Opening Day in Minor League Baseball saw Chris Anderson take the hill for the first time in Double-A for himself, and for the first time in Tulsa for the Dodgers organization. While the game was hardly memorable, several of the Dodgers’ top prospects acquitted themselves quite well in the season opener.
Here are my observations from Thursday’s game, with more emphasis placed on the players likely to make an impact on the Dodgers.
Anderson displayed impressive arm strength through his start, sitting around 93-94, reaching as high as 97 mph with the fastball. It’s early in the season, guys are still being stretched out, and games get cold after dark, but I was pleased with how well Anderson held his stuff through his 81-pitch outing.
Anderson’s fastball stood out for late life as much as velocity. Most notable was a called strike three against talented San Diego prospect Hunter Renfroe, where Anderson ran a 94 mph fastball back over the outside corner of the strike zone, giving Renfroe little chance to react. You’d like to see him work the pitch down more in the zone early to generate weak contact along the ground, but the pitch is overpowering enough to work up the zone like he did.
However, when he was punished, it was because he left pitches up. The only inning he was touched for runs can on a Renfroe single on a fastball up, and then Yeison Asencio crushed a hanging slider over the left center fence.
He flashed potential with both offspeed pitches. His slider sat 86 and reached 88 mph and was most effective when spotted down and away from right handers. The break was a little short when left arm side and could be squared up by hitters. When he could command it, Anderson’s change-up flashed good fade at 84-86 mph. It was an effective weapon against left handers if he could keep it close to the outside corner, but often missed away with the pitch. He grew more comfortable with both pitches as the outing went on until running into trouble with his command overall late.
A quick word on home runs in Tulsa: OneOK Field was built with some quirky dimensions that can lead to cheap home runs. The left field line is only 330 feet, and juts straight across, housing a party deck. A deep flyout to left field in many parks can turn into a short home run for Ali Solis in the second inning (hypothetically speaking…). Likewise, right field is only 307 feet to the line, but the fence is higher. Instead, easy home runs to right field come from straightaway shots that clear the short (3-4 feet?) fence that houses the bullpens. If a player hits the ball the straight away, the left center berm, or clears the bullpens to the right field berm, it’s a legit shot. Asencio’s ball onto the left center berm was such.
While shortstop Corey Seager portrayed a more patient hitter in his limited Spring Training cameo with the Dodgers, Seager looked more like the hitter portrayed by his minor league profile last night, aggressively attacking fastballs early in the count. Four of the five balls put in play were via hard line drive contact, with the fifth a towering pop-up. The late inning double was a beautifully balanced swing on a breaking ball catching too much of the heart of the plate. His bat speed stands out amongst his peers.
Defensively, it was a quiet night for Seager, and the infielders in general. I only recall one ground ball hit his way, which he deftly handled to start a double play. It was literally only one look at his hands, but in that particular play, they worked smooth and fast. I’m not sure it’s even worth speaking on, it was one play, but the actions were smooth and cohesive.
Brandon Dixon was a mostly positive mixed bag last night. My biggest concern on him in the Prospect Countdown was his plate approach and ability to read pitches out of hand. I was pleased with how aggressive he attacked fastballs early in the count, and drove the ball around the park all night. He was also instinctive enough to steal third base off a deliberate Michael Dimock a. Yet the very next play, Dixon gets caught too far off the third base bag on a hit back to the pitcher, only to be relieved by the highly questionable decision to not look back Dixon and instead throw to first. Defensively, Dixon also got caught out on a slow roller to the first base hole that took him too long to reach from double play depth and made worse by the high throw stemming from disjointed footwork. Again, like Seager, it was one play, like his only play, hard to cast judgement.
Blake Smith closed out the game with some of the best breaking balls of the night. His curve sits 79-83 mph, and though it pops a little out of hand, the break is deep and late and he can spot it in the strike zone. He backed them up with a fastball around 92-93 mph. He’s not an imposing figure on the mound, but having a plus breaking ball can net him a future role in middle relief.
From an aesthetics standpoint, this was not the greatest of games. Neither starting pitcher worked particularly fast (pitch clocks be damned) and strikes were at a premium for the most part for the San Antonio pitchers. Starting pitcher Justin Hancock was especially dreadful with a 51.9% strike rate, and the team as a whole came in just under 55%. Anderson himself also worked a little slower than I prefer seeing, and he allowed himself to show frustration with the strike zone.
I’ll be back at it tonight to take in Julio Urias’ Double-A debut (5:05 p.m. PT). For notes during the game, be sure to follow me on twitter @davidchood, as the notebook for this game may come a little later. I’ll be hitting the road this weekend to catch more action and may only stick around tonight long enough to see Urias’ through his outing. Feel free to ask me any questions related to these prospects during the game and I’ll try to answer when I can on twitter, or possibly through these notebooks.