Scouting the Double A Yankees – Mets Hitters: Havens/Den Dekker/Adams/Almonte

June 13, 2012

I posted a report yesterday about the pitchers I saw during the two games I saw between the B-Mets and Trenton Thunder. This report is about the hitters I saw. One hitter, Matt Den Dekker, was subsequently promoted to Triple-A Buffalo right after the series with Trenton. It’s funny, but the same thing happened with Jordany Valdespin, who was promoted immediately after I saw him play last year in Trenton.

If an B-Mets players want me to come out next time they are in town, I do take donations.

I asked one of the B-Mets players on Sunday when Den Dekker was getting the promotion, and the kid smiled, likely knowing it was soon. Looking at the Buffalo roster that night it was apparent Den Dekker was better than a couple of the Bison outfielders. And the success Kirk Nieuwenhuis has had in the majors was probably another factor to push the other left-handed hitting center fielder.

The B-Mets show a deep lineup, with one player, Josh Rodriguez, having 14 plate appearances (PAs)  in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is power from the top through the seven spot, and a nice mix of right-handed and left handed hitters.

Reese Havens

Once again Havens will not have a full season of baseball, having missed most of April with another injury, this time a bad back/oblique. However, he is healthy for now, and back with Binghamton. Being the top pick in 2008, many Mets fans had hoped Havens would already be in the majors by now or at least knocking on the door.

Havens showed his quick bat once again, and his swing is similar Yankees Triple-A second baseman Corban Joseph. He homered and singled on Saturday night, but also struck out five times in 10 PAs. His inability to make consistent contact is recognition of pitch location, specifically the upper and lower levels of the strike zone. Once Havens gets more reps his recognition will improve and so will his contact rates and offensive output.

In the field, Havens showed more range than he had last year, grabbing two ground balls clearly destined for center field.

However, another injury or two and it might be too late for Havens to have a decent career. He needs to stay on the field and get his reps. He’s not as good a hitter as Jason Kipnis of Cleveland, but has potential to be Kipnis lite.

Matt Den Dekker

As mentioned above, Den Dekker was promoted to Buffalo after the series with Trenton. Den Dekker has improved his power this season, banging out eight home runs, 21 doubles and four triples. His bat is much quicker than last year, with an improved swing path, much more direct to the ball.

In my notes from last season, I had written Den Dekker swung at lots of bad pitches, mostly breaking pitches in the dirt. However, these last two games showed to be a more patient (but still aggressive) hitter. He recognized pitches out of the zone, but was aggressive early in the count to attack hittable pitches. If you have read any of my prior pieces, you know I love aggressive hitters early in the count.

Den Dekker will be a doubles machine at the higher levels, with his above average speed as much as his gap power and ability to hit line drives down the RF line. His fourth inning double saw him get behind 0-2 to Brett Marshall but banged a hanging slider into the RF corner. He was also aggressive on other first pitches throughout the series.

Funny, but even though Den Dekker is a pretty good outfielder, more to his great speed rather than his initial routes*, during night games I have twice seen him muff long drives to centerfield in Trenton – once last season and once this past Saturday night.

*Some people think that route running is very important. It is important, but not for really fast guys. I have seen outfielders such as Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson and Den Dekker change their routes during fly balls, but turn on that “extra gear” to outrun the ball. Curtis Granderson is pretty good in center field, but always seems to change his routes. Routes are more important to slower outfielders who can’t outrun the ball. It is one of the more difficult skills to master in baseball.

If Den Dekker continues to hit in Buffalo and Jason Bay continues to struggle in the majors, don’t be surprised if Den Dekker gets a call in August.

Jefry Marte

Marte has skills to hit, with quick and strong hands, with good lower body movement to drive the ball. However, based upon the way he carried himself, it appears that Marte lacks drive. I only saw three PAs since Marte appeared to hurt his hand during a swing and was removed in Saturday night’s game. (UPDATE: Actually, Marte hurt his hand on a ground ball which popped up and hit his hand. A ball which almost took his face off.)

Anyway, his power numbers are improving each season, and will continue as he ages and gets naturally stronger. Some people feel they need to write a kid off if he doesn’t produce huge power numbers at the lower levels, but Marte was 17/18 to begin in Low-A Savannah (19 his second season) and not many kids translate raw power to games at that level. In addition, Marte is not listed on any top Mets prospect list, which might build into his favor and he has to work to get noticed again.

Marte might be one of those guys whose power readily improves as he matures – both physically and mentally. Give him time, let him play and he likely will surprise people.

