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Future Redbirds Season Review: Peoria Chiefs (A-)

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This is the fourth post in a multi-part series reviewing the clubs that make up the Cardinals farm system in 2014. You can view the other posts in this series on the Future Redbirds Hub.

Before It's News

Peoria Chiefs

Record: 72-67
Three Year Park Factor: 95 (Pitcher friendly)

Player of the Year:

Rob Kaminsky, LHP, 19

IP ERA FIP K% BB%
100.2 1.88 2.99 19.4% 7.6%

You really can't go wrong in a choice between Kaminsky and Alex Reyes (who probably has the better raw stuff), but if we're giving away POY honors based on 2014 performance the nod has to go to Kaminsky due to his lower walk rate and fewer runs allowed. That doesn't inform much on the development of the two pitchers, just that Kaminsky had the better season in 2014 -- mostly due to the fact that he's got the more consistent mechanics at this point in his career. The ERA led a pitcher-heavy Midwest League and his 1.01 WHIP was fourth -- that's pretty good for a 19 year old in a full season league any way you slice it.

Scouts have mixed feelings about Kaminsky.  Some think he's going to top out as a reliever, others think that he's at least a middle-rotation starter with #2 starter potential.  Put me in the latter camp: The biggest complaints about Kaminsky as a prospect seem really trivial in the grand scheme of things, especially for a pitcher with three pitches that could be a 60 grade or better.

Here are the three weaknesses I see mentioned most often:

  • Fastball "lacks plane".
  • Curveball has too much depth.
  • Changeup isn't polished yet.
The "lacks plane" argument is kind of a nice way of saying that Kaminsky is "vertically challenged". PItchers who are short generally get docked for not being able to work down in the zone, even when they are able to work down in the zone just fine (Marcus Stroman, FTW!).  Kaminsky has a long, angular frame and had a ground ball rate of 48.8% in 2014 -- it seems to me like he works down in the zone just fine.

The other two are really nitpicky.  If his curveball had less depth, then the comment would be that his deuce "lacks depth" so either way he can't win in that respect.  He's got one of the better breaking balls in the minors and only his teammate Reyes has a better one within the Cardinals organization (and his is a true 70/80 curveball).  The changeup line is accurate, but he really didn't even start throwing the pitch until this season and I saw two different starts where it was an excellent offering.

To me, it seems like evaluators are trying to find ways to diminish Rob Kaminsky due to his size, small frame, and funky mechanics. The results speak for themselves, as do the pitch grades. I think there's more than meets the eye here, but we're likely not going to know much of anything about his potential until he reaches AA, which could happen as soon as next summer.

Players of Note:

Alex Reyes, RHP, 19

If you want to grade any hitter in the Midwest League on their ability to hit plus stuff, you couldn't have done much better than watching them against the Peoria Chiefs in 2014. Reyes has stuff as good as anyone currently in the minors, but lacks the polished command and repeatable mechanics that he will have to develop to reach his ceiling as a #1 starter.  The curveball is a true Bugs Bunny breaker with a ton of depth. The fastball sits in the 95-96 range and touches 98 on a regular basis.

The 29.5% strikeout rate and 82 hits in 109 innings tells you all you need to know about how tough hitters have it against Reyes.

The 13.1% walk rate tells you all you need to know about what Reyes needs to work on developmentally.

Doug Thorburn recently looked at Reyes' mechanics (paywalled) over at Baseball Prospectus and graded him pretty poorly on balance, posture, and repetition. To me, that's encouraging as those are things that most young pitchers who throw this hard tend to struggle with and are also the easiest to overcome as a pitcher develops. You can't teach a kid to throw 98 mph with a 12-6 curveball, you can teach him how to do so more consistently.

Thorburn comes to much the same conclusion:

The Reyes Lean will be a focal point in his development, as it is an in-game indicator of his mechanical efficiency. He tends to exaggerate the lean when pitching from the stretch or any time that he is fatigued, something that the coaching staff had under close watch during his starts. His overall grade on the report card incorporates some upside with a nod to his mechanical improvements during the year, giving him the benefit of the doubt that his biggest weaknesses can be addressed.

Vaughn Bryan, OF, 21

Jason Parks made a lot of headlines in Cardinal country last February when he placed Bryan 10th on a list of Cardinal prospects that was among the best farm systems in baseball. Citing plus athleticism and plus plus running ability along with possible power development, Parks' infatuation with Bryan was nearly all with his considerable upside (which was ample) even though Bryan lacked any refined skills despite his tools.  His first full season as a pro wasn't horrible, but it contained only flashes of his potential. Hitting .262/.326/.382 in a pitchers haven isn't anything to shake a stick at, but neither is it what you expect from a 21 year old with MLB regular upside either.  Bryan can play all three outfield positions at an above average level and that is likely enough to carry him into the upper levels of the minors, provided his bat can produce.

Remember Daryl Jones?  Hard not to think of him when you're watching Vaughn Bryan.

This was a year of transition for Kelly, as he moved behind the dish after playing third base for most of his life, and the defensively the transition went well.  Kelly impressed me a lot more than Steve Bean, the former top 100 high school prospect who has been a catcher since he was in short(er) pants, and his bat was exactly average in the Midwest League at age 19.

Kelly is a bit of a enigma at this point: He doesn't strike out a lot (13%) and walks a fair amount (8.9%). He doesn't hit with a lot of power (.118 ISO) but makes a lot of contact  that for some reason doesn't result in even average BABIP's (.274 in 2014, .268 career in 1107 PA's).  It's hard to chalk that up to luck after 1000 PA's; it's more likely that he just doesn't hit the ball with authority often enough and that's something that will have to improve regardless of whether he is a plus defensive catcher or not.

All The Power Arms, RHP, Various

Peoria featured 4 relievers with better than 15 innings that struck out better than 30% of the hitters they faced in 2014:

Barraclough and Thomas really aren't prospects at this point, given their age with respect to league, but useful bullpen arms can come out of nowhere and these two certainly qualify for the Mitch Harris Award for determination.

Perry and Polanco are potential middle inning arms, featuring fastballs in the mid-90's, good breaking balls, and decent command overall.  Prior to being promoted in July, Perry led the Midwest League in strikeouts while having just over half the innings of the starting pitchers that filled out the rest of the top 5.  It's hard to profile any non-elite relievers as true prospects and these two are both on the cuff of that status, but in reality they aren't all that different from most of the power arms you would find elsewhere with the exception of the elite strikeout rates coupled with better than average command.

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I'll be back on Thursday with a peek at the Florida State League club.