Talking Koda Glover

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Recently THE NatsGM Show Producer Josh Owens asked me a relatively simple question – “Where did Koda Glover come from?” Certainly there was some humor implied in the query, but also plenty of truth, as Glover has gone from a relatively anonymous prospect into a force in Washington’s bullpen in one year.

Washington selected Glover in the 8th round of the 2015 MLB Draft from Oklahoma State, where he served as the Cowboys’ closer.  Glover pitched only 23.2 innings in 2015, allowing 20 hits and 7 walks against 28 strikeouts.  Coming into the draft, Glover was known to have legitimate 94-96mph fastball velocity, along with a woefully inconsistent upper-80s slider.  Possessing a large 6-5 225lbs frame and easy plus velocity, Glover was still difficult to scout due to his lack of collegiate innings, and his pure relief profile made him project outside the top-5 rounds.

Washington signed him to a $200,000 bonus and aggressively promoted him to Low-A Hagerstown last season.  The Nationals continued to challenge the 23-year-old Glover, starting him at High-A this season and pitching 9.2 innings before a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg.  22.1 dominant innings at Double-A forced yet another promotion for Glover, who continued to overwhelm hitters at Triple-A, posting a 2.25 ERA over 24 innings.  A combination of injuries to Washington’s bullpen and his impressive statistics allowed him to reach the majors in late-July, making his debut on July 20th.  In limited time thus far in Washington, Glover has continued to gather outs, posting a 3.00 ERA with 12 strikeouts against 7 hits and 4 walks in 12 innings pitched.

Since the draft, Washington has refined his delivery and improved his slider, watching the pitch go from an inconsistent, fringe-average offering to a present above-average, whiff inducing weapon.  In addition, Glover’s fastball velocity has also increased, as he has averaged 98mph on his heater in the majors.  Furthermore, Glover possesses impressive moxie on the mound, challenging hitters with an obvious bulldog mentality.  Overall Glover has an easy “65” fastball and a “55/50” slider, along with an occasional curveball and changeup.  Combined with solid command and control of the strike zone, this allows Glover to profile as a late-inning, high-leverage major league reliever.

Washington’s scouting and development departments must be commended for finding and developing Glover – first the Oklahoma area scout had to work hard to see him pitch, then be aggressive enough to get his superior to also watch Glover pitch, then successfully lobby for his selection inside the top-10 rounds.  This is no small feat for an area scout.  Next Washington’s pitching coaches worked to streamline his delivery and develop his slider from a “45/50” pitch in college into a “55/50” in a year, another near miraculous development.  Without these improvements, Glover was likely destined to be a minor league reliever: now he looks to be a major cog in Washington’s bullpen going forward.

Certainly none of this occurs without the diligence of Koda Glover, but Washington must also be applauded for seeing his raw talent and helping it blossom.  Getting an 8th round pick to the majors is impressive in itself, but getting a potential impact player that late makes him one of the best values in the 2015 draft.

Armchair Evaluation – Scouting Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito

On another scorching hot summer afternoon in Washington, Sunday the Nationals sent their top prospect, RHP Lucas Giolito, to the mound to start against the Colorado Rockies.  The 22-year-old Giolito scuffled in three previous starts last month, pitching only 11 innings with a 4.91 ERA and would again be challenged against one of the top offenses in the National League.

Sunday Giolito pitched 5 innings for Washington, allowing 4 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks against 2 strikeouts.  Giolito threw 100 pitches (64 strikes / 36 balls) in this outing, generating 5 ground outs against 4 fly outs, plus two home runs.  According to BrooksBaseball.net Giolito averaged 94.18mph on his fastball, 81.41mph on his curveball and 84.81mph on his changeup.  By my notes, he threw a total of 71 fastballs, 16 curveballs and 13 changeups.

From a scouting perspective, Giolito’s fastball showed plus velocity and he has the ability to both sink the ball and have it run arm-side.  Unfortunately he struggled both commanding and controlling the strike zone, throwing 1st pitch strikes to only 9 of the 22 hitters he faced.  In addition, he missed his target regularly and left the ball in the middle of the plate, while also struggling to get his fastball low in the strike zone.  Besides the two home runs, many other fastballs were punished for long outs.  In recent years Giolito has scuffled locating his fastball and this outing did nothing to quell these concerns.

Also, although it comes with the reputation as one of the top pitches in the minor leagues, Giolito struggled with his curveball and had inconsistent results.  The first 2 innings Giolito threw 7 curves, of which only 1 was a quality offering; conversely, he found the feel in the 3rd inning, making 8 fairly consistently good pitches the last 3 innings.  My only complaint would be he should throw it more often, especially with 2 strikes, and have the confidence it will get big league hitters out.