Juan Lagares

Lagares is a guy who does lots of things decent, but nothing great. He started to hit last season in time split between High-A and Double-A, but is aggressive in that he doesn’t walk much or strikeout. But even with this aggressiveness, there is simply no power production, and his swing seems to bear out that it will not get there, either.

Lagares shows good range in the outfield, with a strong throwing arm, but without any significant offensive tools, his defense might get him to the majors, but it won’t be as a full-time starter.

David Adams

Finally back on the field after basically two seasons off from a busted ankle, Adams showed why the Yankees have been patient with the RHH hitter.

Adams showed tremendous plate discipline, the ability to recognize pitches early out of the hand, and the intelligence to read the pitcher based upon what was thrown to prior hitters. Over the two games, Adams consistently took very tough sliders off the outside part of the plate, not even twitching towards the pitch. Once, after a particularly tough slider from Greg Peavey, I blurted out “Wow, tough pitch!”

Adams also took tough change ups and fastballs just off the plate Friday night from left-handed Darin Gorski, waiting patiently for his pitch when ahead in the count.

It was when he got his pitch did Adams pounce. Despite going 1-7, a double, walk, K, and sac fly, Adams hit the ball hard three other times. He has quick hands, nice lower body rotation and remained balanced throughout his swing. He hit the ball hard to left and right field, ahead and behind the count, hammering a two-strike pitch from Peavey on the outside corner to RF for a sac fly.

He hasn’t hit for power yet this season, but with more reps the power will come back.

Adams also is a better fielder than I thought. He gets to ground balls well, has good hands and turns a quick double play, not flinching when a runner was charging towards second base. This was important since his injury was a lower body one, and second baseman sometimes get their legs taken out from them.

Adams has potential to help the Yankees (or another major league team) within two years, or be trade bait for an outfielder. With Cano in New York and Corban Joseph moving ahead of him, it’s not like the Yankees have much room at the second base area. However, Adams has played some third base in the past, and it is likely he could begin taking some reps there later in the season.

Zoilo Almonte

I was surprised when Zoilo Almonte performed well in spring training and began to become talked about in the blogosphere about possibly being the next Yankee starting outfielder. Even Joe Girardi heaped praise on Z.A.

Why was I surprised? I just don’t think Almonte is major league caliber. I saw him last summer after his promotion to Trenton and saw a guy who constantly got beat on hard stuff inside, then waved (and missed) at the better breaking balls he finally began to see. Looking at his career numbers, I noticed Almonte (like many hitters before him – Brett Gardner was one), who struggled at a new level when promoted but when they started the next year at that same level begins to produce.

But Almonte is the same hitter as he was last season, and has not yet produced at Double-A.

He was late on inside fastballs, and while he didn’t wave at many breaking balls out of the zone, there were a couple of instances where he was overmatched, like the first pitch slider from Adrian Rosario in the 10th inning on Sunday.

Almonte has some tools, but is prone to get on hot streaks and then cool off.  Zoilo is not going to replace Swisher in RF anytime soon, and likely will not help the Yankees in any significant way down the road. I like Melky Mesa much more than either of the Almonte’s.

Melky Mesa

There once was a time I thought Melky Mesa could strike out 200 times in a full season at Double-A. In fact, if both stayed healthy, I predicted he and Bradley Suttle would combine for 350 Ks in Trenton. But both were hurt part of the year in 2011. And Suttle has basically retired.

I saw last year that Mesa began to lay off many out of the zone off speed pitches at Trenton. He was also becoming more selective on pitches in the zone, too. However, he did continue to strike out at alarming rates, usually around 30%. That is not good for a guy who can really run, and should pattern his game more around his legs.

Mesa was even more selective this past weekend. A big at bat was his working a two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th inning, eventually scoring the winning run in Sunday’s game. He regularly took pitches just off the plate, both fastballs and breaking pitches, and used his hand speed to hammer a few pitches in his zone. Mesa has no trouble catching up to good fastballs, and with his bat speed and slight loft in his swing, he does put good backspin on the ball and hit some major league quality deep fly balls.

Many of those will eventually go out of the park. He does have seven home runs already this season, playing half his games in the challenging Waterfront Park.

Mesa has tremendous speed, a great throwing arm and covers lots of ground in CF. With the lack of quality outfielders at their higher levels, it is time to give Mesa an opportunity to test his newfound plate discipline at the Triple-A level.

