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September 2, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Notes from the Field: Spruill, Marrero, Hernandez in Allentown

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - I had the opportunity to watch the Pawtucket Red Sox take on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on August 14 at Coca-Cola Park. Here are my scouting/journalistic observations from what I saw.

- Marco Hernandez has really struggled at the plate over the last calendar month, batting just .198/.219/.317 in his last 105 plate appearances. I think the most alarming thing in those numbers is the lack of walks. He has just three walks in those 105 plate appearances, and it was easy to see why in this particular game. Hernandez goes up there hacking; he loves to swing the bat. During his first at-bat, Hernandez swung at the first pitch and turned on a 90 mph (on the stadium gun) fastball, roping it down the right field line and off the high outfield wall for a double. His bat speed was very impressive, as Hernandez demonstrated a very simple, short, compact path to the ball. He does not have much of a stride and has very little unnecessary movement in his stance and swing, which are good things for a guy like Hernandez.

In his next at-bat, Hernandez grounded out routinely to second base. After taking ball one, Hernandez swung at the next two pitches, again showing his aggressiveness, and fouled them both off. On the 1-2 pitch, he stayed back decently on a breaking ball and bounced it to second. In his third at-bat, he got to two strikes again and made solid contact, but again grounded out to second. Hernandez grounded out in his next two at-bats as well, topping a 2-0 fastball at 93 mph to second in his fourth at-bat and swinging at the first pitch, a 97 mph fastball, for a ground out to short in his final plate appearance.

Clearly, in this game, Hernandez showed that he is extremely aggressive and does not like to take pitches and work counts. In five at-bats, Hernandez swung at the first pitch twice, swung at back-to-back pitches after the count was 1-0, and swung at a 2-0 pitch. With his smaller frame and lack of home run power, pitchers will probably come right after him and attack him in the strike zone, which could be part of why Hernandez swings so much and almost never walks. Hernandez's strikeout rate has climbed from 16.7% in Double-A to 26.1% in Triple-A. If he can find a way to cut down the strikeout rate, he has the potential to be a nice little contact hitter with speed moving forward.

There was not much action at all for Hernandez in the field at second base, but in the ninth, Hernandez botched a routine double play ball. A hop that was at his chest just simply popped out of his glove. He may have tried to rush it and get the ball to second before he made sure the ball was secure.

- Deven Marrero has been swinging the bat better of late, and he had a nice game on this particular night. In his first at-bat, after chasing a 1-1 pitch down and away, Marrero fought off a 2-2 pitch for a bloop single to right. The ball should have easily been caught, but the IronPigs' second baseman and right fielder did not communicate and it fell in between them. After walking in his next plate appearance, Marrero laced a line drive single to left field  in his third trip to the plate, taking advantage of a lazy off-speed pitch over the heart of the plate on a 2-1 count. After being late on a 91 mph fastball during his fourth plate appearance, Marrero stayed back nicely with two strikes and hit another hard line drive, this time to the opposite field for a single. In his fifth plate appearance, Marrero grounded right back to the pitcher on a 1-2 pitch, and he flew out to center field in his final plate appearance.

Marrero definitely has some work to do at the plate, but he showed some good signs, squaring up a couple balls and spraying the ball around the field. He did not get much action in the field either, fielding a few routine ground balls, showing off his fluid hands and transfer.

Allen Craig showed some good signs and some bad signs. In one at-bat, Craig worked the count to 2-2 and then hit a sharp ground ball down the first base line for a double. On the other hand, he worked the count to 3-2 in another at-bat before chasing a bad pitch, a fastball, well out of the strike zone down and away.

- Zeke Spruill (pictured) started for the PawSox and was very impressive. He went eight innings, allowing two earned runs on just five hits and no walks. He also punched out eight. During the first couple innings, Spruill was consistently hitting 93-94 mph on the gun, touching 96 a couple times when he was way ahead in the count, looking for a swing-and-miss up in the zone. He got a couple swings-and-misses with the fastball in the first inning. He also flashed an off-speed pitch that registered at 88-89 mph, but it was hard to tell what exactly it was, although it looked like some kind of cutter to me. One of his few mistakes with the pitch came in the second inning, when he gave up a home run to a left-handed batter on a 1-0 fastball. In the middle innings, Spruill's fastball dropped to the low-90s consistently, but it was still working, as he retired 12 batters in a row at one point.

Spruill's breaking ball was not too sharp early in the outing. He often failed to finish the pitch, leaving a bunch of them outside to left-handed batters. He also hung one to a right-hander that was ripped for a single. The pitch improved as the game went on, however. He was able to get his breaking ball over for a strike early in the count to batters from both sides of the plate in the middle innings, and notched a strikeout on one sharp breaking ball to a left-hander.

During his final inning, Spruill got three swings-and-misses from left-handers. Two of them were on fastballs, and one was another sharp breaking ball in the dirt for a punchout. Most of the contact off Spruill was weak over the course of the game as well. I thought that this start was very encouraging, especially from a control side. He did not walk a batter, and for the most part worked ahead in the count, throwing a first-pitch strike to 19 of the 28 batters he faced. I think that if Spruill can keep up that kind of control, and reach back for a 94-96 mph fastball for an inning or two, he could be an effective reliever moving forward.

- Noe Ramirez had a rough outing. He came on in the ninth inning with a 6-2 lead and let it slip away. He ran into some tough luck, however, as he was hurt by a swinging-bunt single, a bad error, a groundball double that was barely fair, and a line drive that tipped off a leaping Marrero's glove. Even though luck played a role, he was still not very sharp. His breaking ball often missed in the dirt, and a wild pitch led to runners advancing. He touched 92 mph with his fastball.

Jorge Marban came on and pitched well, touching 93 mph with his fastball. He struck out two in 1 1/3 innings and did not allow a hit.

Photo Credit: Zeke Spruill by Kelly O'Connor