Photo courtesy of Minda Haas.
On Thursday night, the Storm Chasers played host to a pair of the best prospects in baseball, along with the rest of the Iowa Cubs. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant each had their moments, and I’ll get to them in later. Considering this is a Royals-centric website, I think it might be best to pass along a few of the notes from the Royals’ minor league affiliate first, even if they lacked the star power of their opponents. And as it turned out, the first player who caught my eye was a 5’10” left-handed reliever with a 91 MPH fastball.
– Buddy Baumann has always been a favorite of mine. Every time I’ve watched him pitch, he’s been impressive, despite his stature. This specific little lefty has typically worked out of the bullpen, but with a recent injury to Sugar Ray Marimon, Baumann has been forced into a starting role. Thursday night, he started the game by retiring the Cubs in order, including a three-pitch strikeout of Baez. Baumann climbed the ladder with his fastball, and Baez couldn’t catch up.
Baumann works his fastball at 88-91 MPH, and he has a bit of deception that helps with his lack of velocity. He used that same high heater several times in his 4 innings of work, getting a handful of swings and misses. He’ll flash a changeup, but Baumann’s money pitch is the slider. It comes in at 81-84 MPH, and has a lot of tilt that fools batters, especially lefties, although it can also work against righties. In the 2nd inning, Baumann threw 2 straight sliders through Bryant’s bat before freezing him with a fastball on the inside corner.
He finished the night with 5 strikeouts, and only a couple of hard hit balls. One of the three hits he allowed was a popup off the bat of Baez that the wind pushed into fair territory and away from Brian Bocock‘s glove at first base. The pure stuff isn’t electric by any means, but he knows how to use what he has, and that slider can be devastating at times.
As a 26-year old with a limited arsenal, Baumann isn’t likely to turn into much more than a LOOGY at the big league level, but I do think he could be successful in that role. If nothing else, he’s left-handed and short, which automatically makes him entertaining. That’s just science.
– Another diminutive lefty you may be familiar with also pitched for the Chasers on Thursday, and that was Tim Collins. He did walk a couple of batters in his 1.2 innings, but I liked what I saw from him, particularly with his changeup. He got Bryant to swing through a pair of them, and the pitch had some good fade and sink.
– Spencer Patton pitched the 9th, getting a strikeout. I don’t think he threw more than 1 slider, but it looked like he had two different fastballs. I haven’t gotten to see him much, but he appeared to be throwing a two-seamer and a four-seamer. The two-seamer had quite a bit of arm-side run and sat at about 91 MPH, while the four-seamer ran up to 93, coming in a little more flat.
– If Whit Merrifield makes it to the majors, you are going to hear every phrase typically used to describe short-and-good-but-not-that-good players. Gamer. Grinder. Gritty. All of that. He also hit the ball hard and reached base three more times Thursday, bringing his OPS up to approximately 3.749*.
*It’s actually .947, but still.
– As for the Cubs’ vaunted twosome, Baez didn’t have great results at the plate, going 1-4 with that “single” off of Baumann, but there’s still a lot to like. He doesn’t get cheated when he swings, as every time he takes a cut, you hold your breath to see what happens. And then there’s the bat speed. My goodness, the bat speed. It’s hard to describe, but each swing is a sight to behold.
Defensively, Baez moved well at short, including making a play far to his left, spinning, and throwing out a batter with an accurate throw.
– Bryant, on the other hand, showed why some scouts think he may need to be moved off of third base. He made a couple of nice stops to his right and left, but his throws were much less nice. On two separate occasions, he airmailed throws to first, allowing the hitter to reach. Bryant’s 6’5″, and he didn’t seem to have much fluidity in the field, showing rough actions and a long release.
At the plate, Bryant was much more impressive. I’ve watched a lot of baseball in person, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a home run hit farther than the one Bryant hit against Michael Mariot. Mariot left a pitch up, and Bryant obliterated it. Shortly after it left the bat, I may have audibly squealed. It was simply amazing. It was also his 31st home run in 2014, which is a large number of home runs for a player to have before the All-Star break.