Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Break Stats

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

With the Rising Stars game tonight at 8pm, we are three weeks into the 2012 Arizona Fall League season.  Below you will find the lines on Jays prospects, who have been playing alongside their farmhand counterparts from the Diamondback, Nationals, Rockies, and White Sox organizations for the Salt River Rafters (11-9).

As per Shi Davidi, Sam Dyson will be the only Jay on a Rising Stars roster. Dyson, however, has already reached his 2012 innings limit so he will not see further action this season. The remainder of the Jays contingent will enjoy a well-deserved weekend off.

If you get MLB Network you can watch the Rising Stars game live. If not, you can endure the Gameday here.

 

Categories: Recap

Interview with Kevin Pillar — Arizona Fall League Standout

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions today, Kevin.

I see you’re originally from the Los Angeles area. Were you a baseball fan growing up? At what point during your early exposure to the sport – be it at the little league, PONY, Babe Ruth, or High School level – did you realize you could have a future as a ball player?

Being from Los Angeles, I grew up as a Dodgers fan. Some of my favorite moments as a kid were going to Dodgers games with my family and friends and I remember developing a love and passion for baseball at a young age watching and attending these games. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school when I decided that maybe I could have a future in baseball. At the point in time my focus turned from being an athlete playing football and basketball in high school, to working towards finding a place to play collegiate baseball.

In 2010 Pillar set an NCAA Division II record with the Toros, racking up a 54 game hitting streak, just six shy of the all-division mark (gotoros.com)

You attended Cal State – Dominguez Hills before joining the Blue Jays farm system as a 32nd Round pick in the 2011 draft. You were also recruited by such schools as Loyola Marymount, Fresno State, UCLA, Gonzaga, Sonoma State, New Mexico State, and Nevada. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that Cal State served as an excellent springboard into a professional baseball career. What separated Cal State from the rest?

Fresno State was a school I really wanted to go to because my brother was a student there and I thought it would be way cool to attend college with my older brother. UCLA was also a dream school of mine ever since I was a little kid. The reason I choice Cal State Dominguez Hills was because they gave me an opportunity to play there, while at all these other schools my future as a ball player was not guaranteed. Cal State Dominguez hills also gave me an opportunity to come in right away and earn playing time. I also had an instant connection with Head Coach Murphy Su’a who remains a close mentor of mine.

During your junior year with the Toros you were able to sustain a 54-game hitting streak, setting a Division II record. I guess I have to inquire into that amazing accomplishment. Once your streak got into 20’s the 30’s – flirting with school and conference records – it appears you gained a lot of attention. In the 50’s you had the Los Angeles Times writing about you. What was that experience like for you? How were you able to keep accumulating knocks amidst all the attention and hype?

That experience of that hit streak was unlike anything else that I had ever experienced in my life. First, the baseball aspect of being locked in for 54 for straight games and being able to help my team reach and host a regional tournament was very special. The hit streak, like you mentioned, did not necessarily gain a whole lot of attention until I closed in on the school record at 23. Following that, the streak kind of took a snowball effect as it reached the conference record at 33 games. After that, the snowball became bigger then I would have ever thought when the Los Angeles times came out for an interview. I will admit, throughout the whole process I did not feel the pressure of breaking this record until the night before games 49 and 50, which was a Saturday doubleheader that would not only allow me to tie the Division II record, but also break it. Needless to say, I was able to accomplish it. The streak will definitely go down as an incredible journey and highlight in not only my baseball career, but my life.

Your streak ended in the CCAA Conference Tournament, when you were 0-for-2 with a groundout and fly out in your first two at bats. In your last two at bats of that game, however, you were intentionally walked and hit by a pitch. Revelry of setting a collegiate record aside, was that frustrating for you; having the bat taken out of your hands on in both at bats and not being able to end the streak on your own terms? I know you were close to the all-division hitting streak record of 60 games.

Yes, it was definitely extremely frustrating because UCSD was a huge rival of ours with whom we accumulated some bad blood. Anytime you have a chance to make history or accomplish something you would like your outcome to be determined by something you did, rather than something you did not have a chance to do. The ironic thing about this was it was the only time that we beat UCSD that year.

It can difficult for student athletes to balance athletic obligations with academic responsibilities. What did you major in at Cal State? Also, as a professional athlete, have you suddenly found yourself with an abundance of free time, or is training and competition much more consuming than it was in college?

I majored and completed my degree in business with an emphasis in sports, entertainment, and hospitality. I would definitely say you have a lot more free time as a professional athlete compared to being a collegiate athlete, but a lot of that free time is used towards bettering your career such as training, working out, and treatment.

Pillar’s numbers with Rookie-class Bluefield basically mirror his senior year numbers with Cal State- Dominguez Hills (basebalhotcorner.com)

You began your time in the Blue Jays system with Rookie-class Bluefield of the Appalachian League. With Bluefield, you led the league with a .347 batting average. You were also able to rack up 17 doubles, three triples and 37 RBIs. It looks like you picked up right where you left off in your senior year with Cal State when you hit .369 with 6 homeruns, 21 doubles, 3 triples and 36 RBIs. How did the level of play in the Appalachian League compare with that of your Division II schedule?

