(5) Nolan Fontana. SS/2B/U, 26, AAA. 2.2 WAR
2017 Stats: .275/.386/.449 with 8 HR’s and 7 SB’s
Key Number: 48% FB rate in Salt Lake. 1 hit / 1 HR in Anaheim
Acquired: Claimed off of waivers in 2016 by Eppler
Fontana fits like a glove on the Salt Lake Bees team. The twenty-six year old works counts, plays average defense wherever you station him in the infield, and lofts the ball with regularity. That really works in the PCL.
The skillset may not fit as well in Anaheim, where pulled flyballs off of lefty bats go to die. Watching him in spring training, I got the sense that he’d bulked up since the last time I took a look at him, when he was with the Astros. He has clearly bought into the flyball revolution theory of hitting, and maybe, just maybe, he goes all Jose Bautista as a twenty-seven year old. I don’t think he’ll keep his roster spot with the Halos over the offseason, but he’ll no doubt find lots of willing employers. I suspect winds up a utility player playing home games in a hitter friendly park back east.
(4) Brennon Lund. CF, 22, A & A+. 2.2 WAR
2017 Stats: .326/.403/.446 with 5 HR’s & 17 SB’s
Key Number: ?
Acquired: 11th round of the 2016 draft under Eppler
I came up empty when looking for a number that captures some core skill of Lund’s. It’s not that he isn’t excelling--he’s slashing .352/.430/.496 on the back of a .407 BABIP since May 1st!--it’s just that he’s not really an outlier in any peripheral number. I remember coming across the same thing when looking at Kole Calhoun in the Cal League years ago. He was so obviously good at everything--isolated power, walks, line drives, performance against same handers, hitting to the opposite field, etc--but he didn’t rank in the top rung of any one metric.
I get the same vibe from Lund. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same power as Calhoun, so you have to really squint to see him as a regular on a contending ballclub, but he has fourth outfielder written all over him.
(3) Kaleb Cowart. 3b/2b, 25, AAA & MLB. 2.4 WAR
Stat Line: .303/.374/.464 with 10 HR and 18 SB (5 CS)
Key Number: 18% K-rate as a lefty hitter.
Acquired: 18th overall pick of the 2010 draft, under Tony Reagins/Eddie Bane
Cowart’s batting 1.000 against MLB righties on the season with a 33% walk rate, so there’s that.
He’s also been good against Triple A righties. The obvious improvement is that he cut his k-rate against them from 24% in 2016 to under 18% in 2017. That correlates with a modest power drop-off (.181 iso last year v .161 this year). Meanwhile, his walk rate as a lefty has ticked up to 10% from the 6% mark he posted last year. Improving control of the zone in Triple A should indicate that Cowart’s floor is rising.
As a righty, he’s an line drive and ground ball hitter who generally runs high BABIP’s. He also walks more from that side, but doesn’t quite drive the ball with the same authority.
Of course, we are all waiting for that ”plus raw power” tag from the left side to manifest. It’s been in the scouting report since 2010. Maybe it’s still there. That lingering potential ensures that Cowart stays employed as a professional athlete through his late 20’s, even if his career begins to look a little like Nick Franklin’s.
The sum of Cowart’s parts now looks like a major leaguer, if not quite the impact one that we envisioned back when he was drafted in 2010. Right now, he projects as an offensive-minded utility player with room to grow into Ben Zobrist-light his late 20´s.
(2) Forrestt Allday. Of, 26, AA & AAA. 3.3 WAR.
Stat Line: .316/.442/.363 w/ 1 HR and 7 SB (7 CS) over 268 PA’s
Key Number: .442 OBP
Acquired: Eppler, 2016, minor league free agent sign.
OBP is king. He´s been on the DL for the past couple of weeks, but before that, all he did was get on base. He has a tremendous batting eye, and a contact rate that ranks first among Halos’ farmhands this season. He hung in AAA, but lack of any projectable pop and MLB experience kept him off the depth chart, so back to AA he went. Hopefully the Halos keep him, and he returns to SLC next year.
(1) Jaime Barria. RHP, 21, A+ & AA. 3.4 WAR
Stat Line: 5 W, 5 L, 2.60 ERA through 104 IP. 21.4 K% , 4 BB%
Key Number: 11 inches of vertical “rise” on his fastball
Acquired: 2013, Jerry Dipoto. International Free Agent out of Panama
Barria pitched one inning in the Future’s game last week, and wowed. He threw 19 pitches, and racked up 2 swinging strikes with his “rising” fastball, 3 swinging strikes with his slider, and 2 swinging strikes with his change-up. That’s a 37% swinging strike rate right there, which is totally unsustainable for a starter, but does highlight his skills. His 14% swinging strike rate currently ranks first among Halos’ farmhand pitchers.
But Barria’s game isn’t built on dominance. His 21.4% strikeout rate falls well short of elite. The lack of k’s looks much better when you compare it to the miniscule 4% walk rate--he is elite at limiting the free passes--but there are plenty of minor league arms out there that rack up more strikeouts.
No, the crux of Barria’s game isn’t missing bats; it’s about weak, airborne contact early in the count. Barria averages 3.1 pitches per opposing Double A hitter, the lowest of any starter in the system. For reference, Troy Scribner, the Halos best AAA pitcher, needs 4.0 pitches to get through the average hitter. Grayson Long needs 4.15. Jake Jewell and Joe Gatto each come in at 3.6. Barria is dominant, but it’s not all about the K’s.
At his best, Barria is a popout machine. Nearly half of the balls that come off opposing hitters’ bats are flyballs, but about a third of those never leave the infield. He’s popped up 17% of opposing hitters so far, which lends sustainability to his .260 BABIP. Thanks to his participation in the Futures Game, we now have Pitch F/X data, and can see how he does it. His 4 seam fastball, which ranges from 91-95 mph, hits 11 inches of vertical “rise.” That’s not quite Jered Weaver territory, who was an extreme outlier, but it’s on the outer edge of the bell curve. Pair that rising fastball with a plus change-up, another pitch that tends to induce pop-ups, and you have a guy who doesn’t need to fan a third of hitters.
Yet he airborne contact is a double-edged sword. Make a mistake as a flyball pitcher, and you’re going to see the ball leave the ballpark. Since returning from his Futures Game showcase, Barria has coughed up three dingers over eight innings. That’s got to be sobering for the Angels, who spent a good chunk of the season pacing the league in coughed up dingers. I think Barria’s the best pitching prospect that we have in the system (I’m wary of Channing’s risk profile), but he’s still a project. He’ll be a major leaguer, but he’s going to give up homeruns in bursts. The frequency and duration of those homerun storms will determine his ceiling.