Category: Prospect of the Month

Prospect Of The Month, June 2017: Chris Mazza

Adjustment and perseverance. If there are two words that sum up the career of Chris Mazza, these are them. Despite having to adjust to pitching after spending most of his amateur career as a shortstop and although he had to persevere through some difficult mental and physical circumstances including ignoring his doubters and naysayers, coming back from a serious injury and being released by his first team which nearly forced him to contemplate life after baseball, Mazza did it. He overcame. Today, he is one of the best starting pitchers in the Southern League, on the verge of realizing his Major League dream. The latest of his fantastic exports this season is a month of June in which, despite some more rough luck proven by a .322 BABIP, he limited damage, stranding 83% of his runners and holding down a 1.04 ERA lowering his seasonal ERA to 2.71 sixth best in his league. Mazza’s June not only continued to prove his ability to pitch effectively but proved once again his ability to rise above. For those reasons, he is our June Prospect Of The Month.

Monthly Stats
Seasonal Stats
26 IP, 1.04 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
79.2 IP, 2.71 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
14/10 K/BB, 3.5 K/BB%
51/23 K/BB, 8.5 K/BB%
.277 BAA, .322 BABIP, 82.5% LOB%
250 BAA, .287 BABIP, 76% LOB%

 

Chris Mazza was born on October 17, 1989 in the San Francisco area as not-so-distant relative to Joe DiMaggio. He has wanted to follow in the Hall Of Famer’s footsteps ever since he could pick up a baseball.

“He was my grandmother’s cousin,” Mazza said. “I’ve wanted to play since I was 6 years old.”

Mazza attended high school at Clayton Valley High in nearby Concord where he barely reached a nonathletic 5’6″, 120 pounds and struggled statistically, hitting just .238/.322/.266 in his junior and senior years, causing him to go recruited. So Mazza took his talents to nearby Menlo Oaks College where he spruced (pun intended) up and began realizing his true potential. After making the team in tryouts his freshman year, Mazza became the college’s all time leader in home runs and triples. In his junior year, Mazza would usually start games at his normal shortstop but would be called upon to pitch in save situations. Doing so, he posted a team low 2.37 ERA, and 19 saves, another school record thus making him a prominent fixture in Menlo’s first ever Conference Title run. Following his success leading both the offense and defense that year, Mazza, for the first time ever, garnered the attention and selection of clubs at a variety of levels, including prestigious collegiate schools, independent ball and affiliated ball. One of those clubs was the Minnesota Twins who drafted Mazza as a pitcher in the 27th round of that year’s MLB Draft. Although a mixture of flattered, excited and nervous, was faced with what he describes as a very difficult decision in terms of where to and how to continue his baseball career. But with a bit of guidance and some motivation provided by his Menlo squad mates, Mazza chose to accept the Twins’ offer.

“It was a really tough decision to make because we had just won our league and made it to the conference tournament for the first time in school history. It was also tough because I had teams that looked at me to play shortstop and that’s really what I wanted to do because wasn’t 100% ready to give up playing shortstop and becoming a pitcher only,” Mazza said. “But after having a long talk with teammates, my high school coach Bob Rolsten who played in the Twins organization, and my dad, we came to the decision that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and that I didn’t really have anything else to prove in college ball. Also my college teammates said they would kick my butt if I came back for my senior year.”

Mazza broke into his pro career with the rookie ball GCL Twins and Elizabethtown Twins. Even though the numbers looked great over his 18 appearances in his rookie season, (30.2 IP, 2.05 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 28/2 K/BB), Mazza attributes that success to throwing to a similar level of hitters as those he faced in college who were also just beginning to get acclimated to using wood bats. He divulges that despite the solid numbers, he really didn’t have a full understanding of what he was doing on the mound.

“The biggest adjustment for me was learning how to pitch. When I got to pro ball, I didn’t really know how to actually pitch,” Mazza said. “In college, I just got on the mound and threw as hard as could. And when you throw in the mid 90’s in college, you get away with a lot things.”

Here Mazza was, virtually a brand new pitcher who was simply taking the mound and putting the stress of throwing as hard as he can with every pitch on his arm with underdeveloped mechanics. Accordingly, just seven starts into his 2013 season, his arm blew out. Despite every effort to avoid surgery, Mazza eventually went under the knife. It cost him more than an entire season’s worth of playing experience.

“I went on the DL because of an issue with my ulnar nerve. The nerve was popping in and out of the groove every time I would throw cause my arm to go numb. It was like getting hit in the funny bone every time I threw,” Mazza described. “At first, we just tried resting it for about four weeks of no throwing. I was in a brace where I could bend my elbow. After that, I started up a throwing program to build my arm up. About three weeks into the throwing program, my arm started going numb again because of the nerve. About a week later, I had to fly up to Minnesota and have surgery to move my nerve. They call it an ulnar nerve transposition. So I ended up missing the rest of the season.”

Upon returning to the mound on May 26, 2014, Mazza went on to play the best ball of his career. In 25 appearances out of the Cedar Rapids’ bullpen, he held down a 2.79 ERA via some of the best control numbers in the league. Striking out 62 and walking just 11, his 25.5 K/BB% ranked 4th in the Midwest League. He also had the second lowest FIP in the league (1.93). However, much like his rookie season, a lot of Mazza’s success would come at another hefty price. Unbeknownst to Mazza, he threw the final two and a half months of that season with a broken right wrist.

“I fell up the stairs one night during a power outage and broke my scaphoid bone between my hand and wrist on my throwing arm. At first I didn’t even know it was broken. I thought I just jammed my wrist really bad because I could still move it. So I didn’t throw for five days then when I started playing it hurt a little bit but not enough for me to say that I can’t throw. Plus when I would actually pitch it didn’t hurt at all.”

Then, that offseason, things came another very unfortunate head.

“During the offseason, it was still bugging me a little bit until I was working with my dad and I went to hand him up a pile of bricks and my wrist bent back I just collapsed in pain,” Mazza said. “So this whole time from when I fell in July to me handing up my dad some bricks I couldn’t do a push-up or anything that caused my wrist to bend back because it hurt. But since it didn’t hurt to throw a baseball I didn’t think anything of it.”

