Wednesday morning I took advantage of the beautiful weather, along with a generous offer from my sister-in-law to watch the dogs, to drive to Hagerstown to watch the Suns, Washington’s Low-A affiliate, do battle with the Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore’s farm team.
Overall I was impressed by the quality of play of each team, especially considering it was a “get away” game, and the number of prospects on both teams. These are my scouting notes on a few of the many impressive players from this contest, a game Delmarva rallied to win 5-4.
Luis Reyes RHP Hagerstown Suns
Starting for Hagerstown Wednesday morning was 20-year-old pitcher Luis Reyes, making his third career start at the Low-A level. Immediately I was impressed with Reyes long legs, high waist, and the amount of projection remaining in his “listed” 6-2 175lbs frame. With a baby-face like Justin Bieber, Reyes should fill out with additional muscle as he matures.
Reyes was sitting 87-91mph with his fastball, touching 92mph three times, with life on it and he command it well both arm-side and toward the bottom of the strike zone. Toward the lower velocity readings, his fastball would also show some sinking action. Furthermore Reyes flashed a 73-74mph curveball which needs development, as he slows his arm to help the torque on the pitch. Finally he also showed a few 82-84mph changeups with some natural sinking action toward his arm-side.
Signed as a 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic, Reyes is another product of Washington’s recent improved efforts signing players internationally. While he is extremely raw and needs significant development to his off-speed offerings, Reyes is an intriguing, projectable young arm. I would expect the Nationals to have Reyes focus on fastball command this summer, along with becoming more comfortable throwing his changeup and curveball. This is a nice sleeper prospect in Washington’s system and I am curious to observe his development this season in Hagerstown.
Jomar Reyes 3B Hagerstown Suns
Maybe he began the 2015 season somewhat unknown in prospect circles, but Reyes’ stock is about to skyrocket like an underpriced IPO on Wall Street. Reyes is already a physically built man, looking much larger than his listed 6-3 220lbs. Reyes flashes a strong arm both pregame and during game action but his sheer mass makes me question if he will have the agility or speed to remain at third base as he continues to mature physically. He has below-average current speed, meaning a position shift is most likely across the diamond rather than the outfield.
However, regardless of his eventual defensive position, Reyes is a hitter and his bat will always be his calling card. Reyes shows above-average bat speed, good mechanics and balance throughout his simple right-handed swing. He generates loft and back spin off the bat, and the ball sounds different off the bat than others at this level, as if he is swinging a sledgehammer on a “Strength-Tester” carnival game. Like most young power hitters, his swing can get a touch long and he will need to shorten it as he moves through the minors, but he has quick wrists and the raw bat speed to hit professional velocity.
Although he is still raw and there are legitimate questions about his eventual position, it is rare to find a right-handed hitter with a good approach, mechanics, and swing at such a young age. Orioles’ fans should remain patient with Reyes, as he should move level to level in his journey towards Baltimore and will need 3+ years in the minors to be big-league ready. That said, aside from Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey, and Chance Sisco, no player in the Baltimore system has a bigger “upside” than Reyes and one could argue he is currently a top-5 prospect in their farm system.
Jonah Heim Catcher Hagerstown Suns
This winter while most people may have caught the flu, I contracted a case of “I’ve fallen in love with great defensive catching prospects” – My latest strain of this wonderful virus is Orioles prospect Jonah Heim.
Heim is much taller than average catchers, but he does a masterful job of framing his body to give the pitcher a large target and the umpire an excellent view of the pitch. His squat does leave him slightly vulnerable to wild pitches low and inside, but he is agile enough to adequately block these pitches in the dirt. I was amazed at how square and quiet he kept his body as he received the pitch and his hands are exceptionally soft and gentle as he catches the ball. In addition, Heim showed quick feet and a strong arm, flashing a 1.94 second pop time to second base in throwing out an opposing baserunner. He still needs polish behind the dish and to improve his blocking abilities, but Heim projects as a plus defensive catcher at the big league level.
Heim’s offensive skills currently lag behind his defense, but the 19-year-old switch hitting catcher showed some good bat speed from the left side Wednesday, crushing a double and hitting a fly ball to the wall in straight away center field for a loud out. He still struggles with strikeouts and recognizing breaking pitches, but he has made noticeable strides to shorten his lefty swing.
Like every teenager he needs at-bats to gain experience and refine his approach and swing, but a switch-hitting catcher with plus defensive potential is an outstanding starter kit for a prospect. If one believes Chance Sisco is destined for another defensive position, Jonah Heim is clearly the best catching prospect currently in the Orioles’ system. I do not expect him to move quickly but I would be stunned if he did not develop into a major leaguer in the future.