Typically, when RotoExperts goes to the Park, Scott Engel is taking a look at one of the 30 teams at the big-league level. But before the stars of Major League Baseball reach the highest level of competitive baseball, they pay their dues in the minor leagues.
For this edition of the RotoExperts At The Park, I went out to Coca Cola Park in Allentown, Pa., to check out the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Not only would this make for a good matchup with high-profile prospects normally, but Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez was beginning his rehab assignment on the day I was there, as he was working his way back from a biceps injury.
Among other takeaways, I was able to get Sanchez’ thoughts on his first game back, as well as his manager’s takeaways from what he saw.
Sanchez Showed Little Signs of Rust
Prior to the game, Sanchez was putting on a show in batting practice despite the whirling winds that was keeping a lot of fly balls at bay. One teammate of Sanchez told me “it’s like he’s playing against little leaguers here.” And it only took one pitch for Sanchez to show that his teammate may have been right. On the first pitch he saw, Sanchez took a Mark Appel fastball over the right field fence for a home run. Sanchez hit a double off the top of the outfield wall in his third at-bat of the game before smoking a ball foul in his fourth time up.
— Michael Waterloo (@MichaelWaterloo) May 3, 2017
Following the game, Sanchez spoke to RotoExperts and other reporters about how he felt in his return to the field and if he would be ready ahead of time if the Yankees needed him.
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Manager Al Pedrique is no stranger to Sanchez, as he spent last year as his manager at Triple-A. So, when he saw him go after the first pitch he saw in his rehab assignment and plant it in the seats, it came as no surprise to him. Pedrique checked on Sanchez throughout the game to make sure he was feeling OK, and he got the thumbs up every time.
The RailRiders’ manager also said that as important as it was to see him perform offensively, it was just as important to see him healthy and get through a full game (7 innings, actually) behind the plate, too. The one thing he wishes that he saw, though, was a baserunner attempt a steal against Sanchez.
Frazier is Biding His Time in Triple-A
Clint Frazier was the key piece in the deal that sent Andrew Miller to Cleveland last year. Despite being forced to cut his trademark flowing hair, Frazier isn’t pulling a Samson, as he’s kept his power. But is that all he’s known for?
I chatted with Frazier before the game to get his take on his approach at the plate, having Sanchez around and how much he’s looking forward to being up in New York.
On being a part of the next wave of Bronx Bombers:
Frazier: “It’s exciting for everybody. Not only for the big-league team, but for the organization as a whole. It’s really exciting for the other guys in the clubhouse to aspire to get there this year or next year. Whenever that may be.”
Waterloo’s View: With the way the Yankees are swinging the bats to start the season and the adjustments that Aaron Judge has made at the plate to become a more complete hitter, adding Frazier to the lineup next year as a full-time addition makes the Yankees scary for years to come … and they didn’t even have to empty the bank this time.
On having Gary Sanchez around the clubhouse:
Frazier: “It’s unfortunate that he’s not able to be up there, but for us, it’s good to be able to be around him and see him in person and pick his brain to steal whatever we can from him. It’s just a matter of getting him out of here to get him back up there to help the team. I’m excited to be here with him. I haven’t talked to him much about any baseball things since I just saw him today, but he’s fun to watch in batting practice with the wind out there swirling. For him to be able to hit home runs speaks volumes about the kind of power that he possesses.”
Waterloo’s View: During Sanchez’ final round of batting practice, Frazier came out to get ready for his turn in the cage. Frazier’s eyes were locked in on Sanchez as he took his hacks. With the debut he made last year, I believe Frazier when he said that he and his teammates were going to pick his brain as much as possible.
On if he’s trying to be known as more than just a power hitter and make the adjustments like Judge has this year:
Frazier: “Yeah. You know, I’m trying to refine all parts of my game to be a better teammate and be a better person. All of that will translate on the field and make me more comfortable when I step up to the box every time.”
Waterloo’s View: It’s a very cliché answer, which is expected. Frazier’s most well-struck ball of the night to me resulted in a fly out, but he attacked an opening in the left-centerfield gap. Like Judge, Frazier could use adjustments at the plate to be a more complete hitter. This year, in a small sample, he has lowered his strikeout rate from 28.2 percent last year to 22.9 percent this year, while seeing his walk rate go up from 6.5 percent to 10.4 percent. He’s still a pull-heavy hitter, so that’s the next adjustment to tackle in his development.
On hitters adjusting their swings and launch angles to try to hit the ball in the air more:
Frazier: “I haven’t heard anyone talk about launch angle or exit velocity this year. That’s part of the game right now, but I think it’s just about putting the barrel on the ball and whatever happens after that isn’t in your control.”
Waterloo’s View: I know that teams are paying attention to launch angles and exit velocities on every team throughout the league, and more times than not, it’s translating to the lower levels. There isn’t as high of an emphasis on it in the minors as there is in the majors as players are still developing, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t mentioned at all to Frazier.
On Fantasy sports:
Frazier: “I’ve never played Fantasy Baseball before. I’m not much of a sports guy outside of the field, but I know a lot of people have fun doing it. As far as it goes for me, I’m not a big Fantasy guy. Mainly Fantasy Football if I do anything.”
Waterloo’s View: It’s good for Frazier to disconnect off the field, but Fantasy is going to become more and more of a part of his life sooner as he gets closer to New York.
This is the third time that I’ve seen J.P. Crawford play in person. For the third time, I’ve left unimpressed. Two years ago, when he was at Reading, Crawford told me he really just wants to get to the big leagues. It’s not uncommon for a player to just put it in cruise control in the minors. Take Francisco Lindor for example. On the day he debuted in Cleveland, he told me that he accomplished all he could in the minors and he was just ready to get the call. The thing is, Lindor was still producing in the minors, whereas Crawford hasn’t shown that growth quite yet. Crawford is still overvalued in dynasty leagues, and he’ll be a better real life player than a Fantasy player … Roman Quinn impressed in Spring Training for the Phillies, and it’s just a matter of time until he gets the call. “He’s a much better Billy Hamilton,” a scout told me. “His on-base skills and power play better than Hamilton’s, and his speed isn’t too far behind.” Quinn will be a player that Fantasy owners need to target, as he provides much-needed speed. His approach at the plate fits his skill set, as he’s hitting the ball on the ground 48.1 percent of the time. Unlike players who are adjusting their launch angles like Ryan Zimmerman and Yonder Alonso, to name a couple, Quinn’s success will come on the ground with the type of speed he has with his .386 BABIP … “Their power can play anywhere. If they are in Oakland, they will both his 35 homers.” Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins put on a show last year, as they combined for 78 homers. Double-A Reading is a hitter’s park, though, so the big test was how the power would translate in the more neutral Coca Cola Park. So far, so good, as Hoskins and Cozens have 11 homers in 24 games so far. They should be on your Fantasy radar now, with Hoskins having the higher ceiling of the two … As good as Jorge Alfaro is behind the plate, I’m just not sold on him at the dish. He has .351 average and a .453 BABIP, which are both out of the ordinary for him. He doesn’t walk (2.5 percent) and he strikes out 25 percent of the time. Sorry, but I’m not buying the hype for Fantasy.