CAL League All-Star observations

I realize this is about two weeks late, but I saw the Cal league All-Star game a few weeks ago and thought I'd share some observations on some of the players of interest at the game. Obviously, all I saw was a ridiculously small sample size of all of these players, but nonetheless, here are my snap judgments.

Buster Posey

The kid clearly has an aura about him. Both behind the plate and in the box you can tell he's a special player. His first at-bat in this game he lined an outer half fastball into RF to drive in the 1st run of the game. It's always nice to see a young player go the other way, especially on the 1st pitch when a player (should) look for one pitch in one area and look to drive it. To look for an outer half fastball is to understand that generally the guy you're going up against has a clue of what he's doing and isn't just going to lay one in to get ahead. It was nice.

He struck out in his second at-bat, but he fought off nice pitches against Ryne Miller, whose curveball was unhittable to every hitter in the Cal League lineup and helped him garner 5 K's out of the 6 batter's he faced. Of those 5 K's, 4 struck out on the curve ball (3 looking) and Posey fouled off two very good curveballs by Miller. He ended up striking out on a fastball in. Considering how locked in Miller was that night (clearly the most dominant pitcher of the night, albeit at nearly 24 years old) I'd say Posey's at-bat was definitely a plus here as well.

As for his receiving skills, well, there's nothing NOT to like there. This guy has always reminded me of Russell Martin (pre 145+ games a year breakdown) and his receiving mirrors Martin's in my book. Polished, excellent, good at framing pitches, and can block balls in the dirt with ease. Posey in my opinion is defensively RIGHT NOW better than anythign the Giants have had at catcher since Matheny (and would probably be a top 5 defensive catcher in the bigs). What I also liked about Posey is that he doesn't tip pitches with his set-up. This is a very common problem with young catchers as they will spread their legs open way too early when an offspeed pitch is coming (and only do it for offspeed pitches) which is basically telling a hitter that he won't be getting a fastball. Posey not only set up for offspeed pitches late, but he would also setup for offspeed pitches when fastballs were coming, so you really couldn't know what to expect based on how he set up. This is something really simple that almost all catchers have down by the time they reach the bigs, but Posey already has it down, so it was nice to see. Didn't get to see him throw, but his warmup throws were great for what it's worth.

I've said it since before the draft and I'll continue to say it. To me, Buster Posey looks like Russell Martin, and as long as the Giants don't beat Posey into the ground as LAD did Martin, that should make him one of the top 5 catchers in the game (considering 3 of those would be Wieters, Mauer, and McCann, that's pretty elite company). Let's not forget just how good Martin was as a 24 year old big leaguer.

Thomas Neal

This guy certainly looks like a player. Great baseball body, good swing, just seemed to me like a guy who really has all the necessary ability to be a big league outfielder (offensively that is). His swing was not too long, but quick enough to be powerful. Excellent balance his swing, that's probably what stood out the most to me. Clearly had a good mental gameplan in the batters box (worked a nice 8 pitch at-bat leading to walk his 2nd at-bat) and looks like a guy who is very athletic (although I didn't get to see if that is actually true).

To me, he seems like a fundamentally strong hitter without a real weakness (although last year's strikeout rates might suggest otherwise). At the same time, I don't think he struck as a guy who had any particularly elite hitting strength, but hey, being decent at all aspects is enough to make you a successful hitter. If he were to remind me of one big league hitter I'd probably say he reminded me most of was Vernon Wells, although he doesn't have that frame just yet and like thus not quite the power (or defense).

Bottom line, while I think his stats will regress a bit (and inflated a bit by league factors, etc.) I do buy the breakout. The guy looks very much like a talented hitter whose really turned the page by developing his power a bit more (common as players get older) and cutting his K's. I can't really say much about his defense, but if he can be a capable defender (body type looks like that'd be more than attainable) this guy definitely looks like he could be a league average ML corner outfielder, which is quite good (and probably a bench mark Lewis and Schierholtz fall short of). It seems to me like the offensive talent has always been there, and he's now materializing it. He was the pleasant surprise of the night, since Posey is so hyped it'd be hard for him to really shock anyone.

