The Eyeball Scout is not one to get overly concerned about a couple bumps in the road, but he also knows that there are bumps and there are bumps. Three young players, Jharel Cotton, Ryon Healy, and Matt Olson have taken their share of lumps recently – well, in Olson’s case less ‘lumps’ as ‘a lot of packing and unpacking’ but he also still struggles to make contact against big league pitching – and the question is, can they succeed going forward without specific adjustments. Spoiler alert: No.
I have been a believer in Jharel Cotton and continue to think he has potential as a #3-#4 SP, but it would be hard not to be a bit alarmed by the frequency with which he serves up homeruns. The 2017 big league total is now 18 (in 91 IP), and if there’s a trend it’s only that the HRs seem to be going farther.
Cotton’s problem, more generally, is that he is too extreme a fly ball pitcher. As a result, it is no surprise that along with the 18 HRs he has given up his share of warning track fly balls. With a ground ball percentage of just 37.5% and a fly ball rate of 46.2%, basically Cotton is playing with fire far too often not to get burned repeatedly.
The Eyeball Scout has always liked Cotton’s fastball from the standpoint that at least the first couple times through the order it appears to “get on the hitter” quickly out of his hand. And it’s no soft pitch coming in around 93-94MPH. However, the pitch is pretty straight and as a result it gets squared up a fair amount, far more than you would expect from a pitch with that velocity thrown by a pitcher who has a plus changeup.
To me the key to Cotton’s success going forward is to find a way to sink his fastball even just a little, in order to keep more balls that are put in play from leaving the infield. Whether that’s a 2-seam fastball thrown at lower velocity, or the ability to garner a hair of sinking action on his existing fastball (which would mimic the action on his changeup, another advantage), I can’t see Cotton having enough success with a straight fastball and an extreme fly ball profile – especially as long as those fly balls seem to go.
I have harped on this so much I won’t belabor the point overly here, but I have concluded that while Ryon Healy is certainly a dangerous hitter as is (as his 21 HRs and 63 RBI will attest), unless he is willing to move 2” closer to the plate I have trouble seeing Healy develop much more as a hitter. What’s amazing to me is to watch Healy tap the plate with his bat when he stands in, not even clearing the plate as if to confirm, ahead of time, that he will not be able to cover the outer half without lunging.
Healy is already burdened by a natural lack of plate discipline and iffy pitch recognition, but if he had adequate plate coverage he would far less vulnerable to the pitch that currently eats him alive: the dreaded slider away from a RHP.
What you will notice, so long as Healy stands much farther from the plate than his teammates do, is that Healy has reach his arms out away from him (towards 1B) to make contact with strikes on the outside corner, and this results in a lot of routine fly balls to RF and right-center that might otherwise be driven to the wall. Plus he is always on the verge of lunging to cover the outside corner, making him additionally prone to chasing pitches out of the strike zone.
Healy absolutely mashes pitches on the inner half, so much so that he could stand to lose 2” of the inside corner because he covers it with such authority. I have seen him muscle a pitch 2” off the inside corner over the shortstop’s head for a hit, so he needn’t worry too much about getting tied up inside. Better to let the pitcher worry about trying to beat him inside because the pitcher’s margin for error is razor thin.
I whole-heartedly believe that if he just positioned himself 2” closer to the plate Healy would take off – as it is, he hits the ball so hard that he is major threat on any pitches he can cover without reaching or lunging.
But where I’m going with this is that if Healy is unwilling to make this adjustment then I think the A’s need to move on because I think he has plateaued in his current iteration: he is a dangerous hitter with a low OBP and little defensive value, who has too big a hole in his game. Opposing pitchers will exploit it again and again as they have been doing lately, with the game plan of “away, away, away” and there isn’t much Healy can do about it.
OK, I belabored the point overly again. But Ryon Healy is 2” away from being an excellent hitter instead of just a dangerous-but-highly-flawed one. I love Healy, but he needs to step up – literally – or the A’s need to move on.
Armed with several plus tools – a keen batting eye, big time power, plus defense at 1B – but with a long swing, Matt Olson came to camp this year with a retooled swing. It looks weird, with his arms awkwardly away from his body, but Olson isn’t looking for style points, he’s looking for a quicker swing path.
I’m not sold on this approach appreciably shortening the swing path. Olson still gets beaten, often beaten a lot, by good fastballs, as he was last night twice by Edwin Diaz before Diaz inexplicably threw him a slider.
I think it’s great that Olson is willing to make adjustments and is working specifically on the length of his swing; I’m just not sure he has found the answer with this particular attempt.
I have long been agnostic on Olson as a prospect, knowing that if he can bat just .240 he can be an All-Star but also fearing he could bat .180. I still have that fear.