The level of competition was definitely better than what I faced at Cal State – Dominguez Hills. That is not to discredit the competition at the Division II School I played for, but rookie ball was definitely the next step up. I would say the principles and attention to detail that I learned at CSUDH helped me achieve success in my first professional season.

You started your 2012 season in Class-A Lansing where you obviously excelled, posting a .322 batting average with 5 homeruns, 57 RBIs and 35 stolen bases before your elevation to High-A Dunedin in mid-July. How did you enjoy playing in Lansing? I know Cooley Law School Stadium is one of the largest Class-A parks in the United States.

I really enjoyed my stay in Lansing. Lansing is an awesome town, with a high baseball IQ and passion for the game. Cooley Law School Stadium, although was a tough park to hit balls out of, was definitely a cool place to call home while I was there.

Upon elevation to High-A Dunedin, you continued your success, posting a .323 average with 34 RBIs in 164 at bats. What was it like being transplanted into a new team three months into the season? Between the 1,000 mile move and the higher level of play, what sort of adjustments did that require on a personal and athletic level?

Joining a new team with guys that I had only had limited contact with during spring training was definitely an adjustment. Naturally there is a pressure that you put on yourself to not only perform, but to fit in with guys that have been gelling for multiple months. After I got over trying to do too much to prove myself and was able to just be myself, I was able to call Dunedin home after a week. As far as adjustments I had to make physically on the field, the speed of the game was faster, with pitchers who more consistently throw different pitches for strikes. The beauty of baseball is the game remains the same from high school to the big leagues with just the speed of the game changing.

Pillar began his long 2012 campaign in April with Single-A Lansing (bleacherreport.net)

When did you learn that the Blue Jays selected you as one of the organization’s eight participants in the Arizona Fall League? What was your initial reaction to the news that your 2012 campaign would be prolonged?

It was the day the Arizona Fall League rosters came out, which I believe was in the middle of September. I came in from batting practice and looked at my phone and had a couple missed calls, text messages, and a couple tweets, which were more than usual. I read the tweets and texts that said “congrats on the AFL selection” and was at a loss for words. At that point I knew that the season I had put together did not go unnoticed and I would get a huge opportunity to play with the best prospects in baseball.

At the time of this interview you are fresh off a three-hit performance against Phoenix. That means in 29 Arizona Fall League at bats you’re sporting an incredible .448 average and .500 on-base-percentage. I understand that during the first few weeks of the season you received limited playing time, only playing Wednesdays and Saturdays. It seems like in the last week or so Rafters’ manager Matt Williams has deviated from this schedule and you’re receiving more plate opportunities. Is this change in playing time a result of your success at the plate, or was it always part of the plan?

I came into the Fall League on what they call the “taxi squads,” which is for players who are only activated on Wednesday and Saturdays. I knew that it would be a huge adjustment since I was used to playing every day, but looked at it as another challenge to overcome. Due to an unfortunate bad hop ground ball that resulted in a concussion to one of our players, I was activated off the taxi squad and was given a huge opportunity by our manager Matt Williams to receive more playing time.

I’ve heard great things about Matt Williams as a coach with the Diamondbacks. How has your experience with him as a manager been?

Matt has been great. He knows baseball inside and out and is so knowledgeable. The thing that has stood out the most to me is his love for the game. He brings so much energy to batting practice and the games every day. He is still just a big kid.

What is the daily routine of an AFL player? What did you do on your last off-day?

It depends on whether it’s a day or night game. For day games I would be get up around 7:30 and get to the field for breakfast. Next I’d get my uniform on and either take the bus to the game or go out and stretch. Following stretch is batting practice. After batting practice, depending on whether I’m playing that day or not, I would go to the weight room and lift. On days that I am playing I will eat lunch, shower, hot tub, shower then get dressed. After, I will go back to the cage for a couple more swings and head out to the field to get loose and play the game. Following the game we have a post-game meal, shower and head home. Then we do it all again the next day!

On my last day off I played golf with one of the coaches and six of the guys in a two-team, four man scramble golf match. It was really fun even though my team lost.

Teams in the AFL are composed of some of the top prospects in the minors. Obviously your current stats do not reflect any need for adjustment, but is the heightened level of competition noticeable on the field?

Yeah the game is still the same but the talent on the field is definitely noticeable. It is not only fun to compete with the best prospects, but on my off days I enjoy watching these players.

Your 2012 season began in the first week of April and won’t end until the third week in November. Your numbers do not evidence any signs of fatigue, but are you tired?

I pride myself on being in good shape and doing whatever it takes to stay on the field. The season has definitely been a long one, and fatigue has crept in from time to time. I’m not going admit that I’m tired, but I know when the fall league ends I will definitely need some time off.

