Sunday, March 31, 2013
Scouting Giants, Cubs prospects
By Keith Law
My last day at minor league spring training came on Friday at the Giants' complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., where the San Francisco Giants' Class A teams were playing the Chicago Cubs', with a pair of solid pitching prospects among the starters.
• The Cubs took right-hander Pierce Johnson in the sandwich round of last year's draft, something made possible by a forearm strain he suffered that spring that took him out of first-round contention. He showed three promising pitches on Friday, working at 89-94 mph, more at the high end of that range starting in the second inning, with a slider that ranged from average to plus in the 70-84 range as well as an average change at 80-82 that he used to left- and right-handed hitters.
He also showed better fastball command in that outing than he had previously in the spring. I wasn't a fan of his arm action when he was at Missouri State, and it's still the same today -- he turns his pitching hand over extremely late, as he's bringing his forearm forward to release the ball, in a way that puts a lot of pressure directly on the elbow, called "valgus stress."
Turning the ball over is generally a positive thing for a pitcher because of the action it can put on the ball, but turning it over this late is unusual, and not something I want to see in a pitcher who's had forearm problems. If this is an empty concern, he's got the size and stuff to be a solid No. 3 starter down the road.
• The Giants started lefty Adalberto Mejia, who had a solid season in low Class A Augusta's rotation last year at age 19. Mejia is a big kid, listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, but looking a good bit thicker than that, and was sitting 90-92 from a slot just under three-quarters.
He was struggling with his breaking ball on Friday, throwing a true slider at 82 mph, then getting too far on top of it so it was more curveball-like at 83, later getting caught between the slider and fastball and throwing an accidental cutter at 87. (I say "accidental" because he threw it just once.) He also showed a fringy but potentially average or better change at 80-82. His arm action is clean start to finish, although his arm is not quick at all and I don't see more velocity in there unless that picks up. He's probably a reliever down the road, but there are a few things he could improve to become a potential starter.
• Mac Williamson was the Giants' third-round pick last year out of Wake Forest and, along with Mejia, was one of my sleeper prospects for San Francisco for 2013. This was my first live look at Williamson, and I was most impressed by how quick his hands are at the plate. He starts with his back knee bent and his weight transfer isn't pretty, but he's balanced at the point of contact and gets good extension through to drive the ball to the gaps.
He might have more power if his back leg supported his weight a little longer, allowing him to use his lower half more, but even so, he might have 60-grade raw power due to his hand and wrist strength. He's an average runner, better underway than out of the box, and should cover plenty of ground in right. I like his potential to hit for average (with high contact rates) and at least 15- to 20-homer power down the road.
• Because you're going to ask, yes, Angel Villalona was there, and he is still heavy, still swings very hard and is a long shot to re-establish any kind of value for himself. (For those who are unfamiliar, Villalona is the former top prospect who was charged with murder in the Dominican Republic.) He'll get a shot in San Jose this year on what should be a loaded team with Mejia, Williamson, Kyle Crick, and Clayton Blackburn.