Cody Johnson

I saw Johnson last year and he was a mess. Bounced his hands up and down, huge hitch and went from A to C on his swing with a big layover at B. After all this movement, he couldn’t hit anything inside with any velocity. He went for 34% Ks in 2008 and progressed each year to a high of 41% last season.

It was amazing then when I saw Johnson in April of this year, and his hands started down near his back hip, raised up slightly on ball travel, then Johnson would flick his hands out (a la Rod Carew) on his swing. This new style produced much better contact rates, lots of base hits, quite a few home runs and mucho less strikeouts. Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater helped Johnson with his new approach, something which begun in the offseason.

All good things for Johnson and his team.

However, to my surprise Johnson was back to his old (and less productive) ways this past weekend. He was in the midst of a huge slump (3 for 30, 17 Ks) entering the B-Mets series. I do not know if Johnson reverted back to his old way after his slump began or whether the new/old method of hitting precipitated the slump.

Whatever the reason, Johnson is back to missing fastballs, striking out lots and making very little contact. Johnson whiffed three times Sunday afternoon, getting pummeled by belt high fastballs over the middle of the plate by Greg Peavey. He did hit two balls hard, but the pitchers mistakenly threw him off speed pitches over the outer two-thirds allowing Johnson to quicken his bat.

His bat path is once again A to B to C, which translates to many more Ks down the road.

Johnson will hit his home runs because he has immense power in hitting mistakes, but he might want to revert bakc to the shorter swing path if he wants to move up and succeed in the organization.


New York Yankee Minor League Report – Trenton Thunder (Shaeffer Hall, Christian Garcia)

April 24, 2012

I made a trip out to Trenton this past Saturday for a rare 5:05 start to watch the Thunder play host to the Washington Nationals Double-A affiliate, Harrisburg Senators.

Some seasons have seen Thunder manager Tony Franklin blessed with tremendous pitching staffs with zero hitting, and other seasons have seen him write in a tremendous lineup while wondering if his pitchers can limit the opposition to single digits.

This year he has both hitting and pitching somewhere in the middle.

On the mound for the Thunder was left hander Shaeffer Hall.

As a 25th round draft pick out of Kansas, Hall appeared nothing more than a sturdy arm for the organization. But I saw him throw two years ago in Charleston and Tampa and saw a pitcher with pretty good control and command, with pitching smarts to know how to attack hitters.

This pitching intelligence is much needed as Hall doesn’t throw overly hard. He was usually 88-89 in 2010, but was pretty much 84-86 all day long on Saturday. However, he is in his second season of throwing a cutter (with slider tilt and movement), which he can get in on the hands of right handed hitters.

It was this pitch and his changeup which kept hitters off balance and grounding the ball towards the extremely organizational infield the Thunder put out that day.

Hall is a pitcher who relies on changing speeds and location. He needs an umpire to give him the calls on the corners, then can work from there to expand the zone and get batters to chase pitches. This requires him to constantly get ahead and stay ahead of the hitter, which is always a good thing. If Hall gets an umpire with a tight zone, he has to come over the plate more and his stuff likely will not translate to quality outings.

A perfect example is when Hall tried to come inside to Jeff Kobernus, the Senators second baseman. Kobernus just missed powering two balls out of spacious Waterfront Park, but each drive was held up by a stiff wind, which allowed both deep drives to fall harmlessly into the glove of the Thunder left fielder.

Hall is a nice kid but his style doesn’t appear to be what the Yankees hierarchy likes in their starting pitchers. With injuries and ineffectiveness to hard throwers like Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and the 2011 released Andrew Brackman, maybe the Yankees should change their preferences to pitchers rather than throwers.

The Yankees also let Francisco Rondon throw the final inning, and he allowed a deep drive home run to center by Senators LF Chris Rahl (who had 3 RBI & was a double short of the cycle). Rondon was fluid with a fastball with some life, usually 89-91, and hit 93. He showed a pretty good slider (82-83), which he wasn’t able to control and a decent changeup, but which had a tendency to stay up.

Rondon has been in the organization since 2006 and has become less hittable as he has moved up, but also shown an increased inability to throw strikes. The way teams can always use hard throwing left handed relievers, Rondon has a chance to progress further but need to trust his stuff more.

Luke Murton has three hits on the day, but showed total pull tendencies, similar to what I saw in Charleston in 2010. His swing is mostly arms and upper body, barely using his lower half. I saw him reach for quite a few pitches during the day, out front but still put the good part of the bat on the ball indicating pretty good hand-eye coordination. He is a hard worker who is constantly working in the cage and oftentimes off a tee just minutes before a game, and has the personality and build of former Yankee Shelley Duncan.