I find it hard to believe that a player who sets a national collegiate record would go in the 32nd Round. Do you think front offices’ recent emphasis on sabermetrics and their undervaluation of intangibles like clutch and poise had an effect on your low draft pick?

Pillar, who was the 2012 Midwest League MVP, has had an excellent first year in the Blue Jays organization (MWL Traveler)

I think the draft system is an imperfect science, and I do think that they base too much emphasis on “potential” rather than what they see when scouting a player in person. I have no complaints about what happened in the draft because it has given me a chip on my shoulder, and has me out to prove people wrong.

Obviously you are now playing at a higher level than many players in other organizations who were drafted ahead of you. To what extent do you believe your relatively low draft pick is a “chip on your shoulder,” or a constant invitation to yourself to push yourself to the next level?

Yeah it’s definitely a chip on my shoulder, but a thing of the past now. Regardless of whether I was a 1st round pick or an undrafted free agent I would have the same desire to prove myself and be an impact player in the big leagues. Being a low draft pick will always fuel me and motivate me though.

Do you have any pregame rituals?

I don’t have any pre-game rituals. I just like to use the hot and cold tub if possible to loosen my body and I like to hit in the cage with my uniform on before going out for pre-game stretch.

What is your walkup song? Or, if you don’t have one, what would you like your walkup song to be?

We don’t use walk up songs in the AFL but in Lansing and Dunedin I used the song “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Toploader. It has been my walk up song since my freshmen year of college and will always be my walk up song.

The basketball season begins today. Having grown up in the Los Angeles Area, are you a Lakers fan? How do you like their chances this season?

I am a huge Lakers fan and am extremely excited and optimistic about the Lakers this year. However, I am also realistic and know how chemistry plays a huge factor in success and I know that it will take a little bit for the Lakers to click. But once they do, they will be unstoppable.

Thanks so much for your time. Good luck in the rest of your season. Many Jays fans have been tracking your progress. I hope to see you in Buffalo this spring and Toronto in the near future. 

Categories: Interviews

AFL Roundup: 10/29/12

October 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Through almost three weeks of Arizona Fall League baseball, here are the lines for Blue Jays prospects.

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The Rafters continue their season today at Phoenix.  First pitch is at 12:35 MST. Should you wish, you can follow the action live here.

Categories: Recap

Ricky Romero in 2012: Outlier or Norm

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s tough squaring Romero’s breakout 2011 campaign with last season (Zimbio.com)

Last season, Ricky Romero was a shell of his 2011 self. After his breakout 2011 season it seemed that despite his equivocal numbers in the minors, Romero, the number six overall pick in the 2005 draft (ahead of Troy Tulowitzki who propelled the Rockies to the 2007 World Series while Romero stagnated in Double-A with shoulder issues), had finally proven his worth.

Any time a starter can throw over 220 innings and record a sub-3.00 ERA in the American League East, he is worth keeping around. And that is exactly what the Jays front office did in the dog days of his 2011 breakout season: locked him in. In the middle of an August month in which Romero was 5-0 with a torrid 2.05 ERA and .91 WHIP, the Jays signed him to a five-year, $30-million deal with a lucrative club option. Who wouldn’t? It appeared that Romero would be the Jays’ ace for the next half-decade.

The first installment in Romero’s multi-year deal – 2012 – was, well, utterly terrible. I don’t want to belabor what has already received considerable analysis in various post-mortem and state-of-the-franchise pieces, so I will just give you the raw, hard numbers. Take a look at Romero’s 2012 season. For perspective, I included his 2011 numbers, too.

The Star said it best in in its early October season recap: “[Romero’s] ace status isn’t gone; [but] it is in question.” While Brandon Morrow will enter spring training as the Jays’ presumptive ace, 2011 did not erase what Romero was able to achieve in 2012. One thing’s for sure, though. In the minds of Jays fans, it certainly did cast doubt on Romero’s ability to replicate that performance in 2013 and beyond.

What should we make of Romero’s 2011 performance? Was it an anomalous showing from a top prospect that didn’t exactly pan out? A flash in the pan, if you will? Only posterity will know for sure, but Jays fans hope that it’s the 2012 version of Romero which will be remembered as the outlier.

This entry, which is certainly a digression from the central focus of this blog (although, after watching Romero last season, it’s not farfetched to imagine him with Buffalo in 2013 if he continues where he left off), will explore two questions.

First, I will look for the trends and habits that buried Romero in 2012. One diagnosis I will not accept for Romero’s implosion is the temperamental excuse: i.e. “Romero just needs to straighten his head out.” While baseball is a psychological sport and some soul-searching might benefit Romero, I am looking for data, not platitudes. Second, I will compare Romero’s pitch data from the last two seasons to see if there was a substantial loss in velocity or movement in 2012.

Between these two question, I will attempt to parse some sort of explanation for Romero’s lackluster performance last season.

