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Minor League Monday: Sheldon Neuse

As the Minor League Baseball season winds down, so too does the first year of professional baseball for many young players. Some of Washington’s top prospects were drafted this last spring, and are wrapping up their first opportunity to play with the pros. The Nationals selected several elite college players in 2016, including former Oklahoma Sooner Sheldon Neuse. This infielder excelled at the college level, though has not seem the same success in his first season in the minors. However, Neuse, the seventh-ranked prospect in the Washington system according to MLB.com, still remains very high on the charts for the Nats due to his immensely high ceiling.

Sheldon Neuse

Position: 3B Age: 21 DOB: 12/10/94 B: R T: R Height: 6’0” Weight: 195

neuse

Joe Buettner/OU Daily

Sheldon Neuse is an all-around baseball player, having spent his time at the collegiate level coming out of the bullpen as well as manning the infield. Prior to his three years at Oklahoma, Neuse excelled at the high school level, playing in the heart of Texas at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Worth. He was a four-year letter winner at the school, showing his tools off en route to being named a District MVP in both his Junior and Senior seasons. Neuse also displayed his defensive abilities, earning District Defensive Player of the Year in his sophomore campaign. The last major award Neuse took home was the District Newcomer of the Year award in his freshman year. This was a trait that he would also display in his Freshman season at Oklahoma.

 

There seemed to be no limit to the ability of Neuse in his first year at college. He excelled at the Big 12 level, making a near seamless transition to the next level. This wasn’t a surprise to many- Neuse had been touted as a potential top tier selection in the 2013 draft. This two-way prospect fell in the draft however, as many organizations knew of his commitment to Oklahoma, one that Neuse was not expected to break. The Rangers were the team to eventually give an attempt on Neuse, picking him in the 38th round. As expected, he elected to play with the Sooners, where he found immediate success. Starting in every game, Neuse led his team in numerous power categories, including RBIs  with 47, and 17 doubles and 6 triples. These numbers went along with a .304 batting average that warranted many post-season awards. There were many that Neuse took home, including being named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and earning a selection on the Big 12 First Team, his first of three nods. He displayed his skill all over the diamond, making nine appearances on the mound, throwing 12 innings and only allowing three earned runs.

 

These pitching numbers all lessened in his sophomore season where Neuse began playing nearly exclusively at short. He started all 61 games in the position while throwing just eight innings on the mound. Despite a slight drop in numbers, Neuse performed very well, again gathering a Big 12 First Team selection. The big drop was in his power, with his slugging dropping nearly .100 points from .521 to .424. Neuse rebounded spectacularly in the following season both on the mound and at the plate, hitting a slash of .369/.465/.646. This crazy numbers were all career highs. On the bump, he threw 19 and one-third innings and allowing only three earned runs. He also struck out 19 while walking just five. This fantastic season came at the right time for the approaching 2016 MLB Draft.  

neuseq

Sue Ogrocki/AP

 

This is where the Nationals picked up the Oklahoma prospect. Using their third pick in the draft, the Nationals took Neuse 58th overall in the second round. Team scouts found much to like with the infielder, including sure-fire hands and a strong arm that could throw in the low to mid-90s. However, Washington found Neuse to not have quite the quickness require for the middle infield. Thus they have transitioned him to third base, where his solid tools translate easily to.

 

Offensively, Neuse has an above average set of tools which the Nationals are very high on. His swing was mechanically solid entering the season, and has only improved with the instruction given to him in the minor leagues. This includes attempting to stay in on pitches longer and getting his bat more extended in the zone. Scouts feel that this could lead to better power numbers. This trait is already rated favorably by scouts, ranked at a 50 on the 20-80 scale by some. Adjustments such as this will only make for better power throughout his progression, which could become an above average tool. To go along with the power, Neuse can hit for average as well, with that tool receiving a 50 grade as well.

 

Neuse had struggled, at least by his own by his standards, in his first pro year. Right now with Low-A Auburn, he has a .230 batting average. His slugging is down as well, now at .341. There is no reason to worry, however, with this adjustment period being normal when switching to a higher level of play. He is also striking out with more frequency, 26 times in 126 at-bats, which is a number that will likely decrease with more experience. Next season he will likely see another change in level as he progresses forward, which will be interesting to take note of when that time comes. The slight struggle to adjust to new competition has not been experienced by Neuse before, so the transition to A ball could prove to be a easier after a year under his belt.
Sheldon Neuse is a top prospect for Washington and will continue to be so as he climbs through the system. He is taking a little while to adjust, which for himself is saying something, but things should settle in as he becomes more experienced in the professional ranks. Washington made a smart decision to take the well rounded player early in the draft, and could reap the benefits later on in his career. It will be a while before Neuse finds himself in the majors, but if he becomes a similar to hitter to the one he was in college, he could see the big leagues in possibly 2018. The transition will likely take place a year or two after, but the high ceiling on this prospect make 2018 an option. Regardless, Neuse is a player that will give the Nationals solid play at the big league level in the future.

