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The Chattanooga Lookouts- "You Can't Stop Them... You Can't Even Hope To Contain Them..."


jokin
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On a scheduled trip to Southern League country, I was fortunate to be close enough to include a visit to AT&T Park in Chattanooga on Sunday as part of my journey- and take in the power-packed Twins affiliate's destruction of the Jackson Generals, 16-3.     Although it's a running joke, the game was actually more lopsided than it sounds- it would have been easy to assume that the Lookout opponent was actually the Washington Generals.    Speaking of lopsided, so is AT&T Park, asymmetrically shoe-horned onto a small piece of real estate with a major expressway buzzing by just a few feet away.           

 

http://media.timesfreepress.com/img/photos/2015/04/15/lookouts_t618.jpg?ba5b5b122dd3d37cc13d83e92a6a0ec0d5bfa32a

 

 

Although the park isn't atop Lookout Mountain (for which the team is named after, and which has a commanding presence just south of the city and along the Tennessee-Georgia border). the park does sit atop a steep promontory right at the edge of downtown, known as "Hawk Hill", and just above Ross's Landing Park along the scenic Tennessee River, along with close proximity to the downtown area's    main tourist attractions.    If you crave    vigorous    exercise, you can ascend four flights of steep stairs, sculpted into the side of the hill, if that's not your cup of tea, there's a long escalator ride awaiting you.    Pretty neat location, all in all.

 

http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/AA/chattanooga.jpg

 

While the park is fairly typical in size of the AA variety venues, it was in fine shape, both on and off the field- there were a number of scenic viewpoints, even with US Highway 27 practically running through the left field parking lot.   The outfield is 335 down the LF line, 400 to dead center, and 325 down the RF line.    There is a billboard-ladened   fence that appears to be close to 20 feet high, most of the way around the entire OF.....  And the park is configured such that the prevailing north and west winds blow in- all the way from the RF power alley to the LF foul pole.... There Are No Cheap HR hit by RHB to CF or LF at AT&T!   The infield grass has been interestingly landscaped into the Lookouts twin-eyed logo.   Although there is an attractive brick wall that separates the sidelines from the stands, the bulk of the park, both the seating and the base, is made of aluminum.    And the exterior facade was uninspiring as well, a major miss for the local Chamber of Commerce .    The one problem with it being a day game was the intense heat and sun, causing many folks, myself and family included, to abandon the 6 rows of reserved seating, and head for cover in the upper level general admission seats, equipped with both a protective canopy and a series of large fans.    I was fortunate enough to secure seating in the last row (but still quite close to the field) directly behind home plate, and as it turned out, right next to Lookout utility man, Heiker Meneses' extended family, just arrived from Venezuela (and who were delightful).   Directly behind us in one skybox, appeared to be Terry Ryan, and sitting in the open air, but private seating area of the box next door,  and immediately behind me,    was 2B Levi Michael (currently on the DL), and three Twins scouting staff, equipped with radar gun and computers, busily chatting while tracking, calling out and charting the pitches of both teams.

 

Starting for the opposing team, was the Mariners #22-ranked prospect, Stephen Landazuri, which presumably promised the potential for an interesting pitching match-up with Twins' prospect, DJ Baxendale.    Let's just say after watching Landazuri perform, it's safe to say that I'd take any of the Twins #20-25 ranked prospects over him.... in a Heartbeat! (Fernando Romero, JT Chargois, Amaurys Minier, Chih-Wei Hu and Zack Jones)    Speaking of Baxendale, although he ended up with the win in the lopsided game, his performance was far less than impressive.    He labored through 5 innings, giving up 2 runs, on 107 pitches, with only 67 strikes.   The scouting   group    behind   me openly speculated in both the 4th and 5th innings if he was about to get pulled- with his velocity on his FB and CB coming on the low end of his season averages.    Giving Bax some credit, he did really bear down in the 5th inning, striking out the last two batters he faced, with a man on base and the game somewhat still in doubt;

 

 

The following are other individual impressions of some of the key prospects, the "Cavalcade of Stars" if you will, who were seen on Sunday-

 

DJ Peterson-  The Mariners #2 prospect and ranked #49 overall.    He was Mitch Garver's teammate at the University of New Mexico and was drafted in the 1st round of 2013.    1B-3B Peterson is coming off a year where he hit 32 HRs across 3 levels, including 13 at this level.    While he had 2 singles and a BB in this game, it was clear that his HR swing is definitely absent at this point in time, and he has but one HR on the season, thus far.    Based on the understanding that it's just one game from watching Peterson,  it's easy to feel good about most of the Twins top 10 prospects, by comparison.

