Cubs Minor League Daily: Black the Unhittable, Almora the Unwalkable

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Cubs Minor League Daily: Black the Unhittable, Almora the Unwalkable

Cubs Minor Leagues and Prospects

corey black daytonaCorey Black pitched just two innings in his first game of 2014 on April 5 in Pensacola, and he pitched those innings in relief.

Since then he has made three starts, including yesterday’s six innings of no hit ball. In those three starts he’s pitched fifteen innings and allowed two hits. His ERA as a starter is now 1.80, and his batting average against is a microscopic .043. On two occasions, April 11 and yesterday, he left the game with a no hitter intact.

Although his game is not without flaw, and in that regard the eleven walks in fifteen innings as a starter stand out, Black has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the organization this season. He has not only shown the ability to get ground ball outs and strikeouts, but to simply not give up hits.

But can he keep it up? That batting average against is probably unsustainably low, but there is right now every reason to think that he will continue to make life very difficult on Southern League hitters. He will have to tighten up the control, though, something he was showing progress on last season with Daytona, to maintain long term effectiveness as a starter. If he can do that, and I think he can, his stock as a pitching prospect could soar by the end of the season.

I should remind you, though, that it is April. We probably should not get too excited just yet.

Scores From Yesterday

Iowa – Iowa had the day off.
Tennessee – The Smokies jumped to an early lead and the pitching put the game away. Tennessee won 9-1.
Daytona – The offense came back to earth as Daytona lost 6-3.
Kane County – A five run seventh inning carried Kane County to a 10-4 win.

Performances of Note

  • [Tennessee] The official line on Corey Black was 6 IP, 0 H, 3 BB, and 8 K. He threw 91 pitches and struck out the final man he faced.
  • [Tennessee] John Andreoli finished 3 for 6 with a strikeout. Dustin Geiger and Wes Darvill both finished 2 for 5 and combined for 3 doubles (Darvill had a pair).
  • [Tennessee] Rubi Silva walked and homered, his second of the season.
  • [Tennessee] Kris Bryant went 1 for 5 with a walk and 2 strikeouts. He also reached on an error in the first.
  • [Daytona] Rob Zastryzny struck out 5 and walked just one, but he allowed 4 earned runs on 7 hits in his 4.2 innings of work.
  • [Daytona] Gioskar Amaya finished 3 for 5 with a double, the team’s only extra base hit, and stole his second base of the season. Marco Hernandez had two hits.
  • [Kane County] Tyler Skulina gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks while striking out 2 in his 4.1 innings of work. Justin Amlung tossed 3.2 innings of scoreless ball in relief.
  • [Kane County] Will Remillard finished 4 for 4 with a double and a walk to lead the Cougars’ offense. Daniel Canela and Shawon Dunston each finished with 2 hits, including a double and a season first homer for Dunston.

Other News

  • Tennessee batted around in the first inning yesterday and scored 8 times. The big blows were a pair of doubles by Geiger and Darvill.
  • There has been quite a lot of discussion lately regarding Albert Almora and his remarkable lack of walks. Through 68 plate appearances (sample size alert) Almora has walked exactly 0 times this spring. In fact, he is the only player in the Florida State League with at least 60 trips to the plate to have still not walked. The math on that one is easy. He has a walk rate of 0.0%. The question here is whether or not that is something we should worry about.

    And I think the answer is “Not yet.” A low walk rate at this stage of the season isn’t itself a terrible thing largely because low walk rates in general aren’t necessary a bad thing. For example, Kris Bryant walked just three times in 62 plate appearances last year in the FSL, and he seems to be doing just fine in Double A. Welington Castillo had just four walks in 127 plate appearances in Daytona in 2008, and he now runs a seven to eight percent walk rate in the majors. A lack of walks, then does not equal a lack of talent or an automatic critical flaw in Almora as a player. The difference between Almora’s walk total and that of Bryant and Castillo is fairly small. Almora could easily earn that many free passes over the course of the weekend, for example.

    But it is a cause for concern and something to keep an eye on. His strikeout rate is very healthy at 10.3%, and that implies that he is able to make consistent contact on a lot of pitches. More reassuring, his walk rate with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, arguably a higher overall talent league than the FSL, was 5.1% with a comparable strikeout rate of 11.4%. Sample size alerts apply to those numbers as well, but they do tend to indicate that Almora is capable of earning the free pass against pitching roughly equal or better than what he is facing now.

    So why hasn’t he walked? It’s possible that he just hasn’t seen enough pitches out of the strike zone yet. As his low strikeout rate indicates, he can make contact pretty easily. High A pitchers often do not have great control, and that is going to result in mistakes left in the zone on pitches they would prefer to be out of it. Almora is the kind of hitter to hit those mistakes. Against more polished pitching in Arizona he took more pitches out of the zone, and his higher walk rate reflects that. Without video of Almora’s at bats (sadly unavailable) we can’t confirm that is what is happening, but it fits a pattern we’ve seen with similar hitters in the past.

    That said, if we get into the 100 to 120 PA range and his walk total still stands at 0 I will be getting somewhat concerned. More likely, I think, is that at some point in the next few weeks he’ll walk a couple times over the span of a few games, that rate will slid into a more low-normal range for a very good contact hitter, and the concern will die away.

    Regardless, I’ll be watching.


Author: Luke Blaize

Luke Blaize is the Minor League Editor at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @ltblaize.