Minor League Monday: International Signees

On this go around for Minor League Monday, we span the globe to take a look at the International Prospects that the Nationals have signed since the July 2nd opening of the 2016 International Signing period. Currently, Washington has rights on two of the Top 20 International prospects, according to scouts at MLB.com. These young players represent very long term investments for the parent club, signing at the age of sixteen for bonuses of upwards of millions of dollars. Being so young and not as well known, the information is sparse on these players, making for a slightly differently formatted Minor League Monday. Both will be analyzed with the information known, though it should be stated their progressions in years to come may change as developmental and organizational needs evolves with time. So now without further ado, lets introduce these young men that may one day be the next stars of Washington, Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna..

 

Luis Garcia

Position: SS Age: 16 DOB: 5/16/2000 Bats: L Throws: R Height: 5’11’’ Weight: 170

 

Garcia was signed with a $1.3 million dollar bonus on the same day the International Signing period opened. He was one of two signees that day along with Antuna. The Dominican checks in as the seventh ranked International Prospect at MLB.com. Like many younger players in his position, scouts are very high on the glove while they note that the offense will come with time. A common theme throughout developing players. Defensively, scouts are in consensus with Garcia’s sure-handedness at short. They say his ability to make the routine plays along with the occasional web gem comes nearly unparalleled by other players his age. As with any developing player, Garcia will also become that much better with his glove when he can routinely work with professional level coaching staffs. His arm is another strong suit, which rates at a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. This translates very well to shortstop, and also is strong enough to make a possible switch to third base if the Nationals deemed it to be necessary. They believe with the raw talent and skill of Garcia that he could very effortlessly make the switch in order to better the organization.

 

Offensively as mentioned, Garcia has room to improve. A natural athlete, he can make contact with pitches anywhere in the zone, though drives balls best when they come in on the inner half of the plate. His swing will need some mechanical updates, in particular to reach that outer half that he sometimes struggles with. However, scouts and officials in the Washington system believe that these improvements and changes will come as Garcia continues to work within the team and get everyday practice. In a perfect world down the road, the Nationals project that Garcia will be able to drive the ball with solid power to all fields.

 

Yasel Antuna

Position: SS Age: 16 DOB: 10/26/1999 B:S T: R Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 170

 

Antuna was the other big International signing for Washington on the opening day of the signing period. Though rated further down MLB’s prospect list than Garcia at 17, Antuna signed with the Nationals for a huge $3.9 million bonus. Washington took the risk on the young man from the Dominican Republic based on his future projections as a possible 5-tool player. Many scouts see him as the big get from the Dominican for the 2016 season, thanks to his effortless ability both at the plate and in the field. For such a young player, scouts find him very polished, especially in the field. Even at the age of 16, many are guessing the youngster could, and likely will, become an everyday shortstop at the Major League level. These ideas come from his fluid body control at the shortstop position, anchored with quick, steady feet and topped with soft hands that seem to gobble up anything hit his way. Another bonus, like Garcia, comes with Antuna’s arm, which also projects at a 60 rating.

 

At the plate, scouts also love Antuna and his hitting ability, topped with the extra bonus of being a switch hitter. While he will continue to hone his swing, Antuna already demonstrates strong power from both sides, with gap-to-gap power. As mentioned, there is work to be done obviously with the teenager. Mechanically, his swing will have to be adjusted in order to eliminate an upstroke which produces more fly balls than wanted. This plays a role when hitting from both sides of the plate. Though there are flaws, the sound ability of Antuna has scoutings raving at his potential, which many say there really is no ceiling to.
The Washington Nationals certainly made a splash when signing these two top prospects. In baseball, value like Garcia and Antuna comes rarely, and often at a steep price. This case was no exception for Washington, who spent over a total of $5 million on these two alone. In years prior, Washington had not spent much internationally, though this year they planned to go big, knowing they would likely exceed the limit on their bonus pool amount of the 2016-17 signing period. Because of this, the organization will be limited in the amount they will be allowed to spend in future periods. More information on that can be found here, from SB Nation’s Ben Humphrey. This will play a role in the Nationals’ future moves, but for now the team is happy with its two top international prospects and this week’s Minor League Monday features, Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna.   

Chiefs in the Show

 Our broadcast intern Conor Green takes a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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Rich Hill was born in 1980 in Milton, Massachusetts. Hill attended Milton High School and was one of only four players in program history to make the varsity team as a freshman. Hill was originally drafted by the Reds in 1999, but decided instead to play for the University of Michigan. The southpaw eventually entered the majors in the 4th round of the 2002 draft to the Cubs.

Hill

(Ted S. Warren, Associated Press)

Hill made his major league debut in 2005 after three years of progression in the minors. The Massachusetts native struggled, sporting a 9.13 ERA in ten appearances, four of which starts. He pitched with the Cubs in each of the next three years, most effectively in 2007. The left-hander went 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA and 183 strikeouts in 195 innings. However, his effectiveness halted in 2008. Struggling to find the strike zone, Hill spent most of the season in the minors, including a stint in rookie ball with the Mesa Cubs. He was traded to Baltimore following the season.

