Last year, I decided to take a crack at prospect analysis and check out the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The team was loaded, and even though it was little cold in Manchester and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had the day off, my wife and I still had a good time there. As a result, we decided to go to a Wilmington Blue Rocks while passing through Delaware this past Friday night.
As with last year, I did this on recommendation from an article by ESPN’s Keith Law where he wrote up a list of the most loaded minor league teams right now based on the quality of prospects they have. The Royals High-A affiliate in Wilmington has several of the team’s top prospects, including one that landed on Law’s top 100 rankings in Daniel Lynch (53rd). The game was against the Potomac Nationals, who are far less loaded, but they did have one of the Nationals’ better prospects in Telmito Agustin.
I was fortunate that the weather was fairly mild, but it rained on and off during the game. Thankfully, it did not rain too hard, even though it still was not fun to sit through.
Daniel S. Frawley Stadium is conveniently located off of I-95, and there is a nice hotel located right next to the stadium where my wife and I stayed the night (the hotel does not offer free Wi-Fi, though, which is pretty annoying in this day an age). You can easily just walk next door for the game. There does seem to be ample parking, too, and it’s free!
The ballpark is pretty nice! I sat in Section 15, not far behind home plate, though I kind of wish I had moved up into the empty seats further up front. You can see the highway in the distance behind left field, and the city can be seen behind right field. It’s a pretty nice view, actually.
Obviously I can’t see all of a team’s starting pitcher prospects in one game, but I was happy that Jackson Kowar was taking the mound that night. All of the position player prospects of note were playing with the exception of CF Kyle Isbel, who been on the IL for a few weeks now. It’s a shame because he was off to a great start this year by hitting .348/.423/.630, and he has combined that with great contact rates, as well as five stolen bases in seven attempts.
Before I go any further, I need to emphasize that I am not a trained, experienced scout or prospect writer. What I do have working in my favor is decades of experience watching baseball. If you want to learn more about the prospects discussed here, I highly recommend you go to Royals Farm Report, run by my BtBS co-worker Patrick Brennan.
Kowar was doing well over his first six starts going into Friday night. He had a 3.00 RA9 with solid but unremarkable peripherals. He was showing improvements over his debut nine starts for Lexington last year, especially with respect to his command. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t his night. He gave up five runs in 4+ IP on seven hits and three walks, though his defense did not do him any favors. SS Cristian Pérez allowed a runner to reach first on what was scored a fielding error. LF Brewer Hicklen let a flyball drop in front of him that he could have caught had he only put in some effort.
According to Royals Farm Report, Kowar has shown improvements he has needed to make with his curveball and command, but it didn’t show that night. Twice he ended up throwing a curveball that didn’t curve and wound up going behind the batter. He had no feel for it at all over the first few innings. His command was off as well. His curveball looked a lot better by the fifth inning, but by then it was too late. It is entirely possible that the rain messed with his grip, which would explain why his curveball and command were lacking.
One thing that was working for Kowar that night was his changeup, which absolutely lived up to the reports on it. I mean, just look at this thing:
Jackson Kowar, Disgusting Changeup movement. pic.twitter.com/AI31XX5HVJ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 19, 2018
It had great tumbling action and some nice arm-side fade. He used it as a weapon against left-handed hitters to great effect. He got multiple whiffs on it, as the opposing hitters seemed helpless against it. He has reverse splits for his career, and even though that is a very small sample size, it would not surprise me if it turned out to be real with that changeup of his.
A 95 mph fastball plus an awesome 83 mph changeup is why Kowar shows promise. However, he needs to develop a consistently effective curveball and improve his command during his development.
The Blue Rocks actually have two catching prospects on the roster, and they both played. MJ Melendez DHed while Sebastian Rivero caught. I think Melendez has an idea of what he is doing at the plate, and he reportedly has power, but he struggles making contact. He was 0-4 that night with two strikeouts with quite a few whiffs. His strikeout rate is through the roof right now at 43.5 percent.
As for Rivero, he looked great behind the plate. He receives well and has a good arm. He attempted a pick-off at first base early in the game, and even though it was unsuccessful, I was impressed with how quick and accurate his throw was. It is a good thing his defense is promising because I don’t think he’s going to hit much. On the bright side, he clearly has a good eye, and I was not surprised at all to find out that his walk rate is over 12 percent this year.
RF Seuly Matias is said to have 80-grade power, so I was really hoping to see some dingers. Unfortunately, he swings at everything and struggles to make contact. He had a nice hard-hit single in his first plate appearance but struck out in the following three. His strikeout rate is even worse than that of Melendez right now, but at least he seems to be learning to take a walk, though obviously it did not show in that game.
1B Nick Pratto is struggling badly to start the season, hitting just .152/.240/.188 with a ton of strikeouts. Honestly, though, that batting line does not line up with what I saw. I liked his approach, but obviously he needs to prove that he can actually hit in High A. His first base defense is quite good, though.
Hicklen has a strange batting line this year, even when accounting for the small sample size, with a line of .232/.388/.305. You rarely see someone’s OBP higher than his SLG, and I can’t recall ever seeing it that much higher. Obviously having a high OBP and walk rate is great, but putting up a batting line like that in the majors is basically impossible. Watching him, however, explained how he is slugging .305 with such a high OBP: he is way too passive at the plate. He needs to start swinging more at good pitches. Also, as I alluded to before, I am not a fan of his defense.
Moving on to the Nationals, Agustin had a bad night going 0-5 with four strikeouts. He did great last year in the Carolina League hitting .302/.368/.454, but he is struggling so far this year with a line of .221/.297/.336, though he is walking quite a bit. He has good bat-to-ball skills, but he seemed to struggle with high velocity. I don’t know if the leg injury that kept him out for two months last year is still affecting him.
I could not find him on any prospect lists, but RHP Jhonatan Germán caught my attention in the seventh inning. He had a one-two-three inning and pounded the strike zone (the two pitches that called balls probably should have been strikes). He has good deception which he combined with a 95 mph fastball and 88 mph slider. Yes, at 24 he is pretty old for the level, but if ever cracks a big league bullpen, I will not be surprised.
The latter innings were kind of dull, but overall the baseball was fun to watch. Again, if you want learn more about Royals’ prospects, check out Patrick’s site at Royals Farm Report.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.