Modesto, Calif. -- The 17-24 Modesto Nuts this morning find themselves at the bottom of the California League's North Division, eight games out of first place and just 6-13 on the road (the second worst road record in the entire league). There are bad corresponding stats for the Colorado Rockies' High-A affiliate (a .245 team batting average makes them the third-most sluggish offense in the league) and good stats (their pitching staff is middle of the road by ERA and has struck out the second-most hitters on the circuit), but the bottom line is that a slow start and some tough road trips have left Modesto playing catch up.
But the week immediately behind us and the one up coming could provide some kind of respite; with lots of home games to get right—where the Nuts are 11-11 so far this summer—and now three more road games against the Inland Empire 66ers, the Los Angeles Angels' High-A affiliate that is by far the worst team in the California League this summer, Modesto can quickly crawl out of the basement with good play in the short run.
After a few weeks off thanks to a trip to Europe and some other baseball coverage outside of California, here's what you should know about the Nuts from the last seven days, in the context of the season...
Leading off: Nuts and bolts, May 14-20
|May 14||@||San Jose||L, 7-11||May 21||@||Inland Empire||2:05 pm|
|May 15||vs||San Jose||W, 4-3||May 22||@||Inland Empire||7:05 pm|
|May 16||vs||San Jose||W, 3-1||May 23||@||Inland Empire||7:05 pm|
|May 17||vs||Visalia||L, 1-3||May 24||vs||High Desert||7:05 pm|
|May 18||vs||Visalia||L, 0-1||May 25||vs||High Desert||7:05 pm|
|May 19||vs||Visalia||W, 5-4||May 26||vs||High Desert||7:05 pm|
|May 20||@||Inland Empire||L, 2-4||May 27||vs||San Jose||7:05 pm|
★ ★ ★
Spotlight on: 2B Forrest Wall
If there was one guarantee in the Rockies' organization the last two years, it's that Forrest Wall (No. 11 PuRP) was going to hit. A .318/.416/.490 slash line in his first foray into pro ball with the rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies back in 2014 was followed up last year when the Florida native slashed .286/.366/.439 in 371 at-bats, mostly with Low-A Asheville, in his first full season.
Now a 20-year-old fighting better pitching and a new environment in High-A with the Nuts, Wall has, well, hit a wall early this season. A week on the disabled list earlier this month was preceded by a 4-for-35 slump that saw the second baseman's average plummet into the low .220s — not exactly familiar territory for the man well regarded by nearly all prospect analysts as a truly projectable hitter.
But despite some lean times at the plate against California League pitching—after Friday night, the second baseman is now just 4-for-41 in his last 11 games—Wall's approach to the game is refreshingly even-keeled. That's likely a trait that will serve him well in the future as competition continues to improve and failure becomes more and more common.
"It’s been tough at times, but it’s something down the road that will help me by staying within myself, staying within my approach," Wall says of not trying to press too hard through struggles in what is so widely regarded as a hitter-friendly league. "If I do that, good things are going to happen. I’ll hit home runs here, but it’s not something I’m trying to do. And two years from now I’ll have this same approach, and it’ll pay off for me then when it counts. It’ll be something that helps me in the future."
For Wall, as it's hammered in to so many young professional ballplayers, that approach is the proverbial one-day-at-a-time mantra, with the 20-year-old intuitively aware that a 30- or 40-ish at-bat slump does not a season make.
"I’m learning a lot from this," Wall admits. "If you aren’t learning, you aren’t getting better. And it’s cool for me to see new guys, be in this part of the country, and be with my same group [from Asheville last summer]. I've had some good streaks and some adjustment periods, but it’s something I’m taking day by day, and I’m learning."
The second baseman—who told me that staying healthy enough to play a full season was one of his main goals after struggling with injuries last summer—also seems to understand his de facto leadership role, however informal, by virtue of his draft position, media visibility, and track record entering the summer. Then again, regardless of how Wall may feel about being a leader, his teammates certainly look to him that way.
