On Thursday night I made the trip to Geneva, Illinois to watch the Kane County Cougars host the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. While this particular game was not loaded with huge prospects, there are a few interesting under-the-radar players on each of these rosters. In this piece I will focus on a couple of names from the Brewers system before coming back to the Diamondbacks roster in a separate post.
One name I identified on the Wisconsin roster to check out this year was right-handed pitcher Angel Ventura. On a Wisconsin staff that includes higher profile arms like Kodi Medeiros, Devin Williams, and now Cody Ponce, Ventura has largely flown under the radar this season. I felt an examination of his stat line warranted a closer look and I got my chance on Thursday.
Ventura is slightly older than average for the Midwest League at 22, but a player averaging a strikeout per inning in any league merits at least a deeper examination of his talents. Add in a propensity for rolling ground balls with decent control and you have the makings of an interesting arm.
On Thursday, Ventura worked at 90-92 while topping out at 94. The fastball was fairly straight and as his 11 hits allowed will attest, he wasn't fooling anybody on this night. His low-80s slider showed decent break, but he was far too reliant on his fastball in this game. He showed inconsistent mechanics, effort in his delivery, and below average command as well. His 6'2", 185 pound frame does not offer much projection as his lower half is already well filled out.
Unfortunately, I witnessed what was easily his worst start of the season to date. Allowing 14 base runners and nine earned runs in 4.2 innings will put a dent in anybody's line. Ventura's ERA rose by a full run to 3.84 and his WHIP for the season went from interesting to 'meh' pretty quickly. For a player like Ventura, who must continue to prove himself every step of the way, such outings are problematic. At this point, I think he is still worth monitoring based on what could be a plus fastball/average slider combo and his overall body of work this season, but he was nothing more than a potential middle reliever for me.
The other Brewers prospect worth noting was center fielder Brandon Diaz. An 8th round pick out of American Heritage High School in Florida in 2013, Diaz hit the ground running with a 141 WRC+ mark in the Arizona League in 2013. His production slipped last year as he posted a below average line in the Pioneer League. Diaz appears to be getting back on track a bit in 2015 as he is currently hitting .234/.353/.361 good for a 115 WRC+ in a pitcher friendly league.
At 5'11", 175 pounds, the right-handed hitting Diaz is well built for his size, but lacks the drool-inducing frame of so many toolsy outfield prospects in the lower levels. Diaz is interesting first and foremost because of his excellent speed. I had him at 3.92 seconds to first base on a bunt single. He also showed the ability to use his speed on defense as he had a great effort ranging from his starting point in right center to the wall in left center before having the ball fall in off his glove at full speed.
The play was about as impressive as possible given that he didn't actually catch the ball. The read and route were crisp and the closing speed was excellent, he just couldn't quite finish the play. His arm looked to be average as well. We are looking at speed that is at least 70 which should translate into at least plus defense in the outfield as well.
A player with this kind of speed and defensive profile will get every opportunity to develop the remaining elements of his game. For Diaz, his ultimate ceiling will be tied to his bat. In this game it was clear that Diaz is working on refining an offensive approach that will allow him to get on base and make use of his speed. He was extremely patient, perhaps to the point of being passive as he only swung the bat a handful of times in five trips to the plate. The results were fairly typical of his season so far as he earned a walk to go with his bunt single, but also struck out twice looking.
In 72 games so far this season, Diaz has walked 42 times giving him a strong OBP despite a low batting average. Unfortunately, he has also struck out 75 times helping to drag down his batting average and overall offensive production. With solid bat speed, athleticism, and strength, I believe Diaz has the tools to hit some down the line, but there is clearly some work to be done here as he tries to develop his approach.
Diaz is an interesting player to track going forward. A player with this kind of speed and defense does not need to provide much offense to have value as he climbs the ladder. Diaz has already demonstrated the ability to be an above average offensive player in the lower levels despite the overall rawness of his offensive game. A refined approach that helps him cut down his strikeout rate would make him very intriguing indeed.
I will check in with my notes on the Diamondbacks prospects playing for Kane County next time.