A-Ball Sunday: A Walk-Off (And A Game Winning Homer)

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 9, Palm Beach Cardinals 8 (12 innings)

Kyle Johnson, who the Mets acquired for Collin Cowgill, homered in the bottom of the 12th to give the Mets a walkoff win. The 23-year-old Johnson’s best tool is his speed. He’s hitting .279/.344/.387 with six double and two homers in 28 games in advanced-A. His speed will keep him employed for a few years.

LHP Alex Panteliodis: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K. Yuck.

Kevin Plawecki (.324/.429/.415 – 42 gms) lined up at 1B where he was 1-for-4, with a walk.

 

A: Hickory Crawdads 2, @ Savannah Sand Gnats 1 

On a sweltering afternoon in Savannah, DH Joey Gallo homered off Savannah reliever Hunter Carnevale in the top of the ninth to provide the winning margin. It was a no-doubt about it shot. I think Gallo, who is the active leader in the SAL in homeruns with 27, is fascinating. He’s an all-or-nothing guy, having also fanned 141 times in 87 games while missing time with assorted injuries. The Rangers drafted Gallo in the supplemental first round last year and sent the 19-year-old to the SAL where he is hitting .228/.316/.543 with 38 walks. He’s hit 27 homers and 28 singles. Gnats pitchers have identified holes in Gallo’s swing (in, and up) but miss, and he has a chance to hit a homerun on every swing. He’s long at 6’5″ and has plenty of room to fill out a solid frame. He creates excellent leverage in his swing, but struggles with length at times. It’s a open question whether upper level pitchers will exploit Gallo’s weaknesses to render him impotent, or whether he is capable of making the adjustment to put more balls in play, while maintaining his top shelf power.

Luis Cessa was not sharp: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. He didn’t throw his changeup enough for my taste, nor did he spot his fastball well as he needed 87 pitches by my count, to record 14 outs.

CF Brandon Nimmo (.270/.385/.362 – 87 gms) was 0-for-2 with a walk and a HBP. His outs included a lineout to center and a strikeout against a deceptive lefty reliever. He finished a strong homestand 12-for-27 (.444) with two doubles, a homerun, a walk and seven strikeouts in seven games. My observations are that he is seeing the ball better against lefties and hanging in longer against pitches of all types. Nimmo told me he has spent lots of time in the batting cage working against a pitching machine set up to spin breaking balls to mimic the spin from a lefty. The results have started to translate to the field as he poked a curveball  from a lefty back up the middle for a single Saturday.

In all, I think he’s done a better job this week trusting his hands.

A-Ball Saturday: Seth Lugo? Yup, Seth Lugo

@ St. Lucie Mets 5, Palm Beach Cardinals 4 

C Kevin Plawecki (.326/.429/.420 – 41 gms) doubled in the bottom of the tenth inning, and eventually scored the winning run on an infield single from Rylan Sandoval. Just another two-hit night for Plawecki: 2-for-4, 2B, BB, R.

Hansel Robles, meh: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

 

A: @ Savannah Sand Gnats 2, Hickory Crawdads (TEX) 0 

Hello, Seth Lugo. Making his second South Atlantic League start against the highest-ceiling lineup in the League, Lugo, who will turn 24 in November was outstanding: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K.

He was in trouble once – when two singles and a sacrifice bunt in the fifth put runners at second and third before he struck out the 8 and 9 hitters to end the threat.

Who? The Mets’ 34th round pick out of Centenary in 2011, Lugo missed all of the 2012 season after lumbar fusion surgery. He was ordinary (4.19 ERA, 27/13 K/BB ratio) in 34.1 innings in Brooklyn. He’s been lights out in two starts with the Gnats.

His two Gnats’ starts combined: 13 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 21 K. This really came out of nowhere. He did not have a 10 strikeout performance in seven tries for Brooklyn. He’s struck out 10 or more in both of his Savannah outings. His game score (Bill James version) peaked at 62 for Brooklyn. His first SAL start was a 74 and Saturday was an 80. 

