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May 6, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Notes from the Field: Devers power display highlights afternoon Drive

HAGERSTOWN, Md. – I had the opportunity to get my first look at the Greenville Drive and their prospect-laden infield last weekend in a Sunday afternoon game against an unimpressive Hagerstown Suns (WAS) squad. These are my scouting/journalistic takeaways on the key players I was able to see.

- Although I was disappointed not to get both of the Drive’s Top 10 prospects at the hot corner, Rafael Devers (pictured) and Michael Chavis, in the lineup, Devers more than made up for Chavis’ absence with his performance. The 18-year-old Dominican went 5 for 6 with two doubles and two home runs, putting on a show for those in attendance. The outburst was a pleasant surprise—while he had not been scuffling, his .286/.311/.329 line in 18 games showed a player who may have been feeling out the South Atlantic League, as would be expected for his age and experience-level. The four extra-base hits were more than the three he had tallied all season entering the day, showing a glimpse of what makes him such a special prospect.

The most apparent key to Devers’ success on the day was his ability to get the barrel of the bat to the ball, and with authority. His first at-bat was the only out he made, but it was perhaps the best-hit ball he produced in his first four plate appearances, as he tomahawked a high fastball right at the shortstop. That loud out was a preview of what was to come. In the fourth, he drilled another line drive, this to deep center. The Hagerstown center fielder could perhaps have caught the ball, but because it got on him in such a hurry, he did not get a good read on it, and it got over him for a double.

After singling through the right side and driving another ground ball down the right field line for his second double of the game in the next two at-bats, Devers capped his day with a pair of impressive home runs against the back end of a very poor Hagerstown bullpen. In the eighth, the left-handed Devers drove a majestic blast over the tall fence in left-center. That he is able, at his age, to drive a ball like that about 430 feet or so to the opposite-field power alley made the eyes of a couple scouts behind the plate widen. The crowd was treated to a much different power display the next inning, when Devers strode to the plate with the bases loaded and sent another ferocious drive on a straight line off of the wall behind the visitors’ bullpen in right center, documented in this video.

Devers does have plenty left to learn at the plate. He saw 21 pitches in his six plate appearances, which showed a player who was up with a plan, and he had three of his hits, all for extra bases, with two strikes. But he did get fooled badly by a breaking ball or two, and he expanded the zone a little in his first at-bat, although he was able to drive the high 2-2 pitch with authority. Still, the future is bright with Devers, who after a slow start to the year has hit .407/.429/.593 in his last 13 games, recording multiple hits in seven of those contests. On a final note, Devers played third base on this day, but was not challenged, getting one easy groundball on which he successfully started a 5-4-3 double play.

- Jamie Callahan got the start and turned in an uneven performance over four innings, showing both the stuff that gives him great promise and the issues that he needs to work through before he can make good on that promise. Callahan sat 90-92 mph with his fastball, which he struggled to command and even to control at times. He opened the game with 14 consecutive fastballs to the first three hitters, allowing a single and two walks and only managing three strikes including the hit. The right-hander mostly missed high to the arm-side with the pitch, and it appeared that his arm was out of sync with the rest of his body when he was missing with it. However, beginning with the fourth hitter, Callahan began incorporating his curveball and changeup, which seemed to bring his mechanics back into sync on the fastball as well. To the next four hitters, he threw 11 of his 14 pitches for strikes, and while he did give up a pair of singles, he was able to get out of the inning with the above-mentioned double play ball and a fly to center. Callahan’s command and control came and went throughout the outing, evidenced by a quick second inning (3 batters, 10 pitches, 8 strikes) and a more difficult stretch from the third into the middle of the fourth (7 batters, 22 pitches, 11 strikes) before he battled through a nine-pitch at-bat and retired two of the next three hitters to end his day.

Callahan’s curveball was probably the better of the two secondaries, both of which came in at about the same 76-80 mph range. When he snapped it off, it was a plus 12-to-6 hammer with deep break that could be a weapon for him. However, he sometimes got around the pitch and it came in more slurvy with far less break. The changeup showed improved movement, with some sharp, glove-side drop that made it tough to differentiate (to my untrained eye) from his bad curveballs at times. He may not trust the pitch quite as much as the curve yet, but it could become at least an average third pitch for him with continued refinement. He did throw one cutter that I noticed, an 88-mph offering that was driven for a double off of the left field wall in the final pitch of a nine-pitch at-bat in the fourth.

As he develops, Callahan’s ability to lock in his mechanics will likely determine if he stays in the rotation or will be better suited for the bullpen. His arm action in particular could still use some clean-up, and his jerky delivery looked completely different from the stretch than it did from the windup. Because he was drafted so young, Callahan will still be just 20 until August, by which point one would hope he had earned a promotion to Salem, which would keep him ahead of the age curve.