A few days later, Mazza found himself back in another waiting room with the prospect of once again being absent from baseball for a lengthy period of time very real, if not a forgone conclusion. The diagnosis and treatment curtailed exactly that.

“I finally went a got my wrist looked at and got an MRI and the doctor said I had a broken scaphoid nonunion in my right hand. He told me he doesn’t know how I was even able to throw a baseball. I just said I’ve always had a high pain tolerance which in this case isn’t always a good thing,” Mazza said. “I had surgery in November of 2014 and they had to put a screw in my scaphoid bone to fuse the bones back together. So I had to be in a cast for 6 months because of course the scaphoid bone is the worst bone to break in your entire body because it only has two little veins blood supply so the healing process takes longer.”

Almost eleven months from when he was last permitted to pick up a baseball, Mazza finally did so again on July 3, 2015, beginning a rehab assignment with the GCL Twins. After five appearances there, Mazza was ready to return to Cedar Rapids, to get back on the horse. However, after just two outings back in single A, he was knocked back off said horse once again when the Twins. Being forced off the mound once again after he had just returned from a second hiatus was admittedly a tough pill for Mazza to swallow, especially after the promise he showed when he was healthy (and sometimes even when he wasn’t 100% healthy) but the close relationships he built within the organization including the one he had with his head coach helped keep Mazza afloat in a deep sea of adversity.

“When he called me in to his office I had a pretty good idea was getting released,” Mazza said. “One thing that helped was Jake Mauer who was my manager for three years in the Twins’ organization. Being with Jake for three years, we got to know each other really well and became pretty close. So hearing get choked up as he’s telling me he has to release me because they simply don’t have a spot for me kept positive that this wasn’t the end of my baseball career.”

Mauer had that same confience that he hadn’t seen the last of Chris Mazza and vowed to put in some calls to some independent league teams that he had connections with. But before those calls came to fruition, Mazza got a call of his own.

“About a week later, me and my brother are out golfing and we are on the 14th green getting ready to putt and my phone rings and when I answer it Brett West is on the other end and tells me that the Marlins want to sign me as a free agent,” Mazza recalls perfectly. “I was so excited. I was getting a second chance.”

Mazza, who was able to stay professional through two lengthy injuries, the disappointment of being cut and through one of the best and most relieving phone calls he’s ever received hung up the phone. From there, the emotion poured out of him and created a scene that must have resembled one from Happy Gilmore.

“When I got off the phone I told my brother and he started screaming,” Mazza said. “We were jumping around looking like two idiots out on the golf course.”

After Mazza signed his minor league deal on August 4, 2015 he headed to Jupiter to begin his Marlins’ career as a Hammerhead. After he finished out that season by tossing to the tune of a 3.60 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP over 15 innings and following another 15 innings worth of 1.09 ERA, 0.93 WHIP ball to begin 2016, the Marlins would present Mazza with the biggest challenge of his career: transitioning to the rotation and adjusting to life as a starting pitcher.

“As I got to about my seventh start is really when I felt the number of innings start to catch up to me and wear my body down. At the time I was just doing the same body maintenance that I did as when I was a reliever. So I just I just had to start doing more, whether it was running more, getting more physical therapy or extra work in the gym,” Mazza said. “It was tough because my body wasn’t ready for that extra work load. Unfortunately it led to inconsistency the last month and a half of the season. It was a definitely a learning curve but helped me prepare for the offseason. It gave me an idea on how much more I had to get my arm and body in shape so I can take on the innings of a starter.”

Although he was still relying on the same stuff he used as a reliever, Mazza admits it was tricky having to face hitters more than once and thus having to learn how to select pitches advantageously as he got into more deep counts. However, with some help from his battery mates, he was able to conquer that feat.

“Things really didn’t change much on my approach to attacking hitters that year. I was only a three pitch pitcher so I still went after hitters the same way,” Mazza said. “The biggest thing was not to get stuck in the pitch sequences but I had a lot of help from my catchers with that.”

As much as Mazza learned from himself and his teammates that year, the best piece of advice he got came from Hammerheads’ pitching coach Joe Coleman in spring training. It was then Coleman noticed a hitch in Mazza’s game that the Twins never did, an issue that when fixed, would allow Mazza to become a much more effective hurler and will allow him to succeed at the next level. The issue lay in the amount of effort Mazza put behind each pitch, sometimes throwing the ball as hard as he could trying to blow hitters away and the other painting corners and trying to induce weak contact. Coleman informed Mazza that whichever brand of pitcher he wanted to be, a max effort late relief type or a more methodical innings eating back end starter, was acceptable but he could no longer be both at the same time.

“Joe sat me down and asked me what kind of pitcher do I wanna be. He said after my first couple outings in spring training it looked like I was trying to be two different kind of pitchers at the same time. The first was the pitcher that want to throw the ball past guys and the being the pitcher that wants to sink the ball and get ground balls,” Mazza said. “He told me yeah, I have a plus plus sinker but when I try to throw the ball past guys, it stays straight and doesn’t sink. He said if you want to be a guy that throws past guys, that’s fine and if I wanted to be a guy that sinks the ball. that’s fine too. We just need to pick the guy that you want to be so can have a plan when you are on the mound. Then told me with a sinker like mine, he felt like I would be more successful and have a better chance of getting to the big leagues. So the next day I went up to him and told him that I wanted to be a guy that sinks the ball and ever since then, my career has been going in a positive direction.”

Following his transitional year in 2016, via the assistance of Coleman and his most extensive year of uninterrupted on field experience, Mazza entered the 2016 offseason with a firm grasp on being part of the rotation as well as his own identity as a pitcher. With that knowledge, he dedicated the next six months to one thing: truly becoming a starting pitcher.

“I went in to the offseason last year telling myself that I’m going to get in shape to be a starter. I worked really hard on developing a change-up because it’s just a pitch that you need to have as starter. Even though I’m most really on my sinker and cutter I can throw my change-up a few times a game to keep hitters honest.” Mazza said. “I also need to thank my strength coach Rob and trainer Cesar who have kept me in shape and kept up with physical therapy to make sure I’m healthy and ready to go.”

