I was fortunate enough to get a chance to see the Keys in action this weekend against the Winston-Salem Dash and Wilmington Blue Rocks. The Keys, already having clinched a Carolina League playoff berth as the first-half Northern division winner, pulled out victories in both contests by a 6 to 2 margin. The following are my notes on specific prospects.
Already promoted to high-A Frederick before his 19th birthday, top prospect Manny Machado is holding his own against competition much older. Facing the best pitching he’s ever seen, Machado is still quiet and calm at the plate, showing a patient approach and solid pitch ID.
He’s already seeing fewer mistake pitches than he did at low-A Delmarva, and is having to make adjustments accordingly. He is strong enough and generates enough bat speed to foul off tough pitches, but he’ll need to be able to turn on pitches earlier in the count with regularity.
Despite going 0-6 on the weekend, Machado showed promise at the plate, walking twice and putting the ball play in every at-bat. As he gets stronger and becomes more accustomed to better pitching, those balls in play will become hits more often.
He showed some raw power during his debut with Delmarva, and should start to manifest it at the higher levels soon. For right now, a big league approach and an uncanny ability to put the bat to the ball at such a young age bode well for future production. I feel as confident as ever in projecting Machado as a .280+ hitter, even if he’s sitting at .167 through 4 games with Frederick.
Defensively, Machado is still somewhat of a question mark. The reports of his soft hands, smooth actions and strong arm are all true. He looks like he belongs up the middle and has the arm strength of a player on the left side of the diamond.
Fluidity and athleticism will take him a long way defensively, but he still shows average-at-best range at short due to less foot speed than you usually expect in true shortstops and generally slow reactions and first steps. Machado is particularly slow to his left and coming in on balls.
Right now his range won’t kill a team and he makes plays on the balls he gets to, but I still worry about how some added weight to his tall frame and wide hips will slow him down and hinder his athleticism over the next few years.
He has the tools to become an excellent defensive third baseman, but it’s too early to discount him from sticking at short. His range will never be exceptional, but he may be mechanically sound enough to make up for it.
Jonathan Schoop, the 6-1 infielder from Curacao, was playing second base this weekend, where he figures to get extended time for the rest of the season. Schoop was never a realistic bet to stick at shortstop, where both his range and footwork were problematic.
He seems a natural fit at third base, where his plus arm strength would play well, but Baltimore is intrigued by the possibility of Schoop at second, where he could provide a rare up-the-middle power bat. I must say I was skeptical of the plan, preferring to stick Schoop at third and let the bat develop. Seeing him this weekend, however, I came away pleasantly impressed.
Schoop showed solid footwork around the bag on a double play started by SS Manny Machado (a phrase fans may be hearing much more of in the future). Despite getting a little eaten up on a couple of hard grounders, bobbling one and slipping over another on the grass, he made plays on all the balls hit to him.
He wasn’t tested range-wise, and I remain skeptical that he’ll be quick enough to make plays up the middle as he gains weight. A future middle infield of Machado and Schoop carries huge offensive potential but will be mediocre at best defensively. Still, Baltimore might as well stick with it until it no longer works.
Schoop will also get some time at third, where he’ll need to better get his feet planted under him on throws. His actions at second are raw, but I came away feeling better about the experiment.
Offensively, Schoop generates above average bat speed with a level, fluid swing. His quick hands allow him to make regular contact and should lead to him hitting for average at the big league level.
Two areas of concern pre-season were his tendency to rattle his head and upper body during his swing and a reluctance to utilize his strong hips and core to generate power. It seems he has addressed both, which helps explain his success at Delmarva (.316/.376/.514).
He still tends to lunge at the ball, shifting his weight to his front foot and driving the ball into the ground instead of staying back and generating loft and power. Regardless, there’s quite a bit to like in Schoop’s bat, and if he continues to make adjustments as he climbs the ladder he could profile similarly to Machado in terms of average (.280+) and HR power (15-25).
His overall approach at the plate and in the field lags behind that of his double play partner, but he is more advanced that one would expect of a 19-year-old international sign. He should be allowed to progress and adjust at Frederick for the rest of the season.
Bobby Bundy turned in one of the better lines of his brief professional career on Sunday, lasting 7 innings and allowing just 1 run on 3 hits, 3 walks and 6 strikeouts.
Bundy experienced a brief hiccup after his brother Dylan was drafted by the Orioles in the first round, allowing 9 runs (7 earned) over 8 2/3 IP in his last two starts. It was nice to see him return to form against the Blue Rocks.
Unfortunately I did not have a gun with me, and the scoreboard readings at Harry Grove are unreliable, but Bundy appeared to be his normal self, sitting in what I’d assume was the low 90s with his fastball. His command got a bit spotty as the game progressed, but overall he is a much more complete pitcher now than he was out of Sperry High at the time he was drafted.
I’ve heard glowing reports of Bundy’s improved change-up this season, though he didn’t rely on it heavily on Sunday. It looked tighter than before, but I wasn’t able to get a great read on the pitch. Still, simply locking a viable change of pace into his arsenal will make Bundy’s heavy fastball and big, deceptive curve even more effective.
With a dearth of legitimate starting pitching prospects in the upper levels of Baltimore’s system, there will be a temptation to move Bundy along at an accelerated pace. Due to significant missed time over the last two years, however, it might be best to let Bundy log innings and gain consistency with his off-speed deliveries in Frederick, where he can consistently go deep into games and let lineups turn over.
Bundy projects as a potential mid-rotation starter and should be jumping up Baltimore’s top 10 list this summer.