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Minor League Weekly Update: Week 2

The names you know and love are still in the minors, and still rolling, with Dylan Cease and Luis Robert leading the way

Pantera en fuego: Robert stays hot, as he keeps clobbering the ball in Winston-Salem.

The Charlotte Knights have put themselves at the top of the division through 11 games, mostly — well, entirely — because of their hitting. The Knights are averaging 6.18 runs a game — but have allowed 6.09 runs per game at the same time.

The terrible runs per game is due to Knights pitchers allowing the worst WHIP in the International League, which is mostly because the staff is giving up a ton of hits. Now, six runs per game allowed and scored will probably decrease as we get into the season, but for the Knights staff, odds are that the runs allowed should fall quickly because the big runs number is heavily BABIP-related.

Unlike the Knights, the Birmingham Barons got off to a slow start, especially on the hitting side. But Barons pitchers have allowed the most hits of any team in the Southern League, yet are in the bottom three teams in runs per game allowed. The more concerning thing is that the average age of Barons pitchers is the second-oldest in the league at 25.7, an indication that there’s a lack of premium talent. The Barons hitters’ age, is right at average, so all is good there. At this point, the offense’s runs per game are in the lower end of the middle of the pack, but the Barons have only hit one home run in 10 games (Yermin Mercedes). Once the power numbers rise, Birmingham should go on a tear.

The Winston-Salem Dash have been a bit better than the Barons, but they’re a top-heavy team. The Dash are 5-6, and closer to last than first in their division right now. The offense has been real good, scoring almost five runs per game (heavily influenced by Luis Robert, especially in terms of power numbers). Like the Barons pitching staff, the Dash hitters are relatively old (the second-oldest group in the Carolina League) and Dash pitching, which has not been good, is the oldest in the Carolina League. The pitching has also allowed nearly five runs per game, but they are near the middle of the pack in most other categories, like WHIP and walks allowed.

If you’re looking for absent offense, look no further than the Kannapolis Intimidators. They are averaging a measly 3.22 runs per game on offense, and again, it is due to a lack of power (Luis Curbelo has the only I’s home run this year). But the I’s also have the fewest walks in the SALLY. Kannapolis’ batting average is in top half of the league, but it needs to show more power and plate discipline. The Intimidators pitching has been better, but not by a lot, as they average 4.5 runs allowed. However, this should regulate itself quickly. Kannapolis pitchers have walked the fewest batters in the league, and have tied for the third-fewest hits allowed. Where the staff has been burned is with the long ball, as it has allowed the most home runs — and by a healthy margin — so far.

Charlotte Knights

Zack Collins: .111 BA, 2 HR, 3 R, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K
Seby Zavala: .150 BA, 1 HR, 4 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K
Danny Mendick: .318 BA, 3 R, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 3 K, 1 SB
Nicky Delmonico: .238 BA, 2 R, 4 BB, 4 K
Ryan Cordell: .364 BA, 1 HR, 5 R, 5 RBI, 0 BB, 6 K
Thyago Vieira: 3 IP, 1.57 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Aaron Bummer: 1 IP, 7.57 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 9.0 BB/9 (returned from injury)
Dylan Covey: 3 IP, 0.91 FIP, 12.0 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Carson Fulmer: 4 23 IP, 1.86 FIP, 13.5 K/9, 3.86 BB/9
Caleb Frare: 2 IP, 1.07 FIP, 18.0 K/9, 4.50 BB/9 (was optioned to Charlotte this week)
Ian Hamilton: 2 IP, -0.43 FIP, 18.0 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Juan Minaya: 3 IP, 2.57 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Dylan Cease: 10 IP, 2.07 FIP, 8.1 K/9, 0.9 BB/9 ***MVP of the Week***
Spencer Adams: 4 IP, 8.32 FIP, 0.0 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
Jordan Stephens: 3 13 IP, 8.07 FIP, 13.5 K/9, 10.8 BB/9

Well, Dylan Cease got two starts last week, and let’s face it, he should win MVP of the Week every time that happens. Cease is still on an innings limit, which seems to preclude him from going deeper than five innings, but wow, are they ever a good five innings. In Cease’s 10 innings this season, he has walked only one batter, striking out nine. He hasn’t allowed a run yet — in fact, he’s barely allowed any good contact. What contact Cease has given up has only led to five hits, and a 60% ground ball rate. That, in a word, is dominant. From the footage of his starts, Cease’s fastball was hitting the upper 90s, floating from 97-99 mph, and his curveball looked good as well. Cease’s changeup is still coming along, but this has been a promising start.

Cease’s BIP spray chart.
Baseball Savant

As you can see, not many balls are leaving the infield for Cease so far in 2018, but even better, is his batted ball locations. The majority of batted balls against Cease go to the opposite field. That means he is just overpowering his competition in AAA, which is a great sign. He is not a “pitcher” yet, but his ability to throw fastballs by people is still encouraging and it shows with the opposite field rate of 52%. Just as an aside, only 4.4% of the batted balls are to center, that is impressive.

