I've had the chance to see three South Bend Silver Hawks games over the last week back at Notre Dame before the home schedule ended Tuesday. I saw South Bend face Fort Wayne twice, on the 24th and 26th, then go up against Lake County on the 30th. I've covered some of my observations in my Farm Round-Ups, but I figured I'd make a FanPost to go through the rest of the details from the three games. And, for the sake of keeping true to the home team, I'll even keep out the Cory Spangenberg reports.
August 24: South Bend vs. Fort Wayne
South Bend's lineup: Ender Inciarte (CF), David Narodowski (DH), Raywilly Gomez (C), Yazy Arbelo (1B), Matt Helm (3B), Gerson Montilla (2B), Roberto Rodriguez (LF), Roberto Ortiz (LF), Niko Gallego (SS); Brain Hagens (SP).
- The right-handed Hagens took the mound in the first game, and gave up just one run in his six innings of work. Hagens struck out three (two swinging) and induced nine swinging strikes, but the biggest reason for his success was the ten ground balls he induced, with just two fly balls and two line drives. He worked mostly with a fastball and off-speed stuff that was average at best, and I'm not sold on Hagens keeping up that ground-ball rate into the upper levels. However, with a 77:51 K:BB ratio on the year, Hagens isn't an enthralling prospect, with 4.05 ERA in a very pitcher-friendly league and an 80 tRA+ by StatCorner's most recent update. For a 22-year-old college product, those numbers are very discouraging, and it seems that if Hagens is going to have a future in the upper levels, it's likely as a reliever.
- The Hawks' most effective bat on the day was Arbelo, who ripped a home run and a double, while also drawing a pair of walks. The two pitches Arbelo hit were pretty much identical: fastballs around the belt and over the plate. Of all the times I've seen Arbelo, I've seen him do horrible things to opposing fastballs left over the plate, but even the most egregiously hung off-speed pitches have been met with a breeze from Arbelo's passing bat. Yes, his .363 OBP and .515 SLG are good, particularly in the pitcher-friendly MWL, but there are far too many red flags to consider him much of a prospect.
For starters, he's already 23 years old, so he belongs in Hi-A or Double-A. Next, his OBP is mostly a product of his 73 walks, which are probably a product of the overall weakness of South Bend's lineup. When those walks go away, Arbelo will be working on a .246 batting average, a product of his 156 strikeouts in 131 games. Further, Low-A pitchers often don't have worthwhile off-speed stuff, so they have to work mostly off their fastballs, giving Arbelo plenty of pitches to pick on. Finally, Arbelo pulls everything (the first home run was on the outer half but was pulled dead into right field).
- Montilla had a rough-luck day, absolutely crushing a pair of line drives that both unfortunately went right to the third baseman but seeing both result in outs, although he had plenty of pitches to hit in the latter of those plate appearances, and was only able to foul them off. Gomez was also solid, squaring up a line drive single into center field in his second plate appearance, crushing a triple into the gap in right-center field, and sending one to the warning track in center field. Helm made a spectacular play at third base, going toward the line on a hard-hit ball before firing a strike over to first to get the runner.
August 26: South Bend vs. Fort Wayne
South Bend's lineup: Inciarte (CF), Narodowski (3B), Gomez (C), Arbelo (1B), Helm (DH), Montilla (2B), Ortiz (RF), Marc Bourgeois (LF), Gallego (SS); Tyler Green (SP).
- Tyler Green looked awfully tired in this one. According to a couple of Padres scouts at the game, Green's velocity fluctuated from 87-93 mph in the first inning alone, and despite a 12-6 curveball that had nice break to it (he rarely kept it down), he wasn't fooling anybody at the plate. His delivery has effort in it, and he forms a slight "M" with his elbows, although it's nowhere near as exaggerated as the M formed in the delivery of, for example, Sam Demel. I arrived late to the first inning and didn't get swinging strike data for that inning, but from innings 2-5, Green got just one swing-and-miss, with eight ground balls, three fly balls, and one line drive.
Green finished his outing with a 0:1 K:BB ratio, and despite giving up just two runs (one earned). After working as a reliever in high school (IIRC), there is more than ample reason to not judge Green by the quality of this outing. It's no secret that Green has worn down a bit, but with Arizona developing him as a starter, it's necessary to start building innings and arm strength. If the D-backs are confident that there won't be any long-term ramifications, it's smart to keep throwing Green out there, despite his exhaustion.
- Green was followed by piggyback partner Patrick Schuster, the left-hander signed out of high school in Florida for an over-slot bonus in the 2009 draft. Split between starting and relief (to keep his innings down) this year, Schuster's stats this year are fantastic for a wiry, projectable, 20-year-old left-hander, and he's near the top of the list of candidates for starting rotation slots in Visalia's Opening Day roster. However, despite a breaking ball that generated numerous swings and misses, I keep finding issues with Schuster that make me wonder if he has a legitimate chance to be a big-league starter.
