More In-Person Scouting Looks, Headlined by Frankie Montas’ Sim Game – Fangraphs


USATSI 16788247 ProxyEgg More In-Person Scouting Looks, Headlined by Frankie Montas' Sim Game - Fangraphs
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Frankie Montas was a late scratch from his Saturday start and instead, on Sunday, threw in an early-morning sim game on Oakland’s backfields. Opposing scouts in attendance were from (in totality) Boston, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay.

Montas threw about 80 pitches, warming up and then working in eight-to-ten minute chunks against A’s big league hitters, with staff adding batters to the end of some innings and rolling others to stay within that window (which is commonplace in this setting). Then the whole group took a break for four or five minutes before Montas returned to the mound for another simulated inning. With no umpires, the A’s used the TrackMan pitch locations to call balls and strikes from their seating area behind the backstop; the unit began malfunctioning at the very end of his outing, but only for four pitches.

I have video of his entire outing below, and in addition to it being a topical scouting artifact given trade rumors around Montas, it is also a glimpse into big league minutiae in a quiet setting with just a few scouts, A’s staff, and player families around. You can often hear communication between A’s players and personnel around pitch type and velocity, but there’s no exposure of sensitive ops stuff, something I vetted while cutting this together.

Montas’ fastball ranged from 92–95 mph, but he was consistently pumping in a heavy 93–94 sinker. He was clearly coasting, as a big league vet of this stature should during a morning sim game, so the fact that this velo band is abnormally low for him — his fastball averaged 96 in 2021 and had been sitting close to that so far this spring — is fine. The pitch had big sinking action toward the bottom of the zone early during his outing and induced several ground balls, though hitters had an easier time elevating it later on. As the movement on his fastball dwindled throughout his outing, the length and movement of his upper-80s slider increased, and he found more consistent feel for locating it later in the sim game. At times he uses it like a bat-breaking cutter, at others as a finishing pitch out of the zone. Though it was his least consistent offering, many of his sliders were plus.

Montas’ 84–87-mph splitter was incredible and has plus-plus trapdoor action, bottoming out just before it reached the plate. Some of his splits elicited audible gasps and moans from scouts and A’s personnel, and a few flailing, empty swings by good big league hitters. I’d call his fastball above average in terms of its nastiness but a little below average in a bat-missing sense; his slider quality was, on the whole, about average, and his splitter is at least a 70 on the scale. We can take a cursory glance at Montas’ pitch splits, specifically his swinging-strike rates, as a quick and dirty proxy for quality and as a sanity check for my visual grades. These (yowser, that splitter) reinforce them and are the sort befitting a mid-rotation starter on a contending team.

With two years under contract before free agency and making just $5 million this year (roughly one-sixth of what he’ll have been worth if he pitches in line with 2022 projections), Montas should command a huge haul of young players should Oakland decide to move him. Teams may have some trepidation because the early portion of his career was rocky, and right as it seemed he had turned a corner, he was suspended for PED use in 2019, then posted a 5.60 ERA in ’20 (4.74 FIP, 4.36 xFIP) and followed that with an incredible ’21 (187 IP, 3.37 ERA, 4.1 WAR). He’s been great for precisely 1.5 of the last five years, but he sure looks great right now, and with a change of scenery to a contender and a contract year looming, there are ample reasons to view Montas’ next two seasons in an optimistic light.

Later on Sunday, I caught Sean Manaea’s Padres debut. It was the second time I saw him during the spring, and this outing was much better than his first, an encouraging sign for his new club. It was bizarre seeing Manaea in a different uniform (even though Oakland isn’t his first org) and an entirely intact undershirt rather than the tattered, Edward Scissorhands tee he had been sporting under his A’s uni this spring. Manaea came out sitting 91–92, a range he was merely peaking in during his first start, and was more proactively mixing in his secondary stuff early in counts against his former teammates. His slider lacks great movement in a vacuum, but his low-slot delivery helps it play against left-handed hitters. He showed great touch on his changeup, maintaining his fastball arm speed while locating the cambio down and to his glove side. This is Manaea’s best pitch, and working with it and his slider early in counts opened him up to run his fastball up the ladder as a finishing pitch rather than something he’s ill-advisedly tried to use to get ahead.

Physically, Manaea looks great. His on-mound athleticism and his mobility getting off the mound to field his position are remarkable given his size and age. He’s long had fluctuations in velocity but had been on the upswing throughout each of the last two seasons (he touched 97 last year!) and is on that trajectory again early on in 2022. Whereas (free of context) he looked more like a bulk long reliever in his first outing, the velo uptick and sharper style of attack have Manaea looking like good fourth starter again.

Dinelson Lamet and MacKenzie Gore followed Manaea in this outing. Lamet struggled and looked behind from a conditioning standpoint. He sat 94–95 without a lot of life, and his command was loose within the zone. His fastball was vaporized multiple times, though his slider’s shape (in that Brad Lidge mold with huge vertical depth for a pitch in the mid-80s) is still really exciting. It’s imperative for the Padres’ postseason hopes that Lamet find something approaching his peak quality of stuff.

Gore, sitting 94–96, still has inconsistent mechanics and feel for release, resulting in below-average fastball command and inconsistent secondary pitch quality. His arm action has lengthened again (which isn’t necessarily bad, whatever works for you) and is still wildly inconsistent, causing him to spray his fastballs all over the place. If there’s an encouraging sign here, it’s that Gore’s best sliders are much better than any of the ones from the four or five outings of his that I saw last year (he was in Arizona a lot, recall), and he’s starting at-bats with his secondary stuff more often. He looks ready to contribute to the Padres’ pitching staff in an effective albeit inefficient and sometimes frustrating way, but it isn’t as if his pre-2020 fluidity and feel have suddenly returned to make him look like a front-end arm again.

Board Change Odds and Ends

Mariners right-hander Matt Brash and Diamondbacks righty Drey Jameson have moved into the Top 100. Jameson has been sitting 97–100 all spring, his slider has had ridiculous depth for how hard it is, and he’s confident enough in his changeup, which has been in the 87–93 mph range, to double and triple up on it at times. All three pitches are plus or better, though his changeup is pretty vulnerable when it doesn’t finish. He’s done this in two-inning outings out of the bullpen, but even if he sits in a slightly lower velo band as a starter, he still belongs on there.

Brash, who has been piggybacking with fellow Mariners prospect George Kirby this spring, made the big league club out of camp and should have been on the original 100 this offseason. He’s been sitting 95–98 with huge riding life and two plus breaking balls in his upper-80s slider and low-80s curveball. While he walked a batter every other inning in 2021, which makes me want to round down on his projection due to possible inefficiency, he has a 100-inning foundation off of which to trampoline this year. That should allow him to pitch 120–130 innings if we’re anticipating a typical year-to-year increase, putting him in a good workload spot relative to the entire population of big league starting pitchers. Both pitchers will have an “Up” arrow in their trend column on The Board.

Again, while we’re working on the next cluster of org lists (Reds, Guardians, Dodgers, White Sox), I’ve run into a players here or there who belong on lists we’ve already done. Here is a list of who has been added to The Board, where you’ll need to head to read their scouting reports:

Kelvin Caceres, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Lucas Erceg, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Edwin Jimenez, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Fernandez, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

Source of this news: https://blogs.fangraphs.com/more-in-person-scouting-looks-headlined-by-frankie-montas-sim-game/

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