With the Orioles in 2009, Hill again struggled. In 14 appearances and 13 starts, he went 3-3 with an inflated 7.80 ERA.  The performance led to Hill’s release, signing with St. Louis in the 2010 offseason. The pitcher never appeared in the majors with the Cardinals, but served as a reliever with four different teams from 2010-2014. Hill was eventually designated for assignment and signed with the Nationals in 2015. The lefty pitched 25 games in relief for the Chiefs last year, sporting a 2.91 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 21 and two-thirds innings. Hill was released by Washington in mid-June.

With no big-league offers on the table, Hill signed with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent League. Hill was grateful for the opening, saying, “I owe a lot to the Ducks for giving me an opportunity to start.”

After the Independent League stint, Hill re-signed with the Red Sox and made the best start of his career late in the season. On September 25th against the high-powered Orioles, the southpaw tossed a complete game two-hit shutout with ten strikeouts. The start was his third consecutive with ten strikeouts.

The hot play has continued for Hill in the 2016 season. In 14 starts with the A’s, the Massachusetts native went 9-3 with a stellar 2.25 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 76 innings. Hill was dealt to the Dodgers at the trade deadline and now looks to contribute to their playoff run.

Minor League Monday: Dane Dunning

This Monday not only marks the return of another Minor League Monday post, but also the beginning of the last full month of baseball for those associated with minor league teams. The late summer in the minors is an exciting time, though not for the reason of a playoff push. While sure, teams do compete for crowns across their respective leagues, winning the final game of the season means much less than evaluating talent at the lower levels, particularly among players who were recently drafted. These players have just finished their collegiate or high school careers mere weeks ago and are now playing in their first professional games, typically at the rookie or Low-A level. This is where we meet our prospect feature for this week’s post, a right-handed pitcher out of the University of Florida, Dane Dunning.

 

Dane Dunning

Position: RHP Age: 21 DOB: 12/20/1994 B: R T: R Height: 6’4’’ Weight: 200 lbs.

dunning

Bruce Thorson/USA Today Sports

Washington selected Dunning in this season’s draft with the 29th overall pick, its later pick of back-to-back choices. The Nationals took shortstop Carter Kieboom (brother of Spencer) with the 28th pick. Dunning came out of a rotation in Florida that was the best in the nation. In fact, in the 2016 campaign, the Gators elected to move Dunning into a bullpen role following a sophomore season where he started 14 games in 16 total appearances. This was not due to any sort of poor performance but rather the strength of other Florida arms, like A.J. Puk, drafted 6th overall this year, and Logan Shore, who surprisingly fell to 47th. Washington has decided to move Dunning back to the starting rotation to begin his development, the exact opposite route that most draftees typically undertake. Right now, Dunning is playing with Washington’s Low-A affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays. He has currently started four games in the professionals, striking out 11 and walking two in 11 and two-thirds innings of work.

 

Dane Dunning certainly excelled at one of the top programs in the nation at Florida, prompting his first round selection and current labeling as the eighth best prospect the Nationals own. He did so in thanks to his arsenal of pitches that includes a fastball, slider and changeup. The heater has been labeled by Dunning himself and scouts as his best pitch. As a starter, where the hope is obviously to throw many more pitchers than a reliever, it ranges around 93 to 95 miles an hour. Out of the pen where Dunning can throw his hardest with less frequency, 97 is not an uncommon sight. To go along with the speed, Dunning’s fastball has some very strong drop to it, about four inches usually, though sometimes as many as six. This natural movement to pair with the speed had scouts across the nation in consensus concerning Dunning’s high draft potential.

 

This deceptive fastball is at its best when paired with the right-hander’s offspeed pitches. With just a changeup and a slider to support the heater, Dunning has to maintain excellent control of his secondary pitches. So far throughout his collegiate career, he has been able to. He relies heavily on his changeup, which is far and away the better of the two secondary pitches. The success with the pitch comes with its delivery, where Dunning is able to excel in throwing the change just like he would a fastball. This not only creates additional movement on the pitch, but also disguises it from the batter until the moment it is released at a much slower speed. The change typically sits in the low-80 mile an hour range for Dunning. The last pitch Dunning throws is a slider, which will need to be improved in the minors. It has shown glimpses of greatness for the 21-year old, but with more practice and coaching could become another above average pitch to match with the fastball and changeup.

dunning1.jpg

John Raoux/AP

While Dunning has solid stuff, it is nothing without a similarly good delivery. A pitcher’s delivery impacts everything to do with the game, from locating throws to length a starter can go. For Dunning, his delivery is somewhat sound, though some features could be altered to create a maximum amount of success. Here is a video of his mechanics during his junior season at Florida. The main issue that warrants fixing comes with arm speed. Scouts have viewed his arm speed as almost too fast, a trait that gets in the way of control at times. Even while this problem can be fixed, Dunning has done fine with his control to this point, with a BB/9 ratio of 1.57 his junior year, down from 3.43 in the prior season. Inversely, his strikeout ratio is on the rising, moving from a K/9 rate of 8.20 sophomore year to 10/83 junior year. In essence, Dunning will definitely be coached to maximize his delivery, though he starts already with a very, very solid base.