Roger Kieschnick

Well, if you've been reading my glowing things about Posey and Neal and think I'm a Giants homer that loves all of our prospects, here's why I might redeem myself to show a shred of objectivity. To sum up my thoughts on Kieschnick for the night I would say this: Kieschnick cannot hit left-handed pitching. He faced two lefties today, Duffy and Loop, and struck out against both of them. The Duffy at-bat was tolerable because a) Duffy is a stud and b) he worked it to 3-2, but Derrick Loop is as fringy a player as there was in this game.

Loop is 25 (closer to 26) in high A ball and he's never hit 90 mph on a radar gun once in his life. He sits at 85-87 with his fastball, so imagine Barry Zito without his big price tag and curveball and you have Derrick Loop. It's one thing to strike out, but it quite another to swing and miss on 3 pitches ALL out of the zone and ALL just completely and utterly mediocre. Fastball 85 mph 8 inches, miss. Soft slider, low and away, out of the zone he misses it by 4 inches. Then finally blow away at a fastball just above the letters tailing at a whopping 87 mph that Kieschnick made look like it was 97 based on how late he was on it. Derrick Loop should dominate no one, this guy is nearly 26 and in A ball with stuff you can see at any high school or JC, and yet he was able to dominate Kieschnick like Randy Johnson dominating Larry Walker. Funny thing about all this is that Kieschnick's minor league splits aren't even that terrible versus lefties (.774 OPS), although as Fred Lewis and countless others can attest to, that can be misleading due to the disproportionate amount of poor lefties in the minors. Teams are always willing to give Lefties more chances and the minors is the place you will see a high amount of guys given these chances. By the time they reach the bigs however, those lefties are usually weeded out at a higher rate than that of righties (who are professionals based on merit and not dexterity).

Now, obviously these are just two at-bats, so in they really don't mean all that much, but as a guy who liked the Kieschnick draft pick, I have to say, he looks fringy to me. The guy sort of reminds me Brad Hawpe in the box, especially with how he uses his hands leading up to and during his swing, but his swing is longer and doesn't nearly generate the bat speed of Hawpe's (and nowhere near the plate discipline). His minor league numbers are pretty mediocre as well when you consider he is a polished 22.5 year old college player in the Cal League that has a 1:4 BB to K ratio. This kid clearly has his holes and I think it's only going to get worse the higher he goes. I could see him as big leaguer in a bench role as a LH power bat vs righties (like Matt Stairs, only not the good years of Matt Stairs when he was with OAK, the more recent Matt Stairs) and that would be a decent return for a 4th round pick. For a guy with his power to walk as little as he does, it truly shows just how bad of plate discipline he has. There's no way guys are pounding a hitter with his power with strikes, he's clearly a chaser, and that only gets exposed more and more.

Danny Duffy

KC prospect - This guy is the man. he really wowed me in this game and the Royal's look like they got a steal in the 3rd round when they drafted him out of HS. The guy reminds me so much of Jeff Francis, only he won't have the misfortune of having to pitch in Colorado (Francis could have been a perennial all-star had be been with any other team). I'm not saying Duffy will be a perennial all-star, but his stuff was very crisp, he could locate it, and best of all he is very young for this league and is extremely poised. Pretty much everything I'd want in a pitcher, Duffy has. He's no Bumgarner, but he's probably one of the top 5 left handed SP prospects in the minors right now, at least in my opinion. Not incredibly nasty, just very, very good and polished. I bet he's in the bigs by 2011.