Coleman’s ability to recognize and fix Mazza’s issue in trying to throw two different styles from pitch to pitch during spring training in 2015 and Mazza’s own drive and extra work put in that offseason had him well on his way to becoming an effective starter. But he still had some work to do mechanically and mentally. That’s where Jacksonville pitching coach Storm Davis’ expertise has come into play.

“I’ve been more consistent in my delivery and being able to make the adjustment when I get out of wack one or two pitches rather then it taking me two or three batters to get back to where I need to be. And that’s all because of Storm Davis,” Mazza said. “Whether it’s looking at film, fixing my arm slot, seeing how hitters are reacting to certain pictures I throw during the game or talking about pitch selection. And when we make a mistake, asking why did we make that mistake and how do we change our approach so we don’t make that mistake again and so much more. He’s really helped me mature as a pitcher.”

Through all of Mazza’s trials and tribulations whether it be going unrecruited, suffering two major injuries early in his career, being released after he finally began to enjoy some success and so many more factors that would have made a lesser man throw in the towel, Mazza is finally a near finished product this year. The exports of that finished product speak for themselves: a 3.01 ERA that ranks 12th in the Southern League, a 1.29 WHIP that ranks 17th, a 7.0% walk rate than ranks 15th and a 75% LOB% that ranks 13th. All of this has been made possible by a very balanced arsenal which includes his bread-and-butter groundball 90 MPH sinker, a 92 MPH cut fastball that he can ramp up to 94 and which he will throw interchangeably with the sink peice to keep hitters guessing, an 84-86 MPH changeup that is emerging as the secondary pitch Mazza has the best feel for despite his learning how to throw it this past winter and a slider that has lessened to a mix-in offering since his surgery but which he will still bury for strikes in pitcher’s counts.

Much like the way he has approached his baseball career, Mazza won’t shy away from any challenge. He is an in-your-face style pitcher who won’t pick at corners but instead comes right after his opposition ¬†and dares them to beat him. He can get in trouble doing so at times, giving up baserunners, proven by his 8.5 hits per 9 innings but his ability to keep the ball down almost exclusively and induce groundballs keeps runs off the board and his pitch counts in check. According to Mazza, that bulldog, win-above-all style mentality approach to pitching as well as every other aspect of his life is something that was inborne in him and has, above all else, been his biggest and best companion along the way. As long as he hasn’t let the beast run completely wild.

“I hate losing. I hate losing more than I like winning. I’ve always been that way. I don’t care if I’ve given up 10 runs, I want the ball in my hand and I’m not coming out off the game. Even though Storm has told me I gotta keep the bulldog on a leash at not let him run out of control,” Mazza said. “I’ve just always been super competitive ever since i was a little kid. It doesn’t matter if it’s baseball or tic-tac-toe; I’m going beat you. My mom gets mad at me cause I don’t let my six year old nephew win when we play video games together.

With the Marlins on the verge of a firesale and Mazza continuing to turn in quality outings, he is on the verge of realizing his Major League dream and in so doing, beating all of those individuals, teams, schools and organizations who thought he would lose. For the 27-year-old and those who have been by his side since the start no matter what, his call to the big leagues will symbolize the biggest win of his life. Without having to actually speak a word, Mazza will tell a lot of people “I told you so.”

“It’s crazy to think about sometimes. I’ve had lot of people tell me I wasn’t able to play at the the next level and the started in high school. I got told I was too small or you good but you’re not good enough to play college ball. And when I got to college it was the same thing people would say, “Go to a Division III school, you can’t play pro ball.””, Mazza said. “I just always had that chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong.”

Attention all naysayers and doubters: grab your foot and prepare to insert it into your own mouth. Chris Mazza is about to arrive.

Prospect Of The Month, May 2017: James Nelson

Woah, it’s Nelly! Not only is it befittingly his Twitter handle, it’s the exact phrase the South Atlantic League, its scouts, the Marlins’ organization and anyone who follows it are exclaiming regarding James Nelson’s season to date. One look at the stats including his absolutely unprecedented month of May, it’s easy to see why.

Monthly Stats
Seasonal Stats
.372/.425/.540
.338/.404/.500
34/10 K/BB
45/17 K/BB
5/1 SB/CS
5/1 SB/CS

 

Nelson was born on October 18, 1997 in Rex, GA and attended Redan High School in nearby Stone Mountain. Other than the budding Nelson, Redan is famous for producing MLB talents such as Wally Joyner and Brandon Phillips. As Nelson relates to, Redan is a place that is very proud of that past and their long-tenured heritage and Raiders players, including Nelson, coaches and parents quickly learn that. Rahter than just being part of for four years, they are part of a brotherhood forever.

“Baseball tradition at Redan is probably the best I’ve ever been a part of,” Nelson said. “It was all about winning and being a part of a family.”

After his graduation in 2015, Nelson was selected by the Red Sox in the 18th round of that year’s Draft. However, Nelson forwent signing with Boston to attend junior college in Cisco, Texas in an attempt to raise his draft stock.

“Going to Junior college was probably the biggest and best decision I could’ve made to be honest,” Nelson said. “I don’t think I got enough exposure in high school as far as seeing the pitchers I did.”

Despite his great high school tenure, Nelson only hit four total home runs in his junior and senior seasons. In his one year at Cisco, a bulked up Nelson hit 17. After going off the board 531st overall a year prior, some scouts had Nelson going off the board as early as round 12. The Marlins selected Nelson with the 443rd overall pick in round 15 thus making his decision to attend Cisco a success. This time, Nelson forwent the rest of his college career to sign a pro contract at the age of 19, another big choice and another one he and his family does not regret.

“Baseball is what I loved to do and I believed I was ready to take on the next level,” Nelson said. “My family was proud. Everyone thinks it was a great decision and I get all the support I need.”

