SoxProspects News

September 4, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Scouting Scratch: Closing out Portland



SoxProspects.com Northeast Scout Ian Cundall files his latest report after spending the last week covering Portland.

-Since his promotion to Double-A Portland, Xander Bogaerts has shown the tools that make him the top prospect in the system. Any talk of promoting him further, however is premature and last week in New Hampshire provided a perfect snapshot of the areas Bogaerts has to improve upon specifically at the plate as he heads into next season. In one look, Bogaerts went 0 for 5 including three strikeouts, two of which were swinging, and looked uncomfortable all night. Furthermore, he received a steady diet of off-speed pitches, which kept him off-balance. In almost every at-bat he expanded his zone, chasing both sliders and changeups out of the strike zone. His fourth at-bat highlighted all these struggles as he got caught way out in front of a 1-1 slider down and away. With the count then 1-2, Bogaerts got a mistake pitch, a hanging slider belt high, but again he was out in front and only able to foul it off. The following pitch was a changeup, but again he was caught out on his front foot and swung over the top of it. Bogaerts' struggles didn’t end with breaking balls as his timing was off against fastball as well. Throughout the evening he was jumping at the ball rather than staying back and letting the ball get deep then using has hands to drive the ball as he has in past scouting looks. The most notable instance of this came in his third at-bat when he reached for and missed a 2-2 fastball off the outside corner of the plate with a weak swing.

One of Bogaerts biggest assets is the explosiveness in his hands, which leads to easy power to all fields. When he is off-balance and jumping at the ball, he loses his explosiveness and as a result, his bat drags, creating a major hole on the outer half of the plate. During spring training this year, I saw him take an outside fastball deep to right field with a smooth, fluid swing. However, that same pitch in recent looks has resulted in a strikeout or a weak fly ball to the right side. Even with his recent struggles, Bogaerts has shown already he is not over his head in Double-A, even as the second youngest player in the Eastern League. He has an extremely bright future and rather than looking at the negatives, things like these can be turned into positives since the best way to improve is to consistently see upper level off-speed pitches, which he now is doing on a nightly basis. As he becomes accustomed to these pitches he will be able to recognize them earlier, not expand his zone and when given a mistake pitch, do what a hitter of his caliber does with those pitches.

-One of the more pleasant surprises of the minor league season, Travis Shaw has struggled with his initial exposure to Double-A pitching, but on this occasion, he was by far the best hitter in the Portland lineup. He put together the best at-bats of any Sea Dog, showing an advanced approach by taking close pitches and recognizing off-speed pitches early. In his first at-bat, he got a 1-2 changeup that caught too much of the plate and Shaw shortened up his swing and lined the pitch sharply to center for a single. Later in the game, Shaw showed off his full swing, clearing out a fastball up and over the plate for a no-doubter home run to right field. On that pitch Shaw demonstrated how he is able to generate lift and backspin with an easy uppercut swing. Shaw put a similar swing on a fastball in his second at-bat of the game, on a pitch a little farther inside. Again, he pulled his hands inside the ball, getting the barrel of the bat on the ball, lining it to right-center for a double. Shaw has had some struggles since his promotion as he doesn’t have elite bat speed and his swing can get a little long at times. He has seen his strikeout rate spike since his promotion, but this could be caused by fatigue setting in at the end of his first full minor league season. With the initial taste of upper level pitching this year, he should come into next season accustomed to the level and with a chance to play his way into the discussion for potential big league first base options of the future.

-As Chris Mellen has noted on multiple occasion, Bryce Brentz has been one of the most interesting players to scout as he “has made strides, but at the same time still shows the flaws.” This occasion was no different as Brentz showed poor pitch recognition, a long swing, and the propensity to expand the zone. In his first three at-bats, Brentz rolled over three ground balls to the left side. Each time, he reached for a pitch away and tried to pull it rather than staying back and using right field. In his fifth at-bat, Brentz received all sliders and failed to make any adjustment, ending in a strikeout. In his final at-bat, however, Brentz showed off his plus bat speed, lining a mid-90s fastball right back through the box for a single to drive in the go-ahead run. Brentz has looked like this all season, as you never know what you are going to get from at-bat to at-bat. He still has made strides showing off in-game power and the ability to catch up with any fastball, both tools that in the long-run are key to reaching his ceiling.

-Despite coming into the season with little fanfare, Michael Olmsted has put together one of the more impressive statistical seasons of the bullpen arms, and in scouting trips it is easy to see why. Olmsted has a huge frame, listed at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, and he uses that frame to generate easy velocity on his fastball. In a recent outing, Olmsted sat 94-96 mph and showed a plus slider with tight break. He also showed the ability to miss bats with both pitches and surprisingly good command for someone his size. The reports from outing to outing haven’t been consistent, however, as his fastball has been clocked only in the low-90’s and lacked the same life in other games. Olmsted has shown the ability to project as a future major league reliever. The key for him going forward will be consistently holding his stuff from outing to outing as his fastball is flat and much more hittable when lacking the plus-plus velocity.

Photo Credits: Travis Shaw by Dave Letizi; Michael Olmsted by William Parmeter

 
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