First Pitch: The FanGraphs Reports, and Luis Urena as a Sleeper

Over the last month, Kiley McDaniel has been posting some great reports over at FanGraphs. I’ve been retweeting them on Twitter, but keep forgetting to link to them in the nightly First Pitch column. So here are links to all three reports, with some thoughts on each one.

Gerrit Cole

The first report was specific to top prospect Gerrit Cole. Overall it was a great look at Cole. A few notes:

**McDaniel feels that Cole should scrap the curveball. That’s definitely his 5th best pitch. I wouldn’t see the harm in getting rid of the pitch. With three plus-pitches (one of them a breaking ball) he doesn’t have much need for a second breaking ball.

**McDaniel notes that when Cole was missing, he was missing up in the zone, which seems to be the consensus. He notes that Cole made some slight changes to do a better job of driving the ball down through the zone.

The Other Power Arms

In the second report, McDaniel looked at a few other power arms outside of Cole and Taillon. He focused on Nick Kingham, Clay Holmes, and Vic Black.

**McDaniel said that Kingham has the upside of “a solid 3 or 4 groundball-inducing, innings-eater starter”. In the last two Prospect Guides I’ve called Kingham a potential number three starter who could pitch 200 innings a year, so I’d agree with McDaniel’s assessment.

**After reading the great report on Holmes and his delivery, I went back to look at some video. Here is a video I took of Holmes during Spring Training.

Here is a video Will Cleveland took at the end of June.

There’s definitely some changes between the two videos. In the first video the stride is longer. I can definitely see where his arm is dragging behind, and it looks like it’s a bit worse in the first video. His arm is more extended in the second video. After his first outing in Spring Training I spoke with someone who knew better than I would who called his arm action loose and effortless when talking about his velocity. McDaniel calls him awkward and stiff, but I think he’s talking about his body, since he later says the arm action is in his favor.

**The final pitcher profiled was Vic Black. McDaniel called Black a one-dimensional middle reliever, noting his issues with command.

Luis Urena

Luis Urena

The Hitters

In the final report, McDaniel profiled a few of the hitters who are ranked lower in the system. Normally when we hear about the hitters, we hear about Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, and Josh Bell. This time it was Mel Rojas Jr., Gift Ngoepe, Wyatt Mathisen, Luis Urena, and Stetson Allie, as well as relief pitcher John Kuchno. I’ll let his reports do the talking for the other players, but I did want to highlight Urena.

If you bought the 2013 Prospect Guide, you’ll see that I had Urena as the 50th best prospect in the system, and identified him as a sleeper candidate. I say “I” had him ranked there, because I was the only one who had him in the top 50. When it comes to the 40-50 range of the rankings, it’s mostly highlighting potential sleepers or notable upper level guys who have high floors. Most of the guys who draw consideration were only voted on by one writer. I put Urena in the final spot just to highlight him. Some of the alternatives were Colten Brewer, Dalton Friend, Dan Gamache, Ryan Hafner, and Bryton Trepagnier. All of those guys were voted on by different people for different reasons, so I wouldn’t say they all fit the same profile I gave Urena as a sleeper.

McDaniel also had Urena as a potential breakout player in 2013, and for a lot of the same reasons. The big reason was his power. It seems every time I see Urena, he’s crushing the ball. He’s got a lot of raw power, and that’s been showing up on the field more and more lately. I noticed it at the end of the year, then during instructs. I also noticed reports from others during instructs about his power, and this is another one. The one thing I would disagree with McDaniel about is his arm strength. I saw Urena play a lot of right field last year, and in the span of a week saw him fire two perfect strikes to third base. McDaniel calls his arm “fringy”, but I disagree. I don’t think that’s uncommon for people to disagree about arm strength. That seems to be the dividing point between people in the discussion of whether Alen Hanson can stick at short.

As I noted in the Prospect Guide, Urena has all of the tools that made Polanco a breakout candidate. One crucial difference is the strikeouts. Urena has horrible plate patience. Comparing the two at the age of 19 in the GCL:

Polanco (2011): .237/.333/.361, 19.5 K%, 11.8 BB%, 169 AB

Urena (2012): .200/.275/.407, 44.8 K%, 7.4 BB%, 145 AB

Urena has more power at the age, but Polanco’s K/BB ratio is much better. I noted that his strikeouts don’t speak well for the chances of him breaking out like Polanco, and that he was rated there more for the tools than the results. It’s rare for hitters to show improvements with such horrible strikeout totals. There was a discussion about this over at Bucs Dugout in the comments section, with one comparison being Wes Freeman in 2009. Statistically, that comparison works. When you consider the background, they’re a bit different. Freeman had experience in high school. Urena didn’t have much organized experience, and only has 408 career at-bats. So there’s a better reason that Urena is very raw.