 
With such young players like Dunning, Kieboom and others, it is hard to truly see how they will pan out in the future. Former number one picks may never seen considerable playing time in the majors, while 50th round picks may become the next perennial All-Star (just ask Mike Piazza and these guys). What we can say on Dane Dunning at the moment is that he certainly has the raw talent to play and has a great ceiling. His skills could ride him right to Washington, though that is likely several years away. With so many variables in the game of baseball, it is tough to accurately say when a recently drafted player could see big league time. Assuming all goes well for Dunning in the years to come, a 2019 debut could be a time to aim for for the young righty. Time can only tell where this week’s Minor League Monday Prospect may go, but Dane Dunning has a bright future in the game of baseball, with hopefully a rotation spot with the Nationals awaiting in down the road.

Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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Tyler Clippard was born in 1985 in Lexington, Kentucky. He played for Palm Harbor University High school, but unlike most future professional athletes he was not an instant star. Clippard did not make his varsity debut until his Junior year. He was eventually drafted out of high school in the ninth round of the 2003 draft by the New York Yankees.

Use Clippard

Greg Fiume – Getty Images

Unique in our additions to Chiefs in the Show, Tyler Clippard reached the big leagues prior to appearing in Syracuse. After progressing for three years in the Yankees organization, the right-hander journeyed to New York for a spot start in May of 2007. The youngster’s first major-league appearance came against the rival Mets and was a sparkling performance. Clippard went six innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out six, en-route to a 6-2 Yankee win.  His sharp outing led the New York media to brand the pitcher with the moniker: “The Yankee Clippard”. However, his time with the Yankees was short lived. He was sent back to Triple-A in mid-June and was dealt to Washington following the season.

Following the trade, he was moved into a relief role. Clippard began the 2009 season in Syracuse and was nearly un-hittable.  In 24 games, the right-hander had a 0.92 ERA with 42 strikeouts over 39 innings. He received a promotion on and pitched 41 effective games for the Nationals, sporting a 2.69 ERA in 60.1 frames. Clippard pitched the next five seasons for Washington. He was a horse in the bullpen, pitching 70-plus innings each year.

His best season as a professional came as an all-star 2011. In 72 games over 88.1 innings, Clippard allowed just 18 earned runs accompanied by 104 strikeouts and a 0.84 WHIP. The stellar season led to the Kentucky native’s promotion to the closer role following the season. Clippard recorded 32 saves in for the Nationals in 2012.

In the next two years combined, Clippard threw 141.1 innings, sporting a sub-three ERA both years with 155 strikeouts, while being named as an all-star for the second time in 2014. That year, he went unscored upon in three ALDS appearances, while allowing just one hit. After the season, Clippard’s successful stint in Washington came to a close. The Kentucky native moved to Oakland, following a trade with the Athletics.

Since 2015, this former Chief has played for three teams, the Athletics, the Mets and the Diamondbacks. The 31-year-old continues to be effective in relief, with only 37 earned runs in 90-plus innings of work. And after 10 major-league seasons the two-time All-Star has solidified himself as one of baseball’s preeminent relievers.

Minor League Monday: Spencer Kieboom

Is there a cure for a case of the Sunday Scaries that rolls right into the Monday Blues? Scientists have yet to find a definitive remedy, but us here at NBT Bank Stadium think we may be onto something with our Minor League Monday Blog. This weekly piece will go into detail about a current Washington prospect and the outlook on their career moving forward, and is sure to settle down any symptoms of the Weekday Worries. So without further ado, let’s restore some weekend glory and dive into this week’s prospect, catcher Spencer Kieboom.

 

Spencer Kieboom

Position: C Age: 25 DOB: 3/16/1991 B: R T: R Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 210 lbs

kboom

Mark Crammer

Spencer Kieboom is currently in his fifth professional season after being drafted by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2012 Draft. Prior to this season, MLB.com ranked Kieboom as the 21st rated prospect in the Washington system. The catcher was selected out of Clemson University following his junior season, his second year as the Tigers full-time catcher. He did find some playing time late in his freshman year in 2010, starting 13 games with 11 of them coming in tournament play. This included the College World Series, where Clemson fell in the semi-finals to the eventual champion South Carolina Gamecocks.

 

When Washington took Kieboom, it was for his defensive prowess behind the plate. This reputation has followed him from the collegiate level to the professional leagues, where Kieboom displays his defensive calling card with ease. Scouts like the technical side of the right-hander due to his quick feet and release when throwing to second on a steal play in addition to his large frame which can block pitches in the dirt with ease. On the other side of things, many have long praised Kieboom for his leadership tendencies which play into his ability to work naturally with any and all pitchers. This chemistry is intricately important when rising through the minor-league levels thanks to the wide array of pitchers any given catcher will see. Kieboom has had the chance to form a great battery with several other Nats prospects, including Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, both starters who earned their Major League debuts just recently. Also, while the pitcher plays a role in protecting against base stealers, any hurler can feel much more at ease with Kieboom behind the dish. The catcher has thrown out runners at a career 36% rate, a great number for any level of play.