Upon his arrival in the professional ranks last season, Nelson supported evidence that he was indeed ready to make the jump. In 43 games in the Gulf Coast League, he hit .284/.344/.364. His BA ranked 15th in the league and his OBP ranked 20th. Among his impressive countable stats were 24 RBI and a 7/3 SB/CS. Despite appearing at the plate just 162 times, the Marlins were impressed enough to promote Nelson to full season ball at the ripe age of 19, 2 1/2 years younger than the average Sally League player. After a bit of a feeling out process in his first eight games in April when he hit .207/.324/.345, Nelson absolutely exploded in May, responding and rewarding the Marlins’ vote of confidence by becoming one of the best hitters in the league and a sure-fire choice for the upcoming All-Star Game. His ridiculous month of May consisted of a .372/.425/.540 slash line along with 8 doubles, a triple, 3 homers, 17 RBI and a 5/1 SB/CS. Overall this season, Nelson’s .338 BA ranks third in the Sally, his .404 OBP ranks fourth and his .500 SLG ranks ninth. He ends the month of May riding a 17-game hitting streak.

So how has this teenager with just a year’s worth of college experience and 43 games worth of pro experience under his belt, responded so well to playing against the best competition that he ever has gone up against while being under the pressure and microscope that goes along with being regarded as the club’s 10th best prospect and how will he keep it up over the course of a 140 game season, three times as many games as he’s ever played in in a single year? Simple: he won’t change a thing and most importantly, he will not get too far ahead of himself. Because after all, whatever level you’re at and wherever you are or aren’t ranked within the organization, the game remains the same.

“It’s baseball, man. I’m just taking it day by day, making sure I’m staying healthy and staying on top of my game,” Nelson said. “I just take it one at bat at a time. If I don’t get it done one at bat, just get it done the next, and also keeping my routine I’ve been doing is a major deal as well. It’s all about playing baseball, it’s the same game, just with better competition. The biggest thing is focus, if you don’t focus you won’t succeed how you want to.”

If there was a knock on Nelson’s offensive game from his days in the GCL it was his production against lefties which he hit at just a .231/.286/.269 clip. This season, again, against much more advanced competition, he has remedied that by hitting southpaws at a .388/.492/.694 pace. Once again, Nelson credits what he believes is the end-all, be all, vision. After that, it has been his ability to stay inside the ball a lot more consistently that has made the difference.

“All about the focus,” Nelson said “From last year to this year, I think my middle-oppo approach has gotten a lot better and I am actually driving the ball to right field and I think that was a big advantage against lefties, especially this season”

Nelson has accomplished all of these offensive accolades over the past two years while also learning how to play a new position, third base, where the Marlins believe his growing frame, plus power and strong arm will be better suited in the long run. While learning the hot corner has been and will continue to be a process for Nelson, he doesn’t mind; as long as he’s on the diamond.

“I took the news [of the switch] great. If they see me playing there in the future then I’d be happy to be there,” Nelson said. “Any way I could help the team. I love shortstop, but as long as I am on the field, I’d play catcher.”

Nelson’s at-bats are a sight to behold. After the 6’2″ specimen stares down his opposition from a straight vertical stance, he times his swing with a front leg trigger that is less reminiscent of a batter and more so of a pitcher. From there, there’s only one word to describe him: explosive. Stretching his arms all the way back for as much power as possible while somehow maintaining extremely good balance and very rarely, if ever, falling off to either side of the plate, Nelson’s bat is barely recognizable as it whips through the zone with uppercut action. After exhibiting some of the best bat speed within the organization, he stays through the ball with two hands on the bat and two eyes down all the way and looks the ball off the barrel, keeping him from pulling off. Mechanically, everything looks close to perfect for the still-maturing Nelson, making him a near lock to become a 20+ home run hitter. While on base which Nelson has been a ton this season, he has more than above average speed, especially for a guy his size. Add to that the ability make great reads and you have the acumen of a 20+ base stealer. As a GCLer in 2015, he stole seven bags and was caught three times. In less games this year, he has already swiped five while being caught just once.

If there has been one consistently below-average area of Nelson’s offensive game throughout his career it’s been his ability to walk, common for any power-first hitter but not an area which Nelson is willing to go to the wolves. He has proven that by walking more in less ABs this season compared to last season and which he hopes to improve even further by advancing and utilizing his plate vision, no matter the situation.

“The biggest thing is not wasting at bats, bearing down and getting the job done with runners on or not,” Nelson said. “If they are gonna give me a walk, I gotta take it and not press.”

Nelson will be the first one to admit he is far from a finished product and he has work to do. However, the 19-year-old who will not even turn 20 for another two months, defines the word ‘athlete’, has a baseball IQ well beyond his years, and is already on the verge of a call-up to A+. With 20/20 club type talent, the ability to hit for both average and power and great fielding instincts, footwork and hands, he is a 5-tool type talent that could arrive in the majors as early as 2019. But for now, the extremely modest and level-headed Nelson ins’t worried about that.

“Baseball is a crazy sport man,” Nelson said. “I’m just trying to trust the process, so I’m just doing me.”

Keep doing you, James. If baseball is crazy, you’ve found the remedy.

Prospect Of The Month, April 2017: Kyle Barrett

Monthly Stats
Seasonal Stats
.330/.376/.372
.330/.376/.372
18/5 K/BB
18/5 K/BB
5/2 SB/CS
5/2 SB/CS

 

Jupiter Hammerhead’s outfielder Stone Garrett came into 2017 as the sixth ranked prospect in the organization. But through 22 games, Garrett’s Jupiter teammate, fellow outfielder and owner of a similar surname has been the one playing up to that title. Introducing our April Prospect of the Month, Kyle Barrett.

Kyle Barrett, a Georgia native, was born August 4, 1993 and spent his college days in Wildcat blue at the University of Kentucky. There, he spent three seasons amassing a .324/.386/.391 slash line with an 8% walk rate and 21 steals in 34 tries, beginning to lay the foundation for the type of bat he is currently becoming. Playing in the same conference as current top MLB prospect Andrew Benentendi, in his junior year, Barrett finished seven spots underneath the league leading Benentendi in BA, hitting .354. He also appeared just inside the top 10 in his freshman year when he hit .349.