 

Levi Michael-  Another former 1st round draft pick, currently on the DL.    One of the scouts behind me asked Michael if he was going to rehab in Florida.    Michael said he wasn't sure yet, the only thing he knew for certain was the looming bus ride to Birmingham (for a 6-game series this week) and how he wanted to make sure "JT (Chargois) was going to be sitting next to "Doug" and not himself."    He appeared to be moving around okay.

 

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Stuart Turner-   Often billed as the Twins "catcher of the future", he appears competent and confident behind the plate, He wasn't asked to do anything spectacular today.    He deserves credit for working with the 3 Lookout pitchers and helping them get through repeated streaks of wildness and less-than-impressive stuff.    Hitting-wise, trying to be positive, he's definitely    best classified as "a work in progress."

 

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Travis Harrison-  Although his BB% is well-down from his career norms, he did show a discriminating eye today, drawing 3 walks to go with his ringing double. His OPS moved above .800 today and his BA and triple slash are all at 3-year highs.      Not asked to do too much in the OF, he made all the plays in front of him in RF.

 

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Max Kepler-  Max hit the ball, HARD, in 4 out of 5 PAs, resulting in a single, 2 straight doubles and only a great catch on a stinging line drive headed for the gap by the SS kept Max from a 3rd straight double in the 7th inning.    After a slow start in coming off yet another injury,   Kepler is now batting .370 in his last    7 games, with a .519    SLG    and a .414 OBP.    One to watch to see if he can get on a sustained tear like last year.

 

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Adam Brett Walker-  Almost, but not quite, every bit as imposing at the plate as Miguel Sano, Walker scalded the ball 4 times in 5 trips, plus a fly ball out to CF,  ultimately leaving him to settle for a massive opposite field HR that helped him re-take the Southern League lead in that department with 8, and a line drive double to left.    Perhaps it had much to do with the quality of the Jackson pitching, but Walker showed great patience at the plate, as he didn't chase any balls away or in the dirt.    Walker's SLG on the season is now .539.

 

20150510_bjhblog_2401.jpg?w=355&h=256&cr

 

Jorge Polanco-  Early and often on offense for Jorge, now batting in the 3 spot.     

 He started the scoring with a SF in the first and proceeded to hit the ball hard all day, from both sides of the plate- four hits on the day, culminating with a triple high off of the RF wall in the 8th inning to end the scoring for Chattanooga.    He appears major league ready at the plate.    And also in the field.... Polanco made several strong throws from deep in the hole, and although he was charged with an error on a wide throw, it came on one of the most spectacular defensive plays of the day.    Polanco ranged deep to his left, snaring a ball on the RF side of second base, doing a 360 degree pirouette. only to throw wide of first, allowing a runner to harmlessly advance one extra base.    If anything, his arm has improved quite a bit from when I saw him play in Cedar Rapids two years ago, and his range on ground balls, especially to his left, appears to be superior to Santana right now.  No DPs today, or short fly balls that require some range, I'd like to see how he operates in those situations before he gets a final grade from me.

 

 

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Nick Burdi-  The box score says he did well, getting 3 Ks in two innings, with 0 runs allowed.    But with a 16-3 score, this was as low a low leverage situation as one can imagine.    It took 40 pitches for Burdi to get through two innings. Out of all those pitches, only 21 strikes to go with 19 balls.     And also, as alarming as his wildness was, his velocity   is down as well, topping out at 96 on the FB and mostly in the 80s on his slider.     Compound that with two ringing doubles and a BB, definitely not a great performance.    Clearly, Nick is struggling mightily at the moment, although it's hard from just one observation to pinpoint the problem more precisely.