 

While saying that Kieboom’s defense is his best tool, it is not to throw shade on his offensive play. He has done well at the plate in his time in the Washington system, with a slash line of .269/.346/.388 over his young career. His solid hitting and big body does not necessarily translate to power (14 career home runs) but does well for him when employing a solid-contact mentality, particularly when trying to drive balls up the middle. This could translate to a nice end of the lineup type hitter at the Major League level. Scouts have not been enamored with Kieboom at the plate, but are in consensus he could hit enough to earn that spot. Many believe his swing can get too long at the plate and that his ability to hit secondary pitches needs to be improved. However, when Kieboom barrels up a baseball, he can drive it a long way.

kboom1.jpg

Joy R. Absalon/MiLB.com

One worry about this prospect comes with his injury history. In 2013, Kieboom missed all but four games in the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Then in late July of 2015, he suffered a concussion which put him out of the game until the Arizona Fall League. While these injuries could damage a prospect long term, Kieboom took a very mature approach to his ailments and used them to get even better. After his Tommy John surgery, Kieboom focused his time in rehab on his offensive game. He worked on his swing by practicing one-handed, and found a more comfortable stance in the box. Kieboom worked very hard on improving his ability even at a time when he wasn’t able to play the game. He also applied this approach in the time following his concussion diagnosis. Since he couldn’t physically exercise after being concussed, Kieboom turned to a healthier diet in order to not gain weight. When he was able to, he began to work in cardio and other activities to go along with the diet. After an offseason of on this schedule, Kieboom entered Spring Training 20 pounds lighter. The weight loss improved his agility and endurance behind the plate, something very important when his position asks him to squat down for hours on end, day after day.

 

While his working and training even after being injured improved his game, many were impressed with Kieboom and his commitment to his profession. Over his time in the minors he has built not only his on-field skill, but also his character off the field. This is an intangible than cannot be taught, and is only employed by players with a mature approach to the game. It is not a tool that will be graded on the 20-80 scale, but one that is viewed and measured by coaches and scouts and can play a role into working his way to the majors.
With Kieboom, the Nationals have a mature, team first defensive-minded catcher who could round out a lineup card offensively. He is the type of player that coaches and teammates alike root for to make it to the bigs, though his skillset lags a little behind. That is not to say Kieboom can’t reach the majors, more to say that if he does it would be in more of a backup, not everyday role. The good news for Kieboom is that with his approach to the game, this is likely a role he would accept at the time and work that much harder in order to make his case to see consistent playing time. He has had lots of success, a two time Mid-Season All-Star, and now has the hardest push ahead of him, from Double-A to the Majors. He will certainly get a chance, with Triple-A likely for next season and a debut not far off from that. It will be up to him to improve his offense and show he deserves a starting role. Spencer Kieboom does not have some of the allure of a blue-chip prospect, but he will certainly get his chance at the top level within the next few years.

Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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It’s William Edward Hickson that said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” In this week’s Chiefs in the Show we recall a former Chief who, at first, didn’t succeed. Then didn’t succeed again. Then didn’t succeed a few more times. But who always tried again.

Sandy Leon was born in 1989 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. He was signed by the Nationals organization as a switch-hitting 18-year-old in 2007.  It took Leon five years to advance to Triple-A Syracuse. In those years, he played with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals, Single-A Hagerstown Suns, Short-Season A Vermont Lake Monsters, and the Class-A Potomac Nationals. From 2007 through 2011, Leon never once hit higher than .251 and never tallied more than 43 RBIs in a season.

Sandy Leon

(Jim Commentucci – The Post-Standard)

He hit over .300 for the first time with the Chiefs in 2012. Playing in Syracuse for the tail end of the year, Leon compiled a .346 average, while tallying seven extra-base hits in 19 games. However, the successful slash line did not result in a promotion to Washington. Leon wound up back in Double-A Harrisburg for the majority of his 2013 campaign.

Leon finally found his way to the majors with the Nationals in 2014, but hit just .156 in 20 games. He spent most of the year in Syracuse and continued to struggle at the plate, hitting just .229 in 170 at-bats.

At the conclusion of the season, Leon was traded from Washington to Boston in exchange for cash considerations.

With the Red Sox in 2015, the catcher hit a meager .184 in 114 at-bats. As a result, Boston chose to designate Leon for assignment. He cleared waivers and finished the year with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Entering the 2016 season, Leon was a career .187 major-league hitter, with just three extra-base hits. Despite the poor offensive output, Leon was given a chance with the Red Sox, after injuries to both Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart. And the catcher instantly turned things around, going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in his first game. The explosive offensive performances continued.