"He’s very impressive, we’ve got a lot of good high school prospects in our organization, and he’s definitely up there," Nuts first baseman Collin Ferguson tells me when I ask about Wall. "I enjoy watching him work and going about his business, and he’s a guy I like to talk to about hitting just to see what he thinks, and what he’s trying to do up there. A guy that I can pick his brain even though I’ve got a few years on him. He’s very wise beyond his years."
That Ferguson—who is 23 and coming off a successful NCAA Division I college career—looks up to Wall should be a sign of the infielder's clout in the Nuts' clubhouse. And even though he's one of the younger players on the roster, Wall is embracing that stereotypical leadership role among his teammates.
"Leading by example is the biggest for me," the second baseman notes. "I have a great relationship with all these guys, we all trust each other, and that comes down to leading by example, how I go about my business. They see me working hard and they are going to work hard. But we all have a great relationship and that helps a lot."
"I don’t look at it as an age thing," Ferguson offers of Wall's role. "Yeah he’s younger than me, but he’s got two extra years of pro ball experience on me as well. I can use his experience to my advantage if something that he says clicks, or if something that he likes to do works for me, then I’m all ears. Everyone has something to offer, and anything you can learn to help yourself become a better player is just a benefit. This game is hard."
Mired in a slump, Wall now better understands Ferguson's summation of baseball in that final sentence, and considering the prospect's approach to it thus far, one probably shouldn't worry too much about whether Forrest Wall will hit below .230 all summer long.
★ ★ ★
Nuts in action: This week's scouting videos
YOELY BELLO, LHP
You'll have to excuse me for not having more scouting video up this week (I've been in Europe for almost three weeks!); I'll be back with the Nuts over the next few days and will have a treasure trove of film on prospects we haven't yet seen (including, hopefully, right-hander Parker French) for next weekend's review.
In the meantime, let's re-hash Yoely Bello's scouting videos from earlier this summer, if only to tip our cap to the left-handed reliever for his good series of recent work after a rocky start to the summer. First, here's Bello in the first week of the season against the Bakersfield Blaze, before he was removed from the roster and assigned to extended spring training after struggling to get outs:
And here's Bello later in the month of April after returning to the active roster. It was at this point that he found some success on the mound, and started to figure out his fit in the Nuts' bullpen, this time against the Visalia Rawhide:
In six May appearances since Bello has returned to the Nuts' active roster, the lefty hasn't allowed an earned run, pitching 6.2 innings and allowing four hits and five walks while striking out five hitters. His scoreless streak actually extends two more appearances, too, back to April 15; in those eight total appearances, Bello has tossed 7.2 scoreless innings and whiffed seven batters.
As you can see on video, he's a quirky little lefty. He's not overpowering, sitting 86-89 mph in the two times I've seen him throw in person, and he's got more of a sweeping breaking ball than a sharp, hard bender—but with his arm angle and left-handed profile, there's something to be said for him perhaps getting a shot with Double-A Hartford soon to see if he can prove himself as a situational reliever. After all, he's now 25 years old in High-A, here in his third season in the Rockies' organization after being acquired in the Chris Nelson trade with the New York Yankees back in 2013.
To put it simply, at his age, it's time to put up or shut up for Bello; credit to him for doing the putting up (even in a small sample size) in Modesto. If he keeps it up a bit longer, perhaps he's in line for a promotion to Hartford later this summer, if only to challenge him as the Rockies figure out what they have with what could be a very unique, quirky lefty with a lower-than-normal arm slot and good running action on his fastball.
★ ★ ★
Nuts notes: Modesto's last seven days, analyzed
Wall looks forward to Brendan Rodgers' growth
It's not just a slump and an adjustment to High-A that Forrest Wall is focusing on right now; the Florida native is well aware of the organizational success of his childhood friend Brendan Rodgers (No. 4 PuRP), now on the seven-day disabled list in Low-A Asheville after tearing up the South Atlantic League for the first month of 2016. I surprised Wall in Visalia by mentioning one of his old high school coaches who I've known for a long time, and that walk down central Florida memory lane took us right to Rodgers.
"It was awesome to see him get drafted by us, I’ve been playing with him since I was ten and under and we live probably ten minutes from each other," Wall says of the Tourists' shortstop. "To share this journey of minor league baseball together is something I’m looking forward to and I think it’s going to be pretty cool to look to the future."
