Here are my non-authoritative notes and impressions on a new wave of prospects in the majors, or those likely to arrive soon. I'm hoping to make it a regular occurrence. And although not explicitly an article on the New Wave that applies to music in the 1980's, you're also welcome to debate in the comments whether Marr or Morrissey were ultimately more important to the sound of The Smiths.
Kyle Schwarber's Super-Coordinated Hands
Newly initiated Cubs catcher Kyle Schwarber has formidable and obvious attributes in the batter's box. In particular, I'd point to his superb hand and eye coordination as the lynchpin of his success. Like other Cubs masher Anthony Rizzo, he begins his at-bats by resting the bat quietly on his shoulder before he begins to load, which saves the energy and strength for when it's really needed, to whip the bat through the zone.
In keeping with this ‘quiet' approach, Schwarber's hands seem to concentrate on squaring the ball with the sweetspot of the bat, rather than swinging to optimize bat speed. Schwarber's extremely selective for what pitches he wants to swing at, even with two strikes.
All this amounts to an impressive intelligence and coherent plan for producing good outcomes, startlingly so for someone who's been in The Show for all of two weeks. The only possible critique I could muster at present would be that he can get off-balance with his legs and base, but his hands are so good that they are still able to wait back to the last millisecond and still make scorching contact. The Cubs indeed have a potential row of hitters to induce fantods for pitchers for years to come, but if I were to pick one of Rizzo, Bryant, Schwarber and Soler to hit for the highest average, it'd be the sturdy former linebacker, Schwarber.
Aaron Nola's Breaking Ball Variations
Aaron Nola has the undeniable look of an Innings Eater; he's tall, thick-haunched, yet has lithe mechanics. The Phillies rookie has shown excellent fastball command, with arm-side run and mastery of throwing to the low and outside corner of the zone, Kryptonite for almost every hitter. He seems to be especially tough on right handers.
One weakness that I saw in his repertoire, however, was a breaking-ball that gets too slurvy or loopy at times, moving both horizontally and vertically at once, though neither movement is sharp. Nola throws the breaking ball in variations, which can keep a hitter guessing, but I suspect MLB hitters will not often be fooled by this floater version of the breaking ball. The more traditional breaking-balls look very promising, though: the slider has late, darting movement, and the curve, almost 12-6, is sharp and a true strikeout pitch.
As often can happen with a strike-thrower, Nola has a propensity for getting too much of the plate early in the count, especially with the fastball, which I saw hitters take advantage of even in AAA. I expect that he'll go through a period where he's knocked around the yard by hitters looking for that meaty first pitch. But Nola's certainly capable of adjusting, with what looks like a polished repertoire overall, adding in a change up that he uses fairly often.
He'll probably always be vulnerable to home runs, especially in Philadelphia. But there's considerable value in a pitcher with his profile, especially over the length of a season. His presence on the mound can seem, paradoxically, absent of personality: whether that's a good thing or not, who knows?