This is the fourth article in the series where I go team by team through the South Atlantic League (Sally). I look at the guys I was excited to see coming into the season and how they performed to this point while also highlighting the breakout performers. Previously I covered the Augusta Green Jackets (Giants), the Asheville Tourists (Rockies) and the Savannah Sand Gnats (Mets). Today it's a look at the Lexington Legends (Royals)
I've seen the Legends three times this season, they're a pretty talented group, definitely above average. Coming into the season I didn't recognize many players on the roster as most of the top draft picks were held back in extended spring training. Chase Vallot, Foster Griffin, and Scott Blewett all arrived around mid to late May. I was looking forward to seeing Elier Hernandez and Ryan O'Hearn though and Corey Toups, Wander Franco and Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado are potentially interesting
LHP) Foster Griffin, Age 20, Bats right, Throws left
Checking in at 6-foot-3 and weighing in at 200 lbs, Griffin was the Royals first round pick (28th overall) in 2014 as a prep pitcher out of "The First Academy" Orlando Fl. He was heralded as having three average or better pitches with good command. I haven't seen him this season but he's having a rough go of it. In addition to getting lit up he's striking out just 16.2% of the batters he's faced. His ERA is 6.55 but his FIP is 4.35, over two runs better. He's given up a ton of hits but 54% of the balls in play have been on the ground. So he's at least somewhat been victimized by his defense. He's not showing the improvement you want to see though. In his last five starts Griffin has pitched just 21.1 Inn and he's allowed 16 ER on 34 Hits with 8 BB's and 14 strikeouts. Unfortunately it wasn't one bad start as he's been pretty shaky in all of them. I've been looking for a recent article written by someone who's seen him to link to, but there doesn't appear to be anything written since the off season. I guess we'll know more soon.
1B) Ryan O'Hearn, Age 22, Bats left, Throws left
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs, I would guess he's closer to 220 at this point. He hits with a closed stance, has a fast bat and a long swing with some lift. O'Hearn hit 19 home runs in the first half of the season and he's shown he can hit the ball out to any part of the park though most of his HR's are to his pull side or to dead center. He has some swing and miss in his game which you'd expect from a big swing. The most surprising statistic I've found in my research is the lack of fly balls off of his bat, just 28% of his batted ball have been fly balls and he sports a 50% ground ball rate. As a comparison I looked at a couple of left handed thumping first basemen who have hit a lot of HR's in their career. Jim Thome's ground ball and fly ball rates fluctuated between 35%-45% and Ryan Howard had a 29% fly ball rate in his second season. Almost every other year he was between 36%- 44%. This may not be a fair comparison as O'Hearn is still in A ball but it's something to watch for. I wonder if he could benefit from an open stance, it seems most of the power guys have incorporated one.
RF) Elier Hernandez, Age 20, Bats right, Throws right
Listed at an accurate 6-foot-3 and 197 lbs, maybe it's me but it feels like Elier Hernandez has been around forever. I was surprise to see he's just 20 yrs old. He's a very aggressive hitter with a long swing and a fast bat, he swings at everything but when he connects the ball can go a long way. I watched him hit a HR to left that easily cleared the 370' ft wall. I was somewhat surprised to see he's only hit five HR's this season. If he tones down some of that aggressiveness and begins to work counts he could be very interesting. There's tools there and time to make adjustments. Defensively he looks good in right and has a strong arm.
C) Chase Vallot, Age 18, Bats right, Throws right
Listed at 6 foot even, 215 lbs, maybe a tad lighter than that. Vallot's very young, he won't turn 19 until later this month. He has a short stroke and the ball jumps off of his bat, he was heralded as having above average raw power and that's definitely true as evidenced by his .184 ISO. He has struggled to make consistent contact to this point but I think that can improve some. He's young and raw but the short swing should help him make better contact with more seasoning. Defensively he's got an above average arm and decent receiving skills, I think he can stay back there. Won't be a fast mover.
RHP) Scott Blewett, Age 19, Bats right, Throws right
Listed at a lanky 6-foot-6 and 210 lbs. Drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft from Baker HS in Baldwinsville, NY He features a low to mid nineties fastball and an above average curve to go with a developing change. He had a rough start recently in Delmarva allowing seven earned in three innings but overall he's been steady. I would like to see him improve on that 18% K Rate though. I missed an opportunity to see him last week when he started a game in Greenville as I had a work conflict. Everything I read suggests mid rotation upside.
2B) Corey Toups, Age 22, Bats right, Throws right
Listed at 5-foot-10, 170 lbs and that looks accurate. Ryan O'Hearns teammate at Sam Houston State, Toups was drafted in the 15th round of the 2014 draft and that looks like it will be a good value selection. Pretty good bat speed and a level swing. Toups peppers the gaps with line drives and he can turn on an inside fastball and yank one occasionally out of the yard, but that wont be a big part of his game. Defensively he's a second baseman, I know they were trying him at SS for a while but his future is at second and he looks to be pretty sound there. There are some tools here, good hitter with plus speed. Worth watching at the upper levels.
3B) Wander Franco, Age 20, Bats right, Throws right
Listed at 6-foot-2, 170 pounds, probably 10 pounds heavier than that. An aggressive hitter with developing power Franco swings at everything, if he can tone it down a little bit and work his way into better counts he could get interesting. Defensively he can handle third and has plenty of arm.
LF-CF) Alfredo Escalera-Maldonado, Age 20, Bats right, Throws right
Listed at 6-foot-1, 186 lbs that looks accurate. An aggressive hitter, with a fast bat and his swing has a little lift to it, he can drive a baseball when he connects but once again needs to tone down the aggressiveness to get into better counts. Defensively plays left and center but only saw him in left and he looked fine.
With the exception Greenville and maybe Asheville, Lexington had the biggest collection of talent in the Southern division this season. Many of them have moved up to Wilmington by now. I was pleasantly surprised by how good this squad was in my viewings. Next up is a look at the Rome Braves.