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SoxProspects News

May 5, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Wrapping up April in Portland

Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Dates Scouted: April 7-9 vs. Reading and April 22 vs. Trenton (Doubleheader)

Over the first few weeks of the season, I’ve had a chance to see five Portland games and get an extended look at most of the team. Here is the final Scouting Scratch on Portland's infielders and another look at a few pitchers.

Nick Longhi began the season in the site’s top 10, but while he hasn’t come out as hot as newly minted top prospect Rafael Devers has, he still has shown some interesting tools as he adjusts to his new swing. Longhi used to utilize a toe tap and a swing tailored to hard contact gap-to-gap. This led to impressive extra-base hit totals (45 last year in Salem), but hadn’t translated to over-the-fence power with only ten home runs in 1,194 plate appearances entering 2017.

This offseason, Longhi changed things up and now is using a leg lift and an altered swing path more tailored to hit the ball in the air. Though the average hasn’t been there, Longhi has already matched his 2016 home run total with two. The second home run came in game one of the April 22 doubleheader against Trenton. Longhi got an 0-1, 93-mph fastball down and in. Longhi pulled has hands in and cleared his hips, golfing the ball out 410 feet, long over the left field wall, with an exit velocity of 110 mph.

Defensively, Longhi has shown above-average potential at first base, making several tough plays on ground balls and picking up infielders on bad throws. He is agile coming off the base and is comfortable scooping throws in the dirt. He also has shown good range—for example, he made one very good stop on a ground ball down the line to his left with the bases loaded in the games scouted. Interestingly, Longhi is also playing some left field again, which is good for his defensive versatility long term. He has plenty of arm strength for the outfield, as his plus arm is often hidden at first base. With the Portland roster losing an outfielder with the promotion of Aneury Tavarez to Pawtucket to be replaced by infielder Josh Tobias, the door may be open to Longhi getting some more time in the outfield.
Now in his sixth year with the organization, Tzu-Wei Lin has gotten off to a good start, getting particularly hot as of late, but looks largely the same at the plate. Lin still is undersized, listed at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, and lacks strength. He has solid bat-to-ball skills, but a short swing that lacks authority. He made a lot of weak contact in the games scouted, as his hits were all weak but well-placed.

Lin is an above-average defender at shortstop, and athletic enough to profile at second base and in the outfield. The aforementioned promotion of Tavarez has also opened the door for Lin to move around a bit as well, as he saw his first start in center field this season on May 3. He also saw time at second base and third base last season, and it would make sense for the team to begin moving him around again, as unless he shows significant improvement at the plate, he doesn’t project as more than an organizational utility player.
In the first game of the April 22 doubleheader against Trenton, left-hander Jalen Beeks got the start. That was a typical spring day in Maine, in the low-40s and wet throughout the game—not ideal conditions for baseball. The weather didn’t seem to faze Beeks, however, as he threw a complete game, seven-inning shutout, allowing five hits and walking two while recording seven strikeouts. Beeks threw 63 of his 94 pitches for strikes and was consistently ahead of hitters all game long.

Compared to previous looks, Beeks has cleaned up his mechanics. In the gifs below you can see the difference, as Beeks doesn’t turn his back and rock backwards and down as he used to (the gif on the top is from Spring Training 2016, while the one on the bottom is from his first start of the year on April 8th). Our Assistant Director of Scouting, Chaz Fiorino, did a great job describing Beeks’ current mechanics in his Write-Up earlier this year, so check that out for a more detailed look.

Beeks’ stuff was down slightly compared to that game, perhaps due in part to the conditions. His
fastball topped out at 92 mph and he sat 89-91 mph, whereas he touched 95 mph in his season debut. He complimented his fastball with a cutter, a changeup, and a curveball. He was most effective with his curve in this outing, recording four strikeouts with it. He threw it 74-76 mph, with the pitch showing good shape and depth. He also showed the ability to bury it down and out of the zone against left-handed hitters.

Overall, it was an impressive outing given that Beeks clearly didn’t have his best stuff. To combat that, he did a very good job changing speeds and kept the ball down in the zone. Beeks has strong pitchability, and though he doesn’t have a high ceiling, he is developing into one of the more reliable pitchers in the Red Sox system and someone who could position themselves for a big league call-up at some point next season, most likely in a relief role due to his height and mechanics.
Right-hander Ty Buttrey showed the most promise of any of the relief arms in game two of the doubleheader, continuing his strong start to the season. Buttrey threw two shutout innings, striking out three, while walking one and allowing no hits. Buttrey’s velocity was up compared to the first time I saw him this year, as he sat 95-97 mph and touched 98 mph. He was consistently repeating his delivery and was working in the zone with his fastball, attacking hitters with confidence. Buttrey has really taken to his move to the bullpen and is throwing better now than at any time I have seen him in his career. He is also missing bats at a much higher clip than anytime before, currently striking out 41.3% of hitters compared to a previous high of 25.6%—albeit when he was a starter. Buttrey is now one of the more intriguing arms in the deep staple of relief corps in the Red Sox high minors, and if he continues throwing like this, he could be up in Pawtucket at some point this summer, although the crowded bullpen picture there could delay such a move.
Right-hander Jake Cosart again struggled to throw strikes in relief, as he did the first time I saw him. Cosart’s defense didn’t help him either, with second baseman Jose Rosario making two errors to prolong his one inning and leading to four unearned runs. Cosart’s stuff was still down compared to last year, as he topped out at 94 mph but mostly worked 91-93 mph. He again had no feel for his breaking ball or changeup and struggled to repeat his delivery.

Photo credits: Nick Longhi by Kelly O'Connor

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