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August 28, 2017 at 10:37 AM

Notes from the Field: Trey Ball

PORTLAND, Me. -- On July 19, SoxProspects.com Director of Scouting Ian Cundall wrote about what he saw from left-hander Trey Ball’s (pictured) start on July 7. Ball turned in one of the best starts of his career in that outing, allowing one run on three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. What stood out in Cundall’s Scouting Scratch to me was that Ball relied heavily on his slider and induced many swinging strikes with the offering. It was more of the same in Ball’s latest dominant outing, which came on August 17.

During the afternoon tilt against the Altoona Curve, Pittsburgh’s Double-A affiliate, Ball tossed seven scoreless innings while allowing just four hits and one walk with nine strikeouts. He was aggressive from the start, using his fastball to get ahead in the count. Overall, he faced 23 batters and threw a first-pitch strike to 12 of them (52%). That’s not a particularly high percentage, but the first four batters of the game looked at a fastball for strike one. Ball’s approach early in the count was a bit different than his July 7 start, when he had used his heater to get ahead. In this start, his slider was mainly used in two-strike counts.

The Curve lineup was heavy on right-handed hitters, featuring just one lefty. That made it important for Ball, as a left-hander, to keep his slider down in the zone to those right-handers, and he was mostly successful at that. Ball utilized a back-foot slider masterfully early in the game, striking out two of the first three hitters by burying the pitch down and in, even corkscrewing the first hitter into the ground for strike three. Even when he wasn’t getting swinging strikes early, the slider was still down in the dirt with two strikes, rather than left over the middle of the plate.

Ball’s fourth strikeout came on the slider as well, but this pitch looked more cutter-like. This time, the pitch wasn’t in the dirt, but it was perfectly placed thigh-high and off the plate inside to produce an uncomfortable swing that tied up the hitter.
In the fourth inning, Ball continued to use his fastball to start at-bats, but he began to use his slow curveball once he got ahead 0-1. The first batter of the fourth fouled off a fastball for strike one, then took Ball’s curve, which was around 74 MPH, for strike two before flying out to center. Ball started leaving his slider up on occasion as the game went on, as the second batter of the fourth inning ripped a single to left on a two-strike slider that caught too much of the plate. The next batter, however, rolled over on Ball’s curve on an 0-2 pitch, leading to an easy 6-4-3 double play.

Ball changed up his two-strike approach in the fifth and sixth innings. He was still using his fastball early in the count, but he also began using it with two strikes. Ball’s three strikeouts in the fifth and sixth innings all came on fastballs. All three were strikeouts looking as well—one to the only lefty in Altoona’s lineup and two to righties. Perhaps the Curve hitters were caught off guard. He also showed some resilience, coming back from a 3-0 count to strike out the final hitter of the sixth.
In Ball’s seventh and final inning, he showed more resilience even as he tired. Ball’s first walk of the day came to the second-to-last hitter he faced, a four-pitch walk. After going to a 1-0 count on his final hitter, Ball induced a weak grounder to third for a 5-4-3 double play.

Overall, Ball was incredibly sharp, showcasing terrific control and command of his fastball, slider, and curveball. He mixed pitches well and kept Altoona’s hitters guessing, especially in two-strike counts as the game wore on.
Flashes of Ball's potential like what I saw in this start are what keep him in the rotation and keep him from falling off the prospect radar entirely. However, his failure to find any consistent success—see, for example, his start following this one, in which he recorded just two outs before being pulled in the first inning after 38 pitches, having allowed four hits and two walks—is what keeps great outings like this from generating too much excitement about his potential major-league future. Ball is still young, having just turned 23 at the end of June. Finding the consistency and confidence that he exhibited during his outing against Altoona on a more regular basis will be key for him moving forward.

Photo Credit: Trey Ball by Kelly O'Connor