I drove down to Tacoma Tuesday night to see Taijuan Walker. Upon arriving, I learned that Walker had been scratched with arm tightness. Walker reportedly never threw and just didn’t feel right in warm ups. Skipping his start was a smart precaution, and we’ll hopefully learn more information about his arm soon. Considering that he’s been his normal self in two rehab appearances, there’s plenty of reason for optimism, and hopefully this will simply be a temporary setback.
The Walkerless Rainiers still had a game though, and their big bats ripped Salt Lake’s Joe Martinez apart. Martinez, to be fair, didn’t have good stuff, and was forced to wear five innings for a reeling team with a short bullpen. Still, it was a good opportunity to get a look at the Rainiers bats, and I compiled some notes on a handful of Tacoma and Salt Lake’s more notable participants, including Stephen Pryor.
Let’s start with the bad: right now, it’s clear that Pryor isn’t the guy we saw at the end of 2012 or the start of last season. His fastball was 89-92 MPH, his slider was inconsistent, and he struggled with his location, throwing six balls to start his outing. He’s not himself, and with how well the right handed relievers have been pitching for the Mariners thus far, there’s no reason to rush him back, even if the alternative is to burn an option year and let the Tennessee native work his way back from Tacoma. Either way, I’d be shocked if he was up with Seattle before the end of the month.
The better news: Pryor looked far better tonight than he did while rehabbing in Everett last summer, when he got battered by an A ball lineup and could barely crack 90 MPH on the gun. While his slider was inconsistent, he did throw one really good one toward the end of the inning, and I was encouraged that he was able to maintain his velocity (something he did not do while rehabbing in 2013) throughout the appearance. Pryor has a ways to go, but he’s not a complete mess, and it’s plausible to think that he could be a cog in the bullpen again some time this season.
The prospect darling of spring training, Jones has produced well for the Rainiers in the early part of 2014. Tonight, he showed off the best parts of his skill set by taking a walk, stealing a base, lining a hard single, and even doubling off the wall in left center. He has plenty of speed for center — though I haven’t seen him really run for a ball yet.
At the plate, Jones is more passive than discerning, and I wonder if his approach is going to get him in trouble at the big league level. Today’s double notwithstanding — I was surprised he could hit it that far, considering his slender frame and the night’s cool, breezy conditions — Jones is unlikely to hit for much power. He’s skinny for a big leaguer, and his swing is more conducive to line drives than home runs. I’d imagine pitchers with good stuff will attack him aggressively, getting ahead in counts and challenging him to barrel up pitches early in the count.
Choi is off to a great start — hitting .435/.567/.652 through his first eight games — but Tuesday wasn’t his best game. While everyone else teed off on Martinez, Choi struck out twice and whiffed on three or four very hittable offerings. It probably just wasn’t his night, but I do wonder how he adjusts to off speed pitches: he has a very active set up — he wags his hands back and forth deep into the pitcher’s motion — and it looked like it threw off his timing at the plate. He was also collapsing a bit on his front side, although I haven’t seen him enough to know if these are recent developments or just features of his swing.
Cron was considered the best power bat in 2011’s loaded draft class and it only took one viewing for him to demonstrate why. Cron is well built physically, and has a violent upper cut swing conducive to big power. He laced a single in his first bat, and in his third, he followed up a just-foul home run with a double off the top of the left field wall.
Beyond power, Cron is limited. He’s not much more than a 20 runner — he beats Jesus Montero in a foot race, but not by much — and he doesn’t look agile at first base. The 24-year-old probably won’t hit for average because his bat doesn’t stay in the zone for long, and the loft in his swing will likely produce more fly balls than line drives. Given that he won’t be legging out any singles, he’ll really need to hit for power to provide value.
Cron is one of the more interesting guys in the Angels system, and is one of just a handful of players who could make an impact in L.A. He’ll likely spend 2014 raking in the PCL, but he’ll have a tougher time squaring up good velocity and better offspeed. He can hit guys like James Gillheeney and Zach Miner, but he won’t get too many at-bats against pitchers of that caliber at the next level.
I saw Gillheeney last year too, and he’s essentially the same guy: the left hander works with an 88 MPH fastball, a 1-6 curve in the low 70’s, a straight change up, and a nifty little cutter. Gillheeney’s biggest strengths are deception — he starts by twisting his torso toward first base, which helps him hide the ball — and his ability to throw all four pitches for strikes. Beyond that, he has limited projection. He doesn’t command the ball well enough for a guy without much velocity or a good breaking ball, and he really struggled to induce whiffs out of the zone; oddly, he looks much more comfortable trying to start a hitter off with a pitch on the outer edge of the plate than he does throwing a competitive pitch just out of the zone. He should be able to get outs in the majors as a long reliever, but those looking for better starting options than Blake Beavan should turn elsewhere.
Jason A. Churchill
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