This week from the "Behind the Backstop," I am reaching into the mailbag to write up some scouting reports on a few players that our readers are interested in learning more about.
Up first is Oakland right-hander Raul Alcantara, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 for $500,000 by the Red Sox. He was subsequently traded to the A's in 2011 in the deal that netted the A's Josh Reddick and sent Andrew Bailey to New England. Not only does this trade look great for Oakland so far, but also, Alcantara has a chance to make it look like a huge steal.
Alcantara is 6-foot-3 and has a strong, durable looking frame. He has a nice, easy and short arm action with a smooth, repeatable delivery. His mechanics are sound and he couples that with great pitchability. One negative I saw this year is his mound presence when things got rough. He reacts poorly and will have to demonstrate better presence on the mound moving forward.
His fastball ranges anywhere from 90-95 mph and he sits comfortably at 92-93. He gets average to a tick below average fastball movement, as his fastball is fairly true (straight). His fastball command is average and he is going to have to improve on throwing more quality strikes if he is to succeed in the big leagues. Overall, his fastball grades out as an average pitch.
Where the Dominican righty excels is in his control of the strike zone. He is a strike thrower and works ahead in the count. Last year, he walked fewer than two batters per nine innings, which is an exceptional rate.
His performance to date has been very good and for a pitcher of his age working at higher levels, it has to resonate with scouts. The biggest question on Alcantara at this point is whether his secondary stuff will develop enough to get hitters out consistently at the big league level. Right now, his slider is a below average pitch but it has the makings to be a future plus pitch. It's a hard, with a more slurvy action, that he has below average command of. His changeup has been a work in progress as is the case for most pitchers of his experience and native country. He has shown great improvement with the pitch however, and has flashed good depth and arm side run with it.
Alcantara enters 2014 with no restrictions and while he will probably begin the year back in High-A in the California League, he should find a midseason promotion to Double-A. He is on pace to throw a full slate of close to 200 innings and it wouldn't be surprising if he is a late-season addition for the A's if they need some depth in the rotation or bullpen in 2014.
Overall, I see Alcantara as a D-54; a solid No. 4 starter in the big leagues.
Another Oakland right-hander is Nolan Sanburn out of the University of Arkansas. Sanburn was drafted in the second round in 2012 and handed a $710,000 signing bonus.
The 21-year-old stayed back in extended spring training this year after he came down with a shoulder injury to the teres major on the backside of his pitching arm. No surgery was needed, but he was held out of regular action until June. He finally made his full-season debut with the Beloit Snappers in Low-A ball where the A's were very protective of him. Initially, he was going to get a look as a starting pitcher but after the injury Oakland decided to monitor his workload, and regiment his appearances through the bullpen. Sanburn was a reliever in college and has carried a closer mentality with him to the pro ranks. We don't know yet if the A's will still try and convert him into a starter next year.
Sanburn is a short right-handed pitcher standing at barely six-feet tall. He has a long arm path in his delivery and tends to recoil, throwing with effort. He has good efficiency in his delivery but it would be good to see him tone down his effort a bit. When you look at his body type, his delivery, and his track record, you can't help but think he is best served in the bullpen. He's still young enough to try in the rotation but his health would ultimately be a determining factor.
In college, he ranged in fastball velocity from 93-99 mph and was 90-94 mph this summer after recovering from the injury. The movement on his fastball is plus, but his command is below average at this point. Overall, his fastball is solid average to a tick above. I would grade it out as a 55 right now. If he sticks as a reliever and gets back to full health, his fastball has a chance to play well above average. That is still a big question mark though.
In his short time in the minors, which totals less than 50 innings he has performed well. He throws strikes for the most part, flashing average control. His curveball is a true 12-to-6 breaker with power, but because of the below average command he possesses of it currently, it's just an average pitch. It has the potential to a plus major league offering down the road. He has good feel for a changeup and is working on a cutter as well.
