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April 19, 2017 at 8:01 AM

Scouting Scratch: First Look at the Portland Bullpen

Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Dates Scouted: April 7-9 vs. Reading

The Sea Dogs' season-opening three-game sweep of Reading provided a look at the almost the entire bullpen. Here is my Scouting Scratch on Portland's deep corps of relievers.  
Right-hander Ty Buttrey is in his sixth season with the organization, but his first full season as a reliever after transitioning to that role late in 2016. The 2012 fourth-round pick showed off an interesting two-pitch mix that was able to miss bats, something he had not done as a starter. Buttrey has a large pitcher’s frame, listed at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds with minimal remaining projection. His delivery has some effort, including a long arm swing behind that results in him coming directly over the top. His delivery would be difficult to repeat over longer stints, but out of the bullpen that isn’t much of an issue anymore. He was working very quickly in this outing, too quickly at times, and got called for two balks. The quick pace looked intentional and allowed him to get into a good rhythm when the bases were empty. 

Buttrey’s fastball sat 92-95 mph, topping out at 96. The pitch was on the straight side but had some life. He struggled with his command but was working in the zone, something he has been unable to do in the past (see his 5.4 walks per nine in 2016). 

The most encouraging development was that Buttrey seems to have found a secondary pitch that he has confidence and feel for in his changeup, which flashed above-average potential. He showed willingness to use the pitch in any count and got three swing-and-misses and two of his three strikeouts with the pitch. He throws it 79-83 mph, with the pitch showing late, splitter-like drop late in the zone. The pitch has good separation from his fastball, and he throws it with similar arm speed. 

This was an encouraging start to the season for Buttrey. If he can continue to improve his fastball command and his consistency with his changeup, he could put himself in line for a midseason promotion to Pawtucket. 
In his Double-A debut, right-hander Jake Cosart was only able to record one out, and that was given to him on a sacrifice bunt, as his control deserted him. On this day, he just couldn’t find the strike zone, as he walked four hitters and hit another before being removed, throwing just eight of 25 pitches for strikes.

Cosart has a brutal, max-effort delivery which features no incorporation of his lower half or extension, instead relying on his lightning-quick arm. Even when he is on, Cosart can have trouble throwing strikes at times. He has had spells like this before, notably with Lowell in 2015 when the organization was tinkering with his mechanics in an attempt to incorporate more of his lower half. Cosart’s velocity was also down, with his fastball topping out at 94 mph and sitting 92-93. In past looks, the pitch has topped out in the high-90s. 

Cosart showed improvement in his two outings since this look, walking three in two innings while striking out four in his second appearance, then walking just one and striking out a pair in 1 2/3 on Saturday. Concentrating on throwing more strikes and proving this was an early-season aberration is the foremost concern, then attention can turn to getting his stuff back to where it was in his breakout 2016 campaign.
Of all the relief arms that threw for Portland during the opening series, right-hander Jamie Callahan was the most interesting. Another former starter, Callahan carried his strong performance in the 2016 Arizona Fall League and in major league spring training this March over to his season debut, as he threw 1 2/3 perfect innings with three strikeouts. Callahan entered in a tough situation with the bases loaded and one out, but was able to retire the next two hitters on two pitches before throwing a perfect ninth. 

Callahan has a wide pitcher’s frame with a well-developed lower half. He throws right over the top, hiding the ball well behind his head, and uses his 6-foot-3 frame to get solid extension to the plate. His fastball had late life as he sat 92-94 mph, topping out at 95. Impressively, he got four swing-and-misses with his fastball and all three of his strikeouts with the pitch. He showed feel for both of his off-speed pitches, a changeup at 85-87 mph and a slider at 85-88 mph, and was able to throw them for strikes early in the count. In a system filled with right-handed relief prospects, Callahan’s stock is up and he has now established himself as one of the more intriguing relief arms in the high-minors. 
After a strong showing in major league spring training, right-hander Austin Maddox made one appearance with Portland before being moved up to Pawtucket (although he returned to Portland on Sunday). Maddox doesn’t have a high ceiling, but he could put himself into the conversation as an up-and-down reliever if he can consistently perform as he did this outing. 

Maddox was aggressive, attacking hitters and pounding the zone with his two-pitch mix. His fastball sat 92-94 mph with late life. The pitch gets on hitters quickly, as he has a short arm action and keeps the ball hidden behind his body until late. His changeup showed average potential at 84-86 mph. He throws it with deceptive arm speed and it showed some late fade. 
Left-handed pitcher Luis Ysla’s stuff was down in his two innings in relief compared to what I saw from him last summer. Ysla was having trouble with his delivery, as his arm was out of sync. He has a lot of moving parts in his delivery, including a head whack and long arm action, making it difficult to repeat, even in short stints. 

Ysla’s fastball velocity was also noticeably down, as he sat 90-93 mph, topping out at 94 mph, compared to the 94-97 mph he sat at in 2016. Both his secondary pitches were inconsistent and he struggled to throw them for strikes. He threw his changeup at 85-86 mph and slider primarily at 77-79 mph, with one at 82. His changeup showed some fade, while the slider was slurvy, with horizontal break. Neither showed even average in this look. 

It was early in the season and the weather was very cold, but the downtick in Ysla’s stuff bears watching as the season progresses.
Williams Jerez sat 93-95 mph over his two innings in relief. The pitch was on the straight side with average life. Jerez has a tall, lanky pitcher’s frame and a controlled, repeatable delivery. He has a short arm action and throws from a three-quarters arm slot. He mixed in both his secondaries, a changeup at 84-86 mph and slider 83-85 mph. His changeup is the better of the two secondary pitches, but neither showed better than average.

Photo credits: Ty Buttrey, Jamie Callahan and Luis Ysla  by Kelly O'Connor

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