand coordination and total plate coverage. Using the entire field with quick hands and strong forearms and wrists, he takes a pitch where it is thrown. Nevin is the type of hitter that can turn himself into a “doubles machine.” In fact, he hit 25 doubles this past season.
Nevin had Tommy John surgery when he was still in high school. As a professional, he has battled hamstring and wrist injuries since signing with Colorado. So basically, Nevin can use the fall at-bats to make up for some lost time as a professional. Hopefully his injuries are behind him, and of course, much of his future success of course will depend upon him staying healthy. Hamstring issues can recur and his trainers will work closely with him to prevent future setbacks.
An excellent defensive player, it seems Nevin will more than likely find his major league home at first base rather than at third. He has also played some outfield in his career, but he really lacks the speed of an outfielder and is best suited at first base. When it’s all said and done, Nevin will probably be viewed as a complete player able to contribute in all phases of the game.
When I’ve watched him this fall, Nevin has impressed with his ability to put the bat on the ball. He’s a tough out, making the pitcher work hard in every at-bat.
Nevin will have the good fortune of playing his home games in hitter-friendly Coors Field. That’s significant because Coors has a vast outfield, the most real estate in major league baseball. That will assist Nevin’s ability to hit the ball in the gaps. His ability to hit the gaps and bring power to the lineup are among the reasons I feel Nevin is more than a platoon player. I view him as a “must play” regular with enough power and solid defense to earn his keep in the daily lineup.
Now 21, Nevin will probably play this coming season at Triple-A or a combination of Double- A and Triple-A, making him a viable candidate for graduation to the big leagues in 2020.
Summary: A solid hitter with good hitting mechanics and overall baseball skills to become a regular on a winning club
Scouting Grade: 50
PETER ALONSO-1B/NEW YORK METS (Scottsdale)
The Mets selected Peter Alonso in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Florida. A graduate of H. B. Plant High School in Tampa, Florida, Alonso has now played part of three seasons in the Mets organization.
Alonso is coming off a season in Double-A Binghamton in the Eastern League and Triple-A Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League in which he hit a whopping 36 home runs and 31 doubles. His power is real. In a game early this week I saw Alonso take a long drive to deep right field as a right-handed batter. His ability to use the opposite field impressed me. Later in the game he hit a home run to left/center field. He showed that he has power to spare with a measured swing and a powerful frame.
I don’t think there is any doubt that Alonso’s power will be more than welcome at Citifield in New York.
Given the club’s need for power hitters, Alonso has flown through the Mets organization. In fact, he was playing Double-A baseball at Binghamton in only his second season in development. He has thrived on the fast track, something not all players can say.
Alonso has good hitting mechanics, but he did strike out 128 times in 574 plate appearances this past season on his way to a .285 batting average.
It is safe to say we won’t be seeing Alonso steal many bases, as his foot speed is well below average and he could clog some bases.
Critics of Alonso point to mediocre defense as a flaw in his overall game. In the times I have seen him play, he has shown adequate skill at first base. His first step is not what one would expect from a good first baseman and his range is limited. However, I do think he will handle non-challenging balls well enough to retain a defensive role on the club. He will make the major leagues on his ability to hit the ball in the gaps or over the fence. Frankly, I have heard the criticism of Alonso’s defense while I’ve been watching him this fall, and I am not seeing him as a liability at first base as I have been hearing over and over. He isn’t a good first baseman. But he isn’t a “clank” either. He’s adequate and working very hard to improve. That’s the most important first step.
Having said I believe he will be adequate enough to play first base, I don’t think there is another position on the field for him to play. Ultimately, it will be first base or designated hitter for Alonso. However, with his strong body and good swing, his power will be enough to keep him in the lineup.
A top Mets prospect, Alonso has the maturity and baseball awareness to succeed at the big league level. At 23, Alonso is a bit older than most of his peers in the Fall League. He is poised to graduate to the parent Mets club this coming year.
Alonso’s compact swing is a pleasure to watch in an era of steep uppercut offerings and exaggerated swing paths that hunt home runs. Alonso’s approach with a shorter and more manageable swing gets the power results he seeks. I hope he doesn’t change his approach at the plate under the influence of peers.
Summary: A solid, regular playing power hitter from the right side of the plate with challenges as a defensive first baseman
YU-CHENG CHANG-SS/3B-CLEVELAND INDIANS (Glendale)
This is the second Fall League appearance for Yu Chang. In the 2016 Fall League season Chang played for the Mesa Solar Sox and hit .304. This season he is playing for the Glendale Desert Dogs as part of the group from the Cleveland Indians.
