Last week I reached out to the people who support the site over on Patreon to ask for questions to answer for a mailbag article. Today I’m going to tackle answering the submitted questions to the best of my abilities. But while I’ve got you here – if you aren’t signed up over at Patreon to support the site, and you’re in position to do so, I can’t overstate enough how much that would mean right now. If you can’t, well that’s ok, too – a lot of us are facing a very different future than we thought we would be just a month ago.

I was wondering if you could explain to us what is the new organizational philosophies we hear about? Before it seems coaches taught what they thought a player should be doing based on their thoughts. Then the player moves on gets another coach and changes everything. What is the top to bottom “system” the Reds are doing now on the pitching, hitting and fielding sides?

This is actually a tough question to answer, and I will tell you why. The Reds have a brand new pitching coordinator in Kyle Boddy and a brand new hitting coordinator in C.J. Gillman. Neither has actually had a season under their belt in the job with the organization. Because of that, there’s not actually any ability to look back at any evidence of how things have gone, have been implemented, find cases of how players progressed and interacted with the various coaches at different levels while under those guys guidelines for the entire organization. With the fielding – that’s a bit tougher, because you’ve got Corky Miller who works with the catchers, several guys who work with the infielders, some more guys who work with the outfielders – but more than once I’ve heard that there’s a “Reds way” of fielding.

With that said, your “before” scenario was definitely true when it came to pitching. It’s a lot easier to see those kinds of things with pitchers than with hitters because you notice with a guy all of a sudden starts throwing from a different arm angle, or now has a curveball instead of a slider, or now has a 2-seamer instead of a 4-seamer, instead of a hitter who has lowered his hands by 2-3 inches in his set up.

When it comes to the pitching, we’ve heard from Kyle Boddy quite a bit since he joined the organization. He’s been in baseball for quite a while, but never working directly as a team employee. The big thing to me was that when he was brought on he spoke about having an individual plan for each pitcher. That felt important given the history of basically leaving things up to the individual pitching coach at each level to kind of do their own work with guys.

Now, there’s a lot that goes with that kind of thing, too. Obviously, the individual pitching coaches are still going to have input on things. They are there every day, working with the pitchers, seeing things, talking with the players and getting the feedback from them. All of that information is now going to be relayed back to “home base” so to speak, too. That’s going to give a timeline to the organization to show how things went that can then be looked back on to help evaluate what did or maybe didn’t work in the future.

When it comes to the pitching coaches themselves – knowing what the “plan” is for each pitcher that’s arriving, and in the future being able to look at the plan and how it’s developed before the arrival of a player, can be big. There are still going to be times where certain pitchers are going to benefit more from certain coaches. Not every coach is a guy who specialized in improving/teaching/improving every single pitch a guy could possibly throw. But most guys have at least one aspect they are a little better at than their counterparts.

But the whole thing is likely going to have a good effect on the pitchers themselves, too. Having “a plan” specifically for you gives you an idea of what it is that you are going for beyond just the stuff in that given day/week/month. Both the short term and the long term matter here.

When it comes to hitting – I think that it’s always going to be tougher than the pitching side of things. Hitting is about reacting, far more so than pitching. While there are things that you can track and develop with when it comes to hitting, it’s not nearly as easy to use analytics away from the games themselves – or even in-game data – to say “this is going to work at the next two levels”. With pitching, you can generally see that a guy throwing a curveball at 82 MPH with a 3000 RPM spin rate who throws it for strikes is going to be able to throw that pitch in the Major Leagues with a lot of success.

There’s not really an equivalent of that kind of “data information” for a hitter. Yes, a guy who is constantly putting up exit velocities of 95 MPH+ is showing a good sign there – but unlike that curveball scenario, it’s not something that can just be replicated regardless of the opposition. Being able to do that consistently against A-ball pitchers may not be the same as when a guy is in Double-A or Triple-A or the Major Leagues when everything is better across the board and making that kind of contact is more difficult.

