Tools of Ignorance

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Written by Mark Firkins Photos by MiLB.com

Baltimore Orioles Catching prospects Chance Sisco, Alex Murphy, & Austin Wynns

Andy Etchebarren in the 60’s & 70’s, Rick Dempsey in the 80’s, Chris Hoiles in the 90’s, and Matt Weiters in the 2000’s. The Baltimore Orioles always seem to have a decade long plan at Catcher that produces offensively, has good defensive tools, earns the respect and has a good rapport with their pitchers.

The Orioles must have been looking to find that future long-term backstop in their 2013 draft when they picked 4 catchers through 10 rounds. The Orioles selected Chance Sisco in the 2nd, Jonah Heim in the 4th, Alex Murphy in the 6th, and Austin Wynns in the 10th. Jonah Heim was traded to Tampa in 2016 to get Steve Pearce back. That leaves Sisco, Murphy, and Wynns as their top home-grown catching prospects.

Chance Sisco – Catcher

Sisco

Currently ranked #1 on the Baltimore Orioles prospect list and #45 overall by MLB.com, Chance Sisco has done everything to impress offensively. Through five minor league seasons he has batted .311, with 98 doubles, 25 home runs, and 206 RBI’s. A lefty hitter, with a fast, level swing that makes a lot of quality contact. Sisco has excellent discipline at the plate and utilizes the whole field, as displayed in his very notable 98 doubles. While there is a little over the fence power, he has shown at all minor league levels that he will most likely hit for average and take a walk, as shown in his .390 OBP.

There are minor concerns with Sisco on defense. Passed balls and errors were an area where he had some troubles earlier in his career. Improvements is his blocking, receiving, and game calling have lessened that issue. The area of defense that needs the most improving is his ability to throw base runners out. While Chance has an accurate arm, it may not be the strongest or fastest getting the ball down to second base. Would be runners advanced at a 70% success rate. Working with and learning from former catcher and current O’s coach Einar Diaz, who in his playing days threw out runners 51% of the time could be exactly what Chance needs. At only 23 years old he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Alex Murphy – Catcher

Murphy

Alex Murphy grew up in Monrovia, Maryland, not far away from the Baltimore Orioles minor league affiliates, and within an easy day trip to Camden Yards. It was a dream come true and an opportunity for him to chase his goals and dreams. A chance to be like Steve Johnson and Steve Clevenger and play for his hometown Orioles.

A big, strong, right-handed batter, with good bat speed and power to all fields, is how most scouts and Orioles staff have described Alex Murphy. In his five minor league seasons he shows a .251 AVG, 84 doubles, 35 home runs, 172 RBI’s, and a .331 OBP. Alex has shown a spike in power over his past two seasons, hitting 27 of his 35 homers in 2016 and 2017. Murphy is the guy you want up to bat with RISP. He hits .327 when there’s a chance for an RBI. Defensively, Alex is solid. He owns a career .988 FPCT and throws runners out at a 40% rate. He shows decent ball blocking skills and has few inconsistencies.

During instructional league workouts Murphy was asked “what do you think you need to improve on?” Like most of his game thus far, his answer? “Consistency, not getting too high or too low with hitting, try to stay in that middle plateau all season. Same with catching. Stay solid behind the plate.”

Murphy played some first base in 2016 and 2017 and there may be some plans for him to play there more in the future. Alex is fine with that, “anyway to get to the big leagues is the way I look at it.”

Austin Wynns – Catcher

Wynns

Of the three catchers mentioned so far, Austin Wynns is the only player with collegiate experience, playing for Fresno State. While his offensive numbers don’t exactly jump out at you, they are admirable. Through his five minor league seasons, he has posted a .269 AVG, with 79 doubles, 20 home runs, 169 RBI’s, and a .336 OBP. He may not be the catcher who will hit 20 homers, but he is a smart, structured hitter and will get the job done.

Wynn’s greatest asset is behind the plate. He owns a remarkable .994 FPCT, rarely lets a ball get by him, throws out 48% of runners attempting to steal, and knows how to call games. At age 27, Austin definitely has the maturity over most of his minor league teammates. It also makes him a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Young pitchers love having him behind the plate. This is not just a guy flashing fingers and signals, he reads the hitters and is making decisions on the next pitch.

