For nearly the first two weeks of August I spent time in Florida watching the Daytona Tortugas and Pensacola Blue Wahoos play baseball. I arrived in Daytona just in time to get rained out on August 1st, but was able to see a double header the next day. After an off-day on Monday I would see the Tortugas play the next three days. Going in, I had some expectations of what I would see and some of those held true. Some of them didn’t.
Who stood out the most
Despite going 1-12 while I was there, the player that stood out the most to me was third baseman Taylor Sparks. How does a player who had just one hit, a single, over the course of four games stand out? Well, let me explain that one. First, I didn’t expect to see the player that I saw. Sparks is known to be a good athlete with plenty of tools, but when you look at his numbers you see that it comes with a whole lot of strikeouts and very few walks. Past reports on him suggested that he was a free swinger with struggles in pitch identification.
I saw half of that player. The toolsy player showed up despite the lack of offensive production in the viewing. Sparks showed good power in batting practice and he hit the ball very hard several times in the games, but had nothing to show for it. Where he shined though was on the defensive side of the field. If you head over to your favorite stats website you will see that he currently sports an .895 fielding percentage and with that knowledge, I’m a crazy person for thinking he shines defensively. On June 3rd Taylor Sparks had a total of 24 errors (in 47 games). Through my last day in Daytona he had made just seven over the 50 games since that point. He showed the ability to make every play you want to see out of a third baseman, including the highlight reel types of plays you don’t see too often.
What I didn’t expect to see, but did see, was a hitter who showed patience at the plate and an ability to lay off of pitches out of the strikezone. From the start of the season through July 23rd, Sparks had walked a grand total of 14 times. He’s walked seven times in the 15 games he’s played since then. Perhaps it’s just a small sample size issue, but over the four games I watched him play, he looked like he understood the strikezone and was reading pitches well.
The new guy
No, this isn’t a movie review for one of the worst movies of my teenage years that starred DJ Qualls, but a look at one of the players that the Cincinnati Reds acquired in the trade deadline deals. When the Reds traded Mike Leake to the San Francisco Giants they got back two players and one of them happened to be right handed pitcher Keury Mella. The Reds assigned him to the Daytona Tortugas and he made his first start while I was in town. Here is some video of his outing, give it a watch and then keep reading.
Going into the game, I had only talked to one scout that had seen him pitch in 2015 and it was back in April. Basically, he liked the fastball and saw flashes of other stuff, but thought the mechanics may eventually move him into the bullpen. After watching his organizational debut that’s where I stood as well. I saw things that I liked, and it was just one start, but I saw some things that made me wonder if the bullpen wasn’t a little more likely than one would think simply by looking at his numbers on your favorite stat page would suggest.
There was enough there to put me in the camp of “keep him in the rotation and see if he can continue to improve things moving forward and perhaps he can develop into a future starter”,, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he winds up moving to the bullpen in the long run. Still, he’s a young pitcher that showed three pitches that flashed themselves as solid offerings or better. Teams typically keep those types of arms in the rotation as long as they can and let them force their way out of the rotation instead of forcing their way into a bullpen role. Perhaps the depth of Reds starting pitching in the minor leagues will play into that decision 2-3 years down the road, but for now I’d expect the organization to keep a power arm like that on the mound at the beginning of the game and try to develop it rather than put it at the end of the game.