In previous times watching Schuster, I noted some quirky mechanics out of the stretch, in which Schuster faded heavily toward the first base side. That quirk seems to have been ironed out, as Schuster's stride was notably straighter to the plate, but it also seemed that Schuster's arm slot was significantly lower. In previous outings, I would have described Schuster's slot as low-3/4, but he looked dead-sidearm last Friday, and while he missed bats against right-handers here in South Bend, how many sidearm lefty starting pitchers are there in the big leagues? Add in the fact that his fastball was clocked as 87-88 mph by the same Padres duo, and is this really a starting pitching prospect?
- Gomez showed both his inconsistency and his potential behind the plate within the span of a couple of pitches. A TinCaps runner stole second base easily, as the throw to second from Gomez was on the left side of the second-base bag and in the dirt, giving the infielder no chance of tagging the runner out. The runner then took off for third base, and Gomez threw an absolute lightning-bolt to the bag, right to where the runner was headed for an easy tag out.
- Montilla absolutely crushed a home run in the third inning, although he also continued to hit the ball hard in play and have nothing to show for it. He made a spectacular defensive play as well, ranging up the middle to field a hard-hit grounder then making an off-balance throw over his head from the ground to get the runner at first. However, that great play came after he botched a much easier grounder earlier in the game, failing to make a successful backhand play.
- Left-handed reliever Eury De La Rosa worked the ninth inning, showing the makings of power lefty stuff. His fastball has serious zip to it despite his short frame, although his slider definitely needs sharpening - it gets very loopy and slurvy, and is a below-average pitch. The delivery involves a heavy core action to give his arm the extra speed he needs to generate velocity, but the arm action is smooth enough and it'll work in short relief stints.
August 30: South Bend vs. Lake County
South Bend's lineup: Inciarte (CF), Narodowski (3B), Gomez (C), Arbelo (1B), Helm (DH), Montilla (2B), Rodriguez (LF), Ortiz (RF), Gallego (SS); J.R. Bradley (SP).
- This game was all about starter J.R. Bradley. Bradley had some wobbles in the first inning that resulted in a pair of unearned runs crossing the plate. The first three batters reached base, but that was only because Gomez whiffed on his attempt to snag Bradley's swinging strike three to Captains leadoff hitter LeVon Washington. Had Washington not reached first on the strikeout, not only would his run not have scored, but the sacrifice fly that scored the second run of the inning would have instead been the third out. After those first inning struggles, Bradley dominated the Lake County lineup, allowing just four baserunners over the next six innings of work.
His night ended after seven innings, throwing just 90 pitches, 66 for strikes. He posted a 9:2 K:BB ratio that included a staggering 21 swinging strikes, and six of the nine strikeouts were of the swinging variety, including a dominant top of the fourth inning in which Bradley struck out the side swinging. When hitters did put the ball in play off of Bradley, they typically pounded it into the dirt, as J.R. induced 10 ground balls, compared to just three fly balls and three line drives.
Bradley's mechanics were as clean as ever. He has some effort getting his arm action going, but it's minimal and his arm action is very clean, with a silky-smooth windup to get his arm started and fading slightly toward first base upon his release. He repeats his mechanics very well, and showed dramatically better command than in any of his previous outings. It was easily the best outing of Bradley's season, and to see him turn in such a strong outing so late in the year is good to see, as it is a sign of Bradley successfully handling his first full-season workload (currently at 136.1 innings).
According to a pair of observers there, Bradley's fastball sat 90-92 in the first inning, and most of his swings-and-misses came on his curveball and change-up, pitches that definitely flashed the potential to be big-league-average pitches or better. When he located those off-speed offerings - particularly the change-up, if my eyes served me correctly - low in the zone and into the dirt, he got several swinging strikes, and even was able to locate his fastball on the inner and outer thirds for swings, and successfully elevated it above the letters for another swinging strike. The fastball location was big for me - if that kind of command can become the norm, rather than the exception, Bradley could skyrocket up prospect boards in 2012.
- The offense had an off-night, but Arbelo still made a splash in an unfortunate way. Facing Indians prospect Felix Sterling to lead off the second inning, Arbelo took ball one inside at his knees, having to back out of the way to avoid being hit. The next pitch hit Arbelo squarely in his back, and Arbelo snapped. I have no idea if there is some sort of long-brewing issue between Arbelo and Sterling or the Lake County staff, but what followed was ugly.
Arbelo charged the mound, removing his helmet and throwing it full-strength at Sterling from no more than 20 feet away. Thankfully, Arbelo missed and was quickly surrounded and restrained by his teammates and the South Bend coaching staff. Sterling didn't come across very well, either, as he initially backpedaled away from Arbelo as quickly as he could, only to try to charge him again once Arbelo had tossed his helmet and was restrained, coming across a bit cowardly, to be frank. A big, unsettling mess.