Neal Huntington met with the media on Sunday, including our own Alan Saunders, for his weekly press conference. During this week’s session, he discussed a few prospects briefly. There wasn’t a lot said on any specific player, but enough that I wanted to share and give some notes on each guy.
Two of the prospects discussed were the top two position player prospects in the system. However, I wanted to start off with a guy who is close to the majors, as he could be the first from this group to make an impact.
Santana is having an amazing season out of the Triple-A bullpen. He has given up just one earned run this year, and has gone 22.2 innings without an earned run, striking out 21 in the process. He’s got dominant stuff, with a mid-to-upper 90s fastball that has movement, and a sharp breaking slider that gets a lot of swings and misses.
It makes you wonder why the Pirates aren’t giving him a shot in the bullpen first, over guys like Johnny Barbato and Jhan Marinez. Huntington didn’t really elaborate much on the specifics of what Santana needs to work on, but said he could help sooner than later.
“He’s an interesting one in that he’s putting up dominant numbers and then you watch the stuff and the stuff is really good as well,” Huntington said. “He’s a mature young man. He doesn’t have a ton of innings under his belt. We’re looking for him to continue to learn how to be able to pitch the game, learn how to make adjustments on the fly, learn how to recognize swings and continue to with his development. He’s certainly doing everything we’ve been wanting him and needing him to do. He’s going to help us at some point here and maybe sooner than later.”
One of the things I’ve seen from Santana is his tendency to over-throw in some cases. His stuff is good enough to get outs, but sometimes he tries to over-power hitters by adding a bit more. Still, that’s not an alarming issue, and may not be a big problem. He looks like he’s ready now.
Meadows got off to a slow start in April, hitting for a .195/.247/.256 line in 89 plate appearances. He’s been doing better in May, hitting for a .267/.337/.400 line in 83 plate appearances so far. And in a smaller sample size, he’s hitting for a .296/.356/.444 line in his last 59 plate appearances. I’ll get to why that is notable in a second. First, here’s Huntington on how Meadows is reacting to the early slump.
“Hitters don’t like to look up and see .200, .210 or .187. They don’t like to do that and we’d rather them just relax and be the hitter that they can be and trying to do more. He’s better at just letting his natural ability play, trusting his ability and trusting if he does what he’s capable of, those numbers will turn around.”
Part of the struggles from Meadows could be attributed to him not playing his game. However, a bigger part of the struggles are that his swing was off early in the season, putting his timing off and slowing his bat speed. He also was having trouble adjusting to how the upper level pitchers were throwing to him, which was partially due to the slower bat speed.
I saw Meadows from 5/9 through 5/14, which was the start of that small sample size I mentioned above. During that time he was working with Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar on his timing, and on staying back longer. His manager, Andy Barkett, said that he was showing his best bat speed of the year during those games. So while that’s a small sample size, it all started with some very encouraging signs. Hopefully the hitting continues this way going forward.
Newman is not off to a great start in Altoona right now. He’s hitting for a .243/.310/.347 line in 158 plate appearances, and was hit in the head with a pitch earlier this month. Despite the low numbers, Newman is showing some positive signs at the plate, with a 13.8% strikeout rate and a 6.3% walk rate. The walks are lower than normal, and the strikeouts are a bit higher than before. But he’s not looking over-matched.
“There’s some Adam Frazier similarities in that it’s a very basic, compact, simple swing,” Huntington said. “He uses the whole field. He can hit a line drive to the opposite field in his sleep. He’s learning to use his legs and drive the ball the way Adam has done as he’s gotten to the upper levels and recognized the pitches. He makes pitchers come to him. He rarely expands the zone. It’s just a solid, professional at-bat.”
What Huntington describes is what I’ve seen from Newman in the past. He’s got a great swing and a strong ability to make contact and use the whole field. He is also working on adding some power to his game and driving the ball more, which could be why he is currently seeing a drop in his stats. That’s a good transition to make, as it will allow him to be more than a singles hitter in the future when he eventually makes the majors.
Nick Kingham made his 2017 Triple-A debut last week, giving up two runs in 5.2 innings of work, while allowing six hits, three walks, and striking out four. The walk total was high, and not in character with where Kingham was before his Tommy John surgery. He had better control this spring during his build-up, walking just one batter in all of his starts between extended Spring Training and with the Marauders.
“Knocking off the rust a little bit,” Huntington said of the start. “He probably didn’t trust his fastball the way he needs to and didn’t get the consistency in the off speed pitches that he’ll get as he’s got his feet back on the ground. But a very positive first outing at that level and some good things to build on.”
Kingham goes again for Indianapolis tonight, giving a second look at the right-hander in the higher levels this year. He’s got a shot to make the majors in the second half, but will need to show his usual good control going forward to receive that opportunity.