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  • Twins Minor League Pitching Report: Notes on Varland, Vallimont, and Gore


    Lucas Seehafer PT

    Yet another week of minor league baseball is in the books and it was yet another week in which I spent time breaking down video of some of the more intriguing arms in the Minnesota Twins’ farm system. 

    Below are some takeaways on the performance and film of three pitchers that caught my eye in particular.

    Twins Video

    Louie Varland (High-A Cedar Rapids)

    Twins Daily Ranking: Honorable Mention

    MLB Pipeline Ranking: N/a

    FanGraphs Ranking: N/a

    Weekly Stats:

    • 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K

    Varland made his well-earned High-A debut earlier this week after putting up some stellar numbers in Low-A. His 14.45 K/9 rate and 4.75 K:BB ratio in 47 ⅓ innings for the Mighty Mussels were not only among the best on the team, but the Twins’ system in general, which is not something that many expected for the team’s 15th-round pick in 2019.

    Varland owns a compact windup with repeatable mechanics and a three-quarter arm slot. Although he has primarily been utilized as a starter both in college - at NCAA Division II Concordia University, St. Paul - as well as in the minors, his pitch mix primarily consists of a fastball and curveball, which is typically better suited out of the bullpen.

    The fastball, which sits in the mid-90s, plays best up in the zone where it stays flat with a little bit of tailing action. However, as he moves it lower in the zone, the amount of sink increases and, along with it, a diminished command. 

    The curveball has potential to be a plus second pitch if he can refine his command. While he unleashes it frequently to miss bats, his feel for the pitch is fairly average, highlighted by often leaving it hanging middle-middle, which is something he can get away with in A-ball but will get slapped around at higher levels. However, when he locates it low, it’s a very difficult ball to square up, especially when piggybacking off a fastball up in the zone.

    Varland’s lack of a third pitch, whether that be another off-speed offering or improved command of his fastball down, will likely limit him to a relief role should he make it to the majors. Regardless, his performance to date should get his name placed on the major Twins prospect ranking lists come the end of the season.

     

    Chris Vallimont (Double-A Wichita)

    Twins Daily Ranking: No. 20

    MLB Pipeline Ranking: No. 18

    FanGraphs Ranking: No. 18

    Weekly Stats:

    • 3 1/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 K

    Chris Vallimont looks every bit the part of a major league pitcher. Standing at 6-foot-5-inches tall with an athletic frame and a left arm full of tattoos, Vallimont was acquired along with former Twin Sergio Romo from the Miami Marlins in exchange for minor league slugger Lewin Diaz.

    He shot up the Twins prospect rankings due in large part to his projectability and solid fastball/curve repertoire; he’ll also mix in the occasional changeup and slider, though his command, which isn’t necessarily anything to write home about to begin with, of the latter two pitches is pretty poor. 

    However, since joining the system, he has been a bit of an enigma.

    Vallimont has always boasted huge strikeout numbers and that has continued this season. He currently is cutting down batters at an impressive 14.57 K/9 clip, which translates to 68 strikeouts in 42 innings at the Double-A level. However, the sheen of these numbers are muted a bit due to his propensity to dish out free passes (5.36 BB/9) and hard contact (9.1% HR:FB ratio). 

    Making things even more murky is the fact that Vallimont’s standard and advanced statistics largely paint two distinct pictures. His 4.71 ERA is ugly, but his 3.24 FIP is much prettier, for example. He also is getting BABIP’d to death (.402), which is unsustainable. 

    Basically, the beauty of Vallimont’s future is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, though as of now, he’s more likely to end up as a reliever than a starter in the long-term. 

     

    Jordan Gore (Double-A Wichita)

    Twins Daily Ranking: N/a

    MLB Pipeline Ranking: N/a

    FanGraphs Ranking: N/a

    • Weekly Stats: 3 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K

    The success of Jordan Gore is simply a good story. 

    Taken in the 19th round of the 2017 draft as an infielder, Gore converted to relief pitching full-time this season after serving as a two-way player for the previous two. In 46 career innings across rookie ball, A-ball, and Double-A, Gore has struck out 62, walked 24, and allowed only two home runs. 

    Much like the two other pitchers discussed above, Gore is a right-hander who primarily relies on his fastball and curveball. The fastball won’t necessarily blow anyone away, but the curve plays well off of it. If he continues to perform as he has to this point, he may find himself in the Twins’ bullpen at some point next summer.