Following the 2015 collegiate season, Barrett entered the MLB Draft and was selected 446th overall in round 15 by the Marlins. He signed on June 19 of that year and took his talents to Batavia to begin his big league career. However, the excitement of being drafted and the prospect of making a quick first impression soon came to a grinding halt. In his fourth game with the Muckdogs, Barret broke his right hand, an injury that cost him the rest of the year. Going from the high of being drafted only to, after just 11 ABs, land on the DL for an extended period was an experience Barrett admits was very frustrating.

“I was pretty crushed,” Barrett said. “I worked so hard my whole life to get drafted and it happens and I start my career off on the wrong foot.”

Even though Barrett was able to return for the start of the 2016 season and although he made the jump to full season ball strictly on a confidence vote by the team, he still wasn’t completely over the injury. Despite rehabbing during the offseason, the strength in his dominant hand still hadn’t completely returned and it showed. In his first 22 games as a Grasshopper, Barrett went just 12-72 with a 17/6 K/BB. For Barrett, it was probably the lowest he’s been mentally in his baseball career.

“It really affected me that off season because I really wasn’t able to hit without being pain free,” Barrett said. “I got the opportunity to go to Greensboro that year and I really struggled at first because I was out of baseball for nine months.”

However, despite a disappointing start to his career that lasted 11 months and must’ve seemed like 11 years, the pure talent of the grinder Barrett finally prevailed. On May 29, he went 3-5 with a walk and scored two runs in a 6-2 Greensboro win. It began a stretch in which Barrett would reach via a hit in 55 of his last 79 2016 games, a stretch in which he went 88/282 (.312 BA).

“I finally got some mechanical things adjusted and the success and confidence came,” Barrett said.

After ending that season hitting .282/.333/.345, very respectable considering how the year started, Barrett got his second call up in as many years which was, all things considered, spectacular. This season with the Hammerheads, a 100% healthy Barrett has once again become the guy the Marlins drafted out of UK. Hitting at the top of the order, he has gotten on base in 20 of his 22 games and collected at least one hit in 19. He’s slashing .330/.376/.372 with a BA and an OBP that rank among the top 10 in the Florida State League. It may have taken him a little longer than he would have liked, but through determination and perseverance through adversity, Barrett has now fully arrived on the Minor League Baseball scene. Barrett was able to overcome the disappointing start to his career not only because of fantastic raw talent but also because of the understanding that in baseball, like any sport, it’s not about how the game knocks you down; it’s how long you let it keep you down that really counts.

“Baseball is full of ups and downs and how you overcome adversity,” Barrett said. “You can’t let one bad game from the day before affect the next game.”

Not only is Barrett’s bat exporting similar results to those he provided during his time at Kentucky, he is making them happen via the exact same approach and mechanics. Barrett and his coaches agree: if it isn’t broken, why fix it?

“My approach has stayed the same since I was in college so I’m really comfortable with it,” Barrett said.

Because of that comfort and the confidence he has in his game, Barrett is playing stress-free despite knowing that he is a few months of similar play away from a call-up to AA.

“There’s no pressure to keep hitting like this at all,” Barrett said. “I don’t look too much ahead on whether or not I’ll get called up; instead, I control what I can control and I make the most of it and don’t take anything for granted.”

During an average Kyle Barrett AB, there is rarely a strike that goes by without him getting at least some part of the bat on it. A stout 5’11”, 185, the lefty hitter minimizes an already small strike zone via an extremely quick snap swing which gives him the ability to wait out the break on pitches, select one he likes and drive it. At the very least, the result of a Barrett swing is almost always some sort of contact, even if it is just to foul off a tough pitch and the result of his ABs, nearly all of which last at least five pitches, either end with him on base or at the very least, with him inside of a pitcher and catcher’s heads, setting up his next chance. While most of Barrett’s hits go for base hits, he does have some hidden gap-to-gap power which allotted him 12 doubles in his final year in college and has already led to four two-baggers this season. As the 23-year-old completely reaches his ceiling, that number should increase.

On the base paths, Barrett exhibits great instincts on top of plus speed. Last year in Greensboro, he swiped 17 bags in 22 chances. This year, Barrett is already 5/7 in stolen base attempts. Barrett puts his plus jets to good use in the field as well where he makes good reads off the bat, runs good routes and exhibits an above average throwing arm.

With a swift singles first swing, some disguised strength, good speed and good outfield prowess, Barrett appears to be nurturing a skill set similar to Chris Coghlan and his personal hero, Brett Gardner. Excellent on-field play coupled with an outgoing personality and a sound head for the game make Barrett a great teammate and an extremely easy guy to root for. An all-around great athlete, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Barrett to reach the bigs by next season.

  • * This is Kyle Barrett’s second time being named Prospect Of The Month.

Prospect Of The Month, July 2016: Kyle Barrett

Kyle Barrett

The baseball world is very familiar with the exports of the Bad News Bears, a bumbling fictional team who just can’t seem to do much of anything right. This year, in reality, a very non-fictional Kyle Barrett, although being similarly named, somewhat thanks to a .342/.405/.474¬†month of July, has become the polar (pun intended) opposite and is proving himself to be one of the best players in the Marlins’ minor league system this season.

