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Scouting the California League: Notes from Lancaster & Modesto

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Firsthand reports on Raimel Tapia, Ryan McMahon, Antonio Senzatela, Brett Phillips, and others from the weekend series in Lancaster.

Rockies #6 prospect Raimel Tapia leads a stacked Modesto offense this spring
Rockies #6 prospect Raimel Tapia leads a stacked Modesto offense this spring
Ricky Bassman/MiLB.com

I had something of a snake-bitten weekend of scouting this series, as BP was cancelled on Saturday thanks to some oddly dodgy weather and Sunday's lineup on both sides lacked notable fire power. I'll catch Modesto again shortly, though, and will have more in-depth write-ups of their position players in a couple weeks.

Antonio Senzatela, RHP COL

The live-armed Venezuelan righthander quietly slotted in 12th on John’s pre-season list, and the appeal is apparent if somewhat unexpected. He stands a listed 6’1", 185 pounds, though I’m not sure he’s quite that tall or lean, and he comes from the far third base side of the rubber. He’ll maintain strong posture through his takeaway, with a high hand set that keeps migrating north as he rocks and kicks. The hand break occurs late, with his back turned to three-quarters and a steep angle to his spine tilt. The ensuing stride is somewhat short, and he cross-fires from a three-quarter slot with a cut-off finish that has him drawing his back leg only to around parallel with his plant.

The whole wind-up is lo-fi, with a short, well-controlled arm action at all phases from takeaway through deceleration and recoil. There's very little evidence to suggest he can generate plus-or-better velocity, and yet somehow that’s just what he does. His fastball primarily worked at 92-94 with a heavy, boring sink to it, and he ran it up to 95-96 when he wanted to elevate ahead in the count. He showed solid command of the pitch at the lower end of the velocity band, though he struggled to corral the movement on harder offerings. There’s 65-grade velocity and life on the pitch, though some command inconsistencies at present had the pitch playing to a 55/60.

He lacked much in the way of feel for a secondary arsenal on this particular day, however, working instead off a fastball-centric gameplan that caused some problems as his outing wore on. His slider probably showed the most mount of promise of the bunch, with some vertical drop in the low 80’s and inconsistent flashes of two-plane jump. His change-up showed solid separation at 82-86, but he struggled to generate much movement with the pitch or command it consistently down in the zone. He also threw a handful of what appeared to be curveballs in the high-70’s that took a slurvy shape and showed as a fringy piece.

There’s a fiery mound presence worth mentioning here as well. He’s a fast worker, and he showed frequent visible frustration when things didn’t go his way, snapping at return throws and stomping around the bump.

Perhaps the most notable thing to point out about Senzatela is his youth: he just turned 20 in January, making him roughly three years younger than his High-A competition. 20 year-olds with this kind of easy velocity and plus life on their fastballs don’t grow on trees, and the Rockies are going to have the luxury of giving him all the time he needs to hone his secondaries. If he can get just one of them up into the 50-grade range he’ll have the makings of a quality bullpen arm, and there’s potential for more if the supporting arsenal develops.

Edison Frias, RHP HOU

This was my second time catching Frias on the young season, and I’ve come away impressed both times. As I noted previously, he’s old for the level and he hadn’t really done much until the second half last season at Quad Cities, where he quietly put together a nice run of eleven starts to close the year. He offers an intriguing mix of stuff and pitchability though, and shows the ingredients of a future Major League arm.

He stands at a physically maxed-out 6’1" 180, which is a less-than-ideal frame. He's fairly athletic, however, with a well-proportioned build. There’s some effort in his delivery, which I’ll get to, but he ultimately generates solid extension from a high three-quarter slot. It’s not a particularly deceptive delivery, but he maximizes his length effectively to generate strong plane for his height.

The effort I referenced stems largely from an unbalanced weight transfer that has him surging from inconsistent angles to his release point. He dips his head down as he brings his hands up over his head, an extraneous movement that tweaks his center of gravity right from the jump. His hand break is also a bit early, and the timing from that point to his push-off will vary, leading to the force of his push altering from pitch to pitch. He uses a firm plant leg to catapult over his front side, and the timing issues generally manifest in him being a little late to his release point and missing up in the zone. He’s struggled to bury his curve ahead in the count in both looks now, for example, and that’s a symptom of this problem.

On the plus side, he features a very solid three pitch mix, and he has the confidence to throw both his secondaries in any count. He’ll double, triple, and even quadruple up on both his change and his curve, and he’s particularly adept at stealing strikes with first-pitch hooks. And for all the inconsistencies in his delivery he shows above-average control of all three pitches.

His fastball has sat 93-94 in both viewings, topping out at 95 in the season opener but never quite grasping the high end this past weekend. In the stretch he’ll lose a tick or two, but he’s generally held his velocity and movement well through both starts. He’ll work the pitch comfortably to each quadrant, though it can flatten out up in the zone and lose its run. It projects to a solid-average offering given the velocity and baseline control, but without greater mechanical consistency the command’s not going to tighten enough for it to play above.

The change-up, on the other hand, shows true plus projection. He demonstrates an advanced feel for the pitch, maintaining arm speed and consistently manipulating two-plane arm-side movement with seven-to-ten mile an hour separation off the heater. I like his moxie with the pitch; he’ll throw it without hesitation as a strikeout pitch down and in to right-handed hitters, and he’ll open at-bats with it almost as often as he’ll throw a first-pitch fastball.

