It's always a treat for me when the Keys come to Wilmington as I live just a short 10 minute drive up I-95 away from Frawley Stadium, home of the delightful Mr. Celery and the Class A+ Wilmington Blue Rocks. The Keys typically travel to Wilmington for 3 series each season and I always try to make it to at least 1 game of each series. This year I managed to take in 3 out of the 4 games of this series and 7 out of the 10 total games played in the season series. This write up will focus on the prospects of note that I had the pleasure (and occasional frustration) of watching over the past 3 games.
A brief note on the opposition. The Blue Rocks are an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. They feature a number of talented arms, both in the rotation as well as the bullpen. In addition, Frawley Stadium has throughout it's history played as a pitching friendly park. I note this in order to give the reader some context as to the challenges the hitters faced.
First and foremost among the hitting prospects is catcher Michael Ohlman, and he didn't disappoint. 6-18 on the series with 1 HBP, 1 HR, and 5 Ks at the plate. He's got above average power, no doubt. And he has the bat speed to handle velocity, as well as a strong natural hit tool. He showed some decent speed for a big guy, scoring from 1B on a double at one point. He did struggle with breaking pitches though, as I have 3 of his 5 Ks resulting on sliders or curves. That's going to be a problem he'll have to address as he progresses up the farm or he is apt to stall out in AA.
Ohlman's defense on the other hand...it's a work in progress at the moment. He committed 1 error, allowed 2 passed balls, and only managed to throw out 1 of 6 stolen base attempts. I recorded one pop time (time it takes the ball to be thrown to 2B on a steal) of 2.02 seconds. That's average at best. You really want to see sub 2 seconds, and preferably sub 1.9 seconds. Just for reference, Matt Wieters works in the 1.8s consistently. I noted that he isn't a particularly quiet receiver behind the plate. That is, he tended to be a little fidgety, with his hips swaying and his butt sagging down towards the ground. He appeared a bit uncomfortable tracking a pop out at one point. And he had a tendency to reach across his body to stab at pitches in the dirt, rather than move his feet and get his body in front of the ball to smother it. He also lost his grip on the ball during a transfer which allowed a SB.
He did, however, appear to do a good job of framing pitches, extending his arm out and holding it still to give the ump a good look at where the ball arrived. In the long run, I think it's optimistic to think Ohlman can remain even a fringe average catcher, defensively. I think his bat can play going forward. He'll need to work on identifying and reacting to breaking stuff, but he has the power and natural hitting ability to be able to handle a potential future move to 1B or even DH.
First baseman Christian Walker also had a strong series: 5-17, w/ a 2B, a HR, 1 SF, 1 BB and 1 K. He showed me the most consistently strong at bats, working counts, and making hard contact frequently. Even his strikeout was on a check swing as he collapsed backwards due to a ball flying at his head. It was announced that he will be promoted to AA Bowie. He certainly seems to have the hit tool and approach to handle the AA level.
The remaining question is how much power does he have in his bat? High OBP first basemen can make it to majors, but it's a tough road and they usually have to show strong defense in conjunction. Keith Law mentioned on his podcast that he views Walker as below average defensively. I don't agree with that assessment, as I saw nothing that would cause me to demerit his defensive abilities. That's not to say I think he's a good defender. He seems average. His short, stocky build may limit his range and ability to stretch out for throws on close plays, but he catches what comes his way, and that's a first baseman's primary responsibility.
(3B) Nick Delmonico, much like Ohlman and Walker, had a strong series at the plate but has significant and legitimate concerns regarding his defense. Let's start with the good: Delmonico returned from a viral infection in Game 2 of the series. He had missed a week previously and it looked like he wasn't quite right as he K'd thrice before stinging a ball to deep CF for a flyout in his last at bat of the night. In the 3rd game he delivered an RBI single in the 1st inning and stole a base before striking out swinging twice and popping out in the infield twice. In the finale though he went 3-4 with 3 singles (2 to RF and one into LF) along with another SB, a heady tag up from 1st on a SF hit to RF where the defender overthrew the cut off man, as well as sting a ball for a fly out to deep CF that may have been the hardest hit ball on the night by any player.
Though quite aggressive at the plate, he has a good hit tool and I think there is some more power to be discovered in him. He's not a burner on the base paths, but he does have average speed and good instincts and awareness there. The problem, of course is the defense, where two plays in particular stood out. The first, where he charged the ball after a sac bunt attempt, slipped as he bent down to field it barehanded, and nearly fell on his keister in the process. And the second came about on a routine grounder where he let the ball play him rather than charge it and take control of the situation. The ball came right to him, but it took a bit of a large hope (about chest high) and he played it off to his side rather than get in front of it. Since he waited for the ball to come to him he had to rush his throw to 1B and it sailed high, pulling Christian Walker off the bag.
These two plays happened in the same inning and cost his pitcher an earned run as well as a number of additional pitches. He also demonstrated a slow first step and fall down range on some balls hit into the 3B-SS hole. Barring some epiphany, he did not look like he has any business as a third baseman. It was certainly worth a shot to see if he could hack it, just as it was worth a shot to see if he could hack it at 2B last season. Neither worked out. He had seen time at 1B last season (after returning from a mid season knee injury) and now has seen a game there this season as well. I'd like to see him get a shot in either RF (preferable, just to see if his arm can play out there) or LF before moving him to 1B.
(OF) Tucker Nathans is a 24 year old player signed out of the Independent Leagues earlier this year. He was promoted to Frederick just prior to this series, so I got to see his first taste of advanced A ball. He got off to a decent start as he singled and drew a walk in his first two plate appearances. Overall he went 3-11 in the series w/ 1 double, 1 SB, 2 BBs, and 5 Ks (3 of them looking). He's been on a multi-hit game streak since the final game of this series though, so I think he has adjusted to the uptick in quality of the pitching. He seemed to handle himself well enough in LF, though he didn't have many opportunities.
Two final players I'd like to mention, both of whom are outfielders who seem to have stalled out at the A+ level: Brenden Webb and Glynn Davis. Webb fascinated me last season as he seemed to demonstrate a tantalizing combo of fantastic plate discipline with some nice pop and speed. The problem was that he couldn't hit regularly; he was a '3 True Outcomes' type of player (meaning his PAs would typically end one of 3 ways: Hard hit (2B or HR), BB, or K). But with slightly better pitching in advanced A ball, his lack of a hit tool has proved fatal to his prospect status. He went 0-6 in the series with 3 Ks and 1 BB. He still has an eye for the strike zone. He just can't make contact enough as the stuff pitchers are throwing him has gotten better. He is still just 23, and perhaps he can adjust his approach. But he's not a prospect of any regard going forward.
The same can be said of (OF) Glynn Davis. A nice scouting find out of Catonsville C.C., Davis showed blazing speed and the ability to handle CF on defense. Unfortunately, much like Webb, he can't make consistent enough contact. Unlike Webb, Davis doesn't have much of any power to cover up a lacking hit tool, and his strike zone judgement appeared, to my eyes, to be pretty bad. He would jump back from pitches (non-breaking balls) that found the inside corner. He did manage to go 3-8, with no SB attempts and 2 Ks in the series. Unless he can improve the plate approach and add some pop when he does make contact, I just don't see it for him going forward.
So that covers the hitters of note that I saw. In Part 2 I will cover the pitchers I saw.