I had a chance to see the West Virginia Power play four games in Lakewood this weekend, posting game recaps each night highlighting the better prospects on the team. With four days of watching them all play, it’s time to give my impressions of the series and the players. With Jake Burnette going to the bullpen, I actually got to see all five starters pitch. I also had the great opportunity to sit down and talk about the team four different times with a longtime NL scout, who was there for all four games. His thoughts that stuck out to me will be included in the report. Just a note that I will be seeing West Virginia play eight more times this year, so I’ll have a much more complete idea by the end of the season.
Allie Puts On A Show
The big thing everyone wanted to know going into the series was, what about Stetson Allie? The pitcher-turned-slugger is tearing up the South Atlantic League, but was it legit and could he keep it up? His strikeout totals are high, so I paid close attention to how the other team was pitching him. It seemed like their game plan changed after each home run he hit. They went from challenging him early, to throwing breaking balls in fastball counts. Allie never really looked bad on any swings, which was something you definitely couldn’t say about Josh Bell, the other power bat in the middle of the lineup. Allie hit the ball solid numerous times, some went foul, some were on the ground and three left the ballpark in impressive fashion.
I have seen a lot of games at Lakewood over the years, well over 100 at this point. It is not a hitter’s ballpark by any means. I have seen a few impressive homers that stood out, one being a long high drive down the left field line from Jarek Cunningham. The three homers that Allie hit this series will stand out for a long time. The first one on Thursday, I described as majestic, a sky-high bomb to center field that had to go at least 450 feet and had plenty of hang time. The one the next day didn’t go as far, but may have been more impressive. He got a fastball on the inside of the plate, pulled his hands in and hit the ball about 420 feet to straight away center field. He should not have been able to hit that pitch as far as he did. It Sunday’s game, he hit a line drive in the first inning that went over the left-center wall and went another 80 feet at least, hitting an ad board in the outfield. If there is someone with more power hitting in the minors, I’d be shocked.
According to the scout I talked to, he was highly impressed with how quickly Allie got his hands ready to swing and how quick his bat was once he did swing. His opinion was that he would be able to handle Double-A pitching right now. Allie played first base twice and was the designated hitter the other two days. He didn’t even have a pro at-bat this time last year, so what I’m about to say shouldn’t be a shock. His defense needs a lot of work. Last year for West Virginia, I saw some great infield drills before each game. I didn’t see any this time. They took infield, but it wasn’t nearly as well run as last year under Rick Sofield. Allie is going to have to put in the time at first base, so if the bat can carry him in the upper levels, he has a place to play on an NL team. Of course, if you hit like he is in West Virginia, when you get to the majors, you will have no trouble getting into the lineup. I couldn’t see them rushing him to the point that he won’t get in plenty of time at first base before they even consider calling him up.
The Rest Of The Power Crew
I expected to be impressed by Josh Bell during this series, and while he did hit some balls well, it was still a disappointing series. Again going to the NL scout who pointed it out to me on day one, so I saw it the whole series, Bell was the opposite of Allie. The young right fielder keeps his back elbow high until late in the pitcher’s delivery. He also didn’t have much patience at the plate and wasn’t seeing many good pitches to hit. That led to him taking plenty of poor swings at balls in the dirt and out of the zone. With a late start to his swing and extra time thrown in to get that back elbow down, Bell had a ton of swing and misses in the series. With the great bat speed and raw power he has, I think he is doing himself a disservice with that swing. When he does square the ball up, he hits it hard. He is athletic, runs decent and played a good outfield, showing off a strong arm a couple of times.
Dilson Herrera really impressed me until the last swing he took. He plays the game right and looks good in the field, with excellent range. He looked good at the plate, drove the ball a couple of times and showed off decent speed. He is definitely a solid all-around player already and it is good to point out that he is just 19-years-old doing all this. His last swing I alluded to, was ugly and awkward. On a pitch inside, he took a full swing and the ball ended up hitting him in the right shoulder. The pitch was a fastball and that would be his back shoulder that it hit. Not sure I’ve ever seen that before, hope I don’t again. He was obviously hurt and sat out Sunday’s game because of it.
Max Moroff had an odd series. The 20-year-old shortstop barely swung the bat in game one, then swung at everything in game two. He was out of the lineup for game three, coming in late to replace Herrera. So in game four, he went back to not swinging the bat, except one big swing. Moroff lined a lead-off homer, then walked three straight times. He made some good contact when he did swing, had nice speed on the bases and from the limited looks I got, he seemed good enough to stick at shortstop. He fielded the ball cleanly and turned a couple nice double plays, plus showed good range on one ball hit in the hole.