Perhaps the biggest positive from this appearance was Giolito’s changeup, which flashed excellent arm-side run and split-finger type movement.  Of the 13 he threw, 3 induced pure whiffs and a couple others generated weak contact from batters.  It was an easy “55” or better pitch.  Giolito only threw 3 changeups to righties on Sunday, something I would encourage him to do more so going forward.

In terms of mechanics, Giolito seems to be making a noticeable effort to quiet his arms and upper body during his delivery, something I noticed in his debut last month.  Additionally, he seems to have simplified the early part of his windup, using what looks like a shorter first step off the rubber.  I cannot find adequate video from last month to confirm this, so take it with a grain of salt.  However, there is little question he is attempting to quiet his delivery, likely in a direct effort to improve his fastball command.

Giolito's Debut, Credit Jon Feng

Giolito’s Debut, Credit Jon Feng

Overall this start highlighted the biggest present weakness in Giolito’s arsenal, namely his fastball command and control.  He struggled keeping his fastball in the lower-third of the strike zone, continually locating the pitch above the hitters’ belt.  Additionally, he had difficulties throwing his fastball on the inner third, leaving several pitches in the heart of the plate.  As a result, this forced Giolito to primarily throw the ball away on the outer-third later in the outing.  As mentioned above, he struggled getting ahead in the count, and by falling behind, this allowed the opposing batters’ to get comfortable in the box and lean out across the plate.  He must improve his ability to work the corners and avoid the middle of the plate if he wants to be successful in the major leagues.

One other area of concern is Giolito’s inability to miss bats, as his 2 strikeouts and 8 total whiffs indicate.  He has excellent stuff and should be producing a much larger number of whiffs – perhaps much of this is attributable to his lack of 1st pitch strikes and fastball command, but someone with 3 plus or better pitches should be generating nearly double the swings-and-misses.

Finally I finish analyzing this start primarily with the reminders that the transition from the minors to the majors is extremely difficult, and the importance of fastball command.  Giolito can get minor league hitters out even pitching in the middle of the plate due to his impressive arsenal, yet major leaguers will punish mistakes like these.  One must remember that although the repertoire is major league quality, Giolito has thrown only thrown 377 professional innings and still needs to improve his weaknesses.

If he continues to refine his delivery and command the strike zone while gaining confidence in his pitches, Giolito profiles as a potential #2 starter in the near future.  Giolito reaching his enormous potential almost exclusively rides on if he can improve his fastball command.  Assuming he stays healthy, I expect improvement with Giolito in 2017 and a breakout for him in 2018.  Be patient as Giolito is Chance the Rapper 5 years ago.

The Nationals Will Add Mat Latos To Their Roster

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Early Monday Ken Rosenthal reported that the Washington Nationals intend to call up veteran RHP Mat Latos from Triple-A Syracuse on September 1st, the date rosters expand in Major League Baseball.  Latos had an opt-out in his contract for August 29th, but the Nationals were able to come to an agreement to wait three additional days before adding him to the roster.

The Nationals signed the 28-year-old Latos on June 29th, with the righty making 2 appearances for the Gulf Coast Nationals before a Triple-A promotion.  In 3 starts for Syracuse, Latos has a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings pitched, allowing 16 hits and 7 walks against only 10 strikeouts.  Latos began the 2016 season with the Chicago White Sox, posting a 6-2 record with a 4.62 ERA, allowing 63 hits and 25 walks against 32 strikeouts in 60.1 innings before being released.

Latos has had past success in the majors, as from 2010-2014 he was one of the top starting pitchers in the National League while pitching for San Diego and Cincinnati.  In two seasons under current Nationals manager Dusty Baker, he provided Cincinnati with a 3.48 ERA over 209.1 innings in 2012 and 3.16 ERA over 210.2 innings in 2013.  Latos has also played for the Angels, Dodgers, and Marlins during his 8-year career.  Injuries, and ineffectiveness due to these injuries, have limited his time on the mound the past two seasons.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, Latos utilizes a large repertoire, featuring a 91mph fastball, 90mph sinker, mid-80s slider and cutter, plus a low-80s splitter.  He also throws the occasional curveball and changeup.  When effective, Latos strikes out nearly 8 hitters per 9 innings while limiting his hits, walks and home runs allowed.

Latos will presumably be added to a starting rotation struggling with injuries to Joe Ross and Stephen Strasburg, along with inconsistency from young arms A.J. Cole, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.  Likely Latos will give Washington one or two spot starts as a buffer until Ross and Strasburg return from the disabled list.  In addition, perhaps Latos gives Washington some low-leverage innings in September if they clinch a playoff position with games remaining.

Now healthy, Latos will be extremely motivated to pitch well in hopes of attracting suitors this winter.  At worst, Latos should be able to soak up some innings to help rest an otherwise beleaguered Nationals’ pitching staff down the stretch.  Conversely, there is a non-zero chance Latos recaptures his previous form for Washington and provides them with 10-25 quality innings.  This slim possibility makes Latos an interesting gamble for the Nationals.