Cody Johnson was a former first round pick for the Atlanta Braves in 2006 and came to the Yankees in a minor league trade. He had shown a tremendous ability in the past to swing and miss*, and this was attributed to a severe hitch which caused him to not get around on good fastballs. He also was susceptible on breaking stuff, especially when behind in the count. However, he has eliminated the hitch by keeping his hands really low, behind his back hip. They do come up slightly during his load, but not that much higher. This keeps Johnson’s path to the ball much quicker allowing him to wait longer on pitch recognition.

*Johnson’s strikeout rate has increased each season as a pro, going from 34% in 2008, to 35% in 2009, 39% in 2010 to 41% last year.

In one at bat, Johnson basically flicked his wrists the way Rod Carew used to for a nice line drive single to left center. In two other at bats, Johnson showed good power to left field (going with the pitch) putting balls to the warning track, one which likely would have been out for a booming homer if not for the strong wind blowing in.

He does hit the ball very hard when he makes contact, and with his new hand placement he has made better contact. I still believe better fastballs will eat him up inside (he was never tested inside during this game), but with his changes and improved contact rate (30% K rate thus far) while still hitting for power, he is someone to keep an eye on.

Zoilo Almonte, the 22 year old switch hitting outfielder who impressed Joe Girardi in spring training, is on the disable list and did not play. I saw him last year and he appeared overmatched in the couple games I saw. But, a la Brett Gardner, Zoilo does have a track record of struggling at a level when first promoted, then improving considerably when he returns to start at that same level the following year. 

The Senators had a few guys impress who I had not seen before. The aforementioned Kobernus, a second baseman is very quick to the ball. He stands very quiet at the plate until he unleashes a very quick swing, going direct to the ball. His swing has some loft which provided nice backspin. As I said earlier, he would have had two long home runs if not for the wind.  He also showed pretty good speed down the line on a ground ball. At same body type (6-2, 210 or so), the position he plays, and the fact they attended the same school (Cal), Kobernus reminds me of Jeff Kent. He might not hit with the power Kent developed but Kobernus can hit the ball, which will be his ticket to the higher levels.

Destin Hood is a former second round pick for the Nationals, one of those highly athletic “toolsy” guys who never seem to work out because they really don’t become baseball players. They don’t develop the instincts and work ethic to improve and advance beyond just playing the game. Hood has changed for the better since I saw him last in 2010 in the Low-A Sally League. Hood showed great bat speed and foot speed, easily beating out a slow roller to third base, and easily scored from first on ground ball down the left field line.

In his second at bat, Hood got behind two strikes, but calmly stayed off a cutter low and in from Hall. While Hood eventually struck out a better version of that pitch, he was on the ball with a good swing. Hood is aggressive at the plate, but has shown an improved ability to attack better pitches and to stay away from off speed stuff out of the zone.

That is a good combination.

The right hander who closed the game out in the Senators 4-01 win was former Trenton Thunder pitcher Christian Garcia. The tall right hander was one of the Yankees top starting pitching prospects a few years ago, but injuries (two Tommy John surgeries) and a lack of desire to work hard hampered his career. He is back now as a reliever, and now healthy, continues to possess a tremendous repertoire including an easy fastball at 93-94, moving it easily around the zone. I remember a few years ago that Garcia had a tendency to sometimes overthrow his fastball (maybe why he was always injured?), but it was no longer the case – at least in this game. He also threw a solid hook and plus, plus major league quality change up.

The change up has always been Garcia’s out pitch, and he uses it extensively, playing is very nicely off his solid fastball keeping his arm speed the same on both pitches. Both his strikeouts this game came on change ups, making the Thunder hitters look foolish. According to a couple Senators players, Garcia has been tremendous all season, with his changeup getting swings and misses on most occasions. It is a pitch which doesn’t necessarily need to stay down to be effective, as it is almost impossible to recognize early. I asked about his desire and work ethic (not his strong suit in his Yankee career), and both said they have not seen any slacking on his work habits.

Garcia showed good bite and downward action on his curveball, a plus pitch which he appears now to throw in basically offering something else to the hitter. Garcia was very popular when he played in Trenton, and many of the locals were glad to see him back healthy and performing well.

If he stays healthy Garcia could move quickly towards a bullpen spot with the major league club.


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