Chase De Jong
My first look at Chase De Jong on the season brought a few surprises based on my previous notions of the player. Since most of the video I had seen on De Jong came from his high school and early Toronto seasons, I was not anticipating some of the stuff and delivery changes I saw. De Jong still features a lean 6'4 build that at this point I don't expect to fill out a great deal. He has a narrow frame and long limbs, but exhibited good body control and was quick to make release point corrections on his fastball.
Delivery-wise, De Jong hides the ball well in his hip turn and closes himself off some by stepping his plant foot toward the third base side of the rubber. This gives him a slight crossfire delivery but not necessarily the low arm slot or riding movement you would expect from a true crossfire motion. De Jong has a slight headwhack on release but it does not hamper his command, nor does his arm action look labored. De Jong's release is still high ¾'s, but not nearly as high as what I saw in prospect videos.
The bread and butter pitch for De Jong Tuesday night was his fastball. He sat primarily at 91 mph, and ranged from 88-92 mph, in line with scouting reports. The pitch had a slight amount of arm-side tail, but little sink. De Jong pitched primarily up in the zone and had Frisco hitters swinging under the pitch all night. While I won't suggest you can tell this with the naked eye, I suspect that De Jong's fastball has a high spin rate and "rise," with hitters failing to accurately judge the flight path of the pitch.
De Jong threw two variations of breaking balls. The biggest surprise was an 85-87 mph cutter or slider, that featured more horizontal break and not the sharpness of a pure slider. This pitched helped De Jong work a little further down in the zone and he exhibited good command of the offering. De Jong's curveball was thrown primarily at 81-82 mph but did not feature the same 12-6 break I had seen on video. Because of De Jong's slot, he occasionally worked around the pitch and cause it to take more of a slurve shape at times. He did show a few sharp downer curves later in the outing and when thrown with the proper release can still be an above average pitch.
De Jong's change-up was primarily a straight change at 82-84 mph with a slight fade when thrown arm side. De Jong's arm speed on the pitch was good and he had the confidence to throw it consistently. The command of the pitch was not as good as the command on his fastball, and he has a tendency to leave the pitch up.
De Jong's poise and mettle on the mound were also impressive. After a leadoff triple in the top of the fifth inning, De Jong responded with urgency and some of his best pitches of the evening, sitting at the higher side of his velocity range while striking out the side. De Jong worked quickly and held his tempo and stuff for the duration of his outing and easily could have handled more pitches.
De Jong's upside is still that of a fourth or fifth starter with no true plus pitch but enough command of four pitches to allow everything to play up. If he can find more consistency with his breaking ball, he could end up with one plus strikeout pitch. This upside might not be enough for him to carve a long term role with Los Angeles, but he does make for an excellent trade candidate this season, with enough upside to still improve his ceiling in the next two years.
One final side note; De Jong's fastball represents a hole in the current scouting parlance as I know it. In today's game, a right hander with an 88-92 mph fastball should get a fringe grade of 40, but it's in game effectiveness outweighs that grade. The more we learn and incorporate data like spin rate and rise into understanding pitches and diagnose the characteristics of these hard to see traits, the more accurate scouting can be in evaluating players. De Jong's fastball is just not a 40 or 45 grade pitch, despite what the radar gun tells you.
Similar to de Jong, Dirks looks to have made some changes since I saw him last season. Though he still gets a fair amount of extension toward home plate, it isn't as pronounced a "jump" as last season. Still, Dirks had a considerable amount of funk and deception in his delivery. Dirks employs a high leg kick and a two-piece arm motion while stepping toward third base for a crossfire delivery. Dirks gets a fair amount of sink on his fastball likely because of this action, and the ball can be tough to pick up out of hand.
Dirks sinking fastball was primarily 90-92 mph and led to ground balls. He also showed a 75 mph curveball that was just fringe average. Dirks has an athletic build and he will need to rely on his athleticism to keep all the moving parts mechanically in check. Dirks has previously been up to 94 mph with the fastball and more velocity will probably be necessary to stick in middle relief at the major league level.
Griggs was arguably the more impressive of the two relievers to pitch behind De Jong. Griggs has a big, durable 6'4 frame and pitches with some intensity. Griggs pitched from a high ¾ slot and primarily threw two pitches, a 92-95 mph fastball with sink (sat primarily 94 mph), and a hard downer curveball between 81-84 mph. He demonstrated good control in the zone with the fastball and was aggressive in attacking hitters with the pitch. One of the two curveballs he threw was clearly better than the other, but they showed enough promise to suggest that the pitch has swing and miss potential. It was Griggs first outing since moving up from Rancho Cucamonga this season, and I'm interested in watching his stuff progress against better hitters. He has solid middle relief potential.
It doesn't necessarily show in his walk rate, but Alex Verdugo has an advanced level of pitch recognition. He was called out on a pitch that looked slightly off the plate, but Verdugo showed good selectivity on the night. He has such a quick trigger and makes easy contact that it's easy to project a future plus hit tool on him.
Willie Calhoun still looks like a work in progress at second base and again his hands are largely the issue. He bobbled a ground ball he had to charge hard on and while ultimately making the out, his glove work was stiff on a ball that could have been fielded cleanly. He's a decent athlete and made a nice leaping grab later in the game, but more reps are needed to continue refining his hands and footwork at the keystone.
Andrew Toles has an aggressive offensive approach and a fairly long swing for a leadoff hitter, but you can see the promise in his tools. He's not only quick out of the box, but showed good burst in stealing two bases. Toles might be a player to watch as a potential September call up for base running purposes, especially if he continues to show the same productivity as he's flashed early this season.