I went down to Tacoma Monday night to watch the Rainiers take on the Reno Aces. The game was light on high ceiling talent without Nick Franklin, but there were still a few players who caught my eye, and I finally feel like I’ve seen Jabari Blash enough to weigh in on his progress as well. Below are a couple of notes from the last few nights I’ve made it out to the ballpark.
Reno started Zeke Spruill, a twenty-four year old righty who made his deubt with the Diamondbacks late last season. Spruill works quickly with an effortless ¾ delivery. What he lacks in deception – he shows the ball briefly as he removes it from his glove — he compensates for with repeatability. My only critique from a mechanical perspective is that he throws a bit across his body, a motion that some analysts have suggested might be linked to shoulder problems.
Spruill used a good sinking fastball that sat 91-93 and touched 94 with arm side run. The fastball is his bread and butter, and he was able to consistently induce weak ground balls from a Rainiers lineup largely bereft of impact bats. His off-speed pitches were less impressive, however. When it’s good, the slider is Spruill’s second best pitch: it’s 80-82 with considerable vertical movement, though sometimes he takes enough velocity off of it to the point where it looks like a curve ball with slider movement. His changeup is more of a waste pitch than an impact offering: it comes out of his hand well enough but features limited vertical drop and no horizontal movement.
While the lack of plus secondary pitches limits Spruill’ ultimate projection, he’ll be able to get plenty of outs in the big leagues by pounding the lower part of the strike zone with his sinking fastball. His reliance on a relatively flat slider and a mediocre changeup will give him problems in the majors against lefties, so I think his likely role is as a middle reliever who can sail through multiple innings on his best days. In a perfect world, he could pull a Charlie Morton and survive as a starter by relying heavily on his sinker, and with the Diamondbacks staff in tatters, he might get the chance to prove he can’t stick in the rotation later this summer.
And now, some positive words about Jesus Montero. First, he looks noticeably thinner than he did at the start of the year when he was in the running for heaviest player in professional baseball. He’s still not agile and he has no business playing the field but the weight loss is nonetheless a positive.
Second, I saw evidence of a mid-game adjustment from Montero last night. After the Venezuela native struck out chasing a high fastball in his first at-bat, Spruill tried to beat him with the same offering later in the game. While he initially wanted to offer, Montero was able to keep his hands back and take the pitch for a ball. For a guy who struggled to make any kind of adjustment in the majors, even the little things have to be taken as good signs. He also had the two hardest hit balls of the game.
I want to watch Blash a little more before writing anything in depth, but for now, it’s safe to say that the twenty-five year old is a project. He earned some attention after bashing twenty-five home runs last year with impressive walk rates, but while the power looks legit, I don’t think his walk rates will translate to Triple-A or the majors.
At the plate, Blash is more passive than patient, and he has a jerky swing that makes it hard for him to make consistent contact. Several times, I’ve seen him swing early in counts against bad pitches, which suggests that he’s a bit of a guess hitter who doesn’t react well to the ball out of a pitcher’s hand. Triple-A will prove to be a good test for Blash: he’ll consistently see better breaking balls than he ever has before and we’ll learn quite a bit about his ability to draw walks. He’ll always have problems striking out; the question will be whether he can hit for enough power to compensate for all the whiffs.
It doesn’t sound like the Mariners want to use Franklin at short much and from what I saw of him in Tacoma, I don’t disagree with the club’s stance. Franklin’s arm remains strong enough for the position but I saw him miss a couple of balls – both to his left and to his right– that I think most shortstops would reach. He also made an error in a game against Las Vegas when he tried to get in front of a ball he really should have backhanded. That’s just one play of course, but if the Mariners are going to use a player with limited range at short, they need to be playing a guy who can make all of the routine reads and plays. I’m not convinced that Franklin can.
I was surprised Ahmed pushed glove wizard Didi Gregorious to the keystone, but the University of Connecticut product showed he has quite the glove himself. He made the defensive play of the night when he ranged far to his left on a grounder up the middle: he was able to make the play on the run and gun the runner out at first with a strong, accurate throw. He also displayed lightning-quick hands on a tough double play ball, getting a throw off quickly and taking the brunt of a collision at the bag in the process.
At the plate, Ahmed’s upside is limited. In nearly 400 minor league games, Ahmed has only nineteen home runs and I don’t think he’ll hit for a good average either: his strikeout rates aren’t alarmingly high, but he pulls his front foot toward third base during his stride – bailing out – and I can’t imagine how he’ll make hard contact on big league fastballs and breaking pitches on the outside corner.