In my three previous years of covering the Dodgers’ farm system for True Blue LA, I have never had a game quite like Monday night where so many top prospects stood out with their performance. From Dennis Santana on the mound to Keibert Ruiz and DJ Peters at the plate, I saw several players perform at or near their best in offering glimpses of their future potential.
Monday’s star of the show, Santana frustrated the Midland Rockhound bats for four plus innings, striking out 10 on just 73 pitches. The Santana I saw was much improved over the fatigued pitcher I watched in the middle of last season. Santana’s arm was much more snappy Monday night, consistently repeating his low ¾ slot and commanded his pitches well.
The biggest surprise was the pitch selection, with Santana favoring his secondaries more than his fastball. His breaking ball was the most frequent pitch thrown, and Santana showed advanced feel for spin and the ability to mix shape and speed with the pitch. I think the pitch can best be described as a slurve, as he occasionally shows a sweeping slider look while also showing a straighter, more vertical pitch. He threw the pitch between 81-87 mph, depending on the shape and size of the break, settling more consistently around a curve-like 84 mph.
Santana commanded the breaking ball extremely well, using the pitch as a chase pitch for right handers away, and even striking out one left handed hitter going inside with a back foot pitch. I would give the pitch a 60-65 grade base on last night’s looks.
Santana’s change up was much improved last night and he was comfortable throwing it in any count. He threw the change with good arm speed between 84-87 mph, more often sitting at the high end of that range. He had good fade when throwing it arm side and the change up was a primary weapon against left handers. As a low slot sinker guy, he will need good secondaries to combat left handed hitters and stay in the rotation as opposed to relief. Having the change up to work outside and the boldness to bring the breaking ball inside gives Santana the type of arsenal to be a complete pitcher.
Throwing just six more fastballs than change ups last night, Santana did not feature last year’s best pitch much, but it’s still an above average offering that will show plus. He didn’t have the best command of the pitch Monday and missing was the heavy sink of last season, but Santana did generate late ride arm side, especially up in the zone. His fastball sat at 94 mph for most of the outing, touching 98 mph once, but did show more 90-93’s late in the outing.
As a middle infield convert to pitching, Santana has proven a quick study, and last night his improved polish stood out. He was comfortable pitching backwards and throwing any pitch in any count. His weakest command was with his fastball, but was overall still above average. Santana has started the year on fire as Tulsa’s defacto ace and he may not hold that mantle long, with a promotion to Oklahoma City in the first half not out of the question.
Not to be outdone, my No. 2-ranked prospect hit home runs one and two to lead the Drillers offense. Ruiz hit the entire time from the left side, facing only righties, and as I mentioned in his prospect profile, it is his most natural side. Ruiz’ approach was extremely aggressive and pull oriented, and Midland played him with a heavy shift to the right side. Ruiz’s first home run was a real moon shot, just keeping an inside pitch fair down the right field line but with plenty of distance to leave any big league park. Ruiz showed quick hands to turn around an inside pitch and his willingness to lift balls was evident all game.
Ruiz’ aggressiveness got the best of him in his second at bat, chasing two pitches outside of the strike zone before pulling an outside pitch to right field for an easy fly out. Given this aggressiveness, I would have expected Midland pitchers to encourage Ruiz to chase the rest of the game, but the next pitch he saw was a dead red fastball that he parked into the shallow bullpen in right field, a home run that likely only plays at the minor league level. Ruiz jumped early in the count again in at bats four and five for soft outs to the right side.
The question for Ruiz will be how he adjusts to pitchers exploiting his aggression as the season progresses. He has not faced adversity yet in his pro career, and teams will be quick to pick up on his tendencies at the plate. How he adjusts his approach will be telling to his future development, though I am already impressed with his developing power and batted ball profile.
Ruiz really handled Santana’s breaking stuff with aplomb from behind the plate and, obviously, helped call a good game. He was not asked to handle the run game in this outing, and more looks will be needed to further evaluate his defense.
One of Tulsa’s hottest hitters to start the year is DJ Peters, and extended his hitting streak to five games with three hits from the number two spot in the order. Peters showed a disciplined approach and worked deep counts, though his 6’6” height and long swing did show some holes, especially on breaking balls from right handers. When he does make contact, it’s very loud and hard.
Peters home run was a line drive screamer into the left field party deck. It probably lacked the distance to be a home run at the major league level but certainly would have been a double, as few left fielders would be able to get a jump on the ball as quick as it left the bat. Peters also had singles on two hits to the third base hole, as he also showed a pull oriented swing. Like Ruiz, he will have to make adjustments when pitchers start to exploit the size of his strike zone, but given how hard he hits the ball, he should continue to produce even with less contact.
Peters wasn’t challenged much in centerfield, but showed a long gliding slide that covers a lot of ground and closes quickly. He might struggle on plays requiring plus quickness, like line drives to shallow center, but has the range to handle center just fine.
Will Smith had the cleanest day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a walk and hit by pitch. Smith DH’ed in deference to Ruiz at catcher, but I was hoping to see him play in the field at second or third when not behind the plate. Smith’s lower half did appear thicker than I recall seeing on film and he looks to have added some quality weight to his frame.
Smith saw the ball extremely well Monday night and made quite a bit of contact, fouling off six pitches in addition to his three hits. His double down the line in the second and his single through the third base hole in the third were the real standout at bats.
Josh Sborz entered a tough situation with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth, but did escape the jam with minimal damage and ensured the win. I’ve been wanting to see Sborz in a relief role for some time, but the sharpness of stuff he showed out the Virginia pen collegiately isn’t quite all the way back yet.
Sborz struggled with the command of his fastball, missing frequently low or arm side, but was consistently 94 mph with steep plane that looks tough to lift. He threw both breaking balls, with his slider being the preferred offering and showing sharp downward break around 86 mph. Even struggling with his command, Sborz held his composure and managed to strike out Midland’s best hitter, Tyler Ramirez, with a 95 mph fastball up in the zone.
Luke Raley impressed me with his long build that comes close to matching Peters, though not quite as tall. He is an aggressive player that runs okay underway but does need to gather a bit to get moving. While he didn’t get the chance to test his arm, he does have a shorter arm action than most right fielders and I’m curious just how much he’s able to keep longer carry throws on-line.
Keep on eye on Brian Moran out of the pen. The side arming lefty was tough again on same siders and even touched 91 mph with a sidearm fastball. He has enough unique funk to carve out a specialist role someday in a big league pen.