There are things that can be tracked for hitters, of course. But the differences in hitters and pitchers when it comes to this kind of stuff is very stark. At least right now, there’s a lot more useful information from the technological side of things for pitchers and their evaluation, and development, than there is for hitters. That’s not to say some of it’s not there for hitters – there is. But it’s quite different in how useful it is in both analysis and teaching it to pitchers over hitters at this point in time.

I’m curious about Wendell Marrero, the Reds’ 11th round draft choice from 2019. If I remember correctly, he had a two-game stretch when he struck out 9 times in 10 at-bats, but other than that he was a good hitter. What if anything do you know about him?

Let’s start off with your memory – it’s not bad. On July 7th he struck out all four times he went to the plate. The next game he played was on July 11th and he struck out four more times in five trips to the plate. That’s eight strikeouts in nine plate appearances. He struck out nine times the rest of the season – 15 games, 57 plate appearances.

Let’s talk a little bit about his stats, first. He hit .324/.425/.490 in 2019 in 30 games and 120 plate appearances for the complex level AZL Reds. That’s a very good line for an 18-year-old. He walked 12 times (10%) and had 33 strikeouts (28%). That’s a high strikeout rate – but as noted, that rate dropped off down the stretch quite a bit. For his age, that’s a good amount of power, and it showed up throughout the season. It’s worth noting, though, that his BABIP was also .455 on the season. You’re going to get crazy high outlier numbers in stuff like BABIP in smaller sample sizes – and 30 games with 120 plate appearances certainly fits the bill.

From a scouting perspective, there’s some pop in his bat with above-average raw power to come into down the line – but his current power is solid and quite good for his age. He’s already a big dude, listed at 6′ 2″ and 195 lbs. – so don’t be surprised if the power comes a little more quickly for him than guys who still need to fill out more. But, with that size at an early age it also means you’ve got to keep an eye on his body as he matures and that he doesn’t outgrow the corner outfield position.

It may be kind of a big topic but I am wondering what the metrics are gonna be to determine whether the new approach, especially with regard to pitching, is getting results. The whole point of the changes, as I understand, is to focus on more measurable aspects and to get some uniformity with approaches throughout the system. So when and how will we know if it works? Will there be measurable increases in velocity for pitchers across the board? Spin rates? Wins? ERA?

Wins isn’t going to be a factor in determining whether or not this stuff works or not. There’s just more to a win and loss than the stuff we’re looking at here. A guy could be developing great, and then an injury happens and alters everything. Or let’s say a guy gets to the big leagues and is really good, but the team simply isn’t good enough – that doesn’t mean the development didn’t work.

That said, there’s probably not going to be any one single thing that says something worked or didn’t work. And honestly, this is a long game play. I think of it much like judging a draft class. You probably can’t judge it for a decade. Sure, in some cases it’s painfully obvious that it didn’t work. But in most cases you need a lot of time to figure out how things worked out (or didn’t work out).

I’m not so sure we’re going to need a decade in this case. But I’d imagine we’re going to need more than a few years, too. What differentiates this stuff from the draft is that you’re starting with guys who are in Advanced-A, Double-A, Triple-A and getting to work with them. You’re going to be able to see results a little bit quicker at the big league level than in a draft because you don’t have as long of a waiting period for the talent to get there. But even so, it’s still going to take years before you’ve got enough information on enough guys to really look back and say “this approach is, or isn’t working and here’s the evidence”.

With pitchers in particular, you can certainly look at some aspects of what they are doing and see the demonstrative results from some of the more advanced analytics/pitch tracking stuff. Improving in spin rate and spin efficiency – both of which can be very big in how a pitch plays/improves – are things that can and are tracked. And the organization should have that kind of data from 2019 (and earlier in some cases – definitely spin rate for the last 4-5 years, but not sure about the spin efficiency or not). Perhaps we’ll see some implementation of programs designed to increase velocity and we can see that in the data across the farm system and point to it and say “see, this is working”.