Raul Fortunato isn’t really known as a prospect, but he is a toolsy player, who had a breakout season during his third year in the Dominican Summer League. The 22-year-old had just four games of experience in the States prior to this season, so this level is a slightly advanced placement for him and he has handled his own. I can see what there is to like about him, he is a free-swinger, but also makes good contact and he is always busting it down the line with above average speed. That speed helped him get on base three times in this series, when it looked like it would be an easy out. That hustle will get him noticed. Despite his speed and the fact he plays center field occasionally, I didn’t see much range or confidence out in the field. He looked awkward fielding pop ups and didn’t get good jumps off the bat. He does have a strong throwing arm, though the throws I saw were a little off target. He also homered during the series, a shot very similar to ball Moroff hit.
Glasnow Stands Out Above The Rest
Tyler Glasnow is imposing on the mound. He is 6’8″, throws mid-90’s and has a bit of wildness. That led to some uncomfortable at bats from Lakewood hitters . He kept his unreal streak alive, seven straight games allowing two hits or less. Glasnow was sitting 96 MPH in the first inning, hitting 97 once. He hit that top number two more times and threw plenty more in the 95-96 range. He has a nice curveball that comes in high 70’s with a big break. Possibly the best sign from his day, came after the two-run homer he allowed in the second inning. He retired the next 11 batters in order, six on strikeouts.
His problem seems to be his change-up, not much control with it and judging from the bullpen I saw before one game, not much confidence in the pitch either. It’s tough to critique a 19-year-old too much, but it just seems like he has to trust his stuff more and not think about it too much. They won’t hit his curve or fastball when he is on, so once he gets used to throwing the change-up more often and in key spots, he could be dangerous. For the amount of hits he gives up, he allows too many homers and runs. The walks also hurt him, but if he can cut them down even just a little, you’re talking about him reaching the future ace ceiling some already think he has.
Other Starters Looked Good Too
It wasn’t just Glasnow that looked good in Lakewood, Joely Rodriguez, Orlando Castro and Clay Holmes also had their moments. Rodriguez got the start in game one and did pretty well until giving up two late runs. He has a lot of movement on his pitches and was hitting 90-92, topping out at 93 MPH according to a scouts gun. He threw strikes all night and used all of his pitches well. The only problem I personally had with him, is that his off-speed pitches and fastballs don’t have a huge difference. For most of the night, throwing a fastball, change-up and slider, there was a 7 MPH difference between his top and bottom speeds, with just a handful of pitches out of that range.
Castro is a lot like Rodriguez, both lefties, who throw strikes with all of their pitches. He topped out at 90 MPH on the night and looked extremely tough on left-handed batters. Although he doesn’t have great size or velocity, you have a 21-year-old lefty that really knows how to pitch and throw strikes with any pitch. Castro has just five walks all season, keeps the ball on the ground, though he didn’t do a good job of that on Friday. He also gets a high amount of strikeouts, picking up the pace since he reached full-season ball, so that is a good sign.
Holmes throws almost as hard as Glasnow, although that velocity didn’t last long into his start. Once he started mixing in breaking balls more, his control was off and the speed on the pitches dipped 2-3 MPH. He hit 95 on the night, but worked best in the 91-93 range he had through three innings. When he came out for the fourth, he was throwing all of his pitches and that threw off his fastball command, which led to some high pitch counts. Both scouts I talked to after the start said he started guiding the ball more, rather than throwing, which led to the lower velocity.
While he walked five batters, Holmes was even better than Glasnow in the hit department, allowing just one and no runs. Holmes has a ball tap during his delivery that looks to be timing mechanism to keep him under control. He takes the ball out of the glove early, starts his windup, puts the ball back in, then throws. As we have seen in the past and I saw on Saturday, the stuff is good enough that with some control improvements, you have a special pitcher. When he is bad though, he can be very bad. It’s important to remember with him, he just turned twenty right before the season started, so he has plenty of time to improve.
Burnette To The Pen
Jake Burnette came out of the bullpen on Sunday after making four straight starts. He has been hit hard this season, so the move to the pen isn’t surprising. With the way Burnette has pitched recently, it’s highly likely he will remain in the bullpen, with John Kuchno taking his place at least temporarily in the rotation. Last week, Burnette recorded just one out before being knocked out of the game. Kuchno followed with 5.2 innings and while he too got hit hard, he did record nine strikeouts without issuing a walk.
It was hard to get much good out of the appearance by Burnette. He gave up five runs in 1.2 innings, with some hard hit balls. He was throwing mostly 88-90, hitting 92 MPH, with a good mix of breaking balls in there. It’s obvious at this point, he has a lot of stuff to work on before he gets back on the right track. Batters who had no shot against Glasnow, were squaring him up pretty well.
Jason Creasy looked good out of the pen, throwing four different pitches, though his four seam fastball was by far the most impressive. He hit 94 MPH a few times with the pitch and sat 91-93. Ryan Hafner also came out of the pen and wasn’t throwing nearly as hard as last year when he was starting. Hafner hit 94 MPH last year, but his average speed was down a couple MPH out of the bullpen. He did look better, pitching more effective with the slower speed. Kyle Haynes hit 94 MPH and looked good in his brief outing.