I know baseball is not a sport which lends itself to simple but-for causation – in fact, my conclusion is decidedly inconclusive – but I will try to identify the main culprits. “It’s the process, not the end result,” I was told when a track season replete with 100-mile training weeks ended in a bust. I think some sort of rationale for Romero’s disappointment might provide some closure for the trainwreck that was 2012.

Romero was 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA in 2012 (MLB Reports)

Looking at Romero’s 2012 numbers, the most glaring statistic is his walk rate. While Romero walked 3.2/9 in 2012, that figure rose to 5.2/9 last season. The principle of regression to the mean does not account for this dramatic increase in free passes. In 2010 Romero walked 3.5 per 9 innings; in 2009 4.0/9 innings.

To what do you attribute this dramatic uptick in walk percentage? This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s not reducible to Romero’s inability to find the strike zone. Romero actually threw pitches in the strike zone at a higher rate in 2012 (42.7%) than he did in 2011 (42.4%). What really troubled Romero, however, was his ability to get ahead in the count and throw strikes at the right time. This is evidenced by Romero’s career low first-strike rate. While Romero had first-strike rates of 58.1% and 57.9% in 2010 and 2011, respectively, in 2012 Romero sported a first-strike rate of 53.3%. The league average is 59.9%. Woof.

When the count sits in the hitter’s favor, Romero is forced to throw hittable pitches within the zone – lest increase an already unacceptable walk-rate. Romero’s career-high zone-contact percentage of 90.9% in 2012 – almost three percent greater than the league average – is consistent with this.

In 2011, when behind in the count, Romero threw his fourseamer only 64% of the time against lefties and 53% against righties. This relatively sparing use of his fastball allowed him to mix up his pitches, keeping batters off balance.  In 2012, however, instead of mixing in his secondary pitches, when the batter was ahead Romero relied on his fourseamer a whopping 81% of the time against lefties and 68% against righties.

Let’s face it: Romero’s pitch selection was predictable when behind in the count, and he was behind in the count often. Couple that predictability with a slight downtick in the velocity of Romero’s fourseamer (92.72mph in 2011 v. 91.92mph 2012) and – as we’ll explore later, decreased life – and the more disciplined, pitch-selective batters were seeing volleyballs from Romero.

Hence, the second-most dramatic difference in Romero’s statistics between 2011 and 2012: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). BABIP measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits, or how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits, excluding homeruns. Romero’s 2011 BABIP (.242) was an impressive .49 lower than the league average (.291). In 2012, however, Romero’s .311 BABIP Romero was .18 over the league average. Generally speaking, BABIP is not a highly-regarded metric. It is thought to be a function of defense and luck, rather than replicable skill. On a long enough timeline, it is asserted that every pitcher’s BABIP should be more or less equal.

On June 22nd Romero was 8-1 with a 4.34 ERA, but ended up losing 12 of his final 14 decisions (National Post)

But such a marked variance between Romero’s 2011 and 2012 BABIPs, coupled with the dramatic increase in Romero’s line-drive percentage (14.2% in 2011 to 20.1% in 2012), is telling. It demonstrates that when hitters were putting the ball in play off Romero, they were doing so emphatically. By pitching into hitter-advantageous counts, Romero found himself in batters’ clutches. Consistent with our earlier assessment that Romero was over-utilizing his fourseamer in hitter’s counts, Romero’s BABIP for his fastball is most egregious. While in 2011 Romero’s fastball BABIP was .290, in 2012 it stood at .368. With one ball on the count, that figure rose to an incredible .384.

Romero’s difficulty in getting ahead in the count fundamentally altered his pitch usage in 2012. Rather than drawing from his four-pitch arsenal, Romero seemed to aim his most reliable pitch into the zone. This defensive-minded “must-throw-strikes” approach might explain why Romero rationed his sinker so much last season.

In 2011 Romero threw his sinker 22% of the time, often as a put-away pitch toward the back-end of the at bat. The sinker worked well for Romero in that breakthrough season. Netting a groundball in 67% of balls in play, Romero accrued a .185 BABIP when throwing the hard, biting 92mph pitch. In 2012, however, the pitch was used infrequently, accounting for just 11% of pitches thrown – his eminently hittable fourseamer compensating for the difference (up from 48% of pitches in 2011 to 57% in 2012).  Romero’s groundball rate remained relatively stable in 2012 despite the decrease in sinkers (54.7% in 2011 to 53.5% in 2012), but those groundballs obviously went for hits more often. While, among the rest of Romero’s career, his high sinker usage in 2012 is certainly an outlier, give his demonstrated success with the pitch late in the count, perhaps it would behoove him to throw it more often 2013.