Birmingham Barons

Gavin Sheets: .250 BA, 3 R, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K
Laz Rivera: .286 BA, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K
Micker Adolfo: .273 BA, 2 R, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K
Joel Booker: .526 BA, 1 R, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
Blake Rutherford: .150 BA, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 SB
Luis Gonzalez: .304 BA, 5 R, 4 RBI , 3 BB, 4 K, 2 SB
Matt Foster: 1 23 IP, -0.47 FIP, 16.2 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Hunter Schyrver: 1 23 IP, 4.33 FIP, 10.8 K/9, 10.8 BB/9
Bernardo Flores: 6 IP, 1.96 FIP, 7.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 ***MVP of the Week***
Jimmy Lambert: 6 IP, 4.13 FIP, 12.0 K/9, 4.5 BB/9

Bernardo Flores is coming off of a dominant 2018, and that dominance has continued so far in 2019. Flores’ first start of the year was cut short due to weather, so this week was his first full start. While Flores was on his way to another quality start streak with his first outing, the weather allowed him to follow through on his promise in his second start, going six innings and only allowing one run. In total, Flores has pitched eight innings this season, with a 2.00 FIP and an improved K and BB rate. Of course, it is just eight innings total, but Flores will need to increase his K-rate from his 5.4 K/9 of last season if he wants to see the majors this year. Right now Flores’ K/9 is near 7.0, which it should be enough for him to advance, because he is not an overpowering pitcher and plays more to contact. However, Flores does need that contact to be soft, and on the ground. So far, in 2019, a 70% ground ball rate sounds good, though unsustainable. If he can maintain at least mid-50% at season’s end, this will be another productive season.

Winston-Salem Dash

Nick Madrigal:.429 BA, 1 R, 7 RBI, 0 BB, 0 K
Luis Robert: .435 BA, 2 HR, 8 R, 5 RBI, 0 BB, 4 K ***MVP of the Week***
Codi Heuer: 4 IP, 1.29 FIP, 11.25 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Alec Hansen: 2 IP, 2.79 FIP, 18.0 K/9, 9.0 BB/9
Blake Battenfield: 4 IP, 3.04 FIP, 13.5 K/9, 3.6 BB/9

Well, Robert did not achieve the impossible task of improving on his numbers of last week, although he sure did his best to. Through nine games this season, Robert is slashing .475/.512/1.015 — yeah, a slugging percentage of more than 1.000. Robert also has an ISO at .550 and a wRC+ at 320. Now, this is all unsustainable — it’s been nine games! But Robert is actually showing why scouts and fans are excited about him. The power is here, and boy is it ever here. He has five home runs, the most he has had since he was in Cuba. He is showing off his speed, with two triples and three stolen bases already. He even has an assist from center field, so Robert has shown all five tools in what has been an exciting nine-game span. What is even more exciting is just looking at where those base hits have gone, as Robert has a miniscule 23% ground ball rate:

Luis Robert base hits spray chart.
Baseball Savant

This cannot keep up (right?), but it does seem like Robert is ready for the next level, though for myriad reasons, it may be for awhile. What can be said now is that Luis Robert has arrived — he needs only to stay healthy for the season.

Kannapolis Intimidators

Gunnar Troutwine: .375 BA, 3 R, 4 BB, 3 K
Bryce Bush: .095 BA, 3 RBI, 0 BB, 8 K
Luis Curbelo: .143 BA, 1 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 11 K
Lenyn Sosa: .200 BA, 2 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K
Steele Walker: .400 BA, 2 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 SB ***MVP of the Week***
Wilber Perez: 3 IP, 2.11 FIP, 12.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Andrew Perez: 2 IP, -0.22 FIP, 18.0 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Bennett Sousa: 4 IP, 3.28 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
Jason Bilous: 1 IP, 25.78 FIP, 18.00 K/9, 0.0 BB/9
Jonathan Stiever: 4 IP, 4.03 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 6.75 BB/9
Davis Martin: 6 13 IP, 9.62 FIP, 5.68 K/9, 1.42 BB/9
Kade McClure: 4 IP, 2.53 FIP, 15.75 K/9, 4.5 BB/9
Konnor Pilkington: 6 IP, 3.78 FIP, 12.0 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

Steele Walker has looked great so far in his first full season of pro ball. He has a slash line of .333/.385/.576, for a sweet 168 wRC+. Not only that, but Walker has six extra-base hits so far, one more than he has singles. Walker has not hit one out yet, but that is coming. His plate discipline, through nine games, has also looked better: His walk rate is up to 7.7% right now and the K-rate has fallen about 6% compared to last season. On top of the plate discipline improvement, Walker is hitting the ball hard. Though he has his more grounders than fly balls, if you add his line drive percentage to his fly ball rate, more than 60% of his batted balls leave the infield. With his pull rate at 46.4% and center rate at 39.3%, Walker is hitting the ball hard, and well. Just to hit that point home, Walker has not even hit an infield fly yet. It is still early, but the returns are great for a player looking to be in Winston-Salem as the first half of the season ends.