So, how’s he doing it? First and foremost, by spotting his fastball. He worked to both sides of the plate and was able to elevate, to a batter’s hands and then above the letters to induce a chase when he needed. He mostly lived 88-91 mph on his fastball accounting for 60 some-odd pitches. When he reached back there was more in there: he threw 11 pitches above 91, mixing in 92, 93 a couple 94s and one 95. His best off-speed pitch is a over-the-top curveball that he threw 72-79, but was mostly 74-76. He rung up Crawdads both looking (Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson) and swinging (Chris Garia) at the curve. All four of his 85-86 mph sliders were strikes. At 81-85, his changeup, which he didn’t throw that much had enough separation from his fastball.

I’m pretty skeptical of any right-hander that sits at 88-91. It’s just a really hard way to make a living at the higher levels of the minors, let alone the big leagues. That just does not play in today’s game as a Major League starter in the vast majority of cases. On the other hand, Lugo has size (6’4″, and north of 200 lbs), the ability to reach back for more and feel for a curveball and slider. Perhaps airing it out in short appearances, he can work in the low 90s and be a valuable bullpen piece.

 

CF Brandon Nimmo: 1-for-3, HBP, K. He reached base twice against a lefty, Frank Lopez who had it working Saturday night. His single was bounced right back up the middle when he did a nice job pulling his hands in to stay inside the ball. Nimmo is 12-for-25 (.480) on the Gnats’ six-game homestand. A good week against lefthanders has brought his season line against southpaws to .247/.356/.286 in 77 AB.

A-Ball Friday: Matz and Nimmo. Nimmo and Matz.

A+: Rained Out. 

 

A: Hickory Crawdads (TEX) 4, @ Savannah Sand Gnats 1 

TMatz Leg Kickhis is a great example of a game where the top-line score obscures from good stuff from the losing’s teams’ prospects.

- LHP Steven Matz: 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 9 K. Sure, he took the loss because the Gnats couldn’t score when he was in the game. Still, he showed velocity and again flashed a plus changeup. He tried a few sliders. I had him at 87 pitches through five innings, which was his pre-game limit. I think his ceiling these days is as a solid-mid-rotation starter.

Now up to 91.1 innings, I believe the Mets were targeting 105 for Matz so the Gnats/Mets will have to manage his innings and outings very carefully down the stretch to keep him available for the SAL playoffs. At some point, I wonder whether it’s worth it. Would it be better/healthier/more productive developmentally to pitch as deep as he can in three or four more starts on regular rest, or is it better to stretch out those starts, and limit their length over almost four weeks to give him a taste of the playoffs? The answer might well be, it doesn’t matter and winning is fun, and has its own value.

- CF Brandon Nimmo: 2-for-5, K. He lined a single over shortstop and then in the ninth, facing hard-throwing right-hander Sam Wolff, shot a grounder right down the third-baseline. A pattern? Yes. Nimmo has been working hard to let the ball get deep and shoot it into leftfield. He’s 11-for-22 with two doubles and a homer in the first five games of the Gnats’ seven-game homestand. He’s up to .271/.382/.364 in 85 games this year. He’d have to hit about .400 over his final 100 or so AB in the year to pull his batting average to a round .300, but that’s not the point. He’s looked much, much better this last week, and I’m very intrigued to see what he will do in the season’s final month.

- Hickory is loaded. Friday, C Jorge Alfaro led the way, going 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored with three good hard line drives, one of which short-hopped the base of the wall. He had some trouble with wilds starter Connor Sadzeck.

Thursday in A-Ball: NIMMO.

A+: @ Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 5, St. Lucie Mets 3 

Kevin Plawecki just keeps on hitting. After going 2-for-4 with two RBI he’s up to .321/.424/.410 in 40 games in Advanced-A with nine doubles, a homerun, 14 walks and 15 strikeouts. The batting average and on-base percentage are great, but note that Plawecki has hit for significantly less power in the FSL than the SAL as his isolated slugging percentage has dropped from .180 to .089. Whether that’s fatigue, or adjusting to a new level, or just a hint of the kind of hitter Plawecki will be a the higher levels, it’s something to watch for the duration of this year and to begin 2014. Again, MLB catchers as a group are hitting .248/.312/.388, with a .140 isolated slugging.

Matt Bowman, eh: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K.

