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Taking Wing

MLB: MAR 07 Spring Training - Blue Jays at Pirates Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last did this column, mostly because my day job has been taking up all of my normal blogging time lately, but also because, as we draw near to the end of the minor league season, there are fewer interesting players I haven’t written about yet. I’ve tried not to double back so far, but today I want to highlight one new player and one who I wrote about earlier in the year but who may be taking another step forward that’s worth examining.

Ricky Tiedemann, LHP, AA New Hampshire

I’ve wanted to write about the Jays’ top prospect, but his season has been uneven and he missed a couple of months out of the middle dealing with a biceps injury, so until now there hasn’t been a good time. On Tuesday night, though, Tiedemann had a pretty remarkable outing. He struck out 11 of the 16 Fightin Phils he faced, allowing one earned run over 3.2 innings. In four games since making it back to AA after his injury, he’s now struck out 20 of 49 batters across 9.2 innings, while walking 7 and giving up 12 hits. It’s a messy line, marred by a coule too many walks and a .545 BABIP against, but the key point is that he’s back to striking out more than 40% of batters faced. That demonstrates that his stuff is undiminished by the injury, and he’s still able to just overpower AA hitters.

We don’t have StatCast data for New Hampshire, but we do for his August 4th rehab start with Dunedin. That night, he threw 28 fastballs, 14 sliders and 8 change ups. The fastball was 94-98 with 18.3 inches of vertical drop and 17.2 inches of horizontal run. It’s an unusual pitch, with more drop than most four seamers but less than most sinkers, and horizontal movement that is excellent for a sinker and almost unparalleled for a four seamer. One of the best comps from a fellow lefty is actually newly minted Jay Genesis Cabrera, who averages just over 95mph with his sinker and gets similar drop but a couple of inches less run. It’s been an excellent pitch this year, worth 4.1 runs above average per 100 thrown. The slider is 82-85mph, with a strong 9.4 inches of horizontal break but not a ton of depth (36 inches of drop, below average for a slider in that speed range). The change is probably the better secondary, with similar excellent horizontal run to the fastball, but 17 more inches of drop and 10mph less velocity. The big strength of Tiedmann’s stuff, beyond huge velocity, is the elite horizontal movement on all three pitches. He accentuates that movement with a release point that’s low and way off towards first base, making the ball feel like it’s coming from behind lefties’ heads and right at righties before veering off.

2023 has unfortunately been mostly a write-off for Tiedemann. He’s managed just 30.1 innings in 11 games because of injury, and he’s still not stretched out to full starts. His command has also been iffy in a way that it mostly wasn’t in 2022, although that’s probably attributable to the injury more than any real regression. The positive, though, is that all the steps forward in terms of arm strength and stuff that fueled his break out last season have stuck with him. There might not be a nastier pitcher in the minor leagues.

Alan Roden, LH OF, AA New Hampshire

I wrote about Roden back in May, and covered him in the retrospective I wrote just after the All Star break. At the time, he’d just been promoted to AA. Roden’s strength has always been his hit tool, and with 147 PA now under his belt with the Fisher Cats, it’s clear that his ability to make contact has carried into the upper minors. He’s hitting .311, with a 16.3% strikeout rate that’s in the 89th percentile among all hitters with 100+ PA in AA this season. That K rate might even understate his knack for contact, because his 6.3% swinging strike rate is 17th among 471 hitters in that sample. He also continues to take free passes, walking nearly 13% of the time.

What makes Roden interesting to write about now, though, is that lately he’s pairing that knack for getting on base with a little bit of pop. In his last 16 games, he’s slugged 6 home runs. In 75 PA, he’s more than doubled his total over his first 510 as a pro. It’s a tiny sample, and Delta Dental Stadium is friendly to left handed power, but it’s still exciting to see. It’s hard to profile as a corner outfielder without much power. Baseball America, in their mid-season update to their Jays top 30, note that Roden produces about average exit velocities, but his swing has been geared to more line drive contact than over the fence power. To work as an everyday player, he’ll have to find a way to incorporate a bit more loft without sacrificing the frequent hard contact that fuels his ability to hit fur such high averages. The last three weeks offer a glimmer of hope that he might be starting to find that sweet spot.