This comes a bit late seeing as last Sunday’s game at The Diamond at Lake Elsinore is but a distant memory. That said, when my network drive stopped hijacking footage and Vimeo started cooperating (donations for a Vimeo PRO account and a tripod will be accepted via PayPal) I decided it was best to not let the tale of the Storm’s 6-3 loss to the Inland Empire 66ers fall by the wayside.
So, with a notebook full of…notes…coupled with what my wife documented keeping score (I’m the worst), I bring you a much-belated account from Padres Prospectville.
First, some backstory. Following the Storm’s opening series in Rancho Cucamonga, I pored over Lake Elsinore’s schedule attempting to construct the best equation with which to accurately determine Matt Wisler’s next scheduled home start. Spring reviews were nothing short of glowing and, having missed him in Arizona, a postponement in Lancaster made Sunday a reasonable estimate.
I was close…Wisler and fellow rotation-mate, Colin Rea, ended up charting pitches in the row directly in front of me (along with two unknown 66ers). The following is a bit of conversational eavesdropping, sneaking peeks at the radar guns, and general observations.
Brandon Alger, LHP, Lake Elsinore Storm:
- 89-90 MPH on the fastball, very fluid mechanics and a repeatable release point. Good downward movement and ability to locate in and out of the zone yielded scattered, weak contact. Overall, not a lot of great looks for the hitters and a fair share of ducksnorts that led to some bleeding.
- Slider looked more advanced and with sharper break that the curve and seemed to be able to command the former a lot better.
- Did show a bit of hesitance fielding his position. Most memorable occasion being a 5th inning situation where the leadoff man reached, and Alger failed to convert an out on a sacrifice bunt. Had trouble bouncing off the mound and fielding his position.
It was rather surprising that, despite having a rough 5th inning, Alger didn’t come out to start the 6th – after all, he was only at 70 pitches. According to Rea, this is because Lake Elsinore pitchers were capped at 75 pitches, “maybe 80-85″ if the situation arises. The 66ers seemed to be on a longer leash, with a 90-pitch limit.
Either way, an interesting difference in organizational practices and a real shame as Alger is a joy to watch in the methodical repetition and rhythm in his delivery.
Mark Sappington, RHP, Inland Empire 66ers:
Sappington, while an interesting prospect, actually drew my favorite reaction of the night. Following a flat and indecipherable 80-MPH pitch, Rea turns to one of the 66ers players and asks if that was his change-up. The player smirks and replies, “he calls it a ‘slider’” complete with air quotes. Anyway…
- Uses his size to push a consistent 92-94 MPH on his fastball, topping out at 96 although he was unable to throw many of his hottest pitches for strikes. Seemed to deal with some faulty mechanical issues and would end up overthrowing or drifting off the mound following a long, lanky delivery.
- The aforementioned “slider,” while oftentimes flat, did manage to find some extra bite. After getting the rehabbing Chase Headley to swing over strike three on a pitch that ended near his back foot, he then managed to hang one not long thereafter to Lee Orr for an RBI-single. Unsure if there’s anything else in his arsenal, although I did hear mention of a change-up.
Clearly, I don’t know enough about Sappington to know if he profiles better as a starter or reliever, but the size and velocity were impressive – just not consistently. If his slider develops into a put-away pitch instead of something more of a coin flip, perhaps he becomes something to watch.
Travis Jankowski, CF, Lake Elsinore Storm:
First, with the obvious – Jankowski is really incredibly insanely fast. Not only is he a smart, instinctive base runner with great wheels, but he also puts that speed to good use with accurate reads and a quick first step in the outfield. There were a couple of well-struck balls to the gaps which ended up being well within his range, including a great running play deep into the right center field gap that he flagged down on the track. The arm isn’t anything to write home about, but any flyball out there was pretty much in range.
Jankowski is kind of a mixed bag offensively. He’s off to a great start (.344/.411/.469 with 10 SB going into tonight), but while he’s calmed the active hands in his load considerably since his days at Stony Brook, it still negates a bit from the quickness of his bat.
Still, it’s an impressive combination of skills that can dazzle when firing on all cylinders:
And, obviously, the speed is a weapon. The way both Geoff and Rick marveled at how routine plays turned into runs was swoon-worthy to begin with, but getting to see it in person is a whole new animal. After drawing a walk with one out in the 8th and advancing to 2B on a single from Duanel Jones, Yeison Asencio grounded into what should have been a routine 6-4-3 double play. Instead, Jankowski scored – without a throw – when the return throw from the second baseman squirted under the first baseman’s mitt and no more than a few feet into foul ground.
