Scouting Review: Collin McHugh, Jordany Valdespin, Graham Stoneburner

August 12, 2011

Earlier this week I attended games between the locals Double A affiliates, with the Binghamton Mets visiting the Yankees’ Trenton Thunder. I saw the Thunder a few games early in the season, then one game a few weeks ago. I like to see teams in different parts of the season to ascertain whether kids have made adjustments to become better players. Also, kids at this level have been promoted and new players have been brought up to replace them.

Seeing teams before and after the all-star breaks hit on both of the above situations as most teams make the standard promotions after kids have played in their all-star games, like relatively new Thunder player Rob Lyerly.

In addition, I wanted to finally see the New York Mets top prospect, RHP Matt Harvey, who will be profiled in my next piece.

Taking the hill for the B-Mets was Collin McHugh, coming into the game with a 4-2, 3.75 record with two saves, including a three-inning save in his last appearance. His delivery is similar to Jake Peavy’s of the Chicago White Sox, but without the Peavy velocity. McHugh sat 88-90 and hit 91 on a couple occasions when it appeared he needed “a boost.” His fastball had good movement, often down and away to a RHH.

McHugh worked the fastball in and out, showing good command. When he missed, he usually missed off the plate, especially when working inside. He showed a nice moving cutter which broke in nicely on lefties, with slider action but thrown harder in the 84-86 range. One Thunder player commented that this was a new pitch for McHugh, having previously faced him in the NY-Penn, Sally and Florida State Leagues.

But the pitch that garnered the most swings and misses was a slow, downward breaking curve ball, thrown at 72-74 and used primarily with two strikes. He did not throw it that often, and you sometimes forgot he had the pitch in his arsenal until he broke it out for a key whiff.

McHugh does not have that superb “upside” that so many analysts and scouts love and thrive on, but McHugh does know how to pitch, has good command and does strike guys out, averaging 9.2 K/9 for his pro career. He has started and relieved in most seasons and could make a decent back-end of the rotation type pitcher, throwing the ball like Dillon Gee but with better strikeout rates.

The first night saw Graham Stoneburner on the mound for the Thunder. Two starts ago I reported reduced velocity for Stoner, something which I attributed to possible shoulder issues based upon his delivery. This game saw Stoneburner sit at 88-90 again with a few pumps at 92, similar to what I saw last time out. He was victimized by the tightest strike zone in the entire world by home plate umpire Scott Mahoney, culminating in a conversation between the two as the pitcher left the mound after the fifth inning.

Stoneburner left his slider up on occasion, with several hard hit balls the result, including a towering two-run home run by B-Mets RF Raul Reyes to straight away center. In addition to power, Reyes also showed good range playing right field, tracking balls deep into the corner near the fence and also coming in well on a right center field bloop.

Men were on base all night against Stoneburner but when he needed to make a pitch, he usually did with key strikeouts against Jordany Valdespin and Allan Dykstra on wicked sliders down and in. I found out that Stoneburner does not have any shoulder issues and through most of his career he has pitched in the 88-92 range, sometimes ratcheting up to 95 when he needed to.

While I have seen him hit 95 consistently in Staten Island, Charleston and Tampa, I must have been extremely lucky to see those games. 

I saw Jordany Valdespin play in the AFL last season**. You can read about my positional player 2010 AFL thoughts here.

**As an aside, in this AFL piece, I was pretty high on Jason Kipnis, who showed great bat speed and surprising power for a guy of his stature. Since being brought up by Cleveland a few weeks ago, he has hit .295/.358/.656/1.018 OPS with six HRs, but has also whiffed in nearly a third of his plate appearances.

Back to the Mets. To quote: “Valdespin showed great tools, but little in the way of how to play. He turned on a Jeremy Jeffress 99 MPH fastball like it wasn’t even an issue and showed good range and throwing arm on several plays. But he is inconsistent from play-to-play, showing a lack of concentration. He also swings at nearly everything and has poor hitting mechanics.”

With those poor mechanics, Valdespin usually leans and drifts, moving his upper body toward the pitcher, taking his legs out of the swing, which reduces the opportunity of any power.

What a difference a year makes. Valdespin showed better hitting mechanics, staying back and using his legs more. His upper body stayed on top of his legs and allowed his hands to get through the zone better. His quick bat, and now the use of his legs, has allowed him to hit 15 HRs so far and slug .483, the highest of his pro career.