I am not about to reduce Romero’s 2012 struggles entirely to his inability to throw first-pitch strikes, but I think it was a culprit. The first pitch establishes the tenor of the at bat. In a lot of ways, it dictates whether the pitcher is the hunter or hunted. Romero has quality stuff, but he doesn’t boast an overpowering, dominant pitch that can he can rely on to miss bats down in the count. Instead, as he did well in 2011, it is imperative that Romero keep hitters off-balance and in a defensive mindset so that harmless contact can be induced. This is not achieved by consistently falling behind in counts. It is common knowledge that pitchers enjoy better results when they get ahead in the count. Romero is no exception.

A career-high walk rate hurt Romero in 2012 (The Star)

To what do you attribute Romero’s early-count control issues? Is it a mechanical or psychological problem? It does not seem to be the former. A recent article at Baseball Prospectus compared Romero’s 2011 and 2012 deliveries and concluded that, in a lot of ways, last season’s mechanics were actually superior to the “exaggerated drop-and-dive” and “severe spine tilt” that characterized his delivery during his breakthrough 2011 campaign. The article concluded that because Romero’s 2012 delivery provided him with a stronger foundation for pitch repetition, it should have left him with better control and consistency. Not the case. Theory and practice do not always jibe.

So it must be psychological then, right? This would be my cue to embark on a pseudo-psychological diatribe about Romero’s lack of focus and his need to temper a volatile temperament, but I won’t. Maybe, after his exemplary 2011 showing and the addition of a second wild-card berth, the ace expectations were too much for Romero to shoulder in 2012. Perhaps Romero was simply in a funk. I have neither the data nor desire to psychoanalyze the man. Suffice it to say that if Romero wants to remain in the starting rotation in 2013, let alone lead it, he will need to throw more first pitch strikes.

Tweet by Romero with hashtag “#truth” demonstrates that Romero is already preparing himself mentally for next season

But there’s more to the story. A tendency to fall into hitter-advantageous counts could lead to a parade of horribles for a pitcher, but does it explain career low swing and miss (8.3%) and K/9 (6.2/9) rates? In part, yes, it could. With regard to the strikeout rate, obviously it takes more work to earn the K from a count that stands at 1-0 than an 0-1 count. However, there does not seem to be an apparent causal link between low first-strike and swing-and-miss rates. The metric yearns for some other explanation: depreciation in Romero’s stuff.
Did Romero simply throw more effective pitches in 2011? Let’s take a gander

Romero’s 2011 Pitch Allocations (BrooksBaseball.net)

Romero’s 2012 Pitch Allocations (BrooksBaseball.net)

As the charts show, in terms of velocity, the differences are negligible. We see slight decreases in Romero’s fourseamer (-.80mph), and sinker (-.91mph), and a more substantial decrease in his changeup (-2.15mph). His curveball remained virtually the same speed (77.79mph to 77.67mph). So it does not appear that Romero suffered from an arm strength issue in 2012 of the sort that the Yankees’ Phil Hughes or Reds’ Arlodis Chapman endured in early 2011.

Regarding movement, while horizontal movement remained steady, Romero’s fourseamer lost about an inch in vertical movement last season. This might seem like a de minimis loss of “life” on a pitch over a distance of 52-55 feet, but it’s not. An inch of late movement could mean the difference between the batter hitting the pitch directly on the screws, or fouling it to the backstop. This flatness on Romero’s 2012 fastball could help to explain why hitters teed off on the pitch with such regularity (See .368 BABIP).

But, for the most part, there was not an egregious loss of vertical or horizontal movement in Romero’s pitches in 2012. The graphics below present a nice visual on the similarity in movement of Romero’s pitches in 2011 and 2012, replete with RHH and LHH splits.

2011 Movement (BrooksBaseball.net)

2012 Movement (BrooksBaseball.net)

If Romero’s 2012 ills had to reside in his stuff, the main suspect would have to be his changeup.  Romero’s swing-and-miss and whiff/swing rates decreased markedly for his changeup in 2012.  While in 2011 Romero possessed a whiff rate of 23.61% and a whiff/swing rate of 44.74%, in 2012 he recorded rates of 16.57% and 35.32%, respectively.

A good changeup is largely a function of its release point and the pitch’s velocity relative to the pitcher’s fastball. It is a pitch of deception. The longer it looks like a fastball to the hitter, the better.  The substantial velocity decrease in the changeup (-2.15mph) should not be viewed in isolation as a cause for the pitch’s loss of effectiveness. It should instead be viewed in relation to Romero’s fastball, which lost about one mile per hour in velocity in 2012.

Typical FB-CU discrepancies in the MLB ranges from 4mph to 15mph, with a mean of around 8mph. Romero’s discrepancy, which was 7.02mph in 2011, actually increased in 2012 to 8.37mph. Thus the discrepancies for both years hovered right around the league average, making it impossible to impute hitters’ success off Romero’s changeup on this basis.

The release point of the pitch, however,  is another story. Romero’s changeup was so effective in 2011 due in part to its release point, which virtually mirrored that of his fastball. The tight cluster of delivery points in the graphic below shows that in 2011 batters could not easily discern pitches based on their point of release from Romero’s hand. Instead they were required to gauge the spin and trajectory of the ball to determine the type of pitch. A consequence to this uniformity of release point meant that batters had less time to react to the pitch and decide whether to swing.