Andrew Kyle Barrett, who just celebrated his 23rd birthday on August 4th, is the Marlins’ 2015 fifth rounder out of Kentucky. Prior to his collegiate days, Barrett attended high school in Douglasville, GA. After playing basketball as a freshman, he hit .485 as a junior and as a senior he hit .564 with a combined six homers and collected two combined All-America team honors. The accolades kept coming upon his graduation to the Wildcats in 2013 when he lead his entire team in batting average (.349) and OBP (.407) in his freshman season on a team which also held current Marlins’ MiLBer J.T. Riddle. His BA also placed 12th in the entire SEC, a league which held the likes of top prospects Alex Bregman, Hunter Renfroe, and Tony Kemp. After finishing that season reaching base in 19 straight games (which attributed to him reaching safely in a total of 34 of his 38 games), Barrett earned a spot playing alongside the aforementioned Bregman on the All-SEC Freshman Team. In 2014, Barrett ran his total of games reached safely in to 35 as he reached in 16 straight, all via a hit to open his sophomore year. On the whole that year, he took a bit of a step back numbers wise as the sophomore slump bit him and spelled out a .253/.354/.312 slash line. However, Barrett came back with a vengeance in summer league play in the Cape Cod league, hitting .317/.354/.358 with the Harwich Mariners. His BA ranked third on his team as did his 10 stolen bases. As the 11th best for-average bat in the league, he earned a spot in the Cape’s All-Star Game. Barrett rode that momentum in to his junior year where he enjoyed his best season to date, placing second on the team in BA (.354), third in OBP (.394) and third in slugging (.443). He showed off his blazing speed on the regular, stretching would-be singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He also added seven steals in 11 attempts. His BA ranked second on the Wildcats, his OBP and SLG both third.

With a career .324/.386/.391 slash line in college along with a 57% stolen base success rate, great defense, and plus speed on top of two great seasons in the summer leagues, Barrett attracted attention as early as the 10th round of the 2015 draft. He fell to the 15th round where the Marlins drafted him 446th overall. Minus four games with the Muckdogs at the end of 2015, Barrett is getting his first taste of pro ball this year with the Grasshoppers. And my, what a tasty morsel it is. After getting his feet wet with a .182/.243/.212 April and a .260/.309/.260 May, Barrett exploded onto the scene in June when he hit .337/.352/.372. Things only got better for the stout left hander in July when he hit .342/.405/.474. Over that two month span he reached in 32 of his 45 games via a hit and in 36 of 45 overall, spelling a .377 OBP mostly out of the lead-off spot. Over that span, his yearly BA rose from .230 to .302. He also added seven total steals in nine attempts.

Standing at a petite 5’11” and weighing just 185, Barrett cuts down on his strike zone by getting low in his straight away stance. His light load, good bat speed and slappy singles bat have allowed him to enjoy a more than decent contact rate and an ability to still barrell up balls despite committing to a swing late into the pitch, a great sign for a future leadoff man. On the contrary, Barrett is a bit too of an aggressive bat early in the count as he looks to barrell up fastballs which often leads to him failing to maintain his soft hands and instead trying to do too much and lose his balance. This is what has led to his heightened K/BB for all of his career so far. If he hopes to succeed as a top of the order man, Barrett will need to be a bit more patient early in ABs and learn to go with breaking pitches as well as he does on heaters. If he can do that, the level-headed speedy baserunner and overall heady player who isn’t afraid to take advantage of what the defense gives him as he is always a candidate to squeeze a bunt down successfully for a hit if the infield plays back and reach thanks to his plus jets, most definitely has a future as a top of the order catalyst.

On the common occasion that Barrett, who once ran a 6.77 60 yard dash, reaches base, he is a threat to steal every time. He utilizes that speed in the outfield well by making good straight reads and covering all the ground necessary and then some. He finishes off his five-tool skill set by possessing a plus arm which can make on-line throws from all three positions, though his best suited position is probably center.

With a great makeup already in a very immature career, if Barrett, who just turned 23, can receive some nurturing regarding his approach early in counts, he has more than a potential future as a fire starter in the upper levels of the minors and further. I will be watching him closely as his career progresses.

Prospect Of The Month, June 2016: Angel Reyes

Angel Reyes

 

Angels In the Outfield. A film based around a story about beings with other-worldly powers helping a baseball team reach a coveted title. By what he is accomplishing this season, including what he did this month, hitting .376/.398/.538, Grasshoppers’ outfielder/infielder Angel Reyes could be that story come to life.

Angel David Reyes was born on May 6, 1995 in Barcelona, Venezuela. His American baseball career began when he was inked by the Marlins as an 18-year-old in 2012 as an international signee. After two seasons in the Dominican Summer Leagues and one and a half in the Gulf Coast League in which he hit a collective .218/.305/.314, Reyes took his talents to short season Batavia as a 20-year-old. That’s where his coming out party began. For that year’s Muckdogs, Reyes averaged .265, got on base at a .311 clip and was second on the team in slugging at .470. Despite only playing in 25 games, he was also third on the team in triples and sixth on the squad in doubles and RBIs. That success followed him to his first year of full season ball this year. In the most extensive action he has seen in his career in a single season already, Reyes is playing some of the best ball of his career, currently placing third on the single A Grasshoppers in slugging (among those with at least 50 games played) at .402 (a figure which also ranks among the top 30 in the entire Sally league), third in OBP with a .339 mark and second in BA at .287. As for his countable stats, Reyes leads the Hoppers with 44 RBIs (a tote which also ranks among the top 25 in the Sally), is third in homers with five, and is tied for the lead in doubles with 19 (another top 30 total in the Sally). Though it has come at the expense of a 68-26 K/BB, Reyes has shown and continues to show the preliminary ability to become a serious threat as a pure power hitting first baseman.

Angel ReyesReyes is a sight to behold as he awaits pitches. Standing from a truly unique stance, he spreads his legs from the front of the box to the back and places all of his weight on his back leg and his front toe turned up and in. Upon engaging his swing, he transfers his weight to his front foot well by snapping quick hips through the zone. This year, vast improvements to his bat speed have been the biggest catalyst for his recent success and made anything on the inner half of the plate a pitch he can do something with. He has also shown strength beyond his size and a possible glimpse into the future by fighting off pitches on his hands and becoming a very hard guy to jam, a fantastic initial sign for the type of hitter he hopes to become. At just 21, there is definitely some more power left in him as he grows into his body which right now isn’t very striking (just 6’0″, 175). Should he bulk up and maintain the ability to disallow opposing pitchers to get in on his hands for easy outs, his pure pull hit power could make him an elite offensive threat. Areas in which Reyes needs to improve include in his hands. Far too often is he unable to maintain looseness in them leading to him committing to pitches too early, especially on the outer half due to immature plate vision. Pitchers who get ahead in the count early to him rarely have much problem as long as they hit spots on the outer half. With all of the raw talent he has, he need not try to do too much with pitches with his arms, yet just rely on his physically sound lower half to get the ball to the gaps and beyond. Along with how his body develops, much of the mystery surrounding how far Reyes can go also depends on how his mind gets on along with how he sorts out the few tweaks in his upper half including his arms (hard hands lead to his elbows flying open and his elbows winding up more horizontal than straight up and down) hands and eyes. Without much speed to speak of and being an average defensive play, it would seem that his future rides solely on what he will be able to produce at the dish. If he can work out the small kinks and get his mind right advantageously in high A, he has all of the potential to become a starting staple at first base and also has eligibility at the other corner and in the outfield, making him an easy play for his managers. I will be following him closely next year when he brings his talents to Jupiter in what would seem like a make or break season in terms of his prospect status and what exactly the Marlins have in him.