All of that said, the end goal is to start getting pitchers to the big leagues and having success. One thing the Reds haven’t struggled to do is get guys to the big leagues – but they have struggled to have them get there as starting pitchers and remain starting pitchers. The list is very long over the last decade of guys that got there, and turned into solid to very good relievers who used to be starters. But the list is very, very short on pitchers who got there as big leaguers and remained starters. I’ll give the Reds credit for Luis Castillo. He and Tyler Mahle are the only two pitchers to debut after the 2009 season for the Reds who have made at least 50 starts and came through the system. That’s not even two entire seasons worth of starts.

Getting more guys added to that list is probably going to take time. But that’s another area to keep an eye on. Guys that get to the Majors and can stick in the rotation long term.

Doug, I realize you’ll just be speculating on this, but what do you think will happen to the season? Shortened season? Start June 1 and play 100 games? I can’t see them cancelling the season altogether… right? That seems really unlikely to me, but who knows. Strange times.  

Let me first be sure that everyone understands: I’m just some idiot on the internet and not a doctor. You probably all knew that already, but just in case you didn’t, now you do.

In my opinion, there’s no way I’d be playing sports until there’s a vaccine or a proven treatment and enough testing to test everyone every single day. There are just too many people involved in even playing games in empty stadiums that are at risk here. I know that not everyone agrees with me, but that’s where I’m at.

That said, some leagues are giving it a go. The KBO is trying and having some success right now in spring training. Japan tried it and had to shut things down though because several players got it. The Chinese Basketball League shut things down. The Premier League has a tentative plan in place to try and resume their season in June over in England….. the leagues are certainly trying to figure it out. For me? It just feels that right now we don’t have anything right now that any actual doctor is comfortable saying we can treat this with, that we should just start allowing sports to happen because it’ll be “something we need to distract us”.

Any updates on Jacob Heatherly? Is he supposed to be ready to go in 2020?

As far as I know, yes, he was on target to be ready to go. He was on the instructional league roster that took place in February. I am speculating, of course, but it wouldn’t make much sense for him to be one of the handful of pitchers invited if he wasn’t healthy and ready to go.

Tyler Callihan and Rece Hinds- Dayton or EST?

Obviously at this point everything is up in the air. But my feeling was Callihan would wind up in Dayton, with Hinds sticking back in extended to start the year. Callihan was expected to be the more advanced of the two coming out of high school, and he got experience last year that Hinds simply didn’t because of the injury.

How does Alexis Diaz compare to his brother stuff wise? He has taken longer to develop which of course is in part due to injury but do they have similar profiles and upsides?

Let’s start off by noting that Alexis Diaz is the younger brother of Major League reliever Edwin Diaz. Now, while the 2019 season was a tough one for the elder Diaz from an ERA standpoint – 5.59, it feels almost entirely related to an absolutely juiced baseball. He allowed 15 home runs on the year in 58.0 innings where he had 22 walks and 99 strikeouts. He missed bats at an elite rate. In 2018 he picked up 57 saves with a 1.96 ERA in 73.1 innings with 17 walks and 124 strikeouts.

With all due respect to Alexis Diaz, and any prospect in the game for that matter – suggesting anyone has a profile for that kind of season and upside just isn’t something that’s going to happen. That’s like projecting a guy to hit 50+ home runs in the Major Leagues – it just doesn’t happen.

When it comes to comparing their stuff, though, let’s take a look. Edwin Diaz has averaged 97.3 MPH for his career on his fastball. His slider has averaged 88.4 MPH for his career. Alexis Diaz can hit 97 – I actually have him topping out at 98 this year in Dayton back in April, but he sits more in the 91-94 range. His slider is much lower in velocity, too – working 79-83 MPH.