If Sanburn is a reliever, expect to see a full season at High-A with a chance to get to Double-A in 2014. He could be on the radar for a shot at the bullpen in 2015. If he's going to be tried again as a starter, he'll probably head back to Beloit where the A's hope to get him stretched out for a half season. A good performance there will dictate a promotion to the Cal League, but the A's will continue to be careful with him and probably won't expose him to more than 100 innings.
When factoring in all of the probabilities with Sanburn, I peg him as a D-53. I forecast him to be a good middle reliever. He's not someone that needs to be on your radar right now, but put him down on your watch list. His career path and future role are still big unknowns. Check back in on him in a year.
Let's stick with the A's with one more name in southpaw Chris Kohler. Kohler was going to be a two-way player in college but the A's did a good job to buy him out of a commitment to the University of Oklahoma and drafted him as a projectable lefty. Kohler made his debut in the fire league (Arizona Rookie League) and performed very well. He sits 88-91 mph right now but standing at 6-foot-3, he oozes with projection and could be pumping mid-90s heat in three years.
Kohler is a great name to watch and has some of the highest upside in the A's system. He's a candidate for a full season in 2014 but we'll probably see him start the year in short-season ball. The A's will take it slow with him but it wouldn't be surprising to see him finish the year in Beloit. The southern California native is not close to the big leagues, but he could very well be surfacing as a big time prospect by this time next year.
He'll probably be on tap for about 15 starts and 75 innings next year and could be lined up for a late summer audition in Oakland in 2016, at the extreme earliest.
Let's move on to some Mariners arms now. Young left-hander Tyler Pike out of Florida was committed to be a two-way player at Florida State University before the Mariners bought him out with an $850,000 signing bonus.
Pike is a short lefty, standing at no more than six-feet tall, but he has a very strong and durable frame. He's muscular and very athletic and actually looks taller than his listed height in uniform. He has a very nice, smooth and easy delivery. In fact, he can lull hitters to sleep with his methodical approach throughout his delivery, and he creates deception because of his quick arm. He has a slight Rick Sutcliffe like arm wrap when he jabs downward and sometimes his arm doesn't catch up to his delivery. He repeats and is on line to the plate.
Pike throws his fastball anywhere from 88-94 mph and while he is inconsistent with his velocity, when he has all of his parts moving correctly he can sit in the 90 mph range and throw good strikes up to 92. He has no sink but gets good tailing action to the arm side, and his fastball runs away from righties. He has great command of his fastball, which helps it play up. Overall, his fastball grades out as an average major league pitch.
Pike has had a tremendous start to his career, posting a 2.18 ERA in 161 career minor league innings. He is someone to be very excited about and while we have to temper our enthusiasm a bit because his stuff isn't premium, lefties with his command, efficiency in delivery, and pitchability make good starting pitchers in the bigs. The biggest concern on Pike is his walk rate, which is at 4.36 BB/9 for his career. That is a number that is going to have to come way down because he doesn't have the stuff to pitch behind in the count and get hitters out. His curveball flashes plus and it looks like it will be an above average breaker in the future. He has solid feel for a changeup as well.
Pike will head to the Cal League in High-A and pitch there as a 20-year-old in 2014. This will be a good test for him and while he'll probably spend all year there, he could be closing in on a promotion to Seattle by late 2015. More realistically, he'll be on the M's radar in 2016. Pike has shown good durability and is poised to hit the 150-inning mark this season.
My grade on Pike is a C-57. He's a No. 3 starter in the big leagues and another good arm in the pipeline for the Mariners.
The next name on this list is by far and away the most exciting amongst those listed here. Edwin Diaz was a third rounder out of the Puerto Rican Military Academy in 2012 and signed for $300,000.
Diaz is a skinny, 6-foot-2 right hander with big projection. Diaz is probably 160 pounds wet and he needs to fill out and put some good weight on. He has extremely long limbs and a high octane delivery. He has a very difficult time controlling his body. His arm is very loose, with explosiveness and windmill whip through the slot. He gets some of the best extension in his delivery and gets right on top of hitters at his release point.