Since the promotion, Leon has inexplicably turned into one of the best hitters in all of baseball. In 21 games with Boston, the catcher is hitting a prolific .452 with nine doubles and 13 RBIs.

A factor Leon attributes to his newfound success is his consistent eye level at the plate. Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez helped the catcher accomplish this, saying, “We did a couple drills just to keep him tall. He used to crouch and his first move was to come up. So we just kept him tall, and he was going direct to the ball. And he’s staying through the ball.”

The adjustment has Leon enjoying the strongest stretch of his career.  One of his best performances came last Saturday against the rival Yankees. The former Chief went 2-for-4 with a three-run home run and a career-high four RBIs at Yankee Stadium. When asked about his offensive outburst, Leon remained humble, saying, “It feels good, but it’s only like 60 at-bats. I know it’s a lot of hits in 60 at-bats, but like I say, I’m trying to keep it simple and help the team.”

After struggling for years, across all levels, this former Chief is enjoying career bests in the show. A decrease is eventually expected to some extent, but for the time being, Leon looks to continue his all-star caliber play in 2016.

Minor League Monday: Taylor Hearn

It’s Monday in Syracuse which means another edition of the weekly Minor League Monday series is here in full force. So far we’ve seen plenty of talent that the Nationals have stockpiled in their farm system, and today’s prospect is no different. His physical makeup immediately sets himself apart from other competition, and he has the baseball tools to increase that disparity as his career progresses. However, in the case of this product, all skills and tools can only be viewed at as raw ability, as the left-handed pitcher is currently throwing in just his second professional season.

Taylor Hearn

Position: LHP Age: 21 DOB: 9/30/1994 B: L T: L Height: 6’5” Weight: 210 lbs.

hearn
MLB.com

Taylor Hearn is a young southpaw with tremendous upside. Prior to the 2016 season, MLB.com ranked the young pitcher as the Washington’s 25th best prospect in the system, just a year after signing with the club. The Nationals selected Hearn in the fifth round, 164th overall, in the 2015 draft. It was the fourth consecutive year Hearn had hear his name called in the draft. He had previously been selected by the Pirates in 2012, the Reds the following year and then again by the Twins in 2014. Lucky for the Nats, Hearn declared himself not mature enough for professional baseball until after his 2015 season with Oklahoma Baptist University.

 

What Washington saw in Hearn was an overpowering lefty who threw a mid-90s fastball that could sometimes push upwards of 99 miles an hour. Hearn’s height also lends him to be able to throw at a downhill angle, compounding his speed and making it that much harder for hitters. A deceptive slider and improving changeup round out his arsenal. Something the Nationals knew on draft day as well was that they could begin Hearn’s career as a starter, and if needed use him in relief down the road. Not only would this give the Nats a shutdown pitcher for the later innings, but it could also fast-track Hearn to the Bigs with the parent club.

 

Coming out of Oklahoma Baptist University in 2015, Hearn had just concluded a perfect season. He amassed a 9-0 record to pair with a 3.50 ERA while striking out 71 batters in 64 innings of work. It’s easy to see what Washington scouts saw, tempting them to draft the southpaw. In his first professional season that began in the summer of 2015, Hearn struggled some to find his stride. After two games in the Gulf Coast league, where Hearn threw five innings and didn’t allow a run, he was moved to Low-A Auburn of the New York Penn League. In ten starts, Hearn compiled a 1-5 record with an ERA just under 4.00. While the relative lack of success showed in the box scores, Hearn remained unphased after his first pro season. He focused constantly on video of himself while also throwing every day in the offseason. His raw tools were there, they just needed a little more time to develop. This came the following year in 2016. Hearn is currently in the midst of a solid second season, where he is really displaying his potential talent. His ERA, now with Single-A Hagerstown, is at 3.46, though that is inflated due to a game where Hearn allowed five earned runs. He has only allowed an earned run two other times in 13 innings. Strikeout numbers are up as well, with 18, while the southpaw has only doled out four walks. The ability for Hearn is shining through as he is delivering on the skills noticed when he was drafted.

 

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Taylor Hearn/Twitter

These skills include both his physical makeup and his pitching ability. Hearn is a combination of height and weight tough to come by, standing at 6’5’’ while filling out at 210 pounds. The build of Hearn, tall and lanky, and his left-handed pitching, have drawn comparisons to the famed Randy Johnson. This is not to say that Hearn will be the next Big Unit, though that would be great, more of a comparison of body types and potential, completely maxed out, ceilings. Hearn has a great genetic makeup for a pitcher, and can really use that to his advantage. Not only can he capitalize on that downwards throwing motion as mentioned, but his length alone can make a pitch come out faster, and closer to the plate, than his teammates. For a closer look, watch this bullpen session of Hearn. Pay special attention to his length when he is fully extended and just about to release his pitch. Can’t teach size. This build alone would mean nothing, however, without pitching skill to match with it. Lucky for the Nationals, that skill is very evident with Hearn.