     

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    Love the possibility of a kid from D-II Concordia making it to the Twins.  

    Never have been a fan of Vallimont.  Liked the deal when they made it as they were getting something for Diaz who likely would be gone in the Rule 5.  Never got excited about his potential.  Maybe the walks, maybe the to frequent so-so to bad games, but have always felt that having him in any Top 20 was too optimistic. 

    Gore, love his story and hope like heck that he makes it.  

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    Vallimont is one of those fascinating prospects that's very much in the boom-or-bust category. If he figures out something that cuts down on the walks, refines his command, etc then he could be a monster. because someone who can hunt up K's like he does has the talent to make it to The Show. He's proven he can simply overwhelm A-ball hitters. Right now, against hitters with a more refined approach and better control of the strike zone, he's wobbling. Guys are waiting him out more often, either drawing the walk or sitting on the "get over" pitch that sails right through the middle of the zone. If he finds a level of command that lets him roll on AA guys like he did in A-ball, then at worst he's a relief option. He's not particularly homer-happy, but he needs to be able to drive the WHIP back down to find sustained success, and with his K's it doesn't really matter where he subtracts the baserunners from: fewer hits, fewer walks...don't care. He can handle a few baserunners with his ability to hunt up the K, he just can't handle this many.

    But he's interesting and worth watching. This is where good development can turn a flyer into a real prospect, and I'm fine with the twins taking chances on players like this.

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    49 minutes ago, jmlease1 said:

    Vallimont is one of those fascinating prospects that's very much in the boom-or-bust category. If he figures out something that cuts down on the walks, refines his command, etc then he could be a monster. because someone who can hunt up K's like he does has the talent to make it to The Show. He's proven he can simply overwhelm A-ball hitters. Right now, against hitters with a more refined approach and better control of the strike zone, he's wobbling. Guys are waiting him out more often, either drawing the walk or sitting on the "get over" pitch that sails right through the middle of the zone. If he finds a level of command that lets him roll on AA guys like he did in A-ball, then at worst he's a relief option. He's not particularly homer-happy, but he needs to be able to drive the WHIP back down to find sustained success, and with his K's it doesn't really matter where he subtracts the baserunners from: fewer hits, fewer walks...don't care. He can handle a few baserunners with his ability to hunt up the K, he just can't handle this many.

    But he's interesting and worth watching. This is where good development can turn a flyer into a real prospect, and I'm fine with the twins taking chances on players like this.

    I really like your take on Vallimont. You are far more optimistic than even I am and I have been pretty high on him since he came to the Twins mainly because of the K rate. I kind of thought or was hoping he would have more control after the COVID layoff but he seems to be pretty much the same guy.

    I agree with some of your analysis mainly because I have seen it. He throws the ball no where near the strike zone and walks two or three guys and then buckles down and K's the next two or three guys.  I want to see him as more than a reliever but like you said he needs to find something first.  Hopefully part of that something is a semblance of control.

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    Really appreciate this article as I was looking for more info on Varland and Gore.  Interesting that their fastballs are not that great and that they generally only have one good secondary considering how well both of them have been doing.  I really doubted Gore would have an impact especially this early but maybe he can make it.  We sure need pen arms so would be nice to see him only get better.

    Given Varland's K rate I would have thought the fastball had more movement.  We'll see how it plays moving up a level.

    Anyway I like all three of these guys and hope they find that one thing that makes them elite.

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    6 minutes ago, Dman said:

    Really appreciate this article as I was looking for more info on Varland and Gore.  Interesting that their fastballs are not that great and that they generally only have one good secondary considering how well both of them have been doing.  I really doubted Gore would have an impact especially this early but maybe he can make it.  We sure need pen arms so would be nice to see him only get better.

    Given Varland's K rate I would have thought the fastball had more movement.  We'll see how it plays moving up a level.

    Anyway I like all three of these guys and hope they find that one thing that makes them elite.

    I definitely think that Varland can unlock his fastball more. When it's lower in the zone, it really moves, but it's almost never near the zone. When it's up, it's straighter. Right now, he seems to be blowing it past lesser competition. If he can improve his command of it down, he'll functionally have a third pitch (i.e. a sinker). Imo, he'll need that variation to succeed in Double-A and above, but he's outperformed expectations up to now, so maybe he'll simply continue. This is where I wish we had better access to RPM and other Statcast data at the minor league level.