Although he has played most of his career no higher than AA, the Orioles must see value and a future for Austin, as they protected him from the Rule 5 draft last November and added him to their 40 man roster.

Former star catcher Matt Weiters departed after the 2016 season. The O’s split catching duties between Wellington Castillo and Caleb Joseph in 2017. Castillo was a 1 year deal and is now with the White Sox. The Orioles traded the Brewers for one time SF Giants (2nd round pick in 2011) prospect Andrew Susac. Caleb Joseph would appear to be the O’s top catcher in 2018. The question is who among these others will fill and learn the role of MLB back up catcher until it’s their time?

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Scoop & Stretch – Highlighting First Base Prospects from the Cleveland Indians

DF_uzCRW0AMRmvdWritten by Mark Firkins  Photo by Lianna Holub

North-East, Ohio. A hot bed of Cleveland Indians baseball. Within a 2 hour drive of Cleveland you have 4 of their 6 MiLB affilliates; AAA – Columbus Clippers, AA – Akron Rubber Ducks, A – Lake County Captains, and A – Mahoning Valley Scrappers. A drive to these ballparks will find you traveling through the Rust Belt and Steel Mill towns, Amish Country, a beautiful mix of old architecture and modern design, and cities that have reinvented themselves and are once again thriving.

I have had the pleasure of taking a road trip through this part of Ohio every summer for 35 + years now from my home in Western NY. I never tire of the scenery, landmarks, ballparks, and great baseball I am treated to at any one of the stops I make. This past summer was no different as I visited Lake County and Mahoning Valley (along with Cleveland, many, many times)

Emmanuel Tapia – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

642268At 6′ 3″ – 215 lbs, Emmanuel Tapia is a powerful figure that looks more like a linebacker than baseball first baseman. The Indians signed “Manny” as an International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He has acclimated and grown within the Indians system playing through their Dominican Summer League, Arizona Rookie League, Mahoning Valley – NY PENN League, and the 2017 season at Lake County – Midwest League.

Raw power and an extremely hard swing are the best ways to describe Manny’s approach to the plate. He led the Midwest League in home runs (29) and RBI’s (71) in 2017. Though, he unfortunately led the league in strikeouts as well with 180 (in 461 AB). As stated, Tapia is a big, strong player, who no doubt can hit the ball far. There is plenty of room for growth if he can minimize the strikeouts, add some base hits & average, and take some base on balls when offered. He is certainly capable of more average. In past seasons he has hit as high as .315 (2014) and .286 (2015). Manny is patient with himself and knows this is a process. He knows he needs to learn to put himself in a better position to hit.

Originally a Left Fielder in the Dominican Republic, Tapia was shifted to and is still learning first base. A dedicated, hard working player, he is one of the first players to the field every day. He works with the coaches and takes extra fielding practice any chance he can get. 2017 Lake County Captains manager, Larry Day, was quoted often saying “Manny is making steady progress as a first baseman, he’s eager, he’s such a hard worker.”

With the excitement of his powerful hitting and progress at fielding, it will be interesting to see where the parent club, Indians, place Tapia to start 2018. A start at Lake County again or an advance to Lynchburg of the Carolina League? We’ll soon find out as spring training approaches.

Ulysses Cantu – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

668784A 6th round pick out of Boswell, Texas High School in the 2016 draft, Ulysses Cantu is an interesting player for the Indians. Cantu was drafted as a Third Baseman.  However, little opportunity to play or develop there exists, as the Indians are well stocked with other third base prospects at all levels (see my previous post about Nolan Jones).

Cantu is a 6′ righty, first baseman, which may not be the ideal profile. The Indians no doubt looked at Cantu’s bat tools first. He has good balance at the plate, manages the strike zone, recognizes pitches and rarely gets fooled. Cantu’s swing is quick and compact. He squares the ball up on the barrel with ease. Ulysses is incredibly strong (he trains cross-fit) and above average power can be seen in his bat.

The Indians are most likely concentrating on developing Cantu as a hitter first and will worry about where he fits in defensively later. Third base is his natural position and where his size fits him best. He does have experience in high school as a catcher and the Indians could possibly explore that, but that might take a toll on his bat.