Valdespin also showed better selectivity at the plate. For example, after getting ahead of Stoneburner 2-0 in the count, he took a slider on the inside corner for a called strike, and then got a fastball on the outer third which he fouled back. The Valdespin of the 2010 AFL would have gone after that 2-0 pitchers pitch, likely getting himself out. Facing the left-handed Josh Romanski in his fourth PA, Valdy calmly went with the pitch to line a single to left field.

His play-to-play concentration in the field appeared improved, with Valdy being in proper ready position before each pitch. He showed the good range and throwing arm I saw last fall, fielding balls in the 5.5 hole and up the middle. On the latter, on the run he fielded the ball near the bag, and with a strong throw across his body he nailed the runner at first base. Valdespin also moved his feet well on the routine ground ball, getting in front and wasn’t content to simply play the ball off to the side.

It appears that new Binghamton manager, former major league second baseman Wally Backman, a gamer if there ever was one, has had an effect on the 24-year-old Jordany. Also, don’t underestimate the development capabilities of the new Mets regime in this transformation.

I expected to see him again Wednesday night, but after Tuesday’s game, Valdespin was promoted to Triple A Buffalo, where he was 2-4, with a double.

With the uncertainty of Jose Reyes after this season, the Mets would benefit greatly if Valdespin continued his improvement.

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If Alex Rodriguez Is Out For An Extended Time, Who Will Play Third Base?

June 12, 2010

Alex Rodriguez came out of Thursday night’s game with a sore groin. He is not in Friday’s lineup either.

He was to meet with New York Yankee doctor Dr. Christopher Ahmad Friday, and will like to see his hip specialist, Dr. Marc Philippon.

First, I do not believe that Alex’ groin is going to be a big issue. He said there was discomfort, but no pain.

But, what if Alex’ tight groin is related to his hip injury? How will an extended period of time on the disabled list, not for the minimum of 15 days but say a month, affect the Yankees lineup?

For tonight, manager Joe Girardi is using Ramiro Pena at third base, further weakening an already light Yankee lineup. I say already light because Francisco Cervelli has not hit in the last week or so, and Jorge Posada has gone 3 for his last 27 (.111 BA/.294 OBP/.111 SLG) since coming back off the disabled list.

Who will play third base if Alex is out for an extended time? He was diagnosed with tendonitis of the hip flexor, and is probably out until Tuesday when the Yankees play the Philadelphia Phillies.

That will give Alex four days off the hip. But what if it is not enough?

Pena and Kevin Russo are the only guys on the 25 man roster capable of playing third base. That fact doesn’t send shivers down American League pitchers’ spines.

In Triple A Scranton, there is Matt Cusick, but he is not ready, mostly a filler type of player.

In Double A Trenton, the minor league RBI leader, Brandon Laird, is hitting for average and power. He has 56 RBI on the season.

I was at last night’s Thunder game and Laird had a couple more hits.

But according to Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin, he has been instructed to play Jorge Vazquez more at third base. This move from above indicates that Vazquez, a 28-year-old Mexican League veteran of nine seasons, might be primed for a promotion to Triple A Scranton.

After all, Vazquez is hitting .432 BA/.447 OBP/.541 SLG since returning from a stint on the disabled list from an appendectomy. He hit .329/.357/.578 last season, his first year playing in the United States. The former four-time Mexican League All-Star put up nearly similar numbers in his final season in Mexico.

Vazquez is obviously too good of a hitter for Double A and soon will be moved to Scranton.

Interestingly, Vazquez did not get a chance to finish the game last night against the Binghamton Mets as he was tossed from the game in the bottom of the 7th.

During a Mets pitching change, Mets pitching coach Mark Brewer thought Vazquez was too close to the plate during the pitchers warm ups, and began screaming at Vazquez. Manager Tony Franklin, coaching third base, tried to intervene, but Vazquez had begun to hear Brewer (tough as Jorge does not speak much English) and began to move towards the Mets bench.

Vazquez was restrained, but not before the home plate umpire (who had several members of both teams squawking at him all night), threw Vazquez out of the game.  Both benches and bullpens emptied, but nothing more ensued.

Franklin said Vazquez will be a third base tonight.

That also means Laird will likely stay the entire season at Trenton, a good move since Laird has made the normal progression of one level per season, and continuing to impress his way up the ladder.

Laird is a tremendous hitter, with good balance and an innate ability to stay inside the baseball.

He will be a good major league hitter, but not this season.

Jorge Vazquez will eventually be the New York Yankees right handed bat off the bench, and I hope at a minimum, be there to replace Marcus Thames, who is now showing he can not even hit left handed pitching anymore.

However, if things get a little troublesome for Alex Rodriguez, Vazquez could see some time at third base, too.