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June 29, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Josh Pennington, Darwinzon Hernandez and Gerson Bautista

LOWELL, Mass. – The Spinners’ opening week was a great chance to see several of the young, intriguing players in the system, many in their first taste of “real” professional baseball outside of the complex leagues (the GCL and DSL for the Sox). Last week, I posted reports on Michael Kopech’s start on opening night, as well as notes on five more Lowell pitchers. Here are scouting notes and video of three other members of the Lowell pitching staff, all of whom touched at least 95 mph and showed improvement from looks during Spring Training this year and/or the Fall Instructional League last year.

- Starting the second game of the season, 19-year-old right-hander Josh Pennington was perfect for three innings, with six strikeouts, before running into trouble his second time through the order. Pennington, a 2014 29th-round pick, signed for only $90,000 after tearing his UCL just two games into his senior season, leading to Tommy John surgery immediately after he signed. He is undersized, listed at 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, but his body does have some projection as he matures and gets stronger. He is a solid athlete with a live, quick arm.

Pennington works from the third base side of the rubber and comes directly over the top. His delivery has some effort in it and his arm action is on the long side with a slight stab in back. He did a good job repeating his delivery from the windup in this outing, but struggled somewhat to do so when in the stretch.

Pennington’s fastball worked 94-98 mph, but he sat 96-97 mph for the most part. The pitch had some life and finish down in the zone when he pitched downhill, but flattened out and was hittable when he left it up in the zone. This was especially noticeable in his fourth inning of work, when he had to work from the stretch, as he left one up for a long home run to left-center field.

Pennington showed the ability to locate the fastball to both sides of the plate. Because of his lack of professional innings and effort in his delivery, it would not be a surprise to see his command and control come and go in some outings. Long term, however, with refinement and improved consistency, the pitch has the potential to be a plus-plus offering.

Pennington’s primary secondary offering is his curveball, which flashed solid-average at 75-78 mph. He has solid feel for the curve, with the pitch showing depth and tight rotation. It is a true 12-to-6 offering, and he had the confidence to throw the pitch in any count to both righties and lefties. He also showed the ability to bury the pitch down in the zone with two strikes when he was looking for a swing-and-miss.

Pennington also threw two changeups, a pitch that is clearly a work in progress. He threw one at 85 mph that had some fade and drop, but the other was 87 mph, firm, and up in the zone, and it was hit hard to left field for a double. 

Long-term, given Pennington’s size, injury history, delivery, and lack of a third pitch, he likely profiles best in the bullpen. He has the stuff to feature in a late-inning role, though he will be developed as a starter for now, forcing him to mix all his pitches. This will be especially beneficial because he will be forced to use his changeup the second and third times through the order; even during this one outing, once hitters saw him, they would lay off his curveball and wait for him to make a mistake with his fastball. Regardless, Pennington has one of the more electric arms in the low minors in this system, and given his age, he is someone to watch to see how he progresses this season and going forward.

- The final starter during the opening homestand, left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, showed a marked improvement with his stuff. Hernandez looks heavier than his listed weight of 180 pounds and has a solid pitcher’s frame with minimal projection even though he will pitch all season as a 19-year-old.

Hernandez throws from a three-quarters arm slot and does not use a windup, starting with his hands by his chest with a short arm action and wrist wrap. He has deception in his delivery, keeping his arm behind his body and the ball hidden from the hitters view until very late, close to when he releases it. Because of his arm slot and deception, he will be tough on left-handers, but he showed the necessary secondary offerings to also be able to get right-handed hitters out as well.

Over his five innings of work, Hernandez sat 91-94 mph, topping out at 95 mph. He mostly pitched at 92-93 mph, recording all four of his strikeouts and eliciting eight swing-and-misses on the pitch. As a point of reference, during a Spring Training outing, Hernandez sat 88-90 mph, topping out at 91 mph. The pitch showed natural cut both then and now, and in this outing, he did a good job keeping the ball down in the zone. Long term, the pitch has the potential to be a plus offering.

Hernandez also featured both a curveball and changeup, with both showing average potential. His curveball worked 73-77 mph with 1-to-7 break. He did not throw the offering consistently for strikes, but showed enough confidence in the pitch to throw it in any count. Hernandez’s changeup was also inconsistent, coming in at 82-85 mph. It was on the firm side in the upper end of the velocity range, but he did pull the string on it once, with the pitch showing fade and drop and eliciting a swing-and-miss at 82 mph.

Hernandez is very young and has a long way to go developmentally, but he is already showing the makings of a three-pitch mix and has the build of a starting pitcher. He needs to improve his secondary offerings, but if you dream on him, you could project a pitcher with a plus fastball and two average secondary offerings. Being left-handed, that profile is very interesting, and if he continues to improve, his prospect stock will increase.

- The elder statesman of the three prospects discussed today, 21-year-old Gerson Bautista showed off his signature fastball in two appearances out of the bullpen during the homestand, but he still needs some refinement with his secondaries. Bautista still has a skinny frame, with long limbs and some room to fill out as he matures, though not as much as you would think given his build. He has a quick arm, but his delivery is high-effort and jerky, and he struggles to repeat it consistently.

Bautista’s calling card is his fastball velocity and that was on display in both outings, as he topped out at 98 mph in both, sitting 94-97 mph. The pitch has some movement when he finishes it down in the zone, and he showed better control of the pitch now that he has moved to a full-time, true bullpen role. The pitch is a potential plus-plus offering and showed bat-missing ability, eliciting eight swing-and-misses in the just three-and-one third innings scouted.

In a true bullpen role, Bautista’s inconsistent secondary pitches are not as important, as he can just focus on the better of the two, his slider. He threw it at 80-84 mph, mostly in the 82-83 mph range. The shape of the pitch varied between the two outings, with it showing short, 10-to-4 break in one, and more vertical, longer, 11-to-5 break in the other. The pitch flashed above-average, but was also below-average other times, so he will need to continue to refine it to serve as a useable second pitch. He also threw one changeup over the two outings at 83 mph with some drop, but it seems that pitch is being shelved for the most part.

Given his velocity, Bautista represents a very intriguing arm out of the bullpen. It is telling that the organization has already moved him into a true bullpen role, moving him out of the rotation and bypassing any sort of piggyback role. Long-term, Bautista was best suited for a short relief role anyway, and by making the change now, it lets him get acclimated to working on shorter rest and in higher leverage roles serving as the closer for Lowell.

Photo credit: Josh Pennington, Darwinzon Hernandez and Gerson Bautista by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.