The day before the All-Star break, the Eyeball Scout was able to cross Fenway Park off of his bucket list. Nice stadium, though the left field wall seems kind of high. Now my “bucket list” is down to...oh right, I need to go to the hardware store and buy a few buckets. Well that’s not very interesting, is it?
Anyhoo, here are some thoughts on a few of the young A’s players who are hoped to be integral parts of the rebuild...
I know the numbers are troubling — his 6.66 ERA suggests that David Forst indeed has a pact with the devil — but I still see signs of a good starting pitcher in Ken Waldichuk. Keith Law was the most critical of Waldichuk at the time of the trade, suggesting he did not have the tools to get RH batters out, and so far Law has been nothing but right. To date, RH batters are a healthy .296/.384/.521 against the lefty.
However, a pattern is emerging and that is an increasingly good changeup that I now believe is Waldichuk’s best pitch. At Fenway, I was in the right field bleachers when he faced one RH batter (sorry, I can’t recall who) and struck him out on 3 pitches: 3 changeups. All 3 were beautifully executed and in his recent appearances we have seen plenty of changeups that rendered batters fooled and helpless.
That pitch could launch Waldichuk’s transition from gascan to mid-rotation SP, as it allows his good fastball to play up and stops hitters from sitting on his big breaking sweeper (which he needs to throw hard). I thought he was electric in his Fenway stint and it’s worth noting that the HR he allowed, to Masataka Yoshida, came on a pitch that wasn’t even a strike in the only park that couldn’t hold that fly ball.
There is certainly one more aspect to his game that Waldichuk needs to refine and it’s a biggie: fastball command. He throws too many fastballs that sail arm side to become good pitchouts but terrible pitches, and until he can spot his fastball on the black he will not be a force.
But the changeup is suddenly the real deal, and his fastball/sweeper combo have always been major league caliber. He still has much to prove, but I have not yet given up on the hope that Waldichuk can follow in the footsteps of Gio Gonzalez — whose delivery he mimics a bit with his turn and his arm slot — who also struggled in his initial call up and took a while to find the command needed to thrive.
Debbie Downer alert here, but I wasn’t so taken with Tarnok’s A’s debut yesterday. He did look good in spring training, and he is returning from a serious injury, so I take Saturday’s 2 IP with a grain of salt. But what I saw did not look like a SP in the making.
The first problem is that Tarnok was, essentially, a 2-pitch pitcher. He does have a changeup, which he threw a handful of times Saturday, but 90+% of his offerings were in the “fastball/slider” category. And while the fastball is very good, 95MPH with plenty of zip, Tarnok did not locate his slider well at all.
When he kept the slider down he got better results, such as the Carlos Correa DP, and when he left it up he got worse results, such as the Kyle Farmer HR. But what I saw was a slider that had good “change of pace” off the fastball but wasn’t really a sharp pitch even when thrown in a better location.
It will be difficult for Tarnok to succeed in the rotation as primarily a 2-pitch pitcher, especially unless he gets more crackle on his slider and keeps it down in the zone. Saturday he was closer to a 1-pitch pitcher in that while he threw the slider 33.3% of the time half of them were bad ones including the one launched for a tie-breaking HR.
Here’s hoping the slider improves in consistency and sharpness, that the changeup develops to be more than a “show me” pitch to LH batters only, and that maybe Tarnok can add a cutter to keep hitters more honest and to allow him to focus more on throwing “hard stuff” than leaning too heavily on a slider that betrays him as often as not.
Again this was just a short outing in his initial return from injury, but while batters struggled to catch up to the fastball yesterday I will need to see a more dynamic version of Tarnok before pondering him as a solid starting pitcher in the making.
Continuing the zig-zag of positive and negative feedback, we return to giddy glee with the debut of Gelof. He has weaknesses for sure, but my initial reaction is that he seems both dynamic — able to impact the game in many ways — and also has a calmness that suggests he is “ready for The Show”.
First off, Gelof’s speed has already been evident in his stand up triple that was just a ricochet away from being an inside-the-park HR, and steals of 2B and 3B both easily negotiated. And power was seen in a seemingly routine fly ball to right-center that came within a foot of clearing the high wall.
But here’s what impressed me the most. The steal of 3B was a steal of baseball acumen, not raw foot speed. You could see Gelof timing Lopez, observing the pattern of one look to 2B and then a pause before kicking to pitch. Next pitch Gelof waited for the look, then got a brief walking lead right before the kick, and took off with no risk of being thrown out.
Also, on defense I have loved what I have seen so far. Gelof’s first chance was not a routine one: a ball that caromed off the pitcher’s glove and changed directions, forcing Gelof to reverse course. Then the hop he got was not an easy one, and he also had to spin and throw to 1B. He did it all gracefully, with the desired “hurry but don’t rush” cadence.
And he looks great on the pivot of DPs, showing excellent footwork to clear himself with a straight path to throw to 1B and an accurate arm. It looks pretty effortless with an economy of movement.
As for concerns to watch for, in a small sample Gelof seems inclined to get on top of the ball with his swing. Twice he has swung at pretty good pitches to drive and topped them to 3B. My guess is that he is getting his body out in front (a slight lunge) rather than staying all the way back as he swings. So while he has shown he can drive the ball well the other way, he needs to show he can also keep a balanced swing going and pull the ball with the same authority.
So far, Soderstrom looks about like what he heard he currently is: a hacker with a nice swing. The hacking gets you strikeouts where you chase strikes 2 and 3, and the nice swing gets you a clean hit the other way on a perfectly good pitch.
The biggest positive so far is that Soderstrom has looked great blocking balls in the dirt. Not only did he block every one on Saturday, he showed perfect form moving laterally as needed, getting low and using the middle of his body to create a soft wall. And I won’t blame him for the ill-advised throw to 2B on the “can we sucker you?” double steal, because that undoubtedly came from the bench. (And the run still doesn’t score if Gelof refrains from making a second throw.)
By all accounts, Soderstrom has all the trappings of an “impact hitter” in the big leagues. My biggest fear is the whispers (granted, from the notably irascible Grady Fuson) that Soderstrom is resistant to coaching and prone to pouting. This is a level where coachability and attitude are so crucial in separating the talented from the successful, but Soderstrom is also very young and may just need time to mature.
I will gladly give the 21 year old time to acclimate to the big leagues and will forgive the inevitable bumps in the road that accompany a fast rise. What I won’t do is to laud him for “running into a few” if he doesn’t show patience, a plan, or an effort to make adjustments, because those are the qualities that will keep him here.
Beginning at 1:07pm, JP Sears will try to the get the A’s their first win since July 5th. Go Spiders!!!