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Article: Wahoos Weigh-In (4/23): Rotation Domination

brusdar graterol devin smeltzer griffin jax jorge alcala
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#1 Steve Lein

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Posted 23 April 2019 - 07:45 PM

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are in their first year partnering with the Minnesota Twins, and they’ve appeared to join the organization at a great time. Several top prospects in the system should spend time with them during the 2019 season, and several already are there. They sit atop the Southern League standings and in large part that has been because of their starting pitching. Brusdar Graterol is the big name, but every starter to take the mound has done their part and more.

Last Weighed In: N/A

***

Overall Record: 13-5 (1st in South Division)

Last 10 games: 7-3

Starting Rotation ERA: 2.10

While Pensacola’s season started a day late due to the weather on the Florida panhandle, Jorge Alcala set the tone for the starting staff by throwing five strong innings in the season opener as the Blue Wahoos shut out the Mobile BayBears 7-0. Alcala has since gone on to win every one of his four starts thus far but in the context of the rotation as a whole, is probably the fourth most impressive performer on the list.

That’s because Brusdar Graterol, Griffin Jax, and Devin Smeltzer have been even more lights out. Along with Andro Cutura and one start from Sean Poppen, as a starting staff they’ve combined to post a 10-1 record with a miniscule 2.10 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, while striking out 9.8 hitters per game.

Graterol brought a 0.52 ERA into his start on Monday, after a start that was was arguably the best of his minor league career, where he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He wasn’t dominant like that again but showed some resolve to reset after a bad inning that left the game tied at four and finished five innings. His offense then got a run back for him that allowed him to pick up his second win of the season in four turns. His 2.01 ERA after this game is still rock solid and he has paired it with a 0.94 WHIP while striking out 24 hitters in 22 1/3 innings. The Twins haven’t had a starter with an arm like his velocity-wise since…Pat Mahomes?!...But what’s even better than the velocity he brings, is the movement Graterol can generate along with it. Behold:


While Graterol has the top prospect shine and both he and Alcala get glowing scouting reports for their stuff, Jax and Smeltzer have arguably been even better when it comes to performance thus far. Both carry an ERA below 1.00 in three starts apiece.

In total Jax has thrown 16 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on 12 hits and seven walks while striking out 14 hitters. His last two turns were of the quality variety and if you didn’t know his somewhat weird path to get here as a baseball prospect, the Blue Wahoos reporter Bill Vilona has you covered.

Smeltzer came to the Twins organization as somewhat of a throw-in in last years Brian Dozier trade with the Dodgers, but maybe the scouting department of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine found something they liked in him. He had been a starter for most of his time in the Los Angeles system, but when acquired had been transitioned to the bullpen. That’s also where he pitched for the Twins after coming over and got some more time there in the AFL. That makes it a little odd that he’s back in a starting role with Pensacola, but I’m not going to argue with the early results.

He has just a 0.67 WHIP in 18 total innings, allowing just nine hits and three walks while punching out 21 hitters and his performance earned him a Southern League pitcher of the week award:


He doesn’t possess a big arm, working only around 90 miles-per-hour with his fastball, but maybe there’s a secret sauce that has been found with his breaking balls or something else. Smeltzer had a scary moment in his last start, where a line drive struck him in the head to lead off the top of the fifth inning. He was removed from the game and walked off under his own power, and luckily didn’t miss any time as Minnesota Twins farm director Jeremy Zoll told the Star Tribune that “Smeltzer has checked out fine” and as of this writing is throwing another gem for the Blue Wahoos (and will end the night leading the league in strikeouts).

If not for the Rochester Red Wings needing a spot start on April 10th another starter, Sean Poppen, may have got a bigger note than this paragraph as well. He’s started one game and struck out 11 hitters in five innings on April 20th against the Mobile BayBears.

Pensacola is currently dominating the Southern League in the standings, and it’s been their starting pitching leading the way thus far. It could be an interesting dynamic as the year wears on, as if this continues, they may not have these horses for long. Luckily for them though, Fort Myers has some horses of their own that look like they’ll be ready to take their place.

Batting League Leaders (as of 4/22)

-Luis Arraez ranks second in the Southern League with a .343 batting average and first in hits with 24
-Tanner English is tied for third in steals with 5 in 10 games
-Brian Schales is tied for second with 13 RBI, and second in home runs with three
-Jordan Gore leads the league with 15 runs scored in 16 games

Pitching League Leaders

-Devin Smeltzer (0.50) and Griffin Jax (0.54) are #1 and #2 in the Southern League in ERA. Smeltzer is second in WHIP (0.67)
-Jorge Alcala leads the league in wins (4-0)
-Alcala (25) and Graterol (24) rank #3 and #4 in strikeouts
-Backflipper Dusten Knight is tied for the league lead in saves with 4


Every two weeks during the season I’ll be looking back at what happened for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and welcome any input our readers may have on what you would like to see in these posts. I consider this space a work-in-progress that will evolve as the season wears on, so please leave a comment and discuss the Blue Wahoos performance thus far!