It is a fact of life that superstar Francisco Lindor is the shortstop in Cleveland. As a result, the sure-fielding Chang, normally a shortstop, is playing third base in Arizona and gaining experience at that position.
Chang was signed by the Indians out of Taitung, Taiwan, making his professional stateside debut in the 2014 Arizona League. He made his presence known that summer, hitting .346 with six home runs and 25 RBI.
Chang, 23, has just completed his first season at Triple-A Columbus. He has now played at every level in the Indians organization in parts of five seasons. He has a .252 composite career batting average, which is very close to the .256 he hit for Columbus this year.
In his 2017 season at Double-A Akron, Chang hit 24 home runs and drove in 66. This year, however, his home run output declined to 13 while he still drove in 62 runs. His 28 doubles this year reflected an increase of four over his 2017 season. He strikes me as having added some uppercut in his swing since I last scouted him.
A line-drive hitter, Chang can take the ball to the opposite field, but he prefers to use his pull side more often than not. In the times I have seen him play, he has barreled pitches well with that slight uppercut swing.
At one point a few seasons ago, Chang was included among multiple Indians prospects in a proposed trade to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Ultimately, Lucroy chose to veto the trade, keeping Chang and the other prospects on the Indians roster. It is possible teams in need of a good hitting shortstop/third baseman will be looking at Chang this fall.
A good fielder at shortstop with a strong and accurate arm, Chang is still learning all the nuances of playing third base. At shortstop he has good range with the ability to make most plays. While Chang doesn’t show the flash of many of today’s better shortstops, he has enough ability to play the position on an everyday basis. But I question his ability to hit enough on a regular basis to play third base. That remains to be seen. However, his play at third this fall will increase his versatility and his ultimate usefulness to a team.
Summary: Chang is a good all-round player with basic tools.
Scouting Grade: 50
TAYLOR TRAMMELL-OF-CINCINNATI REDS (Scottsdale)
B/T: L/L 6’2” 195
One glance at Taylor Trammell is convincing. He looks like an athlete. He has an ideal frame with the requisite tools to be carve out a fine career as a major league outfielder.
Chosen by the Cincinnati Reds as the No. 35 player taken overall in the 1st round of the 2016 First Year Player Draft out of Mount Paran Christian School in Kinnesaw, Georgia, Trammell is showing off his power, his speed, and his defensive ability while trying to convincie scouts and analysts that he has earned that 1st round designation.
I don’t know which tool is most impressive. I’ve seen Trammell drive the ball and turn on the burners to create a triple. I’ve seen Trammell use the barrel of the bat with very quick hands to get the most out of his at-bat. And I’ve seen Trammell swing through pitches and strike out, like so many other Fall League prospects.
There is that certain “something” about Trammell that had me sitting up in my seat watching intently. Quite simply, he has all the right features to succeed. But frankly, there is work to be done before Trammell finishes his development. He needs to make the best of his very quick wrists and hands.
Trammell has completed parts of three seasons as a professional baseball player. He has compiled a .284 batting average in 1285 plate appearances. Last season at Dayton, playing in the Class-A Advanced Florida State League, Trammell hit .277 with eight home runs and 42 RBI. He hit 19 doubles and 4 triples. And he stole 25 bases in 35 attempts. The year before, playing for Dayton at Class-A, Trammell stole 41 bases while being caught 12 times.
Simply put, as I have watched him, speed is Trammell’s most advanced and best tool. He was a highly regarded running back in high school. He was so good he had a football commitment to play at Georgia Tech. But the Reds lured him away with a fine signing bonus.
In the game of baseball today, stolen bases are prized. It is difficult to find players with the type of speed Trammell brings to his game. We see plenty of young players with newly discovered uppercut swings swinging for the fences. But good, old fashioned speed still has an important place on big league rosters. Speed changes games, and Trammell has the type of speed that can do just that-change a game.
Trammell is still a rather “raw” prospect. He has to work on letting his tools and skill play naturally. He has to recognize pitches quicker out of the hand of the pitcher, cut down on his long-swing strikeouts and improve his on-base percentage so he can maximize his speed. But as a projectable player, it is likely those issues will become resolved as he progresses in his development under the watchful eyes of Reds coaches.