 

A: @ Savannah Sand Gnats 6, Hickory Crawdads (TEX) 3 

Nimmo Gnats HeadTwo things/players are worth talking about in this game, one more important than the other.

First, CF Brandon Nimmo was 3-for-5 for the second straight night. Facing another lefty in the eighth, he lined a single to right-centerfield. Nimmo is now hot. He’s 9-for-17 (.529) on the Gnats’ homestand with two doubles and a homer.

Even better, much of the damage has come against lefties; he’s 6-for-9 on the homestand with a pair of doubles. For the year, he’s up to .269/.383/.364 in 84 games and .240/.345/.280 in 87 PA vs. LHP. He just looks different against the southpaws he’s seen this week. He’s tracking the ball much better and waiting longer to make his swing/no swing decision.

 

Second, Julian Hilario, making his second start as a Gnat was solid: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. He mostly threw the fastball, but tried his change (his primary off-speed offering) and slider. He has a solid arm, working low 90s and up to 94, although I still think he’s a middle reliever in the end, it was a nice start.

A-Ball Wednesday: Brandon Nimmo Makes Progress vs. Lefties; Domingo Tapia Goes Backward

A+: @ Bradenton Marauders (PIT) 8, St. Lucie Mets 6 

Oh, Domingo Tapia: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 2 K. That’s three times in his last four starts he has not finished the second inning. In those four outings, he’s fanned eight and walked 14 in 9.2 innings while allowing 16 runs on 13 hits. That’s not good. As long as he’s fully healthy there’s just no reason to think, based on his season-long performance (5.00 ERA, 73/49 K/BB in 81 IP), and his recent work, that he’s ever going to be a Major League starter. Instead, he should be ticketed for the AA bullpen to start 2014.

C Kevin Plawecki and DH Jayce Boyd were each 0-for-3 with a walk.

 

A: Charleston RiverDogs (NYY) 9, @ Savannah Sand Gnats 7 

Nimmo Stance (Devyatkin)CF Brandon Nimmo: 3-for-5, 2B, 2 RBI. In his first four plate appearances vs first a left-handed starter and then a left-handed reliever, he was 3-for-4 with a double. Against lefties in the three games against Charleston, he was 5-for-7 with two doubles, and his second and third extra-base hits against a lefthander all year. Nimmo is now hitting .233/.341/.274 against southpaws in 85 plate appearances. This week, he’s hanging in better against the breaking balls and seeing fastballs better. His approach has clearly been to let the ball get deep and try to hit it out to left-center.

The 20-year-old is back to .264/.379/.360 overall in 83 games in the SAL. Nimmo struck out three times in the series against Charleston, all three times chasing breaking balls in the dirt from RHP. I was talking about this with someone on Wednesday, but in his first 62 games in the SAL in 2011, as a 19-year-old, Christian Yelich, another young, left-handed hitting centerfielder hit .272/.352/.401. My point is not that Nimmo is Yelich, who was younger than Nimmo, and playing in a more hitter-friendly ballpark in Greensboro. The general point is that young players sometimes take a little bit in the SAL. Yelich, to finish the thought, was unconscious at the end of 2011, hitting safely in his last 11 games and 18 of his final 19 to help carry his Grasshoppers into the playoffs as part of a .354/.423/.568 line with 10 homeruns in the second half.

Full-Season Games Monday: Luis Cessa and Brandon Nimmo Shine

A – @ Savannah Sand Gnats 6, Charleston RiverDogs (NYY) 0

There were two stars in this one for the Gnats: RHP Luis Cessa and CF Brandon Nimmo.

Cessa Delivery (Devyatkin)Cessa’s line: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 12 K. He was every bit as good as that pitching line suggests. He did not allow a runner to second until the seventh inning. He ran four three-ball counts. He mostly worked off his fastball and changeup although he few a few solid breaking balls down in the zone. In recent outings, he had been sitting 92-93 and touching higher. I will confirm that he was working in that range on Monday. He threw his fastball up, he threw it down. He threw it in, he threw it out. Then he threw a few changups that had RiverDogs’ hitters looking silly. He got a couple strikeouts with guys swinging over top of his curveball. Cessa, a former infielder who didn’t hit much, converted to pitching for the 2011 season and is a lock to move up this off-season’s rankings from his spot at #42 this past winter.