So when it comes to that pure velocity, at least right now, he hasn’t shown the same kind of power that his older brother has. The same thing can be said for his control, too. Last season he walked 29 batters in 59.0 innings. He’s going to be 23-years-old this year, so there’s time to work on that – and his control hasn’t been that rough in the past, though it’s never stood out as a big strong point, either.

Alexis, however, has a third pitch that his older brother doesn’t really use – a change up. And it’s a pretty good one. Here’s some video from back in April from one of his best outings of the year that shows each of his offerings.

So to get back to answer the original question again – no, he doesn’t have the same profile or upside. That’s not really a knock on Alexis – Edwin was arguably the best reliever in baseball in 2018. There’s enough stuff there for Alexis to reach the big leagues and have a good career, though. He’ll have to throw a few more strikes than he did in 2019 though.

Did you get any updates on players from ST before it shut down that were surprising or unexpected (positive or negative)?

You know, I really didn’t. Part of that was from the fact that I had really just started talking to guys a day or three before things were shut down. Games for the minor leaguers hadn’t even begun yet. Among the guys that were in spring training with the big league club – there were reports on some of them, but I wrote about that at the time. For those who may have missed it, perhaps the biggest one was that Tejay Antone came out throwing 96-97-98 MPH this spring after he had been pretty much working 88-92 MPH and topping out around 95 in the past. I wrote about back on March 7th – which feels like nine decades ago, but was only one month ago.

Reds pitcher Tejay Antone sees a big jump in velocity

That’s probably the bigger story of the spring among the “minor leaguers”. Antone made big strides with his slider in the second half last year. Toss in a whole lot more velocity on his fastball and you’ve got a guy who could really come out of nowhere, so to speak.

Jameson Hannah draws pretty strong reviews for his hit tool and plate discipline from a few outlets. His pro ball numbers don’t seem to back that up for a college draftee. Is he seen as a guy who still has some projection left and was not as polished as most highly drafted college hitters?

Depending on who you talk to you are going to get a large range of opinions on Jameson Hannah. There’s certainly more power in his game than he’s shown as a professional. With that said, he’s likely going to have to change his swing and game in order to get to it. He’s an extreme ground ball rate hitter, and well, you can’t hit for power when you are hitting the ball on the ground. In his two professional seasons his ground ball rate is 54.3%. Only three hitters in the Major Leagues had a higher rate than that in 2019 that qualified for the batting title.

While finding a way to tap into his raw power would likely be the biggest thing that would help make up the gap between where his game is now and his upside, cutting down on the strikeouts could help, too. On their own, it’s not a problem. His strikeout rate last season was 21%. That’s fine in most cases. But when it’s coming with absolutely no power – that’s a problem. If the power isn’t going to come, then he’s going to really need to start making contact at a much higher rate than he has.

Jared Solomon seems to have some pretty good stuff for a starter who has posted decent numbers but not been ranked very highly on Reds prospect lists. What do you expect from him going forward?

There’s a chance that Jared Solomon can stick as a starter in the long term, but as a guy who is a fastball/slider guy for the most part the bullpen does seem like a reasonable expectation, too. He has a change up, but it’s easily a third pitch and it’s one that he doesn’t throw too frequently. Toss in that there are some concerns about his mechanics from some people I’ve spoken to and you really start to think that reliever profile is one that’s probably a bit more likely.

As noted above, things aren’t entirely known with regards to both hitting and pitching and how they’ll be handled exactly with two new coordinators in those roles of the farm system. There’s not a track record to see how the new guys handle a “profile” of a guy like Jared Solomon and if that type of guy gets more rope to work as a starter or if they wind up in the bullpen with more of a “fast track” situation. So when it comes to my expectations, I guess I can say that ultimately he’ll wind up in the bullpen. But when that is, well that is a question I don’t really know because there’s just nothing to look at from the regime in place right now to point at as a reason to think we would actually know.

