As I recount my notes from the past week and scour the some 50 pictures I took over 3 days, I always find it prudent to let my notes sit for a bit before I make any hyperbolic statements. The trip to the Quad Cities was a lot of fun (and I owe a big thanks to my friend in that area for housing me for the weekend) despite the humidity.
After three days, these impressions are the epitome of small sample size on a results based measure. I try to look for skills that should be relevant after any sample size but I’m cognizant of the limitations here. Without further equivocating, here are my comments, both general and specific, regarding the Quad Cities River Bandits.
There’s a few general themes or unspecific remarks I want to make first:
- The hitting coach for the Quad Cities River Bandits deserves a lot of credit in my opinion. The position player corps are thin on elite or even good hitters but what they do have is a plan. I can’t recall ever having the sense over the course of 3 days that a player was flailing at a pitch or approached the plate without a plan. This seemed to manifest itself in walks (10 in three days) but it was almost a tangible feeling in the the River Bandits overall game.
- Whither the curveball? I saw plenty of sliders but there wasn’t a noteworthy curveball in the bunch. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I missed Shelby Miller and his curveball, but it did surprise me a bit.
- The Cardinals have collected some velocity in the low minors. There was only one instance of a pitcher whose velocity disappointed me. Most of the young arms were sitting in the low 90s — specifics later.
Color me impressed. Swinson showed superb speed flying around the bases with a triple the first game against the West Michigan Whitecaps. He’s really an upper echelon speed guy and probably the fastest (or close to it) player I can think of in the Cardinals system. There’s some loft in the swing and at age 20, he’s still got some filling out to do, so while the power potential is limited, it’s not non-existent. Pitchers aren’t going to just blow the ball by him. Defensively, he’s true centerfielder with plus range and a good arm. In the first game, when he was playing right field, he made a spectacular over the shoulder catch.
The most impressive of all the pitchers I saw in Quad Cities, Hooker has an above average fastball and breaking ball, which he struck out the 2nd batter of the game with. The breaking ball gets off the plate quick and shows good lateral movement away from right handed hitters. It’s not a slurvey type of breaking ball but a sharp slider. The fastball velocity was in the low-90s touching 95 early and maintaining speed throughout his outing (5 IP). Hooker also has the size on the mound (6’4″, 185 lbs) that gives good downward action to his fastball and lends itself to the indefinable “mound presence”. I’ve also got notes on his slider velocity in the mid-80s (no surprise there), a functional changeup and what looked like a cut fastball in the 87-88 mph range.
The first remark I’m obligated to share about Stock is that I’m told he resembles Taylor Lautner. The friend I was with that weekend continually commented on it — she’s a Twilight fan — and, by the conclusion of the weekend, had decided that he was the most attractive player on the team.
From a baseball perspective, Stock showed a good foundation from which to build. Defensively, he’s very good behind the plate. His exchange from glove to throwing hand is a little clumsy but he’s got a strong accurate arm (excepting the one practice throw to 2nd after warmup catches that he air mailed to Swinson). He shouldn’t have any problem holding runners or throwing them out when they test him. He didn’t struggle to block balls in the dirt and he seemed comfortable with the pitchers as they worked through the game. Offensively, he needs work. His swing looks like it’s a mess to me. He leans forward too much putting him off balance at times and his swing can get loopy. I’d like to see a more direct path to the ball and a focus on his stance to make it consistent. I think he’s got the hands and bat control to revamp his swing but what he’s a work in progress at the plate.
Stidham is a bit of a puzzle to me. I came away liking him but I’m not sure he’s a good bet to progress to the majors. He can handle second base defensively though he’s no great shakes. He showed enough athleticism to move to the outfield — including a sensational play in LF using his natural ability to overcome a terrible route to the baseball on the track — but the bat doesn’t play well at that position. He’s got some natural power in his swing and he can make consistent contact with quick hands and a bat that stays in the zone for some time. At the end of the trip though, I just couldn’t peg his future. I’d keep him at second and hope that the overall set of skills pans out there. With no glaring weakness and average or better tools across the board, he might be a future utility player.
The One Dimensional
Jackson is a joy to watch in the field. He’s as smooth as can be gliding around the shortstop position. If Brendan Ryan is unbridled energy and ability, Jackson epitomizes controlled talent and maturity. He’s a plus-plus fielder with good range (though not Brendan Ryan’s range) to both sides, soft hands and a nice (conventional) throwing motion. He’s a major league shortstop today defensively; he’s that good. At the plate, however, there’s just nothing much to see. There’s no power in his swing as everything was a routine flyball or a groundball. He’ll put the ball in play and draw some walks but gap power is his ceiling.
Of all the players on both teams, Lara was the guy who stood out for size. He looks like he’s got 2-3 inches on the rest of the squad (listed at 6’3″) and he’s just built differently. This may simply be the case of a more physically mature body, but he’s noticeably bigger than the rest of the team. He’s the only player that flashed true plus power hitting a mammoth homerun to right center in the 3rd inning of the game on 6/13. It’s a power hitter’s swing with some holes in it but when he makes contact, it’s hard contact. The flip side is he’s an absolute butcher in the field. Even at first base he managed to earn two bad defensive notes in my notebook and moves like a ton of bricks around the bases.
- Michael Blazek – He’s got a fastball that sits 90-92, a slider that didn’t live up to Hooker’s two days prior and an offspeed pitch that’s a work in progress. Given the attrition rate on pitchers, I’d bet against him long term with stuff that was so-so and command that deteriorated over the course of the game.
- Niko Vasquez - He struggles on balls hit in front of him at third with two instances of softly hit groundballs that he tried to barehand with no success. He doesn’t look comfortable charging inward. Underwhelming at the plate with a good eye but not a particularly strong three days offensively. I don’t think the walk rate holds up at the next level.
- Jesse Simpson - Easily the most disappointing pitcher of the weekend. With 48 strikeouts in 39.2 innings, I was expecting a lot more. What he showed was a high-80s fastball and a good breaking ball that he struggled to command. He looked undersized on the mound — I’m skeptical of the 6′ listing.
- Eric Fornataro – Another fastball in the low 90s, changeup in low 80s, sloppy breaking ball. This fastball had more sink to it than Blazek. His command in the 7th was failing rapidly and he labored through the inning. He didn’t seem as big as the 6’1″ 195 he’s listed at and wasn’t very imposing on the mound. I don’t think the stuff plays at the higher levels.
- Jorge Rondon – Live fastball sitting in the mid-90s but zero idea of where the ball was going when I saw him. (Full Disclosure: I only caught two innings of Rondon leaving Sunday’s game early for a birthday celebration. I had to plead for the two innings to watch him while my friends complained of being famished.) I can see the appeal of the arm but it’s potential not polish.
Closing Thoughts – The outfielders, besides Swinson, were uninspiring. Hooker was the only one that looked like an obvious candidate to advance through the minors but neither Blazek nor Fornataro are washups. If I’m being brutally honest, I didn’t see much in the way of major league talent at the Quad Cities. The upside of that statement is that I didn’t get to see Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly or Scott Schneider who are among the best arms on the staff. I wasn’t enamored of the on field talent that I saw though the team continues to win after clinching a spot in the playoffs.