CF Brandon Nimmo: 3-for-4, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI. The double was a linedrive to left-center off a lefty (!) in the first inning. The single was a liner to center off the same lefty, Eric Wooten in the third that helped set up the Gnats’ first run. I thought the ball hung up long enough to be caught, but the ‘Dogs CF Jake Cave did not see the ball well at twilight. That does not remove the fact that Nimmo made good contact. In his final at-bat, with the Gnats up 1-0 in the bottom of the eighth and a runner at third, Nimmo just needed a sacrifice fly to score the runner. Instead, he parked one over the right field wall, way back there at Historic Grayson Stadium.

Now the context. The double was his second extra-base hit against a lefty in, at the time, 79 plate appearances. Now at 81 plate appearances this year, he’s hitting .203/.321/.232 vs. lefties with two extra-base hits, both doubles. Monday, he layed off a few sliders from Wooten that he very likely would have chased in April. The homerun was a real poke out towards the big part of the ballpark in rightfield. Nimmo’s seven total bases in the game were his most in any contest this year (by my count) and raised his OPS from .713 to .736. It’s nights like Monday that the 20-year-old Nimmo looks like he can grow into an above average everyday centerfielder. Now, he just needs more of them.

 

A+ – Ppd by Rain
AA – Off

The Weekend in A-Ball: Comings and Goings and Nimmo

The Gnats took three of four from Greenville over the weekend to finish up a road trip to Asheville and Greenville at 5-2.

Top Prospect
Brandon Nimmo had a hitless weekend, going 0-for-10 Friday-Sunday with seven strikeouts Saturday and Sunday, but he drew four walks Friday and one Saturday to get on base five times. The 20-year-old is now hitting .249/.367/.332 with an eye-popping 108 strikeouts in 80 games. The strikeouts have really become a problem in the second half: he fanned 48 times in 42 games in the first half, but 60 times (against 26 walks) as part of a .187/.323/.230 line in 38 games in the second half.

Ok, this is pretty bizarre. The official box score from Sunday’s game shows Nimmo 0-for-5 with 4 K. The game video from Greenville clearly has him going 1-for-3 with a strikeout and two walks. The single was a liner into center. I do not have the slightest clue how that could happen.

Uh-Oh

Koch Delivery (Devyatkin)Friday night, Matt Koch (pictured) took a line drive off his head in the second inning. He was hospitalized overnight and placed on the team’s disabled list. I’ll have more on this in the next week.

DL Time/Roster Movement
SS Philip Evans was placed on the disabled list again, for the second time this year, with a lower back strain. He had been 0-for-12 in his last four games before the DL trip as part of a .245/.293/.321 line in 17 games in July.

With Koch out, the Mets promoted Jacob Lugo from Brooklyn. He was sharp on Sunday: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K. Lugo was ok in the New York Penn League: 4.19 ERA in 34.1 innings with 27 strikeouts against 13 walks. It’s telling of course that the Mets did not move any of the Brooklyn starters with better ERAs like Rob Gsellman (2.09), Miller Diaz (2.34), or John Gant (2.47) because after all, the Cyclones have a pennant to win. As long as we’re on the subject, Akeel Morris has a 0.66 ERA and 36 strikeouts against 13 walks in 27.1 innings in the NYP>

 

Rotation Shuffle
After the Mets skipped Steven Matz the last time through the rotation he can back and was awfully hittable on Saturday: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K.

The Gnats will start Luis Cessa and Gabriel Ynoa the next two nights.

Thursday in A-Ball: Jon Niese Rehabs

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 10, Tampa Yankees 4 

Rehabbers

Jon Niese: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K. Niese was sharp in his first FSL rehab start.
Lucas Duda was 2-for-5 with a double, his second in four games. He’s 3-for-17 in advanced-A and 3-for-30 (.100/.182/.167) in eight games.
Cory Vaughn who was 0-for-2 with a few walks is hitting .172/.314/.241 in 29 AB over 9 games.
FSL Regulars

Lawley St. Lucie Head3B Dustin Lawley: 2-for-5 with 2 HR, 5 RBI. At 24-years-old, Lawley is hitting .266/.315/.542 with 29 doubles, five triples and 23 homers in 101 games. He’s leading the Florida State League in homeruns (23), total bases (212) and second in slugging (.542). None of the players who has led the FSL in homeruns among players 24+ in the last seven years has gone on to become a Major Leaguer. As nice as his season is, Lawley is fighting the odds here.