Romero’s release points in 2011. Note the tight clustering. (TexasLeaguers.com)

In 2012, however, the uniformity in Romero’s release point became disparate. As shown by the graphic below, Romero routinely delivered his different pitches from discrete release points. This allowed hitters to detect the pitch type upon release from Romero’s hand, giving them increased time to weigh the merits and demerits of swinging.

Romero’s 2012 release points. Note the diffuse locations – especially the fastball, which is released 6-8 inches lower than the changeup

So, I have identified three main issues that hamstrung Romero in 2012. From these issues flow a variety of other problems that caused 2012 to be such a disappointment for the young lefty.  First, he needs to throw more first-pitch strikes which, in turn, should remediate what was a career-worst BB/9 rate in 2012 and result in a lower BABIP. By getting ahead in the count, Romero would also be more apt to use his secondary pitches late in the count – namely his hard sinker – and avoid simply laying fastballs in the zone.  Second, while his delivery mechanics appear sound, it is crucial that Romero work with pitching coach Bruce Walton to adjust the release point on his secondary pitches. The greater the uniformity and consistency in his release, the greater his deception, and ultimately, success.  Third, Romero’s fastball lost some life in 2012 and could use some “giddy-up” to miss more bats.  Hopefully he will toe the mound rejuvenated and ready to do work next spring.  The Jays will need him to look like his 2011 iteration if they want to avoid a 20 year postseason drought.

Follow me on Twitter @aaabisonsblog

I am currently covering the Blue Jays’ delegates in the Arizona Fall League, as well as representatives in the Dominican and Mexican leagues.

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Arizona Fall League Roundup 10/20/12: Pillar looks good, Kadish solid

October 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Scottsdale: 5
Salt River: 3

Kevin Pillar (.375, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 SB) (CF): 1-3, BB
Ian Kadish (3.86 ERA, 2.1 IP, 1 SO, 1 BB) (RP): 1 IP, 1 SO

The Rafters lost for the third straight night; this time against the Scottsdale Scorpions. The Scorpions were powered by top Giants prospect Joe Panik who went 3-for-3 with a walk, stolen base, and an RBI. Of the eight Jays representatives on the Rafter’s roster, only Kevin Pillar and Ian Kadish saw action – the former going 1-3 with a walk, the latter pitching a flawless top of the 6th inning, striking out one.

In his last two outings for the Rafters, Ian Kadish has not allowed a run (battersbox.ca)

Pillar picked up where he left off Wednesday when he went 3-5 with 2 RBI. He showed great discipline at the plate, laying off pitches outside of the zone, and making solid contact on pitches in the zone. Leading off in the bottom of the bottom of the first inning, Pillar just missed his second homerun of the young season. After working the count full, Pillar found a pitch up in the zone from LHP Giants prospect Chris Gloor and rocketed it to left field. Unfortunately, the heavy desert evening air suppressed the sky-shot and Chris Dominguez camped under the ball at the warning track for a routine fly out. In his next at bat against Gloor, however, Pillar traded power for finesse, deftly poking a high-outside fastball into right field for a single.

While Pillar’s third at bat did not net him a base hit, it was arguably his best. After working the count full, Pillar fouled off four straight put-away pitches up-and-in.  On the next pitch – the tenth of the at bat –  Pillar hit the ball right on the screws and ripped it to the right side of the infield, directly at third basemen and Angels farmhand Kaleb Cowart.

In his final at bat, Pillar walked on four straight pitches from reliever Mark Montgomery.  Without question, Pillar is seeing the ball very well right now.

In his first at bat, Pillar just missed his second HR of young AFL campaign

In the 3rd, Pillar lined softly to RF for his sixth hit of the season

In 6th, a pesky Pillar finally lines out to 3B

Pillar shows discipline in 8th, drawing a walk on four pitches

After a rough 1/3 inning debut outing against Surprise on 10/13, Kadish has been very effective out of the pen for the Rafters. On Saturday Kadish commanded a 1-2-3 inning, shutting down the bottom of the Scottsdale order.  He struck out the first batter Ricky Oropesa swinging, facilitated an Alex Monsalve flyout in foul territory, and induced Indians OF prospect Carlos Moncrief to ground out meekly to 1B.

Working outside, Kadish opens the frame with a K

Oropesa gets under Kadish’s fastball, flying out in foul territory behind the plate

Kadish induces the groundball to 1B, and covers the bag to end inning

The Rafters have Sunday off, and will resume play tomorrow against Mesa, when they will try to snap their three game skid.