Eventually, Trammell projects to improve his contact rate be a top of the order hitter with some true pop in his bat. He might be the type of hitter to start the game with a home run or gap double. I believe Trammell will hit a surprising 25 to 30 home runs once he finds his stroke, shortens his swing a bit and determines his own comfort level.
Defensively, Trammell has played all three outfield positions in the Reds system. A good fielder, he has the arm strength to play left field and perhaps center. I don’t think his arm is strong enough to project him as a right fielder. For me, either left field, center field or both could be his major league home. He has enough speed to make up for a slow start or a bad read on a ball hit in the air.
Summary: An athletic outfielder with excellent speed and power in his bat
Scouting grade: 55
BUDDY REED-OF-PADRES (Peoria)
B/T: B/R 6”4” 210
Buddy Reed is a lanky Padres outfielder who was drafted by the Padres in the 2nd round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Florida.
Now 23, Reed, a switch-hitter, has played parts of three minor league systems in the Padres organization. He split time in 2018, playing 43 games for San Antonio in Double-A after beginning the year playing 79 games for Lake Elsinore in Class-A Advanced. Reed fashioned a composite .271 batting average over 538 plate appearances.
This past year, Reed showed a tale of two seasons. At Lake Elsinore he hit .324 with 12 homers and 47 RBI over 343 trips to the plate. He stole 33 bases in 40 attempts. After being promoted to Double-A, Reed hit only .179 at San Antonio in 195 plate appearances. He hit one homer and drove in 15. He stole an additional 18 bases in 21 attempts, finishing the year with 51 stolen bases in 61 attempts.
Clearly, speed is Reed’s greatest tool. I have assigned a grade 70 to his running tool. He clearly can change games by stealing bases, taking an extra base or closing quickly on balls hit to the outfield and saving runs. In Reeds case, his speed is elite. He is very quick out of the batter’s box. He will use his long strides to cover the ground between home plate and first base quickly enough to gain a good share of infield hits. Those hits will help his batting average in the long run, as I see him struggling at times to get his average to a decent level.
In addition to showing speed in all aspects of his game, Reed is a very good fielder with a strong and accurate arm. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions, with his final position in the outfield being determined by team need. He does have enough arm strength and power to play anywhere the Padres need his abilities. I have seen him make some outstanding plays already in the Peoria outfield.
As he has progressed, Reed has struck out far more than one would like to see. He finished 2018 with 147 strikeouts and 36 walks. Those numbers speak volumes. He needs to walk much more and strikeout much, much less.
Reed has turned 23 and he will be expected to return value soon on that 2nd round pick. But until he can show an ability to hit quality pitching consistently, the speed and the pop in his bat will be marginalized.
There are scouts who feel his speed and defensive ability alone will assure Buddy Reed a place to play at the major league level. I can’t say I agree with that assessment. Lots of players have speed and good defensive ability. The difference among prospects always comes down to an ability to get on base with a solid hit tool and an ability to accept bases on balls to utilize the gift of speed.
I have faith that Reed’s time in the Arizona Fall League will offer the opportunity for him to hone his skills against some quality pitching day in and day out. So far, he is making the best of his chance to play in Arizona. He is making contact and getting some nice base hits. He is also stealing bases and working hard to make himself a quality, dependable hitter. I like what I have seen of his progress. The challenge will be to become the hitter he was in Lake Elsinor and not the San Antonio model.
Summary: An athletic, speedy outfielder with some pop in his bat and a challenge to make better, more consistent contact
Scouting Grade: 50
I want to share a couple of my pet peeves with you today. I hate to rant, but here I go:
1- Why can’t postseason baseball games start at a reasonable hour- like 7PM? Then everyone, from the east to the west, from the north to the south can better watch and enjoy the games.
Baseball says they want to engage younger fans. In the current system, many young people are in bed on the east coast when games enter the 5th inning. Many people have to get up and go to work at 5AM. Can they stay up until 1AM to watch a postseason game end? It’s horrible.
2- Why do postseason games have to be on cable TV? Why can’t they all be on a network so more people can watch? Just the World Series is on a network.
Because TV dictates. Because it really is about TV money. It really is time for MLB to stand up and take charge. Change the rules. Change when and where the games will be seen.
3- I hate going on Twitter, seeing an interesting tweet, clicking the link provided and discover I have been sent to a pay wall. Pay or don’t read the article. Why post the link? So people pay for the site. Sorry, but I have a problem with that. Advertise that the “article is avaialble for subscribers and here’s the link.”
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I engage with baseball fans at every Fall League game I attend. Please join me.