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Scouting the California League: Tyler Beede, Keury Mella, Brett Phillips, & more

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Opening weekend in the California League kicked off with a bang, as San Jose's visit to Lancaster included several top 10 organizational talents and plenty of other interesting prospects.

Keury Mella goes to work in the Lancaster Bullpen (4/11/15)
Keury Mella goes to work in the Lancaster Bullpen (4/11/15)

(Editor's Note: I promised Part II of my California League Preview this week, but I'll be unavailable to get to games for the next week and change on account of a new baby's expected arrival. So figured I'd forward some firsthand reports from opening weekend instead while I had the opportunity and save the more "evergreen" preview for next week.)

Tyler Beede, RHP San Jose Giants

The former Vanderbilt ace and two-time first rounder made his season debut with the winds howling in Lancaster and acquitted himself well, integrating some new wrinkles into what was already considered by team sources to be a solid starter’s arsenal. Beede’s listed 6’4", 200 pound size looks about right, with maybe a handful of good pounds tacked on and a good baseline athleticism and flexibility standing out about his physicality. It’s a limber frame, his movements are fluid and smooth, and he presents the ingredients of durability to handle 32-plus starts annually.

His wind-up features a slight rock into his turn, and he keeps a nice tall posture through his leg kick. The angle of his spine tilt can migrate a bit as his hands break, leading to some inconsistency in the path of his takeaway and trouble with repetition in getting to his release point. The hands themselves stay consistent and tight around the letters, and the arm action is not particularly long.

It appears to be an issue of getting his balance and weight distribution more consistent and on time. His command wavered at times throughout this start as his release point danced around on, and he spent much of the evening working from behind. Given the athleticism and agility he should have the tools needed to address the issue as he progresses.

The release is a true three-quarter, and he’s able to generate excellent extension with a long, consistent stride. His release is clean into a deep, controlled deceleration of the arm and modest recoil, while his backside fires through with good finish. He gets over his front side consistently and efficiently, and aside from the balance issue there aren’t really any major red flags in the delivery.

The stuff showed well when the command was there. He worked primarily off a new two-seamer at 91-93 that showed solid run down in the zone and induced a whole bunch of weak groundball contact. The movement was inconsistent pitch to pitch, which is unsurprising given his lack of experience in deploying it. But it proved a difficult pitch to square and showed elements of a plus pitch.

He also unveiled a tight cutter at 87-89 that worked well off the two-seamer, with enough break to generate foul balls and a couple weak grounders while behind in the count. It’s a raw pitch, but according to reports from Arizona he’s already made notable strides in tightening up the pitch and the first returns from game action were encouraging.

His curve worked in the low-80’s with some solid depth, but he threw some rollers that lacked a ton of bite or horizontal jump in their 11-to-5 shape. The change-up also flashed as somewhere around an average pitch, with some showing solid drop while others held their plane.

Overall this was an impressive outing for Beede, who managed to introduce some new elements into his attack while neutralizing a potent lineup in a difficult pitching environment. The mechanical inconsistency is there, but so is the opportunity to overcome it with further development and refinement. Beede’s arsenal did not present as a dominant one with multiple swing-and-miss offerings, but it’s a very solid, versatile package with complimentary pieces. If the command progresses accordingly there’s a potentially very good three starter here.

Keury Mella, RHP San Jose Giants

The 21-year old Dominican fireballer made his High-A debut this weekend as well. His listed 200 pounds is condensed into a thick lower half and backside, and everything about his movement is loose. He starts from almost a half-stretch position, body pointed halfway between home and third, and takes a very small step back to begin his wind; he doesn’t generate much momentum at all at this stage, instead saving that work for the leg kick. His shoulders tuck in at takeaway with his hands at the letters, and he uses an exaggerated, rhythmic sweep of his leg where he pigeons his knee in before drawing it back to generate his forward momentum.

There’s some cross-body action that ensues as a result, with his plant foot not quite making it all the way back to perpendicular at foot strike. The arm action is exceedingly loose, with a long, deliberate drag behind his body before his plus arm speed saves the day to get him reasonably positioned at release. It’s a much less than ideal progression in that regard, and there’s ample opportunity for him to lose his arm slot and timing along the way.

His balance and cadence is good enough to where he largely kept it together in this start, but in addition to the requisite command concerns there’s also some undue stress on the shoulder in his motion. Given that he missed a chunk of time with a sore rotator cuff last summer it’s a flag well worth noting.