Cantu played the 2017 season for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (NY-PENN League). He played 53 games at his new position, first base, and posted admirable numbers. On defense, he posted a .987 FPCT – converting 457 out 463 chances and was on the receiving end of 39 double plays. He hit 53-209 at the plate for a .254 AVG, with 10 doubles, 4 home runs, 25 RBI, and 17 BB.

Ulysses Cantu is still a very young player. He’ll turn 20 in May 2018. There’s plenty of upside in all aspects of his game. The hits, average, and power will all increase as he continues to see more professional pitching. Patience and time will find him a defensive home or even a future as a DH.

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Flashing the Leather – Highlighting SS/2B Prospects Royce Lewis and Nick Gordon

sportsSlammers_confessor_Lara_signs_with_Minnesota_Twins_t750x550Written by Mark Firkins  Photos by MiLB.com

The Minnesota Twins have one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches of middle infielders who can handle balls hit up the middle, as well as use their bats and speed.

Nick Gordon – SS/2B (Minnesota Twins)

624503Does the last name and position look familiar? That’s because this is Dee Gordon’s younger brother and oh yeah, his father Tom pitched his way to 138 Wins and 158 saves in his MLB career.

A 1st round draft pick by the Twins in the 2014 draft, Nick has progressed through the Twins farm system in perfect steps. He has advanced his way through Rookie Ball in Elizabethton (2014 – Appalachian League), Cedar Rapids (2015 – Midwest League), Ft. Myers (2016 – Florida State League), and Chattanooga (2017 – Southern League).

Through 4 MiLB seasons he carries a very consistent .281 AVG. Like his brother, he slashes the ball down the lines or into the gaps for plenty of extra bases, 81 doubles and 25 triples so far. While not known for his power, he showed a little bit of extra pop in his bat in 2017 by connecting on 9 HR. A patient and disciplined hitter as well, drawing 53 BB at AA Chattanooga last season and 126 thus far in career. Certainly capable of stealing bases, he has swiped 68 over his four seasons in the minors.

Gordon has played the majority of his games at SS but has played 2B as well (a permanent shift to second could be in his future). He is a quick and slick fielding player with excellent range and a strong arm. Errors have been a bit of a concern as he has committed 69 and carries a .960 FPCT. However he has turned an impressive 253 double plays in 373 starts.

With Jorge Palonco most likely to serve as the Twins SS in the future and veteran 2B Brian Dozier eligible for free agency after this season, it would seem that Nick Gordon’s call to the Twins would come as a second baseman.

Royce Lewis – SS (Minnesota Twins)

668904Another 1st round pick by the Twins with very high expectations, Royce Lewis was the top high school position player in the 2017 draft. He has all the tools worthy of a #1 pick, especially his bat.

He started his pro career with the Gulf Coast Twins last summer and played 36 games at Shortstop. He carried a .271 AVG, walked more times (19) than he struck out (17), of his 36 hits 9 went for extra bases, and stole 15 bases in 17 attempts. His defense in rookie ball was excellent, converting 124/128 chances.

He was promoted to the Twins Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels on August 12th and made quite the impression in his first game. He went 4-5 at the plate with one RBI, one stolen base, and scored twice. He appeared in 18 games for Cedar Rapids, playing SS in 17. He finished the Midwest League season going 28-71 (.296 AVG), with two doubles, a triple and a home run. His defense stayed right in line with his GCL numbers, converting 77-80 chances.

He is extremely athletic on both sides of the ball. While he may not profile as a home run guy, there is plenty of extra base ability in his swing, sending line drives into the gaps, then using his speed to take extra bags, as well as steal them. There is no concern with his glove, it’s his arm and throwing accuracy that needs to be watched. Of his seven errors, six were throwing.

Royce Lewis is a young and exciting player to keep your eye on. The Twins will be patient, yet not afraid to challenge their #1 pick. The 2018 season will most likely see Royce start at Cedar Rapids. If he continues his impressive all around play a trip to Fort Myers in the Florida State League would be in order.

“It’s (shortstop) a premium position. I can show my leadership skills, take control of the game. It’s what I love about it. I want to play the position Derek Jeter played. Except I want to be Royce Lewis.” – Orange County Register

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