Armchair Evaluation – A.J. Cole

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Saturday afternoon, the Washington Nationals sent RHP A.J. Cole to the mound for his 2nd start of 2016 against the Colorado Rockies at Nationals Park.  After several poor outings in 2015, Cole pitched well Monday in an emergency start against Baltimore, earning a 2nd opportunity.

On a hot, humid afternoon, Cole pitched 5.2 innings for the Nationals, allowing 3 earned runs on 4 hits and 3 walks against 4 strikeouts.  Cole needed 112 pitches (71 strikes and 41 balls) to capture his 17 outs, and generally performed better than his statistics might otherwise indicate.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, Cole average 91.98mph on his fastball, 84.34mph on the changeup, 83.07mph on the slider and 75.43mph with the curveball.  His heater has impressive late life and induced several whiffs – he also showed an ability to both cut and sink the fastball at times.  He throws his slider almost exclusively to righties and the pitch features good, late break resembling a cutter.  Furthermore Cole utilizes his curveball primarily against lefties and while the pitch can show good 12-6 movement, he often hangs it in the middle of the plate.  Finally Cole threw only a couple firm changeups against the Rockies, showing little confidence or feel for the pitch.

After analyzing Cole’s outing, I observed several clear positives and negatives.

The Positives

1)            Strikeouts & Whiffs

Sure the sample size is small, but after striking out 8 Orioles on Monday, Cole followed it up by striking out 4 hitters in 5.2 innings Saturday and producing 12+ whiffs.  His fastball does not show high-end velocity, but he is missing major league bats at a healthy rate.  Cole needs to improve his command, but he should gain confidence from this success thus far with the fastball.

2)            Mechanics

Cole seems to have improved and refined his mechanics this season at Triple-A, as he appears to be standing noticeably taller on the mound and making an effort to get better extension toward home plate.  Perhaps this improved extension helps explain the impressive whiff total with his fastball.

In addition, his tempo toward home seems more consistent and streamlined, allowing him to stay more in line towards his target.  Cole still struggled with his location, although some of that can be attributed to the adrenaline rush of a young pitcher.  However, if these mechanical adjustments are permanent, he should find more success in the future limiting his walks and throwing better quality strikes.

3)            Slider

The major weakness in Cole’s profile has always been his breaking ball and finding comfort throwing either his curveball or slider.  As an amateur his slider was the superior pitch, although scouts have graded his curveball better in recent years.  Since returning to the majors, Cole’s slider looks much sharper than before, with late break and cutter-like movement.  He still does not throw it for enough strikes, but it has improved enough to be a “45/50” quality pitch.

Negatives

1)            The Changeup

Often rated early in his career as his best off-speed offering, Cole threw less than 5 total changeups in this outing, becoming essentially a two-pitch pitcher (Fastball/Slider to RHBs) and (Fastball/Curveball to LHBs).  Only a rare few can be successful starting pitchers without a changeup, so Cole will need to gain confidence in this pitch going forward.

2)            Curveball vs. Slider

As mentioned above, Cole seems to primarily feature his curveball against left-handed hitters, which Colorado has in abundance.  Unfortunately, I do not think his curveball is particularly good, grading as below-average for me.  However, his slider has improved in the past couple seasons and looks to be at least an average offering since his return to the majors.  I would like to see him lean more heavily on his slider going forward and use his curveball as a “show-me” pitch to keep hitters off-balance.

3)            Fastball Location

Finally, Cole struggled locating his fastball on the inner-third of the plate, especially to left-handed hitters.  Either he would misfire and throw it well inside for an obvious ball, or he would miss his location and leave it in the middle of the plate.  When he did hit an inside target, he was able to produce several meek ground outs and infield pop flys.

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Despite only mediocre results, I am impressed with what I have seen from A.J. Cole so far in 2016.  While he will not reach the #2/#3 starter profile I labeled him in high school, I feel confident Cole will be a major leaguer for several years.  Presently Cole possesses a “50/55” fastball, a “45/50” slider and a “40” curveball and changeup.  I have seen both the curve and cambio better in the past, particularly the changeup, which I previously graded a “50″.  Cole has an above-average fastball, along with two potentially average off-speed pitches, allowing him to project as a #5 starter or a low-leverage reliever.

Unless he is used as a trade chip this winter, I foresee Cole as a member of the 2017 Nationals’ pitching staff, possibly usurping Yusmeiro Petit from his role as long reliever and emergency starting pitcher.  In another organization, I could envision Cole acting as a serviceable back-end starting pitcher, especially in the National League.  However, if he remains in Washington, his most likely role will be in relief, with his ability to pitch multiple innings and limit walks making him a valuable swingman.