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    26 minutes ago, Dman said:

    I really like your take on Vallimont. You are far more optimistic than even I am and I have been pretty high on him since he came to the Twins mainly because of the K rate. I kind of thought or was hoping he would have more control after the COVID layoff but he seems to be pretty much the same guy.

    I agree with some of your analysis mainly because I have seen it. He throws the ball no where near the strike zone and walks two or three guys and then buckles down and K's the next two or three guys.  I want to see him as more than a reliever but like you said he needs to find something first.  Hopefully part of that something is a semblance of control.

    I'm entirely sure I'm all that optimistic; I have no idea what the odds are on him unlocking something else to utilize his stuff more consistently. If he stays the same guy he is right now, he's probably out of baseball in 2 years (maybe that gets extended by a year or so if he changes organizations). You just don't know on guys like this, which is why he's a boom or bust player: if he finds the command he needs, then he probably gets his BB/9 down around 3.0-3.5 and his H/9 to more like 7. Well, if his WHIP is 1.0-1.2, then all those Ks play up a bit more and he's a legit MLB prospect.

    The fact that he hunts Ks like no one's business while keeping the ball in the park makes him someone worth working with in the minors to see if they can unlock enough command to make him really go. If he was someone who was consistently above 1.5 on his HR/9 in addition to his control issues, I'd be more concerned about his potential upside, but this looks like he really has a singular issue. I'm much more hopeful about someone where you're trying to fix one problem (even a big one) than two or three.

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    2 minutes ago, jmlease1 said:

    I'm entirely sure I'm all that optimistic; I have no idea what the odds are on him unlocking something else to utilize his stuff more consistently. If he stays the same guy he is right now, he's probably out of baseball in 2 years (maybe that gets extended by a year or so if he changes organizations). You just don't know on guys like this, which is why he's a boom or bust player: if he finds the command he needs, then he probably gets his BB/9 down around 3.0-3.5 and his H/9 to more like 7. Well, if his WHIP is 1.0-1.2, then all those Ks play up a bit more and he's a legit MLB prospect.

    The fact that he hunts Ks like no one's business while keeping the ball in the park makes him someone worth working with in the minors to see if they can unlock enough command to make him really go. If he was someone who was consistently above 1.5 on his HR/9 in addition to his control issues, I'd be more concerned about his potential upside, but this looks like he really has a singular issue. I'm much more hopeful about someone where you're trying to fix one problem (even a big one) than two or three.

    Nice analysis. Thanks!

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    I am not as concerned about Valimont’s walks as long as his K rate is also high. Almost 50% of the plate appearances against him result in a strikeout or walk. That only happens when batters have tremendous difficulty putting the ball in play. Instead of ending in a PA by weak contact they are more swings a,nd misses and that leads to long counts and an increase in both walks and strikeouts.

    Kevin Slowey was a top 100 prospect and walked very few in the minors. He sat at 25-30% strikeout plus walk rate in the minors. That 70-75% contact rate was a lot of weak contact in the minors but too much of it became hard contact in the majors. Without seeing them pitch and just looking at traditional data I am more encouraged by Valimont’s rate mix then a guy like Slowey.

     

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    59 minutes ago, jorgenswest said:

    I am not as concerned about Valimont’s walks as long as his K rate is also high...

     

    I am. Valimont is pitching against AA hitters who often don't have good plate discipline. If they can lay off his offerings and take pitches for balls, it means Valimont's stuff isn't going to fool anybody at the MLB level.

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    1 hour ago, bean5302 said:

    I am. Valimont is pitching against AA hitters who often don't have good plate discipline. If they can lay off his offerings and take pitches for balls, it means Valimont's stuff isn't going to fool anybody at the MLB level.

    Agreed. His BB% would likely go up as he advances and hitters have control of the zone while his K% will go down as they are better at hitting the balls in the zone they're sitting on. Lack of command is the reason tons and tons of guys wash out every year despite throwing incredibly hard with filthy off speed pitches. They can dominate the lower levels where hitters are young and inexperienced, but they get to the advanced hitters and suddenly stuff isn't enough and you have to be able to throw strikes much more (and better strikes).

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