Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In Focus: outfielder Derrick Loveless

Today is an off day for the Lugnuts.  We drove throughout the night -- by we, I mean Mark, our motor coach operator -- and arrived in Lansing at 7:30 a.m.  (It's also an off day for all of the Minor Leagues:  the better for all of us to kick back and watch the MLB All-Star Game tonight.)
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Yesterday's post was of little written substance:  The latest Around the Nest, a highlight that amused me, and a brief bit on Dalton Pompey.  Today shall be more substantive.
Let me quickly say, though, that it is a wonderful thing to see Henderson Alvarez honored as a National League All-Star.  Henderson started the very first Lugnuts regular season game I ever broadcasted, Opening Day 2009.  He was 18, tall and skinny, with a golden arm that could touch the mid-90s with remarkable movement on his pitches.  He was a bundle of energy, too, who needed to be told not to go all out when he shagged flies during batting practice.  I've never seen a quicker pitcher in fielding his position.  (This year's Lugnuts squad had Kendall Graveman and has Phil Kish and Chase De Jong, all of whom are excellent defensively, but not a one of them was quicker than Henderson when it came to attacking a bunt.)
Heck, Henderson was quick in everything.  Check out this nine-inning game he started, which finished in a cool 1:46.  (The opposing Kernels had Alexi Amarista, Will Smith and Michael Kohn, all of whom have reached the Majors.)
Henderson Alvarez is my first Lugnut to be named an MLB All-Star.  I wonder who will be next.
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I'd like to spend more of my off-day, though, writing about 2014 Lugnuts outfielder Derrick Loveless, who reminds me a great deal of 2013 Lugnuts outfielder Dalton Pompey.
(This season, Pompey has exploded into the prospect rankings and is now considered one of the Blue Jays' very best young players.  On Sunday, he took part in the Futures Game and went 2-for-4 with singles off of flame throwing Lucas Giolito and Robert Stephenson.  He also stole second base.)
The similarities:
Both Loveless and Pompey are relatively little-known outfielders who were drafted out of high school.  Neither one had done anything of note before joining the Lugnuts, whether due to struggles or injuries.

Both began their season in Lansing hitting everything to the opposite field and showing no willingness/plan to pull the ball.
Dalton Pompey batted .243 in the first half of 2013, displaying patience (OBP 73 points higher) but very little power (0 homers).  Derrick Loveless hit .256 in the first half of 2014, providing patience (OBP 104 points higher) but only a tinge of power (1 homer).

In the second half, both began pulling the baseball... and crushing it.  Pompey slugged six homers in the second half, including four in the span of six games.  Loveless already has four homers in 23 games in this half.  All of these home runs are blasts.Last year, Pompey paced the Lugs with 63 walks.  This year, Loveless leads the Lugnuts with 47 walks.  Pompey batted .261/.358/.394 last year.  Loveless has a slash line of .268/.375/.404.
In short, we are looking at:

1.  Two athletic young outfielders
2.  who draw walks,
3.  steal bases,
4.  hit for surprising power,
5.  and are only just starting to realize how good they can be.
My question, then:  Will Derrick Loveless also make the leap into big-time Blue Jays prospect when he arrives in Dunedin?
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I love this comparison, but there are key differences to take into account:
*  Pompey stole 38 bases last year; Loveless has nabbed only 8.  Only the former is an elite base stealer.
*  Pompey plays the premium position of center field, where he went entirely without committing an error and was named an MiLB Gold Glove recipient.  Loveless plays right field, not as premium a position, and has committed five errors.
*  Pompey is a switch-hitter, giving him an edge no matter who is on the mound.  Loveless bats from the left side and is hitting a mere .192 against southpaws compared to .285 against right-handers.
Still, with 2010 16th-rounder Dalton Pompey blossoming and now watching 2011 27th-rounder Derrick Loveless begin to take the same leap forward this year, the Blue Jays are finding surprising prospect depth.  On the good to bad scale, this is a good thing.
For Derrick Loveless, it's more than good.  It's rather exciting.

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