Stuff-wise, it’s all about the fastball with Mella right now. His four-seamer sat comfortably at 93-95 all day, topping out frequently at 96, and the pitch is explosive. His arm slot is a high-ish three-quarter, and between his coil and the late arrival of his arm at release the ball really jumps out of his hand. It’s a difficult pitch to track, generating ample swing-and-miss and weak foul contact consistently. With the velocity bordering on double-plus and some natural tail the pitch can play to a true 70-grade with even modest tightening of his command.

Mella’s curveball was much less consistent in this start, especially early on. The velocity wandered between 76 and 81, with a rolling shape at the lower end and very inconsistent release out of his hand. He lost what felt like every other offering high to the arm side over the first couple innings before settling in and snapping the pitch more consistently in the 79-81 band later on. At the higher velocity the pitch finished well, with two-plane movement and late break. Command concerns limit the projection of this pitch to the 50/55 range for me, and it plays a bit below average at present.

His change worked in the 83-86 range and showed decent tumbling action. He’s certainly got the arm angle to develop a good one, but the length of his arm action makes me question if he’ll be able to get consistently on top of the pitch to make it play to an average offering.

Overall Mella has a no-doubt Major League fastball wrapped up in some significant concerns about durability, mechanical repetition, and secondary development. I’m not sure the delivery is geared to hold up over the course of 180-plus innings, though he physically looks the part of a starter. The secondaries lag significantly behind the fastball at this point, but the heater is good enough for him to dominate High-A hitters for the time being while he works on them.

Other Notes:

Brett Phillips’ swing looks quicker to the ball in the early going. I noted in a previous write-up that he had to compromise his hit tool potential some to get to his average pull-side power in games, but he seems to have taken steps to turn on the ball more efficiently. It’s obviously a small sample size of at-bats thus far, but that would be a very encouraging step forward in Phillips’ development. Meanwhile, he twice showed 60-65 speed out of the box, posting a 4.04 on a double-play dig and a 4.11 on another grounder. That’s a full grade’s worth of improvement from any previous clock I’d had on him.

Lancaster’s Edison Frias worked as their tandem starter on Opening Day, earning the "W" with four impressive innings in relief. He showed a very intriguing three-pitch mix, sitting comfortably at 93-94 and topping out at 95 with a heavy fastball that generated swings-and-misses and grounders alike. His curveball at 80-81 flashed two-plane break, and while he lost a few firm change-ups arm-side at 86-87 that pitch also showed flashes of above-average potential with good tumbling action when he got on top of it. He showed particular confidence in the latter pitch, doubling up on multiple occasions and working it against right-handers. At 24 he’s old for the level, but the stuff looked legitimate and he pitched pretty well at Quad Cities over his final 11 starts last year (3.16 ERA, 45:10 K:BB in 51 1/3 innings). Someone to keep an eye on as a potential late bloomer.

2013 first rounder Christian Arroyo showed plenty of good and bad over the couple games I caught. The assignment to High-A was an aggressive one, and while there was ample evidence of big league potential his developmental path is going to be long. His at-bats are inconsistent at present, with a couple of wicked line drives to the pull side in fastball counts mixed in with some troubles adjusting to off-speed and resisting gas out of the zone. He showed the instincts and lateral quickness of a shortstop, but also lollygagged an inning-ending throw to first with the bases loaded and made a boneheaded base-running mistake turning widely around third and getting caught on a throw-behind. I didn’t see anything to suggest a first division future at short, but the skillset is broad if raw.

Ryder Jones (San Jose) showed some of the promise I referenced in my league preview last week while exposing significant vulnerability as well. He drilled a tough inside fastball in a lefty-on-lefty matchup over the right field fence on Opening Night, but also stumbled through several poor at-bats in which he struggled routinely to identify breaking balls. He’s an average runner with decent instincts and a playable arm at third, but the bat looked quite raw against even basic sequencing and execution.

Tyler Horan’s old for the level, but his power is every bit legit. The swing is very basic, with a quiet load and powerful stride, though he’s a little stiff and can be vulnerable to balance issues against offspeed-heavy sequencing. His swing has good plane though, with the bat getting into the zone quickly at a nice angle for generating pull-side power. He showed 50-grade run and throw tools, with enough athleticism to play an average right field. High minors arms will be a big test for him, but there’s a potential big league bench bat here.

A.J. Reed, Chase McDonald, and to a lesser extent J.D. Davis are massive human beings who should hit a whole bunch of bombs into the desert winds this summer. McDonald was the only hitter in the Lancaster lineup to get to Tyler Beede, smoking doubles to each gap in his two trips. He showed a surprisingly quick, direct bat path for a man his size, and ended up impressing more with both approach and results than fellow first-sacker Reed. Reed’s bat speed surprised as below-average, and he doesn’t generate a ton of separation or torque with his hips. The profile is extremely limited, and he’s going to need to hit bombs in bunches to justify his second round status.