Michael Morin, RHP, Inland Empire 66ers:
Like Sappington, Morin is a pitcher whose size and build you can imagine building on. Morin, currently, is a bit shorter and lankier but it results in a little bit better control of his body and – at least on this night – great control of his pitches (17 of his 20 pitches were for strikes). Storm hitters got two innings against him and couldn’t seem to get anything started as he complimented a 91-92 MPH four-seamer with a very deceptive change that consistently clocked in at 74 MPH with late action.
With no tell on the change, he was also able to catch hitters off-balance with a few sliders clocking in at 78-80 MPH, including beauties he got Headley and Orr swinging over.
Austin Hedges, C, Lake Elsinore Storm:
I’ll admit to being a bit miffed about missing Hedges during in-game situations this spring, as it seems that every report from camp equates to some tale of defense prospect porn. However, I finally got my opportunity to see him and, despite being a work in progress (both offensively and defensively), he did not disappoint.
In his first two at-bats, Hedges drew a walk and tapped out out softly for a 1-3 putout, at times appearing genuinely fooled by pitch sequence and ready to swing out of his shoes regardless of the situation. His last two plate appearances saw him drive the ball to the track twice, the first to LCF and the other to CF, but they were ultimately easily tracked down for loud outs.
As for defensively, Hedges is a freak. His footwork is just incredible and, even with a less-than-stellar arm, he’s able to get the ball out and to the bag lightning quick in game situations. This was evident in the 1.85-second pop time he recorded gunning out a potential base-stealer on a strike to 2B, but also on a snap throw to 1B that was shin-high to the back corner of the bag to help limit some of the damage during Alger’s rough 5th inning.
That said, as David mentioned during his Spring Training report, Hedges seldom appears to remove his mask. On passed balls, on tappers just outside the box, or on plays at the plate – he’s all-business, all the time. It’s hard to judge a player for not ditching the lid or getting their body in front of every 58-footer, but if the booming voice from the backfield tower deems it important, perhaps there’s something there.
As documented in the video below, Hedges makes a great athletic play on a play at the plate where the throw takes him up the line and into foul ground on the 3B side, narrowly missing the tag. He appears to react late setting up for the throw and while there’s the possibility that this is gamesmanship on his part, there’s also the possibility he’s inhibited by the inability to “drop it already.”
Eric Stamets, SS/Alex Yarbrough, 2B – Inland Empire 66ers:
The middle infield combination of Stamets and Yarbrough wasn’t flashy, but they had a game. Stamets went 5-for-5 out of the leadoff spot and the two went 7-for-10 combined, and wore out good pitchers on good pitches. Surprisingly, Yarbrough – known primarily for his offense – also drew praise from the duo of 66ers charting pitches, saying that they both love his defense and quick release, which was evident when he gunned down Asencio with a quick release only a couple pitches later.
Jace Peterson, SS, Lake Elsinore Storm:
Peterson, on the other hand, didn’t quite have the results that his counterpart did. Despite only reaching base once on a flare to CF, it would be difficult to say Peterson excelled, nor did he waste any opportunities; spraying the ball to all fields and comfortably commanding the infield while on defense. I only caught a glimpse of Peterson as a substitute during a split squad game against Inland Empire’s parent club, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Spring Training and wouldn’t say either on-field performance bowled me over.
However, the way in which he goes about his business at shortstop, while not flashy, shows surprisingly sharp instincts and athleticism on both sides of the ball. Perhaps this is more a reflection of what we’re used to seeing with Everth Cabrera’s perpetual brain farts at SS for the Padres, but it’s refreshing to see a player with natural athleticism display instincts that feels like they haven’t been shoehorned into the role.
Lost in the confusion of all this was that Chase Headley got his first start at 3B on rehab with the Storm and, aside from being tested early and often in the field, was also received quite warmly during pregame introductions at The Diamond. Joining him were former Storm players, and current Lake Elsinore manager, Shawn Wooten (1998), as well as Inland Empire pitching coach Brandon Emanuel (1999-2000) and first base coach, Paul McAnulty (2004).
While a footnote in the action, celebrating the team’s colorful and shared 20-year history between the Angels and Padres organizations was a thoughtful reminder of how far some of these players had gone and how far some have yet to go.