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AFL Eye Test: Neuse, Romero, atmosphere

Initial thoughts on Oakland A’s prospects Sheldon Neuse and Miguel Romero after first seeing them live at the Mesa Solar Sox AFL game on October 17.

The Mesa Solar Sox celebrate after a 8-5 victory over the Salt River Rafters on October 17, 2017.

The AFL atmosphere is like no other baseball game I have ever been to. It combines the intimacy of lower level minor league games, where a sneeze can be heard from the other side of the stadium, with the professionalism of top prospects nearing the big leagues. Attendance at on Tuesday night to watch the Mesa Solar Sox take on the Salt River Rafters was 625, and it seemed like half of the crowd was composed of scouts with radar guns and tablets. Which was good for me, since it let me get some radar readings!

The Solar Sox, which includes prospects from the A’s, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs, and Washington Nationals, beat the Rafters (Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles) by a final score of 8-5. Unfortunately, A’s catching prospects Sean Murphy and outfielder Tyler Ramirez did not play, but third baseman Sheldon Neuse batted clean-up and pitcher Miguel Romero made a relief appearance.

Sheldon Neuse

It didn’t take long for Neuse to make a strong first impression. A double steal during his at-bat put runners on second and third for him with one out in the top of the first. He delivered, driving a 2-2 cutter into left center field for a two run single.

Unfortunately, Neuse brought my expectations back to reality very quickly. On the first pitch of the bottom of the first, Marlins designated hitter Braxton Lee placed a bunt down the third base line. Neuse charged the ball, fielded it, and airmailed it into the stands in a way I had never seen before. The ball landed at least ten rows back on the fly. The play was a little odd, as it definitely seemed like the pitcher could have fielded the ball, but it’s a play Neuse really should have made.

For the rest of the game, Neuse seemed at least adequate defensively. He made a nice backhanded pick and throw across the diamond to end the bottom of the first, and made another to start a 5-4-3 double play in the bottom of the fourth. While I would have preferred he get in front of the ball on both plays, as it seemed like it was definitely possible for him to do, he made both plays and looked comfortable doing so. In the bottom of the eighth, he charged in and fielded a chopper well and made a strong throw to first, but the runner beat it out for an infield hit. He looked mechanically smooth and I’m not sure he could have done anything better on the play, the runner was simply too fast.

My opinion on Neuse’s defense was not changed by his performance in this game. He was adequate, and would probably be an average (or slightly above) Major League third baseman. But that is probably irrelevant, as he will never be anywhere near as fantastic defensively as the incumbent Matt Chapman, who is blocking him in Oakland.

I didn’t see enough in this game to definitively determine whether Neuse could have the range for second base or a corner outfield spot, but early concerns about his size were definitely overblown. He isn’t skinny in any sense, but he is still athletic. Physically, he is much closer to Justin Turner than he is to Max Muncy.

In his first three at-bats, Neuse seemed to hit the ball harder each time. After his single, he hit a sharp line drive into right center for a loud out in the third inning, and then a booming leadoff double into right center in the fifth. In each of his next two at-bats, however, he rolled over offspeed pitches, shattering his bat on both occasions. He was very aggressive early in the count in each at-bat, and all of his hard contact came off of fastballs. This will be something to monitor as he continues to rise through the minor leagues - if pitchers will begin to throw him more offspeed, and if so, how he will adjust.

Neuse had a overall strong game and has cemented his place in my eyes as a legitimate prospect. He looks like he’ll definitely be able to hit, and should be athletic enough to move off of third base when necessary. In future games, I will be keeping a closer eye on his defensive range and his ability to work the count and hit offspeed pitches.

Miguel Romero

Romero was very much a mixed bag. He entered in the bottom of the fifth inning, and his first pitch was a 93 MPH fastball into Arizona shortstop Jack Reinheimer’s side. The next batter turned a nine pitch battle into a bloop double down the right field line, and from there Romero seemed visibly rattled. A wild pitch brought in one run, and a seeing-eye infield single up the middle drove in the second.

Next, Romero induced a ground ball that could have very well been a double play, but it was not successfully turned by his second baseman. With two outs, he hung a slider and was burned for a single, only for his center fielder to bobble the ball and give both runners an extra base. Another wild pitch brought in a third run, and after an eight pitch walk Romero was pulled. The runner on third would score on a single, tagging Romero with four runs (three earned) on 31 pitches in 23 of an inning.

Romero had absolutely zero help from his defense all inning. His fastball mostly sat 92-94 but touched as high as 98. His slider ranged from 81-84 and had wicked movement, but overall he seemed to have little command of his impressive stuff. As soon as he threw his first wild pitch, I could tell he was rattled and his already spotty control was only going to get worse.

In this relief outing, I didn’t see a third pitch from Romero, only his fastball and slider. Between this and his spotty command, I’d feel most comfortable projecting Romero as a reliever long term. With his stuff he certainly has a high ceiling, and with development could perhaps make his way into the rotation, but as of now it doesn’t seem incredibly likely.

Let me know if there’s anyone else you’d like me to keep an eye on in future games. Due to my schedule I’m unsure of how many games I’ll be able to go to, but I definitely plan on seeing Murphy, Ramirez, Logan Shore, Nolan Blackwood at least once each, and I will be attending the Bowman Hitting Challenge at Sloan Park this Saturday.

Check out the gallery below for some (low quality, my apologies) pictures from the game. Feel free to discuss in the comments below - what position do you think Sheldon Neuse will end up at long-term? Until next time - lean on, A’s fans!