Down On The Farm Wrap
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on April 11, 2006
There are five senses that we humans use on a regular basis. We use them to gather information. it's really that simple.
We see, we hear, we touch, we smell, we taste. Not necessarily in that order.
Last night, I used all five of those wonderul senses to collect some pretty good 411 on a couple of prospects.
I saw Jesse Foppert tossed two decent innings and two very mediocre-to-awful innings, walking four, throwing a wild pitch and displaying a very inconsistent release point – which is only half of his problem.
Since coming over in the trade fromS an Francisco, Foppert has been working on shortening his stride toward home plate so he can more effectively stay on top of his pitches, creating more of a downward plane. This would, in theory, also increase his velocity, as he'd be able to use his body for better leverage.
Well, it's not working, none of it.
Foppert tossed 68 pitches last night, only half for strikes, and the replacement umpires, especially the pudgy little man that was calling balls and strikes last night, have extremely wide strike zones.
His release point was all over the map, though everything else was pretty consistent. His plant foot was repeating the same mark, and his upper body was following his lower half on a regular basis.
His slider has nice movement, but the lack in velocity separation is hurting its effectiveness. He's not using the split a lot right now, but his change has good action, though his command is not there with that pitch, either.
I touched the shoulder of one Bobby Livingston and asked him about Foppert's velocity. His response was not encouraging. "Lemme see… 86 to 88, couple of 89s," said B-Liv.
If this was mid-May I'd take those results and flush them down the pipe with all the hope of Foppert ever returning to form. But since it was his first start, the weather was pretty chilly, and he'd only thrown 45 pitches since his disaster in spring training, I'll hand the 6-foot-6 Bay Area native a mulligan.
But it's been nearly two years since surgery and not only has Foppert's velocity remained in the high 80s, but his command is still spotty at best.
On to better news…
Left-hander Ryan Feierabend tossed five strong innings last night for Double-A San Antonio, allowing just four hits and two walks while fanning six.
At just 20 years of age, the M's 2003 third round pick took a nice step toward a solid season.
One special assistant GM of an AL club was sitting nearby when I mentioned to Livingston that Feierabend pitched well and I heard his reply.
"He's going to pitch well for a very, very long time, too."
I responded "You like him a quite a bit, eh?" His quick answer was "yeah, I do."
Later, the same former scout who used to patrol the West Coast for a couple of West Divisions teams said that Feierabend "has a feel for pitching, like Blackley. This is something no coach alive can teach. He competes and isn't afraid of anything and I think he is going to get bigger and have more velocity. I see a possible No. 3 starter in the ML in 2-3 years."
Feierabend made a lot of progress last season with his curve ball and one thing he'll look to improve this season is his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. His slider is still a work-in-progress but he may end up adding cutter in the near-future.
Both Travis Blackley and Thomas Oldham use a cutter, though in much different style.
Blackley uses his against any hitter, left or right, and he saws off a lot of bats when he comes in on righties.
Oldham uses his cutter against lefties, in lieu of the slider. Feierabend may choose to use it either way, or both, but he's got time to develop his slider as well. It's very possible he keeps his slider and adds the cut fastball, too. Blackley throws both, though he's so in love with his cutter right now I'm not sure how much he's throwing the slide piece.
The most exciting thing about Feierabend is that he's 6-foot-4, almost 200 pounds, and he's only 20, tossing pitches to far more experienced bats in the Double-A Texas League. Sound familiar?
Yeah, Blackley was also 20 when he steamrolled the Texas League in 2003. It wouldn't be fair to expect a 17-3, 2.61 ERA campaign out of Feierabend, especially when you consider that Blackley didn't lose a start after May 24 that season – including two starts in the postseason – but Feierabend has talent, intelligence, the physical skills, and may be developing that "it" factor I have spoken about on occasion.
I've comp'd Feierabend's ceiling to Milwaukee Brewers southpaw Doug Davis, who is one of my favorite pitchers in the league. Davis' command goes haywire on occasion, but his low 90s heater, above average change and plus breaking ball allow him to get his share of whiffs as well. he'll walk 80-90 guys a year, but he's also getting 175-190 strikeouts, too.
If Feierabend continues to build on his 87-90 mph fastball, and improves his command, the Mariners will have a tough customer to go to in a few years.
[I wonder how many are reading this and thinking to themselves, or gosh forbid out loud somewhere, 'how in the heck is Jason going to incorporate the last two senses into this thing?']
Other Cool Things I Saw on Monday…
Adam Jones' transition to center field is not going to take two years, like some, including myself, originally estimated. His instincts are already above average and though he did misplay one liner last night, his first week of full-time play in center has been pretty solid.
Jones made a really nice running catch heading out toward the right-center field wall (his left) with an outstretched glove. The misplayed ball was a deep liner about 10 steps to his left and headed for the warning track on a hop. His first step, the most important one, was delayed as he froze to further analyze where the ball was heading. That split second cost him the catch, because the route he took was perfect. Jeremy Reed probably makes the catch, as does T.J. Bohn. But it's one that not the average defender out there gets to.
Jones showed me more in a line out to center later in the game. The ball was hit to average center field bout 20-25 steps to Jones' right. There was a man on third and one out. Not only did Jones catch the ball, which wasn't routine, but he positioned himself to make a throw to the plate in the little time he had to maneuver while the ball was airborne.
The throw was a little offline but no arm in the system, including Ichiro's throws out the runner in that situation. But the fact that he had the wherewithall to center the ball to make the throw was impressive. Remember, he's played 28 games at the position in his entire life, and in nine of those, he spent just half the game out there. He's still under 200 innings as a center fielder.
One more thing… okay two, and this first one is for you, dawg.
Asdrubal Cabrera has been labeled by some scouts, and by Baseball America as a gold glove fielder who lacks on-base skills. I've always called B.S. on that, because he's always been patient at the plate and rarely swings at bad pitches.
His walk numbers don't reflect his actual ability to get on base and thus his moderate gap between his batting average and his OBP.
But the 20-year-old Venezuelan certainly has those skills and is showing them off in the PCL. Through five games, the switch hitter has drawn four walks, which leads the team, and has struck out just three times in 19 plate appearances.
He's hitting .357 and though he's yet to scrape up an extra-base hit, remember, he's just 20. He's about 180 pounds and nearly 6-feet tall, so he's not physical incapable of boning up and hitting one 400 feet, but his stroke is engineered for line drives, and that's what he's doing.
I fully expect Cabrera to finish the year with a very respectable offensive line. He's much more suited to handle the challenge of Triple-A baseball than Jones.
Lastly, Rob Johnson is for real, people. His bat needs time, but defensively, he has every physical tool, including the most important – the brain.
His throwing arm is more accurate than I ever thought it's be, even at full development. He's gunned down five runners trying to advance, three would-be base stealers and two more runners trying to move up a base on a pass ball/wild pitch.
Catching guru Roger Hansen is here in Tacoma this week, so I'll try and get to him to ask about Clement and Johnson.
But boy, can Johnson throw. Arm strength is above average and so far his accuracy has been perfect.
Oh, I almost forgot.
I smelled the BBQ Chicken Sandwich, and then I tasted it, too. I needed it to use the other three senses properly. Just ask Darrin Beene of The News Tribune. He needed a BBQ Beef Sandwich in order to function.