Prospect Of The Month, May 2016: Tomas Telis

Tomas Telis

Switch hitters. With the percentage of them slowly dwindling year by year to the current rate of just 14% (65/460 hitters with at least 300 total ABs) it was at between 2013 and last year, it is increasingly becoming a lost art and thus an even more sought after commodity. Accordingly, the methodical weaning away of switch hitters has made an already rare commodity even rarer: the switch hitting catcher. Never a popular player due to the succeptibility to injury at the position and the lack of offensive prowess of battery men, teams have only been able to reap the benefits of a switch hitting backstop 94 times since 1901. Of those 94, due to the aforementioned injury bug, lack of offensive capability or other unforeseen circumstances, only 48 have been every day players who have topped at least 500 plate appearances while playing at least half of their games behind the plate. Of those 48, only nine have come about in the last five years. Thus, when a guy like Jorge Posada, Victor Martinez, Yasmani Grandal, or Matt Weiters surfaces, he is looked upon as a fantastic athlete with great vision which aids him on both sides of the ball and thus an extremely powerful assert to the team. By having the fourth best month of his career this May, a .344/.394/.508 campaign, Tomas Telis took a step towards that future.

Currently just 24 years old, Telis has already amassed quite the extensive career in the minors and gotten his first taste of big league ball. By the looks of him this season, he liked the taste of that morsel and wants to get another one ASAP.

A native of El Tigre, Venezuela, a 17-year-old Telis began his career in 2008 with a .299/.374/.380 campaign, outhitting the likes of league mates such as Marcell Ozuna, Jonathan Villar and Ender Inciarte. Telis followed that with a 2009 season in the Arizona League in which he hit .322/.333/.470, leading his team in each category amongst those who played at least 30 games. He was one of just three catchers in the league to top the .300 mark with his batting average, one of two to top the .370 mark with his slugging percentage and one of two to top the .800 mark in OPS. His 86 total bases by way of 18 XBHs including five triples ranked 12th in the league. Telis got 144 more ABs in 37 games in the Arizona League in 2010, most of which came at DH allowing him to hone his offensive craft a bit more exclusively. This resulted in a similar season but in slightly better totals in OBP (.351), RBI (35), and walks (6) albeit in nine less games.

Telis made the jump to full season ball in 2011 with the Sally League’s Hickory Crawdads. That year, Telis tallied career highs in almost every countable stat including homers (11), RBIs (69), doubles (28), ABs (461) and runs scored (67). At the break, his .305/.345/.439 line earned him his first All-Star Game nod. Telis adjusted to the rigors of a full season well, hitting .288/.311/.419 in the second half. His overall His .297 BA ranked seventh in the Sally League and his .430 SLG ranked 30th, earning him Texas’ organizational MVP honors

Telis fell off a bit in 2012 offensively, hitting .247/.283/.331, all career lows and struck out 56 times, a career high. He made some great strides defensively, though, throwing out 57% of potential base stealers, a career high and his meal ticket to AA in 2013. Making the hardest jump there is to make in the minors, Telis hit .264/.290/.353 with 46 Ks in 91 games. His defense also fell off a bit as he allowed 78 steals in 115 attempts, dooming him to repeat a level for the first time in his career in 2014.

A 22-year-old Telis made up for having to begin a second season in Frisco though by making it all the way from AA to the MLB Rangers for his major league debut on August 25th of 2014. After hitting .303/.339/.401 and matching his career high in walks (17) while throwing out 41% of his runners over his first 267 ABs and 70 games in central Texas, he made the move south to AAA Round Rock. After just 36 games there in which he hit .345/.377/.489 with three homers and 17 RBI, the Rangers selected him to replace Geovany Soto whom they had traded. He played 18 games for the Rangers, hitting .250/.271/.279 to end a fantastic overall year which spelled a .318/.352/.431 minor league line with five homers, 50 RBI and a career best full season 1.78 K/BB.

Following a .291/.327/.404, five homer, 25 RBI, 31/14 K/BB, 21 XBH offensive start over his first 70 games in Round Rock and catching 27 of 56 runners defensively as well as six more games with the Rangers to start 2015, Telis was traded to the Marlins along with pitcher Cody Ege for reliever Sam Dyson. He began his Marlins career by hitting .333/.389/.333 over his first 13 games a Zephyr and, as a September call-up, appeared in 17 games with the Marlins. His start to 2016 has been nothing short of spectacular as he is on pace to slash full season career highs in each category and on pace for full season career highs in RBIs and a career best in K/BB. With Jeff Mathis off to another terrible start to his season, this time .180/.226/.280 with 15 Ks and three walks and just a 25% caught stealing percentage, Telis’ third major league callup shouldn’t be too far away.

