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Florida Complex League: June Update

photo: Eric Garfield
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There are a couple of noteworthy updates from Sarasota with the rookie level team through mid-June. Firstly, and most deserving of top billing are a pair of promotions. 2022 draft pick RHP Zack Showalter & IF/OF Rolphy Cruz have been pacesetters through 10 games so they will be getting the call from Delmarva to join the Shorebirds.

In tweets, articles & examples from games I’ve pointed out that this part of the development cycle is an area where the Orioles excel. Cruz will be added into the lineup to fill holes & continue the hot hitting he’s been showing since February. Showalter should start games, as every one of his appearances except one (at Atlanta after 1 IP where Lowther opened) he threw the O’s first pitch. Through 10 games it was clear that Showalter, a local talent from Wesley Chapel, was the Orioles best pitcher. There’s plenty of footage of him in action where it ‘shows’ that his heater beats bats to and through the zone.

This is a positive sign for where his talent is and especially in terms of growth as the 19-year old further develops physically, another aspect of player development where Baltimore is very much pacing the sport. Secondaries include a slider that he’s grasping control of, an off-speed package as well as a cutter. Fans can now watch him in Delmarva as at the very least he represents a well-researched draft pick.

Cruz as a contributor is not loud but as he’s thickened in the shoulders and legs his bat sure has. Rolphy projects useful versatility as he demonstrates a good throwing arm as well as efficient routes in the OF corners to go along with quick hands and strong fielding posture across the IF even at 1st base. Sounds like a minor league manager’s dream come true, but the bat potential will chart his course on the farm.

Last year he hit .213 in the FCL, (.240 in the DSL previously) so this isn’t Tony Gwynn coming back around but Rolphy’s improvement has already separated him in Sarasota. Small sample size but he’s walked twice as much as he’s struck out and eight of 13 early hits were of the XBH variety. Metrics show he’s smacking the ball even when it doesn’t land fair (continuing from camps as soon as he reported, I have film of BPs from Feb) so the step up has been earned.

As far as the rest of the team there are a few arms worth highlighting that are stepping up as the competition increases from the Dominican Leagues. Firstly there’s RHP Erick Rodriguez. Erick has a loud and outgoing personality that seems to fit the pen, maybe even the closer role. I asked him where he prefers to pitch, starter or out of the pen. Always team 1st, he said ‘I like at any time to do a good job for the team and win many games’. He’s been on the mound as the team won a pair of close games and both times had to fight through difficult 8th innings to get there. An intense competitor, he was used out of the pen in 2022 in the DSL racking up 6 decisions out of 15 relief appearances and a start, 4-2. This year Erick has 5 decisions already through 12 games, he’s at 4-1. He’s off to a good start in counting stats too with 5 hits, 1 earned run and 0 HR through his initial 5 appearances.

Lefty Luis De Leon had the best strikeout start of his young career this past weekend against the Pirates with nine in four 100+ degree innings. A few days before that he went 5 vs Atlanta with only five baserunners and no runs. 19 strikeouts through three starts to accompany a 2.70 ERA is a fine way to start a stateside career, but he came over with a k pedigree. Last year’s 45 strikeouts in 28 IP means a 12.83 k/9 went with a .165 average against and a 1.04 WHIP. Those are ace type stats and De Leon reaches the mid-90’s from the left side.

Bryan Bautista is slightly younger at 19, but the FCL hasn’t figured out his funky delivery or 2-seam action. Through Bryan’s 1st 10.1 innings, he has nine baserunners and seven k’s, numbers that would be dazzling spread over a full summer. Last year in the DSL he was low on the walks, but high on the contact allowed (along with accompanying batted ball stats) so there’s room for improvement with the coaches in Sarasota. Two starts in and the results have been exceeding his career norms by a large margin.

While those three arms represent a large portion of the team’s potential on the mound and can be viewed as swing players, a couple are emerging on offense as well. Call-ups will be interfering with the roster all season but these two should stay in Florida as the organization values experience more than exposure at this point in the rebuild. Catcher Aneudis Mordan along with infielder Leandro Arias are starting to show signs of being regular, trusted contributors in the searing summer sun. Mordan had a reputation of being a hit first backstop and he has a whopping 1.572 OPS (if only this could include extended spring stats)to go with 3HR and a .450 average. Mordan is 19, has been a pro for two seasons already and demonstrates maturity at the plate. He’s swinging hard no doubt but the swing decisions have been markedly better and the results have followed. Bat him 4th, bat him 8th, and he’s going to make the pitcher work.

Arias on the other hand has metrics that pop off the page. Watching a game he hits and throws it significantly harder than someone his size looks like they should. The athlete inside of this kid is wiry strong and he consistently makes plays. Against Minnesota he had chance after chance at 2nd base where he showed that in the hole or on the run he’s making a strong throw every chance. Previously situated across the diamond at 3rd it’s the same thing so his versatility is usable as well. It’s apparent that his arm is advanced whether you watch it or listen to the 1st baseman’s mitt. As the international classes of the last few seasons start to show their stuff, it’s a positive sign to see some skills separating guys from the pack.

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