Diaz will pump fastballs anywhere from 92-97 mph and sits at 93-94. His fastball is fairly true and while it has some wiggle out of his hand its mostly straight when approaching the zone. Hitters have a real tough time squaring him up though and while his control and command aren't quite average, he can get away with below average command because his fastball can be a devastating pitch. His fastball is a plus pitch overall, graded out as a '6' on the 2-to-8 scale.
Diaz has been a stud in 88 innings to this point in his career, with a 2.25 ERA overall. Hitters are very uncomfortable in the box and there are some ugly swings against him. As expected with someone of his build and high effort delivery, his control is below average right now. He doesn't need to be a plus strike thrower though to have success, but he will need to improve some and throw a few more quality strikes. Diaz's curveball is a true plus big league offering and it's not far from major league quality right now. While it's inconsistent, it's a punchout pitch with good depth. The changeup is the biggest area of concern as Diaz has not shown any feel for it to this point and he'll have to improve upon that to have great success in the big leagues.
Diaz only started pitching four years ago at the age of 15 and with his body type and arm, he has all kinds of upside. He'll get his first taste of full season ball next year and he'll be in the rotation at Clinton in the Midwest League; the Low-A ball affiliate for the Mariners. He's probably good for a full slate as a starter next year and will probably be held to no more than 125 innings. The Puerto Rican right-hander has a chance to become a premium prospect and shoot through the system. We could be talking about a top-25 prospect in a year with the chance to be on the big league scene by late 2016.
For Diaz, the overall grade is a B-60; a No. 2 starter in the big leagues.
Finally, we end this column with another Seattle arm in Victor Sanchez. Sanchez was signed out of Venezuela in 2011 and received a $2,500,000 bonus.
Sanchez is a hulking presence, weighing in at 250 pounds and standing at no more than six feet tall. He is a very imposing figure on the mound and the ball looks like a peanut in his huge hands, or should I say paws? He is not overweight but he will have to fight to stay in shape. He is very strong looking with a huge upper body and overall, a powerful looking frame. Sanchez has an easy delivery with a short and quick bring back in his arm action. He tends to get a little fast and needs to remember to hold and stay closed before he breaks his hands. He shows his back to the hitter, and it's why he reminds me a lot of a bigger version of Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto.
Sanchez throws his fastball at 90-94 mph, but it's very inconsistent and was seen dipping into the upper 80s on occasion this year. Some scouts have said that Sanchez doesn't have any projection left. There is a common misconception in scouting circles that any pitcher small in stature with a big, filled out body can't develop more velocity. While Sanchez doesn't have any more physical projection, he has all kinds of projection with his stuff. I believe that there is a lot more in Sanchez and that after he refines his mechanics a bit more and learns to stay back consistently, that he'll be regularly sitting in the low 90s.
His movement is true and he gets about average life and sink on his fastball. However, the huge separator for Sanchez is his command. When he's sitting in the low 90s and dotting the four quadrants, he is very difficult to produce off of.
Another major factor in his ability to get outs and in his projection is his superb control. For his career, he's walked just over two per nine innings. He has a career 2.90 ERA in a total of 198 innings to date and he's done all of this at the youthful age of 18 while pitching against much more advanced hitters. His breaking ball is perhaps the only thing that could hold him back, but I'm projecting at least an average slider. It's more of a slurvy breaker right now and he can throw it for strikes. If Sanchez is able to get better plane and depth on it, he has the chance to turn it into a good enough pitch in the big leagues to have success. His changeup is an equalizer and is a well above average pitch with fade.
Sanchez will be 19 and pitching in the Cal League in 2014. If he has success there, we may have to begin talking about a future ace. He'll be slated to post every fifth day and will be a horse for the M's High-A affiliate. Expect him to rack up about 175 innings. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility that Sanchez is pitching in Seattle by July of 2015 as a 20-year-old.
This may be a reach as I'm going on future projection, but I have Sanchez down as a B-63; a No. 2 starter.