 

Hearn’s bread and butter pitch is his fastball. Sitting mid-90s, it can overpower any batter, especially in the lower levels of professional leagues. What’s more is the speed isn’t the only huge asset to the pitch. There is late break, and plenty of it, on Hearn’s heater, which earns him lots of swings and misses and also broken bats. With that, a hard to hit pitch can become nearly unhittable. Then comes the slider. Deceptive in its own right, it becomes a great out-pitch when combined in succession with the fastball. Hearn throws his slider like he does any pitch, hard and with speed, making it dip out of the way of opposing bats. Top potential could be earned for Hearn if he develops his changeup more and more. It currently sits well behind his fastball and slider, though if it did develop into another strong option, Hearns three-pitch arsenal would be hard to match, not to mention hit. Another necessary development for Hearn comes with his control. While it certainly hasn’t plagued the young lefty, only 26 walks in 71.1 professional innings, scouts see this as a hurdle still facing Hearn as he continues to climb the ladder. With refinement on his control, there could be a very successful career in professional baseball waiting ahead for Hearn.

 
This career will likely remain in the minors for a few years to come. Hearn is still just competing at the Single-A level and despite his success does have a ways to go in front of him. However, that is not to say Hearn will not eventually make his MLB debut. At the rate he is going, and with the talent he naturally possesses, an educated guess would see him in a Nationals uniform likely in the 2019 season, or perhaps the later stages of 2018. While this is a little ways down the road, it is not a-typical for the minor league path to take that long. Many, many players, if they make the major leagues at all, toil in the minors for much longer than four to five seasons. Hearn is certainly on the right track with his abilities, and could possibly be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

Chiefs in the Show

Every Wednesday, our broadcast intern Conor Green will take a look at a former Chiefs player who’s made his way to the Major Leagues. Enjoy…

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Adam Lind was born in 1983 in Anderson, Indiana and quickly became a star at Highland High School. After passing on the Twins in the 2002 draft, Lind signed with the Blue Jays after being selected in the 3rd round in 2004. Lind had a sharp first season in the organization, hitting .312 with seven home runs in 70 games with the Auburn Doubledays.

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(Mike Greenlar – The Post Standard)

Despite the performance, Lind was just ranked as Toronto’s 17th best prospect by Baseball America following the season. However, that sentiment shifted after another phenomenal year in 2005. With the Dunedin Blue Jays, Lind hit .313 with 12 home runs and 84 RBIs. The performance was the catalyst to Lind’s top prospect ranking prior to 2007.

The outfielder/first baseman played with the Chiefs on-and-off from 2006 to 2008, while moving back-and-forth to the big leagues. In those three seasons, Lind continued his hot-hitting, with a .394 average in 2006, .299 average in 2007 and .328 average in 2008.

The Indiana native played with the Blue Jays full time in 2009 and had his best season as a professional. Lind was one of the most explosive players in all of baseball, hitting .305 with 35 home runs. Additionally, he led the team in doubles (46) and RBIs (114). He followed with back-to-back solid years in 2010 and 2011, hitting 49 home runs with 159 RBIs combined.

Lind’s All-Star caliber performances came in spite of a habitually bad back. Oddly enough, to remedy the uncooperative ailment, Lind turned to yoga. Prior to the 2013 season Lind hired his own personal yoga instructor, saying later, “It was especially good in the second half of the off-season when she had gotten to understand my body a little better and was able to figure out ways to get to the spots that have bothered me the most last summer.”  The ancient Indian practice has allowed for Lind’s career to span 13 professional seasons.

In 2016, Lind has played a pivotal role for the playoff contending Mariners. He’s tallied 13 home runs and 70 RBIs through the midway point, as Seattle trails his former team, Toronto, by five games for the final Wild Card spot.  The long-time pro also played a stopper role for the Mariners earlier this year with a walkoff home run to end a six-game losing streak.

This former Chief turned his time in the salt city into a long, sturdy career in the big leagues. He will look to continue his good play out of the All-Star break, as he attempts to top 30 home runs for the second time in his career.

Minor League Monday 7/11/16

While another Monday brings us another work week, it also signals the return of our weekly Minor League Monday post here on the Inside the Chiefs Blog. Now unless you get to celebrate this week with a few days off thanks to the Triple-A All-Star game like us, use this read up on Andrew Stevenson to start your week off right. Stevenson is the feature of this production, a speedy defensive-minded player who currently patrols the outfield for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals Double-A Affiliate.

Andrew Stevenson

Position: OF Age: 22 DOB: 6/1/1994 Bats: L Throws: L Height: 6’0’’ Weight: 185 lbs.

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Bill Kamenjar/InsideNoVa.com

 

Andrew Stevenson was a steal in the 2015 MLB Draft. The Nationals were able to pick up the LSU product in the second round, 58th overall, with the organization’s first selection (Washington lost its top pick of the Draft in the process of signing Max Scherzer in the offseason). Entering the draft, scouts were very high on Stevenson, labeling the three-year collegiate player as possibly the best defensive player out there. The Nationals knew what they were getting in him, a great defensive talent with a definite upside at the plate. Stevenson climbs the ranks thanks to his prowess in the outfield, but with work could become a top of the lineup hitter. His talent led him through a tough freshman year at LSU, paving the way for his success at the collegiate level and beyond.