The curve also flashes plus potential, though his command and consistency at release of the pitch lags behind his change at present. He’ll show tight break at 80-82, though the pitch has a tendency to lollygag in the high seventies and lose its bite. As with the change he shows a notable confidence in the pitch and will deploy it in all counts and situations.

I don’t think this guy’s going to be a Cy Young contender for the Astros or anything, but given the stuff he’s shown in two looks now his omission from virtually every pre-season discussion of the Houston system seems like a notable oversight. There’s some back-end potential here with further refinement of a perfectly adequate starter’s arsenal.

Other Notes:

Raimel Tapia has to be one of the more unique and interesting hitters in the minor leagues. My buddies and I used to call Alfonso Soriano "the Puma" on account of the way he crouched down and waggled the bat before he'd pounce on a pitch, and Tapia’s approach to hitting reminds me of Soriano in that regard. He started most of the time Saturday from an extremely wide base, sometimes fully bowing his knees out to boot, before a pronounced weight shift to his back leg and an enormous load with his hands at delivery. His hands start high to his ear and will migrate as much as a foot-and-a-half as he prepares to hit. Coupled with some significant lower half movement through an elongated toe tap progression that kind of pre-swing movement is usually a big ol’ red flag for me, but he showed an uncanny ability to lock himself into launch position.

The swing itself is pure, controlled aggression, and I mean that in the best way possible. He shows well above-average bat speed and the ability to generate extreme torque with his hips with an early fire of his lower half. It’s a swing that looks long to the naked eye, but then when you go back and look at it on video it only appears that way because the bat roared through the zone on plane for so long.

He’s an extremely aggressive hitter, looking to drive the ball on every pitch, and he appears to pick up pitches and track very well. He swung at pretty much every pitch within earshot of the strike zone on Saturday, getting himself out on a change-up out of the zone in the Frias video above. I’m not quite sure how the approach will play against more advanced arms, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of Tapia to get a better sense of just how good the hand-eye and barrel ability can be.

The other marquee name in the Modesto lineup is third baseman Ryan McMahon, and I came away from my brief look at him almost as impressed as I was with Tapia. He’s got a long frame with sneaky strength, and the shoulders suggest he can continue to take on a few additional pounds of good weight without compromising his agility and athleticism.

He’s the only Modesto hitter I was able to catch for some BP, and I liked the swing a lot. He’s surprisingly efficient in compacting his length into a direct, rhythmic swing. His hands are loose and strong, and he utilizes a strong front shoulder to drag the bat head on line and into the zone early. The bat path is generally very direct, he covers the outer half well, and he gets excellent extension through the entirety of the zone to a long finish.

I’m not willing to peg a number to the raw power just yet, but he got great sound and showed an impressive feel for barreling the ball in the cages. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there was legitimately playable plus power in the swing, and I’ll look forward to confirming or denying that in the near future.

In the field he has the makings of a perfectly passable third baseman, with solid-average foot speed and lateral quickness. He maintains his body control well on throws in motion and displayed an accurate arm with at least average velocity.

Correlle Prime is a big ol’ hulk of a man at 6’5" and about 230, and his raw power was well on display Sunday when he hit a grand slam deep into the Lancaster afternoon. With the good there was plenty of bad and ugly as well, however, as the overall approach and general utility of the power both look to be riddled with question marks. After ripping a first-pitch fastball from Frias foul in his first at-bat Saturday he was subsequently eaten alive by a steady diet of off-speed pitches for the rest of the night, and he didn’t demonstrate much of an ability to adjust or stay balanced in the box. There’s a lot of length and momentum in his swing, and once the parts start moving he commits to his swing pretty early on. Defensively, I saw him taking some extra work fielding short hops at the bag. He’s not a particularly fluid defender, with choppy steps and footwork and a deliberate receiving technique. Overall he showed a fringy defensive and hit profile, but the very legit power and organizational context should keep him firmly on the radar for the time being.

Big A.J. Reed’s bat showed some signs of life this weekend after a slow start. He’s strong as an ox, and while he hasn’t been shy about jumping first-pitch fastballs he’s also shown an impressive ability to consistently manage the strike zone and work himself into good counts. When he does turn on a pitch the hips will stay relatively on line while his shoulders and arms lead the way and do most of the dirty work to generate his bat speed. He's fairly stiff in his approach to the hitting zone, and I still don’t love the projection, but he barreled a couple balls this weekend in most impressive fashion and shows an ability to bring his power into games with him.

For the second series in a row I got Brett Phillips on significantly faster clocks to first than he posted for me at any point in 2014. On Saturday I got him with a sub-4.0 time on a double play dig, followed by a 4.18 with a half-step check-up on a grounder to second in his next at bat. The DP grounder was on a rolled swing where he launched right into his first step, but regardless the takeaway here is that in the early going he’s showing consistent 65-grade speed down the line where he didn’t show that last season. He also appears to be making a conscious effort to be more aggressive in the box thus far, attacking earlier in the count than he did last season and generally swinging more frequently. I’m only going on three games-worth of firsthand account so far, so take the observation for what it’s worth, but the early numbers (10:2 K:BB) indicate there may indeed be something to this end brewing with his approach. Despite my earlier note that he looks a bit quicker to the ball on the inner third thus far I’m not sure the evolved approach would be a net-positive for his offensive profile unless I’m really underrating what I see as a 50 future hit tool in a best-case outcome.