 

CEpVRvxWgAAY4_I.jpg

 

 

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Miguel Sano-  Very, very encouraging day for Sano.    First off, I think I discovered part of the reason for Sano's slow start and for his lowly .200-ish BABIP.  Sano has always been a fly ball hitter, this year is no different, his 43% OFB rate ranks 4th in the Southern League.    The wind was blowing in at 7 MPH, not really all that high, but Sano hit 4 towering fly balls to LF and CF, the first off the 20 foot wall for a double, followed by two Sac Flies, one deep, the other at the wall, he then followed that with another fly ball out, at the wall, to the CF in the left field power alley in the crazy 6th inning.    Perhaps learning his lesson on fly balls into the wind, Sano came up later in that same inning and hit a scorching line drive back up the middle, off the pitcher and into foul ground for a single.    Two hits on the day, but it could have been so much more.    Still, his numbers are quickly moving in the right direction.    In the field, early on, Sano looked very good with the glove, with three strong throws to first, one of the spectacular variety, after knocking down a hot shot slightly to his left.    He also showed some quickness afoot, tracking down a spinning, low trajectory pop fly in foul territory.    One of the most amusing plays of the day came in the 4th, seemingly reminiscent of Plouffe's recent dropped pop-up on the pitching mound, only in this instance, with four infielders converging on the mound, at the last moment, Sano's decisively booming voice calling for the ball, plus his physical presence, sent everyone else scattering- he repeated the feat later on a less harrowing play.    It appears that he's more than willing to be a leader out in the field, as much as at the plate.     Of course, he soon followed all the leadership up with a muff on an easy two-hopper that resulted in an error.  Error aside.... My recommendation is to watch Sano very closely in the month of May- it appears he could break out at any moment.

 

 

CEsb55iWMAAnmAz.jpg

 

Byron Buxton-  Last but not least,  Buck had a great, but not spectacular day at the plate.    Of course, no one wants to start the game getting hit by a pitch just below your shoulder- which is just what happened to Buxton.    He followed that up by reaching 3 more times, with a walk and two solid singles-  he easily could have had 3 hits on the day, but the 1st base umpire appeared to mistakenly call him out at 1st on a close play bid for an infield single, after a throw from the SS.       As usual, he was a terror on the bases, going 1st to 3rd with ease on three separate occasions, and scoring three runs on the day.   Buxton's SLG remains strong at .486, while his OBP is slowly creeping northward, now at .336.    This guy showed today that he is the dream leadoff hitter that we've all been waiting for, the time for his ascendancy to the major league level appears close at hand.    In the field, the most noticeable and significant thing to me was what I didn't see happening-  and that is- no reckless style of play as we've seen in the past- leading to potential career-threatening injury.    Let's just say:    Buxton gave wide latitude to the OF wall, and the corner OFers gave wide latitude to Buxton.    One play in particular stands out- in the 4th inning, Buxton, slightly shading a hitter to RF, ran all the way across the OF on a line drive, coming to within 20-25 feet of Walker, who had barely moved, while Buxton proceeded to go airborne, careening for the ball, parallel to the ground, and very nearly made a spectacular backhand catch that undoubtedly would have been ESPN's Play of the Day.    In the field, the guy not only knows how to play, he and the club now get what it's going to take to generally stay healthy, even with a constantly desperate need for speed.

 

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Edited by jokin
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If Polanco can play MLB level SS D he could be a perennial all star in the big leagues. 

 

He is the 2nd youngest position player on the lookouts roster.  (He is only 5 months older than Buxton)   He is leading the team in BA,  4th in OB% and 3rd in SLG.

 

He is making the case to be in the conversation to be in the mix of the best prospects in all of baseball.

 

Edited by clutterheart
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Very good write up, Jokin.  

 

On Harrison, I see that he's already been HBP 6x which leads the Southern League.  Can I assume he crowds the plate?  Does he wear armor on his elbow as well?

 

Buxton over the last 15 games - .344/.408/.639 7bb, 12k, 2 2b, 53b and 2HR.  And 5 stolen bases

Sano over the last 10 games - .314/.386/.657 6bb against 9k.  3 2b and 3HR.  .308 babip.

 

We knew it would take a while for the two of them to shake off the rust but I think we're starting to see what the future holds.  It looks great.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Chattanooga went from a losing record to first place since those two got hot.

 

I really love this team.  Buxton/Sano are the clear crown jewels but Harrison (.940 OPS over his last 10), Walker, Kepler and Polanco are all really fun prospects to watch and see break out.  

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Very good write up, Jokin.  

 

On Harrison, I see that he's already been HBP 6x which leads the Southern League.  Can I assume he crowds the plate?  Does he wear armor on his elbow as well?

 

Buxton over the last 15 games - .344/.408/.639 7bb, 12k, 2 2b, 53b and 2HR.  And 5 stolen bases

Sano over the last 10 games - .314/.386/.657 6bb against 9k.  3 2b and 3HR.  .308 babip.