Hansel Robles: 4 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K. Robles has allowed 64 hits 58.2 IP in the FSL this year. 

 

A: Savannah Sand Gnats 4, @ Greenville Drive (BOS) 3 

The Gnats scored the winning run in the top of the ninth on an RBI groundout by 24-year-old Jeff Reynolds, which scored 24-year-old Brian Harrison.

LF Maikis De La Cruz had a nice night, going 2-for-4 with a homer, his third of the year. He’ll be 23 the first week of September and is hitting .274/.348/.415 in 63 games. He can run a little, he plays a fine defensive left field, but he’s more an nice organizational player than a potential MLB player.

CF Brandon Nimmo: 1-for-4, BB, K. If you had told me before the start of the year, that Nimmo would be hitting .258/.368/.344 in 77 games (which he is) as a 20-year-old in the SAL I probably would have nodded, and said, “sounds about right.” On the other hand, the 101 strikeouts in 77 games is awfully high.

Monday in A-Ball: St. Lucie Wins in Bottom of the Ninth

A+: @ St. Lucie Mets 5, Tampa Yankees 4

C Kevin Plawecki doubled and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the two teams each scored two runs in their half of the final inning.

The 22-year-old Plawecki (.308/.408/.411 – 32 games in A+) was 1-for-3 with a walk.

Rainy Lara: 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. Bad sign for Lara statistically: he’s not missing bats. His last five starts: 13 strikeouts, 8 walks in 26.1 innings. As with all the young pitchers in their first full season, fatigue could be an issue here as he’s up to 107 innings pitched after 68 last year.

 

A: @ Asheville Tourists (COL) 5, Savannah Sand Gnats 4  

LF Stefan Sabol took advantage of the Gnats’ first trip to the thin air of beautiful Asheville with his eighth homerun of the year. Sabol, at 21 has hit .209/.304/.357 with a little pop (25 XBH) and speed (13 stolen bases). Still, if he’s going to be a big leaguer on the corner, he needs to hit for a little more average.

CF Brandon Nimmo was 1-for-5 with a double, his 8th of the year. The 20-year-old Nimmo is  enjoying his best stretch since May, hitting .297/.422/.378 in his last 10 games with seven walks and 15 whiffs.

Jake Kuebler was ok: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K.

Sunday in A-Ball: Michael Fulmer Works into the Seventh

A+: @ Lakeland Flying Tigers (DET) 3, St. Lucie Mets 0 

Fulmer 7-19-12 delivery (Devyatkin)Michael Fulmer: 6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HBP. The 20-year-old struggled with his command early, when I was listening to the game, leaving the bases loaded in the third and yielding a run in the fourth before retiring seven of the final eight batters he faced to finish his outing. At 6.1 innings, it was the first time he has pitched into the seventh inning in his four Florida State League starts.

st. Lucie picked up just one hit, a single by 3B Robbie Shields.

Rehabbing Cory Vaughn was 0-for-3 in left field.

Kevin Plawecki played first, while Cam Maron handled the catching duties.

 

A: Augusta GreenJackets (SF) 6, @ Savannah Sand Gnats 1 

The Mets skipped Steven Matz in an early attempt to limit his innings and gave the start to Julian Hilario, his first of the year. Matz has already thrown 81 innings after just 29 over six starts last year for Kingsport. There will be some openings in the Savannah rotation over the final month as the team manages Matz, Gabriel Ynoa and Luis Cessa’s workload. Hilario is the obvious candidate to take those starts as the guy with the best arm in the Savannah bullpen and a starter as recently as 2012 in Brooklyn.

Hilario struggle through four innings Sunday: 4 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.

CF Brandon Nimmo was 0-for-2, but walked twice. Three of his four plate appearances came against a lefty, starter Matt Lujan. In those three, he grounded out twice to second and walked once. He’s now hitting .190/.288/.207 with one double in 58 AB vs. southpaws this year.