I thought it was interesting that McDaniel said he does well trying to keep his swing short. McDaniel also said that he has some length to his swing at times. Usually that leads to more holes opening up, which leads to more strikeouts. But if he can learn to consistently keep his swing shorter, that could help prevent some of the strikeouts to the point where he’s not swinging and missing almost half the time. I think Urena will always struggle with strikeouts. That doesn’t mean he can’t have a good career ahead of him. He probably needs to get that percentage down to around 25% or less, all while maintaining plus power. He’s mostly driven by power right now, and that power seems to be showing up in games more and more. That’s what made him a sleeper candidate for me, and it seems like McDaniel is on the same page.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. The 2013 Annual is also available for pre-sales. Go to the products page of the site and order your 2013 books today!

**The eBook version of The 2013 Prospect Guide is also available through our publisher. They also have a discount code during the month of January that allows you to save 20%. Use the code JANBOOKS13 to get the discount. This code is only valid on the eBook on the publisher’s web site, and not the books on the products page of the site.

**Alex Dickerson Named to MLB.com’s Top 10 First Base Prospects.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Australian League Season Wrap-Up.

**Winter Leagues Recap: Australian League News and Notes.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2013 Top Prospects: #6 – Josh Bell.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • John Dreker

    I actually had Urena #50 on my first list submitted for the book, then moved him down one spot to add Clint Robinson. Even after all the off-season moves, he remains at 51.
    The reason he is there isn’t stats obviously, I’ve heard good things about him from numerous people. It is just his consistency that is lacking and may never come around. The strikeout totals are scary.
    His initial scouting report from months before he ever even played a DSL game, had a higher ceiling for him than any other position player I’ve seen since, so I’ve always followed him with interest.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I forgot you had him there originally. Just remembered that when I added him (after Robinson was in the system, so after your rankings change) I was the only one who had him in the top 50.

      • John Dreker

        If it wasn’t for that BB/K ratio actually getting worse his second time around in the GCL, I would’ve ranked him higher based on what I’ve heard.
        Another thing that would’ve helped him, is a late-season promotion to State College for the last week. That seems to be a good sign of what the team thinks. With both Tyler Gaffney and Barrett Barnes injured, there was room for him there but the call never came, so that weighed in my decision.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Ironically, your argument talked Dan Gamache off the list, which led to Luis Urena going on the list.

      • John Dreker

        There definitely is a huge difference between those two players. Gamache could eventually grind his way to a bench spot in the majors with some improvements, but at worst he is a solid AAA-type player that could hang around the minors for awhile. On the other hand, Urena still may have the ceiling of a star, but also may not get past low-A ball. I’d stick with the huge payoff player every time if I had to choose, so I think it was a wise choice.

  • John Dreker

    I mentioned Urena as having huge potential in the first article I wrote for the site, 2 1/2 years ago and two years before he showed any signs of life in the boxscores http://www.piratesprospects.com/2010/07/ten-international-players-to-watch.html

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I always print these out and save them to see what happens, esp since these guys are so far away.

      You hit on a few, that’s for sure (Willy Garcia # 1, Hanson # 3). Some of them are gone:
      # 2 – Carvajal
      # 5 – Isaac Sanchez
      # 6 – Miguel De Aza (unless he is now Adrian?)
      # 7 – Yhonatan Herrand
      # 8 – Orlando Castro

      The last 2 were Maximo (gosh I hope he makes it with that name) Rivera and Urena.

      Pretty good overall!

      • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

        Carvajal is not gone, of course, but a utility guy in “A” ball might as well be.

        And I forgot Ozuna at # 4.

        • John Dreker

          Actually all ten are still around. Sanchez pitched well as a teenager in the GCL this year, not so good in a brief trial with State College.
          Miguel de Aza is Adrian. Showed some improvement in the DSL this year but not much.
          Herrand still throws hard, he was just very erratic this season in the GCL. He has a great arm, just hasn’t put it together.
          Castro pitched for WV this year and looked good at times.
          Maximo Rivera tore up the DSL this year, hitting .367 with 34 stolen bases. His scouting report was way off though. He is not a power hitting shortstop like they hoped for. He has been moved around a ton in the field and has only shown power for a short time during the second half of the 2011 season