 

As a Tiger, Stevenson had a rough go of it in his freshman campaign, hitting just .193 while striking out with more frequency (25 times) than collecting hits (23). However, thanks to his electric play in center, he started every game, helping LSU to the 2013 College World Series in that manner. Switches flipped prior to the 2014 season, and Stevenson really turned it around offensively, batting .335 his sophomore season, a team high, before hitting at a .348 clip in his junior year, which also ended in the College World Series. His efforts earned him a spot on the 2015 All-SEC First Team, an accolade to accompany his two SEC All-Defensive Team honors (2014 and 2015). The awards pale in comparison to his actual play on the diamond, which included many highlight reel catches over that span. It was at LSU where Stevenson demonstrated that he possessed Major League abilities in terms of speed and defensive ability. Those tools were enough to get him drafted in the second round, with the notion that other assets would develop over time in the Minors.

 

Stevenson made three stops in his first professional season following his exit at LSU. After a two game stint with the Gulf Coast Nationals, Stevenson stopped by Auburn for 18 games, where a .361 batting average quickly moved him to Hagerstown. He finished out the season with the Suns, batting .285 with 16 stolen bases to give him a slash line of .308/.363/.309 after his first professional season. To start 2016, Stevenson was promoted to the Potomac Nationals, Washingtons’ High-A affiliate. This came after MLB.com ranked him as the Nats eighth best prospect in the system, a high debut for a young player. Stevenson carried over his success here, knocking 83 hits in 273 at-bats while driving in 18 and stealing 27 bases. These numbers led to a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, but not before Stevenson earned Mid-Season All-Star accolades for his work with the Suns, his first professional All-Star appearance. Adjustment to Harrisburg has been a slight issue for Stevenson so far, however. Through 16 games he holds a .183 batting average with just 11 hits with all of them coming as singles. This is nothing to worry about in the long run, as the stretch classifies as his first real professional slump, and can be expected in the transition phase to a higher level.

 

Let’s take a closer look at what the scouts say about Stevenson, in particular to his MLB.com ranking. Eighth in the organization, scouts tab his fielding ability as his top tool, rating it a 65 on the 20-80 scale. His speed, rated a 60, compounds this success in the outfield, while his arm strength has room for improvement in the Minors (rated a 35). At the plate, scouts know Stevenson can hit, ranking that tool at a 50, though not for power, where he receives just a 30 grading.

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John Oubre/Advocate Staff

A herky-jerky swing would aptly describe Stevenson’s mechanics at the dish. Weight moves all over, first forward then back, in his preparation for a pitch. This translates to base hits, though not over the fence power. And for the role Stevenson could play, that’s not a bad thing at all. As mentioned, many people project Stevenson to be a defensive-first center fielder who has the ceiling to hit at the top of a lineup. Based on what we’ve seen, this is entirely possible. He can hit, and once on base is always a threat to steal and put himself in scoring position, just what you want to see at the top of a lineup. The ability to see if Stevenson could earn that spot remains to be seen, but from what he has displayed at the collegiate level and now early in his professional career, it is entirely likely he may be atop a Major League lineup in the future.

 

The skills that will, and have, push Stevenson’s progression forward lies in his defensive abilities. He can fly with his speed, and this combined with excellent route taking makes him a centerfielder with the capability to cover huge stretches of the outfield en route to catching a fly ball. If you don’t believe that even after watching the first video hyperlinked, I’ll throw in some more proof here and here. It’s worth noting that the grab in the first video came in a 3-3 ballgame in the top of the 12th inning, just to add a little more impact to the play. While the second video doesn’t do a great job in capturing the athleticism required to make that catch, you can see how Stevenson couldn’t have taken a wrong step in catching that ball. It was hit on a line, requiring a full extension dive to catch it just above the grass. Had Stevenson taken one step in the wrong direction while first tracking the ball, it would have fallen down ahead of him. Note that these videos are all from his days at LSU (the SEC will always be more glorified than minor-league baseball). He was working here with mostly raw ability, talent that had yet to be honed by professional level coaches. The LSU coaching staff certainly influenced him, but the training Stevenson now is receiving on an everyday bases certainly outshines collegiate play.
The book on Andrew Stevenson is certainly an open one with much left to be written, but the first few chapters yield heavy promise. Stevenson holds rare defensive talent, and has the ability to bring up his offensive talent as well. Syracuse will likely see this player within the 2017 season at some point before he is able to make a jump to the majors following that. From a Tiger to a Sun to a Senator, Andrew Stevenson is quickly progressing his way up the baseball ladder. He is a player of many talents and one with a high ceiling, and much more importantly of course, is this week’s Minor League Monday prospect of the week.

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