I made a trip down to Birmingham to see the Barons the weekend of 7/20 and came away with some observations. Aside from people really saying “Roll Tide” with regularity, I was able to see some interesting pitching prospects from the Barons, most notably, Dylan Cease. I also came away impressed with LHP Bernardo Flores and RP Jose Ruiz (despite some less than stellar results). Overall, the Barons have some very intriguing pitching talent that is helping the squad contend for a second half championship in the Southern League.
Cease was the Barons’ starter on Friday 7/20 against Jackson. I was fortunate enough to have a seat up close and personal behind the dish for Cease’s outing.
Here is video of Cease’s initial warm up tosses
Cease getting ready to rock pic.twitter.com/x5JDdMzJTy
— Development Isn’t Linear (@chisox2727) July 21, 2018
During this particular outing, Cease looked to not have his typical top end velocity. According to the stadium guns (which apparently are a few ticks off), Cease was sitting 90-92 MPH with his Fastball, 82-84 MPH with the Slider, 78-80 with the Change-Up, and 72-75 with the Curve. He didn’t quite have the typical swing and miss stuff during this outing that we have grown accustomed to in recent weeks. This may have been attributed to a “dead arm” period or layoff of 12 days in between starts due to his appearance at the All-Star Futures Game. He had significant struggles locating his slow overhand curve, and it was really nothing more than a “show me” pitch on this evening. Regardless, Cease had an acceptable line against the Jackson Generals of: 5IP, 4H, 3R(all earned), 3BB, 7K, 1HR. All three runs against Cease came via a 1st inning titanic homerun off the bat of firsr baseman, Rudy Flores. It was not a cheap one either as he he cleared the bleachers in RF and deposited it on the roof of the NAPA Auto Parts garage on the RF concourse.
Overall, Cease was able to battle through a performance where he didn’t have his best stuff and still put the Barons in a position to eventually come from behind and get a win. As we have seen in the two weeks since, Cease has rebounded very nicely with a couple of stellar performances since including a start where he carried a perfect game into the 7th. Cease’s domination of the Southern League in recent weeks is showing why he is prospect with Top of the Rotation potential that has Sox fans bursting with excitement.
Flores is a less heralded prospect in the Sox system, checking in at #25 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 for the organization. The 22 year old LHP, is starting to turn some heads in 2018, however. Flores is a pitcher that doesn’t have any one pitch that screams plus-plus, however, his overall mix of deception, sequencing, and command have helped him move up Birmingham this season after posting 2.55 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 77.2IP at High A Winston-Salem to begin the season. On 7/21 Flores took the mound against the Generals on “Space Jam Night” in Birmingham as the Barons donned some pretty crazy jerseys that were adapted from the mid 90s film featuring former Barons’ outfielder, Michael Jordan (amazing that a struggling minor league outfielder could become a movie star).
In this outing, Flores used his finesse to setup the Jackson hitters, frequently inducing soft contact. He sat consistently(again according to the stadium radar gun) at 86-88 MPH with the Fastball, 74-76 MPH with the Change-up, and 78-80MPH with the Curve. Flores ultimately scattered 8 hits over 7IP of 1R(ER) ball with 1BB and 4K. The thing that really impresses me with Flores is his sequencing, particularly how he plays his overhand curve ball and change-up off each other to keep hitters from getting his timing. He frequently worked backwards in this outing to great effect.
Flores by no means is a pitcher that will wow you with his overall stuff or demeanor on the mound, but I saw some flashes of a Jose Quintana type pitcher in Flores. Although Rick Hahn recently disagreed with my assessment, Quintana could serve as a comp for Flores from the standpoint of being a less heralded prospect that worked his way up the system and just kept getting people out without much fanfare. I think Q’s stuff is overall superior to Flores’ at this point, however, the 22 year old Flores may still have some room to grow physically that could improve his stuff in general.
Ruiz was tasked with closing out the Generals on 7/21 in the 9th of a 2-1 game. Things were looking good as he got 2 quick outs in the 9th one via a groundout to short and the other via a soft fly out to left. However, Marty Herum sliced a 2 out 2 strike double into the right field corner to keep Jackson alive. Ruiz would get ahead of Josh Prince 0-2 but was unable to put him away before walking him. Kevin Medrano then deposited a 2-1 Ruiz fastball over the wall in right center to give Jackson the lead. Results wise the performance by Ruiz left a lot to be desired, however, the overall stuff he displayed was one of a reliever that has an opportunity to be a back end option for the next competitive Sox team. Ruiz was sitting 92-94 MPH with the fastball and 85-87 MPH with the slider during this outing. The slider in particular had some nice late break on it that was inducing swings-and-misses. Ruiz will be another solid relief option to keep an eye on for fans into the future.
Follow Steve Paradzinski on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: MLB.com