 

We knew it would take a while for the two of them to shake off the rust but I think we're starting to see what the future holds.  It looks great.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Chattanooga went from a losing record to first place since those two got hot.

 

I really love this team.  Buxton/Sano are the clear crown jewels but Harrison (.940 OPS over his last 10), Walker, Kepler and Polanco are all really fun prospects to watch and see break out.  

 

Harrison doesn't even wear batting gloves. He's awesome like that! 

 

I think I've listened to every radio broadcast of the team the last couple of weeks because, honestly, you just never know what's going to happen, who is going to hit a double or a home run, or when they'll score four runs (or 7 runs) in an inning.

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Isn't it just as (or more) plausible that he knows his control has to improve and he's dialing it back slightly in an effort to do that?

 

The more likely explanation is that his mechanics are out of whack, which wouldn't exactly be surprising. 

 

I'd be worried, except I never had high hopes for him in the first place.

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Very good write up, Jokin.  

 

On Harrison, I see that he's already been HBP 6x which leads the Southern League.  Can I assume he crowds the plate?  Does he wear armor on his elbow as well?

 

Buxton over the last 15 games - .344/.408/.639 7bb, 12k, 2 2b, 53b and 2HR.  And 5 stolen bases

Sano over the last 10 games - .314/.386/.657 6bb against 9k.  3 2b and 3HR.  .308 babip.

 

We knew it would take a while for the two of them to shake off the rust but I think we're starting to see what the future holds.  It looks great.  I don't think it's a coincidence that Chattanooga went from a losing record to first place since those two got hot.

 

I really love this team.  Buxton/Sano are the clear crown jewels but Harrison (.940 OPS over his last 10), Walker, Kepler and Polanco are all really fun prospects to watch and see break out.  

 

Good point on Harrison.  And no, he did not have extra body armor.  And not only was he on top of the plate, so were Buxton and Sano, as well.  Possibly, credit is due to the Lookout hitting coach, as the whole lineup from top to bottom seems to take a fairly aggressive approach in looking for their pitch to hit, yet also while remaining somewhat selective and avoiding chasing.  Interestingly, the club is first or second in HBP, as well as both strikeouts and base on balls.

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Awesome report Jokin. What a great game to see with all that action. I'm anxious to get up there soon

 

Let me tell you, it was well worth the trip--> talent everywhere you look on the field- I was able to see at least 8 guys with a real shot at being anywhere from major league contributors to major league superstars, and Dougie really seems to have them firing on all cylinders.  (Consider spending some of your time there sitting directly behind home plate in the back row, I overheard a lot of good info from the Twins staff regarding the pitchers when they intermittently came out from the enclosed skyboxes-  there were also plenty of seats available along and behind the Lookouts dugout, easy to snap pictures of players batting and in the on-deck circle right next to the wall.... and overhear more juicy tidbits of info).  

 

My only regret was not being able to see Reed, Jones, and especially Berrios, throw... perhaps for Rochester by some time later this summer?

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The more likely explanation is that his mechanics are out of whack, which wouldn't exactly be surprising. 

 

I'd be worried, except I never had high hopes for him in the first place.

 

On his first pitch, he threw directly from overhead and seemed to put everything he had into it, he got a swinging strike, but only clocked in at 96.  Way too many 3-ball counts (about half of the batters faced) and long counts with multiple foul tips- just couldn't blow as many guys away as last season.

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Awesome, awesome and awesome.

 

Thank you, thank you and thank you.

We all get so wrapped up in Hicks and Buxton and Sano and the pitching prospects that I think Planck gets left out at times. I'm a big, big fan of Santana, but I also believe P olanco is just better, at least with the stick, though Santana has the better speed and ABOUT ability it appears. I really think P olanco will be at SS in the fairly near future, and hitting #2 behind Buxton.

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Awesome report, Jokin! Glad you made it to the game. I am very fond of Chattanooga. Spent many hours above Lookout Mountain in hang gliders. From the southern launch above Lookout Mountain Flight Park across the border into Georgia (Rising Fawn/Wildwood/Trenton), it is 12 miles to the north point above the Tennessee River (a nice 24 mile down and back on a honking northwest wind day). Go get yourself a tandem while you are there. Ask for Matt Tabor and tell them Aer Stephen sent you. They will tow you up to about 3000'-3500' behind an ultralight, and do you right.

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Awesome, awesome and awesome.