- Javier Guerra, per usual, made most of his noise in the field. Although his range was not tested very much, he showed off an arm that graded at least plus, if not more, and he showed great confidence in it while fielding the position. He was able to take his time and not rush plays, knowing he could make up any time lost playing the ball on in-between hops, for example, with strong, accurate throws. At the plate, he turned in a few very long at-bats, walking twice on 3-2 pitches, but he was also fooled on several offspeed pitches, swinging wildly over them, including for a strikeout in his first at-bat. He did flash a bit of power, turning around a fastball in the sixth inning and driving it off of the batter’s eye 400 feet away in center field for a double. He also turned in hard-hit singles in the eighth and ninth.

- Mauricio Dubon showed quick hands in the field at second base. A shortstop by trade who can more-than-handle that position, he has been playing about two-thirds of his games at the keystone in deference to Guerra. His arm did not look as impressive as Guerra’s (few would at this or any level), but he was able to adjust easily to some tough hops without any trouble and showed good range. Offensively, his two hits came on a single through the right side that did not have much on it and a hard-hit double off the base of the left-center field wall. The latter hit was well-struck, but it looked like he guessed right on the fastball, starting early to catch up to the pitch after missing one on a 2-2 count in the first inning for a strikeout.

- Nick Longhi went down looking in three of his at-bats, and seemed to take issue with the umpire’s call all three times, prompting one person sitting near me to ask about his makeup (for the record, we have heard only positive things). Longhi did have two hard-hit balls of his own, one a ground ball up the middle, the other a long drive to right-center that was caught by the right fielder. On the latter out, the fact that he squared it up and was only able to hit it for a long out shows that he is still developing the power he will need to stick at first or an outfield corner. In fact, he made a similar out the day before, per friend of the site Tucker Blair of Baseball Prospectus. Although primarily a first baseman, Longhi has played mostly right field for a Drive squad that is thin in the outfield, and he showed adequate actions and plenty of arm for the position, at least for now.

- Ben Moore got the start behind the dish. Moore has caught 10 of the Drive’s 25 games. Jordan Procyshen has gotten the better half of the platoon, and that may be part of Moore’s development plan as he re-adjusts to catching full-time, having spent the latter part of his career at Alabama in the outfield. Moore did have one stolen base attempt against, on a Callahan curveball, and he posted a below-average 2.12-second pop time (hat tip to Tucker Blair on the stopwatch). At the plate, Moore showed why he was tabbed as a sleeper by our Director of Scouting, Ian Cundall, driving three doubles in his five at-bats. On the first, he cleared out a first-pitch fastball down the left field line, and he nearly had a similar hit in the ninth, but the ball went just foul. Moore’s other two doubles were driven to the gaps in right-center and left-center. On a young team, Moore is on the older side for players in the lineup, and he showed a more mature, selectively aggressive approach than some of his younger teammates, who sometimes seemed to take pitches early in the count just to take them.

- Chandler Shepherd showed a live arm, sitting 92-93 mph in his first two innings before falling back into more of a 90-92 range in his third. He filled the zone, throwing 28 of 38 pitches for strikes, and had little trouble in his outing, allowing only one hit. He showed some athleticism, displaying smooth mechanics that kept him markedly more in line to the plate than what we had seen from Callahan, and featuring a pretty good pickoff move for a right-hander. He complemented his fastball with a sharp 10-to-4 slider that sat mostly 83-84 mph and a changeup he only threw a couple times that showed arm-side run and came in at about 88 mph. He struck me as a player that could easily get to Salem this year and could potentially move quickly through the system.

- Mario Alcantara has had an impressive start to the year out of the bullpen, statistically at least, allowing 11 hits and two walks while striking out 17 in 14 innings, but he struck me as still being more of a thrower than a pitcher. His outing had a distinct feel of working on his two primary pitches: He would throw several fastballs, then follow with a few sliders, and then repeat. The fastball sat 92-93 mph, touching 95-96, but he did not command the pitch well, even though he did not walk any batters (he did record a hit-by-pitch). The breaking ball was a below-average offering, coming in very slurvy and lacking much shape. Last year in Spring Training he threw more of a curve at 77-79 mph, but this pitch came in around 82-86 mph, and while one evaluator wondered why he bothered throwing it, knowing it is a new pitch for him made his usage of it more understandable. Alcantara has potential, but there is a lot of work to do before he will be a player I can comfortably project as even a future major league bullpen arm.

Photo Credit: Rafael Devers and Javier Guerra by Kelly O'Connor.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.