Today I wanted to take a look at left handed reliever Joel Bender, right handed reliever Tony Amezcua and right handed starter Drew Cisco. The two relievers are in Dayton pitching for the Dragons, while Cisco is starting for the Blaze in Bakersfield.
I actually highlighted Tony Amezcua on Sunday for his performance and turn around. After being drafted in the 7th round of the 2010 draft, Amezcua didn’t get much playing time over the next two seasons, throwing just 12.1 innings the year he was drafted and a total of 3.0 innings the next year. It wasn’t until the 2012 season that he finally got more than a few appearances in a season. He spent the 2013 season with Dayton where he had some struggles, posting a 5.95 ERA in 78.2 innings with 53 walks and 67 strikeouts.
This season has gone much better, where he has a 3.97 ERA, mostly in Dayton but with 2.1 innings coming with the Bakersfield Blaze. He has cut his walk rate and the strikeout rate has gone up, both good signs. With the game on Satruday night, the right hander threw three full innings and gave a good, long look. One thing about his scouting report hasn’t changed, but two very important parts have changed.
On Saturday night Amezcua was throwing his fastball in the 93-94 MPH range according to the stadium radar gun. I was at the stadium on Friday night and the stadium gun was accurate, and I went back on Sunday and confirmed with a scout that he was indeed throwing 93-94 MPH. When he was drafted out of high school he had reportedly touched 94 MPH, but I hadn’t really seen that as a pro from him. I went back and looked through my actual scouting notebook that I keep all of my reports in and grabbed the one from 2013 and my first entry for Amezcua was from April 7th and I found another one from April 20th. His fastball ranged anywhere from 86-90 MPH between those two outings. It was April and it was Dayton, so I’m sure it was cold, but that is still a very large jump in velocity. The other thing that was noted was the curveball, which is still a good looking pitch that is at least average and can flash above-average. That part remains the same, though he is relying on it a little bit less than he used to. The other thing that has changed is that he has a little bit of control now. There still isn’t much command there, but the control is coming around and he is able to throw the fastball and curveball for strikes more often today than he has in the past.
Joel Bender is another guy who is back in Dayton after spending time there last year. His ERA in 2013 was much better (3.79) than it is today (5.80), but he actually has better peripheral numbers in 2014. The walk rate is exactly the same, while the strikeout rate is up and he hasn’t allowed a home run in 45.0 innings this season. Right now, his batting average on balls in play is .422, which is very, very high and much higher than anyone should be expected to continue to have. That explains a whole lot of the reason his ERA is much higher despite the better peripherals. On Saturday night, Bender only threw one inning, notching a strikeout in the perfect frame. The left hander was sitting 92-93 MPH with his fastball on the night. Like Amezcua, it’s velocity I hadn’t seen from him before and I again had to confirm it with a scout who was at the game just to be sure since it wasn’t in line with my previous reports. Going back to April of 2013, there were two reports on Bender and one had him at 87-88 with the fastball, and the other was 87-90 that came late in the month. He jumped from fringe-average velocity to above-average velocity with the fastball. Bender goes to his curveball as his secondary offering of choice and it’s an average curveball at times and will flash itself as slightly-above average. What also jumped out was the fastball command on the night. The catcher didn’t have to move his glove and the ball was in it, to both sides of the plate.
Moving up a level and into the rotation, we are going to look at Drew Cisco. Last season with Dayton he posted a 3.86 ERA in 130.2 innings with 148 hits allowed. In Bakersfield this season his ERA has risen to 5.84 and he has allowed 169 hits in 123.1 innings. My reports on Cisco has always been that he absolutely must have pinpoint location to get by because his stuff is hittable if it’s not perfectly located. This season, while the walks remain incredibly low on the season, just 21 free passes allowed, his strikeout rate has gone from a little below-average to poor. The right hander has struck out 69 of the 549 batters he has faced this season, which is an incredibly low 12.4% strikeout rate.
He actually had a solid start last night against Lake Elsinore, allowing just one run in 5.0 innings with two walks and three strikeouts. One of the few scouts that I know who lives on the other side of the Mississippi River was at the game, so he sent me a quick report on Cisco and it wasn’t very good. They had him sitting at 89-90 with the fastball, which is about where he has always been. The concerning part came next though, when he described his breaking ball as “a 30 if I’m being very generous. It’s a high school breaking ball.” Having been a while since I have seen Cisco pitch, that tells me that the breaking ball has regressed and by quite a bit. The California League does some funny things to pitchers, some places have thin air, some have funny ballparks, but the decline in the strikeout rate and now the report from someone I trust who has seen him in person makes it a lot more than just the California League that is going on here.