Thank you, thank you and thank you.
We all get so wrapped up in Hicks and Buxton and Sano and the pitching prospects that I think Planck gets left out at times. I'm a big, big fan of Santana, but I also believe P olanco is just better, at least with the stick, though Santana has the better speed and ABOUT ability it appears. I really think P olanco will be at SS in the fairly near future, and hitting #2 behind Buxton.

 

The first time I saw Polanco was in Cedar Rapids, where he was the man amongst boys, even as one of the youngest guys on the Kernels.  Now, he's more like one of many stars, but definitely seems the most major league ready to this point in the season.  At the plate, he doesn't have Santana's quick wristed swing, but my own eyes told me it appeared that Polanco's confidence at the plate is off the charts, like he knows exactly what's coming.  This has manifested itself into both his highest ever LD% and heightened power- his HR% is on a  record pace (4 HR already, narrowly missing #5 on Sunday- he had 7 all season last year) .  He has a ripplingly strong-looking body- a succession of mid-teens homer years seems possible- this is something I wouldn't have dreamed in uttering just two years ago- the ball jumps off of his bat.  If this power upgrade isn't merely a mirage, Polanco could be suited for another position besides SS, perhaps 3B.  but I'm going along with you, he might force the issue at SS with Santana, especially if Danny continues    to regress from his unsustainable numbers in 2014.

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Gotta love Walker's upside with 3/4 of a year to truly figure it out better:

 

Southern League Leader: HRs; TB; RBI; XBH; SLG; & yes K's

 

Light, I've been following your reports for a while now, it was great to finally see ABW in person.  I have to say I liked what I saw, I really liked that big power to the Opposite Field----- If... he, and the Twins, can deal with the issues we've interminably gone over over on TD whenever his name comes up (but didn't come up at all on Sunday), he could be part of a 21st Century version of the Bash Brothers North. (Buxton between Walker and Arcia in the OF wouldn't be the best possible defensive alignment, but it appears at least do-able).

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Good stuff Jokin.  Thanks for the write up.

 

I was joking with my friend that Chattanooga is very spoiled right now, but it won't last long.  The first year we are there they get this team and in a month or so a few of the top talented guys are going to be gone.  It is rare that a franchise gets two top 10 players, plus another top 30 player in their system.  Let alone on the same team.  

 

It will be really nice when I get to see some of these guys from my floor at work........

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http://media.timesfreepress.com/img/photos/2015/04/15/lookouts_t618.jpg?ba5b5b122dd3d37cc13d83e92a6a0ec0d5bfa32a

 

 

The outfield is 335 down the LF line, 400 to dead center, and 325 down the RF line.    There is a billboard-ladened   fence that appears to be close to 20 feet high, most of the way around the entire OF.....  And the park is configured such that the prevailing north and west winds blow in- all the way from the RF power alley to the LF foul pole.... There Are No Cheap HR hit by RHB to CF or LF at AT&T!  

 

You know, I stopped there on my drive home from Spring Training and even walked out to CF to take some pictures and, while I saw the two-tiered ads on the fences, I never looked closely at them. I just assumed it was like CR, where the 2nd level of ads was placed back several feet from the lower level, so that the fence was really only 8 feet high or so. From the looks of the picture, it does appear the fences go all the way to the top of the 2nd level of advertisements. If so, that's a HUGE difference for potential home runs that would realistically add several feet to the dimensions in terms of what kind of drive it takes to get it ball out of the park.

 

Something to consider, I imagine, when we discuss the HR numbers of various Lookout hitters. Looking at their road/home HR splits is something we should probably do.

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You know, I stopped there on my drive home from Spring Training and even walked out to CF to take some pictures and, while I saw the two-tiered ads on the fences, I never looked closely at them. I just assumed it was like CR, where the 2nd level of ads was placed back several feet from the lower level, so that the fence was really only 8 feet high or so. From the looks of the picture, it does appear the fences go all the way to the top of the 2nd level of advertisements. If so, that's a HUGE difference for potential home runs that would realistically add several feet to the dimensions in terms of what kind of drive it takes to get it ball out of the park.

 

Something to consider, I imagine, when we discuss the HR numbers of various Lookout hitters. Looking at their road/home HR splits is something we should probably do.

 

There's a small section in the RF power alley where the fence is only one-tier billboard-level high (that's where Walker's HR left the park).  There is a clear yellow line painted atop the fence demarcating home run from in-play.

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