11 Responses

  1. Oldtimer

    I agree with your prognosis for 2020 baseball season.

    AT BEST there might be half a season for MLB teams. I don’t think there will be ANY MiLB season at all. When this first popped up, I thought it would be May before we knew what might happen. June would be the earliest possible for MLB games. I think that is now July AT BEST.

    Any vaccine won’t happen until 2021.

    I think NBA 2020 is done. I think NFL and college football are 50-50 at this point. Golf is possible this fall. Far from certain.

  2. Billy

    Doug, is Patreon the only option for supporting you right now? I attempted to sign up, send you a donation, and then cancel immediately. It looked like I’d have to wait until after the 1st of May to cancel. Maybe if you made a push to get people to sign up at the end of the month you could get some one-time donations that you’re otherwise not getting. Just a thought.

    • Doug Gray

      Realistically at this point, yeah – Patreon is the only place that one can directly support the work through the site. Showing up every day loads ads, which does bring in some money – though these days the rates aren’t what they were (which isn’t surprising given what everyone is going through). I guess there’s always paypal – I used to have a “donate” button on the site, but got rid of it a while ago when everything switched over to Patreon rather than running my own system via paypal.

  3. Brad

    Doug: Do you have a problem with MLB selling out amatuer players domestically by limiting cost of draft get maintaining International spending pool money?

    Seems to me it’s the ultimate admission that International deals have been to agreed to for months, if not years.

    • Doug Gray

      I mean we both know those deals have been in place for a long time now.

      But, in a strange way I hadn’t even thought about that side of it in those terms. Overall, most teams are still going to spend more money on the draft (in the end – that 10% this year, though, won’t get there) than on the international market. And the international market is going to see a lot more guys signed, too.

      I think the whole thing is a mess. Make everyone a free agent. Make everyone eligible to sign for what someone is actually willing to pay them for their services.

      • BK

        How do you do as you suggest and preserve fair competition given the significant disparity in resources among MLB teams? Can you point to any leagues where this has been tried successfully and competition preserved?

      • Doug Gray

        Make the Rule 5 draft happen earlier and teams can’t just hoard everyone. That’s how it used to be pre 1965 when the draft was instituted.

      • BK

        During this lull in baseball activity, laying out your thoughts might make a nice article:

        – Did the current rules that provide spending pools for Rule 4 draftees and IFA change how much is spent by ownership or was the amount of money spent when adjusted for time/inflation roughly preserved? I know clubs don’t reveal signing bonus values for Venezuelan players do to the risk to players and their families (an economic state that is quite ironic that the nation with the largest oil reserves in the world)

        – How would conducting the Rule 5 draft earlier (I’m assuming you mean earlier in the offseason calendar) preserve competition among all franchises compared to the current system?

        I haven’t really researched how things worked pre-1965, but why did MLB institute a draft? MLB.com has some brief historical context that infers that competitive balance was problematic under the approach you’re suggesting:

        “At various times between 1947 and the start of the annual amateur Draft in ’65, baseball had different versions of a bonus rule that was intended to limit signing bonuses and prevent wealthy teams from hoarding talent.”

        I think what you are suggesting is very different that what we see in any other pro sport and frankly is likely more aspirational than feasible. However, even if I don’t agree with your proposal, I would enjoy reading it. I’ll even promise not to critique it–I think you know that would be a significant sacrifice on my part.

      • Doug Gray

        When I say earlier, I mean make eligibility for the draft come a year sooner. That puts teams in position to not be able to just hoard and stash guys even more.

        There was some competitive balance issues pre-draft era, but a lot of that would be solved with free agency that didn’t exist then, and the rule 5 draft, which kind of sort of but not really at all in the same way exist then.

      • BK

        Thanks for the clarification … one year earlier would help. Would still like to see a more detailed proposal, but understand you have lots of things to juggle. Just a suggestion.

  4. Robert

    Are there any players currently signing autographs for a fee?