June 18, 2018… just a couple story lines tonight at Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio. The local nine meet the visitors from Corpus Christi in a winner-take-all game for the first half Texas League South Division title. Oh, and the guy on the bump for Corpus is a 20-year old hotshot hurler pitching in his hometown in front of family, friends, HS teammates and most of the local media chronicling his return to Alamo City. No big deal.
So I arrive at the park not only in time to watch Forrest Whitley go thru his paces in warmup, I get there in enough time to see him hobnob with family and friends which was really nice to see. He seems like a genuinely good kid. Smiling and laughing, he willingly takes what seems like hundreds of pictures with well-wishers.
When Whitley moves away from the crowd to begin his pre-game routine, I take the opportunity to get the attention of Hooks catcher Jamie Richie and ask him his impressions of Whitley and Cionel Perez. He tells me they are both very talented but Whitley is easy to catch as he is more adept at hitting his spots. Cionel, he says, has a release that generates great movement but he does not have the ability to locate as well as Forrest which makes for a more difficult job behind the dish. Richie goes on to say that when Perez learns to better harness the natural movement he will move quickly in the system. Both are doing great.
I won’t recap the game blow by blow. Suffice to say the Hooks beat the tar out of the Missions by the score of 12-0 to win the first half title. Now for notes on specific players:
Whitley’s line of 4.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K looks super. He accomplished this, however, without even close to his best stuff. In the first inning it looked to me like the situation had Forrest too amped up. He was throwing 96-97 but with marginal control and had even worse location with his off-speed pitches – several of which he spiked or missed the intended target horribly. In the next three innings Forrest dialed back the velo and sat 93-95 the rest of the night but only slightly improved location and while he threw some of his favored changeups in a good spot he also threw some bad ones. It was just a fight all night.
To his credit, despite the lack of accuracy that led to getting behind in the count to most hitters, some visible frustration and three mound visits in four innings – the Missions still could not solve him. He had enough to battle through the adversity and make pitches when it counted far more often than not. He is going to be a good one. Maybe not as quickly as most hope but soon.
As an aside, sitting immediately behind and to my right behind home plate was none other than Cionel Perez! He was manning the team radar gun and charting pitches. We chatted off and on during the game and I was pleased to learn his English language skills were pretty darn good (or at least he faked it pretty well with me!). At one point in the game I caught Cionel and two of his buddies eyeing a couple of scantily clad young ladies. I asked if he caught them with the radar gun and he replied with a grin, “yes, 97-98!!” When the game was over he shook my hand and said “nice to talk with you” and I replied that we will see him in Houston soon.
Back to the notes… I enjoy the heck out of gritty, smart ballplayers. Like last night, Chas McCormick did another thing on the base paths. While on third, a pitch got away from the Missions’ catcher and McCormick immediately bolted for home. The ball didn’t get 25 feet to the catcher’s right, toward the Hooks’ dugout but McCormick’s decisive action allowed him to score without a throw. I guess I’m old school. I love stuff like that.
All due respect to Baseball America, Yordan Alvarez is not the best athlete in the Houston system. He’s not a horrible athlete but he’s less than fluid in LF (yes, he is still learning), has an average arm and deceptive speed only because he’s such a big guy and lumbers about most of the time so it might surprise some that he has average speed. But, good heavens. That kid can swing it.
Some of you may recall that last year I spoke of Yordan hitting the ball to the opposite field a pretty high percentage of the time. Well, the book has apparently changed. San Antonio defended him with a shift to the pull side. On Yordan’s first hit, he ripped a ball through that shift for an RBI single. His second hit could not be defended by any positioning as he belted a ball over the 402′ sign in dead CF. Easy, easy power in this kid’s bat. Easy power reminiscent of Domingo Santana but with better bat to ball skills. Very exciting potential.
I did not mention him yesterday, but Taylor Jones is tall. Really tall. He looks more than competent around the bag at first but I wonder if more advanced pitching will neutralize him by taking advantage of his length. Meanwhile, he sent out some ropes the last two days. Adjustments he made in the offseason have proven effective in the first half of this year. I’m curious to find out if the league catches up to him or not.
Akeem Bostick tossed the final 4 innings of the game. I’m pleased to note that it does seem that he is more around the plate than when I have seen him in the past. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any uptick in his stuff, which is below average for a major leaguer. Perhaps a shift to the bullpen might be in his future?
Yesterday I mentioned McCormick and Rojas as guys who are baseball rats. The kind of guys whose uniforms are always dirty and they are doing something/anything on the field to help the team win. Well, Ryne Birk and Stephen Wrenn are cut from the same cloth. Like McCormick and Rojas they are not likely to be everyday major leaguers but, damn, they are fun to watch play.
Tonight, in particular, I’ll note one of their plays. The game was well in hand. Hooks are leading 12-0 in the bottom of the ninth with 2 on and 2 out when SA’s Austin Allen sends a rope into the RCF gap. Perhaps the hardest hit ball all night by SA. At least 2 of Whitley’s friends exclaimed, “there goes the shutout”. To be honest, I was in that boat, too. No way that ball is going to be caught. Stephen Wrenn heard us and said, “hold my beer, gents”.
Wrenn absolutely busted his butt to get to the spot where he could lay out and make a stunning grab to save the shutout and end the game, making Houston’s AA affiliate the first half champs.