Wynn Pelzer

SD Prospect - Nasty stuff, always has had it. He's old for the Cal League (just turned 23), but also didn't pick up pitching until late. He's got great arm action and excellent movement on his fastball that sits in the low 90's. It's a 2 seamer that generates a lot of GB's (2.3 GB/FB ratio) and he also has 2 very nice complementary pitches. He only showed his slider tonight, which got him a swingthrough, but he also has a very nice change up, which has gotten him a lot of K's this year. His slider's his best pitch, but I think all 3 are plus pitches and if he has the mindset, mental toughness, and durability he could be a nice ML starter. I'm sure most people project him in the pen though, based on his FB-SL combo missed with his ability to get GB's.

Trayvon Robinson

LAD prospect - His offensive game is clearly reminiscent of Jimmy Rollins. He's a switch hitter with decent pop, great speed, and it seems clear Robinson might have even modeled his swing and stance off Rollins. However, outside of appearance and styles, that's where it ends for me. I just don't think he has anywhere near the talent of Rollins. He plays CF, and is certainly athletic enough for the position, but I don't buy his 2009 "breakout". He's hit 11 homers this year in 369 PA's which nearly matches his career minor league total of 12 homers in 950 PA's prior to this year. He's not too old A ball (just under 22) but he's repeating it and benefiting from that fact. I think this guy will make the big leagues, but probably as nothing more than 5th outfielder who is used to PH, spot start, and PR. Just included him in case any Dodger fans were around so I could rain on their parade if they like this kid. he still features about 1:3 BB to K ratio despite repeating A+ ball. Way too much for a guy whose game is based on speed.

Logan Forsythe

SD propsect - Didn't go anything in this game, but has a .468 OBP on the season with a 1.20 K/BB ratio. He's now in AA. The Kevin Youkilis comps are certainly sure to follow with this guy as he gets more attention, and he's a surprisingly good athlete given his player type. I've even heard rumors he might switch from 3B to 2B.

Michael Burgess

WAS prospect - I had to get him in here given how much I wanted the Giants to take him with their 3rd 1st RD pick (Fairley), or one of their supp picks (Noonan and Jackson Williams, the latter of which is the worst draft pick ever). At the time I was fine with Fairley, since he was a similarly talented player to Burgess and even Noonan didn't kill me despite my preference for Burgess, but Jackson pushed me over the edge. Burgess is hardly a sure thing as one look at his numbers can tell you, but I still really like this kid.

His swing reminds me of a hybrid of Jeromy Burnitz and Lance Berkman. In terms of length and stance, it's Burnitz, but in terms to hand movement and path to the ball, it's Berkman. Now, Berkman also has a more compact swing, which is why he's Lance Berkman, but Burgess share that same berkman swing trait where his bat is parrellel to the plate in a direct route to the ball. I don't think Burgess will ever be anywhere near the hitter Berkman is, his swing is just too long and he's not as powerful, but at the same time it does show promise.

In hist first at-bat today, Burgess worked his way into a favorable hitters count and lined a smash right at the 1B for an out. In his 2nd at-bat he worked a walk showing a good sense for the strike zone. In his 3rd and final at-bat, he he lined an outside fastball into left field. All 3-at bats were very good and he showed the ability to go to all fields. he also made a base running mistake on the single (he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double) but the guy is a tremendous athlete that to me shows a lot of promise to be a good big leaguer. He's got an excellent combination of plate discipline, power, and just enough athleticism that can make him both a plus defender and bat.

The key for him is clearly going to be cutting his strikeouts down by shortening his swing. If this kid shorten up a bit and get his K% to under 20, he's going to be a good big leaguer, it's really that simple. Is that going to happen? I can't say for sure, but given that he is very young for high A ball (20.7) I'd say it's fair to say that is one aspect of his game that could easily improve (and he's also going to add to his already good power). I'd say at least, he can be a more athletic Jeromy Burnitz in the bigs, or a more patient Carl Everett, but depending on how much he can shorten his swing and cut out some holes, he could be just that much more.

Luis Lebron

Clearly had the most electric arm of the night, but also didn't know where it was going half the time. Pretty much a stereotypical fireballer

That's pretty much the observations I had, anyone else there care to share some?

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