Starting pitching doing the Nuts favors this week
Both Sam Howard and Carlos Polanco had nice starts this week for the Nuts, and newcomer Parker French continues to dominate High-A. Polanco tossed seven scoreless innings on Thursday night, allowing just a walk and three hits while striking out nine. His overall numbers (1-2, 4.91 ERA in eight games/seven starts) are still up and down, but with a fastball in the upper 90s, he certainly has some tools that can project.
Howard (2-2, 2.91 in eight starts) has picked up this summer right where he left off last season with Low-A Asheville. The lefty has limited opponents to a .193 batting average and just a 1.15 WHIP while striking out 49 batters in 43.1 innings for Modesto. French (2-1, 1.71 in four Modesto starts; 4-2, 1.46 in eight starts overall) took his first High-A loss on Tuesday this week, but threw well in the process, allowing three earned runs on nine hits and no walks over seven innings against the Visalia Rawhide.
Add these three to right-handed power pitchers Ryan Castellani (No. 19 PuRP) and Yency Almonte, and the Nuts have an intriguing starting five right now. Right-hander Jesus Tinoco (No. 14 PuRP) is still in extended spring training after struggling to begin the season with Modesto.
Carrizales quietly rises to the top
I've got to give quite a bit of credit to Omar Carrizales. The first few weeks this summer, when he wasn't hitting at all, I was internally extremely skeptical of his slap hitting ability and whether it would translate in High-A after having a very successful season last summer with Low-A Asheville (he slashed .286/.333/.410 and up until a late year slump, he was leading the South Atlantic League in hitting).
Well, Carrizales has proven me wrong, and he's now leading the Nuts — and he's fifth in the California League — in hitting, with a .317 average to go along with a strong .356 on-base percentage. Carrizales has 18 hits in his last 11 games, and he's worked his way into the Nuts' leadoff spot after Forrest Wall, Wes Rogers, Max White, and others have hit the skid with slumps throughout the month of May.
Max White struggling mightily
Entering Friday night's game, Max White is slashing just .186/.282/.318, and in his last ten games, he's gone just 4-for-35 with 11 strikeouts. That's arguably a red flag for somebody who took three years to crest Low-A Asheville, but something tells me you shouldn't close the book on White just yet, considering his improved mental outlook relative to the last several years.
Tyler Matzek watch
Tyler Matzek's Major League rehab assignment ended on Friday, and the Rockies officially optioned the lefty to Modesto, so it appears he'll be with the Nuts at least for the foreseeable future as he tries to right he ship with his command and control. Thus far, he's been pitching more or less every night, facing just one hitter each time before being lifted, and the results have been mixed.
Six relief appearances into his 2016 season, Matzek has allowed one hit, three walks, and he's recorded two outs through Friday night. I look forward to hopefully speaking with Matzek next week when I'm in Modesto for their series against High Desert; his case is fascinating, his road is long, and his determination and perseverance are enviable. More soon.
It's not just Jerry Vasto in the Nuts' bullpen
Jerry Vasto has been having a very good season as Modesto's closer—though, ironically, he gave up the first runs of his summer this week—but he's not the only one putting up numbers out of that 'pen; both Logan Cozart and Troy Neiman deserve a lot of credit for good work this year, with Craig Schlitter and Colin Welmon flashing success at times in the late innings.
Cozart, who leads the Nuts with 16 games pitched, has allowed just four earned runs in 20 innings pitched, striking out 18 against six walks and 20 hits (a 1.30 WHIP). Neiman—who we've caught on video before—is 2-1 with a 1.54 ERA in 23.1 innings pitched, having struck out 29 hitters against just 16 hits and 11 walks. Schlitter (1-0, 4.24) has whiffed 27 hitters in 17 innings of work, while Welmon (1-1, 4.00) has given the Nuts some valuable long and middle relief innings thus far.
★ ★ ★
As always, click here to subscribe to Purple Row's YouTube channel. I'll have lots more Nuts video coming weekly over the next few months, and we just uploaded a series of prospect videos for the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats. Want to know more about Modesto in the meantime? Or do you have an interview/angle you'd like to see me pursue? Reach out to me on Twitter, or send me an email.