Categories: Recap

Arizona Fall League Roundup 10/17,10/18,10/19: Pillar of Performance, Tepera tempers ERA

October 20, 2012 Leave a comment

While the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League have struggled as a team since my last writing (1-2), the contingent of Jays prospects have continued their strong representation of the Blue Jays organization. Because virtually all fans view the AFL as an expedient – a means for furthering the development of future Jays, and not an endgame – I will focus solely on the individual achievements of the prospects, and not the overall performance of the team, which has suffered serious offensive woes in its last two games.

10/17/12
Salt River: 12
Peoria: 9

Kevin Pillar (LF) 3-5, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 SB
Jake Marisnick (CF) 1-4, 1 RBI
Ian Kadish (RHP): 1.0 IP, 0 ER

Kevin Pillar, 23, had a phenomenal season with Single-A Lansing this year (.322, .390, .451) – a campaign which ultimately secured him Midwest League MVP honors.  Pillar has seemingly carried the momentum from his MVP summer to his new southwestern assignment.  The protracted season does not appear to have exacted fatigue or lethargy on the 2011 32nd Round draftee.  In fact, Pillar has redoubled the intensity in his new role with the Rafters.

In 335 ABs with Class-A Lansing Pillar hit .322 with 5 HR and 57 RBI. (MiLB)

Pillar, who is only slated to play Wednesdays and Saturdays with the Rafters, is not getting the playing time he is accustomed to.  While he was a veritable starter with Dundein and Lansing, he has been platooned thus far with the Rafters.  Nevertheless, when he has been given the opportunity to suit up, Pillar has made the most of it.  “I’m just making the best of the opportunities,” he said recently in an official Blue Jays press release. “I’m only playing two days, so I’m looking to play hard. Whatever role they put me in, I’m trying to adjust to it.”

And adjust he has. In only 13 at bats, Pillar is hitting .385 with one homerun, three RBIs, and three stolen bases. The versatile outfielder seems to always be in the thick of the action, securing eight total bases during his meager playing time.  This propensity of Pillar’s was typified by his role in the Rafters’ dramatic comeback win against Peoria on Wednesday. The Rafters were down 7-0 in the fifth, but were able to outscore Peoria 12-2 in the final four frames to complete the comeback. Pillar was an integral part of the win. Not only did he garner three key hits, driving in two; but he stole home plate.

During a sixth inning during which the Rafters had already scored four runs, Pillar reached on a single to left field and found himself at third base after a line drive single to right by Tyler Bortinick. One perfectly executed double steal later, Pillar was the fifth run of a breakout inning.

According to Pillar, because left-handed pull-hitter Andy Wilkins was at the plate, and the infield was markedly shifted to the right, he was able to take a giant secondary lead. “When I saw the catcher throw down [to second base], I was able to walk in,” said Pillar. “It was just something I did on my own, I just got a good read. At that point we still needed runs, so I capitalized on it.”

Below are pitch-tracks of Pillar’s three singles from Wednesday.  He should play today against Scottsdale.

Pillar rips an 84mph slider from Drew Hayes through the right side of the infield for a two-out single

Pitch sequence: (1) 86mph cutter; (2) 98mph fastball; (3) 76mph Curveball; (4) 97mph fastball; (5) 77mph curveball; (6) BIP: RBI single through left side of infield

Pillar flexes his speed on a perfectly-laid bunt single toward the first basemen

10/18/12
Peoria: 3
Salt River: 1

Jake Marisnick (CF) 2-4, 2B, 1 SO
Deck McGuire (RHP) 1.0 IP, 0 ER
Sam Dyson (RHP) 1.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 SO, 1 SB

After permitting 12 runs in four innings the previous afternoon, Peoria pitching came back with a vengeance,with six pitchers collectively shutting down the Rafters. Of the Blue Jays delegates, CF Jake Marisick was the only position player to see action, and he made the most of it, hitting 2-4 with a double and a strikeout.

Marisnick’s first hit came in the bottom of the third. After an eight-pitch at bat which saw Jake foul off four tough pitches up in the zone, he fought off a front and center fourseamer, which ended up trickling back toward the pitcher, Robbie Erlin. The comebacker caught Erlin off-balance, and Marisnick was able to showcase his plus-speed for an infield basehit.

After eight pitches, Marisnick reaches on infield single

Marisnick’s second hit was a bit more emphatic. In the Botton of the 5th Marisnick saw two fastballs right down the middle from LHP Logan Darrell. After taking the first one for a strike to open the at bat, he ripped the second sharply down the left field foul line for a double.

Marisnick rips the fastball out over the plate down the left field foul line

10/19/12
Salt River: 0
Scottsdale: 1

Jake Marisnick 0-3, 3 SO
Ryan Goins 1-2, 1 BB
Sean Ochinko 0-3, 1 SO
Ryan Tepera 4.0 IP, 3H, 3 SO, 0 ER

The Rafters compiled 12 runs in four innings on Wednesday, yet managed only one in 19 innings through Thursday and Friday. While Marisnick and Ochinko were muted by the Scottsdale starter T.J. House who pitched 5 innings of no-hit baseball, Goins was able to muster a single and a walk in the later innings.