A true switch hitter who has faced lefties and a righty 33% as much as he has faced righties as a lefty in his career and only faced pitchers from the same side twice in his career, Telis enjoys similar success from both sides (.269 as RHB vs LHP, .304 as LHB vs RHB), Telis is mechanically sound on both sides. Swinging from a very low split stace, the 5’8, 200 pound Telis minimizes the strike zone before using a front foot timing trigger to get his weight moving backward and step into the ball. He transfers his weight from back to front and maintains looseness in his hands well, allowing his extremely advantageous plate vision to serve him until the ball is over the plate. When he does swing, it is an athletic stroke in which he snaps his wide hips through the zone and keeps his elbows pointed downward. It has slight loft which gives him the ability to reach fences, but at his size and especially when you consider he has gone yard just 20 times since 2011, it is an offering that is better projected as that of a for-average hitter. But that is nothing to shrug at. Telis’ versatile plate game follows him in to the field where he has eligibility at first base and in the outfield, making him a guy that is extremely easy to get in to games and, vica versa, a tough guy for opposing managers to match up against, especially late in games. Without great current defensive skills having thrown out just 28% of his runners in his minor league career and just 10% of runners in his small sample MLB career (2 of 21), that backup and quality bat off the bench capacity looks to be the one this current version of Telis looks to serve on an immediate basis but should the likes of Mathis and Chris Johnson, who has hit just .245/.300/.373 platooning with Justin Bour, continue to struggle, could step in to regular playing time for a Marlins team battling for the playoffs later this year. With progress and improvement to his defensive game, which is entirely possible for the still 24-year-old, Telis could easily become a very valuable every day backstop. It is that capacity which the Marlins, who gave up quality relief help for, will be hoping Telis can grow in to. They, as well as we, will be watching the rest of his maturation process very intently.

Prospect Of The Month, April 2016: Brian Anderson

Brian Anderson

The Florida State League. Extremely kind to pitchers, a hard knock life (or not at all depending on your viewpoint) for hitters. For years, the country’s southernmost league has had a rich history of stymieing young hitters, including some of the game’s most successful ones. From 2008 to 2013, FSL parks barely rendered numbers north of the mendoza line as they held hitters to just a .256/.326/.372/.698 line, 4.2 runs per game, and a home run percentage of just 1.5. Most of those figures were the lowest in all of minor league baseball. One of the biggest catalysts for the minuscule offensive figures is the home of the Jupiter Hammerheads, Roger Dean Stadium. Over that same six season span, the cavernous park which boasts dimensions of 335/400/325 and is situated in a wide-open space just miles in from the coast which allows swirling sea breeze to become trapped over it’s surface held Florida State League offenses to park factors of 0.876 in runs, .757 in homers and .949 in hits where 1 is average, anything over 1 favors hitters and anything under 1 favors pitchers. The same trend has continued in recent years as Roger Dean has never once posted a park factor over 1 in any category in at least the past eight years. That is why when a player comes along and is able to accomplish what Brian Anderson was able to accomplish in April hitting .313/.412/.470 including .320/.382/.500 at the Dean, scouts heads snap off their necks as they quickly take notice. And that is the reason why he is my first prospect of the month for the 2016 season.

A third round draft pick out of Arkansas in 2014, Anderson forwent his senior year as a Razorback following a .318/.418/.467 NCAA career to join the professional ranks. After signing, Anderson made the move to upstate New York and joined Batavia for the beginning of the short season. After getting his feet wet there by hitting .273/.333/.455 with 3 homers and 12 RBI, he made the move to full-season ball in Greensboro for 39 games. In just 153 ABs, Anderson smashed eight homers, drove in 37 runs and held down a .378 OBP by way of a 28/13 K/BB. His .516 SLG lead the Hoppers that year amongst players with at least 100 ABs, positioning Anderson as Baseball America’s 9th best organizational prospect headed in to 2015. That year, Anderson came falling back down to earth, managing to hit just .235/.304/.340. However, that wasn’t without cause. Not only was it the first time Anderson had played more than 65 games in his career at any level, they all came in the aforementioned offensively suppressing Florida State League at the highest level he’s ever played at. This year, Anderson is back with a new and improved vengeance. Formerly a split stance swinger at the plate that allowed him the tendency to fly open to his far side on pitches away and attributed to his K total of 109 last year, Anderson is now swinging from a completely straight away stance. Most noticeably though is that pre-pitch, Anderson stands straight up and down, staring pitchers down from his intimidating 6’3″, 185 pound frame. He picks up pitches out of the pitcher’s hand well and after release, follows the ball not only with his eyes but also his legs, adjusting his stance all the way through the pitch for movement. He keeps his head down until the ball is in the glove and does not commit to a swing until the pitch is over the plate. He adjusts for, consistently gets wood on the ball, and even more consistently barrels the ball up with a straight through swing that has some loft and can reach fences but can also hit gaps with line drives. Anderson possesses prevalent bat speed on top of wide snappy hips which allow him to get the most out of his present strength. The approach will afford him some strikeouts in the way that he waits pitches out and can rarely hold up on swings once he commits but will also afford him as many if not more walks due to his ability to wait out break, even break of the late variety. If pitchers are going to strike Anderson out, they are going to have the stuff that earns it. While the retooled approach has worked wonders for Anderson against same-side pitching, it has yet to rear it’s head against lefties. However, he has had just 39 ABs vs them this year and has fared well against them in his career so that should regulate as the year goes along.

Defensively, Anderson came up as a second baseman before making the move to third base in 2014 and becoming a full-time corner man in 2015. Though he has plenty of arm strength needed to make it across the diamond, quick footwork, a solid glove and good gap coverage especially for a guy his size, his arm accuracy has been an ongoing problem as he has committed 28 errors in 1612 innings, most of them being of the throwing variety. At 23, unless he can turn things around in a hurry which is always possible with the likes of Perry Hill in the organization to tutor him as he makes his way through the latter stages of the minors, Anderson’s future in the field looks to be at first base.

Long story short: Overall, Anderson is a sizeable power bat who recently retooled his approach for the better after his first full year in the minors. He barrels balls up on the regular with a quick swing with some loft, allowing him to both reach the fences and hit gaps but is also becoming a pesky out to get because of his ability to wait out the break on pitches. Once a pure power threat, he is grasping the ability to hit for average while also holding down a solid K/BB, making him a solid all-around threat. Defensively, Anderson is currently a 3B but his future will likely be as a 1B.