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Scouting Report: Power: 30, Hitting: 50, Arm: 60, Defense: 45, Speed: 45. "Line drive swing and shows good contact and on-base abilities. Double's power at his peak. Strong arm from 2B or the OF, stiff hands. Not a fast runner, but above average instincts on the bases. Skinny body doesn't look the part, but will sneak up on you. ACL surgery sapped much of his athleticism." (Probably)


#2 Aerodeliria

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Posted 24 April 2019 - 12:41 AM

Thanks! There are guys that just look like baseball players! Smeltzer is just not one of them. Smeltzer looks like a soundboard guy for a polka band, but hey, if he can record outs, 'strike up the music.'

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#3 Don't Feed the Greed Guy

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Posted 24 April 2019 - 07:29 AM

Great article! A couple years ago my youngest boy put together a family bracket "March Madness" style of favorite minor league team names. All four family members got a vote--with Mom's vote being the tie breaker. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos went into the final vs. The Montgomery Biscuits. The Wahoos walked off with the title! Now that it's a Twins affiliate, we keep our eyes open for a family trip, sometime in the next year or two. Thanks for the updates!
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#4 Steve Lein

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Posted 24 April 2019 - 08:16 AM

 

Thanks! There are guys that just look like baseball players! Smeltzer is just not one of them. Smeltzer looks like a soundboard guy for a polka band, but hey, if he can record outs, 'strike up the music.'

 

I don't think I ever really "look[ed] like a baseball player" either as an overly skinny guy, but discovered I could quite easily use this to my advantage.

 

One particular moment I recall, is my high school team was getting dominated by this pitcher when I was a Junior and not a starter. Coach wanted to get me in a game so pinch-hit me in final inning. I step into the box, and the pitcher who'd been striking everybody out called his catcher out to talk to him. As they're chatting they both glanced back at me with smirks on their faces and laughed. I knew what was up.

 

Pitcher threw his first pitch high-and-tight, guessing they were hoping I'd bail and they could laugh. I nonchalantly stuck my arms out and up and let if fly under them. The pitcher got this look on his face that said "what the heck, he's not afraid?!" His coach immediately came out to visit him, and mine called me over. Says to me, "That coach right now is telling his pitcher to quit messing around. This guy is a backup. Go right at him and get this over with. So sit on this fastball and put a good swing on it like I know you can."

 

I got that fastball, and laced it into left for one of our teams like 4 hits on the day. That pitcher was pissed. Just could not believe I hit him. He threw over to first like four times despite the fact I only took like a 2-foot lead. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Scouting Report: Power: 30, Hitting: 50, Arm: 60, Defense: 45, Speed: 45. "Line drive swing and shows good contact and on-base abilities. Double's power at his peak. Strong arm from 2B or the OF, stiff hands. Not a fast runner, but above average instincts on the bases. Skinny body doesn't look the part, but will sneak up on you. ACL surgery sapped much of his athleticism." (Probably)


#5 rdehring

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Posted 24 April 2019 - 08:50 AM

Loved this article about the Blue Wahoos, Steve, especially the link to the local article about Jax, who I see as a diamond in the ruff.With so few innings professionally, he just might end up being a special Twin.I see him as becoming someone similar to Scott Baker.

 

Am I correct that Graterol pitched around 100 innings last year?Do you think it is possible the Twins will keep him in the rotation until he has 90-100 innings, then move him to the pen to limit his innings and give him the chance to come up and help the Twins as a reliever in August/September/October.

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#6 Steve Lein

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Posted 24 April 2019 - 09:22 AM

 

Loved this article about the Blue Wahoos, Steve, especially the link to the local article about Jax, who I see as a diamond in the ruff.With so few innings professionally, he just might end up being a special Twin.I see him as becoming someone similar to Scott Baker.

 

Am I correct that Graterol pitched around 100 innings last year?Do you think it is possible the Twins will keep him in the rotation until he has 90-100 innings, then move him to the pen to limit his innings and give him the chance to come up and help the Twins as a reliever in August/September/October.

 

Thanks Roger! Jax is certainly a unique story, I would take your prediction for him any day.

 

As for Graterol, yes, he's got very few innings on his arm, especially for someone getting his first crack at double A. I've advocated for the exact scenario you speak of, both with Romero from last year (didn't happen that way), and Graterol for this one because of that. He's going to have a limit, but if he's killing it when he's close to that number and in triple A, I would find it to be a disservice to his development to not get his feet wet in the majors in this fashion.

 

Cardinals have had great success with this methodology, and heck, the Twins did too with Johan Santana. There are many other pundits out there who think this type of thing should be done more as well, especially with players of his ilk that have innings limitations.

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Scouting Report: Power: 30, Hitting: 50, Arm: 60, Defense: 45, Speed: 45. "Line drive swing and shows good contact and on-base abilities. Double's power at his peak. Strong arm from 2B or the OF, stiff hands. Not a fast runner, but above average instincts on the bases. Skinny body doesn't look the part, but will sneak up on you. ACL surgery sapped much of his athleticism." (Probably)


#7 FormerMinnasotan

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Posted 24 April 2019 - 01:59 PM

So what’s the time table for Tyler Wells’ return? From what I heard his injury wasn’t serious, he just needed time to get “up to speed”. He’s one I’m interested in seeing this year considering his dominant 6 AA starts from a year ago.



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