While House dominated the Rafters through five innings, he did not put forward the only stellar pitching performance. Jays RHP prospect Ryan Tepera went tic-for-tac with House, throwing up four scoreless innings of his own. Allowing only three hits and walking one, Tepera was able to improve his season ERA to a mediocre 5.68: a stat which once stood at 15.43 after a forgettable debut performance in which he permitted four runs in only 2.1 innings of relief work.

After fouling off four straight pitches, Tepera gets 1B Matt Curry looking at a low strike (1st Inning)

Tepera sets down CF Travis Weatherspoon swinging.  (2nd Inning)

Three pitches, three strikes, two strikeouts. Tepera sets down Witherspoon for the second time, finishing his superb, four-inning effort.

The Salt River Rafters play Scottsdale today at 5:35 MST. You can follow the gamecast here.

Categories: Recap

Arizona Fall League 10/16/12 Highlights – Salt River Rafters v. Phoenix Desert Dogs

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Last night the Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) game of interest to Blue Jays fans — the Salt River Rafters against the Phoenix Desert Dogs — concluded in extra frames as a 3-3 draw.  I guess it would be counter to the spirit of the AFL for extra-inning games to continue indefinitely into the desert night, taxing the tendons and ligaments of young hurlers, but, for me, there is something unsettling about a baseball game ending in a tie.  Regardless of my initial reaction, it is an exhibition game and the development of the athletes obviously comes first.

Here is a breakdown of how the Jays’ delegates performed.  I know the pictorial presentation of every highlight might be a bit excessive, but since the games are not televised — and box scores are boring — I figured it could add some life to the recap.

Ryan Goins (SS) 1/5, 1 RBI, 1 SO

In the bottom of the 6th, Goins ripped a groundball through the right side of the infield, scoring Matt Davidson and moving Kent Matthes to third base. Unfortunately, in the next at-bat while leading off first base, Goins was unable to evade Sean Ochinko’s line-drive – resulting in the ball’s deflection to RF – so instead of advancing to second on his compatriot’s knock, he was called out.

Goins' single in the second

Sean Ochinko (C) 2/5, 1 2B, 1 RBI

In the bottom of the second, Ochinko drove an up-and-in fastball the other way into left field, scoring teammate Kent Matthes from third.

Ochinko single in 2nd

In the bottom of the 6th, with runners on first and third, Ochinko found himself in a pitcher’s count.  After fouling off some tough pitches up-and-in the zone, Ochinko found one over the plate and lasered the pitch the other way.  Because the ball was hit so hard, Goins, at first, had little time to react and the ball actually hit him, deflecting into the outfield.

Ochinko laser to the right side of the infield made contact with Goins at first

Both Goins and Ochinko had opportunities to win the game for the Salt River Rafters in the bottom of the 8th, when they faced Aaron Barrett with Kent Matthes at second base.

On a 2-2 count Barrett offered a four-seam fastball up in the zone, but Goins could not catch up to it, failing to even advance the go-ahead run to third.

With a runner on second and only one out, Goins struck out swinging

Ochinko was able to work the count full, but on the pay-off pitch, could only muster a meek infield flyball, which was caught by the third basemen Yordy Cabrera.

With two outs and the go-ahead run in scoring position, Ochinko flew out to the third basemen

Deck McGuire 1.0 IP, 3 H, 1BB, 1 ER, 1 SO

Deck entered the game in the top of the 4th inning, relieving starter Chase Anderson. While he was able to retire Hunter Morris on a groundout to 2B Carlos Sanchez, the next batter, Edward Salcedo, sliced a line drive into the right field alley, resulting in a triple. Salcedo would score on a single up the middle by the next batter, Christian Yelich.
Despite retiring the subsequent batter Yordy Cabrera on a lazy fly ball to CF, McGuire was not quite out of the soup. After Max Stassi singled to left,  McGuire issued a base on balls to Kevin Kiermaier, and the bases were left loaded with two outs.

Things were looking pretty grim for McGuire, who before the appearance had not allowed a run, but after a brief meeting at the mound with the pitching coach, Deck was able to buckle down and strikeout Hak-Ju Lee.

While McGuire’s performance last night certainly was not seemless, it demonstrated the young righty’s fortitude in tough spots.

Deck McGuire with a huge strikeout to escape the bases loaded jam

Sam Dyson 1.0 IP, 0 H, 2 SO

Dyson came on in the top of the 11th and delivered a brilliant performance in a game he probably did not expect to pitch in. In a pithy 1-2-3- inning, Dyson set down Chirs Yelich swinging, coaxed Yordy Cabrera to line out to CF Trayce Thompson, and caught Max Stassi looking at a low-inside sinker that just barely caught the zone.

Dyson striking out Yelich to open the frame

Dyson’s second strikeout of a dominant inning

The Salt River Rafters will face Peoria this afternoon.  You can follow the gamecast here.

Categories: Recap
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